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Fulfillment Through Failure
Steven Long 7/04/13


This is the written transcript of the sermon preached at Albemarle Reformed Church on Sunday, June 23, 2013. The audio portion can be heard here: [Fulfillment Through Failure - Judges 15:9-20].


Fulfillment Through Failure
Judges 15:9-20

Thus far in Samson's life we have not yet seen how he has fulfilled the God-given role as judge and Nazarite. We have had exceptional views of his carnality, especially with women, his hot tempered tantrums, and his bull-raging reactions that led to downright murder. Remember Samson's original calling? His parents were given strict orders to raise him in the Nazarite tradition. He was not eat any unclean thing, nor to drink any wine or strong drink, nor to ever let a razor come upon his head, nor even to touch anything that would cause him to become unclean. In fact, his mother had to keep the Nazarite vow herself for the entire gestation period of her son, thus fulfilling God's promise to them that their child would be a Nazarite from the womb.

We look at the totality of Samson's life and say that he failed; and to a good extent, he did! But the closing of this chapter is a bit different as we will see. We have seen already how God can take our own sinful choices, redeem them, and fulfill His purposes. But what about the purpose that He has laid out for our own lives? Nearly every sermon I have ever heard on Samson went a little something like this: “Samson was a saved soul but wasted his life. Don't waste your life if you're a Christian.” It would seem that the author of Judges would have us learn a little more from Samson than that! Looking at the book as a whole we see the entire menagerie of judges along with their strengths and weakness that God raised up; and we see what God mightly worked through them. Taken as a whole, the book of Judges teaches us what happens when “every man [does] right in his own eyes.” In other words, a society void of any kind of true spiritual guidance.

We should not, then, think of Samson's life any different. Instead, we should focus on the bigger picture of the book and extracting the individual principles from each of the lives of the Judges to shape our own understanding and theology of what our lives would end up as in God-less environment. Samson is one of those many pieces of the whole and as we approach the end of his life we can certainly see how God fulfilled Samson's purpose as Nazarite and judge through his own failures. Let us now take time to examine that very thing!

vv.9-10 The Philistines Raid! Verse 8 leaves us with the vengeful Samson hiding out at the Rock of Etam. He has violently burned the crop of the Philistines and killed many of their valiant men and now flees to take rest from his work. But his rest is soon disturbed. The Philistines catch a whiff of the general area that he is hiding out in and in force march on the areal of Lehi. The text states that they “spread themselves in Lehi.” The word literally means 'to uproot' and suggests that they came in force, hence the word 'raid' is used in some translations. We are not told whether any blood was shed on the townspeople or not, but it is quite possible that in retaliation they would more than likely kill some of the men of Judah for their own losses. The men of Judah are certainly frightened enough to send representatives to the Philistines and ask why they have come up against them. This in itself could be an indication that it was more than a simple “camp out” but without exact details it is only conjecture.

Upon being asked they explain the events of the previous verses; how Samson had burned their standing crops and killed some of their finest men. Their answer is clear: to do to Samson as they had done to them. In other words, to kill him. And if they could not kill the man himself they would be content with killing his people.

vv.11-13 The Men of Judah Confront Samson. The men of Judah now have a clear and concise answer. They know that they must turn him over to the Philistines in order to appease their wrath. But they are caught in a dilemma. Can they very well kill their own kin? And if they do not what will be the next move of the Philistines? They cannot hold off any longer, and so they send 3,000 men to the place where Samson is hiding. We are told that he is holding up at Etam, and more particularly at the cleft of the rock of Etam. According to many, this was a place of natural defense and offered great protection. It only makes sense that Samson would have fled here after his initial encounter with the Philistines. According to Josephus, the town of Etam itself was also a place with a plentiful source of water.

