This is the written transcript of the sermon preached at Albemarle Reformed Church on Sunday, July 28, 2013. The audio portion can be heard here.
At last we come to the concluding event of Samson's life. The mighty has been seized and his enemies mean to make sport of him. He is in the throes of misery as he is no longer the “top dog” in his own world. The consequences have taken their full effect and he is left helpless to face the Philistines on his own. His ego has been cut in half and his captivity has now shattered his pride and boastfulness. The man who could do anything physically was now as 'human' as the rest of his peers.
The tragedy of Samson's life was not so much that he squandered what God had given him. It was that he failed to recognize, at least until the very end of his life, that God was Supreme Ruler and that he himself was not the captain of his own destiny. God had set him apart from the womb to be a Nazarite and God's plan could not, nor would not be led off course by a selfish, sinful, and fleshly man. In fact, God directed Samson exactly where he needed to be. Though Samson believed he was his own man and doing what he thought he wanted to do God still controlled is path and caused him to be the deliverer of Israel—despite his sin!
But we see a much different Samson, now. Because he is brought low he now realizes that he must rely on the very God who gave, and took away his mighty strength. Just as it will be for all who rage against their Creator, so Samson also bowed his knee before the God of Heaven and Earth. But it was not maliciousness on the part of God that brought Samson to this place. No! It was His wonderful plan to bring His servant, who had gone far astray, back to repentance. Though we may be low; though God may crush us; though our very bones feel the weight of sin, it is God's good intention to bring His sons and daughters to a place of peace and safety in order that they might give Him glory and honor that is due. When God deals with His people it is always to their profit. Even in the midst of chastisement it is because His plans are “for good and not for harm; to give [us] a hope and a future.” (Jer 29:11) Sometimes the benevolence of God comes in the form of chastisement. It is this benevolence that is most times successful in leading His children back to the path of holiness. As we will see this morning, it is this very thing that leads to Samson's repentance.
v.21 The Mighty Has Fallen. We have previously read that Samson played his little games with Delilah for some time. He tricked her on three different occasions as to what the source of his strength was. Delilah played the victim by whining and moaning to Samson that he did not really love her. Samson finally gives in and tells her about his Nazarite vow. Delilah puts him to sleep and has his hair shaved. When Delilah calls Samson believes that he will be able to free himself just like the other three times. But we read the tragic phrase, he did not know that the LORD had left him.
We are now left with him seized and shackled. At last the Philistine lords have the enemy in their hands. And they do with him what was common to do in that day: they cut out his eyes! This practice was done to ensure that the enemy, even if escaped or set free, would be helpless. He could no longer fight or retaliate against his captors if he had no eyes with which to see. It is clear what the intention for Samson is: the Hebrew word 'gouge' is a Piel verb which, according Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar, serves to strengthen the actual verb.i It is much like the difference in intensity between the words 'break' and 'smash.' Clearly, one is stronger than the other and conveys a much more vivid picture. The same is true here. The Philistines did not just put out his eyes. They probably indulged and inflicted as much pain as possible during the process. And after having put out his eyes they then led him to Gaza, one of their chief cities. And there in Gaza they set him to grinding at the mill. This was a menial task; the lowest of low jobs, and it was their intention to do this in order to show the people how the mighty man was now reduced to this slaves task. Keil and Delitzch, Old Testament commentators enlighten us by saying,
The Philistines then seized him, put out his eyes, and led him to Gaza fettered with double brass chains...There Samson was obliged to turn the mill in the prison, and grind corn (the participle טֹחֵן expresses the continuance of the action). Grinding a handmill was the hardest and lowest kind of slave labour (compare Exo 11:5 with Exo 12:29); and both Greeks and Romans sentenced their slaves to this as a punishmentii
After being the mighty and strong man he is now reduced to the menial task of the lowest slave. How the mighty has fallen!
v.22 Not Forgotten. But God has not forgotten him. The author reminds us of this one thing: but the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved. It is easy for us to overlook such a simple statement. More so, it is easy for us to assume that Samson's hair was the cause of his strength. True, he had lost his strength when his head had been shaved, but was he not mighty in his youth before his hair had reached it current length? It was because God had set him apart from the womb to be mighty, that he was, and no other reason! To think that God left Samson simply that his head had been shaved, or that He would return to him after his hair had grown back is to miss the entire point. The Nazarite was only holy because God made him holy; he was only fitted for the task that God had fitted him for. Though Samson may have shirked his task as a judge God's purpose for him was still as a judge. God would fulfill it even at the cost of His servant's own life. Hence, the hair on his head began to grow again.
vv.23-26 A Grand Party! Now that the evil Samson has been caught the Philistines can rejoice! They gather themselves together, as the author tells us, to offer sacrifices to their pagan god, Dagon. But their guise is not really worship as much as it is a party; a chance for them to engage in drunken revelry and commit atrocious fornication. Canaanite worship was always accompanied by such things and there is no reason to believe that this celebration would have been any different. Notice, too how they falsely attribute Samson's capture to their deity. At the height of their festival, probably when they are the drunkest (as the author tells us that their hearts were “merry”) they call for Samson out of the prison in order to entertain for them. The author does not reveal how or what Samson did to entertain them. It could not have been any feats of strength for at this time he was as weak as any other man. Quite possibly, it simply could have been for him to stand their, helpless, so that they may have gazed upon him to laugh and jeer at him. We know that Samson could not have done much more than stand in one place, as the text tells us that he was led by a young man, and that his request to the young man was that he be led to rest, as it were, on the main pillars that held up the house. This may seem like an odd request and we may at once suspect that this could not be true, lest the Philistines become suspicious. But Bible Scholar, John Lange comments about this:
Much has been written concerning the architectural style of the building in which the occurrence took place. Bertheau is not wrong in saying that it is impossible to come to any particular determination in this matter. It was not essential to our narrator’s purpose to give an architectural description...The hero [Samson] would be visible to all, only if he stood in the lower space, between the pillars on which the house was supported, the gallery extending around the sides of the, house, and fastened to them; and there is nothing at variance with this in his request to the lad to be allowed to lean upon the pillars.iii
Lange points out that it was actually quite common for Samson to stand between those pillars, as that would have been the prime spot for all the people present to view him.
