Father Abraham had a Son

(Please read Genesis 22:1-19 in your preferred Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare this study.)

Professional baseball has been played in America since 1875, but on September 14, 1990, something happened that has never happened before or since. Late in his career, Ken Griffey, Sr., who had been a key member of the World Series champion Cincinnati Reds years before, was signed by the Seattle Mariners. His son Ken Griffey, Jr. was just starting his major league career. In the first inning of a game against the Angels, Griffey, Sr. hit a home run to left center field. His son followed him to the plate and hit another home run to almost exactly the same spot. It was the only time a father and son had hit back-to-back home runs in baseball history. Ken Griffey, Jr. said later that his father greeted him at the plate by saying, “That’s how you do it, son!”

There are few joys that can compare to seeing our children and grandchildren succeed. Whether it’s on a ball field, at a music recital, in an academic competition, or, most importantly, in a spiritual setting, seeing a child demonstrate character and competence is a true pleasure. But this victory is not something that just happens. Every right performance, every victory over temptation, every accomplishment is the result of a concerted effort to prepare for the moment of challenge.

As we so often see in the Bible, this moment of high drama is written in an understated way, devoid of lurid details or a psychological exploration of the characters.  It’s easy to imagine Abraham’s feelings by projecting ourselves and our children into the narration, so we can guess at the surprise Abraham felt at the command, the dread he felt during the journey, the resolve he showed atop Mr. Moriah.

We need to remember that these things are not found in the Bible because the emphasis is not on any of the human beings, but on God.  Remind yourself that God is the hero of every historical account.  Though these verses are tense with drama, the point is that we do NOT center our attention on Abraham or Isaac, but upon God and what He is doing in them.

Just as the Bible is God-centered, so is biblical parenting.  One of places the Church and the world have erred is in making children the center of family life.  If we truly desire to have a home life that is at its healthiest and happiest, then we do the hard work of centering our focus on God and keeping Him in the middle of all we do in the home.

The best parenting is God-centered, not child-centered or self-centered.

Self-centered parenting reduces children to pawns we move about to inflate our ego.  The typical example is that of “stage parent” or expectations that children will follow their parents in choices of college and/or vocation.  Parents who are motivated to satisfy themselves through their children are prone to all kinds of abuse.

Though it sounds like a better situation, child-centered parenting is just as far from God’s will as self-centered parenting.  Children have a place in most families but it is never first place.  Children given too many choices, too much authority, and/or too much freedom are bound to be self-centered and godless adults.  A husband & wife constitute a family; children are additions to it.

The biblical standard is God-centered parenting.  It requires the most work and discipline, but provides the most joy and best results as well.

  1. Background: Isaac was the son of promise.

The promise was made in chapter eighteen when three angels came to announce to Abraham and Sarah that after decades of childlessness, they would be blessed with the birth of a son.  Biologically speaking, this was a miracle.

The promise was kept 25 years later, in chapter twenty-one, when Isaac was born.

  1. God gave Abraham a weird command (1-2).

While child sacrifice was common in pagan cultures, it was not Abraham’s practice.  For example, in Carthage, archaeologists have excavated a pagan temple to find remains of thousands of children sacrificed to false gods.

It was often a brutal, unmerciful form of killing:  hollow metal statues were heated by internal fires and then the children set in the red-hot hands of the idol.  Though we are at a time when God has not yet revealed His law forbidding child sacrifice, we can pretty safely assume it was not Abraham’s practice for two reasons: first, he had previously been childless; none to offer as sacrifices.  Second, God chose Abraham because he was a good man and child sacrifice was not the kind of thing good men did.

God knew this command would come at a high cost to Abraham.  We know this from what God said in verse two.

When He said, “YOUR SON, YOUR ONLY SON,” God is clearly not counting Ishmael, an illegitimate son born to Sarah’s maid, Hagar.  That was Sarah and Abraham’s ill-advised attempt to fulfill God’s promise themselves.  It led to bad blood (21:8-21).  It’s idiotic to think of children of “spares;” the loss of any child is great grief. Can we assume then an only child is especially hard to lose as there are no others to love?

God added, “WHOM YOU LOVE.”  How did God know this?  Obviously, God knows all hearts.  In Abraham’s heart He saw love for Isaac.  Because Abraham had waited SO VERY LONG for this son, God knew the idea of losing him must’ve been more difficult.  Add to all of this the fact that Isaac was understood to be the fulfillment of God’s promise.  It is hard to receive a blessing and then have it unexpectedly taken away.

He clarified the means of offering Isaac: “AS A BURNT OFFERING.”  Animal sacrifices were a universal part of cultures of this time, but they had not been made into law by God.  Mercifully, the animal offered was killed first; not left alive to suffer being burned alive.  The Law was still several generations away, awaiting Moses the Lawgiver.  The procedure would have been something familiar to Abraham and Isaac too, as his question later indicates.

The reader is advised in verse one that this whole episode is God “testing” Abraham and we have the benefit of history to know how it turned out.  But Abraham did not know that, so these costs were very real to him and his feelings may’ve been very intense.

God knew Abraham’s heart; we rely on the text to show us that Abraham had deep love for his sons.  One indicator is the way he reacted to Sarah’s demands that Ishmael, the illegitimate son, be sent away: THE MATTER DISTRESSED ABRAHAM GREATLY BECAUSE IT CONCERNED HIS SON (21:11).

God reassured Abraham that it was OK to send them away because his descendants would be enumerated from Isaac.  God also reassured him with the promise that He would make a NATION out of Isaac too.

His distress may’ve been the thing that prompted God to TEST Abraham in this way.  If he reacted so strongly to the loss of Ishmael, how would he react to the loss of the legitimate son, Isaac?

Let’s take a quick break for a geography lesson.  Why go to MORIAH (2)?  The name meant “place of Yahweh’s provision.”  It was so named in verse fourteen.

The word “provide” figures prominently in this passage as it affirms our trust in God TO provide all we need.  When confronted with the surprising command, Abraham must’ve wondered how God would provide descendants if Isaac would not live.  For example, when Isaac asked about the sacrifice, Abraham affirmed his faith that God would provide one (8).

Why on a mountain (2)?  In most ancient cultures, mountains were considered sacred spots.  It was on mountain tops that altars were constructed, sacrifices were made and worship was offered.

Why end up in BEERSHEBA (19)?  The name meant “Well of Seven” or “Well of Oath.”  It was the place where Abraham made a treaty with Philistine leaders to ensure his family could live peacefully in the region (chapter 21).  Having gone to all that trouble, he chose to remain there.  It was “home.”

  1. Abraham prepared to obey (3-10).

EARLY THE NEXT MORNING (3) meant Abraham practiced obedience in time.  He didn’t wait for a convenient time or procrastinate.

God promised to show Abraham the place (2) and he did (4).  This revelation happened ON THE THIRD DAY after they left Beersheba.  We should not miss this detail.  Abraham kept the purpose of the long journey to himself and must’ve agonized inwardly over this long period.  Wow!

When they arrived, Abraham kept the servants at a distance (5), perhaps to prevent their interference.

Isaac was involved but not informed in this sacrificial offering (6-8).  I don’t know his age at this time, but Isaac was old enough to reason and express himself and had clearly been on these sacrificial trips before.

He went through a mental checklist:

Wood?  Check.

Fire?  Check.

The KNIFE (a special sacrificial one)?  Check.

The lamb?  Oops.  No lamb – no check.  Did dad forget the lamb?  Seems kind of important – better ask him about it.

Abraham’s answer to Isaac’s question is a little evasive, but fits the theme perfectly: “God will PROVIDE the lamb, my son.”  Isaac apparently trusted his father, as the text makes clear that there was no more conversation about it (8).

How was Abraham able to do this?  Going by his actions, Abraham’s heart was resolved: his motive was to obey God .  Going by what Paul and James were inspired to write about this event, Abraham’s rationalization was theological: he trusted God to have the power to fix this.

Actions count and Abraham acted in obedience all the way.  He built the altar, piled the wood on it, tied Isaac up, the lifted him up on the wood and drew his knife.  That’s a lot of work to do and there is no sign in the text that he did it with a conflicted heart or mind.  He just obeyed.

  1. God blessed Abraham’s obedience (11-19).

God stayed Abraham’s hand at the last moment, sparing Isaac (11).  Rembrandt’s painting captures this moment brilliantly: the angel intervened to save Isaac.  Hundreds of years later, God would make this occasion part of His Law; in Exodus 13:1+15 he declared that the first-born were all His; a “sacrifice” that did not need to be executed because they were His already.

God explained Himself in vs. 12, 15-18.  This event not only tested Abraham’s faith, but reinforced his conviction that God would use Isaac to bring about the many descendants he promised.  The main point, however, is not about Isaac; it’s about Abraham and his faith.  Because he demonstrated to God that he did not value his son above God, God confirms His promises to Abraham:

He will be blessed (12:2).

His descendants would be innumerable (13:16; 15:5; 17:2).

