Samson: A Blown-Up Version
Last year as we journeyed through Mark, we talked several times about the difficulty of knowing when we don’t know, and we looked at this a couple of different angles. One was, we talked about Anton’s Blindness, the Anton Syndrome, which is … an actual condition when someone is physically blind but cognitively unaware of his blindness. Blind to blindness.
We learned about Mount Stupid. Some of you may remember that. We are on top of Mount Stupid when we learn enough to overcome our ignorance, but not enough to overcome our arrogance. Some of us live on this mountain. Our confidence exceeds our competence. As Adam Grant writes,
“A bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. In too many domains of our lives, we never gain enough expertise to question our opinions or discover what we don’t know. We have just enough information to feel self-assured about making pronouncements and passing judgment, failing to realize that we’ve climbed to the top of Mount Stupid without making it over to the other side.”
And this inability to see blind spots comes out quite vividly in the book of Judges, specifically in the way we do what is right in our own eyes. And we lose the ability to do triage. Are you familiar with that term, triage? It’s usually used in a medical context of establishing medical priorities. What do you address … What does a doctor or nurse address first? But in a very real way, we are constantly doing triage processes. In our lives, we’re determining what do we need to address today? What can we set aside? What are the priorities? And even one of the distinctions … Numbers of studies have concluded that one of the distinctions between people who succeed in what they pursue and people who don’t is that ability to distinguish between what is essential and what is nonessential. When we fail to succeed in our goals, typically we have lost track of what is essential and what is not.
In the book of Judges, this what we mean when we say, “our deepest need.” If you look at this modern image of all the distractions on the left and the right, the constant bombardment from within and without of priorities … Look at this. Buy this. Love this. Ignore this. These messages are bombarding all of us constantly. And even though this is a modern image, it is not a modern issue.
The gods of the people of Canaan were sexual and agricultural deities, custom designed to satisfy sensory cravings. They promised satisfaction and significance, but they never got to the deepest need. And as long as the people of Israel were doing what was right in their own eyes, they were blind to their blindness. They couldn’t see what they really need. And so, God uses a variety of means to get their attention, to wake them up, to help them see what they can’t see. And one of the most strange ways he does this is in Judges 13-16.
He uses a caricature of them. What is a caricature? A caricature is an image with exaggerated features. Think Mr. Incredible. Structural engineers are still baffled at the way his ankles can support his upper body. It is an engineering miracle. But for a caricature to be effective, it needs two things: one, it needs enough correlation to be recognizable, but then it needs enough exaggeration to make a point. And this comes out vividly in satire, which uses exaggeration and irony.
Take, for example, The Babylon Bee: “Walmart now requires all shoppers to wear pants.” So, what’s the correlation in there? People tend to underdress in Walmart. Have you noticed that? It’s not unusual at all to be walking down an aisle and encounter someone in their PJs or bathing suit. So, that’s the correlation. What is the exaggeration? Well, obviously they are exaggerating the fact that Walmart actually has to announce their official policy is you can’t go pant free.
So, in the story of Samson, Judges 13-16, God gives Israel — let me emphasize — a true but exaggerated vision of themselves. Samson in many ways is a caricature of Israel. He is what they are, but more so that they can see what they can’t see about themselves. That’s what caricature often does. It exaggerates something so you can see something that you otherwise might not have noticed. And I want to give you three examples of this, but today we’ll only be able to cover two. So, Lord willing, come back next week, and we’ll get the third.
So, number 1 — Set apart but defiled. Samson is set apart to God but becomes defiled. Now in Judges 13:1, Israel once again has rejected the Lord and is living under the oppression of the Philistines. And to help us locate ourselves in the book of Judges, I want to show you this chart. That is an attempt I’ve made to try to summarize the six major judges that we’ve looked at up to Samson. Now there are other minor judges thrown in there, but these are the big ones. Now notice … the movement that occurs as we move from the first to the sixth.
First of all, the narrative is more simple in the first three — 89 verses compared to more complex, 264 verses. The years of bondage. Notice under Samson, doubled the highest of previous judges. The years of freedom disappear during Jephthah and Samson. The character of the leadership moves from essentially pure to more blemished. And the people of God under Samson are not even crying out for freedom anymore. They’ve made peace with their slavery.
