Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

The Long Road to Bethlehem (3)

Bible Readings

  • Matthew 10:34-39
  • Judges 15:1-20

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

Many might look at the story of Samson and remember his strength, his long hair and bad choices of women.  Some might think of Samson in the same way as what is told of a Spanish patriot soldier who, in his dying moments responded to his chaplain, asking him whether he had forgiven all his enemies. “I have no enemies, I have killed them all.

If we take Samson’s story out of the context for which it was included in the Bible, that’s what he is:  a vengeful, pig-headed man with a larger-than-life ego who had no social skills and became responsible for his own death.

It is only in the context of his calling as God’s chosen instrument at that specific time that we will understand his mission. We to see both 

  • why his people needed deliverance, and 
  • why the Bible calls him a faithful deliverer

Last week we learned how Samson could not, and maybe would not see that God did not intend him to set his people free by trying to win them over as friends. He disregarded the advice of his parents, and could not interpret the Holy Spirit’s leading by giving him the power to kill a lion with bare hands—this was a sign that he could only deliver his people from the enemy by the ability which comes from God.  We saw him getting married to a Philistine girl, and him only slightly upsetting the enemy.  He left the wedding in rage, without his wife, and need up back in his father’s house where it all began. Then he tried again to win the enemy’s heart.

About three or four months later we find Samson again in the house of his Philistine wife.  He had a young goat, probably meant as a gift to restore peace.

Keep in mind that there was still a legally binding contract between the two families, but that marriage was still not consummated.  Samson and his wife were not, so to speak, one flesh.  This was of God who prohibited such a marriage. 

Things took another direction from this point on in the story.  All along we need to keep this line in mind:  

… this was from the Lord, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel. (Judges 14:4, NIV)

Samson’s wife became the wife of his master of ceremonies because her father thought the deal was over.  He could take the younger, more beautiful sister instead.  But at this point, Samson began to understand his mission:  God called him to set his people free from oppression.  God did not call him to be part of the enemy, but to oppose them.

If we don’t get this point, we will miss most of the teaching of the Old Testament.  In fact, we will misunderstand the mission of Christ by limiting his mission to only setting to us an example of how we should love regardless of truth.

This is indeed the weakness of the Christian church today.  If we saw it our calling to love outside the boundaries of the truth as expressed in the Scriptures, we end up loving the world.  The message of Christ in Matthew 10:34 still stands: 

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. (Matthew 10:34, NIV)

But did the angels not proclaim peace on earth when they announced the birth of Christ:  

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” (Luke 2:14, NIV)

Did you hear the second part of the verse, “peace to those on whom his favour rests”?

He who loves the world has become an enemy of God (James 4:4).  “Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1John 2:15)  Paul writes:  

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14, NIV)

Paul also writes:

You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. (1 Corinthians 10:21, NIV)

Even David prays:

Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies. (Psalm 139:21–22, NIV)

Yes, Christ demands of us to love our enemies, but a true disciple of Christ loves his Saviour about all.  When it comes to the glory of his Name, the purity of the Gospel and the advancement of the church, we get our marching orders not from the world, but from Him who conquered the world and their deceitful master.

God led Samson to understand this valuable lesson.  He never consummated his marriage or did not take another Philistine wife the day.  The little goat he brought as a peace offering never served a purpose.

Confrontation

Samson’s mission would be fulfilled in battle.  How he discharged of his calling to us a manifestation of faithful obedience to the Lord, but not a norm of obedience. I’ll explain:  we are not called to catch foxes and burn the wheat of the world.  What we are called to is to faithfully obey the Lord for and in what He calls us as people who live in the reality of the death and resurrection of Christ.  He enables us by the Holy Spirit we sow the seed of the Gospel wherever He calls us and whenever He calls us.  In this calling we confront the world with the Gospel of Christ, we stand on the truth of God revealed in Him, and in his Name, we become a church who subdues the enemy of Christ with his Word by his Spirit.  In other words, what drove Samson to deliver his people from the enemy, will drive us; but the method was forever changed after the finished work of Christ.

Confusion

Samson was not directly responsible for what happened next, but his definite change of attack shows the weakness of the enemy of God.  

Samson refuses to take the younger sisters wife.  He was done with the Philistines.  He chose the road of confrontation to achieve God’s purpose of deliverance.  

He chose to destroy the wheat fields.  Instead of Israel occupying the land and receiving corps they did not plant, their spiritual slavery to the gods of the surrounding nations caused the reverse. What happened?  

Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. (Judges 6:2–4, NIV)

The people of God hiding in mountain clefts while their crops were ruined. Is this a picture of property and blessing?  God sent his people Samson, the deliverer.

He would ruin the financial prosperity of the Philistines.  In the Sorek Valley with its fertile soils and mountain streams, the Philistines had vineyards, around which they erected walls to protect them from wild animals.  Foxes was a significant pest which got through holes in the walls and destroyed the crops.  We read about this in Song of Songs 2:15.  Samson most probably just blocked the holes through which the foxes would escape and so trap them.  Soon he had 300.  Tying their tales together with dry flax between every pair and setting it alight cause havoc.  The wheat, ready for harvest, burnt down, also causing extensive damage to the vineyard and olive groves.