They will possess the CITIES OF THEIR ENEMIES (12:7; 13:15; 15:18; 17:8).

God would bless the entire world through them (12:3; 18:18).

God provided a substitute sacrifice (13-14).  Though a ram could naturally get caught by its horns in thorns, the fact that it was there exactly when and where it was needed, that is clearly supernatural.

Abraham perceived it this way and named the place to commemorate the event.

Theologically, we’re all in favor of the sovereignty of God until we have to change our plans or until we have to recognize that when God uses someone, it’s not always with their permission or approval.  It’s comforting to know that God is in charge up until the moment we insist on being in charge.

We can’t have it both ways, folks.  Since the Bible teaches us that God does not change and that he is in charge, we all have to face the fact that it is NOT all about me.  While human beings are the pinnacle of His creation, we bend to follow HIS will, not Him to follow ours.

What learned from Samson in the last five weeks is that God’s plan will be completed.  Whether we are pawns or a king, God is the hand that moves us.

In short, we need to build a bridge and get over ourselves.

James uses the account of Abraham offering Isaac as evidence to support his teaching that faith must be paired with works to be real.  We read in James 2:20-24:

You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?  Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.  And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.  You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

This quote also gives us a third interpretation of the life of Abraham, how it was faith that motivated his obedience to God.  Even though Abraham could not, in the moment, see how God was going to work things out, he followed through and did everything God commanded.  That is how disciples behave: obedience comes before understanding, if necessary.

He Brought Down the House!

Please read Judges 16:23-31 in your Bible of choice.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Here’s a story illustrating the character of “macho men” like Samson.  It is a cautionary tale but entirely untrue.

“MISSING HIS LOVED ONE”

A husband went to the police station and told the officer on duty, “My wife is missing. She went shopping yesterday and hasn’t come home.”

The sergeant grabbed some paperwork and asked, “What’s her height?”

“Gee, I’m not sure. A little over 5 feet.”

“Weight?”

“Don’t know. Not slim, but not real fat.”

“Color of eyes?”

“Sort of brown, I think. I never really noticed.”

The sergeant sighed and asked, “Color of hair?”

“It changes a couple of times a year. Maybe dark brown, I can’t remember.”

“What was she wearing?”

“Could have been pants or shorts. I don’t know exactly.”

“Was she driving a vehicle or walking?”       “She went in my truck.”

“What kind of truck was it?”

“A 2016 Ford F150, King Ranch 4×4 with eco-boost 5.0 L V8 engine special ordered with manual transmission and climate controlled air conditioning. It has a custom matching white cover for the bed, which has matching aftermarket bed liner. Custom leather 6-way seats and “Bubba” floor mats. Trail King package with gold hitch and special wiring hookups, DVD with full GPS navigation, satellite radio receiver, 23 channel CB radio, six cup holders, a USB port, and four power outlets. I added special alloy wheels and off-road Michelins. It has custom running boards and indirect wheel well lighting.” At this point, the husband started choking up.

The sergeant consoled him, “Don’t worry buddy, we’ll find your truck!”

https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/price-of-haircut–devils-barbershop-john-gaston-sermon-on-cost-of-sin-202944?ref=SermonSerps

There’s a modern day Samson, right? The point of Samson’s life is that God’s plan will be accomplished.  Our life will be vastly improved if we cooperate with His plan rather than oppose Him with our sin.

The end of Samson’s life accomplished more than the middle.

  1. V. 22 = the short-sightedness of the Philistines.

Satisfied with finally capturing Samson, the Philistines let his hair grow.  The point is not the hair, but obedience to God.  The text does not tell us how long Samson was imprisoned, but if the average person’s hair grows at a rate of eight inches a year, then some time may have passed.

  1. The Philistines held a party to mock Samson (23-25).

The five rulers of the capitol cities gathered to humiliate their foe (23).   Ostensibly, the party was held to OFFER A GREAT SACRIFICE TO DAGON THEIR GOD.  DAGON was an idol worshiped by more than one of the pagan cultures bordering Israel.  Every year at harvest time they held a national gathering in Gaza, so Samson may or may not have been the guest of honor at this party.

The real reason was to CELEBRATE, as they said, “OUR GOD HAS DELIVERED SAMSON, OUR ENEMY, INTO OUR HANDS.” Modern people tend to interpret events scientifically; we think about cause and effect.  Ancient people interpreted events theologically; struggles between nations were at the same time struggles between the gods.  Whoever won the war had the stronger gods.  However, the truth was that Samson’s capture was not Dagon’s victory; rather, God abandoned Samson to his enemies.

They gave Samson a bit more credit than he deserved: “WHO LAID WASTE TO OUR LAND AND MULTIPLIED OUR SLAIN” (24). We should remember 15:3-5, where Samson destroyed at least part of one year’s harvest.  The fire may’ve been widespread.  So he did lay at least part of their land to WASTE.  Regardless of the truth of these charges, it is clear the Philistine people hated Samson and celebrated his current low circumstances as just punishment.  Also in chapter fifteen, you recall Samson killed 1000 Philistines, which does qualify for at least part of multiplying their SLAIN.

It is certain they were in HIGH SPIRITS (25).  They demanded Samson be brought in to ENTERTAIN them.  The word translated as ENTERTAIN meant to “play with” or “amuse one’s self with” something.  This mocking and scorning of Samson is the first demonstration of how the Philistines really hated Samson.

What does the text mean when it says Samson PERFORMED FOR THEM?  It means Samson acted in much the same way a bear does when people stoop to abusing the bear in “bear baiting.”  Samson performed so well he literally “brought the house down.”

  1. Samson fulfilled God’s promise for his life in his death (26-31).

It appears Samson had something other than a good performance in mind (25-26).  Having been blinded (21), he could not pick them out himself, so Samson asked to be guided to the pillars that bore the load of the temple’s roof.  Archaeology has supplied evidence of ancient structures that were based on two pillars giving primary support to the roof.  In this instance, the structure was made more unstable by the weight of 3000 people on the roof.

The specific nature of this request indicates that Samson is thinking strategically again.  It would have been easy to hear the shouts of the people around and above him.

The text tells us that the temple was crowded with people, setting the stage for what would follow.  There were 3000 people just on the roof, THREE TIMES more than Samson killed with the jawbone of a donkey (ch. 15).  V. 28 is the second recorded prayer of Samson and he’s asking for nothing more than revenge. This is disappointing.  After all he’s suffered, Samson still doesn’t understand. The entire chapter is devoted to the acts of violence Samson perpetrated because he wanted revenge for various slights and offenses.  I’ll grant you having one’s eyes gouged out is a serious thing, but it’s not worth killing thousands of people.  The prayer is still very self-centered as well; the word ME is used three times and MY used once.  All of that in one verse.

In the final act of his life, Samson got the revenge he desired. What’s confusing is that Samson’s great strength returned, but the Lord is not credited with endowing Samson.  The Spirit is not mentioned in the way that he has been previously.  BUT, as this is the way it’s been done before, I think we can assume the Lord answered Samson’s request with a “Yes.”

What counts is the result: Samson used his strength to pull the temple down on himself and his enemies (29-30).  It was a murder/suicide that surely made the evening news.  Somehow Samson  moved the massive pillars off their bases with his bare hands.

His declaration “LET ME DIE WITH THESE PHILISTINES!” measures both Samson’s anger and his depression.  He did not want to live as a blinded workhorse, a helpless captive to the wrath and scorn of his enemies.

THUS HE KILLED MANY MORE WHEN HE DIED THAN WHILE HE LIVED is a depressing statement isn’t it?  Because Samson wasted the gifts God gave him, he accomplished more of God’s will by dying than he ever did in life.  In fact, some time later, the losses inflicted solely by Samson helped the Israelites defeat the Philistines (1 Samuel 7:7-14).

Verse 31 is Samson’s epitaph.  He got a good burial.  The words BROTHERS and FAMILY here convey a larger group than Samson’s parents.  A good number of Samson’s people braved the trip to Gaza to retrieve Samson’s remains.  I assume this was at some personal risk, even though Samson killed the entire Philistine government with his one act.  His was the third-longest judgeship over Israel, leading the nation – sorta – for 20 years.  (V. 31 is a repeat of 15:20.)

Here’s how Herbert Wolf summarized the life of Samson; “Samson was ranked among the heroes of the faith (Heb. 11:32).  Yet he failed to live up to his great gifts.  Unable to conquer himself, he was ruined by his own lusts.  He stands as a tragic example of a man of great potential who lacked stability of character.  Still, God in his sovereignty used him.”  (the Expositor’s Bible Commentary #3, p. 479.)

The end of Samson’s life accomplished more than the middle.

In a sermon preached last year, Pastor John Gaston asked a great question; “What’s the price of a haircut in the devil’s barber-shop?”  In Samson’s case, the haircut in question cost him his eyesight, his freedom, and ultimately, his life.  His last act of disobedience was the culmination of a lifetime wasting the gifts of God on self-centered and sinful pursuits.

