Thursday, April 6, 2017

Samson: God's Unjust Judge: Part 5

Samson is now a prisoner.  The phrase “how far the mighty have fallen,” is appropriate here.  Samson who once was God’s-chosen, Nazirite judge of Israel is now relegated to grinding grain in a Philistine prison.  Some might consider this justice.  After all, Samson was not a very good judge.  He was extremely self-centered.  He broke his Nazirite vow on numerous occasions.  He handled dead bodies.  He engaged in parties where alcohol was present.  He visited prostitutes.  He welcomed violence and rather enjoyed toying with the Philistine leaders and others.  Not too many people would consider these actions godly.

And his arrogance and sexual appetite finally got the best of him.  He revealed to Delilah the secret of his strength, she arranged to have his hair cut, and the Lord left Samson.  This is an important sequence of events to remember, because, as we pondered last time, the Lord didn’t leave Samson when he broke portions of his Nazirite vow early in the story.  Why did he leave after Samson’s hair was cut?  It may just be that it was because Samson thought he deserved his power and strength.  It may just be because Samson had fully turned away from the Lord, and the Lord had to humble him to bring him back into a fuller relationship with Him.  Sometimes, the Lord must break us to remake us.

And our lesson starts with Samson being ultimately humiliated.  The Philistines are celebrating a festival to their false god–Dagon.  In the midst of their revelry, they decide to humiliate Samson even further.  They have him dragged out to the festival that he might entertain them.  But catch their reason for doing so.  They don’t just want to make fun of Samson.  They begin with these words, “Our god has given Samson our enemy into our hand.’ 24When the people saw him, they praised their god; for they said, ‘Our god has given our enemy into our hand, the ravager of our country, who has killed many of us.”  You see, this story is not simply a battle between Samson and the Philistines.  It’s really a battle between God and all the false gods.  It’s a battle between God and Dagon.  It’s a battle between God and self-centeredness.  It’s a battle between God and lust.  It’s a battle between God and arrogance.  The Philistines believe that they have won.  The Philistines believe that victory has been achieved, and they are the ones who now suffer from arrogance and over-confidence.

How so?  At the end of last week’s lesson, the Bible records that Samson’s hair began to grow.  Now, think about this.  If it was revealed to you that the secret to your enemy’s strength was that his hair had never been cut, and you managed to cut it and subdue your enemy, would you allow his hair to ever grow back?  No.  Not if you were worried that he might regain his strength and come after you again.  You would keep his head balder than bald.  But the Philistines didn’t.  They were sure and confident in their victory.  They were now the arrogant ones.  They were now the ones who were sure of themselves and were reveling in their victory.  Their god had been victorious.  There was nothing more to worry about.

But their arrogance would come back to haunt them–just as Samson’s arrogance got the best of him.  Samson was brought out before the Philistines, and he asked one of the attendants, “Let me feel the pillars on which the house rests, so that I may lean against them.”  Samson had a thought growing in his head–one last thought of defeating his enemies.

The attendant put Samson’s hands on the pillars, and Samson prays.  “Lord God, remember me and strengthen me only this once, O God, so that with this one act of revenge I may pay back the Philistines for my two eyes.”

For perhaps the first time, he is exercising faith.  Some commentators have argued that the request of verse 28 is simply a vengeful one–and it is true that there is no mention here of rescuing Israel, only of revenge for Samson’s eyes.  But against this, first, there is a new-found humility here.  Samson recognizes that the God of Israel is sovereign–remember he is standing in the temple of the god whose followers he has spent his adult life sleeping with.  Further, Samson know not only that God is his God, but also that he is the saving, covenantal, relational God of his people, Israel.  This is a very different Samson to the one who presumed “his” strength, and who demanded that God give him water without thanking him for his power.
And second, Hebrews 11:32-34 says that Samson was a man of faith, and surely this is the only place in the story where it could be said that Samson exercised faith!  Most interesting is the reference in Hebrews 11:34: “they were made strong out of weakness.”  This is a great insight.  Samson had been humbled into the dust and had seen his weakness.  Thus, this last request is a departure from his previous feats of strength.  In...[verse 28], Samson first asks: “Remember me,” which is a humble request for attention.  He knows he is quite forgettable, and that God has every right to ignore him.  Second, he asks: “Strengthen me just once more.”  Here (at last) is an acknowledgment of his dependence on God’s grace.  Samson’s real temptation had been to believe that we are blessed by God because of something great and deserving in us–complacently to see what he had been given by grace as rightfully his, to use as he wished.  That, rather than Delilah, was his real sin!  It is so hard to remember that we do what we do only because of God’s grace, and that God’s grace is given so that we might do what is pleasing to him and in the service of his people.  (Keller: Judges for You.)

