Faithlife Sermons

One Step at a Time

Samson  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  27:57
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NOTE:
This is a manuscript, and not a transcript of this message. The actual presentation of the message differed from the manuscript through the leading of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it is possible, and even likely that there is material in this manuscript that was not included in the live presentation and that there was additional material in the live presentation that is not included in this manuscript.
Engagement
During the so called “quarantine” Mary and I have completed several jigsaw puzzles. While we were working on one of those puzzles I began to suspect very early on that there was a piece missing because its size, shape and color should have make it pretty easy to find. But it really wasn’t until we neared the completion of the puzzle that we confirmed that the piece was indeed missing.
While I would like to claim that the maker of the puzzle is responsible for that, I also know that this is not the first time this has occurred and at least in some of those cases, we have dropped a piece or two on the floor and our dog seems to like the taste of jigsaw puzzle pieces.
I suppose that if we had known up front that the piece was missing we would have probably decided to work on another puzzle instead. But there was just no way to know that it was missing until it was “too late”.
Tension
I think that’s a pretty good picture in what happens in our spiritual lives a lot of times. There is something missing in our relationship with God but we often don’t recognize that until it’s too late.
There is no doubt that was true of Samson’s life. As we’re going to see this morning, his strength is missing and Samson doesn’t even realize it until it’s too late.
Truth
We are now in our fourth week in our study of the life of Samson. We began in week 1 in Judges chapter 13 and we saw that his life began with such great potential. He had godly parents and God blessed him and equipped him with the Holy Spirit. But as soon as we got into chapter 14, we saw how Samson failed to live up to his potential because he was side-tracked by lust, compromise, and anger. And then last week in chapter 15 we saw how Samson got caught up in a never-ending cycle of revenge where he discovered that while revenge may seem sweet in the moment, in the end it leaves a bitter taste.
But at the end of that chapter, there seems to be a glimmer of hope for Samson. Although it certainly appears to be for selfish reasons, we see him seeking out God for the first time in the account of his life. And that chapter ends with a verse that leads us to believe that there might be some hope for Samson:
Judges 15:20 ESV
20 And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years.
We read that verse last week, but didn’t really talk about it. It appears that once he finally seeks out God that there is a twenty year period of fruitful ministry for Samson in which he actually does what God had called him to do from the beginning.
But, not surprisingly, that period is about to end and Samson is going to return to his old destructive ways.
And here is the important lesson that we’re going to learn from Samson’s life today:

Our downfall rarely occurs all at once - it almost always happens one step at a time