It’s easy to criticize Samson because he makes it so easy.  His sins are gross and obvious and excessive.  But we need to be careful.  Just because our sins are subtle, concealable, and contrived does NOT mean they are any less deadly in consequence than Samson’s.  As with all persons whose stories are told in the Bible, we must hold them up as a mirror to our own souls and pray for God to reveal any similar shortcomings.  Sins like gossip, back-biting, complaining, and lying are no less deadly than any of the things Samson did.  God regards them as equally serious.

As we conclude this series on Samson, we will fail to put these chapters to godly use if we don’t compare ourselves to Samson.  For example, we are gifted by God.  It is not with supernatural strength, but we are gifted in many other, less spectacular, ways.  What are we – as individuals and as a church – doing with our gifts?

Can we honestly say that we are joyous partners with God in using His gifts to accomplish His will?  Or are we wasting our gifts and our time satisfying ourselves?  Do we serve God with our days or are we indulging in sin, making excuses and winking at our misbehaviors.

We’ve had our fun with Samson, rightly noting the ridiculous excesses of his behavior and attitudes.  We must end this series with unflinching honesty as we look to ourselves.  If we walk down Samson’s path, we must confess and repent and choose God’s way instead.

Samson Didn’t Know How to Pick ‘Em

(Please read Judges 16:1-22 in your Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

Samson proves God will accomplish His purpose, but life is better when we obey Him.

Samson did not have success choosing the women in his life; he did NOT know how to pick ‘em.  Remember the Philistine bride he left at the altar in ch. 14?

Speaking of picking them, I read recently of similar relationship issues: a daughter texted her dad the following: “Daddy: I am coming home to get married soon, so get out your check book.  I am in love with a man who is lives far away, in Scotland.  We met on a dating website, became friends on Facebook, and had long chats on Whatsapp.  He proposed to me on Skype, and now we’ve had two wonderful months of relationship on Viber.

“My beloved and favorite Dad, I need your blessing, good wishes, and a really big wedding.  Lots of love and thanks, Lilly.”

The father replied with a text which read: “My dear Lilly.  Like wow!  Cool!!  I’d suggest you get married on Twitter, have fun on Tango, buy your kids on Amazon, and pay for all of it with Paypal.  Oh, and when you get fed up with this new husband, you can sell him on Ebay.  No need to thank me.  Lots of love, Dad.”

Today we’ll begin the final chapter of Samson’s story.  We’ll add two more sins to add to the tally, including the one that brought Samson to his end.

The story of Samson has had its humorous moments and we’ve had some fun pointing them out along the way.  But Samson’s life is also tragic; a tale of wasted time and potential.  He was gifted beyond most people in history, but taking his gifts for granted, Samson wasted time working for himself and disobeying God.

Let’s face a sobering fact: God is going to do what He has promised He will do.  We have the choice to join God in what He is doing or waste our lives on sin and selfish pursuits.  The choice is – as always – ours.

  1. Samson Sin #6 = Patronizing a Prostitute.

Samson made a bad decision and put himself in danger (1-2). Patronizing prostitutes is condemned in Scripture; it is morally dangerous.  For example, Proverbs 9:13-18 used a prostitute as a symbol of FOLLY and pointed out the foolishness of trusting one.  In 1 Corinthians 6:15-16, Paul singled out uniting with a prostitute as a particularly bad sin.  We have not seen in Samson much wisdom about relationships.  But this choice of partners is a new low in foolishness.

Samson put himself in physical danger by going all the way to Gaza, which was one of the capital cities of the Philistines.  It was surrounded by fortifications that worked to trap enemies INSIDE as well as to keep enemies OUTSIDE.  (That’s why the bit about the CITY GATE is important.)  Gaza was located 45 MILES from Samson’s home.  He really went out of his way to find trouble.

Verse two says THE PEOPLE OF GAZA WERE TOLD that Samson was within their walls.  Who told them?  Presumably, the prostitute or someone connected with her.  Or maybe Samson was so reckless as to make his presence public knowledge.  In either case, Samson’s enemies prepared to trap Samson in their city and kill him.  They surrounded the house and staked out the CITY GATE.

Having made these preparations, they then MADE NO MOVE DURING THE NIGHT, intending to kill him by day.  This seems like poor strategy to me, but they may have been so overconfident they believed they could afford to wait.  Or, more likely, they waited until the entire city was out and about; more people would see and applaud their vengeance against “public enemy #1.”

Samson relied on his strength to get out of danger and mock his enemies (3).  Samson was not surprised to find the enemy gathered outside the brothel.  He waited until the MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT, when sleep and boredom would distract the soldiers watching the house.

Demonstrating he was as stealthy as he was strong, Samson got out of the house and to the gates of the city.  There he yanked the massive gates out of the wall and carried them off to the top of a hill facing Hebron.

This is obviously a feat of supernatural strength.  Those gates, with all the connected woodwork, have been calculated to weigh between five and ten TONS.  Besides which, Samson carried them 36 miles and up 3,200 feet in elevation!

Why go to all that trouble?  Samson did this to rub the Philistines’ noses in their defeat.  They thought they had Samson dead to rights, but he made escape look easy.  Of course, we know this is another case of God bailing Samson out of trouble he’d created for himself.

  1. Samson Sin #7 = Sleeping with the Enemy.

What does the text tell us about Delilah (4+5)?  She lived in the Valley of Sorek, the same place Samson and his parents lived.  Delilah meant “amorous, temptress, delight, and devotee” in Hebrew.  This clue may suggest she was a temple prostitute.  Functioning as a priestess, Delilah may have used sex as a means of worshiping their false gods.  Just in case you thought Samson’s choice of the Gaza prostitute was the worst ever.

Samson FELL IN LOVE with her.  While this sounds different from vs. 1-3 and his engagement in ch. 14, it is clear that Delilah was still a bad choice for love interest.  Samson had “relationship issues.”

Samson paid no attention to his past (ch. 14) or present, and was thereby duped by Delilah (6-20).

The RULERS OF THE PHILISTINES have learned a lesson.  In chapter fourteen they threatened Samson’s fiancé.  Here, the made Delilah an attractive offer for her cooperation in capturing Samson. They each offered her 28 POUNDS of silver.  That translates into $7,804.16 in today’s market.  (That’s 28 lbs. X 16 oz. = 448.  448 oz. X $17.42/oz. = $7804.16.)  3:3 said there were 5 leaders of the Philistines, so that’s a grand total of $39,020.80!

Their aim is betrayed in the word SUBDUE.  In the original language that refers to subjecting someone to hard labor.  In my opinion, this is why the Philistines decided to capture Samson, not kill him.  Killing him would make a martyr of him and might cause the Israelites to revolt, but humiliating him might discourage resistance.

Samson’s first game of wits is recorded in verses six through nine.  Samson must’ve really been blinded by love; otherwise you’d think a question like Delilah’s in v. 6 would make a fella pretty suspicious.  Maybe Samson was suspicious, and that’s why he lied to her.

And what a lie.  What’s up with the BOW STRINGS?  Nothing.  My guess is he settled on the first thing he could think of that Delilah wouldn’t have in her closet.  We’ve already seen how clever Samson was with riddles and poems, so we know he can think on his feet.  Of course, the bowstrings weren’t at all effective in restraining Samson.

Later on, Delilah worked while Samson slept, but in this first game he is awake and allows her to bind him.  Why would he allow such a thing?

In the first three verses we saw Samson’s recklessness and arrogance.  It’s no stretch of imagination to see him as amused by Delilah’s actions.  That’s why I call these incidents “games of wits;” he was playing her.

Notice that when the trap is sprung (8-9), the Philistines are HIDDEN IN THE ROOM.  Though he might suspect the Philistines are using Delilah, Samson has no visual evidence.  (You’d think the feet sticking out the bottom of the curtains would be a dead give-away wouldn’t you?)

Samson’s second game of wits (10-12).  Though the text does not tell us any time passed between these events (just between the third and final game of wits – see verse sixteen), I have to believe that we’re looking at a set of events that happened over several days.  After all, what kind of lady has unused bow strings and new rope just lying about?

Just as Samson’s previous love interest had done (14:16), Delilah went into pout and nag mode (11); complaining, “YOU HAVE MADE A FOOL OF ME.”  Samson offered another lame lie.  NEW ROPE had already failed to incapacitate him (15:13-14), but Delilah apparently didn’t know that and fell for this second deceit of Samson’s (12).

Samson’s third game of wits (13-14).  Delilah makes it clear she doesn’t like being made a fool (13) but she makes it so easy for Samson.  He uses the number seven for a second time but gets closer to the truth by mentioning his hair.  This time Delilah waited until Samson slept to fall for the third lie.  When awakened, he jumped up and pulled his hair out and the loom apart.

