Samson (Judges 14-15)


Big Idea: Because our culture is enticing, and we are weak, we need God’s grace to save us.

Nate Larkin is a man who grew up hearing the gospel, and he enjoyed it. He grew into a young man that others admired, even though he struggled privately without anyone knowing it. He decided as a young man to become a pastor. On a seminary trip to New York City, he was taken by an anti-pornography group to see the horror of pornography firsthand, and sitting beside his wife, he caught his first glimpse of hardcore pornography. He was both sickened and fascinated.

“Those images lit a fire in me that would burn uncontrollably for nearly twenty years, a fire that smolders still,” he writes.

Larkin eventually did become a pastor. He continued to struggle, and entered a cycle: dissatisfaction, followed by a craving for relief, followed by sin, followed by shame and a resolution to never fall into the cycle again. But, of course, he did. He became, even as a pastor, what he calls a “professional Christian…the man with the answers, and the expert on all things spiritual,” but with a marriage and an inner life that was falling apart. The destructive cycle deepened, eventually costing him his ministry, and almost his marriage.

Eventually I reconciled myself to the ugly truth. I was a failure as a minister and a leader. I was a huge disappointment to everyone, especially God and Allie, and the best I could hope for was to live out the rest of my days in a moral and spiritual twilight. There was no hope for change.

I don’t have time to tell you his whole story, except to say that things got really ugly. But then Larkin experienced God’s grace in a new way, and eventually started something called Samson Societies, where Christian men share their real struggles and find real help.

God, in his grace, has used addiction to shatter my moralistic understanding of the Christian faith and force me to accept the gospel. I am not a faithful man. That’s why I need a Savior. I cannot live victoriously on my own. That’s why I need a Helper and brothers. I cannot keep my promises to God—the very act of making them is delusional—but God will keep his promises to me.

I find Larkin’s story fascinating, and I especially find it fascinating that he relates his story to Samson, the man we’re going to look at today. We’re in a series through the book of Judges called “Half-Hearted Discipleship,” and Samson is a great picture of the struggle that people like Nate Larkin — and people like us — face every day. I’m all too uncomfortable as I read about Samson, because I see so much of myself. You may too. The great poet John Milton said of Samson, “O mirror of our fickle fate.” Samson is, as we’re going to see, is the story of Israel embodied in the life of one man. But he’s not just Israel’s story. He’s our story too.

So let me tell you about Samson. In Judges 13, Samson is born, and it’s amazing. An angel appears and announces to this barren couple that they’re going to have a son, and that this son will be dedicated to the Lord, and that “he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines” (Judges 13:5). Chapter 13 ends on a high note:

And the woman bore a son and called his name Samson. And the young man grew, and the LORD blessed him. And the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol. (Judges 13:24-25)

But in the passage that we’re looking at today, things go really badly. Let me give you an overview of what happens in chapters 14 and 15:

  • Samson sees a Philistine girl, and impulsively marries her.
  • Then he violates his Nazirite vow to avoid contact with corpses by scraping honey out of the carcass of a lion that he has killed, making him unclean.
  • He then tells a riddle — kind of a bet — at his wedding with his supposed enemies.
  • They cheat and beat him at the riddle.
  • In retaliation, he kills some of them.
  • In retaliation, his father-in-law won’t let Samson see his wife.
  • In retaliation, he burns their fields.
  • In retaliation, the Philistines kill his wife and his father-in-law.
  • In retaliation, Samson kills a thousand Philistines. Standing knee-deep in blood, he makes a bad joke about it.

It’s a disturbing couple of chapters. He’s making jokes, he’s kissing women, he’s jumping in and out of bed, he’s killing people, and he’s following his own voice. He’s following his own pleasure. It makes Nate Larkin’s story seem kind of tame.

What does it have to do with us? It has a lot to do with us. In particular, it tells us three things.

First: It shows us our greatest threat (that culture is enticing).

I’ve read Judges many times, but I never noticed this until now. Israel faces a lot of enemies in the book of Judges. There were Ammonites and Midianites and Moabites. God raised up judges like Deborah, Barak, and Gideon to rescue Israel, because they were oppressive. They found their courage and, with God’s help, dealt with their oppressors because they were so nasty.

What made the Philistines particularly dangerous is that they weren’t that cruel. Actually, they got on fairly well with Israel for the most part. They intermarried. They absorbed the Israelites. They developed economic ties.

What’s so bad about that? If Israel became too comfortable with the Philistines, then they would end up completely assimilated. Within a couple of generations, they would lose not only their culture, but their faith, plus the world’s salvation, since they carried the bloodline that would lead to Jesus. So Israel was facing one of its greatest crises in the book of Judges. They don’t even cry out for deliverance this time.

You see this with Samson too. He goes after Philistine women. He hangs out with them. He kills them, too, but only because he loses his temper. He’s completely okay with the Philistines, as long as they don’t get in his way.

Tim Keller writes:

In short, Israel’s capitulation to the Philistines is far more profound and complete than any of their previous enslavements. In the past, Israel groaned and agonized under their occupations by pagan powers, because their domination was military and political. But now the people are virtually unconscious of their enslavement, because its nature is that of cultural accommodation. The Israelites do not groan and resist their “captors” now because they have completely adopted and adapted to the values, mores and idols of the Philistines. Like Samson himself, the Israelites were eager to marry into Philistine society, probably as a way to “move up” in the culture. The Israelites no longer had a recognizable culture of their own, one based on service to the Lord. We can’t exaggerate the danger to Israel. The Israelites were on the brink of extinction. Within a couple of generations, they could have been completely assimilated into the Philistine nation.

Our greatest threat isn’t when culture opposes us. It’s actually when culture entices us. God’s people usually do okay overall when attacked. But when they begin to be assimilated into culture, and share the values, mores, and idols of the surrounding culture, then we’re really facing our greatest danger.

There are so many ways that this plays out. The heart of discipleship is what Paul talked about in Romans 12:1-2:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

What happens, though, when we end up conformed to this world, when we’re indistinguishable from everyone around us? Our surrounding culture right now is anything but godly. The media is full of stuff that doesn’t honor God, and isn’t good for my mind. The cultural idols of power, money, and success compete with our allegiance to God. We live in a society that is increasingly toxic to the Christian faith, valuing things like personal autonomy, individual freedom and self-expression, questioning any authority including God’s, tolerating anything but ultimate truth claims. So much of our surrounding culture is the antithesis of a biblical worldview — and it often looks pretty good to me. And it probably looks pretty good to many of you too. Our greatest danger is assimilation, because then we’re only a couple of generations from completely losing the church.

As Russell Moore says, “A church that loses its distinctiveness has nothing distinctive with which to engage the culture.”

So that’s the first thing that we see as we look at the story of Samson. Samson’s story tells us that we’re in danger of becoming half-hearted disciples at best when we’re enticed by culture, and assimilated into it.

But Samson’s story also tells us something else:

Second: We see a true picture of our hearts (that we are weak).

I used to read the Bible and get frustrated with the sinfulness of the people. There aren’t a whole lot of flawless heroes in the Bible. I’ve come to realize that these flawed characters — like Samson — give me a window into my heart. I’m just like them. I may not be guilty of the exact same sins, but I have a very similar heart.

As we look at Samson, we see some issues that seem a little familiar to us. In his book Judges for You, Tim Keller summarizes them in two basic issues:

  • Impulsive. “He is a completely sensual man, in the most basic definition of the term. His senses control him—he reacts to how he feels about what he sees, without reflection or consideration. He sees—and so he takes. This general impulsiveness leads to a specific weakness that we will see as the story proceeds; namely, a total lack of sexual self-control.” He’s a bundle of impulse. You see him using the language of lust and possession in pursuing a woman, using her as an object and not as a person. He breaks vows. He gives into outbursts of anger, killing people whenever he wants. He’s consumed with sexual lust and anger — two sins that the apostle Paul identifies as problems for believers.
  • Unteachable. “He is dismissive of parental counsel and authority.” When Samson’s parents tell him not to marry a Philistine woman, he doesn’t listen — and that was in a culture when fathers exercised a lot of control, including the selection of your spouse.

The author of Judges gives us a clue to how we’re supposed to interpret Samson. In verse 3, Samson says, “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes.” One of the central themes of the book of Judges is the phrase that’s repeated in later chapters: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6, 21:25). In other words, Samson is the personification of the spiritual state of Israel. It’s the story of Israel recapitulated and focused in the life of a single man. But it’s not just Israel’s story. It’s our story too.

As I thought about this, I was struck by how closely this parallels with a description I read the other week of our post-Christendom context. In other words, this isn’t just Samson; it isn’t just Israel; it’s Liberty Village. It’s Stouffville. It may be you and me as well. Listen to what one man describes as the central beliefs of our time:

  1. The highest good is individual freedom, happiness, self-definition, and self-expression.
  2. Traditions, religions, received wisdom, regulations, and social ties that restrict individual freedom, happiness, self-definition, and self-expression must be reshaped, deconstructed, or destroyed.
  3. The world will inevitably improve as the scope of individual freedom grows. Technology— in particular the Internet— will motor this progression toward utopia.
  4. The primary social ethic is tolerance of everyone’s self-defined quest for individual freedom and self-expression.
  5. Humans are inherently good.
  6. Large-scale structures and institutions are suspicious at best and evil at worst.
  7. Forms of external authority are rejected and personal authenticity is lauded.

(From Mark Sayers, Disappearing Church)

The greatest value today is self-expression. “Basically, for many in our culture, you should be able to do anything you want so long as you don’t inhibit someone else’s self-expression,” says Gavin Ortlund.

When I read a list describing today’s culture, a lot of it doesn’t sound too bad: individual freedom, self-definition, freedom and self-expression, questioning external authority, personal authenticity. These aren’t just the values of our culture; they are values that we begin to adopt sometimes as half-hearted disciples. A half-hearted disciple may go to church, but still does what they think is right, and reserves the right to question God, like God has to defend himself to us.

