A reminder from Samson’s life to remain spiritually awake…
This post is dedicated to Patricia Bell who has been looking for some reading material while she is in recovery. I pray God returns you to full health, Mrs. Patricia. In the mean time, I hope you will enjoy this manuscript from my sermon last Sunday.
Note: I actually wrote the transcript after the sermon so that I might adapt it for reading and study. Therefore, it is not the exact wording I used in the sermon, but it is a close approximation, expanded somewhat for the sake of study clarity. This is actually a really long post, so you might want to plan to break it up into several readings…
No one has ever really accused me of being the most vigilant person in the world. No one has said, “You know, that Tab guy really pays attention to what’s going on around him.” My wife, my parents, and my schoolteachers would all attest that I spend more time in a dream world than I do here on this earth. When I was younger, I was that kid in little league baseball who would rather dig rocks up in the outfield and toss them at the fence behind me than I would paying attention to the game going on in front of me. My only indication that I was indeed paying baseball was the coach yelling, “Miller! Get the ball!” Little league coaches take the game way too seriously if you ask me.
By the time I made it to high school, I began to care more about academics, and that carried on into college and beyond. However, in middle school, I couldn’t care less. One sunny afternoon I was sitting in class, and the teacher was is the midst of a coffee fueled lecture when he apparently said, “Take out a sheet of paper. Number it one to three, and answer the following questions.” I missed all of that. It was in the middle of a lecture, and if you know anything about daydreaming, you know lecture time is prime time. Anyway, my only indication that we had taken the quiz is when the teacher asked us to pass them forward, and the guy behind me tapped me on the shoulder to hand me his paper. Missed that opportunity. Oh well.
But, before you begin to believe this was just a childhood problem and that I eventually grew out of whatever it was that kept me in the clouds—ADD perhaps—let me tell you a recent story. My wife might not know this, so I might be in a little hot water now that I am telling it. We bought a juicer some time ago, because, you know, we want to be healthy and all. Anyway, we had not used it in some time, and I just thought that was so ashamed. So, I surfed the web and found the perfect juice. You know, the one that is to make you run faster, jump higher, and live to be 105.
Well, I went to the store and purchased around twenty-five dollars of produce. I got home, pulled out the juicer and examined it, trying to remember how it worked. I keenly observed a container on the side and thought, “Of course, that is where the juice comes out.” So, without further delay, I began to juice. I was more fascinated with watching the fruits and veggies being ground up than anything else. I had made it near the bottom of the bag and decided to look into the container to see how much delicious juice I had made, and that is when I saw it. The container was not there to catch the juice, but the solid waste, the pulp. The juice had been steadily pouring out the other side and upon the counter. Oops.
Practically speaking, being oblivious can be dangerous. I am on the road with unsuspecting civilians everyday (only a joke, I am a good driver). If my pinkie toe could talk, it would tell you that it hates my guts. At least three times a week, I crack it on the same coffee table that has been in the same place in relation to the couch for years. I think my toe has spent more time broken than intact in my adult life. Having said this, if being mentally oblivious is dangerous enough, then being spiritually oblivious is all the more dangerous.
In his first letter, Peter says, “Discipline yourselves, keep alert (be vigilant, be awake). Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour” (5:18). If you have ever watched a nature program with lions, you will know that they usually attack when the animal they are pursuing is not on its guard. So, Satan seeks out those who are not paying attention, thinking that temptation is really not a threat. Be mindful that when Peter is writing here, he is addressing Christians. The adversary is not simply looking to devour the people of the world, but us as well.
Now, I am thankful that, even while we have a real adversary, we also have an Advocate. The Scriptures warns us as Christians not to sin, but, if we do, the Bible also tells us that Christ is there to pick us up and offer us grace (I John 2:1). This is a comfort to know, but just because Christ offers us grace, this does not mean that there are no consequences for the sins we commit. If Christ served as some sort of cosmic clean up crew or garbage man, making sure that nothing ever affected us, why then would Peter waste his time warning the Church to “keep alert”? The truth is, sin still can hurt us, and it can leave us miserable.
