How should we approach a book like Judges in the Old Testament? Paul suggests there are three things to expect from reading the Old Testament.
First, in Romans 15.4. he says:
everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
The Old Testament is to encourage Christians now.
Secondly, in 1 Corinthians 10 verse 11 he says:
These things [God's judgments on the sins of his ancient people] happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfilment of the ages has come.
The Old Testament is also to warn us.
And, thirdly, in 2 Timothy 3.16 and 17, Paul says that "the holy Scriptures [for him the Old Testament scriptures] … are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture," he goes on …
…is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
The Old Testament is not only to encourage and warn, but also to teach – to help our thinking – so that we may come to faith in Jesus Christ and then live effectively for him. So I now want us to see how Judges 16 has, first, A PRACTICAL WARNING; secondly, TEACHING THAT LEADS TO FAITH; and, thirdly, ENCOURAGEMENT FOR ALL. And they are my three headings as we look at Judges 16 and the account of Samson and Delilah.
First, A PRACTICAL WARNING
In the previous chapters about Samson, we've seen him as an old-fashioned Mr Universe character. Here in chapter 16 we see him as a modern Russell Brand character. And the warning relates to that side of his life. First we have a little cameo in the first verses of chapter 16 to show the problem. Before his now infamous episode with Jonathan Ross on the BBC, Russell Brand wrote about his initiation into his own sexual lifestyle. It was in the brothels of the Far East when he was 17. So Brand can write, I quote: "Sex is recreational for me, as well as a way of accruing status and validation." Chapter 16 verse 1 shows Samson similarly looking for sexual recreation in the brothels of Gaza in the heart of Philistine enemy territory:
One day Samson went to Gaza, where he saw a prostitute. He went in to spend the night with her.
Then we are told how Samson left in the middle of the night, escaping from the city with the two doors of the city gates. These doors were a small part of the city gates. The gates formed a big structure containing rooms where the guards were no doubt relaxing or asleep. So much for the introductory cameo.
Next comes the famous and very sad episode in Samson's life. It also reflects his Russell Brand character. For Russell Brand writes, again I quote: "there are things over which I have no control and people who force their will upon you." While later in prison Samson must often have reflected in those terms on his own past life. The words were so true of himself. Look at verse 4:
Some time later, he fell in love with a woman in the Valley of Sorek whose name was Delilah.
Samson's ability to think straight about sexual matters had clearly been eroded. Delilah certainly wasn't in love with Samson. For, verse 5:
… the rulers of the Philistines went to her and said, 'See if you can lure him into showing you the secret of his great strength and how we can overpower him so we may tie him up and subdue him. Each one of us will give you eleven hundred shekels of silver.'
Then Delilah tried to trick Samson into telling her the source of his strength. He first said "tie me with seven fresh thongs" or bow strings. But he just snapped those when the Philistines came to capture him. Then he said "tie me securely with new ropes". But he snapped those, too. Then he told Delilah to weave his long Nazirite hair into her loom. This time he simply broke her loom as he pulled his hair out. So in verses 15-20 following you read:
15Then she said to him, 'How can you say, "I love you," when you won't confide in me? This is the third time you have made a fool of me and haven't told me the secret of your great strength.' 16With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was tired to death. 17So he told her everything. 'No razor has ever been used on my head,' he said, 'because I have been a Nazirite set apart to God since birth. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.' 18When Delilah saw that he had told her everything, she sent word to the rulers of the Philistines, 'Come back once more; he has told me everything.' So the rulers of the Philistines returned with the silver in their hands. 19Having put him to sleep on her lap, she called a man to shave off the seven braids of his hair, and so began to subdue him. And his strength left him [there was no magic in the hair. His long hair was simply a symbol of consecration to God. Cutting it off was a disloyal spiritual equivalent of politically burning your national flag] 20Then she called, 'Samson, the Philistines are upon you!' He awoke from his sleep and thought, 'I'll go out as before and shake myself free.' But he did not know that the LORD had left him.