Samson loses his wits (15-20).  Vs. 15+16 sound like 14:16; why didn’t Samson learn?  “YOU WON”T CONFIDE IN ME” is literally, “Your heart is not with me.”  That was true.  What he would not do for love, Samson finally did for relief from Delilah’s nagging; he told her the truth (17).  My guess is he tired of the game.  He was SICK TO DEATH OF IT.

Somehow Delilah was convinced that at last Samson told her the truth and she arranged her final betrayal (18).  The Philistines came back later (the fact that they’d left may imply they’d lost patience with her), with their bribe in hand and a barber in tow.  Why Samson trusted this woman enough to sleep around her is hard to explain, but he did it twice at least.  The barber came in and sheared Samson as he slept (19).

When she woke him, Samson, in his arrogance, believed that he was still invulnerable and would shake off the latest set of bonds.  Here’s a sad statement: BUT HE DID NOT KNOW THAT THE LORD HAD LEFT HIM (20).

Why did the Lord take His Spirit from Samson?  The better question is, “Why didn’t the Lord take His Spirit sooner?”  Samson’s character doesn’t bespeak someone worthy of all this divine assistance.  But rather than see this as a punishment, we have the benefit of hindsight and can see God had a higher purpose here: to get Samson in the middle of the Philistine leadership where he could do the most damage.  Once again, we’re seeing how God overcame the disobedience of Samson but still used him to fulfill the purpose He’d stated before Samson’s birth (13:5); to deliver Israel from the Philistines.

Later in Israel’s history, this same fate would befall King Saul for the same reason: arrogant defiance of God and taking His Spirit for granted (1 Samuel 16:14).  Both ended tragically.

The vengeance of the Philistines is terrible but short-sighted (21-22).  It was terrible to gouge out his eyes, chain him, imprison him, and set him to work grinding grain, which was humiliating because women and donkeys were used to run small and large grain mills (21). They literally added injury to insult by gouging out his eyes.  The Israelites counted blind people among lepers and others who were “walking dead,” not really people any more.

But they were short-sighted in that they didn’t have the barber come back to the prison; Samson’s hair started growing back again (22).  There was nothing magical about the hair.  The hair is not the point.  The point is obedience to the Nazirite vows that Samson had observed since birth.  The growing back of his hair is more like a symbol of Samson’s repentance.  At his lowest moment, Samson finally saw that cooperation with God was a lot easier than defying Him all the time.  It’s too bad he had to suffer blindness, imprisonment and the rest.  His life would’ve been so much better if he’d kept God as his focus instead of himself.

Samson proves God will accomplish His purpose, but life is better when we obey Him.

In a way, Samson is a symbol of what we men typically go through – we lose our hair and our strength at about the same time!

The irony of Samson’s life is that his great physical strength stood in contrast to his great moral weakness. The bottom line: don’t repeat Samson’s mistakes.

Samson was a Slow Learner

(Please take a moment to read Judges 15 in your Bible.  The whole thing will make more sense if you read the Scripture, then my blog, I promise you.  Myself, I use the NIV to prepare my messages.)

My Minnesota Twins are off to a good start this season, so I feel safe in starting with a baseball story that illustrates what I hope we learn from Samson this morning.

It was the bottom of the ninth inning and the game was on the line.  The home team was down one run with two outs, but the bases were loaded.  Any safe hit would guarantee at least survival for extra innings, maybe win the game.  He home crowd was on its feet, cheering the batter who stepped into the box.

Over the season, he’d been a good batter, but was long overdue in this game.  In fact, he’d struck out in all three of his at-bats, the bat on his shoulder each time.  (For those of you who don’t follow baseball, this is the most embarrassing outcome for a batter.)

On this trip to home plate, he was determined not to be struck out again.  He presented his best game face to the pitcher, an air of determination bordering on arrogance.  He posed aggressively, leaning out over the plate.

He did not strike out with the bat on his shoulder.  He did strike out, however, swinging at the next three pitches, missing the ball every time!  His fourth strike out ended the game, the home team losing.

Utterly disappointed with himself and suffering the stinging boos of the fans, the batter unwisely decided to toss his bat high in the air.  He also jerked off his batting helmet and slammed it into the ground.

You can guess what happened next.  The bat came down and hit him squarely on his now-unprotected head and knocked him out cold!

The next day a reporter asked which was worse, striking out four times, losing the game, or knocking himself out with his own bat.  He answered, “That’s easy.  The bat deal was one of those freaky things that could happen to anybody.  But striking out was much worse because I’d already done it three times.  How many times does a guy have to screw up before he learns his lesson?”

That’s the question we will put to Samson today.  It’s the same question each of us must ask ourselves.

Samson proves God will accomplish His purpose, but it’s easier for us if we learn from our mistakes.

  1. Samson Sin #1+4 (Pt. 2) = Marrying a Pagan.

Sin #1 repeated = lusting after a Philistine woman.  Let’s start with a reminder of where we left off in Judges 14, where Samson got mad at losing his bet with his 30 “groomsmen” and left the whole wedding party in a huff, including his bride.  Samson did not know his fiancé had been given in marriage to one of the 30 guys (does this remind anybody of “The Bachelorette?”)

In the days(?) following his bad temper, Samson thought about her again.  Being an incurably romantic macho man, Samson resolved to kiss and make up (1).  So he brought her A YOUNG GOAT.  That sounds strange to us, but was customary in their culture.  Personally, I think he was lead by his stomach and brought dinner along on its own four legs.  In effect, He was saying, “Look honey!  I’m back and I brought supper!  Hurry up and get it butchered and started so you can take off my sandals and rub my feet while its cooking.”

A couple clues in the text give us reason to think that Samson had more than a meal on his mind.  One, the phrase VISIT HIS WIFE reflects an ancient institution called a “visit marriage;” we might call it a “long-distance relationship.”  Two, his declaration, “I’M GOING TO VISIT MY WIFE’S ROOM” is a euphemism for consummating the marriage; like a “conjugal visit.”  So Samson’s behavior wasn’t ONLY dictated by his stomach.

I can’t imagine how Samson’s behavior could be any more stereotypically male.  “Honey, I brought you a gift.  Can we forget about the fact that I abandoned you at the altar and go back to being lovers?  Right now?”

The still unnamed Philistine woman’s dad couldn’t be in a more awkward spot (2).  On the one hand, his muscle-bound, intimidating, murderous, former potential son-in-law is at the door.  On the other hand, his daughter has been married to another guy.  So what does a dad with a surplus of daughters and a deficit of bravery do?  Offer Samson a different daughter!!  He even tries to sell Samson on the idea of younger sis being more beautiful – what a catch!!  The guy may have been a used camel salesman.

Samson Sin #4 was repeated: his quick & violent temper.  Samson’s temper is first revealed in his indiscretion in verse three. SAMSON SAID TO THEM: who is he talking to?  His former fiancé’s parents.  Is he announcing his plans to get even with THE PHILISTINES to these Philistine people?

“THIS TIME” as opposed to the last time.  Is he conceding it was wrong to kill 30 men of Ashkelon and steal their clothes?

“I HAVE A RIGHT:” All vengeful people think they have “A RIGHT” to be as mean and vengeful as they want.  Not so.

Second, Samson’s violence is revealed in his revenge in verses four and five.  Burning an entire harvest is overkill for a little disappointment and humiliation, let’s face it.  Let’s not even get started about the foxes; the animal death toll approaches the human deaths he inflicted.

For a guy remembered for his strength, Samson showed some cleverness in his poetry, riddles, and even in the way he went about getting revenge.  In many ancient cultures, the red fox was considered to be a symbol of fire.  (The text does not specify Samson’s use of red foxes, but this would be clever symbolism if true.)  Tying two foxes together at the tail and attaching a torch would cause them to panic and run around randomly, carrying the torches around everywhere in a matter of moments.  He carried out this “guerilla attack” in the harvest season when crops were harvested or waiting to be harvested.  The crops would be at their driest and most vulnerable to flame.

It was an act of cruelty and vengeance that was way out of proportion to any “right” Samson may have had.  This is clearly not “getting even;” it is getting ahead of the Philistines.  As we shall see, it is an escalation of the conflict between Samson and the Philistines.

  1. Samson Sin #5 = Violence leads to more violence.

The first victims of the violence were Samson’s former fiancé and family (6-8).  Just as they had threatened to do in 14:15, the Philistines burned the woman and her father to death, even though they had no part in Samson’s fiery vengeance.

Of course, Samson’s reaction to their deaths was to raise the ante and swear an oath of vengeance and then enact it.  It’s a tad hypocritical for Samson to retaliate for the death of the wife he’d abandoned at the altar (14:19).  To me, he acts like a man spoiling for a fight.

Samson attacked the men who’d committed the arson.  Verse eight uses the words VICIOUSLY and SLAUGHTERED to describe Samson’s attack.  These are not approving words.  Indeed, there is no sense in this passage that Samson is doing these things at God’s direction.  Instead, he is overreacting to the deeds of others.