We see this truth all the time. We see Christian brothers and sisters in our very communities in pain and misery. We see Christian families that are broken, because of sinful decisions, and it is not as if a person wakes up one day and all of the sudden says, “You know what, I am going to cheat on my spouse today.” No. It happens by degrees. Perhaps it starts off by holding animosity against one’s spouse, and not being willing to work it out, to talk about it with each other and with God. So, it leads to the person doing little things that they think really don’t matter, like a click of the mouse as he or she seeks intimacy online. This then leads to flirting with others, perhaps at work, and then, the next thing the person knows is that everything has imploded, and the family has fallen apart.
It is the same thing with drug use. No one wakes up saying, “I think I’ll get hooked on heroin today, or, perhaps prescription drugs.” No. It happens by degrees, and, although we will always be forgiven when we take it to Christ, this does not mean that we should take down our guard. It would be best to live as Christ has called us to live, and to avoid pain and misery.
We are now going to turn to Judges 14:5-9 to see how being spiritually oblivious can be very dangerous. Now, before we read the text, I will say this: This is not an easy text to understand if you have never studied it or its background before. But, there is going to be a payoff for our studying the text. We can easily become frustrated with the Old Testament. It is largely a collection of ancient stories about a people a world away, and the author does not end his tale with the statement, “And the moral of the story is…” We are left to figure it out. The New Testament is more didactic, easier to access, and it gets down to the brass tacks. It says things like, “Be alert.” That is straightforward. However, if we can see the Old Testament stories, like the one we are about to read, as opportunities to learn, instead of obstacles to overcome, the pay off is great. The story will serve as a lifelong reminder of being spiritually awake.
It is one thing to be in the midst of temptation, perhaps there is a link online that we know we should not click, and we remember a New Testament idea, like Peter’s words: “Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.” Yes, we know we are supposed to avoid temptation, but, doesn’t Satan have bigger fish to fry. Clicking this link in the privacy of my own home, when no one is around, this won’t hurt anyone. Without really seeing what the author is talking about, it is easy to toss aside.
It is quite another thing to see the slow decline of sin in the story of someone’s life, as we read it in the Old Testament. Stories get etched into our mind, and, believe me. This story, once you really hear it, will be etched into your mind. This is the beauty of the Old Testament stile of teaching. Each Testament has its merits, but the Old Testaments is often ignored.
This story, believe it or not, is about a man who is not being spiritually vigilant. But, we will soon explore the story together to see how it is indeed a warning to us, and, it will hopefully be forever etched on your mind. So, let’s look at it. As we go through, I will be providing a little bit of information to make sure the story is as clear as it can be upon first read:
5 Then Samson went down with his father and mother to Timnah. Just prior to this, Samson has told his father and mother that he wants to marry a Philistine woman. At this time, parents arranged marriages, so he had to have them go with him to set the marriage up, and while they are not happy he is marrying a Philistine, he demands that they go. So, they are on the way when this story begins.
When he came to the vineyards of Timnah, suddenly a young lion roared at him. Samson has walked ahead of his parents and is out of sight from them when a lion attacks him.
6 The spirit of the Lord rushed on him, and he tore the lion apart barehanded as one might tear apart a kid. Here we see the gift God has given Samson in full affect. The lion is no match for Samson, and he kills the lion, dismembering it as one might a kid, a young goat, perhaps bringing to the Israelite’s mind a sacrifice.
But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done. When his parents catch up with Samson, he does not mention the lion to them.
7 Then he went down and talked with the woman, and she pleased Samson. Samson’s mission to arrange his own marriage was a success.
8 After a while he returned to marry her, Some time has passed, and Samson and his parents are making the same journey back to Timnah, this time for the wedding.
…and he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion, and there was a swarm of bees in the body of the lion, and honey. When Samson comes to the place where he had killed the lion, he walks off the path, again his parents being out of sight, and he checks out the body. Inside he see that bees have made a nest and have also made honey.
9 He scraped it out into his hands, and went on, eating as he went. When he came to his father and mother, he gave some to them, and they ate it. But he did not tell them that he had taken the honey from the carcass of the lion. He decides to get the honey out as a snack for the road. He also gives some to his parent, and they eat some as well. He again does not mention the lion.
