Friday, February 18, 2011

Relying Upon our Own Strength

   My first day of class in Theology I at the University of Scranton, the professor asked us to take out a piece of paper, number it 1 to 10, and then he proceeded to ask us a series of questions to see how much we knew about the Bible. One of those questions was, “Name the strong man in the Bible”.
    After finishing this quiz, the professor went over our answers in class.  The majority of the class answered “Hercules” to the question of who is the strong man in the Bible.  As a result of the quiz, the professor knew that most of the students had little to no familiarity with the Bible at all.
    The correction answer, of course, is Samson.  His story appears in the Book of Judges 13:1-17:31 and provides us with some insight regarding what transpires when we rely upon our own strength instead of turning to God.
    There was a certain man named Manoah in the city of Zorah, from the tribe of Dan, whose wife had borne him no children.  An angel of the Lord appears to his wife and said that even though she had not borne any children, but was barren, she would conceive and bear a son.  She was told not to drink wine or strong drink or eat anything unclean.  No razor should ever touch her son’s head for the boy shall be a nazarite (one who is consecrated to God from birth).  At this time the Jewish people were being controlled by the Philistines and the angel said to the woman that her son would begin to deliver Israel from their hands.  
   Not surprisingly, she had no idea what to make of this encounter, so she told her husband about it.  Manoah begged the Lord to send this man to them again. The angel returned to speak to her and then spoke to Manoah as well.  When Manoah asked the angel about the boy, the angel repeated all that he had said to Manoah’s wife.  Manoah wanted to feed the angel, but was told that he should provide an offering to God. Manoah took a lamb and a grain offering and offered it to God.  As the flame from the offering went up to the heavens, Manoah and his wife watched as the angel ascended into the flame.  Then they both realized that they had been speaking to an angel of God.  All that the angel had said finally came true.  Manoah’s wife did give birth to a son, whom they named Samson.
    Samson grew up and decided to choose a wife for himself.  Instead of choosing from among the woman of the tribe of Dan, which was the custom, Samson travelled to Timnah where he met a Philistine woman named Timnah, and it was her that he wished to marry.  His parents were not pleased by his desire to marry a Philistine woman, given the harsh treatment they had received at the hands of the Philistines; however, they did not know that God had allowed this union as a pretext for acting against the Philistines.
    Samson returned to Timnah with his parents.  While he was in the vineyards of Timnah, a young lion roared at him.  The spirit of Lord rushed on Samson and he killed the lion.  He ripped the lion to pieces in the same way another man might rip a young goat to pieces, but he did not tell anyone. (Judges 14:6)  He then went down to Timnah to meet the young woman and promised to return again for the marriage feast.  He did return and saw the carcass of the lion filled with a swarm of bees.  He removed some of the honey from the carcass and gave some to his parents, but did not tell them that he had taken it from the carcass. 
    When the people saw him at the marriage feast, they brought thirty companions to be with him.  Samson said to them, “Let me now put a riddle to you.  If you can explain it to me within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty festal garments.  But if you cannot explain it to me, then you shall give me thirty linen garments and thirty festal garments.” So they said to him, “What is your riddle; let us hear it?”
    Samson said,
Out of the eater came something to eat. Out of the strong came something sweet.
   For three days they could not explain the riddle.  On the fourth day, they approached Timnah and asked her to coax her husband into telling her what the riddle means or they would burn down her house with fire. 
    Timnah begged and pleaded with Samson to tell her the meaning of the riddle, but initially he would not.  After much nagging, Samson finally told her the meaning on the seventh day and she went out and told the men of the town.
  Before the sun went down on the seventh day, the men came to Samson and said, “What is sweeter than honey? What is stronger than a lion?”  He said to them, “If you had not plowed my heifer, you would not have found out my riddle.” (Judges 14:18)  Describing his wife as a heifer is certainly not a term of endearment; however, Samson was angry because now he owed these men thirty linen garments and thirty festal garments which they would never have received had she not told them the answer to the riddle.  In fact, he was so angry that he returned to his father’s house and his wife was given to another man.
   After a while Samson’s anger toward his wife subsided.  At the time of the wheat harvest he returned to see his wife and brought with him a young goat. Her father would not let Samson see her.  He said, “I was sure that you had rejected her, so I gave her to your companion.”   They have their first marital argument and her father gives her to another man.  Ladies, could you imagine what the divorce rate would be today if every time you had an argument with your husband your father kept giving you to another man so each time you had an argument with a new man he would then give you to someone else?  Then, her father offers Samson Timnah’s younger sister since he had already given Timnah to this other man.
   Needless to say, Samson was not pleased.  He went out and caught three hundred foxes. He tied the foxes together by their tails and put a lit torch between their tails.  Then he let the foxes go in the fields.  The torches burned up all the grain as well as the vineyards and the olive groves.  That certainly got their attention!  When they found out that it was Samson who had done this he said, “If this is what you do, I swear I will not stop until I have taken revenge on you.” He struck them down hip and thigh with great slaughter; and he went down and stayed in the cleft of the rock of Etam. (Judges 15:8)
