Judges chapter 15 again, and you'll remember if you were with us in previous studies of Samson, if not the other Judges, that we began looking at 'Samson, The Promising Start' - his birth, and his parentage, and the promises of God that were given to him, the great potential and prospect that he had. God had chosen him to do a great work, and to begin to deliver the Israelites out of the oppression of the Philistines. Then we moved on to see how Samson, as a Nazarite, had taken three vows - and we looked at those in great detail - how he broke his vows before God and began to lose his consecration towards God, which was the first step to losing his power. This week we're looking at 'Samson, The Vengeful Victor', and that title will become clear as we go through our study.
You'll have noticed that Samson is a bit of a contradiction in terms. Indeed, someone has described him as, I quote: 'A mystery wrapped in an enigma' - now I know that's a description of something else, but nevertheless that could be an apt description of this man of God - a mystery wrapped in an enigma. What is the enigma and the mystery? Simply: how could God use a man like Samson? You should be asking that question if you've been with us, or if you've ever studied Samson in any detail, because the flesh and the Spirit both appear to be dominant in the life of this man, in the one character and personality. We, as evangelicals, are so used to hearing messages about being crucified with Christ, being mortified in and to the flesh; and therefore, if we're dead to ourselves and sin, being alive unto God and being filled and controlled by the Spirit. But at times, you'll have to agree with me, because it's there, Samson seems to be controlled by both flesh and spirit.
I think Billy Graham once preached a sermon on Samson and called him 'God's Delinquent' - it's a good title, for that's just what he is. He's somewhat of a contradiction in terms, and the New Testament does teach us that we are to mortify the flesh and live to the Spirit. Indeed if you turn with me for a moment - and I want you to keep your finger or a marker in this passage of Scripture, because we're going to look at it later - Galatians 5 verses 16 and 17, we read these words: 'This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth', or strives, 'against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would'. Now Paul here seems to reinforce us in our first assumption, that is that you can't be a person who is at the one time filled with the Spirit of God, yet full of fleshly impulse and passion. The one is contrary to the other, the one strives and wars with the other, therefore walk in the Spirit that ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.
Well then, how can we explain Samson? Of course, we know that God's word does not nor cannot contradict itself. Well, let me clear up, hopefully to your satisfaction, this seeming contradiction. First of all we need to realise that God, when He presents Samson to us here in the book of Judges, indeed any of the Judges that He presents us with, is not presenting us with an ideal deliverer, saviour or man. It's important to lay that down, indeed the emphasis is the opposite: that God is presenting us with a series of men who are extremely weak, and it is actually their weakness that qualifies them for use in God's hand. Samson, essentially, was a product of his time. In Judges 21:25 we read these words that apply right throughout this book: 'there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes'. Samson was a vulgar deliverer for a vulgar age, but at no time during the whole of the account of his life here does God ever condone Samson's behaviour. We see, in fact, God's Spirit reveals clearly to us that his behaviour in the flesh led to his demise.
So we ought to be careful right away not to use Old Testament incidents like Samson, that at times seem to be unclear, to reinterpret New Testament truths which we know are absolute - that is, that you're to walk in the Spirit and not fulfil the lust of the flesh. These two, generally speaking - the principle of the flesh and the Spirit - are contrary and contradict one another. The lesson, secondly, that we are meant to get out of the life of Samson is not, as I've said, the acceptability of this Judge or any Judge, it is the opposite - but rather the central story is of the extraordinary power of God, that's the writer's point, that's the Holy Spirit's point. It is simply that God's extraordinary power can be brought out of defeat, and the defeat of personal lives can be changed into God's victory, to such an extent that God's great enemies are subdued by weak people who are essentially failures.
Did you get it? God's point is not to give us a man like Samson and say: 'If you live up to be like him, you'll be able to do the exploits that he did' - no! God is showing us His power that can even work through a man like Samson in all his weakness and immorality. You see, the theme of Judges is not the Judge's rule, but God's overruling in a chaotic society where even His own servants completely fail and go AWOL, out of control. I hope you've seen that over these weeks: it is the amazing story, in a society who did everything they thought was right, and in a group of even God's deliverers whose moral lives left a great deal to be desired, that God still has His way, God still fulfils His word; and even when the materials that are available to Him are substandard, He's still able to do according to His sovereign purpose.
