10 June 2014

Samson (Lesson 1 of 2) Strength is its own weakness


By Bob Mendelsohn
Given in Moscow, Russia
10 June 2014

I remember the story of a young executive on his first day on the new job. He approached the boss’ office and knocked.
“Come in, son,” the boss told him.
“Sir, do you have any advise for me today?” he asked uncomfortably.
“Sure, make good choices.”
“Great, thanks for that, boss.” And towards the door he stepped.
“Excuse me, boss, how do I make good choices?”
“Experience,” boomed the boss, now writing notes on his notepad.
“Great, thanks for that, boss.” And again the young executive stepped towards the door.
“One more thing, boss, how do I get that experience?”
The boss looked up from his paper and said, “Bad decisions.”

Today we meet another judge in the book of Judges by the name of Samson. His story is told over four chapters, 13-16. We will take two days to unpack his tale. We are introduced to the setting as is common in Judges with the words in 13.1: “Israel…evil… Philistines rules over …40 years.” Typical of the situation in the continual story. The pattern is clear. The continual bad decisions and bad choices of the people of Israel are summarized in the last verse of Judges. Let’s look at that one:
In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judg. 21.25)

This summary of the condition of the Jewish people is so sad, like I said when we started, it almost makes one depressed or anti-Semitic or something.  But remember our pattern, God listens to our cries, and delivers us, even when we don’t deserve it. So it will be in this case, in chapter 13, that God will make a barren woman, the wife of Manoah, to bear a child and he will deliver Israel. I’m so glad to know that no matter our condition in 1933 or in 1994 or in 2014, that God will bring His word to fulfillment, and will make things happen according to His will. His will is to keep Israel. He that keeps Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps. (Psalm 121)

The angel of the Lord appears to the wife, not to the husband, and not to them together. He says to the woman about her diet:
Now therefore, be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing.

OK, so she is to avoid certain foods and drinks for a reason. (.5) tells us:
For behold, you shall conceive and give birth to a son, and no razor shall come upon his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite (Numbers 6) to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”

If you were not a Bible reader, and only reading this story as if Pushkin wrote it, you would think this child would be a hero from his youth. He is to avoid certain foods and drinks, and razors, and fight against the enemies of the Jews, in this case, the Philistines. Maybe he would be a powerful and strong boy. And if you were writing such a story, you might include some dangers like monsters or big and powerful human enemies, rocks falling, ships being tossed in the rough winds, and then the little hero would conquer everyone, and like in Hollywood, they would all ‘live happily ever after.’

That’s not the case in the tale before us, however.  His Hebrew name is from the root SHEMESH meaning ‘sun.’ You would think his parents Manoah and the unnamed wife would have named him something like “Keeper of the vow” or “Son of Nazir” since the only thing the angel of the Lord told them was that he would be a Nazirite, and had a few regulations on him that they were strictly told to maintain.

The story in chapter 13 is very detailed and I guess that someone close to Samson wrote it. The repetition of the visitation by the angel of the Lord and the exact language over and over makes me think this. So the angel visits both mother and father and details Samson’s diet and commitments. Then Manoah wants to have a special dinner for the visitor (.15), but the visitor declines. The angel recommends that Manoah offer an offering to the Lord (.16). Manoah still isn’t sure, and wants to know the visitor’s name. Again the angel declines but says something which makes people think he is Jesus. The angel says, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful.” (.18) The Hebrew word for wonderful is of course pela, the same word used in Isaiah 9.6
“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”

The human born to the virgin (Is. 7.14) who is ‘given to us’ in chapter 9 of Isaiah will be called Pela, El gibor, and Sar Shalom. All great titles for God or Messiah. So when the angel here in Judges says why do you ask my name since it is ‘pela’, some folks think he’s indicating that he is an appearance of the Son of God before He came to earth. They call this a ‘theophany’ or “Christophany’ in theological circles. I personally don’t believe this is Yeshua, for many reasons, but if people believe that, it won’t hurt them.

So in verse 19, Manoah does what the angel told him, and offers both a grain and goat offering on a rock. Usually he should have gone to the Tabernacle down in Shiloh, but perhaps for speed or for urgency or for compliance or…we really don’t know why, he chooses to do it locally.