Strange story, right? What does this have to do with being spiritually unaware? In fact, what does this have to do with anything? As a matter of fact, Samson’s story only gets stranger. If you have ever been a part of Sunday School, you will undoubtedly know the story nearer the end of Samson’s life, the story of Samson, Delilah, and the haircut (Judges 16). This is a strange story too. In this story, Delilah, who is being bribed to betray her husband, tricks Samson into telling her the secret to his power, and he eventually tells her it is his long hair. She cuts it, and sure enough, Samson loses his power.
Now, as modern readers, we are tempted to look at all of this and dismiss it as an ancient fable. We know this is not how the world works. First of all, God does not give us magical power for growing out our hair. Second of all, God would not be so petty as to punish us for being tricked. We know Samson has been forbidden to cut his hair, but he doesn’t. Delilah does, while he is asleep, and a man has to sleep sometime, right? This seems sort of mean of God, does it not? So, we are tempted to toss this story out as a fairy tale. Worse, if we go back earlier in the story to try and find a key as to why God would do this to poor Samson, all we find is a strange story of a man eating honey out of a dead animal.
But, what if I told you that, in fact, the story of the honey and the lion is indeed the key to unlocking the rest of the story? What if I told you that one does indeed lead to the other? It certainly does not jump off the page at us, but if we begin to understand some background, this story becomes much clearer. So, that is what we are going to do. We are going to step back from the story to get some context.
I apologize for putting the story on pause right now and not giving you an answer right away, but it will be worth it. Also, I apologize for what I am about to do, which is to load you up on information. As you read this information, you might think to yourself, “What does this have to do with a dude eating honey out of a dead lion,” but I promise it will all make sense soon enough. Just hang in here with me for a moment.
Let’s first talk about Samson’s world. Samson is, of course, an Israelite, and he belongs to the tribe of Dan. At this time, Israel has not yet fully established the land. So, they are not a geo-political entity yet, in the sense of having defined boarders. Instead they are somewhere in between a nomadic people and a sedentary people, as they are in the midst of the conquest begun by Joshua. Remember that Israel really started as a slave people in Egypt. Through Moses, God delivers these people and sends them to Canaan, via a forty-year sojourn in the wilderness. He has sent them to Canaan as part of a promise to give them the land, and under Joshua, everything is going well.
However, after Joshua’s death, where the book of Judges begins, the people of God begin to forget about their duty in conquest. God has commanded them to drive out all the inhabitants of Canaan so that they will be the only people in the land. Many people have found this kind of strange. Why would Yahweh demand displacement of all these peoples? Is this not cruel? In order to understand this command, we must remember why God has called formed Israel. He has called Israel out to be a “holy nation,” “a royal priesthood.” In other words, Israel was called into existence for the express purpose of being a ministry to the world, a light to the nations.
God is setting up Israel to be different, to have a character unlike anything else in the world. In this, the other nations will see Israel’s life and begin to ask, “What makes these people so different,” and this will lead them to seeking after Yahweh. So, in truth, this conquest is actually for the world, but, in the meantime, others could not live with Israel for several reasons, but we will highlight two. First God wants Israel’s light to be clear. He wants this land to be full of holy people. He does not want a mix of people, for He wants to ensure others, when passing through, will know as soon as they reach this area that something is different. Second, Paganism, which was ubiquitous in all other cultures of the world, was too big a temptation for Israel, and threatened God’s Holy ministry.
So, why did God have to pick the land of the Canaanites? Why could the Israelites not find some nice place in the middle of nowhere? Well, the very purpose of their existence was to be noticed, to be in the midst of the world, but not of the world. While God did not want others settling in their midst, he still wanted Israel to interact with the world, and, in the Ancient Near East, Canaan, this little strip of land on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, was the crossroads of the world. All the world powers traveled through here to make trade. It was the perfect local for such a ministry. This was for the world, but first, Israel had to be established. At first, when Joshua was leading the conquest, Israel was very successful in completing the will of God for their lives, but things changed after His death.
When the book of Judges opens up, the Bible tells us that Israel had forgotten about their call. They had taken only part of the land, and they were satisfied with this. They had accepted as much of God’s promise as made them comfortable and had simply said, “No thanks,” to the rest. They wanted to have the gifts that God had promised without having to live the life God had asked them to live. Because they had forgotten God, He allowed them to feel the repercussions of living out from under his protection.
