All of a sudden, we see Samson in prayer. It's the first time and the only time that we see Samson in prayer. In that foolish soul of Samson lay the embers of faith in Yahweh. And the last thing that Samson did was the best thing that he did. He delivers Israel from their enemies by sacrificing himself. How is it that Samson, a man whose life was filled with vices and sin, finds himself in the hole of faith in Hebrews 11?
Hi, I'm Nathan W Bingham and thanks for joining us for Renewing Your Mind. This week Ligonier teaching fellow Dr Derek Thomas has been sharing messages from his new series Imprisoned, Faith in All Circumstances. Today he looks at Samson and we'll discover why he's recorded there in Hebrews 11 and also learn some important lessons not only from his life but also from his death.
Here's Dr Derek Thomas. Well, hello again and we are in number two in this series of characters in Scripture who found themselves imprisoned and today's character is Samson and we are in Judges chapter 16. And again, I'm not going to read all 31 verses of Judges 16 but I'm going to pick it up at verse 27 and we read, Now the house was full of men and women. All the lords of the Philistines were there and on the roof there were about three thousand men and women who looked on while Samson entertained. Then Samson called to the Lord and said, O Lord God, please remember me and please and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes. And Samson grasped the two middle pillars which the house rested and he leaned his weight against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other. And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. Then he bowed with all his strength and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people who were in it.
So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life. Well, there's a story of a park ranger in Yellowstone National Park who had turned off his two-way radio because it was distracting him as he led a party of visitors along a certain path. And when he finally got to the tower, the man who had been trying to contact him said to him in a breathless manner, Why on earth did you turn off the two-way radio?
Because he was trying to tell this park ranger that there was a bear following this party. And when you turn out or tune out the Holy Spirit, you put yourself and others in danger. And that, I think, is the story of Samson.
Proverbs 28 and verse 26, He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but whoever walks wisely will be delivered. Well, everyone thinks they know the story of Samson, how he encountered a lion and kills it, later finds honey in the carcass of that lion, how he slew a thousand with the jawbone of an ass, how he set Philistine crops on fire by tying together the tails of foxes and, of course, Delilah. And perhaps you love that duet that Samson composed in his opera on Samson, and Delilah, mon croix souvre à tavoir, softly awakens the heart.
And it's one of the most beautiful duets, I think, in all of opera. Dr. Bob Godfrey writes on judges that he and his wife were at the opera house in San Diego, in California, to see and hear Saint-Saëns' Samson and Delilah. And he was fascinated that the notes provided for this concert were written by a rabbi who informed his readers that the Jews never read the story of Samson, not on Shabbat and not on Holy Days, because Samson, in the eyes of the Jews, is not a righteous man, and the story is not at all inspiring and helpful. Well, the problem with that, as Dr. Godfrey pointed out, was and is that Samson occurs in the great list of worthies in Hebrews chapter 11, who lived, or in Samson's case, died by faith, trusting in God. In chapter 13 and verse 5, we are told that Samson had one job to do, to rescue Israel, and that is all he did.
He had one job to do, and he fulfilled that one job, fulfilled that one job. There are noble judges like Othniel. There are impressive judges like Deborah. There are attractive judges like Gideon.
There are blunt, confused, doer judges like Jephthah. And then, in the words of Alec Motea, there is a buffoon, and that is Samson. God's plan and God's man, and in this instance, God's man is Samson, who is, if you pardon the expression, an idiot who never really got past first base. He lived in a culture where everyone did that which was right in his own eyes, and that is mostly 99 percent of Samson's life. He did that which was right in his own eyes. He is a man given to addictions and vices, sex, reckless behavior. He loved danger. He loved to be in the midst of danger. So, let's look at Samson. First of all, faltering faith of a foolish man, the faltering faith of a foolish man. He is overly self-confident.
Chapter 16 begins in Gaza, the territory of the Philistines. Why is he there at all? Why did he spend the night? And why, oh, why is he with a prostitute? He has a wife. His wife was a Philistine, and when he went back to get her, her father said no.
And in a fit of anger, Samson lit the crops on fire by tying foxes' tails together and some brush and lighting the brush, and as these foxes ran through the crops, it set the crops on fire. The Philistines, as you can understand, were ready to kill him, waiting till dawn. But he can't resist a joke, and he lifts the city gates early in the morning before the Philistines are up.
He walks out of the city, lifts the city gates, and carries them for forty miles. He doesn't take life seriously. The header verse of Judges 16 should be Titus 2 and verse 2, older men to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness, and Samson is none of those. He judges Israel for twenty years. He meets Delilah.
He can't resist a pretty face. His mother, Manoah, was told that at his birth, Samson would be a Nazarite like John the Baptist. And for a Nazarite, three things would be necessary. He must touch no alcohol so that his joy would be fully in the Lord. At his wedding in chapter 14 and verse 10 in the Hebrew, we read of a banquet of wine.
Secondly, he must have uncut hair. It was a sign of consecration. And thirdly, he was to keep from all that defiles.
And the jawbone was something of a corpse, of a dead animal was defiling according to Jewish law. So, in other words, he broke all three of the Nazarite vows. He makes absolutely no attempt at all to avoid temptation. On the contrary, he walks into it.
He flirts with it. Is this stupidity? Is it arrogance?