But do you want to see what this list looks like when it’s lived out? Look at Samson. The author of Judges is holding up a snapshot of a half-hearted disciple, and asking us if this is the life that we want for ourselves.

What’s the opposite of a half-hearted disciple? A full-hearted disciple is:

  • Teachable — Instead of unteachable, we want to be teachable. A full-hearted disciple understands that God is God, and that one day we’ll be accountable to him for every thought. It means that we come to look at his Word, because we want to submit to him in every detail of our lives. It means trusting the Lord with all our hearts, and not leaning on our own understanding, but acknowledging him in all of our ways.
  • Submissive — Instead of being impulsive, we want to be submissive before God. We want to understand that dying to self is the path to life.

That’s what Jesus taught us. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25). Want to save your life, living it your way by being impulsive and unteachable? Then you’re going to lose your life, just like Samson. Instead, lose your life. Stop making your life about you. Make it about following him, and you’ll find life that you won’t find anywhere else.

So far this morning we’ve seen the bad news. We’ve seen our greatest threat isn’t a culture that opposes us, but a culture that entices us. We’ve also seen that Samson is a picture of where our hearts naturally drift when we become half-hearted disciples. But I want to end on a more positive note. We see one more thing when we read Samson’s story.

Finally: We see the hope that comes from the gospel.

What hope is there for a guy like Samson? A lot. The reason why is that God is at work. Judges 14:4 says:

His father and mother did not know that it was from the LORD, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines. At that time the Philistines ruled over Israel.(Judges 14:4)

God wasn’t responsible for Samson’s sin, but he used it. This is the great news of the gospel: that God uses weak, flawed people. He even redeems their sins and uses them for his purpose. So we read that when he killed the lion, it’s because “the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him” (Judges 14:6). When Samson killed the 30 men at the end of chapter 14, “The Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him” (Judges 14:9). God gives Samson superhuman strength, so that even through his failures God can act to accomplish his purposes. In fact, Samson is listed in Hebrews 11 as an example of faith.

Here’s the great news we need to hear today: God uses sinners. It’s not an excuse to continue to sin, but it gives us all great hope, because it means that God can use people like you and me. Tim Keller once said:

If you ever feel that way about reading the Bible [that the Bible is a collection of moral fables showing us good examples], it shows that you don’t understand the message of the Bible. You’re imposing your understanding of the message on the Bible. You’re assuming that the message of the Bible is “God blesses and saves those who live morally exemplary lives.” That’s not the message of the Bible. The message of the Bible is that God persistently and continuously gives his grace to people who don’t ask for it, don’t deserve it, and don’t even fully appreciate it after they get it.

Here, according to the Bible, is who God uses: complete mess-ups; completely unqualified people; people with glaring personality and character defects; people that we would say are completely unusable by God; sinners.

Are any of you here today sinners, mess-ups, completely unqualified? Anybody here have glaring personality or character defects? Feel unusable by God? Improbable characters are almost the norm in the Bible. It doesn’t justify the mess or the sin, but it doesn’t stop God from working either. God uses mess-ups. He uses the most unlikely people. He can even use you. And when he does, it won’t be because of how great you are. It’s always about how great God is. Whenever God uses us, it’s in spite of ourselves and only because of his grace.

The best news I have for you today is that there’s good news for people like us. Because our culture is enticing, and we are weak, we need God’s grace to save us. And that’s exactly what he’s done through Jesus Christ. He lived the life we should have lived, and he died the death that we deserved. He made a way for sinful people like you and me to come, to be forgiven, and to be changed into whole-hearted disciples of Jesus Christ.

When Nate Larkin faced his own sexual addiction, and the unravelling of his life, he realized that he was a half-hearted disciple. And he realized that he was a lot like Samson. “My name is Nate,” he says, “but you can call me Samson.”

Having narrowly survived a bone-jarring, head-snapping collision with my own depravity, it suddenly occurred to me that my childhood fantasy had come true. I was Samson. Yes, I was a man with a mission. Yes, I was gifted. Yes, I had produced a few impressive accomplishments. From all outward appearances, I had been a competent professional and a mature Christian. But inside, I had been a desperate fugitive from reality, bound for blindness and self-destruction. Isolation, which had always felt safe, had really not been safe at all.

The solution, Larkin found, was to come face to face with his sinfulness; to begin to walk openly with others, confessing his sin and asking for help; and to encounter the present-day reality of God’s lavish grace for sinful people.

God, in his grace, has used addiction to shatter my moralistic understanding of the Christian faith and force me to accept the gospel. I am not a faithful man. That’s why I need a Savior. I cannot live victoriously on my own. That’s why I need a Helper and brothers. I cannot keep my promises to God—the very act of making them is delusional—but God will keep his promises to me.

Our culture is enticing, and our hearts are weak — but God has made his grace available to us. Let’s run to him today. Let’s ask him to redeem even our greatest sins. Let’s thank him that he makes room for sinful people like us. Let’s walk in the light. And then let’s ask him to change us from being Samson to being whole-hearted disciples of Jesus.

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada