Faithlife Sermons

Samson: Body Builder. Avenger. Lover. Terrorist?

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Series Review

When I was a kid I will really into Star Wars. I regret that I didn’t hang on to my action figures, I wonder how much $ they would be worth. My favorite character was Han Solo; he was exciting, daring, courageous, confident and funny. I was disappointed when they killed him off in The Force Awakens) Spoiler alert for those who haven’t seen it yet.
Looking back at this Han Solo character, I can see character traits that I probably shouldn’t admire: He was arrogant, sarcastic, selfish, greedy; and a womanizer (won’t recognize it as a child). Because of these character traits, he can be considered an anti-hero, at least for the first 2 episodes.

Sermon Intro

I think history has a way of distorting historical characters - celebrating their accomplishments, without paying careful attention to the suffering they caused others. Our 1st and 3rd presidents were brilliant and brave visionaries, but many of them were slave owners.
Samson, today’s antihero, is a good example of how we can glorify someone who accomplished good for a lot of people, and yet he had deep character flaws. Just to give some biblical context, I’ll remind you that last week we talked about Rahab, who lived during the time when the Israelites were about to enter the promised land. After conquering their enemies, Israel established themselves in that land. This period in Old Testament history is called the time of the Judges. There’s a simple cycle in the book of Judges: Israel forsakes God, God allows their enemies to defeat them, but then raises up Judges to lead them to victory over their enemies. Samson, who is given the gift of supernatural physical strength is one of these Judges. Here’s his birth story:
Judges 13:2–5 NIV
A certain man of Zorah, named Manoah, from the clan of the Danites, had a wife who was childless, unable to give birth. The angel of the Lord appeared to her and said, “You are barren and childless, but you are going to become pregnant and give birth to a son. Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean. You will become pregnant and have a son whose head is never to be touched by a razor because the boy is to be a Nazirite, dedicated to God from the womb. He will take the lead in delivering Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”
The first thing we learn about Samson is that he is a Nazirite. This was a public way of showing that you were set apart by God for a specific purpose. Keep your hair long. No alcohol. No unclean foods. Don’t touch dead things. Many of us have taken public vows. Think of making public vows. Politicians. Marriage. Ordination. When we violate our vows, people know about it. Signature.
When we go through the Samson story, we notice that he disregards all of these physical signs. He goes to wild parties, comes into contact with dead things and allows his hair to be cut.
Here’s the paradox of Samson: he’s not a spiritual leader. Even though he was deeply flawed he was, we see that

God Appoints and Empowers.

…the boy is to be a Nazirite, dedicated to God from the womb.
This is actually comforting for us today. Politicians, and celebrities dominate the news headlines. All someone has to do is put 2 sentences on Twitter and millions start talking about it. (I really don’t get Twitter - 140 characters?) Churches across the globe serving the poor, people made whole through Christ, but you won’t hear about it unless something bad happens. Those things don’t matter to the media. But Samson reminds us that God appoints all leaders and servants, big and small, good or evil.
Just think of the Christmas story: Jesus Christ, didn’t make the headlines: he was a peasant baby in the Roman Empire. And yet God appointed both Jesus…and Caesar. Paul said it this way in...
Romans 13:1 NIV
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
That’s the most important thing about Samson. There’s nothing else really good to say about him. Let me show you a few things:
Let’s read about some things that this servant of God accomplished. First of all he wanted to marry someone outside of God’s people. This was considered to be a bad thing, as they would be tempted to worship other gods:
Judges 14:1–4 NIV
Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman. When he returned, he said to his father and mother, “I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.” His father and mother replied, “Isn’t there an acceptable woman among your relatives or among all our people? Must you go to the uncircumcised Philistines to get a wife?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me. She’s the right one for me.” (His parents did not know that this was from the Lord, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel.)
To really appreciate this, we need to understand what kind of marriage this is. First of all this marriage that did not have his father’s approval - something which was required in ancient Israel. Also, this was not a marriage where the bride came to live with the groom. Samson is what some ancient Arabic cultures called “a visiting husband.” The bride would stay in her parents home, and the husband would drop by whenever he felt like it, and would bring gifts. It was an inferior sort of marriage.
Now, Samson gets angry with the Philistines - they take away his wife.
Judges 15:3–5 NIV
Samson said to them, “This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines; I will really harm them.” So he went out and caught three hundred foxes and tied them tail to tail in pairs. He then fastened a torch to every pair of tails, lit the torches and let the foxes loose in the standing grain of the Philistines. He burned up the shocks and standing grain, together with the vineyards and olive groves.
Judges 15:3–5 NIV
Samson said to them, “This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines; I will really harm them.” So he went out and caught three hundred foxes and tied them tail to tail in pairs. He then fastened a torch to every pair of tails, lit the torches and let the foxes loose in the standing grain of the Philistines. He burned up the shocks and standing grain, together with the vineyards and olive groves.
Judges and Ruth: An Introduction and Commentary Samson’s Revenge and Its Sequel (15:3–6)