The Philistines attempted to bully the people of Judah by bringing an army around (9-12).  LEHI meant “jawbone.”  This kind of irony either shows God’s sense of humor or the town took on that name after the events of this passage.

After suffering 40 years of abuse at the hands of the Philistines, the PEOPLE OF JUDAH were already thoroughly intimidated.  This shows up in four clues given in these three verses.  First, in verse ten, when the Philistine army shows up, they rush to get the white flag out and send a delegation to ask, “WHY HAVE YOU COME TO FIGHT US?”  Second, in verse eleven, they chastised Samson, “DON’T YOU REALIZE THE PHILISTINES ARE RULING OVER US?”  Third, in verse twelve, when they’ve found out what the problem is, they are happy to throw Samson under the bus to try to placate their Philistine overlords.  Fourth, verse eleven tells us there were 3000 men from Judah to capture Samson, but only 1000 Philistines killed by Samson.  If Samson killed all the Philistine force, then his countrymen had the enemy outnumbered 3-1.  How buffaloed do you have to be to refuse to fight with a 3-1 advantage?  These details give us insight into how desperate the situation had become and why God would use someone like Samson to begin to lead the Israelites to resist and overthrow the Philistines (13:5).

Why did Samson allow himself to be taken prisoner (12-13)?  It was clever strategy; it was the easiest way to get in the middle of the Philistine army.  Samson intended to launch his attack from there.  The guy did have his brilliant, if reckless, moments.  So he appeared to be surrendering, which put a whole Philistine army in harm’s way.

Samson’s strategy worked.  At the end of the day a thousand enemy combatants lay dead.

The LORD bailed out Samson AGAIN in verses fourteen and fifteen.   For the FOURTH time in these three chapter we read of Samson, THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD CAME POWERFULLY UPON HIM (18).  This Spirit was manifest in two ways.  One, the NEW ROPES (13) binding Samson suddenly became weak and loose and dropped away from him.  Two, armed only with the FRESH JAWBONE OF A DONKEY, Samson became an invincible warrior, taking down A THOUSAND MEN.  (The word FRESH literally meant “moist.”  A new jawbone would not be dry and brittle as a weathered one would be.)  In his book, The Samson Syndrome, Mark Attebury wrote, “With nothing but a donkey’s dentures, Samson slaughtered one thousand Philistines.”

Flush with victory, Samson composed a poem to himself (16)!  I respect the pun in the first part of the poem: I’ve been known to indulge on occasion myself.  However, the object of praise in this poem is Samson, not the Holy Spirit who empowered him and gave him victory.

  1. Samson got Something Right (sorta).

After the self-glorifying poem, Samson comes around a bit and credits the LORD, but he did that while bellyaching.  The LORD delivered Samson again: this time from thirst (18-19).  It seems Samson was “too big to fail.”  Samson complained about dying of thirst right on the spot and falling into the hands of the UNCIRCUMCISED.  It’s sad this is the first recorded prayer of Samson’s; it reminds me of the complaints of the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness, dissatisfied with the manna, quail, and water the LORD provided them.

Miraculously – as He had done for the Israelites generations before – God opened a hole in the ground and water welled up out of it and revived Samson.  It’s not hard to imagine how killing 1000 enemy soldiers would leave a fella feeling a bit parched, so maybe we can excuse Samson’s complaining here…?

Verse twenty sounds like the end of Samson’s story, but we haven’t even got to the familiar part involving Delilah.  I imagine this implies the reaction of the 3000 men of Judah who were there to witness Samson’s victory (apparently without lending a hand to assist him); they recognized his leadership.  Samson became a “judge;” one of the people God raised up to lead His people out from under the oppressions of their enemies.  He had one of the lengthier terms of judgeship.

Samson proves God will accomplish His purpose, but it’s easier for us if we learn from our mistakes.

Some of us here today remember all the way back to 1975.  One of the news items that year was the beaching of 300 whales which died.  It also happened in Feb. of this year.

Why does that happen? Experts think they’re chasing sardines when the tide goes out from under them, leaving them beached.

“Chasing Sardines” is an apt image for Samson’s life.  God was with Samson in a way He has not blessed anyone before or after, but he fiddled around, wasting his life on foolish and selfish pursuits.  Don’t let it happen to you.  One of the reasons Samson is mentioned in the Bible is so we can avoid making the same mistakes he did.

Samson’s Mistaken Marriage

Please read Judges 14 in your Bible.  For myself, I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Our first look at the adult Samson is in Judges 14, where Samson makes a big mistake in marriage, but God use it to get him busy about soldiering the people of Israel out from under the Philistine boot.  While the account is deadly serious, it has some comedic elements and therefore reminds one of marriage in general.  Marriage is a deep well from which those of us who have a sense of humor can draw.  In the spirit of the passage, let me offer a couple humorous takes on marriage.

The speaker at a women’s club was lecturing on the subject of marriage.  Her point was that women are to be partners with their husbands, not to mother them.  To reinforce this point, she excitedly asked the audience of women, “How many of you want to mother your husband?”

Only one woman raised her hand.  The speaker was shocked.  This had never happened before, in all the times she had given this speech.  She asked, “Do you really want to mother your husband?”

“Mother?” the woman echoed.  “I thought you said smother!”

Now, in the interest of fairness, I offer this view from the other side of aisle.

A guy was out for a walk when he saw a guy walking a dog.  The pooch was an impressive specimen of a German Shepherd.  “Nice dog!” he said.

“I got this dog for my wife,” he replied.

The man sighed.  “Sure wish I could make a trade like that.”

In today’s passage we’ll see Samson, the biblical macho man, making a number of mistakes, sinning against God.  But the big mistake, the one that gets to the heart of the matter, is Samson’s mistaken marriage.

Samson proves God can accomplish His will with our help or in spite of our helping ourselves.

  1. Samson Sin #1 = Marrying a Pagan Woman.

This was a culture of arranged marriages.  That’s why, in spite of being the strongest man in history, Samson still asked his father to arrange for him to marry her because that’s the way those folks got married (1+2).

This was “love at first sight” or “lust at first sight,” or something equally unreliable.  Samson made this decision based only on what he’d SEEN.  He doesn’t even meet or talk to this woman until v. 7, after the marriage had been arranged!

Mr. & Mrs. M. tried to get Samson to do right; they may be a little child-centered, but are otherwise not at fault.  What was the right thing to do? As we read in Deuteronomy 7:1-6, God had expressly forbidden marriage between His people and pagans.  He knew it would lead to divided loyalties and then idolatry.  Accordingly, Samson’s parents objected to his intended being an UNCIRCUMCISED PHILISTINE (3).  Samson’s folks used that phrase in the usual way – as an insult.  You can understand their resentment, as at this time the Philistines WERE RULING OVER ISRAEL (4), and had been for forty years (13:1).

Naturally, they preferred a nice local girl.  The word RELATIVES refers to the tribe of Dan.  (No jokes about inbreeding, please.)  ALL OUR PEOPLE refers to the nation of Israel.  You can almost hear a Jewish mother say, “Can’t you find a good JEWISH girl?”

Here’s the important verse of the passage, the part that proves God can do His will with or without our cooperation.  Verse four explains God’s plan was to force a confrontation between Samson and the Philistines and a feud over a beautiful woman is a time-honored way to start a fight.

Samson was selfish and stubborn.  Here again with the “love at first sight” thing; the NIV translates v. 3 to say, “SHE’S THE RIGHT ONE FOR ME.”  It literally means, “She is right in my eyes.”  This is Samson being selfish and undisciplined, disobedient to the law of God.

This attitude characterized the Israelites at this time.  As 17:6 & 21:25 elaborate, IN THE DAYS ISRAEL HAD NO KING EVERYONE DID AS HE SAW FIT.   This sounds very close to the condition of the whole human race before God destroyed them with the flood: Genesis 6:5 states, EVERY INCLINATION OF THE THOUGHTS OF THE HUMAN HEART WAS ONLY EVIL ALL THE TIME.

  1. Samson Sin #2 = Breaking t Nazirite Rules.

REMINDER = in looking at chapter 13, we learned that to be a Nazirite was to take on an additional set of rules in order to more fully dedicate one’s self to God.  Samson was supposed to follow these rules his entire life.  It is implied that this special relationship with God was the source of his miraculous strength.

Rule #1 = abstain from all fruit of the grapevine.

Verse eight tells us Samson was in a vineyard alone.  “When mom’s away, the kids will play.”  Here, in one place, at one time, it looks like he broke TWO of the Nazirite rules.

To be fair, we have to note three things.  One, we’re just observing opportunity here.  Why had he chosen to go to the vineyard alone and to meet the future Mrs. Samson there beside?

Two, this was the site where he’d had a miraculous experience of the Holy Spirit and killed that lion (5-6).  Maybe he went there to see what was left of the lion.

Three, the text does not specifically say Samson ate any grapes.  BUT if he had, it was a violation of the Nazirite rules.

Rule #2 = avoid touching a dead body.