Across the Mediterranean, an Aegean Sea people were making their way to Canaan. These people were seeking a place to live as they were being displaced elsewhere. They landed on the coast of Canaan, and began to settle, which, again, was a big problem for the conquest of Israel. Moreover, they clashed with Israel. In the book of Judges, they especially clash with the Danites, Samson’s people. At this time, the Israelites are living a little inland, in the hill country. Each group is looking to expand, and each has something the other wants. The Philistines have the fertile land of the coast, and the Israelites have access to major trade routes and resources. Thus, these peoples were on a historical collision course, and the Philistines had the upper hand. They were effectively threatening the existence of the Israelites, and were well on their way to extinguishing the light God had sent to the world.
Israel was in need of a savior. So, God sent judges. These men and women where not judges in the sense of a modern judge, a person who presides over a court hearing, although Deborah does fulfill this role to some extent. Instead, these people are ad hoc military leaders, persons sent as heroes and heroines to deliver Israel from their enemies. There is one judge that this book spends an extended time focusing on, and he is the focus of our discussion here.
Samson’s story begins just before his birth. An angel of the Lord comes to Samson’s parents, and he tells his father and mother (Manoah and his wife), that, although Manoah’s wife is barren, they will conceive and have a son, and he will “begin” to deliver the Israelites from the Philistines (13:5). The angel also tells Samson’s parents that Samson is to be a Nazarite from birth (13:7). This is essential to understanding our story today.
As we have discussed, Israel was to be a “Holy” nation, set apart as a ministry for God to the world. Their lives were to be different, and God gave them the Torah, the law, to show them how to live. On top of these regulations, a Nazarite was to take an oath and limit himself or herself to yet three more regulations (see Numbers 6): 1) A Nazarite could not come in contact with a dead body of any kind. 2) A Nazarite could not partake of wine or liquor. In fact, he or she could not even eat grapes or raisins. 3) A Nazarite could not cut his or her hair. This would be a sign of being further set apart to the Lord for a special purpose. A Nazaritic oath was an outward sign of an inward relationship with God, and, just as an Israelite was to be a sign to the world of God’s work in the world, a Nazarite would serve as a special reminder, a ministry to Israel, reminding them that God is doing special things among them.
Usually, a person was not a life long Nazarite. The oath would only last for a set amount of time. Traditionally speaking, there were only three Nazarites in Scripture who were Nazarites from birth. Samson was the first. Samuel was the second, and John the Baptist was the third. Interestingly, all three of these men were born to barren women. Samuel was the priest that anointed David and introduced him to Israel. In other words, he was responsible for introducing the greatest king ancient Israel ever had. Pretty big deal, right? John the Baptist was the man who introduced Jesus to the world. Pretty big deal, right? In other words, this exclusive club Samson was in was for men who had a destiny of greatness in the ministry of God. So, what happened to Samson? His life did not quite measure up. It ends with him having his eyes gouged out by his enemies and a building falling on top of him. Perhaps our story today will help us figure this all out.
Now that we have all this information, we can now pull it all together and return to the story we read earlier to see if we can make sense of it. First, we know that Israel is in a dark place, in need of a savoir, and there real issue was not an all at once rebellion against God, but a slow forgetting of their purpose: “Israel frittered away its inheritance a little bit at a time. Before any claims of overt apostasy appear, the text impresses on the reader a process in which the nation simply compromised the divine. Before settling for something other than Yahweh’s covenant promises, Israel settled for something less than Yahweh’s covenant promises.” What we are going to see in Samson’s life is more of the same. Samson was called to serve God by being a hero to the Israelites, one who would begin driving out the Philistines, but what we will see is a microcosm of Israel’s slows decent, as Samson also slowly forgets his place.
