Today we’re going to wrap up our series on the Unlikely Heroes in the book of Judges. And it’s certainly been an interesting journey. We’ve looked at Ehud, Deborah, Barak, Jael, Gideon, and for the past several weeks now, we’ve been looking at Samson.
And of all the unlikely heroes that we’ve looked at, I think Samson started with the most potential – and has so far proven to be the most disappointing. Instead of being the leader that he could have been, Samson has shown himself to be selfish and arrogant. And as a result, he’s destroyed his marriage, his foolishness has cost the life of his wife and her family, and his own countrymen (the ones that he was suppose to rescue) don’t want to have anything to do with him.
And yet, despite Samson’s flawed character, God has still used him to begin to rescue the Israelites from the Philistines – just has He promised even before Samson was born. And while Samson certainly hasn’t pushed the Philistines out of Israelite territory, he has dealt them some serious blows. To this point in our story, he has severely crippled their economy by burning down all their crops, their vineyards, and their olive groves. As well, he has personally wiped out huge groups of Philistine soldiers.
So Samson is certainly public enemy #1 for the Philistines – but they can’t touch him. He’s got this incredible God-given strength and after their last attempt to capture Samson (which ended with Samson killing 1000 of them) no one dares to attack him. And so that kinda sets the stage for our final chapter today.
We ended last week at in Judges chapter 15, verse 19. So we begin today at Judges 15 – verse 20.
20 Samson judged Israel for twenty years during the period when the Philistines dominated the land. Judges 15:20
Now this verse seems to be a little out of place. You don’t really expect a verse like this in the middle of the story. This is the kind of verse you might expect at the very end of Samson’s story – it’s like the closing summary of Samson’s life. But yet, here it is and we still have an entire chapter to go. Why is this particular verse here and not at the end of the final chapter?
Well, I think this verse really helps us understand what is about to happen in the next chapter. It tells us that Samson was a force to be reckoned with for 20 years. For 20 years, Samson has been a pain in the side of the Philistines – and for 20 years, they haven’t been able to touch him. You can imagine the Philistine’s frustration! He’s just one guy – but they can’t do a thing to stop him.
You can also imagine how this feeds Samson’s ego. For 20 years, he’s been able to do whatever he pleases. No matter what the Philistines throw at him, he handles it with ease. He seems invincible.
And that’s exactly the sense we get from Samson when we start chapter 16. Verse 1 says…
One day Samson went to the Philistine town of Gaza and spent the night with a prostitute. Judges 16:1
Let me note a couple things here. First of all, notice that Samson has strolled right into the Philistine town of Gaza. Gaza was not on the outskirts of Philistine territory – It was right in the heart. Gaza was one of their main cities. This would be like Osama Bin Laden wandering into Washington, DC. This is deep into enemy territory. I think that shows us just how arrogant Samson has become. He really does feel invincible.
And it’s not like he’s there to rescue a fellow Israelite that had been captured or to negotiate deals with the Philistine leaders – he’s just there to spent the night with a prostitute.
You can see that nothing has really changed for Samson over the past 20 years. He’s still selfish and arrogant – driven by his own desires and passions.
Well, as you might imagine, Samson’s visit to Gaza did not go unnoticed. verse 2
Word soon spread that Samson was there, so the men of Gaza gathered together and waited all night at the town gates. They kept quiet during the night, saying to themselves, “When the light of morning comes, we will kill him.” Judges 16:2
And I wondered at first why they didn’t just go right in and attack Samson. They’ve got him surrounded – Why wait until morning? Well, the Bible doesn’t say, but I might guess, based on their other encounters with Samson – is that perhaps they didn’t want to go toe-to-toe with him. In hand-to-hand combat, Samson certainly had the advantage. Maybe they were waiting until the light of morning so that they could launch an attack from a safer distance. Maybe their plan was to have a bunch of guys throw spears or sling stones or shoot arrows at him from up atop the city walls. If that were the case, waiting until the light of morning would make sense.
However, for some reason, Samson didn’t wait until morning to leave. Perhaps Samson suspected an attack or maybe even God graciously intervened somehow – we don’t know, but verse 3 says…
But Samson stayed in bed only until midnight. Then he got up, took hold of the doors of the town gate, including the two posts, and lifted them up, bar and all. He put them on his shoulders and carried them all the way to the top of the hill across from Hebron. Judges 16:3
Now you really have to appreciate how supernaturally strong Samson was in order to do this. Last week, I tore out my old rotting fence in the backyard. It was about 35 years old and the fence boards were all falling off – they were just rotting away. Several of the fence posts even snapped off as I pulled on them. But there were a few fences posts that were still pretty solid. I tried to wrap my arms around them, and pull them straight out, but they were not moving. Now I know I’m not a terribly muscular guy, but I don’t think that even the strongest of us here could have pulled those posts out. They were pretty solid.
But imagine now, how solid the posts of a city gate would have been! I mean, my little 4x4s stuck in 2 ft of dirt would be nothing compared to them. You’ve probably seen enough movies to know how solid the gates to a walled city would be. These would be thick, heavy gates solidly planted into the ground and attached to the walls. I mean, to carry them away like Samson did was one thing, but to pull them out of the ground – posts and all – that would require unimaginable strength! This was absolutely incredible.
And what a slap in the face for those Philistines! To have their sworn enemy march right into their city – right into the heart of Philistine territory – and then for him to walk away with their city gates – leaving them defenceless and open to attack! You can only imagine how embarrassed and how furious this would have made the Philistines.
Samson was certainly making a statement. He made it quite clear that he was not at their mercy – but rather they were at his. He was the one calling the shots. He was the one in control. Things had been that way for some 20 years now, and Samson had no intention of letting that change anytime soon. But unfortunately for Samson, things were about to change. Verse 4…
4 Some time later Samson fell in love with a woman named Delilah, who lived in the valley of Sorek. Judges 16:4
First that Philistine woman in Timnah, then the Philistine prostitute in Gaza, and now this Philistine woman in Sorek. Samson just doesn’t learn. Time after time Samson simply follows his passions and desires – giving no heed to the possible consequences. And its exactly this lack of self-discipline that leads to Samson’s downfall. Verse 5.
5 The rulers of the Philistines went to her and said, “Entice Samson to tell you what makes him so strong and how he can be overpowered and tied up securely. Then each of us will give you 1,100 pieces of silver.” Judges 16:4-5
It’s obvious to the Philistines that there’s got to be something that gives Samson his great strength. He’s not just strong – he’s supernaturally strong and so they desperately want to figure out what it is that gives him his strength. Is it a magic potion – like in Astrix and Oblix? Was it a bite from a radioactive spider? What was it?
It’s interesting that Samson has never revealed that it has been God all along who has been empowering him. It’s been 20 years and Samson never seems to credit God as the source of his strength or success. It seems Samson is quite happy to take all the credit for himself.
Just for a minute, let’s contrast that with David. When David attacked Goliath (who was another Philistine about 50 years later) – David made it abundantly clear that it was God who was at work – and he was just God’s servant. Look at 1 Samuel 17:45…
45 David replied to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies—the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 Today the Lord will conquer you, and I will kill you and cut off your head. And then I will give the dead bodies of your men to the birds and wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel! 47 And everyone assembled here will know that the Lord rescues his people, but not with sword and spear. This is the Lord’s battle, and he will give you to us!” 1 Samuel 17:45-47
That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? David makes sure there is no confusion about who’s responsible here – this battle clearly revolves around God.
But do you ever hear Samson making such speeches? No way. In fact, the Philistines have to pay big bucks to Delilah to try to drag it out of him. For a guy who was dedicated to God from birth, you’d think it would be a little easier to figure out that God was the source of his strength.
But on that same note, I wonder how many people around us have no idea that God is the source of our strength? Do our co-workers and neighbours know that God is the source of our joy and our hope? Do they know that we believe and follow the God of the Bible? Do we ever even mention God’s name in our conversations?
The Bible tells us that we are the salt of the earth and light of the world. Are we really? Are we like David – declaring in no uncertain terms that we are servants of the Most High God? Or are we more like Samson – and people would have to hire someone to secretly discover the source of our strength? Maybe we need to be a little more bold in letting people know who we are, and who we serve, and where we find hope and joy and strength. Just something to think about…
But to get back to our story – Delilah accepts the Philistines offer and she sets out to discover the secret of Samson’s strength.
And she’s not all that subtle… She just flat out asks him in verse 6.
So Delilah said to Samson, “Please tell me what makes you so strong and what it would take to tie you up securely.” Judges 16:6
Hmmmm. You’d think that would set off some warning bells for Samson, but instead of taking the hint, he decides to toy with her. And for the next several verses we see this odd back-and-forth as Samson blatantly lies to Delilah about what gives him his strength – and Delilah puts his lies to the test. These two really have a bizarre relationship. Let me read it for you – verse 7.
7 Samson replied, “If I were tied up with seven new bowstrings that have not yet been dried, I would become as weak as anyone else. 8 So the Philistine rulers brought Delilah seven new bowstrings, and she tied Samson up with them. 9 She had hidden some men in one of the inner rooms of her house, and she cried out, “Samson! The Philistines have come to capture you!” But Samson snapped the bowstrings as a piece of string snaps when it is burned by a fire. So the secret of his strength was not discovered.
10 Afterward Delilah said to him, “You’ve been making fun of me and telling me lies! Now please tell me how you can be tied up securely.”11 Samson replied, “If I were tied up with brand-new ropes that had never been used, I would become as weak as anyone else.”
12 So Delilah took new ropes and tied him up with them. The men were hiding in the inner room as before, and again Delilah cried out, “Samson! The Philistines have come to capture you!” But again Samson snapped the ropes from his arms as if they were thread.
13 Then Delilah said, “You’ve been making fun of me and telling me lies! Now tell me how you can be tied up securely.”
Samson replied, “If you were to weave the seven braids of my hair into the fabric on your loom and tighten it with the loom shuttle, I would become as weak as anyone else.”
So while he slept, Delilah wove the seven braids of his hair into the fabric. 14 Then she tightened it with the loom shuttle. Again she cried out, “Samson! The Philistines have come to capture you!” But Samson woke up, pulled back the loom shuttle, and yanked his hair away from the loom and the fabric.
15 Then Delilah pouted, “How can you tell me, ‘I love you,’ when you don’t share your secrets with me? You’ve made fun of me three times now, and you still haven’t told me what makes you so strong!” 16 She tormented him with her nagging day after day until he was sick to death of it.
And you’ll remember that this is exactly how the how first wife got the answer to his riddle back in Timnah 20 years ago. For all his incredible strength, Samson’s weakness was apparently a nagging woman. That was the one thing he couldn’t handle.
17 Finally, Samson shared his secret with her. “My hair has never been cut,” he confessed, “for I was dedicated to God as a Nazirite from birth. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as anyone else.”
18 Delilah realized he had finally told her the truth, so she sent for the Philistine rulers. “Come back one more time,” she said, “for he has finally told me his secret.” So the Philistine rulers returned with the money in their hands. 19 Delilah lulled Samson to sleep with his head in her lap, and then she called in a man to shave off the seven locks of his hair. In this way she began to bring him down, and his strength left him.
20 Then she cried out, “Samson! The Philistines have come to capture you!”
When he woke up, he thought, “I will do as before and shake myself free.” But he didn’t realize the Lord had left him. Judges 16:17-20
And this is probably one of the saddest statements in the Bible. He didn’t realize the Lord had left him.
For 20 years, Samson had lived life according to his terms. He had made the rules. He had done whatever he wanted. As we’ve seen over the past few weeks, he didn’t have to follow the rules of the Philistines. He didn’t need to listen his parents. He didn’t need to listen to God. He just did whatever he wanted to do. He was so used to ignoring God, that he didn’t even notice when God was no longer with him.
And I don’t think the Lord left him simply because his hair was cut. I think the Lord left him, because he had left the Lord. God had given him 20 years of opportunity to change. 20 years to recognize God as His God – as His Lord and Master. But Samson frittered away all those opportunities. He insisted on being his own lord and master. He was going to live life in his way and on his terms. He was his own god – so to speak.
And so God allowed him to experience life apart from God. God withdrew his presence and his power from Samson and Samson’s life changed in a heartbeat.
21 So the Philistines captured him and gouged out his eyes. They took him to Gaza, where he was bound with bronze chains and forced to grind grain in the prison.
What a sad ending for someone who had so much potential. Never before had God given someone such great strength – such amazing opportunity to be a great hero. But because of his selfishness and his arrogance, Samson lost that opportunity. And there was the mighty, invincible hero of Israel. Eyes gouged out and forced to grind grain in the Philistines’ prison like a donkey.
Instead of using his great strength to lead his fellow Israelites to victory over their enemy, Samson chose to use his great power for his own selfish reasons. By refusing to acknowledge the sovereignty and leading of God – Samson was instead forced to submit to the power and the leading of the Philistines.
And I just have to pause here for a minute to consider my own life – and maybe you want to do the same – because it is so easy for us to make the exact same choices that Samson made.
I think God has given us all incredible potential to be men and women who do great things for Him. We all have the opportunity to be used by God in some amazing ways. But its so easy for us to insist on doing things our own way – to live life the way we want to live it. It’s not hard to totally ignore God and go merrily along in life for years. Many people do that. Maybe even you’ve done that.
But when we refuse to let God be our master – when we insist on living life accord to our own terms – we miss out on so many good things. So many opportunities. Instead of the joy and the peace and the satisfaction that comes with living a life for God – we end up feeling empty and hollow, always chasing after something to try to find that satisfaction. But apart from God, we never find it.
And instead, the consequences of our stubbornness and our rebellion eventually catch up with us and we find ourselves in the midst of disaster – just like Samson.
But you know, even in this – even in what seems to be the darkest hour of disaster for Samson – when all hope seems lost, the Bible gives us a hint that God is still not through with Samson. Look at this next verse:
22 But before long, his hair began to grow back. Judges 16:22
It’s just a little verse tucked in there – but it is packed with significance. And I don’t think this is just a verse about hair. Samson’s strength didn’t come from his hair. It came from God. And so when the Bible says ‘his hair began to grow back’ – I kinda wonder if there was more than just hair that began to be restored.
I wonder if, while blindly grinding grain in that Philistine prison, that Samson didn’t begin to soften his heart and humble himself before God. I wonder if he began to truly acknowledge and confess his own selfishness and pride and to finally come to the realization that God was sovereign over all. I wonder if, as his hair grew back, perhaps so did his relationship with God.
Judging by these next few verse, I kinda think maybe it did. Look at verse 23 and we’ll read the final story of Samson’s life.
23 The Philistine rulers held a great festival, offering sacrifices and praising their god, Dagon. They said, “Our god has given us victory over our enemy Samson!”
24 When the people saw him, they praised their god, saying, “Our god has delivered our enemy to us! The one who killed so many of us is now in our power!”
25 Half drunk by now, the people demanded, “Bring out Samson so he can amuse us!” So he was brought from the prison to amuse them, and they had him stand between the pillars supporting the roof.
26 Samson said to the young servant who was leading him by the hand, “Place my hands against the pillars that hold up the temple. I want to rest against them.”27 Now the temple was completely filled with people. All the Philistine rulers were there, and there were about 3,000 men and women on the roof who were watching as Samson amused them.
28 Then Samson prayed to the Lord, “Sovereign Lord, remember me again. O God, please strengthen me just one more time. With one blow let me pay back the Philistines for the loss of my two eyes.”
Now admittedly, this probably isn’t a model prayer of repentance. I think Samson is still wrestling though this whole issue of revenge. But even so, there seems to be an element of humility here that wasn’t present before. Samson calls on God as “Sovereign Lord”. This is perhaps the first time that Samson has acknowledged that God – and not Samson – was really the one in control. He acknowledges that his strength comes only from the Lord. In this prayer, Samson is finally putting his faith – not in his own abilities – but he’s finally putting his faith in God.
29 Then Samson put his hands on the two center pillars that held up the temple. Pushing against them with both hands, 30 he prayed, “Let me die with the Philistines.” And the temple crashed down on the Philistine rulers and all the people. So he killed more people when he died than he had during his entire lifetime.
31 Later his brothers and other relatives went down to get his body. They took him back home and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol, where his father, Manoah, was buried. Samson had judged Israel for twenty years.
And thus ends the life of, perhaps the most unlikely hero of all the judges. And you may even question – should we really call him a hero? After such a disaster of a life? He had so much potential – he could have done so much more! Should we really call him a hero?
Well, the writer of Hebrews seems to think so. Hebrews chapter 11 is often referred to as the ‘Hall of Faith”. It’s a role call for some of the Bible’s greatest heroes.
And after listing off people like Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jospeh, Moses – the writer gets to verse 32…
32 How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets.
Can you believe it? Samson gets listed right in there with David, Samuel, and all the prophets? That’s incredible! After all of Samson’s foolishness? After all of Samson’s selfishness? After all of Samson’s pride?
How can Samson be remembered as a great man of faith?
Well, that’s the thing about faith. It’s not based on our character. It’s not based on our past. It’s not based on all of our foolish decisions. It’s based on one decision – the decision to trust God.
And Samson made that decision – albeit very late in life – but he made that decision to trust God. Had he made that decision earlier, you can only imagine what a different ending his life could have had. I can only imagine how Samson must have wished that he had submitted to and trusted God 20 years earlier. But regardless, in those last moments of life, Samson finally put his trust in God – and God used Samson more in the last minutes of his life than he did throughout the rest of his entire lifetime.
So this morning I want to encourage you to submit your life to the Sovereignty of God. Put your trust in Him today. Don’t wait like Samson until your life is a mess. Don’t wait until you’ve squandered away the best years of your life. Like Samson, you’ve got so much potential! God has created you to be an incredible, unique person – and he has some amazing plans for your life. He wants to be the source of your strength and your hope and your joy for years to come! But you’ve got to submit your life to him. You’ve got to trust Him.
Maybe you’re like a young Samson. Maybe you’re just getting started in life. The decisions you make now will have a huge impact on the rest of your life. Talk to any of the older folks here – they’ll tell ya. I’d encourage you to follow the advice in Ecclesiastes 12:1 which says:
“So remember your Creator in the days of your youth—before the difficult days come” Ecclesiastes 12:1 (NET)
Imagine if Samson had done that. How differently his story would have been if he had remembered his Creator in the days of his youth. Don’t wait to turn to God until you’re older. Submit your life to God today – while you’re young – while you still have a lifetime of opportunities to do great things for Him. Do it now before the difficult days come.
Or maybe you’re already in the middle of those difficult days. Maybe, like Samson, you’ve ignored your Creator in the days of your youth and you find yourself in a spot today that you don’t really want to be. Maybe you’ve already lost a lot of years and you’ve endured the consequences of a life lived apart from God. It’s not too late. You’re still here. You’re life isn’t over yet. God can still do more through you in these last years of life than you can even imagine. All He asks is that you trust Him.
That all that he asked of Ehud. All that he asked of Deborah and Barak and Jael. That’s all that he asked of Gideon and that’s all that he asked of Samson.
Whether you’re old or young – strong or weak – in the middle of a mess or in the innocence of youth – put your trust in God. Let him make you into an unlikely hero.