Now, hopefully that clears up how God could use a man like Samson - we're not in New Testament times, God is using what's there, but in no way does God ever condone Samson's fleshly behaviour. Yet here we see Samson's flesh coming to the fore once again in chapter 15. This time it is manifesting itself in revenge. Now we've seen how lustful and passionate Samson has been, and now we're turning to a sin that perhaps is not so blatantly obvious, and that is revenge. Of course you've heard it said: 'Revenge is sweet', but what we will see in this chapter is that revenge solves nothing, indeed revenge spirals out of control. Yet most of us here this morning would have to admit that, like Samson, there have been times in our lives when we have been genuinely wronged by another, and we feel justified that if we could just get revenge we would take it.
I read of a newspaper story about a man in Washington in the States, he was so enraged over his wife's filing for divorce that he bulldozed his three-bedroom $85,000 home. What he did was perfectly legal, because before he bulldozed the home he went and got a demolition permit. All the neighbours looked out their curtains and saw him demolishing the house, and they rang the police. There was a bit of a debacle and a commotion, until he produced this permit he'd bought for $11.50, and that was the chaos over - it was his legal right, he was entitled to do it. Yet he did it out of revenge. He was within his rights, so he felt that he could justifiably level the place.
Our hero Samson had a few things in common with that demolisher of his house, though he wouldn't have needed a bulldozer - he could have done it himself! Unrequited love was his problem, uncontrolled rage was his heart's possession, and his attitude was that his vengeance was justified in what we see him do in this chapter. He even says it, out of his own mouth he testifies in verse 3: 'Samson said concerning them, Now shall I be more blameless than the Philistines, though I do them a displeasure'.
So let's look first of all at the vicious circle of vengeance that we see here exemplified in Samson. When we act in the flesh, out of this revengeful attitude and tendency, it often spirals out of control into a tit-for-tat vendetta of retaliation. When we take revenge we find that it often escalates completely out of control, it becomes a game of ping-pong, one-upmanship. We see this between Samson and the Philistines, they're both trying to outdo one another in their reprisals for their feeling of being rightfully wronged. As we look down these verses we see that these reprisals accelerate in their intensity. The retribution is graphically presented to us. Samson has been wronged, so he's going to get vengeance. When he gets and takes vengeance, the Philistines feel wronged and they're going to get Samson back. Samson and the Philistines both feel that revenge will solve their problem.
If you look at verse 7, Samson says: 'Yet will I be avenged of you, and after that I will cease'. He's under the impression that once he gets his revenge, that will be the matter over. But the problem never ends, it spirals out of control - the Philistines return in verse 10, if you look at it, to say: 'to do to him as he hath done to us'. 'We're going to get him back' - and then Samson justifies himself once more in verse 11, look at it: 'As they did unto me, so have I done unto them'. There's no end of paybacks!
Now let's look at them individually, as this ping-pong ball goes from one to the other. Samson returns to his wife in verse 1, he must have been married to her, and in his rage because of the riddle and how it went against him because his wife was in cahoots with the Philistines - she got out of him the answer and he had to go find these thirty garments, and he killed thirty men to get them and bring them back. He goes off in a rage, but when his anger has subsided, I wonder did his lust again come to the fore. You can imagine the scene - I don't think it was Valentine's Day! It was a lovely day about May time, and there's a knock on the door, and there stands Samson with a young goat under his arm - a bit like a box of chocolates or a bunch of flowers! That's literally the sense here, and there's a twinkle in his eye and he wants to kiss and make up - not with his father-in-law, but with his daughter.
Again we see in Samson the carnal selfish nature. Now can you imagine how daddy-in-law felt? I imagine a tension headache started, and nauseous churning in the stomach because he, as we read, gave Samson's wife to his best man because he didn't think Samson was coming back again. You can just imagine him saying: 'Samson, we have a problem! Your wife has been married off to your best man'. We read that in verse 20 of chapter 14, Samson's wife was given to his companion - that means 'best man' - whom he had used as his friend. So Samson returns, his wife is given away, and then we see that the Philistine father tries to get back at Samson, if you like, by justifying his action that couldn't be justified. In verse 2 he said: 'I verily thought that thou hadst utterly hated her; therefore I gave her to thy companion'. 'I thought you weren't coming back, you had rejected her!' - and do you see what he does? 'Is not her younger sister fairer than she? take her, I pray thee, instead of her'. 'I've given her to your best man, but here we have a newer, slimmer model here in the younger girl. Why not take her, Samson?'.
Again we are seeing that the father-in-law was clued in to Samson's fleshly nature - but what the father-in-law had overlooked, though he understood his lust well, was the fact that he had great pride. That great pride overtook him: Samson had been wronged, Samson would have his revenge. So the ping-pong ball goes back to Samson: he decides, 'I'm going to burn their fields'. So he catches 300 foxes, the Authorised Version says, the word in Hebrew could equally be translated 'jackals', which is probably correct because they run in packs. He tied them two-by-two together, and a torch between their tails, lit it and set them among the fields. As they try and run from one another they go into chaos, halting between one another and in their group, and so the fire is moving all around these fields. The wheat is burned, we read, the vineyards are destroyed, the olive fields of the Philistines are totally in cinders - verse 5 outlines that for us.
So the ball is now in Samson's court, he has knocked back to them - now they're going to knock it back again. 'We're going to get back at Samson, how can we do it?'. He finds out that the reason why Samson has avenged himself is because his wife has been given away, so the wife and the father-in-law are the problem - so 'We'll sort them out!'. In verse 6 we read: 'Then the Philistines said, Who hath done this? And they answered, Samson, the son in law of the Timnite, because he had taken his wife, and given her to his companion. And the Philistines came up, and burnt her and her father with fire'. They discovered the reason of Samson's revenge, it was his lust, and they killed Samson's wife and her father. It's interesting, to prevent that happening in chapter 14 was the reason why Samson's wife had betrayed him in the first place, because the Philistines threatened to burn her and her father - and in the end it happened. You can't compromise with evil and get away with it.
Then Samson again has the ball on his side, and in verses 7 to 8 we see that he goes and kills a great number. He smites the Philistines with a great slaughter: 'He smote them hip and thigh', verse 8, 'with a great slaughter: and he went down and dwelt in the top of the rock Etam'. Can you not see so graphically the bloody price of tit-for-tat vengeance? What happened essentially to Samson was, he ended up punishing himself. His wife was killed, he ends up dwelling alone in Mount Etam - and now, as we are about to see, even his own people turn against him. Verse 9, the Israelites come up to him after the Philistines have come to them and asked where Samson is. The Philistines bring an army up to the Israelites, and the Israelites realise that they're looking for Samson. But it's interesting, isn't it, that the Israelites come to Samson and say: 'The Philistines are looking for you, and we want to give you over to them'. The Israelites were not ready to fight the Philistines.
In fact, they even give the reason in verse 10: 'The men of Judah said, Why are ye come up against us? And they answered, To bind Samson are we come up, to do to him as he hath done to us'. This thousand went up to Samson and said: 'Knowest thou not that the Philistines are rulers over us? what is this that thou hast done unto us? And he said unto them, As they did unto me, so have I done unto them'. In other words, they're saying: 'We don't want to be delivered, we're quite happy, and you're causing all this problem and chaos. We're happy to dwell as slaves in servitude. We are at peace, we're at peace with the Philistines, we're at peace with ourselves. You want to ruin all that, and we've had enough, they have had enough of you! There are 3000 of them come up to get you, and us thousand are going to give you over to them'.
So, it's difficult, isn't it, to be a leader when you don't have any followers? It's interesting that this is the only time during Samson's judgeship when the Jews were able to muster together an army. They couldn't do it to fight the Philistines, but all of a sudden they could get a thousand to bind Samson with two new ropes, and hand him over to the enemy. So Samson surrenders to Judah. Judah promises: 'We'll not kill you' - very nice of them - 'but we'll hand you over to the Philistines, and they will'. Then Samson allows them to bind him with these cords, and we see that he ends up hurting himself again because of revenge. It was Warren Wiersbe who said: 'As Christians we need to beware of hiding selfish motives under the cloak of religious zeal and calling it righteous indignation'. Did you hear that? As Christians we need to beware of hiding selfish motives under the cloak of religious zeal and calling it righteous indignation. Personal vengeance and private gain, rather than the glory of the Lord, has motivated more than one crusader in the church.
It's amazing to me in church life how many people are just waiting to score a point against another brother or sister in Christ. Some have many many points, maybe you heard about the fellow who was told by his doctor: 'Yes, indeed you do have rabies', and upon hearing this the patient immediately pulled out a notepad and a pencil, and began to write. Thinking that the man was writing his will, the doctor said: 'Listen, this doesn't mean that you're going to die, there's a cure for rabies'. He says: 'I know that, I'm making a list of the people I'm going to bite!'. That is the fleshly nature that often raises its head in us. We've got points to score and we're waiting our time, and whether it's against the pastor or the elders or another member, we'll get the boot in when we get the chance!
Is that your attitude? Turn back to Galatians chapter 5, just before Paul addresses the idea of the flesh contrary to the Spirit, it's very interesting the example he gives of the flesh in verse 15: 'If ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another'. That's where revenge ends, that explains why God has told believers to let Him take care of vengeance - God is the one to whom vengeance belongs, Psalm 94. 'Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord', Romans 12. You see, as Christians we have been wronged many a time by those outside Christianity and within it - but God's word teaches us that we must allow God to settle things for us and set them right. We're never to take things into our own hands. Christ is our example: when He was reviled, He reviled not again; when He was wronged, He committed those things that He was wronged in to His Father who judgeth rightly.
Is that what we do? It's the attitude of the preacher who refused to take revenge, and he said: 'I'm not going to get even, I'm going to tell God on you!'. That's it, isn't it? We all feel it, don't we, when we're wronged? We're only human, but what do we do? Do we tell others, or do we tell God? The fact of the matter is that these things would never have happened to Samson if he had kept his vows and his consecration to God. However, and this is what I want you to see, this is the message of the Judges, despite his waywardness the ways of God were not thwarted! God got His way! It's just a pity Samson hadn't gone God's way to get it, it would have cost him a lot less pain - but it didn't thwart God's plans!
We've seen the vicious circle of vengeance, but this is the victory of God's Spirit in all things. Samson realised that if he didn't give himself up to the enemy, the Philistine army would bring untold suffering to the land, so he surrendered. If he defended himself he would have to fight his own people, and he didn't want to do that; and if he escaped, which he could have easily done, he would have left a thousand of Judah easy prey for the army. There was something heroic about what Samson did here in his decision, but the men of Judah didn't see it - they just wanted rid of this bad thing. This is what I want you to see: though Samson has many bad points, there's one redeeming feature that distinguished him from the rest of the Israelites here - courage! When all of them were willing to surrender to the oppression of the Philistines, Samson, though with all his faults, had great courage - Hebrews 11 verse 32 calls it faith, faith in God!
The Philistines shout in verse 14 against Samson, and the sense is that the Spirit of the Lord rushes upon Samson and the cords are broken from off his arms. In verse 15 he slays a thousand with a new jawbone of an ass - now 'new' means that it wasn't as brittle as an old one, and it may also mean that the teeth were still in it, which was a vicious weapon. Can you imagine what the Israelites thought when their prisoner all of a sudden disappears, and his ropes fly off, and he grabs the only weapon he can get, and he slays a thousand men - and again they didn't bother joining in. Even the weapon was unclean that Samson used, he wasn't to touch any dead thing - so even in the victory of God he was being disobedient to God's law and the vows that he had taken. It doesn't seem to make sense: all the sense we can make out of it is that God was going to have His way. Even though Samson was a crooked stick, God would draw a straight line with it.
In verse 16 we find that Samson, after this victory, slaying a thousand Philistines with a jawbone, he writes a song. Samson: 'With the jawbone of an ass', he says, 'heaps upon heaps, with the jaw of an ass have I slain a thousand men'. Samson had a way with words. At his wedding feast, you remember in chapter 14 verse 14, he devised a clever riddle; and after this great victory he writes a poem based on the similarity between two Hebrew words - the word for 'donkey', 'ass', 'hamor'; and the word 'heap', which is 'homer'. The great victory is rendered by Moffat in his translation: 'With the jawbone of an ass have I piled them in a mass, with the jawbone of an ass I have assailed assailants' - that's the sense. Then in verse 17, after singing a song, he casts away the jawbone of the ass and he calls this place 'Ramathlehi' - which means, it may say in your margin, 'The casting away of the jawbone'. But please note, now watch this: a vicious circle of vengeance, his flesh comes to the fore again, but whilst he's in the midst of need God's Spirit rushes upon him. Now mark this: with God's Spirit upon him, he lifts an unclean thing. He slays a thousand Philistines, and after it he throws away the jawbone, he sings a song of victory - and God is not mentioned by him in any of it.
What do you think that indicates? It indicates, surely, the vulnerability of God's servant after a victory - but we see this all through Samson's life. In verse 18, when he throws the jawbone away, we read that he's thirsty and he cries to the Lord in his first. Why was he thirsty? I believe the Lord was reminding him that without His Spirit, he was nothing! Samson hadn't got this point yet. There's one stage later in this story where he actually goes out, and he doesn't realise that the Lord isn't with him because his consecration outwardly had completely gone. He needed to realise how vulnerable he was without the Spirit of God - so the Lord let him get thirsty.