So, you could conclude that the kind of victory is moving from pure to Pyrrhic. What is Pyrrhic? What’s a Pyrrhic victory? Think of it in the athletic realm. If your team wins a game but your two best players get injured and are gone for the rest of the season, your coach may say that was a Pyrrhic victory. We won the game, but we now jeopardized the season because we’ve lost two of our best players. So, it’s a victory that doesn’t feel like a victory. It’s a victory that comes at too high a cost. Or in the military context, which is typically when “Pyrrhic victory” is used, you win a battle, but you lose so many of your forces that the general looks at it as a defeat. It feels much more like a loss than a victory. That’s the feeling we get when we get to this point in the book of Judges. Even when Samson wins, it doesn’t feel like victory. It’s much more like a Pyrrhic victory.
Now, the nature of the oppression under the Philistines versus what we’ve seen in the past under the Amalekites is a bit different. The Amalekites ruled through domination. The Philistines rule more often through infiltration. And you get a vision of this when you see the attitude of Israel. They have been lulled to sleep under the Philistines.
Let me show you one example. Chapter 15 — Samson burns the fields of the Philistines, and the Philistines want to get even. So, they prepare to retaliate, and some men of Judah, Israelites, hear of this retaliation, and they go to Samson and say, Judges 15:11,
“Then 3,000 men of Judah went down to the cleft of the rock of Etam, and said to Samson, ‘Do you not know that the Philistines are rulers over us?’”
Now that is heartbreaking, isn’t it? Here are Israelites saying to Samson, “We are slaves, Samson, and we need to start acting like it.” You see, they would rather have peace at any price than have strife that leads to freedom. Samson embodies the opposite. He has been set apart to God.
Jump back to — and we’re going to jump around a little bit. Hopefully, as we jump around a little, you’ll stay with me because in the end, we’ll, Lord willing, bring it together — but chapter 13 verse 3,
“The angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, ‘Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.’”
Now what is the Nazirite? Someone dedicated to God. And three distinctives are mentioned here. Number 1, no wine. Number 2, no unclean contact, can’t be near dead bodies, don’t eat unclean food. And number 3, no haircuts. Now the point here is not that haircuts are unholy, but that God is establishing some characteristics that to us seem random but become distinctives as, in a sense, a caricature of what it looks like to be holy. So, when Israel saw a Nazirite, they saw a bigger-than-themselves vision of what they had been called to as holy unto the Lord.
Let me give you an example of this. Years ago, Karen and I were in London, and we wanted to go to Speaker’s Corner. In 1872 Parliament officially established Hyde Park, part of Hyde Park, as a place for demonstrations, speeches, debates. And you can go there any day and listen to people talk about anything. It’s crazy. But especially Sundays, there are tons of speeches going on. And many of them, some of them, are Christian preachers, like this scene, where you have a man with an apron on with a message and a heckler. But often the Christian preachers are screaming out warnings of coming judgment or calling people to repent and believe in Jesus.
And as a Christian — I’m sure some of you have experiences downtown or any big city when you hear someone standing on a crate and screaming out — you had that weird feeling. Do you have that weird feeling? I have that weird feeling. “OK, I kind of agree with some of what he’s saying, but I feel really uncomfortable about the way he’s saying it. It doesn’t seem to communicate the invitation of the gospel. It seems a bit harsh and warped, like one side of the gospel, not the whole gospel.” But then this is always what happens to me. I don’t know if it happens to you. But as I’m listening to him, and I’m beginning to think, “Oh, I wish he wouldn’t, uh, talk this way, say this…” And the Spirit of God almost always says, “But at least he’s saying something!” Right? Has that ever happened to you? At least he has some courage. Maybe he’s using a method, a vehicle of communication, that I would not choose, but am I bold in sharing the love of Jesus with people? Am I courageous? Am I clear? At least he’s doing something!
And in a very real way, that’s what a Nazirite did for Israel. And in a sense, that’s what Samson is doing for Israel and, by extension, doing for us. You see this bigger-than-you, more radical, more extreme, maybe even a little offensive, caricature of what you’ve been called to. You’ve been called to be holy to the Lord. You currently may be blind to your calling. Or, in the case of the Speaker’s Corner, you’ve been called to proclaim the good news of Jesus. How are you doing? Are you boldly proclaiming the good news of Jesus? Even if you use a method, a style, that’s different from the guy wearing the apron.
Not all Israelites were called to be Nazirites, just some. Might God have been using those some as a caricature to wake up some others? And I think Samson is playing that kind of role here in Judges 13-16. However, even though he has been set apart to God as a Nazirite, very early in the Samson story, we see Samson violating his Nazirite calling. Chapter 14, for example, he killed a lion with his bare hands. That’s cool. [Judges] 14:6. [Judges] 14:8,
“After some days he returned to take her.”
It’s talking about a Philistine woman he wanted as his wife.
“And he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion, and behold, there was a swarm of bees in the body of the lion, and honey. And he scraped it out into his hands and went on, eating as he went. And he came to his father and mother and gave some to them, and they ate. But he did not tell them that he had scraped the honey from the carcass of the lion.”
Why does it matter? Numbers 6:6. A Nazirite was not to go near a dead body. The Nazirite was set apart to God, the God of life. He was not to go near a dead body, which pictured obviously death. Samson flippantly defiled himself. He did not take his set-apart status seriously. Do you see the caricature for Israel, the message for Israel? Israel, you’ve been set apart, and you’re flippantly acting like you’ve never been set apart to God.
Number , Set apart but defiled. Number 2, Sent but distracted. Sent but distracted. In [Judges] 13:24,
“And the woman bore a son and called his name Samson. And the young man grew, and the Lord blessed him. And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.”
And God blesses him and begins to stir him to action. This is calling, sending language. But Samson immediately goes after a Philistine woman and demands that his parents get her for him. Look at verse 3 of chapter 14.
“But his father and mother said to him, ‘Is there not a woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you must go take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?’”
So, the point here is not ethnic but religious. You’re dedicated to God. What are you doing?
“But Samson said to his father, ‘Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes.’”
Does that sound familiar? The people of Israel are doing what was right in their eyes? So, Samson becomes this caricature of the people of Israel. Samson embodies Israel’s addiction to do what was right in their own eyes. They’re following their hearts. They’re listening to their cravings. Verse 4,
“And his father and mother did not know that it was from the Lord, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines. And at that time, the Philistines ruled over Israel.”
Now this part is confusing, is it not? Was God leading Samson to defy his parents? Or was Samson sinning? And in one sense, the answer is yes. Not that God is tempting Samson. But remember, Samson is embodying Israel in good and bad. And if you look back at chapter 13 verse 1, you’ll see what is happening in 14:4. [Judges] 13:1,
“And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, so the Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years.”
OK, so, God gave Israel into slavery to worship false gods. So, was it God’s will that they sin? Of course not. They did evil, and he let them have what they wanted. This is so sobering for all of us, isn’t it? As we become irresistibly drawn toward and interconnected with our cravings and our culture, God will at times give us over to what we think we want so that we will wake up and realize this is not ultimately what we want. We begin to say things like, “Well, why would God give me a desire he didn’t want me to satisfy? Why would he stir up attractions in me that he doesn’t want me to satisfy in this way?” And our minds … We’re so creative! We can find creative ways to believe that God is actually calling us to do what he’s actually forbidden. And that’s what’s happening here: “Samson, you want that so badly?” God says, “Have it.” And he is just a micro picture of this entire nation that is doing what is right in their own eyes.
So, a big wedding feast is planned, and during the festivities, Samson tells a riddle and offers his companions thirty linen garments, which is fancy underwear (It’s something you’d dress up in for Walmart), and then thirty changes of clothing, which is fancy outerwear. And then, Samson said, If you can solve my riddle, you get this as a prize. Look at [Judges] 14:14,
“He said to them,” [Here’s the riddle] “‘Out of the eater came something to eat. Out of the strong came something sweet.’ And in three days they could not solve the riddle.”
