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sreda, 04. december 2013

How on earth can Samson be a man of faith??

Is Samson really a man of faith?

Have you been enjoying the stories, that we have been reading on Sundays from the Old Testament book of Judges? I have. It has certainly stimulated my thinking about what God was doing at that stage of Israel's history. Let me give you an example, by considering Samson.

In Hebrews 11, as the writer of the book of Hebrews considers the vast number of faithful men and women in Israel and how little space he has to write, he starts to just name faithful people in Israel. So we read in verse 32,

Kaj naj še rečem? Saj bi mi zmanjkalo časa, če bi hotel pripovedovati o Gideónu, Baráku, Samsonu, Jefteju, Davidu, Samuelu in prerokih. (Pismo Hebrejcem 11,32 SSP)

Would you have listed Samson among the faithful in Israel? Does Samson come to mind in your list of great Israelites? Does he rate with Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, King David, Isaiah and so on? Admittedly I am more disturbed by this man. For example, before his birth, his parents are told he will be a Nazirite, a man holy to God and set apart for his purposes (Judges 13). But then he marries a Philistine woman, one of those people God had commanded Israel to remove from the land (Judges 14). He also eats honey from a dead lion, rendering himself unclean in the eyes of the Lord (Judges 14:8-9). In Judges 16, we read he sleeps with foreign prostitutes and surrenders the secret of his strength to a woman who obviously seems to be trying to deceive him.

How can the writer of the Hebrews believe that Samson, who seems more evil than righteous, is a man of faith? And if he is a man of faith, what is God saying to us? What can we learn about God or from God from these chapters in Judges?

Hopefully, as we read these chapters and seek to understand them, we will learn what God has to say to us. For while Samson may appear to be a faithless, arrogant and unfitting Judge for Israel, God has set him apart for a purpose. Despite his apparent sinful ways, he does teach us what it means to be one of God’s people. There is more here than meets the eye.


Samson’s Strength (16:1-3)

I will pick up the story mainly in Judges 16, when two women enter Samson’s life. The first woman is a prostitute from Gaza (16:1-3). This first story tells us a few important points we need to know in order to understand the rest of the chapter. Have a look how this part of the story starts:

Samson je šel v Gazo. Tam je videl vlačugo in stopil k njej. 2 Gažánom so rekli: »Samson je prišel semkaj.« Tedaj so ga obkolili in pri mestnih vratih vso noč pazili nanj. Vso noč so prebili mirno, rekoč: »Ob jutranjem svitu ga bomo ubili.« 3 Samson pa je spal do polnoči; opolnoči je vstal, zgrabil krili mestnih vrat in oba podboja ter jih izdrl skupaj s pregrado. Potem si jih je naložil na rame in jih odnesel na vrh gore, ki je nasproti Hebróna. (Sodniki 16,1-3)

This chapter starts with Samson going into Philistine territory to the city of Gaza. There is finds a prostitute and stays with her for the night – that’s right, the chosen one of God, the judge of Israel, sleeps with a prostitute. That may shock us as modern readers, yet the writers of this part of Scripture have no need to gloss over a historical reality. In fact after chapters 14 and 15 we’ve come to expect Samson has chosen to live in disobedience to God and his law.

We’re not told why he chooses to sleep with a prostitute. Certainly, Samson has had some tragic experiences with his Philistine wife. He may still be mourning her loss because she had been killed (Judges 15:6). Samson may still be looking for someone to love. But whatever his reasons, its certainly a poor choice for love.

Anyway, the people of Gaza hear Samson is in town and obviously identify Samson as a threat. In verse 2 they make plans to kill him. However, despite their plans, Samson is shown to have amazing strength and he escapes. He escapes by ripping off the city gates!

Many years ago I had to fix a friend’s modern, electric gate. They were strong, metallic gates which I don’t think I would really be able to lift, let alone tear them off or carry them anywhere. Now imagine the huge, wooden front gates of a protected castle. This is probably closer to the ancient reality than our modern, metallic gates. So Samson tears off the city gates with their posts, then he carries the gate over 50km to Hebron which lies at the top of the mountain range which runs south from Jerusalem.

What are we to learn from these verses? Samson is a very, very strong man. From his past experiences, and with what is about to happen, we might say Samson is also a man looking for love.

Samson and Delilah (16:4-19)

And Samson eventually finds this love in the Valley of Sorek, south-west of Gaza in the middle of the Philistine territory. As we read on, Samson falls in love with a woman who is willing to betray him for a lot of money. And so we read in verse 4:

Po teh dogodkih je vzljubil žensko v dolini Sorék; ime ji je bilo Dalíla. 5 Filistejski knezi so prišli k njej in ji rekli: »Prepričaj ga in poizvedi, v čem je njegova velika moč in s čim bi ga mogli premagati ali ukrotiti. Dali ti bomo sleherni tisoč in sto srebrnikov.« (Sodniki 16,4-5 SSP)

Samson falls in love with another Philistine woman. The Philistine rulers offer her a lot of money to betray Samson. I honestly do not know the conversion price of gold today, but from my random calculations, each ruler was offering her about $5,000. Obviously motivated by this, three times she tries to find out his secret. She says in verse 6, “Tell me the secret of your great strength and how you can be tied up and subdued.”. Samson lies to her about being tied up with throngs, new ropes and tying his hair up in a loom. When the trap is set, he merely breaks the bonds which holds him and is ready to face whatever foes she claims to have come for him.

In verse 15, however, Delilah changes her tactic slightly. She asks, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when you won’t confide in me?” She questions his love for her. We know Samson is a very, very strong man looking for love (16:1-3). And you may remember that Samson’s wife had previously questioned his love for her in order to find the answer to his wedding feast riddle (14:16). We may laugh at Delilah’s question as it’s a very manipulative question, yet I think it highlights something he longs for.

And so, with constant questioning and nagging, Delilah manages to find our his secret. We read in verse 17:

Razodel ji je vse svoje srce in ji rekel: »Britev ni prišla na mojo glavo, kajti Božji nazirec sem od telesa svoje matere. Če bi me ostrigla, bi me moja moč zapustila, oslabel bi in bi postal kakor vsak človek.« (Sodniki 16,17 SSP)

Samson is very aware of his divine commissioning. He knows God has set him apart from birth for a purpose. He knows that his hair must not be cut. However, in his search for love and after a lot of nagging, he has given away the secret of his strength.

When Delilah cuts his hair, in verse 19, his strength leaves him. His strength has left him because, we see in verse 20, “Yahweh had left him”. He has been abandoned by God.

My best friend once struggled with cancer. As he underwent chemotherapy, he lost his hair. As his friend, I agree to shave my head. Admittedly we both looked pretty bad. Yet as far as gaining or losing my strength, shaving my head made no difference. I could still rip the doors off the local castle without trouble and carry them off home! As you may have well guessed, that is completely untrue.

However, for Samson, his hair gave him strength. It’s all rather amusing that such an odd thing as the amount of hair you have determines your strength. But as amusing as it is, it again helps us to see Samson’s strength isn’t just because of his hair. It’s a divinely given strength. And his strength is something that Yahweh takes away when Samson’s hair is taken away.

What is Yahweh doing? (16:21-31)

Why is this the case? Samson is the judge of Israel (15:20). Isn’t he supposed to save Israel, not be caught by their enemies? Why is it that God takes away Samson’s strength? Obviously Samson has stupidly been trapped by a nagging Philistine to give away this secret. He doesn’t really have the cleanest of records either. Yet it doesn’t seem to make sense, why God would allow Samson to be betrayed like this. 

