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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
Title:The death of Dagon ensures deliverance for Israel
Text:Judges 16:28-30 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Grace

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

2010 Book of Praise

Bible translation: NKJV

Psalm 68:1,2

Psalm 79:3

Psalm 94:1,2,6,11

Hymn 53:1,2

Psalm 89:7

Read:  Judges 16:21-31; 1Samuel 7.

Text:  Judges 16:28-30.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

If you still have your Bibles close at hand, please turn with me to Hebrews chapter 11.  Hebrews 11 begins by saying this in verse 1-2.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony.

From there Hebrews 11 goes on to describe various people of the Old Testament who are sometimes called the heroes of faith, those who, verse 39 says, “obtained a good testimony through faith.”  But now see what it says in Hebrews 11:32-34.

32 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: 33 who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.

When we read this, we might be left scratching our heads and wondering:  Did the writer of Hebrews ever read the book of Judges?  How could all of these people be that “cloud of witnesses” that are encouraging us on to look to Jesus, the author and the finisher of our faith?  How could Samson be included in that list?

  Over these past weeks we have heard about Samson and although we recognize that he was a judge for twenty years and no doubt did much good for Israel, the book of Judges makes no attempt to cover up Samson’s sin.  Samson is shown to be a man who was enslaved to sexual sin, a man who had a weakness for Philistine women and a man who betrayed his birthright, who played with – and lost – his special office, his calling to be a Nazirite set apart unto God.  What is his name doing, therefore, in Hebrews 11 as one of those men of faith encouraging us to be faithful?

Samson was a sinner.  Samson did fall, and Samson fell heavily.  Samson, whose name means something like sunshine was blinded to the Light of life.  Samson sinned.  And Samson received the wages of his sin.  The darkness came upon Samson, his eyes were gouged out, and he was made to grind grain for the enemy.  And the worst of it was this:  the LORD had left him.

But the story of Samson does not end there.  In the last verses of Judges 16 we learn of God’s grace towards Samson.  Samson repented of his sin and turned to the LORD and the LORD heard his prayer.  The Spirit of the LORD came upon Samson once more and he was restored to his office and calling as a Nazirite, set apart once more to begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines.

And there we see God’s grace not just for Samson but for all of Israel, for all of God’s people.  Samson was one of those who, to use the words of Hebrews 11, out of weakness was made strong.  And because Samson repented and called upon the name of the LORD in his day of trouble, not only was the LORD pleased to hear his prayer, but the LORD used him in the greater battle, the battle against Dagon and the battle against the devil to ensure the deliverance of Israel.  And so I preach to you the word of the LORD under the following theme:

The death of Dagon ensures deliverance for Israel.

  1. Dagon’s demise.
  2. Israel’s deliverance.

1. Dagon’s demise.

In 1671 the English poet John Milton wrote a poem about the death of Samson, and in this poem Samson laments what has become of him:

O wherefore was my birth from Heaven foretold twice by an Angel,

who at last in sight
of both my parents all in flames ascended

from off the altar, where an offering burned,

. . .

Why was my breeding ordered and prescribed

as of a person separate to God,
designed for great exploits;

if I must die
betrayed, captived, and both my eyes put out,

made of my Enemies the scorn and gaze;

to grind in Brazen Fetters under task

with this Heav'n-gifted strength?

O glorious strength
put to the labour of a beast,

lower then bondslave!

Promise was that I
should Israel from Philistine yoke deliver;

Ask for this great Deliverer now, and find him

Eyeless in Gaza at the Mill with slaves,

Himself in bonds under Philistine yoke . . .

Samson, blinded and bound, shackled and shamed, stripped of all that he had was left to grind grain in the prison of the Philistines.  Samson the Strong had become weak, had been humiliated, devastated and crushed.

But there was more at stake here, more going on than the capture and humiliation of the man Samson.  For the LORD had raised Samson up for a particular reason.  Samson had been separated to be a Nazirite unto God so that as God’s servant, the one called to represent Him, Samson might begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines. 

The Philistines were the enemy of God’s people, an enemy who threatened not just to overpower the people of Israel, but to overtake them to the point that God’s people Israel disappear as a special people, would no longer exist as the people of the LORD. 

The Philistines had come by way of the sea and they were a force to be reckoned with.  Although we often think and speak about the Philistines as though they were an uncouth, barbaric, bogan-like race of people, they were in fact a well organized and highly cultured race.  They excelled in growing crops, grapes and olives.  Their pottery was exquisite and of a high quality.  They traded with the surrounding  nations.  Their cities were well planned and well fortified, and so they were a cultural force to be reckoned with.

  And the Philistines served a god named Dagon.  Previously it was assumed that Dagon was a fish god, as the word dag is a word for fish in the Hebrew language.  However there is no evidence to prove that this was the case and most scholars today conclude that Dagon was the god for grain, for food.  One of the Hebrew words for grain is dagan and if we see Dagon as the god for grain, this links this Dagon to a heathen god that had been worshipped throughout that area for over a thousand years.  And this god Dagon was one of the gods that the nation of Israel had begun to serve.  Judges 10:6 –

“Then the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served the Baals and the Ashtoreths, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the people of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines; and they forsook the LORD and did not serve Him.”

There was, therefore, a spiritual battle going on during the days of the Judges.  Even worse than ending up in the hands of the their enemies, God’s people Israel were ending up in the hands of their enemies’ gods!  Including Dagon.  And what Israel really needed to be delivered from was not so much deliverance from their enemies, but deliverance from the gods of their enemies!  And we need to keep this in mind when we read about the battles that went on in the Old Testament – and we most certainly need to keep this in mind when we consider Samson’s last battle, when he pulls down Dagon’s temple and dies with the Philistines.

The battle between God and Dagon, or we could say between God and devil, was a great battle, a battle in which the LORD showed Himself to be the only God.  Samson lived in the time of Eli the priest and so he was alive when the Philistines captured the ark of the covenant.  At that time the Philistines believed that they had won the battle not just against the people of Israel but also against Israel’s god and so it says in 1 Samuel 5:2 that they took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon, and set it by Dagon.  Now at that time the LORD both afflicted the Philistines with tumors, perhaps the bubonic plague, and He also showed the Philistines that He was greater than Dagon.  When the ark was in the temple of Dagon, during the night the idol Dagon fell down twice, and its head and its hands were broken off.  And so Philistines said in 1 Samuel 5:7,

“The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us, for His hand is harsh toward us and Dagon our god.”

 But the Philistines had not given up on their god Dagon and now, about twenty years later, they thought that they had something to celebrate:  Samson had been captured and all praise went to Dagon.  Judges 16:23,24 –

23 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!”

24 When the people saw him, they praised their god; for they said:

“Our god has delivered into our hands our enemy,

The destroyer of our land,

And the one who multiplied our dead.”

“Dagon has done it!”  the people rejoiced.  “He has defeated our enemy, Samson, the one who had been set apart to Yahweh, the God of Israel.” 

That was not true of course.  Dagon had nothing to do with Samson’s capture.  Rather, the reason why the Philistines were able to defeat him was, Judges 16:20 says, because the LORD had left him.  But Dagon was getting the credit.  He was the greatest and the Philistines were once more the champions!

And then comes Judges 16:25.

25 So it happened, when their hearts were merry, that they said, “Call for Samson, that he may perform for us.” So they called for Samson from the prison, and he performed for them. And they stationed him between the pillars.

This was their day!  This was their moment!  Samson, the destroyer of their land had been subdued!  Glory to the Philistines!  Glory to Dagon! 

And the devil laughed.  The devil laughed to see Samson, the servant of the LORD, perform for the Philistines.  The devil thought that he had won. 

But had he really won?

God was not yet done with Samson, and therefore Samson was not yet done with God.  Blinded, shackled and in prison, Samson finally began to see.  He could not see physically, but his eyes were being opened spiritually.  Forced to walk in circles, turning a millstone and grinding grain, Samson saw what he had done.  And Samson turned back to his God.  Samson repented.  “Oh God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

And God saw Samson.  And God had mercy on Samson.  And the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaven.   Samson’s hair began to grow, and with it the memory that the Angel had said even before he was born that Samson should be a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death.  (Judges 13:7)

And now here he was, taken from prison and brought into Dagon’s temple.  The Philistines roared.  They cheered and they jeered.  And the Philistines sang “Our God – Dagon – has delivered Samson our enemy into our hands!” 

And as they mocked Samson and as they jeered at him, the Philistines did not only mock him, but his God, the LORD.  Samson was still a Nazirite to the LORD.  Samson was still the one whom the LORD had set apart as His deliverer for Israel. But Samson is mocked.  And with Samson the LORD God is mocked. 

But that should not be!  That can not be!  When we understand what is happening here, how the LORD Himself is being mocked by the worshippers of Dagon, then we must cry out, as we sang together from Psalm 94,

How long yet will the evildoer

Exult and revel in his power?

Hear how the wicked boast aloud;

Of all their misdeeds they are proud.

They crush Your people in their rage

And they oppress Your heritage.

How long, O LORD?  When will we see Dagon’s demise?  When will we see the Devil’s destruction?

Now Dagon’s temple, Judges 16:27 tells us, was full of men and women.  All the lords of the Philistines were there – about three thousand men and women on the roof watching while Samson performed.  But Samson had said to the young boy who was guiding him,

“Let me feel the pillars which support the temple, so that I can lean on them.”

But when Samson was taken to those pillars, he did not simply lean:  he prayed.  And Samson said,

“O Lord GOD, remember me, I pray!  Strengthen me, I pray, just this once, O God, that I may with one blow take vengeance on the Philistines for my two eyes.”

Samson stood in Dagon’s house but Samson prayed to the LORD!  “O Lord GOD”, he prayed,  “O LORD, the One who alone is the true God.”  Samson turns to the LORD, the God of the covenant, the God who had set him apart at birth.   It was to this God whom Samson turned.  And Samson prayed, “O Lord GOD, remember me!”

 “Remember me!  I have sinned!  I have turned from following You to follow the evil lusts and desires of my own heart.  I have broken my Nazirite vow.  But now I pray that You will still remember me.  Now I pray that You will restore to me the joy of Your salvation and that I may serve You as a Nazirite just once more.”

Can you picture that?  Can you imagine how Samson felt as he prayed that the LORD might turn to him once more?  Have you been faced with your sin?  Having sinned and fallen heavily, have you then turned to God in repentance praying “O Lord GOD, remember me?”

For this is what God wants!  This is the prayer that our Lord is eager to hear!  This is the prayer that He is ready to answer.

It was with this prayer that Samson showed that he had been freed from the devil’s grip and had turned once more to his God.  And that is where we see Dagon’s demise, his fall, his death.  Samson, a child of Israel, one set apart to the LORD prayed in Dagon’s house, “O Lord GOD, remember me!”

2. Israel’s deliverance.

You may have noticed that Samson prays for revenge for his two eyes.  But this was not just a prayer for personal revenge:  this was a prayer for vindication of Israel’s God.  It was not just Samson being mocked here, not just the leader of Israel, but the LORD.  It was not simply Samson being paraded as blind and helpless, at the mercy of his oppressors, but Israel and Israel’s God!  We need to remember the bigger picture of what was going on here, of the struggle between God and Dagon, between God and the devil, yes between Christ and the anti-Christ.  Samson’s prayer, therefore was not simply for personal revenge but that through his death the true God might once more be praised.

And so having prayed,

“. . . Samson took hold of the two middle pillars which supported the temple, and he braced himself against them, one on his right and the other on his left.  Then Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!”  And he pushed with all his might, and the temple fell on the lords and all the people who were in it.  So the dead that he killed at his death were more than he had killed in his life.”

And that was the end of Samson.  His brothers (they could have been his cousins) and all his father’s household came down and took him and they buried him in the tomb of his father Manoah.

And so Samson died.  But it was in his death that Samson had his greatest victory.  Samson had turned to the LORD and had pleaded with the LORD to return to him.  And Samson died so that in his death Dagon and Dagon’s followers might be destroyed – and God’s people Israel might be delivered. 

And God’s people were delivered – not just from the Philistines, but also from the Philistine gods.  It was shortly after the death of Samson that the events of 1 Samuel 7 took place where it says in verse 2 that “all Israel lamented after the LORD.”  And 1 Samuel 7:3,4

Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, “If you return to the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths from among you, and prepare your hearts for the Lord, and serve Him only; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.” So the children of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and served the Lord only.

And then, having confessed their sin to the LORD and turned back to Him, the LORD had mercy on His people and saved them from their enemy.  The Philistines were subdued, and they did not come anymore into the territory of Israel.  And the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel.

But the importance of Samson’s life and death does not end there.  There is a reason why Samson’s name is listed in Hebrews 11 for the story of Samson calls us to look beyond what took place in those days and to consider the Great Deliverer, our Lord Jesus Christ. Samson’s death was, in a way, a shadow or an indication of Jesus’ death.  Jesus too would be betrayed and handed over to the enemy.  Jesus too would be put on public display and mocked.  Jesus too would die with his arms outstretched.  And just as Samson appeared to have been struck down by his enemies but then turned to crush them, so our Lord Jesus Christ crushed the head of the serpent.  As it says in Colossians 2:15,

“Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.”

But there were even more ways in which Samson was not like Christ.  Samson, a sinner, needed a true Deliverer just as we do.  And so Samson is listed with those others in Hebrews 11 so that we do not look to him but we look to Jesus, the One

“. . . who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  (Hebrews 12:2)

And while Samson only began to deliver God’s people, our Lord Jesus Christ completed this deliverance!  And that is what the story of Samson calls us to consider. 

As we looked at Samson, at his life and at his sin, in one sense we were surprised that God would use a sinful man such as Samson to begin to deliver His people.  But as we looked deeper we saw that in many ways not only was Samson just like the nation of Israel in his day, but in some ways Samson was just like us!  In our own sin-filled state not one of us is better than Samson.  We all need to repent and we all need a Saviour.  But we have such a Saviour, Jesus Christ, the author and the finisher of our faith.  And now we are called to look to Him, to love Him, to seek Him and to serve Him.  Believe in your Saviour Jesus Christ.  Ask the LORD for His grace and the Holy Spirit so that you might fight against your sin.  Do not play with sin, nor forget the battle in which we are all engaged.  But rather let us humble ourselves, repent every day of our sins and turn to God in Jesus Christ.

Sometimes that is hard to do.  Sometimes you might feel that your sin is so great that you can not face God.  Sometimes we would rather hide – hide from God, hide from our elders, hide from our brothers and sisters in Christ.  But God will not have you hide!  The LORD is not willing that you should die in your sins and then face His wrath.  He calls you to turn to Him and pray “God have mercy on me, a sinner!  O Lord GOD, remember me!”

And we may be sure that just as God remembered Samson who cried for help in Dagon’s temple, so God will remember you!  He sent His Son to deliver you not from Dagon but from the devil.  And He will save you.  He will deliver you.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2014, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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