vv.27-30 Samson's Prayer. In these next few verses we see Samson's change begin to take place. He is weak, worn, frail, and at the very least, hopeless. He has been reduced to nothing more than a showpiece to be gawked and laughed at; and this by the very ones he was supposed to defeat. All the Philistine lords have gathered for this great feast, and many prominent men and women, about 3,000 as we are told, looking on while Samson entertains. But in the midst of all this we see Samson call out to the Lord in prayer. There are a few notable things about this prayer that I would like to briefly point out:
- Samson begins his prayer by addressing God by His three proper names. He begins by saying, “Adonai, Yahweh. Remember me this once, O, God” We may be tempted to say that even his prayer was selfish as he prays that he may take vengeance for his eyes, but Charles Hervey, author of Judges-Pulpit Commentary states this about Samson's prayer: The language is very earnest. "O Lord, Jehovah, remember me strengthen me only this once, O God!" The threefold name by which he addresses the Almighty implies great tension of spirit iv
- Samson's plead for God to remember him. Samson is asking for more than a simple remembrance. The Hebrew word is one that means 'to mark.' In essence, to call to mind. If one wishes to remember something or someplace they mark it so as to come back to it. This same word is used by Moses in Ex 32:13 when the people rebel against God and God wants to destroy them. Moses asks God to remember His covenant with His people to make them into a great nation. Perhaps Samson is in fact asking God to remember the Nazarite fulfilling He originally had on Samson's life. If this is true, then Samson has finally come full-circle to his calling.
- Samson's calling on the Lord. Again, I want to remind us that while we are tempted to think of Samson's prayer as selfish the author himself uses a word that seems to imply genuiness. We are told that Samson 'called out to the LORD. The word 'call,' quara, can mean to cry out in earnest. But it is in the LXX that we really see the intended meaning behind this word. The LXX uses the word 'boao' which means to cry out for help in a tumultuous way. In other words, Samson has reached the point of absolute desperation.
- He pleads to the LORD for strength. Notice that he no longer relies or boasts in his own strength, much as he did in killing 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey. He now surrenders the idea that his strength has all along come from Jehovah, for now he cries out, “Please strengthen me only this once.” It is clear that he is now fully reliant upon God in order to accomplish what he is about to do.
The prayer of Samson, I believe, was a true prayer of penance. But only at the end of his life did he realize what he should have all along. Now, supernaturally strengthened once again, he pushes with all his might, praying that he would die along with his enemies. And with this push then entire building collapses. So much carnage ensues that the author tells us that there were more Philistine deaths in this one event then the entire time Samson was alive. How can we not see this as God's master plan for delivering Israel out of the hands of the Philistines? With the five lords dead there would no doubt be a panic at the least, and chaos at the most. The time was now ripe for the beginning of Israel's freedom.
v.31 Samson's Death & Burial. Samson's family comes to take him away for burial. We are told that he is buried between Zorah, his hometown, and Eshtaol. And then the author adds one more piece of information: he had judged Israel for twenty years. This statement should remove all doubt about whether God fulfilled Samson's purpose in life. Though he did not take on the traditional role of the judge he no doubt, through God's chastisement completed the role of a judge. When God means to accomplish His tasks nothing can stand in the way of it—not even the sinful actions of men.
God's chastisement on us is never out of malicious intent. It is always for the purpose of bringing us back into a place of repentance. Hebrews 12:5-6 says, And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”
He must chastise us in order to prove that we are not illegitimate children. The chastisement we receive is nothing in comparison to that which the Lord received: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him and by His stripes we are healed (Isa 53:5). It is for our peace and our well-being that when we sin we are duely punished. For in doing so, a twofold purpose is accomplished: first, we are brought back to a place of holiness. The price which Christ paid for our redemption is much too high to allow us to stay the same. We have been bought with a price (1Cor 6:20), and we have bought with the purpose of being conformed into the likeness of Christ (Rom 8:29). In order to be like Christ we must be disciplined so that our souls may rid itself of impurities and be refined in the fires of His perfection. Second, We are saved from the eternal consequences of sin. Paul, in his first epistle to the Corinthians deals with believers who have been put to death by God for eating the Lord's supper in an unworthy manner: 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. In that church, God's discipline was to show the distinction between His church and the rest of the world. That is why Paul told the Corinthians that they were judged by the Lord. This is not to say that every believer who sins will die! But simply to say that some who stray that far away are judged by God in order to separate them from the rest of the world.
The point in all this is to show that the chastisement of God is not always a bad thing. No matter what sin you have committed, or how far you think you may have strayed, when you cry out to God, “REMEMBER ME!” He will indeed come to visit you and to guide you back into His presences. But be warned! The way in which He accomplishes this may be painful. But also know that pain will ultimately lead to your peace.
For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. (Psalm 30:5)
iGesenius Hebrew Grammar, pg. 139
ii Keil, Carl Friedrich, and Franz Delitzsch. Joshua, Judges, Ruth, pg 423 T. and T. Clark, 1869.
iii Lange, John Peter. Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, vol 4, pg 223. Scribner, 1886.
iv Hervey, Arthur Charles. Judges, pg 174. Kegan Paul, 1881.