The Death of a Strongman
THE DEATH OF A STRONGMAN
A sermon on Judges 16:30b
Read: Judges 15:20 – Judges 16:31
Psalters (morning): 391; 390; 293; 200; 29; 316.
Psalters (evening): 317; 370; 293; 200; 29; 316.
On June 18, 1815, two armies met each other outside the small town of Waterloo in Belgium. There they would fight one of the most significant battles that Europe would ever see. It was Europe against the French … the Duke of Wellington against Napoleon. The victor would claim Europe.
The continent waited with baited breath for news of the outcome of the battle… and in London, England it was no different. And when finally the eagerly-awaited-for message reached this great city, they announced it from the top of a large Cathedral by a man with two signal flags. With these flags, he spelt out his message one letter at a time.
The entire city had their eyes glued upon this one man as he began to relay his message. But then, as it is often happens in London, a dense fog suddenly settled down upon the city, just as the words “Wellington defeated” were finished. The top of the cathedral could no longer be seen, and the heartbreaking news of the Duke of Wellington’s defeat spread like wildfire throughout London.
But then, as it also commonly does, the fog suddenly lifted and again the man atop the cathedral became visible, and he began to signal his message again. But this time he was able to spell out the complete message of the battle: “Wellington defeated the enemy!”
What was thought at first to be death and defeat… was instead victory. Out of death came triumph – out of supposed defeat came the news of victory.
This story of the Battle of Waterloo gives us a window through which we can view the death of Samson. Samson seemed to be defeated. Looking at this passage, all seems lost here: After all, they had put out his eyes! And now this giant of a man, this one-man-army, this terror of the Philistines… was being led around by the hand… by a small boy. Samson, strong Samson… being led by a boy – surely this was defeat. And then when he does get his strength back, just when you think, “there could be hope yet!” he dies. He just dies… in a pile of rubble.
Now why’d he have to go and do that? Hadn’t Judges 13 prophesied that Samson was going to be a deliverer; he was to be a savior in Israel. Oh there was so much potential in Samson, so much that we could have looked up to: There was someone I could have followed, someone I could have believed in! – Why’d he have to go and die? Why’d he have to die?
And it was such a glory-less death. He “let” himself be captured: he had let himself be betrayed, by a close friend even. Surely this was defeat – defeat not only for Samson, but defeat for Israel.
But then we read these words, at the end verse 30, the complete message, so to speak: “So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life” (KJV). “So the dead that he killed at his death were more than he had killed in his life” (NKJV). Here, out of seeming defeat, there was a victory. Here in the death of Samson, there was victory.
So let us look today at this victory in death by the title, “The Death of a Strongman.” First, we will look at Samson the person; then second, Samson the prisoner; and third, Samson the powerful. So “The Death of a Strongman”: the person, the prisoner, and the powerful.
1. Samson the Person
First, Samson the person: The last verse in chapter 15 seems to read like an obituary at the front of chapter 16 doesn't it? “And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years” (KJV). “And he judged Israel twenty years in the days of the Philistines” (NKJV). I say this because when we read this phrase for any other judge, then what usually follows is something like, “and he died, and was buried.” It’s always given like a funeral announcement. But here it’s placed almost in the middle of the Samson story. So why have this obituary-sounding notice here now – especially since it is repeated again at the end of chapter 16?
Samson obtained a good report
Well there are two good explanations for this. First the author seems to be summarizing most of Samson’s judgeship – he’s filling in the gaps for us: Looking at chapter 14 and chapter 15, they only tell us about the beginning few months of Samson’s judging (probably even the months just before he was accepted as judge). And then in chapter 16 we are told about only maybe the last year of his judgeship and his life. So in between these chapters, the author has written for us these words attesting to Samson’s twenty faithful years of judging Israel: “And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years” (KJV). “And he judged Israel twenty years in the days of the Philistines” (NKJV, Judges 15:20).
But then you might ask if we should assume this was faithful judging: Who’s to say that Samson was not a wicked judge dominated by his sin during these twenty years? This is certainly how many modern commentaries describe Samson: They tell us that when we look at Samson, we should feel nothing but “a thrill of disappointment and keen sorrow that a servant of Jehovah should [act as Samson did] in His name.” They refer to Samson, at his death, as being a man who was full with the “envenomed hatred of a soul still unregenerate.”
But what are they forgetting when they write this? If we only had this narrative in the book of Judges, you might be inclined to agree at least somewhat with their description: But they’re neglecting what the rest of the Bible says about Samson. In Hebrews 11:32-33 the author to the Hebrews writes this:
"And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness … became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens." (NJKV)
And he goes on like this for a few more verses before he concludes that all these, Samson included: “obtained a good report through faith.” Samuel, David … and Samson! So whatever report man may give of Samson, this is God’s report. From both the writer of Judges, and the writer to the Hebrews, Samson obtains a good report – he was faithful. They could summarize his life as faithful.
If someone were to summarize your life today – what would they be able to write behind your name? What would the author of Judges or the author to the Hebrews be able to write? Would they put: “He loved the world.” “O how this man loved life.” If they knew you, would this be their great summary of your life? Or would they be able to write that: “He has ruled his house faithfully for 20 years.” Or, “she has been a mother, a grandmother, for 60, 70 years.” Or, “he is a son to his father”; “she is a daughter to her mother.” “She has been a Christian for 50 years.” What would they write about you that would summarize your life? Would you obtain a good report?
Samson was a Judge
Not only did Samson obtain a good report, but he was also a judge: Samson ruled Israel. And he did so faithfully for twenty years as a God-appointed Judge.
Samson was given one of the clearest calls of all the judges: from his birth it was prophesied that he would begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines. He was also dedicated as a Nazirite from his birth: He was one who vowed his whole life to God, and submitted to His will. Do you know that it is said of Samson more than of any other person in the Bible that, “the Spirit of the LORD came upon him”? Samson was a mighty man, a man of strength, a man of valor: He fought an entire Philistine army, and he won! 3,000 men of Judah were afraid of that same army. Samson was a man’s man. Samson was a deliverer. Samson was a judge.
Samson was a picture of Christ
So he obtained a good report, he was a judge, but he was also a type – a picture – of Christ.
Remember that the office of judge in the Bible is very special. It’s special because it pictures for us the work of Christ. Children, what if I told you that in the Old Testament there are many, many pictures of Jesus Christ? Would you believe me? – That there are pictures of Jesus in the Bible? Well, there are. There are many pictures of Jesus Christ. But now keep listening, because I’m not talking about those kinds of pictures that you would draw with your pencil or your crayon, but I’m talking about words pictures, and people-pictures, and objects, and events – things that God used, and has written about, so that when we see them, we somehow think of Christ.
Let me give you an illustration: In my wallet I have a picture of my daughter. The picture looks exactly like my daughter, so that when I look at it, then I think of her. And if I were to take it out and show it to you, then you would have an idea, wouldn’t you, of what my daughter was like: You’d see that she was at least 4 months old, and that she has a little bit of hair, and that she is a girl. So this picture in my wallet makes you think of my daughter. It’s a picture of my daughter.
This is how people in the Old Testament were pictures Christ: When we read about them, we think of Christ. Moses, for example, pictured Christ as a mediator: The one who stand between God and His people. This is what Moses did, and this is what Christ does. But Moses wasn’t the only picture of Christ. Christ is just too large to be drawn in just one picture: Moses was great in meekness, Solomon was great in wisdom, and Samson was great in strength, but Christ is great in all of these, isn’t He: Christ is the meekest; the wisest; He is the strongest. They were pictures of Christ.
Well so are each of the judges: When you read of how they delivered Israel from her enemies, you can think of Christ, can’t you? A judge was given by God: he was raised up by God. A judge was given by grace: the people didn’t deserve him. In fact, the reason they needed him was because they had sinned in the first place. Isn’t this a picture of Christ? – Given by God; given by grace; He delivers His people? “And thou shalt call his name Jesus: For He shall save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). And so Samson as a person: obtained a good report, through faith; was a judge who ruled Israel faithfully for twenty years; and as judge he was a picture of Christ.
2. Samson the Prisoner
But if we were to say that his life was all bright and cheery and rosy, we would be making quite an overstatement. And this becomes very clear here under our second point, Samson the Prisoner.
“And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years” (KJV). “And he judged Israel twenty years in the days of the Philistines” (NKJV). The second explanation given for these words says that the author wrote them in order to show us the height from which Samson falls, here at the end of his life. He had judged Israel faithfully for twenty years; he’s a picture of Christ… and now he comes crashing back to earth with a thump, so to speak: with a bang.
Samson and temptation
Chapter 16 then begins with these simple, but sad words: “Then went Samson to Gaza, and saw there an harlot, and went in unto her.” (KJV) "Now Samson went to Gaza and saw a harlot there, and went in to her." (NKJV) He gave in to temptation. What a contrast this is to the second half of this chapter: For here we see Samson entering Gaza as a free man, by his own will. But when verse 21 begins, Samson will again enter Gaza: But this time, he will be a prisoner; this time he will be held against his own will. He gives, as it were, twenty faithful years over to a harlot and then to a temptress. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
We see here, don’t we, how giving into temptation, even for a short time, is able to so mar the image of an otherwise faithful life? What a height from which Samson had fallen.
And what a height from which we can fall when we give into our temptations. How these words show us that we need to constantly guard ourselves: Bad news always seems to travel faster than the good news. You fall into a temptation, you show your weakness, and everybody seems to know about it. And yet what about all the good that you’ve done: What about your works of charity and your acts of kindness? Why is nobody talking about them? All of it seems like it’s been erased, or at least disfigured, in people’s memories, by this temptation you’ve given into.
How we need to guard our thoughts; how we need to guard our actions and our tongue – and as it was in Samson’s case – how we need to guard our eyes. How appropriate for us are the words of our Lord, when He says: “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation” (Mark 14:38). Are you watching? Are you praying? What a height from which Samson had fallen.
Samson and sin
He gave into temptation – first with this harlot in Gaza … and then with Delilah. And we read in verse 4: Samson loved a woman in the Valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah (Judges 16:4). You figure, like a child who’s been burned by fire, that Samson would have learned. They had almost caught him in Gaza, but here he goes right back again. But doesn’t this so vividly describe how sin works so powerfully in our lives? We can be given a warning in some way – a message to stop. Almost caught… but not. You might even promise, even vow, that you will never return, but then, before you know it, there you are again: Back where you started; back in your sin.
There’s a Proverb that describe this tendency within us, you might think it a little crass, but yet here it is: "A dog returns to his own vomit." (NKJV) What do you keep going back to?
And where does Samson’s love bring him? His hair is cut off: The sign of his vow as a Nazirite; his dedication to God. His strength leaves him: Samson is taken prisoner: Samson the prisoner. And then what happens next is what the Puritans would call the three effects of sin: It blinds, in binds, and it grinds.
It blinds. Verse 21: "But the Philistines took him, and put out his eyes" (KJV). “Then the Philistines took him and put out his eyes" (NKJV). This is a horrific scene here: This was not done in our day of modern surgery, anesthetics, and painkillers; nor were they his friends. They would have forcibly held him down and gouged out his eyes from their sockets in order to make him harmless. We can hardly imagine this, can we? Matthew Henry says that, “His eyes were the inlets of his sin … and now his punishment began there.” God often hits us, where we’ve hit Him, as it were.
It binds. "And [they] bound him with fetters of brass.” (KJV) "They bound him with bronze fetters." (NKJV) Normally they would have tied a prisoner with rope made out of leather, but with Samson they were taking no chances. Only the strongest would do: Samson was bound with fetters – hand and foot. However, Samson had already been bound by his sin; the only difference is now he knew it.
It grinds. “And he did grind in the prison house." (KJV) “And he became a grinder in the prison.” (NKJV) They humiliated Samson. Perhaps you’ve seen a picture of this: A muscular Samson chained up and bent over a large wooden pole and pushing it around a stone mill that sits in the center of the room. This picture is probably nothing more than an over-romanticized image of what was happening here. It is more likely that Samson was chained up in a small room, sitting with a little bowl and grinder in his hand, doing the tedious work that was reserved for the lowest of slaves. How humiliated Samson must have been now. Sin blinds, it binds, and it grinds.
Samson and the Savior
So then what has happened here to our great deliverer? What has happened here to our picture of Christ? Where’s Christ now in Samson? Well one important part of typology (or picture-viewing) in the Old Testament is to recognize that all these pictures of Christ are not Christ: – they are pictures of Christ, but they are not Christ. The picture I have in my wallet of my daughter is not my daughter. You can look at this picture and you can hold this picture, but you’re not actually holding her in your arms. You’re not hearing her laugh, or listening to her cry.