However as we read on, God has a few very good reasons for taking away Samson’s strength. Have a look at verse 21-22:

Filistejci so ga tedaj zgrabili in mu iztaknili oči. Nato so ga odpeljali v Gazo, vklenili v dve bronasti verigi in jim je v ječi gonil mlin. 22 Lasje na njegovi glavi, ki so bili ostriženi, pa so mu začeli spet rasti. (Sodniki 16,21-22 SSP)

Why had God allowed Samson to fall into this trap? There are a few reasons. Firstly, we see that God has a plan. In verse 21, the Philistines overpower Samson, humiliate him by blinding him and keeping him in bronze shackles. Even I could probably break bronze shackles – bronze is a very weak metal, yet it now can hold this broken strong man.

But then, in verse 22, the hair on his head began to grow again after it had been shaved. God has a plan.  And as we now hear of Samson’s hair growing back, we know that something big is going to happen. As we read on, we’re told:

 Tedaj so se zbrali filistejski knezi, da bi v veselju darovali svojemu bogu Dagónu veliko klavno daritev. Rekli so: »Naš bog nam je dal v roke Samsona, našega sovražnika.« 24 Ljudstvo ga je videlo in hvalili so svojega boga, kajti rekli so: »Naš bog nam je dal v roke našega sovražnika; njega, ki je pustošil našo deželo in ki nam je pomnožil število pobitih.« (Sodniki 16,23-34 SSP)

God has allowed Samson to be captured because there is a war. There isn’t just a battle between Israel and Philistia over land. There is a divine war – God is at war against Dagon, the Philistine god. In verses 23-24 the Philistines credit their god for capturing Samson. Is Dagon more powerful than Yahweh? Let’s keep that question in the back of our minds as we read on.

Ko so bili tako dobre volje, so rekli: »Pokličite Samsona, da nam bo rajal.« Tedaj so poklicali Samsona iz ječe, da je rajal pred njimi. Postavili so ga med stebrovje, 26 Samson pa je rekel dečku, ki ga je vodil za njegovo roko: »Pusti me, da se dotaknem stebrov, na katerih sloni hiša, in se oprem nanje.« 27 Hiša pa je bila polna mož in žena. Bili so tam tudi vsi filistejski knezi in na strehi je bilo kakih tri tisoč mož in žena, ki so gledali Samsonovo rajanje. 
28 Samson pa je zaklical h GOSPODU in rekel: »Gospod BOG, spomni se me, prosim, in mi samo še tokrat nakloni svojo moč. O Bog, naj se maščujem nad Filistejci vsaj za eno od svojih očes.« 29 In Samson je zgrabil oba središčna stebra, na katerih je slonela hiša, se oprl nanju, na enega s svojo desnico in na drugega s svojo levico. 30 In Samson je rekel: »Naj umre moja duša s Filistejci!« Oprl se je z vso močjo in hiša je padla na kneze in na vse ljudstvo, ki je bilo v njej. Mrtvih, ki jih je usmrtil pri svoji smrti, je bilo več kakor teh, ki jih je usmrtil, dokler je bil še živ. 31 Nato so prišli njegovi bratje in vsa hiša njegovega očeta. Dvignili so ga in odnesli ter ga pokopali med Coro in Eštaólom v grobnico njegovega očeta Manóaha. 
Izraelu je sodil dvajset let. (Sodniki 16,25-31 SSP)

Well as Samson is led to the temple pillars before the Philistines, God is going to show who is ultimately in control. Samson knows it – he prays for Yahweh to return his strength to him in verse 28. He knows his strength is from God and seeks revenge for being humiliated. He does get revenge for he kills all those in the crowded temple.

Yet something bigger is happening. In this event we see God delivering Israel from the Philistine threat as he had planned from the beginning. Let me just remind you of something we were told before Samson’s birth in Judges 13:5:

Na njegovo glavo ne bo prišla britev, kajti deček bo Božji nazirec od materinega telesa. On bo začel reševati Izraela iz rok Filistejcev. (Sodniki 13,5 SSP)
Samson has began the deliverance of Israel from the Philistines. God has appointed Samson to this task as Judges 13:7 says,

kajti deček bo Božji nazirec od materinega telesa do dneva svoje smrti (Sodniki 13,7 SSP)
God is dealing with the Philistine threat. And when God deals with the Philistines by giving Samson the strength to push down those pillars, he is also dealing with their god. In that temple were all the rulers of the Philistines, three thousand people were on the roof, let alone else in that temple, and there was one god – Dagon. When Samson brings down that temple, he not only kills all those people, but God wins ultimate victory by destroying their god Dagon as well.

So what do we learn about faith from Samson?

As you can see, in the Samson story there is a lot more happening than may initially meet the eye. So what are we suppose to learn from this story? There are several things that we can learn about God from this story. Yahweh is victorious over all his enemies. Both the Philistines and their god were destroyed. As we know from the cycle described in Judges 2, it is both the people and their gods which are a constant problem for Israel. God fights for the loyalty of Israel and wins.

And we can see that despite Samson’s sin, God works powerfully through the most unlikely people. Samson is no role model for Israelite godliness or holiness at all. As the whole Samson story unfolds, he does everything that a Nazirite shouldn’t do. 

In fact, in many ways, Samson’s life personifies the whole story of Israel. They were a people chosen by God for a purpose, that is, to be holy (Exodus 19:6). Samson went off after foreign women, as Israel went off after foreign gods. As Samson cried to Yahweh in his time of distress, so too Israel does. And finally, as Samson had to be blinded and given over to the bitter pain of Gaza before he came to terms with his destiny, so too would Israel have to be given over to bitter suffering in exile in Babylon. Samson’s life mirrors Israel’s life.

So is Samson the man of faith that the writer of Hebrews commends to us? For a start, it would seem obvious to say it, but it must be said. Samson’s reckless lifestyle is not a model of working out our faith with fear and trembling (Flp 2,12). Rather his lifestyle and Israel’s continuous failures shows us the reality of sin. Almost everything Samson does is a rejection of God and his holy law. Samson shows us that we will never live up to God’s holy standards.

Yet he does actually show is faith. Faith, as the writer to the Hebrews tells us, is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 RSV). To exercise faith is to refocus your ultimate confidence in unseen realities, especially the God who created the world by his word (Heb 11:2) and who has spoken to us in his Son (Heb 1:2). So this story of Samson shows us God, who is worthy of our trust. He uses the weak and powerless Samson to save his people and conquer the gods of the nations. God is trustworthy.

Furthermore, Samson shows us this faith, when he calls on God for life-giving water (15:18-19) and when he calls on God for strength (16:30). On both these occasions he shows us his awareness that a greater reality stands behind these events. And God grants him his request. Samson throws himself totally on God at these times and finds God is faithful. Samson is a man of faith – he trusts God’s ability to save.

This story also points us powerfully towards the gospel of Jesus Christ. You may have noticed this as you read through the Samson story. Overall we’re given a very powerful picture of a saviour. Here is a figure raised up by Yahweh to save his people. His birth is announced beforehand by an angel. His conception is miraculous. He is rejected by his own people. Its leaders bind him and hand him over to their pagan overlords. HHis saving work is consummated in his death, a death which he brings down Dagon and lays the foundation for deliverance to be more fully manifested in the future.

Funnily enough, in the figure of Samson we are given possibly the most clear picture than anywhere else, of the shape of things to come. Samson is not just an example of faith for us, but he is a forerunner of our greatest Saviour of all, the Lord Jesus Christ. And so it is no surprise that this is exactly the connection that the writer of Hebrews makes, pointing us to Jesus Christ as the foundation of the faith as expressed by the Old Testament heroes like Samson:

Ker nas torej obdaja tako velik oblak pričevalcev, tudi mi odstranimo vsakršno breme in greh, ki nas zlahka prevzame, ter vztrajno tecimo v tekmi, ki nas čaka. 2 Uprimo oči v Jezusa, začetnika in dopolnitelja vere. On je zaradi veselja, ki ga je čakalo, pretrpel križ, preziral sramoto in sédel na desnico Božjega prestola. (Pismo Hebrejcem 12,1-2 SSP)

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