That last verse is a terribly sad verse. It reminds you that it is possible to grieve the Holy Spirit. In Ephesians 4.19 Paul is talking about people who…
…have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.
A few verses later he says "do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God" (verse 29). Samson certainly seems to be grieving the Holy Spirit. God's Spirit is not mentioned once in relation to Samson in chapter 16, unlike previous chapters. So do not think you can behave as you like and all will be fine.
Samson's sexual lifestyle is, therefore, an important warning today against premarital and extramarital sex and all homosexual sex. He is a warning against today's sex education and sexual health orthodoxies when they are Philistine paganism in Freudian dress. They are as irrational and, similarly, with bad consequences. But too many Christians are frightened of saying so.
The warning, then, of this chapter is clear. If you give in to the tyranny of sexual desire like Samson, and do what God forbids and put a woman like Delilah before your faithfulness to him (or if you are a woman, vice versa), do not be surprised when you end up in serious trouble. Samson certainly got into serious trouble, for, verse 21:
…then the Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza. Binding him with bronze shackles, they set him to grinding in the prison.
That leads …
Secondly, to TEACHING THAT LEADS TO FAITH
So Samson is in an awful situation. He is not only blinded but in prison grinding at a mill which was a woman's job. There was a double humiliation for this ancient Mr Universe. But … (look at verses 22-30)
22…the hair on his head began to grow again after it had been shaved. 23Now the rulers of the Philistines assembled to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god and to celebrate, saying, 'Our god has delivered Samson, our enemy, into our hands.' 24When the people saw him, they praised their god, saying, 'Our god has delivered our enemy into our hands, the one who laid waste our land and multiplied our slain.' 25While they were in high spirits, they shouted, 'Bring out Samson to entertain us.' So they called Samson out of the prison, and he performed for them. When they stood him among the pillars, 26Samson said to the servant who held his hand, 'Put me where I can feel the pillars that support the temple, so that I may lean against them.' 27Now the temple was crowded with men and women; all the rulers of the Philistines were there, and on the roof were about three thousand men and women watching Samson perform. 28Then Samson prayed to the LORD, 'O Sovereign LORD, remember me. O God, please strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.' 29Then Samson reached toward the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other, 30Samson said, 'Let me die with the Philistines!' Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived.
What does all this teach us? How does this ancient equivalent of a suicide bomber "make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus"? By teaching you to copy Samson to show how much you hate modern Western paganism and permissiveness? Of course not. Matthew 26.52 reports Jesus saying to Peter: "all who draw the sword will die by the sword." Violence is not Christ's way for teaching the truth. You learn nothing today from Samson's violence except, as a Christian, not to copy it. So what positively do you learn?
First, let's put Samson into context.
He is living at a time of complete social breakdown when "everyone did as he saw fit" (Judges 21.25). After the founding of the nation, the Israelites had not defeated the Canaanites in their new Holy Land. The result then was that they were being seduced by Canaanite religion which was made up of various forms of Baalism. And the Philistine religion of Dagon was a Baalistic religion.
Baalism was basically a nature religion involving religious prostitution (male and female) and horrific child sacrifice. Nevertheless, the Old Testament suggests in Genesis that the extermination of these pagan Baalistic people was not God's primary will. God seems to have been offering them an opportunity for repentance. In Genesis 15 God tells Abraham that his people will suffer a 400 year period of exile in Egypt and as slaves. They couldn't escape earlier, I quote:
…for the sin of the Amorites [the Canaanites] has not yet reached its full measure (Gen 15.16).
God was patient with his judgment even on these sexually decadent, child sacrificing Canaanites.
Secondly, think of all the horror – the violence of Samson and all his killing. And think about his uncontrolled sexual appetite and all the misery he caused women who were on the receiving end. But all that, bad as it was, somehow led to something of infinite significance that the world and subsequent history needed to know. And that is what this chapter seems to be teaching. Look at verse 23 where we are told that the rulers of the Philistines were saying:
Our god has delivered Samson, our enemy, into our hands.