And this is how it is with each Old Testament picture of Christ: While they make us think of Christ, there is always something that we can see in them that cries out to us, “But I’m not Christ.” Samson was not Christ. As a judge and a deliverer, he was a picture of Christ. But as one who gave into temptation, he was just like you and me: in need of Christ. But he did sin: He fell into temptation and he left the people crying out to God, “We need Your deliverer, but we someone greater-than-Samson; we someone stronger yet.” Samson was a judge in Israel… but Samson fell from a great height. And now he’s a prisoner: Samson the prisoner, blind, and doing slave’s work.
3. Samson the Powerful
Surely this was defeat: The champion of Israel was now a prisoner. With his eyes out, there was no hope left for him now: How was Samson now to be a judge in Israel?
And if this were left up to Samson to fix, this surely would have been the end. But then in verse 22 we have God’s “Howbeit” (“However” NKJV): "Howbeit the hair of his head began to grow again after he was shaven." (KJV) "However, the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaven." (NKJV) So we shall look at God’s “___________” under our third point, Samson the Powerful.
The sign of power
First notice the sign of his power: The author of Judges is not simply giving us a description of Samson’s hairstyle. Just think: If he left out almost 20 years of Samson’s judging Israel, but then included this one fact about his hair, than it must be pretty important, don’t you think? And neither should we see this as some sort of magic: That as Samson’s hair grows, so does his strength grow. No but rather, as a Nazirite, Samson’s hair was a sign of his devotion to God, and so the fact that his hair is growing back is a sign of his repentance, and re-devotion to God, in prison; but more importantly, it’s a sign of God’s favor returning to Samson.
God’s “____________”: With one stroke of the pen here, the author turns the story around from looking at Samson as a sinner, as a temptation-follower – to again looking at Samson as a predictive picture of Christ.
The display of power
But then also notice the display of his power: We see Samson here become entertainment for the Philistines, verse 23: "Then the lords of the Philistines gathered them together for to offer a great sacrifice unto Dagon their god, and to rejoice: for they said, Our god hath delivered Samson our enemy into our hand." (KJV) "Now the lords of the Philistines gathered together to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god, and to rejoice. And they said: “Our god has delivered into our hands Samson our enemy!”" (NKJV)
And then they wanted Samson, “Bring him out! Call for Samson, that he may perform for us.” And so they brought him out, already wounded in his eyes, already humiliated in the prison, here they find entertainment in him: He danced for them. And they laughed as he stumbled and blundered about, blind and helpless, and about to die.
But again, we might ask here: How is this, a picture of Christ? How is Samson drawing Christ here? Where is the display of power? Well, we see it displayed in two ways: First we see it displayed in weakness, and second we see it displayed in victory.
In weakness. Tired from dancing for the Philistines, in verse 26, Samson asks the boy leading him to bring him over to the pillars that supported the temple. To the mocking and jeering crowd, Samson is weak and tired, and as they see him lean against the pillars, perhaps they cheer over another victory: They’ve tired him out. It may have been a small victory, but enjoyable none-the-less: To see the mighty Samson bowed down. But we know different, don’t we? We know that as Samson was being led to those pillars, that he was planning. Samson was planning in his weakness.
And Samson was also praying. Samson realized now that his strength was not his strength, but that God was his strength. However weak and helpless he might look, if God was on his side, then he was powerful.
And then Samson pushed. And in his weakness, he displayed the power of God. He was again, Samson the powerful.
But here, in his weakness, Samson also displays Christ: Try and imagine Christ according to how the disciples thought He would be. Picture the Messiah through the eyes of a 1st century Jew: The Messiah was going to deliver them from their enemies. He was going to be a Samson-like deliverer: And with His Samson-like strength, He was going to lead them against the Romans. Except unlike Samson, the Messiah would be unquestionably, gloriously, victorious!
They had been waiting for Him for hundreds, thousands of years: First Moses?... No. Then Joshua?... No. Samson?... No. And so it went on. But now here was another Man! And this One came with power and authority – He walked on water, and cleansed lepers, and healed the lame, and opened the eyes of the blind, and opened the ears of the deaf, and He caused storms to cease, and with two words He raised the dead – “Lazarus: Come forth.” Or with one word He raised the dead: “Little girl, I say unto you, ‘Arise’!” – And they called Him, Jesus of Nazareth.
Do you remember how the people welcomed Him with singing and dancing? They welcomed Him like a king into Jerusalem, rejoicing and waving palm branches, and shouting? “Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!” (Matt. 21:9) Finally, finally, here was the Messiah! This Jesus was the Christ. …Wasn’t He? … Wasn’t He?
