It’s so good to see you all this morning and those on livestream. If you feel a little tight this morning — which it is. We’re still looking for some seats. There are a couple up front here — just know that our third service has available seats. So, if you’re experiencing a little agoraphobia, third service, 5:00, same service, has a little more room. And we’d be happy to have 100 or 200 of you join us then.
So, before we return to our study of Samson, I want to let you know about a small change in our services coming two weeks from now, on April 15th. You’ve probably noticed for the last couple of years we haven’t passed the offering plates. And we want to give God glory. He has provided. Many of us, I know, give online. Some of you would bring checks to the church office. We also have offering boxes in the lobby. And it’s been quite remarkable to see God provide. We really haven’t said anything, and he has consistently provided for our needs and enabled us to be able to minister to other ministries here and around the world. And we just want to give God the glory for that. That is all of him.
But I mentioned a couple of weeks ago … I actually invited you to pray with the elders as we were praying about the need for us to give attention to giving as worship. I know none of us want … me, most of all … to be a place where we talk about money in a coercive, manipulative, fundraising fashion. I feel sick to my stomach thinking of that. But at the same time, the Bible is clear that we worship God with all that we are — hands, mouths, hearts, wallets. And so, giving is an act of worship. And it’s not just … just like singing, you can sing alone … but there’s something about singing in the fellowship of God’s people. So, we’ve been wrestling with that. What does that mean for giving as worship? And we’ve tossed around a bunch of ideas because, for those of us who give online, it just doesn’t seem the same. Singing a song as you’re imagining the money fly through the air from one bank account to another. I’ve done that some, but what we’ve decided to do is start passing the plates again in services on the 15th and to use that time. A couple of times a month, we will be singing during that time, just worshiping him for his provision. Once a month we’ll have a couple-minute talk from someone from the Scripture on “giving as worship” to help us all grow in that understanding. And then once or twice a month, we’ll do kind of what Allan Sherer did last week, just share examples of what God is doing around the world through the giving of his people so that it results in glory to God, how he’s providing for our ministry here in this community and around the world.
So, starting May 15th, if you want to help with that, if that’s a ministry you could participate in during the service you’re attending, we could use you. If you’re a man or a woman or an older teenager who loves Jesus, then feel free to email or call the church office or grab Dave Madson. Give a wave, Dave. A wave from Dave! He oversees that ministry. And you could let him know or just let the church office know you’re willing. And we would be grateful. Let’s pray.
Thank you again, Father, for your faithful provision for our ministry needs and for giving us the opportunity to bless others. And if there are members of our church … I’m not talking about visitors … but if there are members of our church who are missing out on the privilege and the joy of sacrificial giving and the fruit that you bear in our lives through that, we pray that you would open their eyes to the joy and the privilege, the gratitude that fills our hearts as you provide and even call us at times to give out of our need and watch you work. We praise you, and we pray that you would grow us all this year in this area.
And today, as we look at Samson and watch his strength disappear, we pray that you would show us how to do the opposite, to actually go from strength to strength, to see you, who gives power to the faint. And to him who has no might you increase strength. We pray that this service would be a strength-renewal service for the glory of your name through Jesus. Amen.
So, watching people who have great strength experience great decline can be one of the tragedies of life. For example, Howard Hughes inherited his father’s fortune when he was 18. He went on to be successful as a film director in Hollywood, as a record-setting pilot (fastest flight at the time around the world). As a real estate developer, he literally developed Las Vegas. He owned RKO Studios, Hughes Aircraft, the entire airline of TWA. At one point, he became … the richest man in America. And yet, as his wealth and fame increased, his soul and strength shrank, shriveled up, and not just from aging. And the cause is complicated. I don’t pretend to understand all the factors, but here are a couple of them.
One is his looks and money gave him access to all the beautiful movie stars, and he was well known to have immoral flings with many, if not most of them. Second, his pride caused him to supposedly say,
“Just remember, there’s no one I can’t buy or destroy.”
