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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:The Strong Judge Who Was Weak: Samson's Vow Fully Broken (Samson Part 3)
Text:Judges 16:1-22 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Added:2022-01-22
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Ecclesiastes 11:7-12:14

Text: Judges 16:1-22

 

SAMSON’S VOW FULLY BROKEN

  1. He Played with Fire

  2. He was Burned in the Best Possible Way

 

  1. Psalm 149: 1, 3, 4

  2. Psalm 26: 1, 2, 7

  3. Psalm 130:1-4

  4. Hymn 26

  5. Hymn 82: 1-4

  6. Hymn 53: 1-4

 

Words to Listen For: fortifications, resonate, brunette, black, forehead

 

Questions For Understanding:

  1. What are the two ways that we can understand the “warts and all” approach to Samson?

  2. Who can reign on the throne of your heart? (2 options)

  3. How is temptation like a piano?

  4. Who was Delilah?

  5. How was Samson’s tragedy ultimately good?

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


Beloved congregation of Jesus Christ,

Have you ever heard the phrase “warts and all” ?  It means presenting a complete picture of someone or something.  You don’t gloss over their faults, but you present a clear and accurate picture of who they really are.

This is a style of writing made popular by the ancient Roman writer Suetonius, who wrote a history of the first 12 Caesars of Rome.  Beginning with Julius Caesar, and ending with Domitian, Suetonius writes what was possibly the most accurate series of biographies of his day.  Every other author was too nervous to speak honestly about the emperors, but Suetonius let the public know every detail of their immoral habits and cruelties. No one gets off scott-free, not even Caesar Augustus, perhaps the most fair and gracious of the bunch.

And why I bring this up, here, now...is because, even before Suetonius, a long long time before, there was the Bible - and it presented a “warts and all” account of great men and women of faith.

  • Abraham lied about his wife, calling her his sister.

  • Jacob was a deceiver, through and through.

  • And Samson...as we have heard throughout this whole series, Samson is anything but a bright and shining hero for us to follow.

And there are two ways that we can take this “warts and all” picture of these flawed figures of faith.  We can look at them and take up the prayer of the Pharisee - I thank you that I am not like these other men!  I thank you that I am not flawed and wounded like they were.  Compared to them, I am a bright and shining hero.

That is one way that we can look at these flawed men.  We can read their stories, and scoff.  We can heap up scorn and say, “If I was there...I would have made better choices!  I wouldn’t have eaten the forbidden fruit, I wouldn’t have lied, or deceived, or broke my vow.”  But the reality is...you would have.  I would have.

Let me say this as clearly as I know how: YOU ARE NOT BETTER THAN THEM.  YOU ARE NOT BETTER THAN THEM.  You are just as sinful, you are just as in need of God’s grace as any one of these people.

The “warts and all” approach of the Bible shows us our need, and it shows us God’s grace.

So let’s examine this need and God’s overwhelming grace in this next installment of the story of Samson:

SAMSON’S VOW FULLY BROKEN.  We will see that 

  1. He Played with Fire and 

  2. He was Burned in the Best Possible Way

 

He Played With Fire

In our text today, we see Samson at his lowest, and yet, ironically, it is here that we find the first ray of hope in his life.   It was at his lowest moment when he was grew the most.  Let’s get right into it.

Samson’s entire life can be described as “playing with fire.”  Every single action of his public ministry has been reckless, self-involved, and casually disobedient.  Although he was raised up to save Israel from the Philistines, in his first act, he went down to the Philistine village of Timnah to check it out.  We know that he wasn’t checking out their fortifications for an attack, he was just curious.  He didn’t check out the army, he checked out a woman.  It’s like he saw a fire in the distance and went close to it, reaching out his hand to touch it.  And he got burned.

Samson was struck with lust at first sight and this led to the worst wedding ever, complete with burned crops and burned bodies.

Later, Samson played with fire again, walking through a vineyard, brushing his hands against the grapes - something inappropriate for a Nazarite. Once more, reaching out to touch the fire.  And once more, he got burned.  He was attacked by a lion!

And this plays out again and again in Samson’s life.  When he set his eyes on something, he had to have it.  He did not deny himself any pleasure - food, or women, or revenge.

In many ways, we can see parallels between Samson’s life and the life of Solomon, the preacher in Ecclesiastes - whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure

But here is the difference.  Whereas Solomon realized all too quickly that a life of pleasure cannot produce true fulfillment, whereas the repeated line in Ecclesiastes is “all is vanity, and a striving after the wind.”

We do not see this realization in Samson.  He went from pleasure to pleasure, from woman to woman.  We do not know the state of his heart, if he had some doubts, but from what we do know, it seems that Samson was blind to his folly.  It seems that he had no agony in his heart over his constant flaunting of God’s laws.  He was completely self-deluded.  And what exactly was the delusion?

It was that Samson thought that HE was the one in charge.

But WE can never sit on the throne of our own hearts.  The freedom that we think we have, apart from God’s law, being independent, refusing to serve, refusing to bend our will to our God, thinking that NOW we are free, following our heart...this “freedom” is an illusion.  Freedom from the law that says we shouldn’t be sexually promiscuous, freedom from the law that says we shouldn’t be drunk with wine, freedom from the law that says we shouldn’t hate our neighbour or keep grudges...that “freedom” is actually slavery.  It doesn’t feel like it at the moment, but it is, and a slave is a slave whether he realizes it or not.

This so-called “freedom” is slavery to Satan.  Because there are only two options for who will reign over your heart.  Two options for who will reign over your life...and you are neither one of them.

Either you submit your life to God and His perfect law that brings true freedom...or you submit to the devil.  YOU are not an option as ruler.  The devil may disguise himself as you, but it’s not you on that throne.

And so far, in Samson’s life, even though he was dedicated to God from the womb, even though he was anointed to a special role as a judge, EVEN THOUGH GOD USED HIM AGAINST THE PHILISTINES, in serving himself and his own desires, Samson was following, not God, but Satan.

Even though Samson thought he was following his heart, going from the woman in Timnah, to the prostitute in Gaza, and then to Delilah in Sorek Valley...who put these desires in his heart?  It was Satan.  Satan said “Jump!”  And Samson responded “Don’t mind if I do!”

Let me put this clearly to you: the choice is never between independence and servitude.  The choice is between right and wrong.  God and Satan.  The Lord and the Liar.

I once heard temptation described this way…with this metaphor:

Imagine a piano.  If you open its lid, and you push down the right pedal, the sustained pedal, something fascinating happens.  Something called sympathetic vibration or sympathetic resonance.

With that open lid and that depressed pedal, if you sing a note into the piano, the piano will sing that note right back to you.  The piano strings, now not dampened by the pedal, hear your singing, they receive the vibrations coming out of your mouth, and they vibrate, they resonate, at the same frequency, producing the same note.  Sympathetic vibration.

This is how temptation works.  You are the piano, and Satan is the singer.  Satan sings a beautiful note to you, and you start vibrating.  And it sounds good.  It feels right.  I feel it.  I like it.  I think I’ll do it too.  That’s temptation.

And there are only two ways to stop this process.  First, the singer could stop singing.  In our metaphor, this means that Satan could stop tempting.  That’s one way for it to stop.  But we know that will never happen.  For Satan is THE TEMPTER.  He is THE ACCUSER.  He is THE EVIL ONE.  This is what he DOES, and he’s not going to stop.  This singer won’t stop singing.

The other option is to close the lid of the piano and put that pedal back up.  Don’t leave yourself open to temptation, don’t “check in” with your heart to see what it desires.  I can tell you what it desires - it desires SIN.  Your heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick.  Do not listen to your heart.  Do not follow your heart.  Your heart wants to play with fire.  You play with fire...and you will get burned.

But Samson.

Now, I began our text at the start of the chapter, but we will be focussing mainly on the story of Samson and Delilah, from verse 4 on.

However, it is important to have those first 3 verses there to display this pattern in Samson’s life.  Samson was attracted to problematic women.  This story takes place 20 years after our text last time, but there is no change in Samson.  The pattern is the same - he likes what he sees in problematic Philistine woman, and he goes after them, no matter the cost.

This is what happened with his wife in Timnah.  He saw her, and even before meeting her, he demanded to have her for a wife.  She was willing to be used as a pawn for the Philistines, and she was unwilling to be honest with her husband.  She tried to manipulate him in order to save her life, and ended up dying anyways.  Samson played with fire - going after the first pretty Philistine girl he saw...and it ended in flames.  Literally.  For the woman and her family.  They were burnt.

And now, after 20 years, Samson hadn’t calmed down. He hadn’t matured.  This time he finds a prostitute, deep behind enemy lines.  He was deep in the Philistine territory, in Gaza, and he was deeply in the grip of Satan.

These two women, as well as Delilah, who we will get to shortly, these women were problematic, but they were not the problem.  The responsibility lies with Samson himself for each of these disastrous relationships.  Samson wanted to marry the first woman out of lust.  He saw her and he wanted her.  This is wrong, but at least he had some recognition of sexual activity within the bonds of marriage.  But this second woman...Samson went to this prostitute because he was sexually depraved, pure and simple.  Satan sang the song of lust, and Samson resonated to it.

And you might see this and think: disgusting.  Weak.  Pathetic.

But let me remind you of what I said at the beginning - this “warts and all” look at Samson is not for you to despise him and to build yourself up by pushing him down.  All of us have heard various songs of temptation sung by Satan and we all have resonated with them.  All of us have sinned, and none of us is righteous - no not one.

 

Now, word got out that Samson had gone to see this prostitute, and the Philistines were ready, or so they thought.  They posted guards around the city, so that in the morning, they could arrest Samson.  But Samson, relying on his own strength and cleverness, waits until midnight and slips away.  But the temptation song of pride was sung into his ear, and he 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.

Why did he do this?  Simply because he could.  He wanted to teach the Philistines a lesson - that “Samson always wins.”  They thought that he was weak and that they were strong, so he proved them wrong.  With his great strength, he took away their protection.  Again, playing with fire.  Needlessly antagonizing them.

But before too long, it became clear to everyone that Samson DIDN’T always win.

And it is now that Delilah enters the scene.

Now, we don’t know too much about this woman.  We do not have a description of her, whether she was a blonde, a brunette, or a redhead.  We do have a clue as to her profession though - two clues actually.  First of all, we see that she was willing to seduce Samson for money.

Verse 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.”

Whether she was actually a prostitute like the second woman or not, she functioned as one.

But the second clue leads us to believe that Delilah was actually a prostitute.  Her name literally means “a devotee.”  Someone who was devoted as a temple prostitute to the Philistine god Dagon.

Satan knew just how to bait the hook - for Samson, it was women.  Beautiful, foreign, problematic women.  Red flags everywhere.  But Samson was like a bull.  He saw that red flag, and he charged.

And Satan lulled Samson into a false sense of security - You already broke your vow...and God didn’t do anything about it.  You already slept with a prostitute...and you kept all your great strength.  God doesn’t care about the little things.

And this is the problem about answering Satan’s call for 20 years...this is the problem about singing duets with him...you get used to his voice.  His voice becomes more and more logical.  It becomes easier and easier to slip into sin.  It happens gradually...and then suddenly.  Samson was under the illusion that he was still in control, even though he hadn’t been in the driver’s seat for a long time by now.

Hear these words congregation: SIN MAKES YOU STUPID.  SIN. MAKES. YOU. STUPID.  And vulnerable, and easy to tear down.

Samson was playing with fire again, and this time, it wasn’t even very well-disguised.

Maybe Delilah was a rare beauty...she would have to be...because look at her interrogation techniques.  They weren’t the strongest.  She outright says what she wants.

Look at verse 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.”

Where does your great strength lie?

How could you be bound?

How could you be subdued?

HMM...I WONDER WHY SHE’S ASKING THIS!

Samson knew.  He must have known!  But he didn’t care, because HE was the clever one.