But then something very, very, wrong happened – something went terribly wrong: Jesus was captured. He “let” himself be captured: “Peter. Put away your sword Peter.” He had let himself be betrayed, by a close friend even. They used Him for entertainment, and He stood there without a fight, and let this all happen as if He were weak – as if He were weak! Surely this was defeat. And then, just when you think that it couldn’t possibly get any worse than this, He dies. He just dies… nailed to a cross. He dies the glory-less death of crucifixion.
Now why’d He have to go and do that? Hadn’t Isaiah promised that a Deliverer was going to come out of Zion? He was to be the Redeemer. Wasn’t Jesus was going to be the Savior of Israel? Oh there was so much potential in Jesus, so much we could have looked up to; there was someone I could have followed, someone I could have believed in! Why’d he have to go and die? Why’d he have to die?
You know why He died. You know why He died! He died for you! He died because of your sins! He died for all those temptations that you’ve given into. For all the ones that you keep going back, and back, and back to. He died for you.
And now, many people look at Him with no more respect than the Philistines gave a blind Samson: He could have been great. He had a lot of potential – it’s just too bad that He died. If only He hadn’t been defeated. If only He hadn’t been so weak.
In victory. But then the disciples still needed to learn what these words meant. And we need to remember these words: “So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life” (KJV). “So the dead that he killed at his death were more than he had killed in his life” (NKJV). Now this is where Samson truly pictures forth Christ, for as we see secondly, power was displayed in weakness, but also in victory.
There was great victory in Christ’s death: If there was victory in Samson’s death, there was even greater victory in Jesus’ death. How do we know this? – Because on the third day God raised Him from the dead! He vindicated His Son! He declared Him righteous! Samson’s body waits in the grave for the final judgment, but God would not allow His Holy One to see corruption. He raised Him from the dead and He declared Christ unquestionably, and gloriously, victorious!
But yet where was the victory? Hadn’t Samson still died? Hadn’t Christ still died? Where was the actual victory?
When Samson, as judge of Israel, stood as prisoner in the Temple of Dagon, the god of the Philistines, then we see, as Rev. Pronk has described, the age-old battle between God and the devil – between Christ and His Church, on the one hand, and Satan and the world, on the other. And so when Samson stood there between the two pillars, and prayed, “O Lord God, remember me I pray just this once,” and then he pushed with all his might so that Dagon’s Temple came crashing down upon 3,000 enemies of God and of His people, then also lying there in the rubble was Dagon – the statue of Dagon. The god of the Philistines lay there, with all his followers, broken in the ruins. The Philistines, those who remained, knew on that day, that there was a God in Israel. Samson was victorious!
And so also when Christ hung there between heaven and hell, and He prayed, “Father, forgive them,” and then He pushed with all His might, as it were, so that the stronghold of Satan came crashing down upon the enemies of God, then also lying there in the rubble, was Satan. The god of this world lay there, with all the powers of the death and darkness, broken in the ruins. Christ became the curse; the penalty was paid. The devil no longer had a claim on God’s people. Hebrews says that Christ, in His death, "destroy[ed] him that had the power of death, that is, the devil." (KJV)
There was victory in the death of the Strongman. Dr. David Murray says, “If all He had done was live, what good would that have done? Would that have defeated the devil? Would that have defeated sin? Would that have delivered you? – Never.”
This Strongman gave His life, so that He might give life – and victory – to weak men, and to weak women: To people like you and me. Won’t you put your faith in this Messiah?! Won’t you follow Him? Won’t you believe in Him? Christ has more than potential – He has the victory! Christ defeated… what? What’s the rest of the message? “Christ defeated the enemy!”
In His death there was victory – there is victory in the death of the Strongman!
Are you a Samson? Have you given in to your temptations once or twice, or often? Have you let yourself be taken prisoner by your own sin? Well not Christ: His whole life unto His death, He remained the picture-perfect Lamb without blemish. He remained the righteous Judge – who did not do what seemed right in His own eyes, but He did what was right in the sight of God. Where Samson failed, Christ perfected. Where you fail, Christ is more than willing to perfect.
Christ, who was a Strongman, became as if He were weak, and He gave His life to save Samson-like people. Christ saves Samsons …are you a Samson?
Dear friends, this is how you need to view the life and death of the greater-than-Samson, the One whom Samson pictured: There was no defeat. There was no defeat! There was only victory in His death. There is only victory in Jesus.