And that seemed to have boomeranged on him. Third, his fears and mental instability led him to eventually become a recluse. There were weeks and sometimes months of his life where he would sit in a chair without any clothes, staring at a screen, completely alone in a studio or a hotel room for months. Fourth, his injuries from plane crashes led him to become addicted to painkillers. When he died in 1976, he was dehydrated, emaciated, overmedicated, and essentially alone. He had no family, no friends, no descendants, no will for his billions. He was so strong, but so depleted.
This tragic story is similar to the life of Samson, who was set up for success, but ends up spiraling into bondage. And as we saw last week, he is a caricature of Israel. What is a caricature? It is an image with exaggerated features. And by caricature, I don’t mean fictitious. I mean excessive. He was an exaggerated version of Israel so that they could see themselves in him; they, Israel, set up for success, yet spiraling into bondage.
We talked last week about three examples of this “set up for success, yet spiraling downward.” Let me review on the first two, and then we’ll focus in on the third for today. Number 1, we talked last week about how he was set apart, yet became defiled. He was set apart. Judges 13, we see his unique birth story. There’s nothing like it. I mean, complete with pyrotechnics. He was a Nazirite. He was to drink no wine, to have no unclean contact with dead bodies or unclean food, and no haircuts. And yet very quickly, you see him ignore his set-apart calling — chapter 14:9, touching a dead body, rather flippantly viewing his unique calling.
Secondly, he was sent, yet became distracted. In 13:24-25, he was
“called, blessed, stirred of the Spirit.”
These are all describing, communicating a sending of God. Yet he demands a wife from the Philistines, and his defense for his decision was simply “she’s right in his eyes” — [Judges] 14:7, an embodiment of Israel — doing what was right in their own eyes. Samson was far more interested in entertaining himself with women and riddles than in fulfilling his calling.
Number 3, and this is where we pick up from last week. He was strengthened, yet became depleted. Samson’s unusual strength is legendary, whether he is tearing a lion to pieces with his bare hands (in 14:6) or striking down a thousand Philistines with a jawbone (in 15:15), or carrying off the gates of Gaza to Hebron, which is a very long way away. He was empowered like no other judge in Israel.
But despite his supernatural strength, he becomes an icon of weakness. And to see how this happened, let’s look at Judges 16. Here we find one of the most famous scenes. Movies have featured this scene. Operas have been written about this. There are so many striking details, so many repeated themes in this chapter. I think it’s really hard to read Judges 16 and just come away with general, big ideas. There are big ideas, as we’ll see at the end. But the particularities of this story are repeated and significant. And therefore, it seems as though God is calling Israel to see themselves in Samson and by extension, us to hear a warning for ourselves.
Now I’ve titled this section “How to Sap Your Strength.” So, if you came in today and feel spiritually feeble, weak, vulnerable spiritually to doubt or temptation, discouragement, anger, resentment … These characteristics that Samson exemplified may not fit you in every area, but I encourage you to, at least even right now, ask the Spirit to point out one of these four that might help you understand what might be sapping your strength, what might be gradually weakening your spiritual strength.
So, here we go. If you want to sap your strength, number 1, love without discernment. Love without discernment. Chapter 16, verse 4,
“After this, he [Samson] loved a woman in the Valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah.”
As we will see, Samson found Delilah irresistible. He had found his soul mate. He felt himself when he was with her. Nothing else mattered. Everything he dreamed of, she was. Now this mentality that there is a soul mate out there for you, and you need to pursue relation after relationship until you find that soul mate, and when you find her or him, you will know it. It was very common back then. It’s even more common today.
Elizabeth Gilbert, whose book Eat, Pray, Love has tragically sold over twelve million copies and been translated … this is even more shocking to me … into over thirty languages, she believes that romance and sexual attraction work as natural laws like gravity. Either two people have it, or they don’t, and it’s completely mysterious. She writes this. And here she’s not so much talking about the romantic attraction. She’s talking about the physical attraction, but she applies it to both.
“To feel physically comfortable with someone else’s body is not a decision you can make. It has very little to do with how two people think or act or talk or even look. The mysterious magnet is either there, buried somewhere deep behind the sternum, or it is not. When it isn’t there (as I’ve learned in the past, with heartbreaking clarity), you can no more force it to exist than a surgeon can force a patient’s body to accept a kidney from the wrong donor.”