As he traveled with his parents from Zorah to Timnah, the family walked through a vineyard (5-6).   Timnah was a town situated in the same valley as Zorah.  But apparently they weren’t travelling close together, because suddenly, a YOUNG LION (sent by the Lord) decided he looked like lunch, charging and roaring at him.

Verse six is the second time we’ve read this about Samson = THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD CAME POWERFULLY ON him.  This empowerment went right to Samson’s muscles and enabled him to tear the lion apart as easily as one would tear apart a YOUNG GOAT.

It’s a miracle.  Super strength!  (See also 14:19, 15:14 and 16:28-29.)

Samson gave Mr. & Mrs. Manoah the “mushroom treatment,” he kept mum on the subject.  That will be an important point later in the story.  Somehow, Samson is the only one who knew about the lion attack.

SOME TIME LATER (8-9), Samson returned to the site of his victory.  It must’ve been quite a while later, because some bees had taken over the rotting remains of the YOUNG LION and established a colony there.  Without ANY sense of hygiene, Samson scoops out TWO hands full of the honey from the lion carcass.  GROSS!  Worse, he spreads his germs to his parents.  WHY would you eat honey off another person’s hands?!  Because he didn’t bother to tell them where it came from, I suppose.  To my way of thinking, the fact that Samson didn’t tell his parents where the honey came from implies that his visit to the vineyard included violation(s) of his Nazirite commitments.

Interestingly, a beehive in a carcass was a widely-believed thing in the ancient world.  The Egyptians related bees to their bull-god Apis.  The scientific name of the honeybee is Apis, an keeping bees is called “apiculture,” with beehives called “apiaries.”  Modern science shows that bees will make hives in empty spaces of all kinds.  A gutted rib cage would be just about ideal.

The Law of Moses (see Numbers 19:13) forbade touching a dead HUMAN body, declaring that person “unclean.” This is a lion’s corpse, not a human’s, so does this not count against Samson?  One part of the Nazirite vow (Numbers 6:6) forbid touching A DEAD BODY, not being specific about which kind.  So, to be fair, it’s iffy.  I mean, what Samson did was gross, but was it really a sin?

Rule #3 = Abstain from intoxicating drinks.

What can we prove here?  Verse ten says that they held a wedding feast, AS WAS CUSTOMARY FOR YOUNG MEN.  What happened at the FEAST?  We don’t know exactly, but the Hebrew word for FEAST is literally translated as “a drinking party.”  If this was anything like a “bachelor party” then what is CUSTOMARY in our culture is binge drinking and bad behavior.

If you import our culture’s practice of a bachelor party, that might not be an exact fit.  If we’ve learned anything about the Bible, we should learn that we do not live in the same culture.  Assume nothing.  Research everything.

So what can we take away from this chapter?  The marriage is the definitive sin, the rest is a little sketchy.  God used Samson’s sinful stubbornness to push him along a path of confrontation with the Philistines.

  1. Sam’s Sin #3 = Not Taking His Job Seriously.

The 30 companions with whom he feasted may’ve been spies.  You’ve got to wonder, did Samson think this through?  Let’s do it for him: You’re in enemy territory and the enemy  invites 30 local guys to your party; any chance at least one of them is reporting to the enemy king?

Verse eleven gives us a reason to think these 30 men were spies: WHEN THE PEOPLE [of Timnah] SAW HIM, THEY CHOSE THIRTY MEN TO BE HIS COMPANIONS.  They made these arrangements after the SAW Samson and decided he might just be a threat.  I’d guess Samson LOOKED like a mighty man.  He had the body of Arnold Schwarzenegger but the mind of Larry the Cable Guy.

My guess is that these 30 guys were the Philistine version of “protective custody,” there in case Samson wanted to make trouble.

The riddle (12-18) was a sign he wasn’t acting responsibly.  Instead, he was gambling and goofing around.  This does not seem very macho: the bet involved CLOTHES.  It’s like Samson is betting in order to get a closet full of tuxes.  Exchanging riddles was, in that culture, a typical activity.  People of that time enjoyed riddles as contests of wit or skill.

Samson shows off his cleverness with a cute rhyming couplet.  The riddle involves the honey he obtained from the lion’s carcass.  Since, as the text plainly shows us, only Samson knew this happened, the 30 groomsmen can’t begin to guess the answer, even over three days of guessing.

Desperate and about to lose the bet, the 30 feasters turn to their countrywoman.  Rather than appeal to her patriotism, they threaten to burn her and her dad down with their house (15).  Spies or not, they are not nice.

By their words in v. 15, we understand they suspected that the whole wedding thing was a ruse to trick them out of their wardrobes and they think Miss Philistine is in on the scam.  This riddle gaming thing was serious business and an unusual amount of cash.

Samson’s fiancé uses the stereotypical tricks of crying and nagging (16-17).  This is a preview of Samson’s affair with Delilah (16:1-22).  It’s amazing to think that God gave Samson this kind of warning and he STILL fell for Delilah.  Eventually, she wore him out with her tears and pleas, and he gave her the answer, which she then passed on to the 30 Philistine groomsmen.

These guys savored their victory in secret until the very last moment, when they declared the answer (18).  Samson’s retort is not at all nice, calling his betrothed a HEIFER!  As goofy as this situation seems to us, it was the means God used to provoke the first confrontation between Samson and the Philistines.

  1. Sam Sin #4 = Had a Quick & Violent Temper.

Samson killed and stole in order to pay his debt.  ASHKELON was one of the capital cities of Philistia, so Samson is striking right into the heart of the enemy.  Samson selected the 30 best-dressed men in Ashkelon, killed them, and stole their fine clothing, which he used to pay off his debt to his 30 gambling buddies.

Feeling betrayed by his fiancé, Samson was angry with her and effectively abandoned her, the woman he’d stubbornly insisted on having for his wife.  No doubt this was a problem: some practical-minded person said, “We’ve been having a wedding feat all week, it’d be a shame to waste it.  Somebody volunteer to marry this pretty little gal!”  This would also avoid disgracing the jilted bride.  As we will see in the next chapter, Samson was unaware of these arrangements.  Boy is he gonna be mad!

In Samson we have a guy with commitment issues: like that’s a new story!  This is the climax of the story of Samson; the remaining two chapters of how he took the fight to the enemy.  This chapter shows how God used Samson’s character flaws of impulsiveness, selfishness, and stubbornness to deliver His people.

Two things we can learn from Samson: one, life is much easier when we obey God.  If we follow His lead to do His will, we don’t have to end up defeated by our enemies.  Two, even people with the Holy Spirit do not have other-worldly perfection.  Even with the Spirit’s help, we still struggle against our character flaws and temptations to sin.

This chapter is more about God than Samson.  God’s will is going to be done, whether we cooperate with it or not.  Samson illustrates how our stubbornness and defiance does NOT deter the fulfillment of the will of God in that person’s life.

Turns Out Samson Had Parents

Please read Judges 13 in your well-worn Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Focus on the Family founder James Dobson James Dobson told about a mother who was sick in bed with the flu. Her little daughter wanted so much to be a good nurse, she brought mom an extra pillow and a magazine to read. And then she even showed up with a cup of tea. Her surprised mother took a sip and said, ”Wow! I didn’t even know you knew how to make tea!”

The girl said excitedly, ”Oh, yes. I learned by watching you. I put some water in the pot, put the tea leaves in, and I boiled the water, and then I strained it into a cup. But I couldn’t find the strainer, so I used the flyswatter instead.”

Her mother set the tea cup down and said, ”You what?!”

”Oh, don’t worry, mom,” the little helper exclaimed.  “I didn’t use the new flyswatter; I used the old one.”
Being a mom is not easy! One woman who said, ”Before I was married, I had three theories about raising children. Now, I have three children and no theories.”
Moms know motherhood can be everything from exhilarating to exhausting.  So today it is very appropriate to pause and say ”Thank You” to our mothers and thank God for them.

Tdoay we’re going to hold up Samson’s mother as a good example of motherhood.  Even though we don’t know her name, she distinguished herself as a quick-witted, faithful, and reasonable woman.  Samson became a biblical hero because of his mother’s obedience to the revealed will of God.

  1. Context: what’s happening in that part of Judges?

On a national level, we look to verse one and find that Israel was virtually hostage to the Philistines.  Israel’s cycles of evil resulting in suffering, crying out to the Lord, and deliverance are so typical verse one is almost formulaic. The cycle went from Idolatry to Oppression to Repentance to Deliverance, then back to Idolatry.

The EVIL they did was part of worshipping idols; forsaking the true God for false ones.  The discipline they suffered as a result was being DELIVERED into the hands of one of a pagan nation.  The length of Philistine domination – 40 years – is the longest such period in Judges.

The people cried out in their distress and God bailed them out once again.  At this stage of their history, the people God used to bail them out were called “judges:” that’s where the title of the book comes from.

On a personal scale, we turn to verse two to find out about Samson’s parents and Samson’s divine origin.  The surprising part is that they were childless at the time.

