Samson - Saint and Sinner
THE DANGER OF ACTING IN HUMAN WISDOM AND STRENGTH
'The Philistines went up and camped in Judah, spreading our near Lehi. The men of Judah asked, "Why have you come to fight us?"
"We have come to take Samson prisoner," they answered, "to do to him as he did to us."
Then three thousand men from Judah went down to the cave in the rock of Etam and said to Samson, "Don't you realise that the Philistines are rulers over us? What have you done to us?"
He answered, "I merely did to them what they did to me."
They said to him, "We've come to tie you up and hand you over to the Philistines."
Samson said, "Swear to me that you won't kill me yourselves."
"Agreed" they answered. "We will only tie you up and hand you over to them. We will not kill you." So they bound him with two new ropes and led him up from the rock.
As he approached Lehi, the Philistines came towards him shouting. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power. The ropes on his arms became like charred flax, and the bindings dropped from his hands. Finding a fresh jaw-bone of a donkey, he grabbed it and struck down a thousand men.'
IT is verse nine of Judges 15 which introduces this section. It leads us into all that follows. The full Scripture has been printed at the commencement of this chapter for us to see the results of Samson's actions. The passage shows us the consequences of, and what followed from, Samson's action in the first part of the Judges 15, which we looked at in the previous chapter.
"The Philistines", we read in verse 9, "went up and camped in Judah, spreading out near Lehi." This is the result of Samson's actions after his wife was taken from him.
Samson made a decision to do something. He did it without thought or consideration. It was to go and visit his wife whom he had left and neglected since the unfortunate episode of her telling the answer to his riddle at the time of his marriage. This decision brought about repercussions, because when he got to his wife and saw that she had been taken from him in rather a strange and not very helpful way, he reacted in anger. He reacted in his own way, thinking he was punishing the Philistines, but he acted without consulting the Lord or being moved by God. Having done that he finds that this is the result, that the Philistines went up and camped in Judah, spreading out near Lehi.
This incident relates to the whole matter of how we do things in church life and our Christian pilgrimage. What we have before us in this chapter in Judges is the whole question which every believer and every church needs to have before them always, and it is this, 'what is the will of God?'
This must always be our question and our concern in every situation, whether big or small. The history here is of importance as we see what happened as a result of Samson's actions, and in relationship to what the passage reveals to us concerning the will of God. We established in the last study in this book, that Samson, in his actions in the first part of Judges 15, was doing his own thing without seeking to know and to do God's will. He decided to do what he wanted to do and hadn't actually consulted God.
Samson acted on his own when he decided to seek to return to his wife. We came to that conclusion for two reasons. One was that there is no indication in the first part of Judges 15 that the Spirit of God came upon him, and it is very noticeable that Samson speaks in the first person - 'I' decided to do this, 'I' decided to do that. Secondly, unlike the previous action in Judges 14, and what follows later in Judges 15, where the Spirit of God does again come upon Samson, in this case there is an adverse reaction to what he did. The Philistines took action against Samson and Israel, where is other cases they did not. The consequences were upsetting; and so it is plain that Samson had decided to do something in his own wisdom and in his own strength. Now this is a constant problem in the spiritual life.
The danger of acting in human wisdom and strength needs to be pressed home. It is a very important thing for us to consider as Christians at all times. We give lip service to it, but I am not so sure that we see the importance of it, and the dangers we are prone to, when we fail to see the will of God. I want emphasise that human nature is very prone to the folly which Samson showed here, of acting in his own strength and wisdom.
I am not pretending that this is an easy thing, or that it is easy to discern the will of God. Many things are good and wise, in and of themselves. Many things seem to be very appropriate, and very applicable to a situation, whether we are thinking of ourselves, or whether we are thinking of the corporate church. Because of this it is often very difficult to know whether it is God leading us or whether it is ourselves suggesting plans which are products of our minds. It is not easy, therefore, to know the will of God, or even to ask to know the will of God. We can pray, but how do we actually hear what God is really saying.
It is important that we should be very humble all the time, distrusting our own wisdom. The apostle Paul's words in Philippians 3:3 are very applicable. St. Paul describes the Christian in these words. "For it is we who are the circumcision" - that is who are the true Christians - "who worship by the Spirit of God", that is we have a spiritual worship. Our worship is motivated by the Spirit of God in our lives - "And glory in Christ Jesus" that is the direction of all our aspirations and love and worship. Then, notice this, "and who put no confidence in the flesh."
In our lives, and in our church life, God is continually teaching the necessity of that. Sometimes he allows us to do things by our own initiative so that we fall flat on our face. From this experience we learn the hard way, because we don't learn in any other way.
It is our proneness in all our meetings and activities to put confidence in the flesh. We have and idea, and we ask God to bless our idea. But that is not the right way to go about it. The idea must come from God and then in one sense we don't have to ask him to bless it, because he will.
When we are gripped by something that we want to do or think is good, it is very hard to be told that we must not do it. What we do is this. We have an idea, and then we pray to God and say "Lord, bless this idea!"
How often do we begin the day with holy fear? Holy fear, with regard to ourselves and our abilities, is very necessary, because of our proneness to have confidence in ourselves, and because confidence in ourselves more often than not prevents us enquiring into the will of God for each day. Most of our days are fairly ordinary and well mapped out and it may not seem necessary to enquire concerning God's will. We get up in the morning. We wash and clean our teeth. We have our breakfast. We go to work, or we clean the house or we do the shopping, or we come to some activity in our church or engage in whatever activity is usual for that day. But if there is a sort of pattern to the day, still we do not know what is going to happen in the day, and what decisions we may have to make, or what situation may encompass us. Therefore, at the beginning of day, we need to have committed the day to God and to say, "Lord, I have no confidence in myself, but I want to do your will, so in every step of the day, when each step comes along, keep me walking in the pathway of your will."
This does not mean to say that we should be crawling along with our heads down saying, "I'm a wimp! I'm a wimp". That is not so. We have gifts and abilities which we affirm, but nonetheless we put our confidence in God and not in ourselves.
How often do we pray to be in God's will, and then act as if we have never prayed the prayer. I'm think of church council meetings. This is a very difficult area. A minister knows this better than most. We start such a meeting with prayer. We may have as much as an half-an-hour of prayer, and we are asking that God may be in our meeting making his will known, but as soon as we get into the business, what actually governs our thinking?
If we have the agenda before us, and as we come to the agenda, we pray to be in God's will, but all the time we have made up our minds what we are actually going to say, and what we want in that particular matter on the agenda, before the meeting ever started. By the time we have begun to discuss, any thought of God's will has flown out of the window. If the debate is a bit heated, we forget all about God's will. It is our thing that we think is important and which we press. We all do it. The whole matter is very fraught and very difficult, and we need to be gracious to each other as we need to be humble before God.
How often is our trust in ourselves and in our wisdom and in our strength, and not in the Lord. We feel we know how to do things. We can see that this is what is needing to be done, and because we feel we can do something and we have something planned, then we forget about God and our need to walk in his ways. However good a thing is, if it is not God's will then, as Samson found, there will be difficulties.
In Samson's case his difficulties were extremely serious. His own people came in strength against him. He had turned all Israel against himself by his wilful action. He was being handed over to the enemy, with the whole of his life and ministry in jeopardy. Wilful action can bring terrible results sometimes. Results which were never contemplated and never meant.
Samson's action here is an illustration of how our own actions, not evil or bad in and of themselves, but because they are not prompted by God, do bring problems. He acted on impulse. He acted with the desire and with the motivation of the moment. In each step of this part of his history he did that, and the problems came. We think what we do is in the will of God, when it is not really God's will, but rather our own thinking.
Let us look at the passage and see what we are able to draw out of it. As I look at the passage I would say this. When we go about things in our own will and not in God's, it invariably brings us into conflict. Here the conflict was first with the world represented by the Philistines; and secondly it was with what you could say were the church members represented by the Israelites. The Israelites, Samson's own people, also had turned against him. He found himself in conflict and in difficulty; and the majority of his countrymen, who up to that point had been pleased that he had been working on their behalf, now turn positively against him. They turned against him because they were threatened. They saw that Samson's action had brought danger to them.
What happens when we work in our own strength? As Samson found, the Lord does not go before us. There is that collect which we pray in the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England where we ask the Lord to 'prevent us'. I use that old word because we will remember it better because it is unusual. It comes from a Latin route and means 'go before'. We must have the Lord going before us, smoothing the way and showing the way, otherwise we shall be in trouble.