So, for Gilbert, romance and attraction are mysterious magnets that are either there or they’re not. And when you believe this, it can set you up to do what Samson did. He did it back in chapter 14, “There is a woman of Timna.” The magnet was there. I want her. Well, why do you want her? Because I want her. That’s the justification. Some of you may be thinking, “Well, what does this have to do with sapping your strength?” Because when you believe this lie, it can make you a passive pawn to your passions. You become a passive pawn to your passions because when the magnet’s there, how do you say no to reality? It also, when it’s not there, why would I not end this marriage if it’s not there? Do you see? It’s out of my hands. It’s either there, or it’s not. I am a passive pawn of the mysterious magnet.
Eli Finkel, who is professor of psychology at Northwestern University, has done a ton of research on this in his RML, his Relationships and Motivation Lab. He writes this:
“The science is clear that holding strong destiny beliefs is perilous.”
Now stop for a second. What does he mean, “destiny beliefs”? He’s talking about what Gilbert just described — that you’ve either got this destiny to be with someone or not, that there is either this mysterious magnet or not. And he calls this — not a believer that I know of; he’s not writing as a Christian — He calls this perilous.
“and I wouldn’t be surprised if Gilbert’s extreme adherence to such beliefs played a role in her divorces.”
She’s burned through several marriages looking for the magnet.
“The issue isn’t that people who believe in romantic destiny are always less satisfied than people who don’t; indeed, when things are going smoothly, such individuals can be especially satisfied. The issue is that people who believe in romantic destiny tend to become unhappy quickly when relationships go through challenging times. Consequently, they are at a greater risk for breakup. And, of course, going through challenging times is virtually inevitable in a long-term relationship.”
So, an undiscerning destiny mindset is very different from what Finkel calls a “growth” mindset. It’s the opposite of relational fatalism. He describes it this way:
“That partners can cultivate a high-quality relationship by working and growing together.”
Do you see that? Every word there would be offensive to Elizabeth Gilbert.
“working and growing together,”
that magnets might not be created, but “grown, cultivated.”
“They view [people who have a growth mindset rather than a destiny mindset], they view conflict and other relationship difficulties as opportunities to develop a stronger relationship.”
So, conflict and difficulty challenges are not threats to the relationship, but actual opportunities to the relationship. Do you see how important this is? And why this destiny, mysterious magnet mentality is decimating so many relationships. Undiscerning love weakens you at the very time when you need strength to work through difficulty to humble your heart, to grow together. It strips love of its power. Why?
Well, to look at it from a different angle, listen to what Paul wrote. 2 Timothy 3:1,
“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will become lovers of self, lovers of money, … lovers of pleasure…” [I skipped a bunch for time’s sake.] “…lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.”
See, undiscerning love is diluted. It’s watered down. It’s not the real thing. It has appearance. And there are Christian versions of this, but it lacks power, spiritual power to walk through really hard things and die to self and see God raise up something new and beautiful from the difficult. This is why Paul prayed for the Philippian believers in Philippians 1:9.
“It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more…” [See the growth?] “…more and more, with knowledge and all discernment.”
Some people think knowledge and discernment is antithetical to love. Love, to be love, has to be mysterious. Yes, there is an element of mystery to love, no question. But that’s not all it is. That’s not going to make it in the storms. So number 1 way to sap your strength, love without discernment.
Second, play without purpose. Play without purpose. Samson’s story is riddled with the theme of entertainment, and here it continues. Each time Delilah begs Samson to tell her where his strength is, Samson responds with a joke. She doesn’t know it’s a joke, but
Hey, “bind me with” (7-9) “seven fresh bowstrings, and then I will be as weak without strength as any other man.”
And then when he snaps those, “Try new ropes, not old ropes, something from your shed, no new ropes” in verses 10-12, and he snaps those. Then “what if you weave my seven locks?” whatever that is. I’ve never met anyone who knew how many locks he has. [Judges 16] 13-14, “Weave the seven locks of my head into a web and then fasten it tight with the pin.” Make sure you have the pin. It’s key. Then he just rips that apart. And each time Samson breaks free, Delilah complains. Verses 10, 13, 15,
“You have mocked me! You have mocked me and told me lies!”