Not only did the couple offer things to God, but the angel did ‘wonders’ (.19) Again a variant of the word “pela” And again I don’t know what wonders he performed, but together with his disappearance into the flames of the offering, it was enough to convince Manoah and his wife that this was an angelic visitation. (.21) They bowed low (.20) and Manoah got scared. He thought, “If that was God, then we are doomed. No one can see God and live.” (.22). She replied that this was silly logic. If God wanted to kill them, why would he have told them about the baby, and why would he have accepted our burnt offering? (.23). She is very convincing and the next thing we see is the baby’s birth and the activity of the Spirit of God. Notice the phrase at the end of .24, “The Lord blessed him.” I don’t think this is used of any other judge in the Bible. Again we can only guess what this might mean, but whatever the details of this blessing, it’s clear that it’s a positive thing. You know many of you ask me to bless you before a sortie or if you are unwell, or in various situations of life. And I’m happy to do that. I think we can all agree that however blessing works out, it’s a good thing. So the child was experiencing a good life in his home in the tribal region of Dan. Only note this, the land of Dan is in two places in the Bible. Originally they were to live to the west of Judah in what we today call the Gaza Strip. But since they couldn’t defeat the enemies there, Dan moved up north to the Golan region. These scenes with Samson however, take place in the original location about 20 miles west of Jerusalem.  

Then look how chapter 13 ends. The Spirit of the Lord is stirring Samson. It could also be translated as troubling Samson.

Chapter 14 begins with his first view of a woman from Philistia and although the story seems to say Samson has a plan to use her, I wonder if he was actually falling to the trap which would eventually knock him to his own death. And yet, he is listed in Hebrews 11, in the short list of 4 judges from this book who were men of faith. So his cleverness here in chapter 14 probably is accurate. Sometimes our very strengths are what get us in trouble. We don’t know how weak we really are, and thus lean on our own strengths instead of on the Lord. 

Oswald Chambers said this, "We are apt to say, “It is not at all likely that having been through the greatest crisis of my life I would now turn back to the things of the world.” Do not try to predict where the temptation will come; it is the least likely thing that is the real danger. It is in the aftermath of a great spiritual event that the least likely things begin to have an effect. They may not be forceful and dominant, but they are there. And if you are not careful to be forewarned, they will trip you. You have remained true to God under great and intense trials— now beware of the undercurrent. Do not be abnormally examining your inner self, looking forward with dread, but stay alert; keep your memory sharp before God. Unguarded strength is actually a double weakness, because that is where the least likely temptations will be effective in sapping strength. The Bible characters stumbled over their strong points, never their weak ones."

Samson convinces his parents to go to Timnah in Philistia (not far from their home) to get a woman whom he has seen to be his wife. On their way, a young lion approaches and without so much as a stick, Samson captures and rips the lion into pieces and kills it. (.5-6) How did he do it? By the power of the Holy Spirit! (.6)

They make it into Timnah and the story collapses into a short chapter, but probably lasted months. The key is the 7-day period of the riddle (.14) and the wedding festival. Samson was to marry this woman, but the day before the wedding (day 6), he submits to her tears and tells her the solution to the riddle. She mocks him, submits the answer to the boys of town, Samson gets really angry and goes to kill 30 others, take their garments and pays off his wager with the men of Timnah. Samson’s fiancé marries his best man, and of Samson we read,
And his anger burned, and he went up to his father’s house. (14.19)

Samson is a man of faith, to be sure, and filled at times with the Holy Spirit. What we learn of him today and tomorrow will guard our hearts and guard our bodies and guard our spirits so we can continue to be men and women of faith as well.

Anger doesn’t work the righteousness of God. Lust doesn’t work out God’s purposes. False alliances will not help anyone. Samson had a duty to honor God as a Nazirite and stay away from vineyards and from foreign women and their food. He failed over and over, yet God calls him a man of faith.

I’m so glad God wants our hearts and not our perfections. We are not perfect. We do commit sin. I’m not excusing that, but the reality is here. We fall short of God’s standards, and YET, He loves us and wants us to draw on His grace and forgiveness, amen?  Our response to what He tells us, via an angel or via the Scripture or from wherever our instructions come, will determine our future.  Like the young executive, make good choices. Choose well, and you will do well, Amen?

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