Famous Bad People: Samson (Judges 13-16)
As a kid growing up, I had one verse that really inspired me whenever I got to thinking what I wanted to do with my life. It’s a verse that’s stuck with me today, and I can never read this verse without getting a little bit excited. Let’s read it together – it’s up on the screen:
The people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits. (Daniel 11:32 NKJV)
Isn’t that a great verse? I used to dream – I still do – about doing exploits for God. I love the world exploits. It makes me think of daring, courageous adventures into enemy territory to serve God. It brings to mind qualities like risk, adventure, courage, purpose. It’s the very opposite of what I think about when I think of somebody drifting and wasting his life. Who wouldn’t want to be strong and carry out great exploits for God? There would be no enemy big enough, no challenge too hard, no obstacle that couldn’t be climbed for anybody who is on mission doing exploits for God.
I realize that I’ve grown up since then, and it’s easy to begin to settle for just getting by than to live a life of mission and risk for God. But deep down, I don’t think there’s anyone who really wants to settle for that. Nobody wants to get to the end of life and feel like they’ve never really lived, they’ve never really found meaning and left something bigger than themselves. We were made to do more than just exist. We were built to want to do exploits with God.
If you are the type that would like to live a life like this, you have to like the man we’re going to look at today. His name was Samson. If ever there lived anyone who could and should live a life of adventure for God, it’s him. Look at some of what he had going for him.
HE WAS BORN FOR A PURPOSE. Imagine what it would be like to grow up knowing that your very life was a miracle from God, that an angel had announced your purpose. Most of us have to discover our purpose for living, and that’s not always easy. Samson knew right from the start. His parents told him. Judges 13:3-5 says:
The angel of the LORD appeared to Manoah’s wife and said, “Even though you have been unable to have children, you will soon become pregnant and give birth to a son. You must not drink wine or any other alcoholic drink or eat any forbidden food. You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and his hair must never be cut. For he will be dedicated to God as a Nazirite from birth. He will rescue Israel from the Philistines.”
A supernatural start to life, announced by an angel, and with a clear mission – that’s a pretty good start to doing exploits for God.
HE FACED A CHALLENGE. If you’re looking for exploits, if you’re really looking for something to challenge you and to bring out your best, you couldn’t have picked a better time to live than Samson’s time. The angel said, “He will rescue Israel from the Philistines” (Judges 13:5). The Philistines had been around for hundreds of years, but they had been growing over time to the point that they had become a clear and present danger to God’s people, the nation of Israel. They were warlike and powerful, and they were beginning to apply pressure from their five western cities. Just five years later, they would begin to oppress and rule Israel. If Samson was looking for a cause to champion, he found it.
HE WAS DEDICATED TO GOD. Judges 13:5 says, “You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and his hair must never be cut. For he will be dedicated to God as a Nazirite from birth.” A Nazirite usually dedicated a certain period of life to God, and during that period, he would not cut his hair, would not drink beer or wine or even eat any grapes or raisins, and would not come near a corpse. But Samson was going to be a different kind of Nazirite. He wasn’t going to dedicate only part of his life to God. His entire life was going to be an act of service before him.
HE HAD ENORMOUS STRENGTH. We read the story of Samson, and we picture somebody who looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger on steroids, but that’s not the point. I think that Samson probably looked pretty average. His strength didn’t come from weight training, protein pills, and steroids. Samson possessed supernatural strength, which he could use to fulfill the mission God had given him.
By the way, what was true of Samson is also true of you and me. If we could see ourselves the way that God sees us, we would know that we were born for a purpose. God has put you here at the right time, with the right challenges, the right set of strengths, for a mission only you can fulfill. Yet there’s a danger that we’ll end up like Samson. Because Samson, for all of his strengths and for all of the things he had going for him, left a legacy that was mixed at best. On the positive side, he is mentioned in Hebrews 11 as a hero of the faith. He did kill many Philistines, which sounds barbaric now, but back then was really a case of killing them before they came to kill you. Yet Samson spent most of his life either aimless or defeated. He did experience some success, and yet his life didn’t begin to approach what it could have been.
We won’t take time to read Samson’s entire story here today. I would encourage you to do so, though. But as I read his story, I noticed three fatal flaws that prevented him from becoming the person that he could have been.
WOMEN – Samson’s fatal flaw was women – literally fatal. We read of three women in Samson’s life, and all of them were disastrous for his life. Remember how he was supposed to conquer the Philistines? Judges 14:2 says, “When he returned home, he told his father and mother, ‘I want to marry a young Philistine woman I saw in Timnah.'” He did marry her, although that soon turned into a disaster, as we read later on. They didn’t end up marrying after all, she was given to the best man as a wife, and she and her father ended up burned to death. Not a happy story.
The next woman wasn’t any better. Judges 16:1 says, “One day Samson went to the Philistine city of Gaza and spent the night with a prostitute.” The third woman lead to his ultimate downfall. Her name was Delilah, and she ultimately betrayed him.
RIDDLES – At his first marriage, Samson really got into trouble for telling a riddle. The riddle probably started as some wedding entertainment – maybe the first example of “You solve the riddle, I’ll kiss the bride,” but it soon got out of hand, turning what should have been a festive celebration into a battle of nerves that led his new wife to spend her honeymoon week balling and nagging, and ultimately led to the end of that marriage and the death of his wife. You have to wonder when somebody so gifted ends up known for women and riddles rather than fulfilling his purpose.
REVENGE – Samson’s entire life is the story of him getting revenge over and over again…burning crops, killing a thousand Philistines at one time, ultimately killing all the Philistine leaders in a crowded temple. Samson spent a good part of his life consumed with anger and taking revenge.
The result is that Samson spent most of his time in defeat. For all of his limited successes, he never fulfilled his mission. The two saddest verses about Samson are found at the beginning of his life – what should have been – and verse that summarizes what actually happened.
“He will rescue Israel from the Philistines.” (Judges 13:5)
“Samson was Israel’s judge for twenty years, while the Philistines ruled the land.” (Judges 15:20)
Let’s talk about you this morning. If there ever was a time for God’s people to be doing exploits, this is the time. We have every ingredient necessary to live a life of exploit for God – courageous, on target, risky, and on mission. We are living in a day in which people are hungry for God. They want God’s people to be God’s people. There’s a deeper spiritual hunger today t han has existed in recent memory. We, God’s people, have been dedicated to him, and he has promised to use us. And to top it off, the Spirit of God has given us gifts to be used to build his kingdom. 1 Peter 4:10 says, “God has given gifts to each of you from his great variety of spiritual gifts.”
Let me ask you three questions as you come to the Communion Table.
1. What’s your fatal flaw?
Samson’s was women. Yours may be different, but we all have one – a character defect that is keeping us from being who we should be. What is it in your own life that’s keeping you defeated, from becoming what you should be? Envy? Love of money? Love of your own comfort? Pornography? Anger? Or, if you say that you don’t have a fatal flaw, lying?
The good news is that God uses all kinds of people who have all kinds of fatal flaws. The only type that he doesn’t use is the type that refuses to admit it – refuses to come clean with God. Listen to what God does with those who have fatal flaws who admit it, and who surrender their flaws to him:
How thankful I am to Christ Jesus our Lord for considering me trustworthy and appointing me to serve him, even though I used to scoff at the name of Christ. I hunted down his people, harming them in every way I could. But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief. Oh, how kind and gracious the Lord was! He filled me completely with faith and the love of Christ Jesus.
This is a true saying, and everyone should believe it: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—and I was the worst of them all. But that is why God had mercy on me, so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:12-16)
2. What’s wasting your energy?
What’s your version of Samson’s riddles? What lesser things are keeping you from investing your energy in doing exploits for God? A poet once wrote, “Some men die in ashes; some men die in flames. Some men die inch by inch playing silly little games.”
3. What grudges are you keeping?
Samson spent most of his life consumed with hatred against other people. If the truth were really told, there are a lot of us who are spending a lot of energy angry with a boss, a family member – even somebody else in the church. It’s impossible to hate another person and be on an exploit with God.
God’s given you one life. He’s put you here for a purpose. We are coming to the table today of the one who died to make you right with God, to take you – fatal flaws and all – and make you an indispensable part of what he’s doing in this world. “The people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits.” (Daniel 11:32)
Samson was born with a purpose. Thank God as you come to the table that you were not only born with a purpose, you’ve been born again with a purpose. “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10)
Confess – what’s been keeping you from doing exploits with him.
Thank you in advance for what you are going to do in and through us, for the glory of your Son. In his name we pray. Amen.