And God’s grace is indeed poured out on Samson one more time.  The power of the Lord comes over him, and he pushes on the temple pillars–and the temple comes crashing to the ground.  Samson prays that he might perish with his enemies, and that is exactly what happens.  In his death, Samson is victorious.

The most important moment of Samson’s life is his death.  The most faithful event of his life is the manner of his death.  And the most triumphant episode of his life is his death, as he at last, and at the last, performs the role of beginning to rescue God’s people that God had explained to his mother when his angel announced Samson’s miraculous birth.  (Keller, Judges for You)

It is important to recognize that Samson did not fully defeat the Philistines by his actions: that would be left up to King David later in Scripture.  It is also important to recognize that Samson’s downfall was brought about by his disobedience.  Both of these things show that Samson is a very, very flawed hero–a very, very flawed person of faith.

But in many ways, Samson’s end is a picture, a shadow of Jesus’ death.  Tracing it allows us to grasp more deeply what the cross is about, and to worship the one who died for us.  First, both Samson and Jesus were betrayed by someone who had acted as a friend–Delilah, and Judas.  (Judas was, of course, not as close to Jesus as Delilah to Samson–but the One he betrayed was far purer and more deserving of loyalty than Samson.)  Both were handed over to the Gentile oppressors.  Both were tortured and chained, and put on public display to be mocked.  Both were asked to perform (though Jesus, unlike Samson, refused.)  Both died with arms outstretched.
And both appeared completely struck down by their enemies, yet both in their death crushed their enemy–Samson, the Philistines and Dagon; Jesus, the ultimate enemy, Satan.  As Samson brought the temple crashing down around Dagon and his followers, the spiritual power and apparent triumph of Dagon was reversed.  Samson brought about permanent alienation between cultures, so that Israel would become distinct, no longer unknowingly and inevitably under the Philistine’s power.
On the cross, Jesus brought the power of Satan to nothing, disarming him.  How did the cross achieve this?  It took away the penalty for our idolatry–death–so that Satan could no longer successfully prosecute God’s people.  And it took away the power of sin in our lives, enabling the Spirit to live in us to break the lure of idols in our hearts.  Samson prefigures Jesus’ triumph, at the cost of his own death, over Satan.  As Samson killed many as he died, so it took the death of Jesus to “kill” Satan–the unseen power of idolatry, and the power of death itself...
In short, we have in Samson, more than any of the other judges, the pattern of “the victorious defeat.”  Rejected, beaten, chained, all alone, and finally dying under an avalanche of his enemies, Samson triumphed.  God delivered his people through the victorious defeat of one Savior.  David Jackman writes: “[The Samson narrative] begins with a strong man who is revealed to be weak, but it ends with a weak man who is stronger than ever he was before.”  (Judges, Ruth, page 243)
It is the gospel!  Jesus became weak to become strong.  But there is, of course, one last, crucial difference between Samson and Christ.  With Samson’s burial, his rule was over.  His story was finished.  But with Jesus’ burial, in many ways the story had only just begun.  He rules beyond the grave, not just before it.  The One who became weak to save will rule in strength and power eternally.
Becoming and continuing as a Christian is about the same pattern–becoming weak to become strong.  Only those who admit they are unrighteous receive the righteousness of Christ.  Only those who know their life and strength are theirs purely because of grace are not living in the grip of fear, boredom, and despondency.  Only those who know their own weakness are able to know God-given inner strength; the strength which enables us to avoid the pitfalls of Samson’s life: pride, lust, anger, vengefulness, and complacency.  (Keller, Judges for You)

Only when we admit that we need a Savior–that we are weak but He is strong, do we come to the place where we find hope.  For we arrive at the foot of the cross.  We arrive at the place where we look up at the One who died on our behalf when we were weak.  We see Christ crucified, and we see that He hung there for us.  And he whispers in his pain and agony.  He looks deeply into our eyes and says, “Be patient for I am dying for you. I am dying to win your heart, and soon you will see the victory.  Soon you will see the power that I will have work and live in you even in your weakness.  For today, it is the cross, but in three days, I will rise.  And if you trust in me instead of yourself; if you trust in my grace, you will rise as well.”  May we admit our weakness and trust in Jesus’ strength.  Amen.

No comments: