11 June 2014

Samson: All’s well, but doesn’t end well (Lesson 2 of 2)


by Bob Mendelsohn
Given in Moscow, Russia
11 June 2014

I really enjoy William Shakespeare, although I’m not British. He borrowed heavily from the Bible to write many of his stories, and so many of his plays ended in tragedy. One play which I liked is entitled “All’s well that ends well.” It’s the story of an orphan named Helena and her love interest named Count Bertram. Bertram is not interested in her, but by the end (Spoiler alert) she wins him to herself. The mechanism and trickery she uses is similar to Jacob and Laban, to Rachel and Leah, and to Tamar, all in the book of Genesis. Shakespeare certainly knew his Bible.
In our story of the man Samson that we conclude today, we see a military conqueror who was himself conquered by his own passions and although his name means something like “Sunshine”, he ended up in complete darkness. Samson never recruited others to join him, and only once did Israel band together in this story and that was to capture and deliver him to the Philistines. It’s really “all’s not well and doesn’t end well at all.”
Do you know how this ends? Let’s go there first and then back up and see the ending in context.
Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” And he bent with all his might so that the house fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he killed in his life. Then his brothers and all his father’s household came down, took him, brought him up and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of Manoah his father. Thus he had judged Israel twenty years. (16.30-31)
Samson ended in a grave, like everyone, had judged Israel 20 years and he died with the Philistines, the sworn enemies of the Jewish people on the west. He died in blindness, in darkness, and without any of his family around him. He was alone. And far from God. But God strengthened him to the task and gave him if you will, final victory.
I thought of some other men in the Bible who ended not so well. Judas comes to mind first. Remember him? Apostle, chosen by Yeshua, but he failed miserably. He was a sell-out to the Jewish leadership and gave up when Yeshua needed him the most. He killed himself like Samson did, and died alone. (John 13.30 says when “he went out, it was night.”) That’s a summary of darkness. The other one I thought of was Saul, the future king of Israel after the period of the judges. Saul had his own troubles on so many levels, and when he had to fight these same Philistines (1 Sam 28) he sought help from God. God didn’t answer Saul as quickly as he required, so in verse 8, Saul went to the witch at Endor and sought her help AT NIGHT. By the way Saul also committed suicide didn’t he? So all’s not well for those three, and for many who walk away from life in God, no matter the cause, no matter their motivation. God wants us to walk in light and live in the light of the glory of God. His ways are not our ways and we must do things his way. Amen?
Let’s back up and see Samson’s story after yesterday’s ending, and see what lessons we can learn for ourselves.
Samson had been engaged to a woman and paid the ‘bride price’ for her, but after the riddle was ‘solved’ by trickery, he went down the road to Ashkelon, killed 30 men and took their clothing, gave the clothing to the men of Timnah to pay off the wager, and went home. He was really angry.
What should he have done? What did the judges of Israel do during their tenure? They rallied the troops of various tribes, and formed an army. Did Samson do that? Not at all. His own personal warfare was enough for him. Not a good thing if God calls you to lead His people.
What should he have done with Philistia? Marry one of them? By no means. Bad alliances will never work the work of God.
So today (chapter 15 and 16), we see at the beginning
But after a while, in the time of wheat harvest, Samson visited his wife with a young goat, and said, “I will go in to my wife in her room.” But her father did not let him enter. (.1)
He spent a bit of time away, probably to cool off, and rethink a few things. So he goes to the woman to whom he is still engaged, for whom he has already paid the money, and finds her father preventing him. In verse (2) the father says, “How about her younger sister?” Oy. He said, “I thought you really hated my eldest.” (The Hebrew is intense:  ;h$Dta´nVc aâønDc_yI;k)
Samson is one who retaliates. He is always striking back in the way people deserve. Maybe that’s appropriate for a judge, but it seems a bit personal, rather than legal. He replies to the father (.3) “This time I’ll be blameless…” In other words, you are going to get yours!
So he catches 300 small animals, like jackals or foxes, and ties them in pairs, sets them on fire and releases them into the grain fields (it is wheat harvest time) to burn it all down. He is successful. Then the Philistines who see their economy burned to the ground wanted to know who was responsible. They found out it was Samson and that he was aggravated over the bait-and-switch wife/ best man thing. The people turn on the father and daughter in the conspiracy and burn them to death. (.6) So much fire and anger.
Samson avenges the death of his fiancé by killing a number of Philistines in reply. We don’t know how many (.7-8) but we know it was significant. The Bible uses the word for leg (we strangely translate it ruthlessly) and said the slaughter was GADOL, or great.
The military of Philistia then move into Judah (.9) and camp there. The men of Judah learn of this and send a note asking what they are doing. Here we see the pathos of the judge who is not a judge over the tribe, which he should have won over early. In fact, the men of Judah say (.11) that they are happy to get along with the Philistines, that we are ok with their ruling over us. And by the way, who made you the boss of us?
Samson replies that he’s going to get even with the Philistines and you would do well to avoid further contact with them.
In verse 12 they tell Samson they are going to initiate a prisoner swap and send him to the Philistines in exchange for a bit of peace. He says, No problem, just don’t kill me.
The exchange takes place and Samson is delivered into their hands. He breaks out of the chains/ ropes and kills 1,000 men with the jawbone of a donkey. Not a bad way to spend the day.
 Before I go on, whom do you think Samson looks like? The Incredible Hulk? Sylvester Stallone? Maybe one of your own like Danila Kozlovsky. Look he’s probably more like Elya Baskin, Adam Sandler or Woody Allen. There’s nothing in the natural which would show him as having superior strength. If he were a brute, a real strong man, then we would attribute great strength to his working out regimen, to his right eating or something. But only when the Spirit of the Lord came on him could he do great things in the Lord.

