Dan: Samson and Idolatry. Genesis 49:15-16
Samson is the last judge mentioned in the book of Judges but he is the only judge that doesn't bring peace to the land, he is the only judge that doesn't deliver them, he just stirs up a tremendous amount of trouble. He is the most pagan of the judges and what the writer of judges is trying to do is show the process of how a culture becomes paganised. At the beginning of the book of Judges the nation is spiritually together, they are at the top of their game. They have just defeated the people of Jericho, the city of Ai, the major strongholds in the south, they had conquered Hebron and the tribal alliance in the north, but they come off their game because they start to compromise with the people who lived in the land. They begin to compromise instead of giving one hundred per cent obedience to God and slaughtering every man, woman, child, and animal in the land they decide they are going to have a policy of appeasement and co-existence with these spiritual enemies. So they become corrupted by the human viewpoint pagan culture around them.
Israel has gone through several cycles where they have degenerated into idolatry by the time they get to Samson, it is the 6th cycle of degeneration. For the 6th time they have done evil in the sight of the Lord and for the 6th time God has punished them. But unlike the other five times they don't cry out to God this time. There is no call from the people to send a deliverer. They aren't ready for it, they don't have the capacity; they have completely compromised. Part of this is because for the first time in this cycle of foreign conquest they are not being maltreated and abused by the Philistines. There is an assimilationist policy at this time among the Philistines—live and let live—and so they are not trying to destroy the Jews they are trying to assimilate them and the Jews are just walking into the compromise trap and are willing to give up their distinctiveness and their freedom and just for the sake of universal brotherhood and world peace they are willing to intermarry with the Philistines. That is one of the things you see with Samson. He has always got his eyes after some Philistine young woman that he is chasing because there is no sense left anymore that the Jews shouldn't intermarry with the Canaanites which was specifically prohibited by the Mosaic law. So what has happened is that in a set-up where there is this trend toward assimilation, toward moral relativism where every truth is good, all truth is God's truth, everything is fine, let's just all get together, and everything is about to destroy the distinctiveness of Israel, God is sending Samson not to deliver them but to create a thorn in the flesh to the Philistines to stop the assimilationist process. He is sending Samson into the situation to be a bull in a china closet and to stir up the antagonism between the Philistines and the Jews so that the intermarriage and the assimilation process is going to break down.
Samson is no great spiritual giant. He does trust God at a key point at the end but his life is dominated by apostasy, by degeneracy, he is a womaniser. And there is a whole theme in Judges about how the more pagan a culture becomes the more objectified women become. That is why the women in Samson's life are never named. The only woman that is named in the whole episode is Delilah. So the women are just pictured as secondary window dressing to the whole story. This is part of the point, that in a pagan culture women are no longer the helpmate and in the important position God originally sets them up to be in.
At one point Samson is hiding out from the Philistines in the hill country of Judah and 3000 men of Judah, a small army, comes searching for him. They don't want to organize themselves with him, they want to convince him to give up and go over to the enemy. See how modern the Jews sound! They are into appeasement. Don't' rock the boat, don't take a stand for anything, just lets us all get along and let's not fight and let's not go to war. When you succumb to moral relativism there is nothing absolute anymore. Everything and every culture and every belief is relative and everybody has their own views that are equally valid. It is matter of let's just all be happy with whatever we say. Moral relativism erodes any sense of ultimate standards and any kind of objective truth. Relativism means that everything is equally true. But if everything is equally true, everything is equally false; and when everything can be equally true and equally false then nothing is worth fighting for anymore, nothing is worth living for anymore. If you don't have any high virtues, high standards to achieve, then it is just about feeding your own pleasure. The only thing we can hold in common then is just experience. If you don't have anything worth dying for you don't have anything worth living for. The only thing that is worth living for in a relativistic society is whatever you want to do at that particular moment. It is all driven by what I want right now, whatever is going to stimulate my flesh right now. Another aspect of this is, if nothing is worth dying for then the great sin is someone who says that there is something worth dying for and he fights for it. That is where we are in our culture today.
We have a war against radical Islamic fascists and we live in a culture where nobody thinks it is worth fighting for anymore, and they have forgotten what happened on 9/11, it doesn't matter to anybody anymore; that is ancient history! So in our time, as it was in their time, if there is nothing worth fighting for then let's just be pacifists, let's just give up. That is the path to enslavement. This is what happened under the Philistines. There was real arms control under the Philistines. The Philistines had iron weapons and we learn from 1 Samuel that they prevented the Jews from having blacksmiths. They took all the blacksmiths out of the land so that nobody could have a weapon that was superior to what the Philistine had. The lesson is that if the people in the land, the citizens of the country, do not have equal fire power to that which the state has then they will be under the thumb of the government. This is how the Philistines controlled the Israelites, so God sends in Samson and gives him supernatural weapons.
So Samson has this negotiation with the pacifists from Judah and they convince him. They tell him they are going to bind him and deliver him to the Philistines. The idea is that if we git rid of the people who have any connection to absolutes, to fighting for something, then we can all have peace.
But God has a different plan, and as they take him back the Spirit pf God comes upon him and the ropes are broken. The Spirit of God does that, Samson doesn't flex his muscles and pop them. The Samson finds a new weapon, a fresh jawbone. The Spirit of God here isn't related to spirituality, because what is the first thing that he does? He grabs the wrong kind of weapon. A dry jawbone is going to be better than a fresh jawbone. A fresh jawbone means that it is recent, it is still moist, still part of a carcase, and once again he is violating his Nazirite vow. He grabs this jawbone of an ass and kills a thousand men with it. Then he is so impressed with himself that he writes a little pop chorus about it to make sure that everybody learns about his glorious deeds.
But in the midst of that, even when he has all of this pagan relativism and everything else going on, he is still not oblivious to the fact that his source of strength comes from God. So he gets very thirsty, cries out to the Lord. He is blaming God but at least there is a recognition that God is there. He is like Jepthah, he is bargaining with God. Then we have a note that he judged Israel 20 years in the days of the Philistines, but we don't have the note that he delivers or that he brings rest.
Then he goes 45 miles down to Gaza. There he sees a prostitute. The Gazites are told that Samson is there and they surround the place and lie in wait for him all night at the gate of the city. When Samson takes the gate he has to defeat the troops that are guarding the gate, then he has to pull the gate off of the gate post. It weighed probably close to a thousand pounds. He hoists it up on his back and carries it to the top of the hill that faces Hebron. Hebron is 45 miles away! He is almost to the Dead Sea. What is going on there? The text really doesn't say but it seems like he is trying to sucker the Philistines deep into the territory of Judah, maybe to arouse their anger against Judah and force the men of Judah, who were pacifists in the previous chapter, to finally take a stand.
After that he falls in love with Delilah. She shaves off his hair and the Philistines capture him. This is the culmination of a process but God is also in control of what Samson is doing, and he knows what is going to happen. It was that the purpose of Samson wasn't to deliver the people but to create this turmoil to keep assimilation from taking place. The Philistines capture him, they put out his eyes, shave his head, put him in a prison and he becomes a grinder in the prison. He is blind but his hair begins to grow back. This isn't mystical, this isn't superstitious. The hair is a sign of the vow, and when the hair grows back God is making a point that those who are set apart to him are those he can use, and despite their spiritual failure. God uses us in a lot of ways regardless of our flaws and failures. That is what grace is all about. God doesn't say, Well you have to grow up and be mature before I can use you. That is not grace, it is legalism.
The Philistines decide to have a great victory supper and sacrifice to Dagon, their god. God is going to make it a point that Dagon doesn't have any power. He is not just giving Samson one last shot at it. God's honor is at stake here. So as they come together to offer the sacrifice to Dagon, to give him credit for their victory, God has to wipe them out. Samson, just like the bargaining of Jephthah, he says, One more time, God. Let me take vengeance on the Philistines. He is not concerned about the glory of God, He is still self-absorbed, still driven by his own arrogance, but God has a broader picture. He is going to use Samson's carnality which is mixed up with just a little bit of faith to give him the strength, and is going to strengthen him, because this will show that God's power is greater than the power of the false gods. The dead that Samson killed at his death were more than he killed in all of his life. This brings honor and glory to God because he could only do this through the power of God, and he demonstrates God's power over the power of the Philistines.