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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Through Samson’s Death, God Delivers His people
Text:Judges 16:23-31 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation
 
Preached:2021
Added:2021-10-11
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 99:1,2,3                                                                                   

Ps 115:1,2,5                                                                                             

Reading – Judges 16:1-22; Hebrews 11:30-40

Ps 70:1,2

Sermon – Judges 16:23-31

Hy 24:1,2,3,4,5,6

Hy 26:1

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, there is something called the underdog. It’s the boxer not expected to win the fight. It’s the team up against the undefeated champions from last year. The underdog is an unlikely candidate for success, because he’s too small, or they’re too weak, or inexperienced.

Yet we know it’s the underdog that sometimes prevails. There’s plenty of examples from the Bible. There’s Jacob, the younger brother, served by the elder Esau. There’s Deborah, a woman chosen to lead God’s people. These aren’t the ones we’d pick. Yet so often God does. He picks the hardened sinner. The stammering preacher. The simple farmer. God picks the unlikely, and gives them a holy task, so that He might receive the glory.

There’s a great lesson in God’s love for underdogs. God is saying something about himself. Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 1, “The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (v 25). The LORD is so much greater than mortal mankind, for He can bring salvation from totally unexpected corners. We might be weak and unreliable, yet the LORD always accomplishes what He set out to do.

Which brings us to Samson. He was strong, yet so weak. What could he ever do for the cause of the Kingdom? Let’s listen to the Word of God from Judges 16:

Through Samson’s death, God delivers His people:

  1. the saviour covered with shame
  2. the LORD moved to save 

 

1) the saviour covered with shame: There’s something very memorable about Samson, “the one-man army.” But first, we need to remember he lived during a time of lawlessness in Israel. There’s a theme in the book of Judges, “In those days, there was no king, and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” So time and again, the LORD disciplines his people, and sends enemies to inflict trouble. Yet God also has mercy on the Israelites, and He delivers them through judges.

These judges came from all tribes, and from all walks of life. Some of them were indeed pretty unlikely leaders! God called them to direct the armies, to provide leadership, to administer justice. Yet as soon as the judge passed away, the people would fall into idolatry. And then the enemies would be sent back into the land…

At such a time, Samson was born. He was born unexpectedly, to an older couple who hadn’t ever received children. An angel of God told his parents that their son would have a special mission. He’d be a Nazirite: one consecrated for God’s service. As the law said, he would be set apart by not having any alcoholic drink and by not cutting his hair. In time, Samson grew up to be one of Israel’s judges.

And we are told that “the Spirit of the LORD began to move upon him” (13:24). That’s an important detail. We often we picture Samson like a muscular hero—ripped and ready, like he was one of those guys who has spent so much time in the gym that their neck has disappeared. But the secret of Samson’s strength wasn’t his biceps and triceps. The secret was the Spirit. When the Spirit came upon Samson, he could tear apart a lion with his bare hands and could fight for God’s people.

The enemy at the time was the Philistines. Samson threw himself against them with full force. He killed thirty Philistines after they solved his wedding reception riddle. He wiped out their crops with fiery foxes. He killed many more when his wife was murdered. Later, he even killed a thousand with the jawbone of a donkey. No one would’ve given Samson a Nobel Peace Prize, but with him around, the Philistines would hesitate to attack.

But Samson was a deeply flawed child of the LORD. He might’ve had great strength, yet when it came to women, he was very weak. So Samson fell for the lusts of his heart. And Samson pursued his urges so recklessly that his mission was always about to go off the rails. His victories against the Philistines were most often about him trying to get revenge for some personal insult or loss. During Samson’s time as judge, it seemed like it was all about him, and not about doing the LORD’s will.

This couldn’t last. He couldn’t keep chasing women while he was supposed to be leading the country. And it was Delilah, a Philistine woman, who had a direct hand in Samson’s downfall. He’d fallen in love with her, but she was bribed to betray him to the enemy. After trying several times, she finally got the secret of his strength out of him. His hair was cut, and the Philistines finally got their man.

The words of Judges 16:20 are especially tragic. In the Scriptures, this is almost never said of God’s children: “He did not know that the LORD had departed from him.” Though Samson expected to jump up and smash the Philistines once again, this time he was all alone. Samson was left in the hands of the enemy no longer as a Nazirite—no longer consecrated to God—but as an ordinary man, with ordinary ability.

The eyes that had led him into so much sin are gouged out. The Philistines bind Samson in shackles and take him to Gaza, where he’s set to grinding in a mill. Betrayed by his Gentile lover, confined to back-breaking labour, Samson was utterly humbled and shamed. What could such a broken person ever do for God and his Kingdom? Yet this Samson will rise again.

For even the very hairs of God’s children are numbered—in Samson’s case too. Though Samson is totally miserable, God is preparing him for one final work. We read that “the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaven” (v 22). Not that Samson’s hair was like some magic charm that could be taken off or put back on. Yet to read that his hair is growing again is hopeful. God is restoring the symbol of Samson’s service.

And soon it was time to display God’s power. For after they capture Samson, the Philistines want to hold a great feast in honour of their god Dagon. Dagon was the father of Baal. They worshiped him as the god of corn and grain, and his image was half-man, half-fish.

Like every idol we make, Dagon was a product of sinful imagination—yet Dagon is given the credit for the great victory. Thousands gather in his temple, to make a joyful noise to their god. They will celebrate the triumph over the man who’d destroyed their land. But now it’s all over. Now he’s helpless: weak and blind and shackled. “Our god has delivered into our hands Samson our enemy” (v 24).

Everyone has forgotten the fear that Samson once spread wherever he went. Now the Philistines want a little entertainment. “Call for Samson, that he may perform for us,” they cry in verse 25. They probably want him to do one of the Israelite traditional dances, or maybe improvise some tricks. Being blind, he would look ridiculous. And so as Samson blunders around, this was the final humiliation. Defenseless before his enemies, he has nothing left. He can go no lower.

This was Samson, a most unlikely servant of God. Once so promising, now a failure! Yet remember, this is the kind of hopeless situation that God often steps into! For at this moment, there wasn’t a person in Israel who was looking to Samson for deliverance, hoping for another heroic performance. This is when God takes action. When we stop trusting in human strength or looking to our own ability, God will act. When we are weakest and most defenseless, God will show grace. It’s when we’re at our lowest that God gets ready to shine his glory, to show that He is our Saviour.

And we need God to step in, for so often we stumble. What happens soon after we have a success, after a good day or good week? We put ourselves first, and we accept the glory. Or we give in to the lusts of our eyes again, or the wrong desires of our hearts. In a moment, we act like we have forgotten the LORD.

So we have to face the fact that we won’t ever be faithful on our own strength. Can you be a good parent? Can you be a faithful and loving husband? Can you serve effectively in the church? Can you keep your thoughts and desires holy in a wicked world? We have to confess that our hands are tied and our eyes are blinded. We can’t do it. We fail at every turn.

But it’s good when we finally admit that. When we humbly confess this, when we seek the LORD and his strength, then God steps in. It’s then that He shows his greatness: strength through weakness!

We see the same “strength through weakness” most clearly at the cross. Looking at Jesus, a lot of people would want to ask, “What kind of Saviour is this? What could such a broken person ever do for God and his Kingdom?” For this Jesus was born to lowly parents, and He was raised in an ordinary family in Nazareth. During his ministry, He didn’t demand attention or win popular support for very long: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isa 53:2).

And especially in his dying, Christ was utterly shamed. Think about how much He was like Samson: defenseless before his enemies. They made a game of mocking him, He was stripped naked, and humbled to the lowest point, even to death on a cross. He still had his eyes, but He was in the darkness. How terrible are those words, which were said also of Christ: “God had left him.” He was forsaken in his misery!