In verse 18 Samson again sounds like a ‘natural’ man and asks for water. I think Samson’s big problem was living in the flesh, for the flesh. He was a classic ‘carnal’ man. So although there’s nothing wrong with water, after a military bout, what’s missing is devotion to God, thanksgiving to God, reliance on God. You know?

He finishes the drink and chapter 15 ends with a summary of his leadership. 20 years. Check.

Then chapter 16 doesn’t highlight Israel’s evil; it only shows Samson’s evil. Again he goes to Gaza and finds a prostitute. And has sex with her. Word got around town about Samson, the enemy of the Philistines, was there in town, and they set an ambush. He left town at midnight, but first carried off the gates of the city to a nearby hill. (.3) Remember what the gates represent? Their economic system all came through those gates; their military protected them there; their justice system was there. He basically stripped them of any authority and power. Samson had obviously intended to be a guard of Israel and to annoy Philistia during his life. He was very successful at that. But imagine if he had secured the loyalty of some of the other tribes. He might have sent Philistia back in ships across the Mediterranean.

Verse 4 of chapter 16 we are introduced to Delilah. I think her name comes from the Hebrew DALAL meaning to ‘bring low’ or ‘fade.’ She is Samson’s mistress, probably some level of prostitute and the scene is bizarre and comic as the Philistines promise her great wealth if she will find out the secret to his strength. The boys are hiding nearby to capture him once she finds this out. After three false starts, they leave. Finally after a long time, she does find out, calls the boys back, and she hires a barber[she doesn’t do it] who cuts his hair (.19); Samson weakens enough that the Philistines capture him (.21), gore out his eyes, and make him work in a scene of great mockery. No doubt Delilah gets paid in full. At the end, taunted and embarrassed, Samson, whose hair (and thus his vow’s fulfilment) has grown back, kills 3,000 men and women and commits suicide in the process in the destruction of the temple to Dagon.

Samson’s strength was not his hair. It was his Nazirite faith in God and God alone was his strength. What the hair represented was his strength; but it was not his hair alone.

So what do we learn today?
1)   Men and women of faith can be knocked out of the life of faith if they do not turn to God and repent of their sins.
2)   Sin is a destroyer.
3)   Satan hates us and wants us to retaliate against things and people against us rather than to seek the honor and glory of God in all circumstances. Paul said, Be angry, but do not sin. This is hard, but worth working on.
4)   Working in teams is the best way to win the battles. That’s costly, and you have to adjust to include others, but it’s the best way to win.
5)   When God gives you victories, shout “Hallelujah!”-- don’t ask for a drink of water.
6)   In spite of all this failing of Samson, he’s still listed in Hebrews 11 and is still a member of the Hall of Fame. He did believe. He didn’t live it out to the end, but his faith gave him great victories. He did help Israel by keeping the Philistines away from us for 20 years. Thanks be to God.

Let us end well.

Not only this campaign, but our lives as well.

Live in faith. Trust in God. Flee youthful lusts. And you will do well.

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