Samson - Saint and Sinner
GOD'S PURPOSE AND PREPARATION OF SAMSON ACHIEVED
"Samson led (judged) Israel for twenty years in the days of the Philistines"
We come to the last verse of chapter 15 of the book of Judges. This is just a short verse - verse 20. I guess that when we have read the story of Samson, as no doubt we have, this verse is lost and forgotten and not noticed, but it is a very dynamic verse, and one which opens up the magnificence of God, and the nature of his work of grace in our hearts, which is not always as pleasant as we would like, but always good, and always fruitful.
"Samson led Israel for twenty years in the days of the Philistines." The other translation is that Samson 'judged' Israel, and for twenty long years. This is a great demonstration of the greatness of God's achievements and the unfailing nature of his plans.
You remember the history as we have heard it so far. At the beginning we found Israel in a terrible state of submission under the Philistines, dominated by them and cruelly persecuted. Then God, as it were right out of the blue, determined of his goodness to relieve that suffering. So he gives a child to a couple who had got beyond the age of child bearing. A man called Manoah and his wife. That child was Samson. Samson is declared at his birth to be God's deliverer for Israel. He is set apart under a Nazarite vow.
Then we see him grown to manhood and looking for a wife amongst the Philistines. When we questioned that, because it was contrary to the instructions God had given to the Israelites about whom they should marry, we found that in some way God had told Samson that this was the right thing to do, because God had purposed to make the first move in confrontation with the Philistines through this marriage. So we find Samson going to Timnah and seeking this bride. Then through the means of a riddle deceitfully solved, we found Samson had his first action against the Philistines. The Spirit of the Lord comes upon him, and he strikes the Philistines. This we understood, not only as God's purpose of deliverance for Israel, but also as part of God's judgement upon the Philistines for their oppression of Israel.
Then in these last few chapters, we have been looking at Judges chapter 15, where we have found Samson a very ordinary man. He decides to seek his wife again even though God did not seem to direct Samson to return to his wife. He returns to seek her and we see he found her given to someone else. In his anger he acts in his own strength and wisdom, and with 300 foxes tied in pairs he burns the fields, vineyards and olive groves of the Philistines.
This provoked the Philistines. Here we saw he was not acting by God's direction or in God's power, and because of this Samson experiences retaliation from the Philistines, of which there was none when God was directing him. Then Samson found himself in a hopeless situation. His own people were against him. They came to take him and hand him over to the Philistines, because they feared retaliation from the Philistines after Samson had not only burnt their fields, but killed many of them for the cruel murder of Samson's wife and father-in-law. Samson who saw he had no help and was alone, allows himself to be bound and handed over to the Philistines.
At this point humanly speaking he had come to the end of his life as he had acted in his own strength, but then God stepped in. The Spirit of the Lord came upon Samson again and he worked a mighty victory. He was one man against around 3000 Philistines, and he was able, with a simple weapon, to defeat them, striking down in the battle a thousand of the Philistines.
Even though it was plain in the battle that the power for victory was all from God, we found Samson taking the glory to himself. He says, 'I' have struck these men down, 'I' have killed them. So God brought him to the point of understanding of his own weakness and his impotence in himself by returning him to the natural strength of an ordinary man. The Spirit of God departed from him. He was left thirsty, exhausted, and in the last chapter we saw how Samson had learnt the place of blessing. The place where God meets with his people, which is the place where we are willing to acknowledge that God alone is our strength, and that we of ourselves are weak and sinful.
In that place of humility and self realisation, - the place where Samson really understood God as the God of all the earth, whose plans are sovereign, whose strength is the only strength he had, in whom alone he could stand, who deals with his people in grace, - in this place Samson found God blessing him. His thirst was quenched by supernatural means as a rock was made to open up and water to come out.
We understood there that this is a picture, that when we are brought to that place of humbleness before God, God pours out his Spirit upon us.
I have gone to some length in going over the story of Samson because it is important for us to have it all in our minds as we seek to appreciate the wonderful message of this Scripture verse before us.
God reveals himself in his word, and searches the heart. Sometimes this is not always a comforting experience in the sense that we are brought to see things about ourselves, and the world, and God which we did not see before and which are searching and convicting, but they are always spiritual, always life giving, and they bring us into the place of blessing.
It is no accident that this verse we are considering in this chapter - "Samson led Israel for twenty years in the days of the Philistines" - follows at this point in Samson's life. This verse marks the realisation of God's purpose for Israel, his purpose of deliverance in and through Samson. God has brought Samson through all these experiences to this point so that he now, because he has been taught these things, is fit to judge Israel. He has been brought to this situation by the plan and purpose of God.
I would like you to notice first of all what God has achieved. Let us go back to verse 5 of Judges chapter 13, where we read about the birth of Samson and how he was set apart for God under the Nazarite vow. We are told there that Samson would begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines. That was God's purpose. It was a sovereign act of God. God, out of no other motive than his unmerited favour and love and mercy, determined at this time to give deliverance to Israel from the afflictions under which they were suffering.
At this time His deliverance was not to be a complete deliverance. It wasn't to be permanent, but it was nonetheless real for the time it was given. It was a relief in the situation. Israel had not asked for it. They had not humbled themselves under the hand of God. Verse 1 of Judges 13 brings that fact out - "Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, so the Lord delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years." They had not learnt that fact. They did not seem to realise it. They had not learnt from it and turned to God. They had not repented, nor done anything to move towards God. God in his infinite goodness and mercy determined to bless them.
God had no reason, in the light of Israel's attitude, to give this blessing. The reason was purely in himself and in his grace. Israel had not heeded God's dealings with them in any way. Now at this point we have reached in Samson's life God had achieved this deliverance, and made it last for twenty years
Samson also was selected by God. Samson is a mighty achievement of God. An achievement again of God's grace, of God's goodness and mercy, and the effectiveness of his divine purpose in people. Samson was chosen by God before he was born. He was given to a couple who, humanly speaking, were beyond the possibility of having children. They were sterile we are told, that is the wife was sterile and could not have children, but God gave them this child, Samson. Now Samson was not selected by God because of any merit or particular quality foreseen or later achieved. As we have looked at the life of Samson we have seen that in himself he was not special, and that when he was doing things by himself he was a failure. It was only when the Spirit of the Lord came upon him that he worked mighty wonders.
There was nothing in Samson which would be a reason that God should choose him as the deliverer for Israel. It was God who chose someone who was quite ordinary in and of himself. He was given spiritual strength by God, and that was God's endowment upon him, but of himself we have seen that his character was very much dominated by human weakness in mind and body. He wasn't very wise, and he was someone driven by his passions, like most of us. Yet now, being what he was in all his weakness, human failing and sin, God had brought him to the place that He could use him, and made him a judge in Israel for twenty years. That is a tremendous miraculous achievement of God. An achievement to bring this deliverance; an achievement which changed a person.
Note the greatness of the achievement. We pass over this little verse, but for twenty years Samson was made fit to judge, and God kept Israel in peace and safety. It is absolutely magnificent. At this point God has subdued the Philistines, who were far more numerous and strong and dominating than all Israel. Even though the Philistines were the occupying rulers of the land, God had brought them to fear Samson. They had been brought to this condition by God. God had brought about this condition in them by the action he had brought about in Samson. Samson was just one man. There was no one else in Israel who would support Samson. Samson was totally on his own in his work as judge and deliverer. Israel did not support him, but God had brought him to this place where the Philistines feared him, so that while he took up the cause of the people of God, the Philistines dared not question his acts, and left Israel in peace and security.
Now that is amazing! For twenty whole years God maintained Samson in that position. Can you imagine it happening in any normal sense or situation. When we come to the next chapter in Judges - although there are difficult things there - we find that the Philistines still feared Samson, and that after twenty years. This was God's doing. It is totally unaccountable in any human sense. This is what God achieved in grace for his people.
Then there was this achievement in Samson. Here was a man of like passion with us. Foolish, lacking in wisdom, driven by his passions. It is one of the businesses of grace to bring us to that point when we know how weak our wills are, and that we are not actually motivated by our reason. The will is not moved and governed by our reason, but by our passions. We are simply tossed about by the emotions that are within us, and the desires which possess us. Yet God brought Samson to the place of understanding about these things in himself, and to the place of humility, and to the place of dependence upon God. He learnt that God was his strength
In all these things it is not just the knowledge which we have in an academic way, it was driven into Samson by the fact of his experience, that God was his strength, and that he himself was without strength.
He learnt also that all things were possible in God's will and in God's power. How could it be otherwise when he had been brought to this point, and when to his amazement all the Philistines looked up to him and feared him, and that he could bring peace to the people he belonged to. He learnt this important thing which was essential if he was to maintain his trust and dependence upon God. He learnt himself to be weak and useless unless he humbly walked with his God.
Now if you have learnt anything about yourself and about people as you have talked to them, been friends with them, or ministered to them, isn't it this that it is so very difficult for us to learn these things. But Samson learnt them, and it was God's doing. God kept him like that for twenty whole years in order to fulfil His purpose.
Now there are some lessons here which we can learn for our own Christian life today, and for the work of God in his church.
Firstly, God acts sovereignly in grace. He does not act according to our deservings. Now we all know this, but there is so much deeper understanding of it to be gained, and God's action in Israel and in Samson's life can deepen our understanding of God's grace. God taught Samson through his life his sovereign grace towards him.
As we look at Samson we see that he was brought to a state of humiliation where he saw himself as he had never seen himself before. It is not so much that he knew he had sinned and did wrong things, but that God made him see the wretchedness of himself in his fallen humanity, and that of himself he was deserving of nothing. Hopeless and wretched, lost and blind.
Now in some sense people see this as negative. One of the wonderful things about this experience, though it is not a pleasant experience necessarily though good for us, is that when God humbles in this way, and shows our dependence on grace, he does it secretly. It is secret to us. Other people, strangely enough, see in us things which we cannot understand that they should see. God has shown us ourselves and the sin and failing that is there, but God does not want to crush us, so he builds us up in other peoples eyes.
In the eyes of God we know what we are really like, and know ourselves completely dependent on God's grace. This is not always a pleasant experience, but when we see it, how wonderful is this grace of our God towards us. How wondrous is this gracious God who can look upon us as we now see ourselves to be, and love us with and everlasting love, as he loved Samson. A love which was there before the foundation of the world. Even though he knows exactly what we are like, loves us gratuitously with a love that will never fail, and will bring us one day to the place where all that wretchedness will be a thing of the past and we shall be conformed to the image of Jesus.
Then secondly, a lesson which is very comforting as we think of our human weakness and the tasks before the church, and the problems in the world. When God purposes to act he cannot fail. This is the message of the Bible. This incident concerning Samson was all important at the time, and is very small in the whole total of history, but it encapsulates this truth that God has a plan, and his plan cannot fail. Here is all the might of the world against God and his people. God determined to do something in his people, who are such useless and failing instruments, and he accomplishes it.
We go forward with our vaunted pride, with the gifts and so on that we have, and our ability, and we think that this is of some worth and power. It is of worth. We should not denigrate the gifts God has given us, but as far God is concerned and the great forces of evil there are in the spiritual realm, we are like a bag of worm riddled wood and sticks. Yet God in his plan cannot fail, and he is not overcome or thwarted by the folly and sin and impotence of Christians. His plans cannot and are not upset. That is the message of this life of Samson.
Then thirdly, God chooses sovereignly whom he will use, and when he does he fits them for the task. Nor does he choose people - we see here in the history of Samson - because they are better or more glorious or cleverer than other people. In Corinthians, Paul says that God chooses the foolish things of this world to confound the wise. How well this is illustrated in the person of Samson. There is no way, I guess, that anyone would put their trust in Samson. Even with his physical strength, most people would be reluctant to choose Samson because you could not depend on him.
His trouble was that in the passion of the moment he might do any wild thing, and so upset the whole apple cart. When he acted in passion at the losing of his wife, he brought all sorts of problems upon himself and upon Israel. Yet God chose him, and in choosing him worked in his life an experience until he had brought him to the point where he could be used and blessed. God, having chosen him, endowed him with the power he needed, and at the same time, by the experiences he was allowed to go through, molded him in his character and faith until he was a useful and fit servant. God's training is sure.
Fourthly, all things do work together for good to all who love God and are called according to his purpose. Samson was called according to God's purpose. He did love God. As we have walked alongside him in his life and experience, we have seen that everything that happened to him did work for his good and for the good of Israel he was sent to serve. All things in his life made him more fit and fitted him for the ministry to which God called him.
Some of the things that happened in his life were strange and painful. He was married but his marriage was never consummated. God ordered the marriage, yet he was never meant to enjoy it. But it was not only for Samson's good but also for the deliverance of Israel. It was part of God's purpose in salvation.
He sought to go back to his wife. He loses his way in the maze of his passions. He reacts without waiting upon God, and brings upon himself great problems, total rejection by his people, and was at the point of losing his life and all he had lived for. Yet God allowed this, and it was for his good as we have seen. Then when God stepped in to deliver him, and Samson remained in his pride, God withdrew his gracious power, and Samson felt the pain and weakness of his mortality, and was brought very low. But it was from God and by the purpose of God, because in it the good was realised of bringing Samson to the place and attitude of heart where he was in the blessing of God.
Samson had his moments of triumph and blessing and exaltation, when God gave him great victories and triumphs, but God also allowed him to go through great trials. All things, both good and bad, God worked for his good. So Samson's experience and example, proves the words of the Apostle, that God works all things good for his people and they work to and for our good. Let us grasp this fact so that we may hold fast in faith in the times of trial, praising God still as we did in the times of exaltation.
Fifthly, we may draw from Samson's experience comfort and assurance in the ups and downs of life and experience in the work of God. It is not only ministers that are called to work for God. Every believer has been given a measure of the Spirit of God and gifts by the Spirit to fulfil a place in the ministry within the body of Christ. There is, in this service, times when we praise God for his blessing and the success he gives. There are other times when the going is hard, and things seem to be always going wrong. Times when we make mistakes. Times when we seem not to be appreciated in any way. Times when we want to give up altogether.
Samson knew such downs as well as we do. Yet we have seen that in his life God was always there, and that everything was under his plan and protection. We have seen that God had his plans for his people, and that Samson was in his time at the centre of that plan of blessing. So all the hard experiences Samson went through in his ministry as a deliverer, were also under the control and providence of God.
We can take comfort from this and be assured. God is always there in the work of his church. He never leaves us of forsakes us. The ministry we have been given is of value, and by God's power will fulfil all that God has planned.
So we see that God achieves his purposes. We see God achieved his goal in preparing Samson for the task he had called him too. This is always true in all God's works and ways. God never fails, and we may be sure of this in our time and in the church today, and the ministry he calls and chooses to do in his work.