When Samson acted in the previous chapter the Lord had gone before, and the consequences were good. When God was with him, he acted with much power and devastation as far as the Philistines were concerned, but there were no adverse consequences. We must have God going before us to smooth the way, and we need, as the collect goes on to pray, that the Lord will also follow us. We need God's grace to follow us, showing us, each step of the way, what we must do. We cannot succeed in our Christian lives, nor in church life, unless God is doing that for us. We need his grace. We need his strength. We need his wisdom. We need him to do for us with his power what we have not power or wisdom to do for ourselves.
Samson found that having gone forward in his own strength, God's grace was not there. Firstly, he found that the Philistines came in strength against him. Not only was he in danger, but the people he was trying to help were in danger. A little action, which was in actual fact just simply a personal matter concerning himself and his wife, brought all this trouble and conflict upon himself and upon Israel.
This is so true of much of our human action. It brings trouble and opposition and dangers in the way, and this trouble is not confined to ourselves, but very often falls on others as well. Our actions and their consequences can never be purely confined to ourselves.
Samson also found that his own people were not ready to support him, but rather that they were ready to betray him and hand him over to the Philistines, in order to avoid the consequences of Samson's action. When we start something we don't know the results and ramifications which will necessarily follow. That is why it is so important to be in God's will and not in our own will. When we are in God's will, the future is in his hands, and we can be sure that he will sort it out, and has already planned the details. If we go in our own strength, anything may happen? Just as Samson had no power of himself to make things better, so we have no power to make things better, once they have got out of hand.
When oppositions and difficulties come in the work of God we should actually stop and say, 'What is the will of God', but we don't always do that. When oppositions and difficulties are there in the work of God, what questions should we ask? We should ask the question - why is the way difficult? And the question also needs to be asked, 'Have I strayed from God's will?'
Now it may not be that we have strayed from God's will just because things happen to be difficult. This needs to be said. This passage does not illustrate something that is all cut and dried. It shows the consequences of doing something in our own strength, but just because the results which follow an action may be bad, it does not necessarily follow that when difficulties do arise, that we are necessarily out of God's will. However, we need to ask the question 'Are the difficulties because we are out of God's will or not? or "Have we discerned the will of God correctly?'
In the Christian life we can actually never expect that the way will be easy, and if we are walking in God's will, we will know the action of Satan as he seeks to upset the work of God, and so cause opposition. This is why the Christian life is so difficult in this respect. The question is 'Is the difficulty Satan's action opposing God's will, or is it God not going before us, because we are in our will and not his?' We need to ask the question. We need to face it. We need to humble ourselves before God in such a situation.
Invariably in God's work the test is that, if it is God's will, we shall find in some measure the way prepared before us. When God sent Jesus into the world he sent John the Baptist to prepare the way for Jesus.
Lastly, when we act in our own wisdom we will find we will lose the support and love and goodwill of those we are seeking to serve. Here again it is a difficult thing. Samson experienced this antagonism form his own people. His own people turned away from him, and they were willing to get rid of him, because of the problems caused by Samson's actions. The cause was that his action had not been in the will of God.
Now when people begin to leave a church, or leave an activity, we need to ask ourselves, 'Are we working according to God's will?' Again it is not easy to discern the situation rightly, because people leave and forsake things for other reasons. It may be that what we are doing is God's will, and people who are not ready for God's will find it a little bit disturbing to be in that situation. Rather than submit to God's will, they will run away from the church activity, and leave. But on the other hand, if there is opposition it may be because we have strayed form the will of God, and we need to ask ourselves 'Have we discerned God's will in this matter rightly?'
I have never found this an easy thing. I have heard people describing the ministry of another minister, and they have said that he had to empty the church before he filled it. I have never been able to go along with that. I think that is rather an arrogance. Isn't it surely the business of the minister to carry the people with him, and win them. If God is going before you, isn't it his purpose that these people should be brought to God and to Christ, and not chased away.
There will always be one or two in such situations, perhaps, who will fall by the way side and leave, but if you have to empty the church before you fill it, I don't think that can possibly be the right way. People leaving the church in large numbers is much more likely to be the fault of the ministry not being in the will of God.
If we have discerned God's will, he will smooth the way, and if the way is not being smoothed, then we need to ask questions. We are sensitive people. It may be that when things go wrong and we face rejection, we take it personally, when really it is all to do with being in God's will. Samson found the people ready to forsake him. It was not because they rejected him, or disliked him. The problem was that he had acted outside the will of God, and this had brought trouble upon them. Once Samson was back in God's will the support of the people returned.
If there is one lesson that this part of Samson's life presses upon us, it is this. We must always be seeking to know the will of God, and to live in that will.