This is a game to Samson. He is entertaining himself. But we, who can read the whole story, are meant to see the danger because, by the time you get to verse 25, if you peek ahead, you will see that the one who was consumed with entertaining himself eventually becomes the entertainment in verse 25. It’s quite tragic. And without minimizing the need we have for recreation and enjoyment, Samson stands as an invitation to all of us to consider how we amuse ourselves.
Tim Elmore writes,
“For the past decade, God has been doing a work in my heart that has revolutionized the way I look at my pursuit of entertainment. Rather than establishing a complex set of standards in the spirit of the Scribes and Pharisees, I have learned to ask some simple, yet powerful questions about what it means for me to find pleasure in entertainment. Am I feeding my own sinful desires? Am I communing comfortably with sin? Do I encourage sin in others?”
There are times I could entertain myself and it doesn’t affect me, but it’s hurting someone else.
“Am I expressing regret for my salvation?”
Now, what does he mean by that? He explains.
“Of all the questions I ask of my entertainment, this is by far the most sobering. When I am tempted to find entertainment in sin, and when that entertainment stirs my flesh, I am assuming that it is sin and not Christ who satisfies. May we never find ourselves looking back with envy” [like Lot’s wife] “on those living in sin. May we never despise our deliverance.”
When we play without purpose, we are sapping our strength. And some of us … The reason your spiritual strength is so feeble is not what you do at work. You’re working really hard. But what are you doing in your free time to entertain yourself? It can sap your strength.
Number 3, confide without kinship. Confide, and by “kinship” here, I don’t mean natural kinship, being related to someone, but spiritual kinship. In verse 16,
“And when she pressed him hard with her words day after day, and urged him, his soul was vexed to death. And he [Samson] told her [Delilah] all his heart, and he said to her, ‘A razor has never come upon my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If my head is shaved, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak and be like any other man.’”
He told her all his heart. He bared his soul to her. What is most remarkable about this exchange is that Samson never forgot who he was. Look at verse 17.
“I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb.”
Samson knew who he was, but it didn’t matter. It had no effect on the way he lived. Isn’t that breathtaking, that we can actually know who we are as sons and daughters of God, followers of Jesus, and somehow never allow that to shape who we confide in, how we live? Paul warned us of this in Ephesians 5:6.
“Let no one deceive you with empty words,” [like Delilah did Samson] “for because of these things…”
What things? He had just talked about sexual immorality and covetousness.
“because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners.”
And that word “partner” is “fellow partaker,” and you’ll see it used elsewhere in Ephesians.
“of those who are fellow partakers of the promise.”
Don’t bind yourself to someone and confide in them, share all your heart, acting as if they are partakers of the promise if they’re not really that. He goes on to say
“therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness.”
Notice the identity.
“You were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.”
Notice there, you are light. It’s not just enough to know who you are. Samson knew that. You are light. Now walk as if you’re light. Live it out. Let it shape the people you confide in online, the people you share your heart with. It doesn’t mean you’re not going to have friends who are lost. But it means you bare your heart to people who are fellow partakers of the promise. If you confide without kinship, you sap your strength.
Number 4, live without gratitude or humility. Live without gratitude, or we could use the word humility. Look at verse 20.
“And she said [Delilah said], ‘The Philistines are upon you, Samson!’ And he awoke from his sleep and said, ‘I will go out as other times and shake myself free.’ But he did not know that the Lord had left him.”
Samson had presumed upon his strength for so long, he figured he could do anything, and it would be there until it wasn’t. He forgot that his strength ultimately had nothing to do with his hair. Back in the 70s, I had long hair, but I couldn’t tear lions apart with my bare hands. That was a gift. That was a gift from God. His strength came from God. It wasn’t his right. And he forgot that everything he had was a gift. He took it for granted until it wasn’t there when he needed it.
Isaiah warned Israel in Isaiah 30:15:
“For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.’”