The burning of standing corn was a common method of retaliation or revenge in the ancient world and its effect in an agricultural community was very serious. The prompt reaction of Joab to the ruse of Absalom to attract his attention may be instanced (2 Sam. 14:28–31). We can imagine the delight with which the Israelites would tell this story of revenge against the nation which was to oppress them so sorely. But such wanton cruelty to animals, whose sufferings must have been hideous, cannot be condoned

The burning of standing grain was a common way for a nation to retaliate against enemy nations. This was an agricultural world, so you’re burning up the food supply. From the perspective of ancient warfare, you could celebrate this as a victory over an enemy nation. But this is a dark, cruel way to do this - catching 300 foxes on fire. Samson was a cruel man.
Judges 15;3-5
Here he attacks the Philistines again.
Here he attacks the Philistines again:
Judges 15:13–15 NIV
“Agreed,” they answered. “We will only tie you up and hand you over to them. We will not kill you.” So they bound him with two new ropes and led him up from the rock. As he approached Lehi, the Philistines came toward him shouting. The Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him. The ropes on his arms became like charred flax, and the bindings dropped from his hands. Finding a fresh jawbone of a donkey, he grabbed it and struck down a thousand men.
Attacking and killing enemy soldiers might be something to celebrate. Still, this is not a guy trying to rescue God’s people from oppression, this is someone with serious anger issues settling a score. This is a pretty gory scene, (Sunday School, desensitizing).
To summarize what we know about Samson: He was called by God to save God’s people from their enemies. He ignores his parents and marries the wrong kind of woman (women were his kryptonite), lashes out in raw anger and brutally kills a lot of people and animals. He was not a good man, he’s not a wise man, but

God Uses Foolishness for His Purposes

“I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.”
“I have a right to get even with the Philistines; I will really harm them.”
“I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.”
He is different from all the other Judges, because he was not a military leader. He was just a strong guy with serious anger issues. He doesn’t organize the Israelites and lead them into victorious battle and bring them back to God. He spends his time chasing women and pursuing a personal vendetta against the Philistines.
“I have a right to get even with the Philistines; I will really harm them.”
Judges 15:3–5 NIV
Samson said to them, “This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines; I will really harm them.” So he went out and caught three hundred foxes and tied them tail to tail in pairs. He then fastened a torch to every pair of tails, lit the torches and let the foxes loose in the standing grain of the Philistines. He burned up the shocks and standing grain, together with the vineyards and olive groves.
We read in:
Judges 14:4 NIV
(His parents did not know that this was from the Lord, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel.)
Judges 14:4 NIV
(His parents did not know that this was from the Lord, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel.)
God is using Samson’s weakness for women to work out a plan for his people. This does not mean God is okay with Samson, but it means God can work through deeply flawed people.
The Bible constantly urges us to seek wisdom. It’s more valuable than any gift or talent we have. God told King Solomon to ask him for anything - he asked for wisdom. To reward Solomon for his choice, God gave him wisdom and wealth. The point is not that God wants to make us rich, but we are to value wisdom above all else.
How different would our lives be if we prioritized the pursuit of God’s wisdom, rather than just asking for stuff?
The Bible constantly urges us to seek wisdom. It’s more valuable than any gift or talent we have. God is not dependent on human wisdom to accomplish his plans - it’s a good thing too. Imagine what this world would look like if God were completely dependent on us making the right decisions.
But even though we are urged to seek wisdom, God is not dependent on our wisdom to accomplish his plans - it’s a good thing too. Imagine what this world would look like if God were completely dependent on us making the right decisions. Samson shows us that God always has a plan, and he can do it with us, without us, or even despite us.
Paul acknowledged this when talking about God’s sovereign, mysterious ways. Listen to this from his letter to the Corinthian church, a dysfunctional church with all kinds of problems:
Paul acknowledged this when talking about God’s sovereign, mysterious ways. Listen to this from his letter to the Corinthian church, a dysfunctional church with all kinds of problems:
1 Corinthians 1:27 NIV
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.
1 Corinthians
God plans to use Samson for His glory, but that doesn’t mean God approves of Samson’s choices. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be consequences for his sin: His sins finally catch up to him:
We’re going to
Judges 16:16–21 NIV
With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was sick to death of it. So he told her everything. “No razor has ever been used on my head,” he said, “because I have been a Nazirite dedicated to God from my mother’s womb. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.” When Delilah saw that he had told her everything, she sent word to the rulers of the Philistines, “Come back once more; he has told me everything.” So the rulers of the Philistines returned with the silver in their hands. After putting him to sleep on her lap, she called for someone to shave off the seven braids of his hair, and so began to subdue him. And his strength left him. Then she called, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” He awoke from his sleep and thought, “I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had left him. Then the Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza. Binding him with bronze shackles, they set him to grinding grain in the prison.
One of the interesting facts of this story is that Samson hated the Philistines. Which makes it strange that all of the women he fell in love with were Philistines. And they exploited that weaknesses.
6. Spiritual Gifts Can Lead to Destruction

