THE LIFE AND TIMES OF SAMSON
Stephen M. Crotts
April 13, 1997
I have a confession to make. I’m addicted to monuments. I’ve stood at Jamestown and stared at the statue of Captain John Smith and Pocahontas. I’ve lingered long in Charlottesville at the monument to Lewis and Clark with Indian guide Sacagawea peering over their shoulders. And the battlefield at Gettysburg is a veritable plethora of statues—at least a week’s worth!
In the Bible there are dozen’s of “literary statues,” or biographies, if you will. One such life story is that of Samson. And it has much to teach.
The Hebrew name “Samson” means “Man of the Sun” or “Bright Hero.” One must picture a friendly, likable man with beautiful hair, his curls framing his face like rays of the sun.
Judges 16:31 tells us Samson was a judge in Israel for 20 years. The events of his life took place 3200 years ago. Yet his story is as fresh and pertinent to us as it was to his own generation. And today I’d like to set Samson up as a monument, a biography, a warning, a judge in your life.
A MAN OF PROMISE
Judges 13:1 explains how Israel languished under the bootheel of the Philistines forty years. They were ridiculed, marauded, taxed, even “enslaved” is not too strong a word. And then God determined to deliver his people.
Manoah and his wife were a family—godly, obscure, and barren of children. Then an angel visited the couple announcing that to them a child would be born, more specifically a son. You see, when God wants to deliver his people He starts with a man and a woman, a marriage, and a baby.
In this day of casual sex, illegitimate conception and abortion, it is so refreshing to see a baby conceived in marriage, a baby desired, prayed for, a child mothered and fathered—Yes, a child ordained by God to minister, called even before his birth!
One snowing evening I was invited to teach from the Gospel at the Tri Delta House at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. I recall a room full of lovely young ladies sitting in rapt attention as I shared from scripture on how to build a healthy self-esteem according to Psalm 139. Afterwards this absolutely gorgeous child came up to me, tears in her eyes, telling me how much it meant to her to realize her life was meant to be. “You see,” she confided, “I was born when my mother was forty-four. Ever since I can remember my older sister told me. “You weren’t wanted! You should have seen how depressed Mom got when she found out she was pregnant with you.” “So,” the young lady lamented, “I’ve always thought of myself as an accident, a bother. And it depresses me!”
The Bible says there are no unwanted babies. And see here how Samson was planned by God, conceived by his parents, and awaited by the world!
You, too, are wanted. You are made in God’s image, your name is known, the hairs of your head are numbered. You are God’s Temple, loved of Christ, a bride, born for such a time as this!
A MAN OF DISCIPLINE
So, Samson was a man of promise. But the text also tells us Samson was a child of discipline. Judges 13:4 explains Samson became a Nazarite. That means he was a disciplinarian, no razor was to cut his hair. He touched nothing dead. And he was to never enjoy strong drink. He was, in short, to be a religious man who lived his life within certain limits.
Today, all limits are off. In the 1960’s beach music icons, “The Tams” crooned, “Be young! Be foolish! But be happy!” And we heard them loud and clear! Now we’ve a culture of rank Hedonism. We live by our feelings. “When I’m hungry I eat. When I’m sleepy I sleep. When I’m sexy I…” We’ve become a nation of yard dogs led about by our passions. We know no law, hold to no limits, tolerate no rules. Ours is becoming the sovereignty of the self!
Not Samson. A child of promise, he became a Nazarite living a disciplined life of religious
A MAN’S MAN
Samson was also a man’s man who as a folk hero among his people became a genuine living legend.
Consider a few of Samson’s exploits: Remember Davey Crockett who “killed him a bear when he was only three?” Well, Samson killed a lion with his bare hands. Judges 14:6 says he “tore it like a lamb.”
He once ran down 300 foxes, tied flaming torches to their tails and released them to run amuck in the dry, not yet harvested, Philistine wheat fields. Have you ever tried to catch a fox? Do you realize how quick Samson must have been?
In another saga, Samson slew 1000 Philistine men, his only weapon, “the jaw bone of an ass.”
Then there was the time Samson stole the city gates of his enemies, carted them off to Hebron. That’s 38 miles uphill.
Samson was a horse! A man’s man! The strongest man who ever lived. When it came to daring-do, to sweat, to testosterone, to machismo. Samson had no equal.
A LADY’S MAN
A man of promise, a man of discipline, a man’s man—Samson was all this! But he was also a lady’s man.
There were at least three women in Samson’s life. The first, according to Judges 14:1, was a “woman of Timnah, “ a Philistine lass. Samson laid eyes on her, liked her well enough, and told his father, “Get her for me.”
Now, such a match between Jew and Philistine is what the Bible calls “an unequal yoke,” strictly forbidden by the Lord. Samson’s dad tried to talk him out of the relationship, but Samson,
increasingly truculent, ordered, “Get her for me: for she pleases me well.” (Judges 14:3) Those of you considering marriage would do good to look well at this! Our man never asked if the relationship pleased his parents, was pleasing to God, or good for society! It was a purely selfish decision: “She pleases me well.”
A long the way to his ill-conceived wedding Samson was confronted by a lion, a sort of heaven-sent road block meant to thwart his disobedience. Samson killed the beast. He used the gift of strength for his own ends.
At his wedding the now swaggering, vain husband bets thirty wedding garments the Philistine men cannot solve his riddle. His wife, who turns out to be something of a nag, pesters him until he confides the riddle’s secret to the wagers. Angry at losing the bet, Samson killed 30 men of Ashkelon.
The second woman in Samson’s life is mentioned in Judges 16:1. She was a harlot in Gaza. With her he had a one night sexual tryst.
Now for the third woman—Delilah. The rule in Baseball is: Three strikes and you’re out! Delilah likewise proved to be Samson’s last at bat. Delilah, too, was a foreigner. A pagan. In cahoots with the Philistines. The bible says she was bribed by the Philistines to discover the source of Samson’s strength and betray him into the hand of his enemies. So, she began to nag her new husband with tears and pouts. Samson, knowing the woman was a thwart to his judgeship, thought he could handle her. He rested his head in her lap, and eventually gave up his secrets as he succumbed to her charms.
How many ministers—man or woman—choose a spouse that becomes a burden to their ministry! Why, if Satan can’t get the man, he will get the man’s wife and so hamstring his ministry.
And how many ministers, even to this day are enchanted by a modern Delilah. I spoke with a friend of mine who wrecked his marriage, his health, his family, his church by indulging in a sexual affair, “It just happened, Stephen!” It is forever true that none of us falls into sin, we erode into it. We let our inner life go to Hell and then our outer life follows.
A CARNAL MAN
You may recall British archeologist Howard Carter. Earlier in this century he discovered King Tut’s tomb in Egypt. Opening it he displayed the treasures of a pharaoh before the eager eyes of an astonished world. Strangely, however, Carter and several of his support party began to die. Rumors spread that the tomb was cursed. The movie, “The Mummy” that so terrified many of us in our youth was founded upon these historic events.
Now scientists believe the Egyptians sprinkled anthrax spores around the door frame when they sealed the tomb. These lethal disease bearing spores lay dormant in the dry heat of Egypt for many centuries. But when Carter’s party stirred them up in the dust of opening the tomb, the spores were breathed into their moist lungs and the anthrax became active, killing the archeological party. Likewise, there are sin spores in each of our lives. We’ve never removed them. And they lay dormant in our lives just waiting for release. Sexual fantasy, financial shortcuts, disrespect for authority, personal ease about truth…then one day, in the right atmosphere, they burst into disease and consume us.
Samson’s biography in the Old Testament is odd. We’re introduced to him and his exploits in the first 2-3 years of his judgeship. The immaturities, the sin spores of his life are clearly present for all to see. Then the biography skips over 17 years to the end of his life. And there one reads of Samson consumed by full blown sin disease.
For instance, Samson was a Nazarite. He must keep three vows: 1. No strong drink. 2. No hair cuts. 3. No touching anything unclean. In Judges 14:5-9, Samson killed a lion that menace him. A few weeks later Samson was passing the spot and turned aside to see the dead animal carcass. To his surprise, a hive of bees was making honey in the lion’s body. Samson wanted that honey! But he was a Nazarite, he’d vowed to touch nothing unclean. And a dead lion was unclean. Samson took the honey anyway. He even gave some to his parents. “Don’t tell them where I got it,” he urged.
You can see his same willingness to play loose with morals when he took a Philistine wife, when he disobeyed his parents, when he lay with a harlot. “Rules are good, but they’re for everyone but me,” wrote Napoleon.
Sin spores. Samson was riddled with them.
Throughout his biography Samson never quotes Scripture. He never prays unless he is in trouble. He built his life on his gifts and only used God.
Not once in Samson’s life did he ever show fear. He was not afraid of the Philistines, of the lion, of soldiers, of women, nor was he afraid of God.
He “saw one of the daughters.” (Judges 14:1)
He “saw a harlot and he went into her,” that is, he touched her. (Judges 16:1). He “loved a woman” (Judges 16:4).
Saw. Touched. Loved. See the degeneration? Samson didn’t check his flesh.
Hebrews 12:16 warns, “See to it no one becomes immoral and irreligious like Esau who sold his birthright…!!” The Greek word for “irreligious” means “threshold crosser.” The idea is a tourist wandering into a temple. He is more curious than worshipful. He knows no boundaries, no sense of the Holy.
This was Samson. He had no passion for God. His only zeal was for honey, women, revenge. In short, Samson was passionate about himself.
All of his mighty deeds were for himself. The Philistines did not give him his wife, so he burned their fields. He was surrounded and threatened, so he carried their gates away. His eyes were plucked out, so he tore down their temple. Notice too, how every one of Samson’s weapons were unclean—the jawbone of an ass, a pagan temple.
Samson was a man committed to externals. That means he was more interested in looking good than in being good. A Nazarite had long hair and six braided forelocks. The Bible says Samson had seven. See the arrogance? “I’ll go you one better!”
One day God in Heaven, watching with patience this wayward elder, cried out, “Enough!” I’ve had it with Samson! Let him fall! And let this mighty man of strength fall to a woman!” So Samson the judge was himself judged. He stumbled over his own gifts, over his own strengths. He became the only judge of Israel to fail.
A DEAD MAN
Oh Samson! Samson! Man of promise! Man of discipline! Man of God! Lady’s man, carnal man! But now Samson, you’ve become one thing more—a dead man.
In Judges 16:5, the third woman in Samson’s life, Delilah, nagged her husband to tell her all his mind, including the secret of his strength. Samson toyed with her. “I can handle it,” he surely mused. But one day as he rested his head on her knees he succumbed other nagging wiles and she shaved him bald as he slept.
“This will be like other times!” “I can handle it!”
But he can’t. Samson is captured in his sin by sinners. And the Philistines do three things to him. They gouge out his eyes. They shackle him in bronze chains. And they use him as a mule to grind at the mill.
If I could I’d preach this part like only my black brothers do. I’d tell you that sin is blinding! Sin is binding! And, oh my brothers, sin is grinding!
One day…one sorry day, the Philistine lords and ladies held a feast in their temple of Dagon. And for sport, they brought Samson in. How the enemies of God gloated over their vanquished foe. And how the Kingdom of God was humiliated! The man of promise, the disciplined man, the judge, the deliverer, the man’s man! Now reduced to a dumb, blinded ox on a leash!
Samson asked a small boy to place his hands on the pillars that held up the temple. And, in trouble, as always, he prayed. But not for God. For himself. “Now Lord, avenge me for my right eye. Let your strength return to me.” With that he heaved mightily and toppled the entire temple, ending is own life and wreaking a significant slaughter among the Philistine nobility.
Thus does Samson’s biography conclude with his epitaph in Judges 16:30. “The dead whom he slew in his death were more than the dead he had slain in his life.”
This is Samson. He is to be forever remembered, set up in our psyche as the judge, the warning he is. For surely we shall revere Jesus Christ and surely we must deal with sin in our lives, or surely it
shall deal with us!
Sweet Jesus, have mercy upon me! Show me the sin in my life that I might repent. For Christ’s sake. Amen.