Strange as it may seem, biblical accounts of childless women are typical Mother’s Day sermon material: think of Sarah, Hannah, and Elizabeth.  (We save Mary for Christmas.) The Bible says that children are a gift from God.  That’s true.  However, people of that time assumed that the opposite must also be true; that being childless was a sign of God’s disfavor, a mark of shame, maybe even an indication of hidden sin.  (In fact, a later Jewish reference, the Talmud, proverbially state that people who were blind, leperous, in slavery, or childless were “dead.”

The family lived in ZORAH, a town into which they relocated to escape the oppressions of the Philistines.  It was located 15 miles west of Jerusalem.

They were DANITES; descendents of Jacob’s son Dan.  Calling them a CLAN instead of a “tribe” may imply there weren’t too many DANITES left.  To be frank, the Danites were the “outlaw”  tribe of Israel.  They had a history of betraying the other tribes and were often at the pointy end of the oppressions of pagan nations.

  1. Samson was to become a Judge and Israel’s Deliverer (sorta).

The angelic messenger promised Mr. and Mrs. Manoah a child in verses three, six, and eight to fourteen.  In v. 3 he said, “YOU ARE GOING TO BE PREGNANT AND GIVE BIRTH TO A SON.”

In v. 6, in the way she summarizes her encounter with the angel, we see that Mrs. M was mostly clued in: She referred to the angel as a MAN OF GOD, a phrase usually used for prophets, judges, and kings.  Wrong, in this case.  Se said “HE LOOKED LIKE AN ANGEL OF GOD, VERY AWESOME.”   AWESOME is a word that meant “fear-producing;” it was often used to describe God.  But Mrs. M may have been so intimidated by her visitor that she was afraid to ask his name.  This is something Mr. M would do in v. 17, when the angel returned.

For his part, Mr. Manoah only slowly caught on.

One teensy detail Mrs. M did not tell Manoah as she recounted the instructions of her visitor was the matter of their son leading God’s people in overthrowing the Philistines.  So it’s clear that Manoah was sufficiently intimidated by the idea of fatherhood alone, and prayed to God for some guidance in how to BRING UP THE BOY WHO IS TO BE BORN.  In verses nine and ten, Manoah’s prayer was answered with a “Yes;” the angel came back.

In verses 11-14, Manoah asked the obvious questions first.  The more intrusive questions came later.

“ARE YOU THE MAN WHO TALKED TO MY WIFE?” and “WHAT IS TO BE THE RULE THAT GOVERNS THE BOY’S LIFE AND WORK?”  (The kid isn’t even born yet and dad is already putting him to work!)

The angel only directly answered the first question.  In answer to the second, he repeats only the instructions given to Mrs. M and also does not mention the whole “lead deliverer” thing either.  This may indicate the angel thought Manoah was showing a lack of faith and/or “the paralysis of analysis.”

Conditions that were attached to the promise; God required the male child be a NAZIRITE from birth to death and for his mother to be a Nazirite throughout her pregnancy (4-5, 7, 13-14).  (See Numbers 6 for the full set of Nazirite regulations.)

The name nazir (Hb) means “dedicated” or “consecrated.”  In general, being a NAZIRITE required keeping an extra set of laws to achieve a higher level of holiness.  In such a role Samson was said to be “DEDICATED TO GOD FROM THE WOMB.”  According to Numbers 6, a Nazirite vow was made by an adult man or woman and was to be kept for a limited period.  To make this vow on behalf of an unborn child and to make it for life are both unique to Samson.

The specifics included: “DRINK NO WINE OR OTHER FERMENTED DRINK” (in Numbers 6, all fruit of the grapevine is prohibited), “DO NOT EAT ANYTHING UNCLEAN,” and no trips to the barber; “WHOSE HEAD IS NEVER TO BE TOUCHED BY A RAZOR” (interestingly, the Nazirite’s head was shaved clean at the end of his or her time of commitment).”  The main concern about Samson was that he didn’t get a haircut (verse five).  I assume we all know how that worked out…?

Mrs. Manoah was commanded to observe these regulations because God knew what the mother consumed would become part of the child’s body as well.  He wanted Samson to be fully pure from birth.

God’s purpose in these extraordinary arrangements was pronounced by the angel: “HE WILL TAKE THE LEAD IN DELIVERING ISRAEL FROM THE HANDS OF THE PHILISTINES.”  God intended Samson to provide leadership for His people in overcoming their oppressors.  It also means he would not accomplish this deliverance alone; Samson was supposed to unite the people under his leadership and they would overthrow the Philistines by working together.

  1. Mr. Manoah misunderstood, then overreacted.

Biblically, angels never tolerate worship that belongs to God.  Mr. Manoah learned that lesson.   Whether or not there was an ulterior motive behind his offer of hospitality (15-16), what’s clear is that MANOAH DID NOT REALIZE THAT IT WAS THE ANGEL FROM THE LORD to whom he was speaking.

The question about the angel’s name (17-18) is not necessarily as innocent as it may appear.  In this culture, to know someone’s name was viewed as being able to somehow exercise power over them or know something special about them.  This made people in general reluctant to give out there name, just as we are supposed to be reluctant to give out personal information on the Internet (especially to Russian hackers).  As is always the case in the Bible, there is a refusal to answer that question directly; the angel replied, “IT IS BEYOND YOUR UNDERSTANDING.”  Or, “It is too wonderful for you,” a hint at his heavenly status.

If is only after the angel’s dramatic exit that Manoah understood, but then he overreacted a bit.  It took an over-the-top demonstration (19-21), but Mr. & Mrs. M were finally convinced.  After all, it’s not every day you see a blast of fire that reaches heaven AND your dinner guest ride it out of sight!  (Something similar happened when an angel appeared to another judge, Gideon, in 6:20-23.)

In verses 22-23 we read Manoah’s overreaction.  Everybody knows that if you see God, you are burnt toast because no one sees God and lives.  So Mr. M panics; “WE ARE DOOMED!”  (Think C3PO in all the Star Wars movies.)  But Mrs. M is a sensible sort and reasons that if God had only wanted to blow them up, He would not have accepted their sacrifice, nor would He have given them the promise of a child and instructions on her pre-natal behavior.

  1. God’s promise was kept.

Mrs. Manoah birthed a boy and named him Samson (24).  The name SAMSON is related to the Hebrew word for “sun,” but is exact meaning is not clear to us today.

What is clear is that the LORD was with him: HE GREW AND THE LORD BLESSED HIM (24).  Sounds a bit like Luke’s summary of the Jesus’ growing-up years: JESUS GREW IN WISDOM AND STATURE, AND IN FAVOR WITH GOD AND MAN (LKE 2:52).

The second detail in this line is also exceptional: THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD BEGAN TO STIR HIM (25).  That word STIR is from the Hebrew word salah (Hb) which meant “to rush upon; trouble.”  This is the only use of this word in the Bible, which is part of what I mean by “exceptional.”  IMHO, this word has a more aggressive sound to it than I would normally associate with the Holy Spirit.

It is also exceptional in its irony.  Of all the Judges, Samson is the one most often empowered by the Holy Spirit (see 14:6+19; 15:14) in the most unusual way and yet was the worst-behaved.  More on that as we develop this series of messages on Samson.

Ted Sutherland wrote an Internet account of a Mrs. Monroe who lives in Darlington, Maryland. “She’s the mother of 8 children. And except for a few interesting experiences, she’s just like any other mother across America.

“She came home one afternoon from the grocery store and everything looked pretty much the same, though it was a little bit quieter than usual. She looked into the middle of the living room and 5 of her darlings were sitting around in a circle, exceedingly quiet, doing something with an object in the middle of a circle. So she put down the sacks of groceries and walked over closely and looked and saw her kids playing with 5 of the cutest skunklets you can imagine.
“She was instantly terrified and she said, ‘Run children, run!’ Each child grabbed a skunk and ran, in 5 different directions. She was beside herself and screamed louder, more frantically, with great gusto. It so scared the children that each one squeezed his skunk! Guess what? Skunks don’t like to be squeezed!”

<Retrieved from https://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-ted-sutherland-humor-mothersday-discipline-3704 on 5/13/17.>

As much as we love mom, we realize she’s only human and doesn’t always give good advice.  However, godly moms like Mrs. M. have God’s help to transcend their humanity and obey God’s commands.

Samson had godly parents who loved him a great deal.  But were they always good parents?  You’ll have to come back next week to find that out.

False-hearted or True-hearted?

 

Get and keep the kind of heart God has for you.

Do you remember the flap caused a couple months ago when President Trump’s advisor Kellyanne Conway used the term “alternative facts?”  No?  Most of the rest of us have forgotten about that tempest in a teapot, but let me remind you briefly what happened.

While appearing on Meet the Press on January 22, 2017, Ms. Conway defended White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s exaggerations of the attendance at the inauguration, Conway stated that Spicer was giving “alternative facts”.  The media, still red-faced at Trump’s election victory, went ballistic.  One of the chief critics of Ms. Conway was former CBS Dan Rather, who you will recall was fired for making up his own set of “alternative facts” about George Bush.  More than a little hypocrisy?

One amusing side note: Rather compared “alternative facts” to the word “newspeak,” created as another name for “propaganda” by writer George Orwell in his book “1984.”  Three days later sales of “1984” had increased 9,500%, making it the number-one seller on Amazon.com.

What may surprise you is the phrase “alternative facts” is similar to a phrase used in Trump’s 1987 book, Trump: The Art of the Deal. There “truthful hyperbole” was defined as “an innocent form of exaggeration—and… a very effective form of promotion.” The book claimed “people want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular.” The ghostwriter, Tony Schwartz, said he coined that phrase and claimed that Trump “loved it.”

I’m not here to praise or put down anyone except those who have the hypocrisy to pretend to be offended at somebody else’s lies when they tolerate their own or their favored politician’s.  That’s adding a lie to a lie.

I could joke about politicians and lying, but it’s too easy and distracts us from the point.  People can and do lie.  It should not be tolerated, but it seems pretty inevitable, given human nature and the current ethical condition of our culture.

The worst lies are the ones we tell ourselves.  They can set us up with a false security, insensitivity to the truth that can blind us to our need for healing.  Lies that lodge in the human heart are the hardest to dislodge.

BUT – the truth and only the whole truth – will set us free.  The One who is never deceived by the most sincere-sounding, heart-held lies is God.  Hebrews 4:12 says that His word exposes the inner-most parts of a human being, we cannot lie to Him.

We need to stop lying to ourselves and approach God with complete honesty and complete dependence on Him.  Only in the truth can we be saved.  We obey Him by holding the truth in our hearts as our highest priority.

  1. No one can please God with a False Heart (Jeremiah 17:9-10).

Context = God gave Jeremiah messages to His people while they were held captive in Babylon.  These messages explained their punishment and promised them restoration.  Bringing these messages cost Jeremiah a great deal personally.  Chapters 16+17 develop Jeremiah’s unhappiness.

Comment = We can be deceived, but God cannot.  We can deceive ourselves and be deceived by others.  Jeremiah was not deterred from telling the truth by his depressed feelings and thoughts.

THE HEART IS DECEITFUL.  In 17:1, he wrote that the sins of Judah were engraved on THE TABLETS OF THEIR HEARTS.  The word “heart” is used more than 50 times in Jeremiah.  This word picture shows, as he does again in verse 20, that the guilty people of God could not escape the truth; their hearts betrayed their guilt.  The word translated as DECEITFUL can also mean “tortuous” or “crooked.”  We complicate matters to suit us, to obscure the truth.  The people of Judah, for example, turned 10 Commandments into 650+ laws, complicating matters so thoroughly that the average person didn’t bother trying to keep the Law.

In our culture, we see the “heart” as the place of emotions while the “head” is the seat of reason.  In biblical culture, both of these inner aspects of human life are assumed to reside in the HEART.

ABOVE ALL THINGS.  Since the HEART is the origin of actions, the source of our attitudes and decisions, it can be rightly said to be the most evil thing.  (Exception: Satan?)  God wants us to know and feel how desperately wicked is the HEART that keeps God out.  People are increasingly rejecting the doctrine of hell because they are willfully ignoring how the human heart is DECEITFUL ABOVE ALL THINGS.

BEYOND CURE.  The word here is “sick,” so it is rightly translated as BEYOND CURE.  “Deathly ill” or “mortally wounded” might be a good English equivalent.

All of this to say this: a fundamental part of our faith is the problem of sin.  Sin is universal: every human heart is stricken with it; the only exception is Jesus.  Sin is BEYOND our ability to CURE it.  We cannot be good enough to merit a relationship with God or to solve our problem.  We need God to save us; that’s where Jesus Christ comes in.  Without first admitting personal ownership of the problem of sin, we cannot be saved.  We never get over ourselves.

WHO CAN UNDERSTAND IT?  No one but God knows the depths to which any heart can sink into sin or rise to righteousness.  To obtain what understanding we can grasp, we need two things indicated in this passage:

This verse conveys an essential truth about human nature.  We are prone to self-deception.  We need people close enough to us to help us see things that are invisible to us because of our self-deception.

There is a legitimate need for “emotional intelligence;” knowledge of emotions & their effect on us.  The more we know about people in general, the better chance we have of knowing ourselves.

Now, we go from anthropology to theology proper, stating no one can deceive God.  God sees beneath the surface.

I THE LORD SEARCH THE HEART.  The situation is desperate but not hopeless.  God is our hope.  He knows every human heart and judges in perfect justice.  For what is He searching?  For every evidence of faith.  For true commitment to Him.

AND EXAMINE THE MIND.  This word has also been translated as “bowels” or “kidneys.”  It refers to the inner person without being literal or scientific about the organs involved.  It can also be translated as “hidden depths,” the parts of a person that cannot be directly observed, only indirectly through their actions.  These “hidden depths” are not hidden to God.  As the writer of HBS wrote; “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”  (Hebrews 4:13)

God rewards each person according to what He sees them doing.  Two phrases develop this.

REWARD EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO THEIR CONDUCT.  CONDUCT and DEEDS are the external manifestations of our internal priorities.  This is not to say that attitudes have no moral relevance, but is in line with biblical teaching that a person’s deeds are reflections of their nature.

ACCORDING TO WHAT THEIR DEEDS DESERVE restates the truth to indicate emphasis.  These verses are a warning to everyone who falsely claims faith in God and a promise to everyone who truly serves him.

  1. God is pleased with hearts that are entirely true to Him (Acts 11:19-24).

Context = Barnabas is an example of someone with a true heart for God.

Comment = God blessed the ministries of Barnabas and the early church for their true hearts.

God blessed the church in Antioch (19-22).  Antioch was near a large and ornate garden in which a temple to Daphne was located.  This was a center for culture and vice and became a byword for immorality.  In light of this history, it’s a work of God that this city became important to Christianity.  It was here followers of Jesus were first called “Christians;” it was the birthplace of missions to non-Jewish peoples (Acts 13:2), and the place where the Apostle Paul got his start in ministry (Galatians 2:11-13).  As verse 19 explains, Antioch was one of the places to which Christians fled when the persecution of the Church in Jerusalem got too hot.  In Acts 11:21, God’s blessing of the church is revealed by two expressions: THE HAND OF THE LORD WAS WITH THEM and A GREAT NUMBER OF PEOPLE BELIEVED AND TURNED TO THE LORD.

But the Mother Church in Jerusalem still held influence over the new churches.  When they heard that non-Jews had come to believe in Jesus too, the leaders decided to send Barnabas to check it out (22).

It’s hard to over-emphasize the historic importance of these events.  The first Christians considered their faith to be the fulfillment of Judaism.  Including non-Jews in the Church was not something they’d planned. The book of Acts records the Church’s difficult adjustment to this revolutionary concept.

Barnabas called on the believers to be true-hearted to the Lord (23).  Acts 4:36-37 mentions Barnabas as a particularly generous believer who sold his land and donated the proceeds to the Church.  “Barnabas” is a nickname that meant “Son of Encouragement.”  Acts 9:27 shows Barnabas standing with Paul when others doubted the sincerity of his conversion to Christianity.

After looking the situation over, Barnabas decided the outreach to non-Jews was a godly thing and was happy to see God at work.  Note the only instruction Barnabas gave them: TO REMAIN TRUE TO THE LORD WITH ALL THEIR HEARTS.  TRUE in this case refers to loyalty and honesty.   We can’t fool the Lord anyway, so we must be honest with Him and with ourselves.

God blessed the ministry of Barnabas (24).  Barnabas was praised as A GOOD MAN, FULL OF THE HOLY SPIRIT AND FAITH.  The church in Antioch would later commission Barnabas and Paul to go start new churches, reaching out to non-Jewish peoples (Acts 12:25-13:3).  His own ministry in Antioch resulted in several people being saved: A GREAT NUMBER OF PEOPLE WERE BROUGHT TO THE LORD.  Both Barnabas and the church in Antioch were important to the Lord’s work because their hearts were wholly and truthfully devoted to the Lord.

There’s an old joke which goes, “Today my parents read the new book I am writing.  They said the main character was not likeable.  It was an autobiography.”

While that is a little amusing, it’s a little uncomfortable too.  Sometimes we worry that people would reject us if they really knew us.  That becomes a reason to keep them at arm’s length, hide our inner self away and put on a false front.

The comedian Groucho Marx said, “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?”
<Retrieved from https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/g/grouchomar128465.html on 3/24/17.>

The good news is, God has given us the truth in His word and His Son.  We don’t have to guess or make it up ourselves.  He has given us our church family to help us live with true hearts.  Let’s not make this more complicated by being false in any way.  A heart for God is only a true heart.