As we’ve been doing throughout this series, we’ll work our way through our passage section by section.
Judges 16:1–3 ESV
1 Samson went to Gaza, and there he saw a prostitute, and he went in to her. 2 The Gazites were told, “Samson has come here.” And they surrounded the place and set an ambush for him all night at the gate of the city. They kept quiet all night, saying, “Let us wait till the light of the morning; then we will kill him.” 3 But Samson lay till midnight, and at midnight he arose and took hold of the doors of the gate of the city and the two posts, and pulled them up, bar and all, and put them on his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that is in front of Hebron.
After 20 years of profitable ministry, Samson decides to take a vacation to Gaza. Gaza was the capital of the largest of five Philistine districts. Given his history, that would have been a very dangerous place for Samson to go and it would have been about a 25 mile journey from his home to get there. The phrase “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” seems to be a pretty good description of why Samson would make this journey.
Mary and I have been walking regularly in the morning and on my iPhone I’m able to track the number of steps and the distance we walk. On average, it takes me about 2,100 steps for each mile that I walk. Perhaps Samson was taller than me and he took less steps per mile, but I think it would be fair to calculate that he took roughly 50,000 steps on his trip to Gaza.
That means that he had 50,000 opportunities to turn back, 50,000 opportunities to say. “This is really stupid. What am I thinking?”, 50,000 opportunities to choose to remain where he was and do what God had called him to do. But instead, with every step he took closer to Gaza, he also took one step closer to a huge spiritual downfall.
When he arrives in Gaza, we see that Samson returns to his former way of life and gives into his lust and goes into the house of a prostitute. And as soon as he does that the Philistines surround the house and get ready to ambush him when the sun comes up. But, perhaps being aware of their plot, Samson gets up at midnight and takes the doors of the gate of the city and the two posts and pulls them out of the ground and carries them to the top of a nearby hill.
This is no easy feat. One commentary I read this week said that the doors and posts would have weighed as much as 700 pounds. Mary and I resumed our workouts at the gym this week and I’m pretty sure that while the gym has been closed, they made all the weights heavier somehow. So I can’t lift as much as I could a couple of months ago, but I do pretty well for an old guy. But even at my prime, I’d be lucky to lift a fraction of that over my head and carry it up a hill.
But that’s still not enough for Samson. He doesn’t seem to be able to resist something we have seen him do consistently throughout his life - taunt the Philistines. With this actions he is basically demonstrating to them that even though they think their city is secure, it’s really not.
But even at this point in his life, Samson could have returned to God. He could have recognized that he was on the path to destruction and chosen to turn around. But instead, as the account continues we see Samson walking step by step toward his downfall.
Judges 16:4–14 ESV
4 After this he loved a woman in the Valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. 5 And the lords of the Philistines came up to her and said to her, “Seduce him, and see where his great strength lies, and by what means we may overpower him, that we may bind him to humble him. And we will each give you 1,100 pieces of silver.” 6 So Delilah said to Samson, “Please tell me where your great strength lies, and how you might be bound, that one could subdue you.” 7 Samson said to her, “If they bind me with seven fresh bowstrings that have not been dried, then I shall become weak and be like any other man.” 8 Then the lords of the Philistines brought up to her seven fresh bowstrings that had not been dried, and she bound him with them. 9 Now she had men lying in ambush in an inner chamber. And she said to him, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” But he snapped the bowstrings, as a thread of flax snaps when it touches the fire. So the secret of his strength was not known. 10 Then Delilah said to Samson, “Behold, you have mocked me and told me lies. Please tell me how you might be bound.” 11 And he said to her, “If they bind me with new ropes that have not been used, then I shall become weak and be like any other man.” 12 So Delilah took new ropes and bound him with them and said to him, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And the men lying in ambush were in an inner chamber. But he snapped the ropes off his arms like a thread. 13 Then Delilah said to Samson, “Until now you have mocked me and told me lies. Tell me how you might be bound.” And he said to her, “If you weave the seven locks of my head with the web and fasten it tight with the pin, then I shall become weak and be like any other man.” 14 So while he slept, Delilah took the seven locks of his head and wove them into the web. And she made them tight with the pin and said to him, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” But he awoke from his sleep and pulled away the pin, the loom, and the web.
Some time later, Samson travels to the Valley of Sorek, which is a valley that formed the border between the Philistines and the Israelite tribe of Dan. There he meets a woman named Delilah and we see in verse 4 that he “loves” her. The Hebrew word used there indicates that that it was more sexual attraction than love.
The woman’s name is Delilah which is likely a word play on the Hebrew word “night”, which is appropriate since she overcomes Samson, whose name is associated with the sun. We don’t really know for sure whether she was a Philistine or a Hebrew, but it is obvious where her loyalty lies - whoever will give her the most money.
Once again Samson could have turned around, but instead he takes step after step towards his downfall.
Motivated by the allure of a large reward, Delilah tries to induce Samson to tell her the source of his strength so that she could in turn turn him over to the Philistines. But instead of just saying “no” Samson decides to toy with Delilah. And each time he does that, he takes one more step toward his downfall.
Unfortunately, we’re prone to doing the very same thing.
Most of the time people don’t set out to engage in an affair. But they decide it’s okay to kind of dabble around the edges - to talk about their marriage problems with someone of the opposite sex, or to flirt with someone, or to grab a drink after work. But every time we choose to engage in one of those behaviors, we take one step more toward our downfall.
I don’t know of anyone who sets out to come to financial ruin. But they decide to go to the auto dealer “just to look around” and they end up buying that fancy new sports car or that big truck that catches their eye. And then the deal on those new golf clubs is just too good to pass up or that new dress is on sale. And then when things get really tight financially, they start buying lottery tickets or going to the casino thinking that is their way out. And every step along the way they get one step closer to their downfall.
I don’t know of anyone who deliberately sets out to lose their best friend. But you figure there is no harm in telling them just one “little white lie”. But then that lie leads to another and another and next thing you know it has gotten so out of control that your best friend can no longer trust you and they end the relationship. Every lie you told was one more step toward the destruction of that relationship.
Samson doesn’t just deceive Delilah once - he does it three times. And every time she thinks that he has told her the secret of his strength and she binds him and calls in the Philistines, Samson easily breaks those bonds. I think by now Samson thinks he is bulletproof. He has convinced himself that he is invincible.
And if we’re not careful, we’ll make that same mistake. We’ll wrongly assume that just because we’ve gotten away with something before, perhaps even on multiple occasions, that we will get away with it again. We figure that our disobedience won’t cost us. We’ll just shake it off like we did before. But Samson is just about to discover that it doesn’t work that way.
Delilah comes to Samson one more time and she really knows how to manipulate him, doesn’t she. “Samson how can you say you love me and keep mocking me like this?” And I love Samson’s response. While the ESV is a very good literal interpretation of the underlying Hebrew words, a couple of other translations actually capture the essence of what Samson is thinking here:
Judges 16:16 CSB
16 Because she nagged him day after day and pleaded with him until she wore him out,
Judges 16:16 NIV
16 With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was sick to death of it.
Samson still had a chance to stop and to turn around, but instead he takes that last step toward his downfall and he tells Delilah that the source of his strength was his hair, which had never been cut because of his Nazirite vow.
He doesn’t even realize it, but Samson’s hair was not the source of his strength. The source of his strength was God. The hair was just the last remaining outward symbol of that. We’ve seen that Samson had already violated the other parts of his Nazirite vow. He had consumed wine and had touched dead animals on numerous occasions. And up until now, God had been gracious to Samson and not taken away his strength. But that was about to change.
We can easily fall into that same trap. We can stray from God one step at a time until we get to the place we no longer realize that our strength comes from God. We can easily come to the place where we begin to assume that our strength comes from our bank account or our our physical strength or our education or our job or our social status or even our religion.
I think the saddest sentence in the entire account of Samson’s life is found at the end of verse 20:
But he did not know that the Lord had left him.
Samson had spent so much time straying from God once step at a time that once he finally crossed the line completely, he didn’t even know that God had left him. I pray with all my heart that none of us will ever arrive at that point in our lives.
We’ve seen this morning that...