   The Philistines were not simply going to let this incident go without responding.  They went to the town of Lehi looking for Samson.  The men of Judah asked, “Why have you come up against us?”  They said, “We have come here looking for Samson, so we can do to him as he has done to us.”  Then three thousand men of Judah went down to the cleft of the rock of Etam, and said to Samson, “Do you not know that the Philistines are rulers of us?” He said, “As they have done to me, so I have done to them.”  They said, “We have come to bind you so that we may give you into the hands of the Philistines.”  Samson wanted assurance from them that they would not harm him.  The men of Judah assured Samson that they would neither harm nor kill him, so he allowed them to bind him with two new ropes and bring him up from the rock.
    When the men arrived in Lehi with Samson, the Philistines came shouting to meet them.  The spirit of the Lord rushed on him and the rope became like burnt flax as his bonds melted away.  Then he found the fresh jawbone of a donkey, reached down and took it, and with it killed a thousand men.  One thousand of these dreaded Philistines were killed with the jawbone of an ass.  It seems quite ironic since they had attempted to make an ass out of Samson.
    After killing the Philistines, Samson sang this song:
“With the jawbone of a donkey, heaps upon heaps, with the jawbone of a donkey I have slain a thousand men”
Then Samson called out to God asking for water for he was dying of thirst.  God split open the hollow at Lehi and water rushed out.  This is the first time in the entire narrative that Samson calls out to God for anything.
  Even though it was the spirit of the Lord which rushed on Samson to give him the strength he needed to fight, there is every indication that Samson believes that he is relying upon his own power.  The Lord Jesus said to Pontius Pilate, “You would have no power at all, if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:11) and this is certainly true in Samson’s case as well.  Samson seems to enjoy toying with these people in the firm belief that he can handle any situation he is placed in.   However, this is all about to change.
    After killing the one thousand men, Samson arrives in Gaza, the capital city of the Philistines.  He had relations with a prostitute and the men of the city were waiting for him all night by the city gate to kill him.  Samson rose up at midnight, took hold of the doors of the city, pulled the posts out of the ground, and carried the doors, posts and all, to the top of the hill in front of Hebron.  
    He fell in love with a woman in the valley of Sorek whose name was Delilah. The Philistine leaders came to her saying, “Coax him to find out the source of his strength. We will bind him and give you eleven hundred pieces of silver.” Delilah said to him, “Please tell me the source of your strength, and how you can be bound, so no one can surprise you.”  He said, “If you bind me with seven fresh bowstrings that are not dried out, then I shall become like anyone else.”  She did this while the Philistines were in an inner chamber and shouted, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!”  He snapped the bowstrings instantly, so she knew that this was not the source of his strength.
    Then she said, “You have mocked me and told me lies.  Please tell me how you could be bound.”  He said, “If they bind me with ropes which had never been used, then I shall become weak, and be like everyone else.”  So she took fresh rope and bound him while the Philistines were in an inner chamber.  She shouted, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!”  He snapped the ropes like threads.
  Once again she said, “You have mocked me and told me lies; tell me how you could be bound.”  He said, “If you weave the seven locks of my head with the web and make it tight with the pin, then I shall become weak, and be like anyone else.”  She did as he said and shouted, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!”  He rose up, pulled away the pin, the loom, and the web. 
   Then she said, “How can you say, ‘I love you’, when your heart is not with me?  You have mocked me three times now and have not told me what makes your strength so great.”  Finally, after she had nagged him with her words day after day, and pestered him, he was tired to death.  So he told her his whole secret, saying, “A razor has never come upon my head; for I have been a nazarite to God from my mother’s womb.  If my head were shaved, then my strength would leave me; I would become weak, and be like anyone else.”  Apparently, Samson does not like to be nagged.  He told his wife the answer to the riddle after much nagging and now he has given away the secret of his strength.
   When Delilah realized that he had told her the whole secret, she sent for the Philistine leaders. The lords came to her with the money.  While Samson was asleep, she had the men shave Samson’s head.  He began to weaken and his strength had left him.  Then she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” When he awoke he believed that he could prevail as he had earlier; however, he did not realize that his head had been shaven.  So the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes.  They brought him down to Gaza in shackles, and he ground at the mill in prison.  However, the hair on his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.
    The Philistine leaders had prepared a festival in honor of their god, Dagon. The leaders and the people praised Dagon for giving their enemy, Samson, into their hands.  They brought Samson out to entertain them and they put him between the pillars which were supporting the temple of Dagon.  Samson said, “Let me feel the pillars upon which the house rests; so I may lean against them.” There were about three thousand men and women present who were watching Samson perform.
    Then Samson called to the Lord and said, “Lord God, remember me and strengthen me only this once, O God, so that with this one act of revenge I may pay back the Philistines for my two eyes.”  Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the temple rested, and he leaned his weight on the one and his left hand on the other. Then Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” He strained with all his might; and the house fell on the lords and all the people who were in it.  So that those he killed at his death were more than those he had killed during his life.  Then his brothers and all his family came down and took him and brought him up and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of his father Manoah.  Samson judged Israel for twenty years.
    While we might not have the strength of Samson, we all have gifts and talents which were given to us by God for His greater glory.  Samson could have chosen to become a judge like Gideon, a great warrior; however, it appears that God’s plan for Samson was that he would offer glory to God by giving his own life for his people.  How will we use the strengths God has given us to be of service to others? 

No comments: