7 August 2016

Samson: Dealing with Fatal Flaws

When children retell Bible stories, funny moments happen, and here are a few favourites:

  • The first three books of the Bible are Genesis, Exodus, and Laxatives
  • Noah’s wife was called Joan of Ark
  • Lot’s wife was a pillar of salt by day, but a ball of fire by night
  • Joshua led the Hebrews in the battle of Germolene
  • David fought with the Finkelsteins, a race of people, who lived in biblical times
  • Solomon, one of David’s sons, had 300 wives and 700 porcupines
  • Samson slayed the Philistines with the axe of the apostles and he pulled down the pillows of the temple

Samson is truly a riddle wrapped in a mystery that is inside an enigma.

Lets touch some details found in Judges 13–16. Samson’s feats are legendary but his flaws prove to be fatal. His greatest weaknesses were revenge and romance. He was extremely gifted, but he was not godly. He was strong on the outside, but had no control on the inside. Samson is a lot like us. We know what it means to be tempted and we all struggle sometimes with wanting revenge. We’ve been there, we understand, and when we see Samson struggling and falling, we understand. There’s a bit of Samson in all of us, and a lot of Samson in most of us. From his life we learn that sin will always take us further than we want to go.

The Fatal Flaw

Chapter 13, verse 1: Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, so the LORD delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years. The Finkelsteins were a warlike people who traced their origin back to Crete, and remained an enemy of Israel for years. They had a simple plan to defeat their Hebrew enemies: marry them, assimilate them, and watch with glee as the religion of God’s people diluted into the culture around them. Sound familiar in the 21st century?

God wants to deal with this, so He tells a man and wife they will have a son who will deliver Israel from the Philistines. Even while he was in his mother’s womb, he was “set apart” for the Lord’s work. Verse 5 tells us he was to be a Nazirite. Now a Nazirite had to avoid contact with grapes or the drinking of wine, never touch a dead body of any kind, never ever cut their hair.

Interesting thing: verse 5 say Samson will begin the deliverance of Israel. He never delivered, he could not even deliver himself, but God did use him to start yet another period of God delivering Israel. In verse 25 the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him and he was energised and equipped by God, with everything needed to accomplish his task, yet he let it all slip away.

Sliding Into Sin

Judges chapter 14 tells us that Samson took a number stupid steps that Samson took. Let me summarise the story.

He goes to Timnah, a Philistine town, having decided that the local girls were not good enough. They are goddess, he doesn’t;t care.

Once there, he cruises for chicks and sees a young Philistine gal that seems to have all the right credentials. His mom and dad try to warn him, but he pretty much orders them to go and procure this women. He was pretty strong so they did as they were told.

Actually, that phrase ‘she’s the right one for me’ literally reads, ‘She is right in my eyes’. Samson is motivated greatly by physical appearance. He saw this young woman, she looked va-va-voom, and now he wants to have her as his. He was looking in the wrong place for the wrong thing for the wrong reason.

The downward spiral now takes a threatening turn. Samson has made mistakes but now he is rejecting what God had commanded of the Israelites: (Exodus 34:16 and Deuteronomy 7) that they should not marry someone from the surrounding pagan nations. The reason is clear—if you marry an unbeliever, they will turn you away from God.

So the woman is found and brought to him, he goes to meet her, still liked her, and he says, ‘yep, she’s great, tell me her name then lets get a wedding organised – but really its the honeymoon I am thinking about’.

Later, Samson is traveling with his parents to make wedding arrangements, he goes into a vineyard (forbidden by his vows) and a young lion charges him. He has not yet accomplished God’s plans so the Spirit of the Lord enables him to tear the lion apart with his bare hands. He neglects to tell his folks about this little thing that happened – why? – because killing the lion meant touching a corpse after it was dead, violating his Nazirite vow. Samson has become ceremonially unclean and defiled before God.

Later, travelling alone again, he stops by the vineyard to revisit his great exploit. Bees have built a honeycomb inside the dried-out carcass of the lion, and he scoops out some honey and eats it as he walks along. Contact with a dead body again. From there he arranges a bachelor party, and there is a lot of alcohol involved – another Nazirite pledge ignored. See a pattern?

Samson’s long hair says ‘Nazarite’ which implies ‘dedicated to God’ but his lifestyle tells another story. Outside he looks like a man of God, but on the inside he’s a man controlled by his lusts.

The wedding feast arrives, it will be a seven day event, like they all were back then, and on day one, Samson puts a riddle to his 30 Philistine groomsmen. He said in verse 14: Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet. If they solved the riddle in 7 days, Samson would give them some shiny new clothes.

By day four, the groomsmen ask Samson’s bride to find out the answer. Actually, they say Coax your husband into explaining the riddle for us, or we will burn you and your father’s household to death. Nice people these Philistines!

Coax here means, to seduce a simple-minded person. The Philistines would say exactly the same thing to Delilah 20 years later. Samson was easily seduced because he was all hormones and no brain – a Jeremy Kyle show kind of a guy. Everyone knew this, except him. He never saw, understood, or came to grips with his weakness. He reveals the riddle’s answer on the seventh night.

Remember: our refusal to deal with our weaknesses We are just like Samson — we’ll do anything to avoid dealing with the real issues in our lives. It’s easier and less painful (we think) to pretend that everything’s okay, even when deep inside we know it isn’t.

Now the groomsmen know riddle’s answer, Samson loses the bet, and he owes them some new clothes. No problem to this ‘man of God’, verse 19 tells he kills 30 Philistines, more touching of dead bodies, steals their clothes, and presents the groomsmen with their prizes. Not quite God-fearing behaviour.

Publicly humiliated and angry, Samson leaves his bride standing at the altar and chapter 14 ends with her embarrassed father giving her in marriage to the best man. See what I mean about Jeremy Kyle?

In chapter 15, Samson decides he wants his wife back, a few months later. So he gift wraps a goat and arrives at the house. A goat! Samson was handsome but he wasn’t a full box of Smarties. Her father tells him she is now married to one of his groomsmen, and Samson decides to get even.

He captures three hundred foxes – you ever tried to catch one? – ties them tail-to-tail in pairs – harder than it looks, and something you should not try at home, he fastens a torch to them and lets them loose in their fields. The foxes are scared to death and go ballistic. All the Philistines’ cash crops, their wheat, olives, and grapes, go up in smoke. The Philistines then burn alive the bride and her family, and Samson tells them that because they did this, he will get his revenge on them still.

Do you see the cycle of revenge? Each time it gets more serious, and bloodier. When you seek revenge for wrongs done to you, you enable an unending cycle of violence. The only way off the treadmill of terror is to offer forgiveness.

Verse 8 says, He attacked them viciously and slaughtered many of them. Eventually, his own people get tired of his out of control behaviour, and hand him over to the Philistines, but he breaks his bonds, finds a donkey’s jawbone, which he uses as a weapon to kill a thousand men. After which he is thirsty and asks God to give him something to drink.

In verse 18, Samson says to the Lord: You have given your servant this great victory. Must I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?” It is the closest he ever gets to saying, “Lord I know that this victory did not come by my power.” It’s the one time where he really acknowledged God’s presence in his life.

I would not stay with Samson, but then I am not God. He does, because it suits His purposes. He then goes on to lead Israel for 20 years, which sounds like a decent ending, but sadly it is not. He ruled Israel, bringing prosperity and peace for two decades. His fatal flaws of romance and revenge remained, they had just been buried.

Fast forward twenty years. Samson went to Gaza (Philistine territory), sees a prostitute, and decides to spend the night with her. For two decided he has lived right, but in one night he fell. Proclivity to sin does not fade with advancing years!He never dealt with his problems.

It is a stupid move. Samson is famous and can’t arrive in a Philistine city, unnoticed. They hate him, and he’s in their capital city. The word gets out that Samson is in the city. The house is surrounded, but Samson has left just before. On his way out, he ripped out the doors of the city gate, together with the two posts, put them on his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that faces Hebron. Scholars tell us these would have weighed about 700 pounds each!

The Philistines are humiliated again. Walls are protection, and gates control who gets in and out: Samson destroyed their security, and then plonks the gates on a hill visible to all Israelites. Seems he can do anything he wants to. He is arrogant, feels invincible, his passion for illicit sex is active again, and before long he falls in love with a woman named Delilah. She’s the third woman he becomes entangled with – he was infatuated with the woman of Timnah, filled with lust for the prostitute in Gaza and now, Delilah, but this one he seems to actually love. Oh yes, she’s a Philistine.

The Philistine rulers, know Samson’s fatal flaw, make a plan. 5 leading Philistines each offer Delilah eleven hundred shekels of silver if she is able to lure him into showing the secret of his strength. That’s 5500 shekels, in a time when the average wage for a man was 10 shekels a year. More than 500 years of salary for getting her man to say why he was so strong.

Delilah lures Samson in, and starts asking him for the secret to his strength. He plays with her, making up stories about fresh bowstrings, or new ropes, or how seven locks of his hair, would take away his strength.

Eventually, his fatal attraction, the trifecta of money, sex and power, undoes him – she plays with him, nags him, teases him, telling him he doesn’t love her unless he reveals the truth — and finally he tells her everything. She lets a man in who cuts all his hair off and she takes off with her fortune. His strength is gone, and one of the saddest statements in the whole Old Testament is: But he did not know that the Lord had left him.

He didn’t realise what had happened. Too many Christians drift away from God through stupidity and folly, and don’t realise until they’ve done it. Sin will always take you further than you want to go.

The Philistines seize him, pluck out his eyes, then shackle him in a nasty prison in Gaza. Later they bring him in and out of prison as a cruel amusement at dinner parties.

Let me conclude by showing 5 action steps we can learn from this tragic life of Samson.

Acknowledge your fatal flaws.

What’s your spiritual soft spot? What has most potential to ruin you? Talk to God about it.

Admit you need help.

Until you do, you are vulnerable, you will never experience victory. Psalm 34:17: The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles.

Avoid temptation.

Run away from situations where you know you’re vulnerable. Genesis 4:7: Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.

Ask for help.

It’s not enough to just acknowledge your problem, to admit you need help, and to avoid temptation. You also need to ask for help. Ask God for help, and also ask someone else. We need accountability buddies, trusted friends, Christian counsellors.

Assimilate God’s truth into your life.

Be with God’s people, read God’s Word, and put it into practice. Psalm 119:11: I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. This is not optional advice, it is crucially important.

With each step you take, the more of God’s grace you experience, and the easier it becomes to deal with our fatal flaws.

Getting back to Samson — in jail he must have figured out where his life had gone wrong. He has been getting his head and heart right with the Lord, and he has also started to notice that as his hair grew again, he got stronger. The Philistines are crowing about having captured the big fella, and arrange to make an impressive sacrifice to their god, Dagon. All the top brass are in the temple, and they bring Samson out for entertainment. Laughing and teasing and humiliating him, Samson quitely prays for one more time of supernatural strength. God grants it to him, he pushes aside two main pillars, the roof caves in, and more than a thousand people are killed with him.

Who is the hero of this story? God is. It is all about His grace, His patience, His power. There is nothing heroic about Samson, but at least he did eventually repent and rediscover God.

Maybe you need to hear this again today: restoration of a relationship with God does not depend upon your performance. Samson didn’t perform — he came back to God before he pushed those pillars down. He came back to God while he was still shackled. He came back to God while he was still blind. He turned back to God and God received him. Remember what I said at the start about the way children can retell Bible stories and not get them quite right? Tell this one accurately — God waits for everyone to get our hearts right with Him. Amen.