HE couldn’t be tricked, HE couldn’t be beaten.  HE had always been victorious.  And so he decided to have a little fun with Delilah.

Verse 7 - Samson said to her, “If they bind me with seven fresh bowstrings that have not been dried, the I shall become weak and be like any other man.”

But this was a lie.  Soon Delilah found out, and chastised Samson for his lack of honestly.  Really rich, coming from her.

Samson’s fun continues a few more times, with new ropes...and he got free.  Weaving his hair into a loom...and he was free.

Finally though, after days and days of pressing him, and urging him, his soul, as we read in verse 16, his soul was vexed unto death.

And so, finally, he confessed the truth to Delilah, and he was burned again.  On the surface, it seems that he was burned in the WORST way, but looking at it deeper, we will see that this burning was the best thing to ever happen to Samson.  Our second point.

In our first point, we heard a lot about what Satan was doing, but not much about God.  So what exactly was God doing during this?  His anointed leader, giving in to temptation again and again, getting deeper and deeper entrenched in sin.  What was God doing?

Well, God was waiting.  He was patiently enduring Samson’s blasphemous behaviour.  He was doing this, not coldly, not dispassionately, but it hurt Him.  It hurt His reputation, His honour, for his chosen leader to act in this way.  Remember, as a judge, Samson was supposed to lead God’s people to freedom.  Samson was supposed to represent God to the people.  But, instead, Samson was more of a representative of the people.  Samson represented the sorry state of the nation of Israel.  Giving in to temptation, and being bound in slavery.  And God patiently endured all this.

But why?  Why would God sit back and allow His name to be tarnished?  Why would He sit back and let Samson’s heart turn black?  He should have done something on that very first day of public ministry when Samson first played with fire, venturing into Timnah.

Why not then?  Because Samson wasn’t ready to be humbled.  If God had acted at this time, Samson would have been BROKEN, not HUMBLED.

Because, when God strikes His chosen people, when God chooses to wound His children, He does so in order to heal them. He does so in order to better them.  To bring them to a point of clarity and holiness.  God waited, enduring suffering, for the sake of Samson’s soul.

God could easily have taken away Samson’s great strength that first day of public ministry.  Samson had broken his vow.  He came in contact with grapes, and later drank wine.  He played around with the dead body of a lion.  Samson was an unfaithful Nazarite since day 1.  The vow was broken...so why was he still blessed?  It’s not fair!

God is being inconsistent...isn’t He?

But look at your own life.  Has God always been FAIR with you?  He hasn’t with me, and I’m so thankful.  Instead... has He been gracious? Has He been patient?  Has He been loving?  Do I need to remind you?  YOU’RE NOT BETTER THAN SAMSON.

Who are you to complain to God - WHY DID YOU GIVE SAMSON CHANCE AFTER CHANCE?  HE WAS SO SINFUL!  Don’t be blind to the sorry state of your own soul.  Instead of complaining, you should fall down on your knees in adoration and worship that our God is a God of grace.  Do not mistake God’s patience for slowness.  Do not mistake God’s patience for being easy on sin.  God’s patience is the outpouring of His love.  It is not His desire for anyone to perish, but for all to reach repentance.  You, me, and Samson.  Our God is a God of grace, and we should be endlessly thankful for this.

Sometimes, however, that grace is disguised.

See if you can see it in Samson’s life.

Verse 17 - And he told her all his heart, and said to her, “A razor has never come upon my head, for I have been a Naziritie to God from my mother’s womb.  If my head is shaved, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak, and like any other man.

Finally, some honesty from Samson.  It was foolish honesty, betraying a complete lack of understanding about who Delilah truly was in her heart.  It was foolish honesty, betraying a complete lack of understanding about where his strength came from - it seems that Samson superstitiously thought that his strength came from his hair, rather than as a gift from God.

And Samson, having bared his soul to Delilah, shortly after, falls asleep with his head in her lap.  A position of vulnerability, trust, and security.  It is a tragic picture.  Samson bears his soul to the woman he loves - and he gets burned.  In the worst way possible.  It is remarkable that it doesn’t seem to even OCCUR to Samson that Delilah would betray him.  Love had blinded him.  He falls asleep with his head in her lap, and the seven locks of his hair are shaved off, and his strength left him.  This is truly tragic, but it is ultimately good.

Samson’s strength was the thing that caused him to be so independent.  Independent from his friends, independent in the way that he fought the Philistines, never raising an army or having a strategy session, and, ultimately, independent of God.

Put another way, God had always been with Samson, but Samson had never been with God.  Finally, the truth of Samson’s soul was written across his forehead.  His hair was cut, showing his complete and total rejection of God’s call on his life.

Samson’s strength was his god, and, in grace and love, the one true God chose to take it away.

But God did something more.  Samson had taken it for granted that God would be with him, no matter what.  He believed Satan’s song of complacency.  Satan’s reassuring song that holiness does not matter.

God had already let Samson get burned on more than a few different occasions, but, because none of these burns were permanent, Samson didn’t get the message.  He didn’t see that God was disciplining him.

And so, here, God burned Samson much worse.  But He burnt him in the best possible way - exactly what he needed.  It is tragic, but it is good.

We read one of the saddest verses in the entire Old Testament - He did not know that the LORD had left him.

He did not know that the LORD had left him.  Can anything be more tragic?  And yet, this is exactly what Samson needed.  He needed this wakeup call.  He needed his idol toppled, removed from its pedestal in his heart.  And he needed a wakeup call to the true character of God.  A God of holiness.  A God who will not be mocked.  Samson confused God’s patience for His approval.  His stamp of approval, an almost “diplomatic immunity” - you can sin as much as you want, as long as you also do some good by killing a few Philistines every once in a while.  But that’s not how it worked.

He awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.”  But he did not know that the LORD had left him.  And the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes and brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze shackles.  And he ground at the mill in the prison.

God brought Samson down to rock bottom - he had no strength, he had no God - neither the true God, nor the false god of his own strength.  His eyes were gouged out, and he was a prisoner of his arch-enemies, made to grind like a slave.

This was a tragedy.  But it was also VERY GOOD.  You see, it was only when Samson was broken and completely alone, when the song of Satan lost its sweet edge, and he saw just how mocking and evil it really was...it was in that prison that Samson had a chance to think.

And our passage ends with one of the most hopeful verses in all of Scripture - But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.

Technically speaking, if the only thing the author was trying to tell us was that the hair began to grow again...there would be no point in putting that detail in there.  OF COURSE hair that is shaved grows again.  That’s just what hair does!  But it shows that, even though the LORD had left Samson, the story wasn’t over yet.  Even though the LORD had left Samson, this wasn’t permanent.  There was hope, because Samson was not abandoned in that prison.

And there is hope for us too, beloved.  There will be times in our lives when we have to be humbled too.  When we have to have our independent streak broken, and be brought to our knees before the Lord.

But we can have assurance, that, just like God had not fully abandoned Samson, He will never fully abandon us.  God will never fully abandon His children.  Because that happened only once.

There is only one child that God has ever fully abandoned - His Son.  Jesus Christ.  He was fully abandoned on the cross, after taking on all of our sins.  He was abandoned, He was forsaken, so that we might be accepted by God, and nevermore forsaken by Him.

We may have lived a life like Samson, or maybe our sins were more private and less scandalous.  But we need God just as much as Samson did.  And our gracious God generously provides us with salvation.  It is through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, God’s only Son, GOD ABANDONED BY GOD, that we are set free from the power of sin and Satan.

It is through the cross that there is a new song that we hear in our ears.  The song of redemption.  The song that promises us, that though our sins may be many, His mercy is more.  The song that promises us that it is NEVER too late for us to repent.

Whether through blessing or tragedy, God is calling out to you today.  He is calling out to you to put your trust in Him alone.  He will give you true spiritual sight, and He will give you true spiritual strength.  It’s not about you...because if it was, your story would be a tragedy.  But it is His story, and it is a story of ultimate victory - now and forever.  

AMEN




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

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