The men of Judah are blunt with Samson: “Don't you know the Philistines are rulers over us?” In short they are reminding Samson of their captivity; of the fact that if the Philistines chose to do so they could squash them at any moment. Samson does not seem the least bit worried, as his previous encounters with them has shown. This is an interesting thing for it seems to point to the fact that he was somewhat aware of God's calling on his life; he seemed to understand that his parents had raised him for this specific purpose. It seems impossible to fathom that he grew up without his mother repeating to him several times the word of the Lord: “He shall be a Nazarite; he shall begin the deliverance of Israel.” Yet, it seems that he cares nothing for the plight of his own people. If he did not care enough to save the life of his wife and in-laws, surely he would not exert too much effort in this task that God had called him to.

But notice Samson's response: “As they did unto me, so I have done unto them.” His response is the same as that of the Philistines in verse 9. Both parties felt justified in their own actions. Samson felt justified in killing the Philistines. The Philistines now want to do to Samson as he did to [them]. The Hebrew construction of both the reasons given by Samson and the Philisitnes is almost identical. The paralled expressions are quite similar and, I believe, intentional by the author. But what does he mean to tell us by this? For certain one cannot say, but I believe it is to show the actions of Samson, a man set apart to do God's work, were no different than the uncircumcised nation that God had intended to drive completely out of the land!

But then it seems that Samson has a change of heart. He agrees to surrender to the men only if they do not kill him. The men agree and assure him that they only intend to bind him and hand him over to the enemy. It seems to be a fair deal. Samson will answer to the Philistines for his own actions and the Philistines will leave with him quietly, allowing the land to be at peace once again.

vv.14-17 Heaps upon Heaps. The deal is struck and the men of Judah bind Samson. We are told in the previous verse that they bind him with two new ropes. More than likely, these new ropes were of the utmost strength, and them men, knowing of Samson's strength probably felt secure binding him with the strongest material that was available to them. Another interesting parallel is that Samson divulges to Delilah that “new ropes” would cause him to loose his strength. Perhaps he was thinking of this incident when he fooled her. It seems that the author makes it a point to tell us that the ropes were new; they were strong; something that no ordinary man would be able to break. But then again, Samson was not really an ordinary man.

Upon hearing that Samson is captured and bound the Philistines come running out in a victorious manner to take hold of their captive. Josephus goes as far to say that within the Philistine camp there shouts of joy and shouting, and actually coming out running to take hold of himi But their victory is short-lived. We are told that at this scene the Spirit of the Lord rushes upon him. The description given next is quite amazing:
the ropes that were on his arms became as flax that has caught fire, and his bonds melted off his hands.
Flax was a plant common to that region and was often planted and cultivated for its many uses, one of them to retrieve the fine threads from the plant to make and twist linen together. The Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature says this of the flax plant:
Few plants are at once so lovely and so useful as the slender, upright herb, With taper leaves and large blue-purple flowers, from which are fashioned alike the coarsest canvas and the most ethereal cambric or lawn the sail of the ship and the fairy-looking scarf which can be packed into a filbert shell. It was of linen, in part at least, that the hangings of the. tabernacle were constructed, white, blue, and crimson, with cherubim in woven; and it. was of linen that the vestments of Aaron were fashioned. When arrayed in all his, glory, Solomon could put on nothing more costly than the finest linen of Egypt; and describing "the marriage of the Lamb," the seer of Patmos represents the bride as." arrayed in fine linen, clean and white; for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints." ii

Basically, the author is telling the audience that the ropes which bound Samson became as weak and fragile as the plant which they so commonly used to weave the thread for their clothes. In fact, it became like one of those plants that had caught flame, making it even weaker. Imagine the pure strength that God had empowered Samson with! Very few men could have broken an old, rotted rope let alone one that was freshly made and still had its original strength. But this is exactly what happened. And upon being free, Samson discovers the jawbone of a donkey and immediately thinks to use it as a weapon against the oncoming Philistines. He slaughters an incredible 1,000 men. The only other time we are told of a feat that even comes close in Judges 3:31 of Shamgar who killed 600 Philistines in one battle. Samson then goes on to make up a little poem about himself. Commentator of the Scriptures, John Lange, gives an interesting insight into the literal translation of the Samson's poem.
With the jaw-bone of an ass I slew two armies: With the jaw-bone of an ass I took vengeance on a thousand.For in the clause בִּלְחי הַחֲמוֹר חֲמוֹר חֲמֹרָתָיִם the paronomasia is to be noted between חַמוֹר, an ass, and חֲמֹר, a heap, which latter is here poetically used of an “army.”

In other words, he is waxing poetic and in a sense "rhyming" or "paralelling" Philistines with an animal, a donkey, no less which was a beast of burden. Quite fitting as the Israelites were the ones bearing the burden of the beast. And now that he is done with his little game Samson finally throws away his makeshift weapon and rests.
vv.18-19 Samson's Boast and Humility. Josephus records a very interesting thing at this point in Samson's victory and I think it is quite worth a look. He states of this very battle,
Upon this slaughter Samson was too proud of what he had performed, and said that this did not come to pass by the assistance of God, but that his success was to be ascribed to his own courage, and vaunted himself, that it was out of a dread of him that some of his enemies fell, and the rest ran away upon his use of the jawbone; (302) but when a great thirst came upon him, he considered that human courage is nothing, and bare his testimony that all is to be ascribed to God, and besought him that he would not be angry at anything he had said, nor give him up into the hands of his enemies, but afford him help under his affliction, and deliver him from the misfortune he was under. (303) Accordingly God was moved with his entreaties, and raised him up a plentiful fountain of sweet water at a certain rock; whence it was that Samson called the place the Jawbone, and so it is called to this day.iii
At first, Samson boasted in his own strength. But then we see God humble him in the human need and weakness for water. Note how Josephus tells us that he considered nothing of his victory could really be ascribed to Himself that God heard his prayer and opened the rock for him to drink from. In the moment of his greatest strength God brought him to his lowest point (1Pe 5:5). And the text tells us that he entreats the Almighty not to fall into the hands of the “uncircumcised.”
It seems now that the man who once wanted to be a part of the people of the uncircumcised was now coming to the realization that they were the enemies of God's people and that he was the one God had chosen to begin the deliverance of them.
v.20 Fulfillment Through Failure. This is the verse that I want to focus on. We are told that Samson judges Israel for twenty years. Why is this important? I think it is important for two reasons:
  1. This is the first indication we have of Samson fulfilling his God-given role. It seems that after this event that Samson was finally living up to what God had called him to do. Some may argue that he was indeed fulfilling this role prior to this incident and that the author is “combining” it with this episode. In either case, it is still the first time mentioned. Until now. We have seen a selfish, ruthless, uncaring, unloving, and fleshly man trapped in a little boy's body. Honestly looking back at Samson's life can we really see the Biblical definition of what a man is supposed to be? I think not.
  2. This is the culmination of God fulfilling Samson's purpose for Samson's life. I certainly don't mean that in a seeker-friendly, God-has-a-wonderful-plan-for-your-life, kind of way. But let's face it. If we are believers, true followers of Christ, God has intended a purpose for us. God set Samson apart from the womb, just like He did Jeremiah, just like He did Paul, and just like He did you and me, if we are in Christ. This is not to say that God's will for all His people is to be a Peter, Paul, James, etc. It is simply to say that God has purposed in Christ Jesus from the foundation of the world to buy and own a people that would live out His will here on earth. God's purpose is to place those people in the body, fitted together, in order to build up His spiritual house. Some people waste so much energy trying to “discover” what God's will is for their lives that they miss this entire purpose; or else they trade in what they know God wants them to do just to do what they desire. Either way, God always has a way of bringing it back around, just like He did Samson.
     Despite what you do to avoid the responsibilities that God has given you; despite any childish decisions or actions that you do, God will work out His plan to fulfill your purpose for your life; even it means that you have to go through a lot of pain to get there. And as we'll see at the close of Samson's life, he had to go through a lot of pain to ultimately allow God to fulfill his purpose through his own failures.
i Josephus, Flavius. The Antiquities of the Jews, pg. 105, Echo Library, 2006.

ii McClintock, John, and James Strong. Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, vol 3, pg 591. Harper, 1894.


iii Josephus, Flavius. The Antiquities of the Jews, pg. 105, Echo Library, 2006.

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