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.”
“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!”
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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.