Do you know this is the first time you hear Samson pray? What's he praying for? The needs of the body - a sensual, fleshly, material man. If he had only prayed for his needs in the spirit with the passion he prays for a drink - 'Are You going to let me die? I had great victory today, are You going to let the victor die?'. If only he had prayed for guidance from God as he did for water, and said: 'Lead us not into temptation, but deliver me from evil', he would have been a great man of God, and a great victor of faith. Someone has well said, listen to this: 'He that goes before the cloud of God's providence goes on a fool's errand'. If you run ahead of God, do things in your own steam, on your own strength, you'll end up running back with your tail between your legs. If you forget that you're nothing of yourself, whatever anybody has done to you, and God is everything - if you're going to do anything for His glory it will be through His power. It was a puritan who said: 'As sure as ever a Christian carves for himself, he'll cut his own finger'.
Samson was starting to carve for himself, and he was full of slices and gashes. Only when he began to suffer in the flesh was he ready to give glory to God. Only when he wanted something from God was he concerned about the uncircumcised Philistines. They didn't concern him when he was down having his drinking parties, when he was down rifling their women - but when he needed something! How often are we like that? It betrays fleshly nature in us. When we're sick and on our back: 'Lord, I'm going to give You everything, I'm going to serve You' - and then when you're up, what happens? Do you serve Him with everything?
In verse 19 the Lord provided water for him, the Authorised says 'out of the jaw', the Hebrew also can mean 'by splitting the rock at Levi' which is probably the right sense - because God wouldn't have given him the water out of something that was unclean to him. All of a sudden his spirit revives - God honoured him, this is the story of the Judges. 'What is that?', you say. God's people are sinning and following Baal, and then they get oppressors upon them - God's chastisement for their sin and waywardness. Then they cry out to God in a superficial repentance: 'Lord, deliver us from our oppressors', and what does God do? He raises up a deliverer in a Judge, and they deliver Israel. God is given glory and the Judge reigns over the land, and then the Judge dies and the people go back to their sin again!
Here you have it in Samson. He's thirsty, he is in need, God gives him water; he takes it, he's revived, and he returns to his selfishness. Once again, as in the song to himself, this name that he gives to the place where he drank the water in verse 19, 'Enhakkore, which is in Lehi unto this day', means 'the well of him that called or cried' - it doesn't mention God. His subject is the one who cried for the water, Samson. Yes, he was a man of courage and faith in this instance, but through a great victory in chapter 15 God is warning Samson graciously: 'If you don't be completely controlled by the Spirit, rather than the flesh, it's going to all end. You need to be guided by the Spirit rather than the flesh'. God is warning him graciously, mercifully - would he listen? No! He continues in his carnality, his lust, his vengeful spirit, his anger and his prayerlessness.
Do you display these works of the flesh in your life? I'm warning you from God's word: you're heading for a calamity just like Samson. Do you know why? Because no man is strong against a foe that he secretly admires. The Philistine way of life was in Samson's heart, and the Israelites and Samson realised this to their detriment, that they couldn't slay a way of life that they loved secretly. What is it secretly in this world's system, in your flesh, that you admire? That's why you can't mortify it, that's why you can't crucify it, and it has taken you captive in your heart! God is going to allow you, perhaps, man or woman, to play the fool - must He let you be taken captive before you realise? Must He let you lose your sight, lose your liberty, lose your wife, lose your family, lose your freedom?
What a wonderful gift hindsight is, and that's what we have. We can look back over all of Samson's life, and do you know what we find? This is the first time he prayed, do you know when the next time he prayed is? When he died in chapter 16 and 28: 'Strengthen me this one last time, Lord'. You know there's a lesson I learned this week through various circumstances, and through my own quiet time, and it applies so appropriately to this story, and I want to share it with you. It's simply this: often my fear and my reluctance to fully consecrate to God is usually due to cost - isn't it? It costs me too much. But do you know what I fail to appreciate? A lack of consecration and a lack of purity will cost me far more. Samson learned that lesson the hard way. Will you say today:
'Make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free.
Force me to render up my sword, and I shall conqueror be.
I sink in life’s alarms when by myself I stand;
Imprison me within Thine arms, and strong shall be my hand'.
Lord, help us all to be able to say with our Lord: 'Not my will, but Thine be done'. Lord, we pray that we will crucify the passions and lusts and vengeful spirits of the flesh, and put on the Lord Jesus Christ, His attitude. Lord, we pray that we will know the power of God fall on us, and Christ will be seen in us. Let us always remember, whatever victories we have in this spiritual life, that it's nothing of ourselves but it's all of God. Lord, let us all consecrate our lives afresh at this moment: make me a captive, Lord, then I shall be free. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the fourteenth recording in his 'Men For The Hour' series, entitled "Samson, The Vengeful Victor" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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