God's grace overcomes all of our failures; Judges 15
Samson is a great encouragement to every one of us. All of us fail at times, all of us have sin natures that we allow to gain the upper hand at times. Hopefully few of us run around our Christian life like Samson did, but if God used Samson, and He did, the key to understanding it is that God used Samson in spite of Samson's carnality and so there was relatively little blessing that accrued to Samson. Nevertheless God used him and it shows that there is tremendous forgiveness, and God is a God of grace, despite all of our sin and our failures. It is not what we are or what we do, it is based completely on who He is and what Christ did for us on the cross.
14:8—it is at this point that Samson is going to violate the Nazirite vow a second time by touching the carcass of the lion and defiling himself. What we really see in this section is a threefold sin on Samson's part. First of all, he is forbidden by the Mosaic law from touching a carcass. Every Israelite was. If you touched something dead then it rendered you ceremonially unclean and you had to perform a sacrifice for cleansing. The reason was that death was always a reminder of the penalty of sin—the penalty of sin is spiritual death, its consequence is physical death—and so whenever they came in contact with someone who was dead they couldn't go into the presence of God without a sacrifice. The picture there is that we as believers can't go into the presence of God when wee have been defiled by sin. So there were hundreds and hundreds of ways a Jew could defile himself and become ceremonially unclean. So the first sin of Samson is that as a Jew he violates the Mosaic law. Secondly, he violates the Nazirite vow by touching the carcass. The third thing is what he is going to do with the honey. He is going to give it to his parents without telling them where it came from and that causes them to become ceremonially unclean, but they are ignorant of it. It is a sin of ignorance on their part because of what he has done.
Verse 12 – during this period in history we know that among the Greeks and among other people in the Mediterranean area, telling riddles and proposing riddles was a popular sport. They would sit around and try to outdo each other with these riddles and they would bet and gamble on them: who would come up with the best riddle that would stump everybody. So when Samson comes along and develops this riddle we know that it fits the historical context of about twelve to eleven hundred BC. This was a very popular thing to do at that time. This is crucial to understanding these two chapters, everything revolves around this riddle. The word "feast" referred to in verse 10 was the Hebrew word, mishta, which refers to a seven-day feast of drinking and gorging. The inference is that Samson is not sitting back in a corner watching everybody else gluttonize and get drunk, he is right in there with everybody else having a field day feeding his own physical appetite.
Verse 18 – "What is sweeter than honey?" The grace of God. "And what is stronger than a lion?" The power of God. There are little hints here that Samson is violating both, and that God is there to deliver Israel but there is a continual rejection by the Jews of the grace of God and the power of God. Samson then responds. He knows instantly why they were able to solve the riddle because they had gone to his wife. He makes a statement then that is very derogatory of her, it was considered insulting even by their standards. Once again we see that in a pagan culture there is always a loss of respect and value for the role of women, for the role of wives, and the role of mothers. Over and again we have seen this gradual shift in Judges, moving from Othniel and his wife at the beginning of the book where she is respectful and held in high honor and there was nothing negative said about her, until we come to the end now of Judges and women are treated as nothing more than objects for his own pleasure and he has no respect for them. So this destruction of respect for women and the role of women is a result of paganism, of a failure to understand what the Bible teaches about the importance of both the man as a man and the woman as a woman in their distinct roles in society, in marriage, and in the family. Samson has no respect for her, he says, "If you hadn't plowed with my heifer." He just comes across as an extremely crude and crass individual.
Verse 19 – immediately in contrast to that we are told that "the Spirit of the Lord came upon him mightily." We see that the Spirit of God is still working through him but it is not in terms of spiritual value. The Spirit of God has a plan and that is to disrupt this assimilation that is taking place between the Philistines and the Jews. He then went down to Ashkelon and killed thirty Philistines. He didn't have the money to buy clothes for these thirty so he goes and steals them by killing 30 Philistines. This, in turn, is going to continue the chain of events that had been set in motion. Then we are told "his anger burned, and he went up to his father's house." So he is dominated by mental attitude sins, he is acting like a selfish spoiled child, he gets angry because he didn't get his way, and he leaves his fiancé and goes back to his father's house. And verse 20 tells us that Samson's wife was given to his companion, his best friend.
Chapter 15:1 – Samson visited his wife. Notice that it is in the time of the wheat harvest. The writer makes a point of that because of what will take place in this chapter. Apparently Samson had the idea that this was more of a concubine marriage. The difference between a regular marriage and a concubine marriage was that a regular marriage you moved in together and set up a home and began a family. In a concubine marriage it had a legal status, it was not like a prostitute or a mistress, but not on the same level of a wife. The man didn't live with the concubine, we saw that with Gideon, but she was legally the man's. But here the father won't let it happen, but we see that this father is treating his daughters like property here and we see once again a negative view of women.
Verse 3 – now he is going to get involved in vengeance, he is going to take it out on the Philistines. Verse 4 – "three hundred foxes" is not foxes, it is jackals." Foxes are solitary creatures; jackals run in packs. You could set up traps to catch large numbers of jackals. Apparently there were a lot of jackals in this area but there was also a lion. One of the things that God had promised to Israel was that if they went into the land, and if they were obedient to Him, He would destroy all of the wild animals and they would have peace there. But if they were disobedient to Him then in part of the third and fourth cycles of discipline there would be an increase in the wild animals that were in the land. So the presence of all these jackals and the presence of the lion is another subtle reminder to the reader that the land is under divine discipline.
Verses 4, 5 – "And Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took firebrands, and turned tail to tail, and put a firebrand in the midst between two tails. And when he had set the brands on fire, he let them go into the standing corn of the Philistines, and burnt up both the shocks, and also the standing corn, with the vineyards and olives." He lights the torches and lets them into the fields. There is cut wheat and there is still wheat on the stalks in the fields. Everything is caught on fire. Remember what God had said to Israel. They would be in the land, they would have grain, vineyards, groves, olives and honey. So what God is doing is destroying the produce of the Philistines. They don't have a right to it because this isn't their land. They were uncircumcised and this the land God has given to Israel.
Verse 6 – the Philistines respond in anger. They can't tackle Samson, he's too tough, so they are going to take the path of least resistance and burn up the girl and her father. And that is going to bring about another act of retaliation from Samson in verse 7— "Since you act like this, I shall surely take revenge on you, and after that I will cease." What we see is the ongoing destructive cycle of mental attitude sins--hatred, bitterness, revenge, on and on and it just creates more and more trouble. The thing is that God is working behind this to bring about the separation of Israel from the Philistines.
Verse 8 – "And he smote them hip and thigh with a great slaughter: and he went down and dwelt in the top of the rock Etam." We don't know how many he killed but it was a large number. Samson's attitude now is that it is over with, he's done, and he just goes off by himself to sulk. Every time he does something it is as if it is all over with. He has no foresight, he doesn't think beyond whatever is going on today and he seems to be totally oblivious to the fact that God is using him. There is no indication that he is aware that the Spirit of God is the source of his power at all. He is totally self-absorbed.
Verse 9 – now what happens is that the Philistines come and camp in Judah. And look at the reaction of the men of Judah. Here is the enemy coming, and we know that they should understand this, it is not long after this, maybe in another five years or so, there is going to be a major pitched battle. And it is in that battle that the Philistines are going to capture the ark of the covenant and bring it back to the temple of Dagon down in Gaza. So they know that there is an antagonism and that the Philistines are the enemy but they are so pacifistic. They were just going to cave in. They said they would go and find Samson for them! The Philistines have given in to relativism, they have a relativistic culture. They have absorbed all the surrounding and different cultures, in many ways not dissimilar to late and early 20th and 21st century times. Once every culture is viewed as having valid truths then all truths have an equal amount of weight and an equal amount of value. There is not truth, then, that is absolute, everything is relative. In relativism if everything is equally true then everything is equally false. This leads to an ecumenical mindset that it doesn't really matter what we believe just as long as we all believe something is God and we all use the same terminology, and we can all get together, and doctrine is no longer an issue. So in this ecumenical mindset truth doesn't matter, the only thing that matters is whatever experience we have in common. But if everything in life is relative then nothing is worth dying for. If nothing is worth dying for, nothing is worth fighting for. If nothing is worth fighting for then a major sin is going to be anybody who starts stirring up trouble and causing war. So war becomes an ultimate sin and in order to prevent that you disarm people so they can't fight. That is what was going on during the time of the judges. We know from 1 Samuel 7 that what happened with the Philistines is they had entered into the iron age but they would not allow the Jews to have a blacksmith, so that the Jews could not have iron weapons, and that meant they couldn't defend themselves and they didn't think they could go to war successfully against the Philistines. So we see all these indications of extremely strange weapons at this time. For example, Shamgar used an ox goad. David is going to use a sling. Now the men in Judah don't have anything to fight for anymore and so they are just going to cave in to the Philistines. So pacifism always goes along with ecumenism. And that always goes along with relativism because if there is nothing worth fighting for and dying for then there is no reason to get involved with warfare. In relativism the only things worth living for is whatever is going to make you happy at the moment. That is where we are today in our culture, people are doing whatever makes them happy right now, and they have no concept of living for the future and the long range consequences of present action.
In our time the great sin is going to be the environment. It won't be long before war will be thought of as the greatest evil simply because it would do such environmental damage. So anybody who would go to war is going to be considered an environmental criminal, and under the guise of environmental protection we are going to start disarming.
So the three thousand men go down to get Samson, and they say, "Don't you know that the Philistines are rulers over us? Why are you causing all this trouble?" And they bound him up and took him to the Philistines. Then we are told the Spirit of the Lord came upon him mightily so that he just broke his bonds. And he found the fresh jawbone of a donkey which he uses as a weapon and kills a thousand men. Then in verse 16 he has another riddle: "And Samson said, With the jawbone of an ass, heaps upon heaps, with the jaw of an ass have I slain a thousand men."
In verse 18 Samson calls on the Lord, and it seems at this point that there seems to be something positive about Samson spiritually. Yet even in his prayer he is more concerned with himself and seem to be giving lip service to God. But there is a small element in Samson's thought that he realizes that this comes a s a result of God's provision. He does cry out to God and God does answer his prayer despite all of his carnality because Samson's carnality is much smaller than the plan of God. The plan of God is based on grace and God's grace is going to eventually bring deliverance to Israel. But first He has something to accomplish with Samson.
The principle here is that God's grace overcomes all of our failures. No matter how much we fail God still is a God of grace. If we are still alive God still has a plan for our lives and God still uses us, and so the issue is that whenever there is a problem, whenever we go through discipline, we need to realize that God is using us for a purpose and that is to bring us back to Himself. That is what God is doing with Samson and the Jews to get their attention back on Him. Eventually that will happen but not under Samson's ministry, rather under Samuel's ministry.