Our downfall rarely occurs all at once - it almost always happens one step at a time

Application
So how do I make sure that I don’t follow in Samson’s footsteps? Just as it’s true that a downfall almost always happens one step at a time, it’s also true that avoiding a downfall doesn’t happen all at once either. It requires us to constantly take some steps in the right direction. Let me briefly share three of those steps.

HOW TO AVOID A DOWNFALL

Stay connected with God
With the one exception we saw last week, we just don’t see Samson ever doing anything to seek out God. We don’t see him praying or worshiping. When he does violate his Nazirite vow, he doesn’t make any attempt to go through the cleansing process that is prescribed in Numbers 6. He just lives for himself.
I’m not going to give you a long, detailed explanation of the actions we need to take to stay connected to God. If you’d like to learn more about that, we began the year with and entire sermon series on Rhythms of Grace that God wants us to build into our lives in order to grow in our relationship with Him. So if you missed any of those messages or you need a quick refresher, I hope you’ll go to our website and listen to or watch those messages.
What I will say is that staying connected to God requires some intentionality and some discipline and that even as a pastor I’m not immune to periods of time in my life when I don’t do that very well. I can easily get caught up in studying the Bible for the purpose of preparing a sermon and get behind on my personal Bible reading or fail to pray like I should.
Stay connected with other disciples
One of the things that strikes me about Samson is that he seems to be a real lone wolf. He doesn’t seem to have any friends or anyone in his life that can confront him about his sin or encourage him to live out his calling. That’s certainly understandable given that he doesn’t seem real interested in his own people, the Israelites. And, based on his track record, it’s not surprising that no one wants to try confront him about his sin.
But he does illustrate why it is so important not be isolated from other fellow disciples. We are most vulnerable to taking one step after another toward disaster when we try to live life on our own.
Men, you’re going to be most tempted to visit a website you shouldn’t when no one else is around.
Women, you’re going to be most vulnerable to sharing details about your marriage relationship with another man when you find yourself alone with him.
Kids, you’re most likely to take something from a friend’s backpack when there is no one else around to see you do that.
But even beyond those examples, you are more likely to engage in a lifestyle that is going to consistently take you away from God one step at a time if you don’t have some people in your life that will lovingly help you to see your sin and turn from it.
I know that right now it’s been harder than ever to stay connected with our fellow disciples. It takes more effort to do that. But I’m also convinced that it’s more important than ever.
I’m grateful for all of you who are joining us online this morning at home in your pajamas. But watching an online worship service for one hour a week, or even gathering in person to worship once a week just isn’t enough. Just like staying connected to God requires intentionality and discipline, so does staying connected with other disciples.
Men, we have an opportunity for you to do that every single Monday morning at 6:30 a.m. I know that’s early. There are weeks when I don’t particularly feel like getting up that early. But what I can tell you is that I’m always glad I did. We also have a men’s breakfast once a month on the second Saturday of the month where we meet for fellowship and teaching.
Over the last couple of months, we’ve also been hosting an online Bible study every weekday afternoon at 3:00 and at most we’ve had 5 or 6 people join us. I understand that many of you are working during that time, but I also know that there are many of you who could join us then if it was really a priority for you.
Those are just a couple examples of practical ways many of you could apply this principle.
Remember I was made for more than this
There seems to be a moment when Samson almost does this. In verse 17, he tells Delilah that he had been set apart by God in order to carry out God’s purpose for his life “from his mother’s womb”. But he seems to forget that just as quickly as it came to mind.
God didn’t put you here on earth to take up space or to be successful in your job or make lots of money. He put you here to love Him and to love other people and to use your talents, gifts and resources to make a difference in this world and glorify Him. I need to remind myself of that every morning when I wake up because when I do that I am going to be a lot less prone to taking a bunch of steps in the wrong direction.

Our downfall rarely occurs all at once - it almost always happens one step at a time

How did a man like Samson with so much God-given potential end up with his eyes gouged out, bound in shackles grinding grain in a prison? He didn’t do it all at once. He did it one step at a time. And if you’re not careful you can do that too.
Action
So as we close today, let me ask you a question:
Where are you stepping away from God?
It could be something as simple as not spending time with God in His word and in prayer. Or it could be that you’re taking steps that are leading toward a ruined marriage or a destroyed relationship, or toward an addiction of some kind or toward financial ruin, or toward some other downfall in your life.
For some of you, you might only be on step one. for others of you, you are on step 49,999 and you’re just about to go over the edge. But regardless of your situation, I want to challenge all of us to have the courage to be honest about it and confess that to God and ask Him to forgive us and then to turn around and walk just as fast as we can in the other direction. And when you do that, you know who will be there waiting for you? God will.
Inspiration
Our passage ends with what is undoubtedly the most grace filled verse in the entire account of Samson’s life.
Judges 16:22 ESV
22 But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.
Samson’s hair, the outward symbol of his devotion to God, begins to grow again after it had been shaved. After he has walked away from God all his life and is now in bondage and shame, we see that God still hasn’t forgotten Samson. And if that is true for Samson, I can promise it is true for you, too.
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