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.

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