So, the Philistines turned up the heat on Samson’s new wife — turn or burn. And Samson’s wife turned and began weeping, begging him, and convinced him to tell her his riddle. [Judges] 14:18,
“What is sweeter than honey? What is stronger than a lion?” And when Samson realized that he had gambled and lost, his wife had betrayed him, he went down to Ashkelon, killed thirty men in order to take their garments and pay his debt. And then he went in hot anger to his father’s house. And if you think the conflict is over, it’s just warming up. Chapter 15. You talk about Hatfields and McCoys, here it is. Israel and Hamas. Brace yourself!
Samson’s father-in-law gave his wife to his best man because he had left. When Samson realized this, he burned the fields of the Philistines out of revenge, using mainly foxes and torches. And then the Philistines get back at Samson by burning his ex-wife and father-in-law. And so, Samson wipes out a bunch of Philistines. You’re watching this go back and forth, this blood feud. And in one sense, Samson is achieving his mission, right? He’s making war. He’s fighting against his captors. And yet, in another sense, he is spiraling out of control. We’ll see that more next week when we get to chapter 16 and see some of the moral choices he makes.
But he is clearly sent. He’s been set apart and now sent on a particular mission. But he seems extremely distracted. He’s telling riddles. He’s entertaining himself. He’s feeding on honey. He’s pursuing women who worship other gods. Extremely distracted!
And he is an Old Testament version of the story Jesus told of the prodigal son, who grew up in the father’s house, had everything — the love of his father, inheriting everything — and yet decided that his father was keeping something from him. He was missing out on something. He’s got to go find what he’s lacking. And so, he takes his inheritance and he spends it partying and with prostitutes and then ends up in a pigsty. And Luke 15:17 says “he came to himself.” That’s such an interesting statement. He woke up one day and realized the self I was designed/made to be is not the self that I am. And he began for the first time to imagine that his father has different intentions than what he had assumed. “My father’s servants are better off than my father’s son. What am I doing?” And so, he began journeying back to his father’s house. His father met him with a robe and a ring and brought him back into the home.
Samson is a picture of that prodigal mindset. Now we’ll keep going with the Samson story next week, but for today, let’s focus not just on Samson, but the Father, our Father, the father of the prodigal, and see if we can understand what went wrong. What did Samson miss? What did Israel miss? What did the prodigal son originally miss? What do we miss?
I’ve been thinking about this lately from an abundance/scarcity mindset. This language is often used in a couple of different contexts. One is it’s often used in health/wealth, prosperity gospel kind of thing. I’m not thinking of it in that context. It’s also used in motivational and relational contexts. Stephen Covey made that famous in his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People … Abundance versus scarcity in the way you relate to others, which is huge.
But I’m thinking even deeper — how we view our Father. Do we have a scarcity mindset or an abundance mindset regarding our Father? You say, where is that in this story? Right near the beginning. Look at chapter 13 again when Manoah asks the angel of the Lord his name. Verse 18,
“And the angel of the Lord said to him, ‘Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?’”
And I’m so sorry we have to do a little word study. That word “wonderful” is the adjective form of a word that we’ve learned in the past many times — “pala.” This is “pali,” the adjective. The word “pala” means … It’s a beautiful Hebrew word … “something only God can do; full of wonder; something only God can do.”
And so here, “‘Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?’ So Manoah took the young goat with the grain offering, and offered it on the rock to the Lord, to the one who works ‘pala.’” There’s the verb form — “the one who does what only God can do.”
So, Manoah and his wife are encountering the one they think is just an angel delivering a message, and they’re beginning to realize, whoa, this is someone much greater! “And Manoah and his wife were watching. And when the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the Lord went up in the flame of the altar. Now, Manoah and his wife were watching, and they fell on their faces to the ground.”
I know some of you love to have fireworks on July 4th, but I’m guessing none of you have ever gone up in your fireworks. Not just with a seatbelt, but I mean in the flame! Wonder full.
And so, when they realized that what they had just seen was beyond what they could have imagined, they both fell on their faces, which is the reasonable thing to do. And in verse 22,
“Manoah said to his wife, ‘We shall surely die, for we have seen God.’”
Now, in one sense, Manoah is speaking rationally. No one sees God face to face and lives to tell about it. But in another sense, Manoah is displaying what we could call a scarcity mindset. “Honey, we must have done something wrong. We looked when we weren’t supposed to look! We saw what we’re not supposed to see!” If you’ve ever encountered a drug deal going on, like a big one, that you realized I wasn’t supposed to see that and I’m probably going to die. That’s, to a much greater extent, the feeling that Manoah and his wife have at this moment.
But Manoah can only see the scarcity side. What did we do wrong? What did we miss? What have we seen? And then his wife, she’s amazing. She reasons theologically. Verse 23, “His wife said to him, [Honey,] ‘If the Lord had meant to kill us, he would not have” done three things (three-point sermon). Number 1, “‘He wouldn’t have accepted the burnt offering and a grain offering at our hands.’” Number 2, he wouldn’t have ‘”shown us all these things.’” Who does that?! To show this pyrotechnic display of beauty and power just so he can kill us! And number 3, he certainly wouldn’t have “‘announced to us such things as these.’” The barren is going to have a baby, who will begin to rescue the people of Israel.
Come on. Look what he’s done! Look past your fears and see the intentions of God. Why would God do all this if he intended to harm us? Why would God do all this if his intentions were not to bless us? God’s heart is on full display in this little explanation of Manoah’s wife. And it’s the same rationale that Paul uses in Romans 8:31. At the climax of his argument, he says,
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
That’s abundance! That’s an abundance mindset! It’s not some kind of weasel who’s trying to just get something that we don’t deserve. It’s looking beyond. Yeah, if we get what we deserve, we’re burning in hell right now. We get that.
But look at the heart of our Father. He gave his Son, and if he would do that, why would he not give you everything right now, everything you need? It’s right there, a feast of his faithfulness. And he’s going much deeper than just the money I think I need, the clothes that will impress people, the superficial things that the gods of the Canaanites were designed around to form fit our cravings. No, as Peter wrote in 2 Peter 1:3,
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us”
Do you see that calling language? You’ve been set apart
“to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature,”
Can’t get any higher than that!
“having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”
And if we kept reading through what Peter goes on to say, he says down at verse 9. Don’t be myopic, blind, to what we’ve been given. See what he has for you!
Rachel Gilson was an atheist at Yale, living as a lesbian, had no interest in God. I’ve told you about her before. She stole a Mere Christianity, read it, eventually became a Christian. And then she was encountered with this huge turmoil. As she read the Bible, it conflicted with her desires, her relationships. And so, she saw the conflict between what she craved and what God’s Word says is true and good and abundant. And as she wrote later,
“Our desires whisper lies in our ears. They gather steam from our culture and shout over any objections…. Sometimes the voice even comes from those we trust most in this world: those who claim to love God.”
What she’s referring to there is after she became a believer, she went to the chaplain at Yale, a Christian chaplain, and said, “Can I pursue my lesbian desires and still follow Jesus?” And the chaplain said, “Of course, he wouldn’t have given those desires if he didn’t intend for you to satisfy.” And then she went back to the Bible and kept going back and forth and then came to the conclusion that that’s not true. Am I going to believe God, or am I going to believe my culture or my cravings? And she goes on to say,
“We need God’s words more than ever.”
Why? So we can see what we can’t see.
“He has not abandoned us to be raised in the orphanage of desire.”
Now, just stay there for a moment. There is an orphanage that some of us are living in. We’re living as spiritual orphans, thinking if we can just suck the life out of whatever craving I have, whatever the world says I need, then somehow I’m going to be satisfied. Rachel calls that an “orphanage of desire.”
And what God is calling us to, through a strange leader named Samson, through a difficult period known as “the judges,” which is not that different from where we are today, is that God has so much more for you … way more! He hasn’t called you to live in a little orphanage of desire. He has a feast for you, and he prepares a table for you in the presence of your enemies. In other words, even in the midst of trials, he’s pouring out love and grace, peace, joy. He is a good, good Father, who loves to give good gifts. Will you run to him today? Let’s pray.
Father, when I do right in my own eyes, I am moving into an orphanage of scarcity. Help us to see that you have so much more for us. “You make known the path of life. In your presence, there is fullness of joy. Fullness of joy! At your right hand are pleasures forever more.” God, I’m not going to trade that for anything! My cravings convince me I need. My culture screams I’m not whole without. We need you, Lord, to open our eyes. Help us see what we can’t see. Increase our appetite for you. We beg you in Jesus’ name. Amen.