It is not difficult to understand why God would use a fearless warrior like Othniel, a patriot such as Ehud or the self-effacing Gideon; men who ‘subdued kingdoms … waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens’, Heb. 11. 33-34. Yet, as far as we know, Samson never led an army, did nothing to rally the resolve of the nation and in fact appeared at one time to be an embarrassment to the men of Judah, Judg. 15. 11. His forays into Philistine territory all appear to be motivated by self-interest and undertaken in the energy of the flesh, yet he was recognized as a judge in Israel for twenty years in the days of the Philistines, 15. 20, and on four separate occasions his actions were attributed to the Spirit of the Lord.
How often could we be accused of underestimating the value of another’s service simply because it does not seem to fit into an acceptable mould or conform to an established pattern? Who am I to judge ‘another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth’, Rom. 14. 4. Without doubt there were failings and weaknesses in the life of Samson from which we can learn salutary lessons, but we must never forget that he merited a place among the heroes of faith!
The record of Samson’s life is summed up in four journeys. The first of these took him from his home in Zorah, down to Timnath; a journey motivated by self-will. We then follow him from Ashkelon down to Etam, with only self-interest in his heart. Then, having slain a thousand Philistines in Lehi, he later took his fateful journey to Gaza, seemingly full of self-confidence even though in enemy territory. His final journey saw his crushed and lifeless body taken by the men of his father’s house from Gaza back home to Zorah for burial; we note that even his last words were an expression of self-pity!
The fact that God used an individual like Samson to chastise the Philistines is really a sad reflection on the condition of the nation at this period in their history. It would seem that the people at large had come to accept the yoke of their oppressor; there was apparently no particular desire for deliverance, no concern that their condition was a result of departure from God, just a weak acceptance of their situation. In such times, God prepares and energizes men and women of extraordinary calibre to oppose error and to motivate others. History records men like John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, Oliver Cromwell, William Tyndale, John Knox and many others who were prepared to stand and, if necessary, fight or die to uphold the light of truth amid the darkness of error in their day.
We followed Samson on the first of his journeys in a previous study and noted how a sovereign God turned what appeared to be the weakness of the flesh in Samson to provide opportunity to oppose the oppressor. At first it would seem that the Philistines of Timnath had no particular reason to fear the arrival of Samson. Such was their confidence in their own domination of Israel that one man apparently just seeking a wife of their people would not cause them undue concern. But they reckoned without Israel’s God moving behind the scenes to bring His own purposes to pass. History, both biblical and secular, is littered with the wrecks of empires and the bones of rulers who failed to take into account the God of heaven, or who underestimated His power!
Samson found the occasion against the Philistines which the Lord had intended in the seemingly innocent introduction of his riddle. The Philistines were obviously bad losers, not prepared to play by the rules. They were clearly unaware of the old adage that ‘cheats never prosper’ and before the week was out thirty of their number lay dead; they had also acquired a formidable adversary. There are very practical lessons for us in these verses with regard to our involvement with the world. The dangers of the unequal yoke are written large, whether in the matter of a marriage partner or with those deemed to be friends, or ‘companions’ in Samson’s case. Both relationships brought only strife and retribution. We are not called to live monastic lives in our separation from the world, but for a believer to cultivate favour and friendship with unbelievers for purposes other than to win them for Christ will so often result in a compromise of principles.
The Lord Jesus gave instruction for His followers to, ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you’, Matt. 5. 44. In a day long before these words were spoken Samson’s actions were motivated by other considerations. The thirty garments taken from those he slew were to pay off a gambling debt, the foxes released as firebrands in the corn were in retaliation for his wife being given to another and the great slaughter which followed was an act of vengeance for the death of his wife at the hands of her own people!
Samson’s next journey took him to the top of the rock Etam, a brief interlude in his life which was possibly the spiritual pinnacle as far as the record of his life is concerned. The Philistines, however, were bent on revenge. They had no intention of allowing him any respite and gathered together a large force on the borders of Judah. How sad it is to see that the tribe ordained for kingship, having mustered a force of some three thousand men, directed their opposition not against the Philistines, but against Samson, their potential deliverer. How like their descendents who, being blessed with a far greater deliverer in their midst, said in their hearts, ‘We will not have this man to reign over us’, Luke 19. 14, and promptly handed Him over to the occupying forces. Once again, God took a hand. If the men of Judah refuse to challenge the authority ofthe Philistines, the Spirit of the Lord will empower the man whom they despised and rejected. Maybe we could question the wisdom of Samson in taking the jawbone of an ass in view of his Nazarite vow, but on a pragmatic level any available weapon would be welcome when faced with a thousand hostile men! A notable victory was gained which it would appear brought some respite for a number of years, Judg. 15. 20.
Samson’s third significant journey took him from the valley of Sorek to Gaza; from the prostitute’s house to the prison house! Having briefly antagonised the Gazites by removing their city gates, Samson once more fell for the charms of a Philistine woman. There is no doubt that the adversary knew Samson’s weakness and exploited it to the full, as indeed he has done throughout history, causing many good men to succumb to his siren voice and founder on the rocks of temptation. This time it was the infamous Delilah who caught him in her web. The interesting thing is that Delilah made no secret of her purpose in enticing Samson to divulge the secret of his strength. Throughout their dialogue it was Samson who lied! Such, apparently, was his selfconfidence that he made light of her efforts to trap him. At the third attempt, however, Judg. 16. 13, Samson lowered his guard and drew her attention to his hair. At first he deceived her, but then ‘told her all his heart’.
To this point Samson had retained the outward appearance of a man separated to God although, as we know, he had already compromised his Nazarite vow on a number of occasions. How careful we need to be to ensure that our character and behaviour as seen by others reflects the true nature of our hearts! The Lord Jesus denounced the Pharisees by quoting Isaiah, ‘This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth … but their heart is far from me’, Matt. 15. 8. Samson’s final capitulation renders him ‘like any other man’. But God does not want you and me to be like any other man or woman! He has a unique purpose for each of His own, as one hymnwriter expressed it, ‘There’s a work for Jesus, only you can do’, E. D. YALE,
Samson was finally brought to realize that in his own strength he could accomplish nothing, only in the power of the Spirit of God would the enemy be overcome; how sad the record of chapter 16 verse 20, ‘He wist not that the Lord was departed from him’. Significantly, it was his sight which first caused the problem in chapter 14 verse 1 and many futile attempts had been made to bind him; now blinded and bound, a sorry spectacle of a man once so strong, the journey continued downward to Gaza where he grinds corn in the prison house, the occupation of slave women.
But God is gracious and will not allow the adversary to determine the passing of His servant. The Philistines thought to make sport of Samson, but again they underestimated Samson’s God. For only the second time in his career we read that he ‘called unto the Lord’, but he was heard. The house is brought down and the sad epitaph written, they ‘which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life’.
Samson’s final journey marks the only occasion when he went ‘up’; all else was a downward path. His brethren carry him to his burial between Zorah and Eshtaol, exactly the place where he started from, Judg. 13. 25. Is that a solemn warning to others that it is possible to engage in a lifetime of activity and yet make little or no spiritual progress?