What could Jesus ever do for us? Once so promising, it looked like God’s plan of salvation had failed. On that dark day of the cross, it looked like nothing good could come of this! But then we see,

 

2) the LORD moved to save: God takes few things more seriously than the honour of his name. He’ll always defend his glory. And so as the Philistines sing their hymn to Dagon, it’s not likely that the LORD will stand by. He won’t accept this blasphemous liturgy. For in all their amusement, the Philistines are also saying something about God. If this is the great Samson, then where is Samson’s God? Surely He is also blind and weak! Surely He’s also a blundering fool! No, God cannot let this go. He will not.

Things begin to happen when Samson takes a break from his entertaining. He asks to stand between two pillars of the temple. He has listened to all their mocking, and he has discovered something still left inside. Samson has something in mind: a final act of deliverance.

In the Middle East, archaeologists have uncovered ruins of buildings where just a couple centre pillars supported the weight of the entire roof. We might imagine Samson in such a temple, where removing the pillars would cause total collapse. What he wants to do is clear by the prayer he offers. For he cries out: “O LORD God, remember me, I pray, just this once, O God, that I may with one blow take vengeance on the Philistines for my two eyes” (v 28).

This is actually a rare occasion in Samson’s life. It’s rare, because we see him fully aware of his dependence on God. For years, he’d taken his strength for granted, even used it for his own sinful purposes. But now that God has taken away his gift, he pleads for God’s help. He cries out from the depths for one more blessing.

Maybe you recognize this pattern. It is terribly easy for us to presume upon the goodness and care of the LORD. We may be well blessed by God, having everything we need and more. We might hardly think about it or give thanks for it—not until that day when our life takes a bad turn. Suddenly we run stuck. We lose a precious gift that we once had. We face a sudden trial and our mind is full of worries.

Then we realize how kind God always has been toward us. We realize how much we need his Spirit, and how much we’ve taken Him for granted. Then from the depths, we turn to God in earnest prayer—maybe for the first time in a while.

Of course, this can seem like such an abuse of prayer. It’s like the axe and fire hose you sometimes see stored behind glass in the hallways of big buildings. So rarely used, but it’s always there: “In case of emergency, break glass!” How often we treat God the same way, “In case of emergency, get on our knees and pray!” This isn’t what prayer is supposed to be. This isn’t what a relationship with God should be like. We shouldn’t only come near to God when we think we need him, when we finally feel our weakness and helplessness.

But the Lord is merciful. Because of his great mercy, we are not consumed. For Christ’s sake, the LORD hears our prayers. When we ask him in true faith, in humility of spirit, He forgives our failings, and He again comes near in his grace.

God heard Samson too. “Remember me, I pray, just this once!” And strengthened by the LORD, “[Samson] pushed with all his might” (v 30). And when the temple of Dagon came crashing down around him, he killed both thousands of Philistines, and himself.

So how should we think about what he did? Was this the last act of a holy hero, someone who was dedicated to God and his glory? Or was it little more than a dramatic suicide? There’s a few things to notice. Notice how even his final prayer is all about him. “Give me revenge for the loss of my eyes!” It sounds like another selfish cry. But though we hear revenge in his cry, it’s also a cry of faith: “O LORD God, remember me, I pray.” He is looking to God as his LORD. Desire for revenge, anger, but faith too, and surrender.

And Samson certainly wasn’t the last child of God to have mixed motives. This is probably typical for many of us, as we pray and live and make decisions each day. We’re often driven by a strange combination of our own selfishness, a desire for our own glory, a dislike for other people, mixed together with faith and a real desire to live for God. Our hearts are complicated places, corrupt, being changed by God yet far from wholly renewed.

Samson prays, knowing it was God alone who could strengthen his feeble arms. And in the end this story isn’t about Samson. For what was this event, but a contest between God and Dagon, and Dagon’s lord, the devil? That is all of world history: a contest between God and Satan, a fight that has been going on since the beginning. This was yet another round in that ancient fight.

Like every other time, the LORD is victorious. God turns a feast of Philistine victory into an act of Israel’s deliverance. And the great Philistine god actually amounts to very little—just picture Dagon, toppled over, waiting to be pulled from the wreckage of his temple.

This is a great triumph for the LORD: a victory over Dagon, over Satan. And if it’s a victory, does it mean that Samson was right to pursue his mission to the death? Verse 30 is sometimes taken as an approval of Samson, “So the dead that he killed at his death were more than he had killed in his life.” He might have wasted many opportunities in his life, but by his death he defeats God’s enemies. With this last act, he has a success to outweigh all the failures.

Some will say this makes Samson into a Christ-like figure. They point out many connections between Samson and Christ. For Samson, just like Christ, was raised up especially by God for a great work of deliverance. Samson, just like Christ, had his coming birth announced by a heavenly angel. Both were conceived miraculously. Both Samson and Christ were rejected by their own people, and handed over to the Gentiles to be killed in shame. And finally, for both these men, their greatest saving work was done through dying. By their death, both Samson and Christ brought salvation to the people of God.

There are more connections, once you start looking. Compare Delilah’s betrayal of Samson with Judas’s betrayal of Christ: both betrayers were intimate friends, yet both were bribed with money. I read somewhere that the little boy who led blind Samson into the temple was a foreshadowing of John the Baptist because John prepared the way for the Messiah.

And of course, there’s that image of Samson dying with his arms outstretched between the pillars, just as Christ died with arms outstretched on the cross. Outwardly weak, but clothed in God’s strength, Samson pulled down Dagon’s temple. And one who looked very weak, Christ our Saviour, was able to pull down the kingdom of Satan.

There are some connections. Yet in many ways, Samson can hardly be compared to Christ our Lord. For Samson was mostly about gratifying himself, avenging himself. He stormed ahead with little thought for doing God’s will. In contrast, think of Christ, who always placed others ahead of himself. Our Saviour didn’t act in self-interest. Rather, He was always focused on doing the will of God. Throughout his life, not just at the end, Christ was faithful in prayer. Though tempted in every way, He was without sin.

There are more contrasts. Samson died with a prayer for vengeance on his lips—Christ died praying for his enemies’ forgiveness. Samson died with his enemies—but Christ rose on the third day, to triumph over them. Samson was a deeply flawed servant of the LORD, driven by mixed motives, while there was no wrongdoing in Christ—the perfect Saviour we needed.

But despite Samson’s shortcomings, he was one whom the LORD was pleased to use. In his life too, the LORD would show himself as God.  And that’s what is most important. There was grace, even for Samson. For even Samson lived and died in faith.

It’s striking that he gets mentioned in that great chapter of faith, Hebrews 11: “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, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 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…” (vv 32-34).

Compared to some of the others in that chapter, Samson is pretty dismal. He was not courageous Noah or trusting Abraham. He was a man of little faith. But Samson did believe. He looked to the Lord his God. And that means there’s grace for Samson.

And if there’s grace for Samson, then there’s grace for all of God’s children. That’s what we need to hear. For we see our sin. We see our stubborn pride. We see that we’re not really so different from Samson. But when we repent from our sin and we believe, we too receive what’s promised. And the reason that there is grace for us is because of the One who is so much greater than Samson. Christ the King came to this earth, and He waged war on the devil.

By his death, Christ overpowered the devil. He conquered him with an act of weakness, by laying down his life. By dying, He took all our sins away. To rephrase our text: “Thus Christ saved many more when He died, than while He lived.” So if you are dead, Christ can make you alive. If you are weak, know that He can make you strong. Seek him, trust him, and you’ll be more than conquerors through him who loved us!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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