Now notice their presumption.
“But you were unwilling, and you said, ‘No! We will flee upon horses … And we will ride upon swift steeds’; therefore, your pursuers shall be swift.”
What God is saying is when his people get to the point where they think, “No, I’ve got a way to fix this. I can take care of this. I always land on my feet.” Presumption saps strength at the very time when we need it most.
So, look at these four. How to Sap Your Strength — love without discernment, play without purpose, confide without kinship, live without gratitude or humility. Do any of these help you see today why your spiritual strength might be feeble, why you might get discouraged so quickly and just want to throw your hands up, why you tend to give in to temptation so repeatedly, why you still live as though shame is your boss, sin is your pharaoh.
Now the rest of the Samson story is both tragic and hopeful. Verse 21,
“And the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes and brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze shackles. And he ground at the mill in the prison.”
That’s the sad part. But notice just a glimpse of hope, a little foreshadowing.
“But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been it had been shaved.”
So, we see in the final paragraphs of chapter 16, Samson is a symbol of Dagon’s superiority. Dagon was the Philistines’ god, and they’re having a big worship service to Dagon, and Samson is brought out as live entertainment. A boy, symbolizing Samson’s weakness, has to hold him up and lead him along. Blind with no eyes, he staggers along, an icon of weakness, the one who used to be a pillar of strength. And about 3,000 leading Philistines were watching from the roof, but God was not finished. And although Samson is a symbol of Dagon’s superiority at the beginning of this scene, Samson becomes a means of God’s judgment. He prays in verse 28.
“O Lord God, please remember me, and please strengthen me only this once.”
And God hears his prayer. And he topples the pillars, taking out everyone, including himself. In verse 31, his family comes and buries him. He has judged Israel for twenty years.
So, what does this mean? In many ways, Samson is an antichrist or antisavior. His sinful choices led to his death. His victories were Pyrrhic and passing. His body stayed in the grave. But Samson is not only a caricature of Israel, but he’s also a billboard pointing to Jesus. Both Samson and Jesus had angelic birth announcements. Both were set apart with divine power. Both were betrayed, tortured, and mocked. Both accomplished more in their deaths than in their lives, Samson taking out many of the oppressors of Israel. Jesus, through his cross,
“disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to an open shame by triumphing over them.”
“He has delivered us from the domain of darkness.”
And so even though the Samson story has a lot of fascinating details, particularities that are there for warnings (1 Corinthians 10) for us. Ultimately, though, the Samson story points way beyond itself to a true Savior, and it’s full of hope. Let me give you a couple examples. Notice how Samson prays his best when he is weakest. Notice how Samson sees most clearly when he is blind. Notice how God hears Samson’s prayers from Dagon’s house even though it was Samson’s own sin that put him in that place. I think this is a big point because there are some of you right now who are spiritually weak, and you’ve convinced yourself that the reason you are is because you’ve made stupid choices, and that may be true. But God hears prayers from the very place of bondage that we put ourselves in. God is not limited. He rules over Dagon’s worship service. And he hears Samson’s prayers. “Please remember me. Please strengthen me.”
Some of you can pray that right now. “I don’t want to go on living spiritually anemic, a passive pawn to my passions. You’ve called me to something very different. The biggest encouragement I find right here is that God never breaks covenant even when his people do stupid things. He will find us at our lowest point.
I was thinking this week as I was reading this about our very first deacon at North Hills, who came to know Christ, bent over a toilet, vomiting after a night of drunkenness. And he just prayed, and God heard him. And from his lowest place, God began to transform him, to strengthen him, to save him, to make him a new person. There may be some of you here God has brought you today. Outside you look really good, but inside you’re at a really low place. He can renew your strength by his grace. Will you cry out to him?
I’m going to ask that the worship team come. As they come and we prepare to respond, I want to ask you will you pray right where you are with the little strength that you have? The Spirit will meet you and enable you to cry out to him. As we sing, as we remember the death, burial, resurrection of Jesus, let’s make this time a time of strength renewal. He will renew your strength as you cry out to him. Let’s stand together.