They were saying that Dagon (related to the Baals who sanctioned promiscuous sex and child sacrifice), was the victor. He must, therefore, they implied, be greater than the God of the Israelites. And the people joined in responsively and also said (verse 24):
Our god has delivered our enemy into our hands, the one who laid waste our land and multiplied our slain.
But Samson seems to be coming to his spiritual senses. For the first time in these chapters on his life (Judges 13-16) we read that he prayed a prayer of real dependence. True, his motives were still not right. He is seeking vengeance. But the writer to the Hebrews says that Samson did have a genuine faith and trust in God, however mixed up he was. Hebrews 11.32-34 says
Samson … [was among those] who through faith conquered kingdoms … and … who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.
And God answered Samson's prayer and allowed both this terrible disaster to happen and Samson's own death. Samson caused the entire temple to collapse.
Thus (verse 30) he killed many more when he died than when he lived.
So the God of the bible (the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who we now know to be Father, Son and Holy Spirit), because of events like this in the early days of human civilization, was and is seen to be the only true and living God. Other Gods were and are seen as worthless idols. And that is the fundamental message of Judges and of the whole Old Testament. And it is a lesson for universal posterity. It is there in Deuteronomy 6 verse 4-5:
The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your souls and with all your strength.
There is only one true God and the most important thing in life is to know him both for now and for all eternity. And we need to know what God is like. That, too, is so vital. God had revealed his character to Moses on Mount Sinai as,
…the Lord (literally, Yahweh or Jehovah), the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation" (Ex 34.6-7).
God is merciful but also holy and that is something terrifying for sinful men and women. And Judges teaches that. In Judges 13.22 we saw how Samson's father was terrified at the visit of the Angel of the Lord.
We are doomed to die!" he said to his wife. "We have seen God!
But that is the God of the Bible – an awesome God who cannot brook any rivals, for any rivals are false and deceiving. All that is the lesson you learn highlighted and with triple underlinings in Judges 16.
True, the sovereignty of God is a mystery. Why did things have to happen this way? We do not know. But what we do know is this. Until you understand that God is the one and only true God, and that his holiness leads to his judgment on sin which is seen in the defeat of the Philistines and in which judgment Samson himself was caught up – until you understand that, so much of the Christian faith and of the person and work of Christ will seem even more of a mystery.
You will not understand the heart of the Christian Good News, namely God's love at the Cross of Christ. The Cross will not make much sense without understanding first, the holiness of God and his demands for righteousness.
And the Good News is that since Christ came, died and rose again, you do not have to work for God's judgment on thousands of sinful people like happened to the Philistines. For Christ has taken the judgment for the sins of the world, including our own, onto himself in our place. So while this life lasts there is now time to trust him and receive forgiveness and receive God's Holy Spirit to start living for him. And that is what you are to tell modern pagan people.
But that period of grace ends when Christ returns – at any time, or when we first die. Then comes ultimate judgment and, according to Jesus, heaven or, for the God-rejecting now, hell. Who needs to face these truths tonight and simply thank God for his goodness and mercy and trust Christ and receive his forgiveness and his Holy Spirit? We must move on.
Thirdly, and finally to, ENCOURAGEMENT FOR ALL
Who tonight feels they are a failure? You may be a moral failure, like Samson. You may have failed in some more respectable way, but you feel at the bottom of the pile and that God has somehow left you.
Well, the story of Samson is that failure doesn't have to be the last word. For God can still use you, if you trust him as Samson did. And after the resurrection of Christ that is so much easier.
On the other hand you may feel you don't fit the mould. Like Samson you are a bit of an individualist, perhaps with great gifts like Samson. But you wonder if you are too way out. Well, if God used Samson, he can certainly use you.
And Samson, of course, is a great encouragement today for all of us to fight any opposition to Jesus Christ. But we are to do that with the Holy Spirit's strength and wisdom and not with violence.
Samson is a warning against a lack of sexual self-control. His life teaches us about the truth, holiness and judgment of the God of the Bible. And Samson encourages us to see that failure need not be the last word and also to use our gifts, peacefully, to fight today's forces of evil.