Spiritual Gifts Can Lead to Destruction

But he did not know that the Lord had left him.
But he did not know that the Lord had left him.
Samson was set apart for God; attractive, strong, victorious, never used it for God’s; used it to attract women and settle personal scores;
attractive, strong, victorious, never used it for God; used it to attract women and settle personal scores;
We can be successful. We can be attractive. Well off financially. Good teachers. Good leaders in the church. Those can be strengths, but they can also be weaknesses. They can serve the kingdom of God, but they can also serve our own egos, this false sense of sufficiency and stability.
A former UMC bishop made a shocking remark at an annual clergy session: He said he had received over 30 misconduct complaints from churches. He urged us all: find someone to hold you accountability. Find someone to lovingly confront you with the truth, and encourage you to grow.
Judges 16:2
Judges 16:25–30 NIV
While they were in high spirits, they shouted, “Bring out Samson to entertain us.” So they called Samson out of the prison, and he performed for them. When they stood him among the pillars, Samson said to the servant who held his hand, “Put me where I can feel the pillars that support the temple, so that I may lean against them.” Now the temple was crowded with men and women; all the rulers of the Philistines were there, and on the roof were about three thousand men and women watching Samson perform. Then Samson prayed to the Lord, “Sovereign Lord, remember me. Please, God, strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.” Then Samson reached toward the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other, Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived.
Judges 16:25–30 NIV
While they were in high spirits, they shouted, “Bring out Samson to entertain us.” So they called Samson out of the prison, and he performed for them. When they stood him among the pillars, Samson said to the servant who held his hand, “Put me where I can feel the pillars that support the temple, so that I may lean against them.” Now the temple was crowded with men and women; all the rulers of the Philistines were there, and on the roof were about three thousand men and women watching Samson perform. Then Samson prayed to the Lord, “Sovereign Lord, remember me. Please, God, strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.” Then Samson reached toward the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other, Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived.
Judges 16:25-30
Here we see...

God’s Redemptive Purposes

“Sovereign Lord, remember me. Please, God, strengthen me just once more…”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said that he noticed that his fellow Christians never learned how to pray until they were in a Nazi prison. These were men who had successful business until the Nazis took them away and forced them into a ghetto or put them in concentration camps and prisons. They had relied on their accomplishments, but finally they had nothing to rely on.
At the end of Samson’s life we see him finally do something right, something we can admire and imitate: he prays. He hasn’t done that yet. And he asked God for something he doesn’t have and the only thing God can give him: Strength.
Our choices can leave us at the bottom of the barrel, but God is never finished with us: He hasn’t left us, and he always has a plan. God always has redemptive purposes. Just look at this deeply flawed man named Samson.
Judges 16:25–30 NIV
While they were in high spirits, they shouted, “Bring out Samson to entertain us.” So they called Samson out of the prison, and he performed for them. When they stood him among the pillars, Samson said to the servant who held his hand, “Put me where I can feel the pillars that support the temple, so that I may lean against them.” Now the temple was crowded with men and women; all the rulers of the Philistines were there, and on the roof were about three thousand men and women watching Samson perform. Then Samson prayed to the Lord, “Sovereign Lord, remember me. Please, God, strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.” Then Samson reached toward the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other, Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived.
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