We begin right before our reading in Judges 14:5-9, with the speaking of the reason Samson is on the journey we find him on in our reading. He has demanded from his parents that they go arrange a marriage for him to a Philistine woman (Judges 14:1-4). Samson’s parents are distraught. They want him to marry an Israelite. This is not about race relations, but about putting one’s will before God. Samson’s parents know that marriage to a Philistine will mean that Samson will willingly bind himself to the very people that are lording over his people, the very people trying to snuff out the light of God to the world. Samson is willing to compromise his calling and his people to have his desires. So, the story of Samson’s slow decline begins with this:
1. Sin begins in the heart when we put our on wants in front of God’s will.
Now, we finally get back to the weird story of Samson and his eating honey out of the dead carcass of a lion. The first thing that we should note in this portion of the story is that, while Samson might have been on the path of putting self in front of God, God is still with him. The Scripture reports that while Samson was walking through the vineyards of Timnah, which must have been like the valley of temptation for a Nazarite that was not even allowed to eat a grape, a lion attacks Samson, and “the Spirit of the Lord” rushed on Samson so that he could kill the lion. In other words, Samson strength was not his own. God was his source of strength and his deliverer.
After the body had been decomposing a while, Samson passed back by alone, and decided he wanted to see the body. Now, he is forbidden by his Nazaritic oath to God to come in contact with a dead body. So, he is actively seeking temptation. He sees in the carcass of the lion something sweet. In the midst of that which is forbidden is something sweet. Samson is alone, and he probably thinks to himself, this is no big deal. No one will ever know; my Nazaritic testimony won’t be damaged because I am alone and I do not have to be accountable to anyone. The Scripture says he scrapes the honey out. He doesn’t just dab the honey; he scrapes it out.
2. Sin that begins in the heart soon manifests when we are alone and no one is looking.
We are often tempted to think that our secret sins don’t matter. They do not hurt anyone. No one will know if I click on this link. No one will know if I harbor this bitterness. No one will know if I take this pill. Only I will know. And, often, like Samson, we think we get away with it. Samson even tempts fate by giving some honey to his parents. I bet he is being like the child who, upon doing something wrong, immediately goes to see if his parents can tell or if they know something. How they did not smell the dead carcass all over him, I will never know. It is like the kid that goes out smoking with friends. How do the parents not smell smoke all over them? Samson’s parents don’t say anything, and Samson assumes he is in the clear. This is why our story today is so important, because it is so common, and it is really the rest of the story that shows us that the little sins, like this one, lead to deeper and deeper decline.
So, what happens next, after our reading from Judges 14? Well, Samson goes on into Timnah, and he decides he will throw a party with the Philistines in celebration of his marriage. The English translations of Judges 14:10 obscures the real issue here. The word for party (or feast) here indicates a drinking party, a party of wine. Now, wine was not forbidden for the Israelites, but for a Nazarite like Samson, it was. Remember, drinking wine was so forbidden that he was to abstain from all forms of the vine, but now he is supplying a party of wine. The implication seems clear. Samson is a part of this party. He has already sinned in secret by breaking the oath of not touching a dead body. Now he is with the Philistines, partying with wine, breaking his second oath.
3. What begins in the heart and moves to sinning in secret soon moves to hanging out with the wrong crowd.
I am sure Samson thought to himself. Well, no one at home will ever know about this. He is like a kid gone off to college for the first time. He is thinking to himself, well these people are already accustomed to party. I am not going to be a bad influence on them. They already do this. No one will get hurt.
And just like all muscle heads at a party, Samson begins to get cocky and starts acting stupid. He says to the Philistines: “Let me now put a riddle to you…Out of the eater came something to eat. Out of the strong came something sweet” (Judges 14:12,14) He is of course talking about the lion he killed, bragging cryptically, showing that he is actually growing arrogant in sin. He makes a bet, knowing the Philistines will have no clue how to figure out the riddle. He tells them that if they can crack the riddle, he will give them riches, but if they can’t, they have to give him riches. In their drunkenness, they agree. But, after they sober up, they realize that Samson is cheating them, and this leads to a long back and forth fight.
4. What begins in the heart and moves to the secret places and on to the company of people who will only bring you down, eventually leads to pride, even in the midst of losing control.
Samson’s conflict leads to his wife first being given to another man, and then leads to her and her father being burned to death. It leads to the devastation of crops and to many deaths, but Samson is still thinking to himself, “At least this is not hurting anyone at home.” But, he is wrong. In Judges 15, the Philistines attack the Israelites. Now Samson’s sins have made it back home, and his people say to him in essence, “Samson, you are supposed to be our protector, but, instead, you have lead us into loss and ruin. We have to get rid of you.”
Samson allows his people to tie him up and deliver him to the Philistines. But, in the last moment, he breaks free, and he picks up a fresh jawbone of a donkey. Do you see how far he has come? It all started with him flirting with the forbidden, a dead corps, in secret, and then to partying off with the Philistines. Now, he is touching what is forbidden, he is sinning, in front of, not only the Philistines, but also his own people, the people of God. And what is worse, I believe in his mind he justifies his sin. He thinks, “I am about to die. I need a weapon. I have to touch this dead thing.” Isn’t this how it happens. We finally get so caught up in sin that we take it home, and no matter how much it hurts those we love, we make excuses for doing what we will.
5. What begins in the heart, moves to the secret places, then to being with the wrong crowd, eventually leads to be defiant in front of those that most love you, the people of God, and you eventually lose respect for even them.
So, now we finally get to the story of Delilah. Remember, Samson has already broken two of three oaths he has made with God. He has touched a dead body, twice, and become drunk. Now the Scripture recalls his allowing Delilah to cut his hair (Judges 16). He is not deceived. He knows that each time he tells her how to take his power, she tries, but he lies to her each time. Finally, he tells her if she cuts his hair, he will lose his power. Instead of protecting himself from her by getting away from her, he falls asleep. This is not just a physical sleep; he is spiritually asleep as well.
When he awakes, she has cut his hair, and listen to what he says: “I will go out as at other times, and shake myself free” (Judges 16:20). He has finally forgotten the source of his strength. Throughout the story, he asks God for strength, but now, he says, “I will…” This is why he lost his strength. The haircut is just a representation of the final step. His outward signs of his inward relationship with God were all gone, and he had, like Israel, finally forgotten God. The Scripture continues in v20 by saying: “But he did not know that the Lord had left him.”
6. What begins in the heart, then with a secret sin that seems so insignificant, finally leads to forgetting God’s place in our lives.
There is a silver lining. It is never too late to repent and turn your situation around. After Samson loses his strength, the Philistines gouge out his eyes, and tie him up in a mill, and he spends his days grinding grain. As he is grinding grain he has time to reflect, and his hair begins to grow (16:22). This is a sign of his remembering his calling. He is brought into a building to be put on display in front of the Philistine elite. The room is full of men and women leading the campaign against the Israelites. They are mocking Samson. They feel they have one. Now, they will once and for all snuff out the light to the world.
Samson’s strength returns to him, and he pulls the building down upon himself and the Philistines, turning the tide for the Israelites. So, even in the midst of sin, God still accomplishes through Samson what He set out to accomplish. But, this does not mean Samson has had everything God intended for him. He is no Samuel or John the Baptist. The good news is that even when we do not live up to our calling, God’s ministry and purposes will still go on. God will win, but that does not mean that we have no reason to be spiritually obtuse.
We have a choice as God’s children. We can still do things our way, or we can choose to follow after God. The Scripture tells us that when we choose God, we will be given strength. Let’s go back to that passage in I Peter and keep reading: “Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world will suffer” (v9). The truth of the matter is that no matter what, we will face adversity. No matter what, Samson was going to face the Philistines in his life. The question is this: “How will you face your enemy?” Will you do like Samson, and try to go it alone. This only leads to misery. Or, will you stay steadfast in Christ. I Peter 5:10 tells us what the outcome will be if we choose to do it God’s way: “And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.”
For Samson, his demise was not about a haircut, but about a slow decent of forgetting God, which started off with a seemingly insignificant sin. For Christians, Satan is like a lion, but he is really a dead lion. Christ has defeated sin on the cross, so the only way Satan can have power over you is if you give it to him, if you fall prey to his temptation. Again, it is easy to dismiss Peter’s words in the midst of what seems to be a small, insignificant sin, but next time you are tempted to think it won’t matter, I hope Samson’s story is etched on your mind. Therefore, choose to be vigilant, to remain spiritually awake, and to live in all the hope and strength that God wants to give you through Christ Jesus our Lord. AMEN.
 All Scripture cited from NRSV unless otherwise noted:
The New Revised Standard Version. Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA. 1989
 Lawson Stone: Philip W. Comfort, ed. Cornerstone Biblical Commentary: Vol. 3 (Carol Stream: Tyndale. 2012) p.222