Is it impishness? Did he really think that he could play fast and loose with God and with Nazarite vows and suffer no consequences whatsoever? His name in Hebrew means sun because he has a sunny disposition. He was fun to be around. He was always descending into superficiality. Delilah, of course, as you will remember, had been solicited by the Philistines in order to get the secret of Samson's strength. For Samson, it was another game of riddles.
He was an enigma file, a logophile, a jokester. His strength is supernatural. His strength was given to him by the Holy Spirit, but he is prepared to broker his soul for a pretty face. The Puritan John Milton, in his epic poem, Samson Agonistes, Agony or Struggle, says of Samson, he is the mirror of our fickle state. Yes, Samson reflects something of us too, Milton is saying. He's a mirror of our fickle state. John Updike refers to Samson as an enigmatic brute.
He loved riddles, and he is himself a riddle. When he lets Delilah know the secret of his strength, the hare, there comes a point when, you see, you give yourself to sin, and you lose sight of God. He didn't even know, I think, that Yahweh had left him, and so he is imprisoned.
They cut off his hair. He loses his strength, and he is imprisoned and blinded, grinding flour on a mill like a slave, like a menial beast. There's a lesson here, and it's not a pretty one. If you recklessly and defiantly walk into temptation, don't be surprised if God says, okay, then go, but I will not be there to stop you. You can fall flat on your face, and you'll have no one to blame but yourself, the faltering faith of a foolish man.
Then secondly, the glorious grip of a gracious God, the glorious grip of a gracious God. Before we take a look at that, I simply want to point out the stupidity of the Philistines. They gather together in their temple with Dagon their god, and there are four things here that I want us to quickly see.
They failed to note that Samson's hair was growing back. They praise Dagon, their idolatrous god, but can't prevent his throne from becoming his and their grave. They summon Samson into their presence for their amusement, and the place is packed, not just with people, but with important people. The most important people are there, the stupidity of the Philistines. But there's a but God moment in this story.
God works all things together for the good of those who love Him. And there's one final practical joke, and all of a sudden we see Samson in prayer. It's the first time and the only time it's the first time and the only time that we see Samson in prayer. In that foolish soul of Samson lay the embers of faith in Yahweh. And the last thing that Samson did was the best thing that he did. He delivers Israel from their enemies by sacrificing himself. Two pillars, and in his blinded state, he has to be helped to reach out, the left and the right, so that he can push these pillars and bring the temple crashing down.
Now, what is this? Was this an act of judgment? Not all events of this nature are acts of judgment, and we should always remember the restraining hand of the book of Job in quickly defining all disasters as acts of judgment, but sometimes that is precisely what they are. In Acts chapter 12, for example, Herod the king exalted himself by allowing himself to be called a god. Immediately, an angel of the Lord struck him down because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last. Acts 12 and verse 23, God answered Samson's prayer. It seems as though God had not completely abandoned Samson. For Samson, this trial, this imprisonment, and his final act were purifying rather than punitive. For the Philistines, it was punitive. The same event, the same set of circumstances can be punitive for one and purifying for another. The same is true for all of life's trials and tribulations.
For one, it might be punishment, but for another, it might be an act of purification to bring us to an end of ourselves so that all we can do is cry out to the Lord. This, I think, is why Samson is in Hebrews chapter 11, in that gallery, portrait gallery of the faithful. He is not the most faithful man in the kingdom of God. He may well be the least faithful in the kingdom of God. He only had one thing to do, and he did it.
He did it. It was a partial deliverance for Israel. It's not the final one. The final deliverance comes not from any of these judges or any of the kings of Judah and Israel that followed. That final deliverer looks far different from Samson, and he is, of course, the Lord Jesus. Israel needed a judge, but a perfect judge. Israel needed a prophet, but a perfect prophet. Israel needed a king, but a perfect king.
Israel needed a priest, but a perfect priest. Samson discovered in his prison cell, blinded and having lost his strength, that there was only one thing now that he could do and that he needed to do. And as his supernatural strength came back to him, and as the Philistines in their stupidity had brought him into their very midst for their amusement, Samson turned to the Lord in prayer and asked for strength and resolve to fulfill that one thing that God had asked him to do. Throughout Samson's entire recorded life, this is the only prayer that he offered. He's an example of what happens when you trust in your own strength.
It's an example of what happens when you trust in your own your own naivety. God had to bind him and blind him to make him acknowledge that without God, we are nothing. I think for me, the overwhelming lesson at the end of the narrative of this judge, Samson, is don't be like Samson. Please don't be like Samson.
To go through your life wasting time and opportunity that you could use for the Lord. But thank God that Samson did the one thing that God needed him to do. Well, next time we'll look at a third character in the Old Testament who spent time in prison. Yes, may God keep us from being like Samson. It's actually one of the reasons why we have this broadcast, Renewing Your Mind, to help us learn these lessons from God's Word and why we're making this series from Dr. Derek Thomas available. It's 12 messages in all, looking at various figures throughout the Bible so that we can learn how their faith stood in times of imprisonment and challenge. You can request your copy of this DVD set by visiting renewingyourmind.org and giving a donation of any amount.
Of course, you can always call us at 800-435-4343. This series again is imprisoned by Dr. Derek Thomas. Suggest how sovereign is God? Well, tomorrow, Dr. Derek Thomas will tell us a tale about complex political relationships, wars, an imprisoned prophet, and a king who died at the hands of an apparent random arrow. So I look forward to you joining us tomorrow here on Renewing Your Mind.
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