This is amusing.  The Philistines then turned against one another.  They killed both Samson’s “wife” and her father. And when they took to Samson, we read, “…he attacked them hip and thigh with a great slaughter.” (Judges 15:8, NKJV) This is an expression meaning they suffered huge losses.  

Conflict

Samson then took a break and sought respite in the rock of Etam.  The cleft or chasm in the rock is a long, narrow cavern about 75m long, 15m wide and 1.5m high.

What happens is tragic beyond words.  Samson’s own people became so used to be slaves in their own land, that they slavishly obeyed the Philistines to betray God’s deliverer.  The Philistines did not have the gumption to face Samson themselves unless he was bound.  The men of Judah did not see confrontation with the enemy as their duty to reclaim their Promised Land.  Instead, they delivered Samson to them.  Samson trusted his own people to protect him from their enemy, yet they regarded him as their enemy.

One would need much more time to explain what is hidden in these few verses.  But just in short:

  • It is possible that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ become so worldly that they turn against those who proclaim the Kingdom of God in all sincerity.  They did it with Moses too.  And they did it with Jesus Christ.  Worldly Christians can quickly become the footmen of the world doing their dirty work for them.  
  • It is possible that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ can become spiritually so blind that they see the enemy of Christ is their liberators.
  • It is more than just a possibility that the church of our Lord Jesus Christ would disown Him purely to protect their own interests and peace.

Think about it.  Consider your personal attitude in this.

Like a slave with hands tied up, Samson was delivered into the hands of the Philistines.  His own people did not kill him, but they would hand him over to others who would.  

But God’s servants are not powerless.  The Spirit of God rushed on Samson, and he broke the ropes which bound him.  What followed was something I would not mind seeing on video.  Samson picked up the jaw bone of a donkey and started to fling it around.  Jawbones are not really smooth, and anyone who dared to come close got knocked over.  Did he really kill a thousand of them?  The word in the Bible can also be understood as a military company.  In any case, they did not have a chance.  Samson made donkeys of them; in other words, they became like salve animals under God’s power through him.  Later on, they named the place Jawbone Hill.  There’s something of this which echoes into the future to Golgotha, Place of the Skull where our Saviour, after He was handed over by his own people to be hanged, being thirsty, had victory over Satan, death, sin and hell.

Contentment

Samson, exhausted in victory, cried out to the Lord to sustain him.  God opened a hollow place, and a fountain sprang open.  His strength returned, and he revived. God enabled his appointed deliverer to have victory, and God sustained his appointed deliver.

And we read the last statement in this chapter:  

And he judged Israel twenty years in the days of the Philistines. (Judges 15:20, NKJV)

Conclusion

Anyone who knows about the Gospel of Christ will understand how Samson as deliverer was a precursor to Christ, born in Bethlehem many years later.  When we celebrate the birth of Christ, we hear the message:

“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10–11, NKJV)

He is your Deliverer, He is your rock, He is the living water.  He is your Saviour.  Take up your cross and follow Him.

Amen.  

Sermon preached by Red D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 9 December 2018

 

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The Long Road to Bethlehem (2)

Scripture Reading 

  • Judges 13:24-14:20

Introduction

All Sunday school children will encounter the story of Samson.  About all children’s Bibles will have a full-colour page of Samson tearing the lion to bits.  

What do you remember of Samson?  How should we understand the story of Samson? 

The official synopsis of the 1951 film reads: When strongman Samson rejects the love of the beautiful Philistine woman Delilah, she seeks vengeance that brings horrible consequences they both regret. In that movie, Samson won his bride after a contest of strength.  The woman he married then betrays him and fell in love with another man.  Samson went after them and killed them.  Her sister Delilah who had loved Samson in secret, seduces Samson into a relationship, in an attempt to avenge the death of her sister. She succeeded, and Samson dies a blind man.

That’s it! That’s the plot! It that we need to know about Samson?

The story of Samson was not included into the Scriptures to provide the script for a movie or even a large colour page in a children’s Bible. Samson was not a precursor to Superman.

One of the keys to understanding the Bible is to compare the Bible with itself.  Whit this in mind we need to bring into account what the Bible centuries later said about him:  

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions… And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, (Hebrews 11:32-22, 39, ESV)

 If the name of Samson is mentioned along with the heroes of old for his faith and he is commended for it, then surely we have to try to understand why Samson’s story is included into the Scriptures.

In my research for this sermon, I found precious little theology about Samson.  Not a lot of sermons are recorded, and the commentaries are at best skimpy.  So, it is with fear end trembling that I preach this morning.  Think with me, and test the word of today against the Scriptures. May God’s Spirit give us understanding.  

Prayer:  That the Holy Spirit gives us understanding

God gave Samson to perform a specific task

Samson’s birth was unexpected and humanly impossible. His mother had been barren.  His birth was because of God’s direct intervention.

Both Samson’s parents would play an active role in his birth and upbringing.  They had to raise Samson as a Nazirite—a child dedicated to the service of God.  Even before his birth, they had to treat him as God’s chosen instrument.  Manoah knew that Samson would be unique when he asked what his son’s mission would be (13:12).  From birth, Samson would be set apart to “begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines.” (13:5)

The encounter of the parents with the Angel of the Lord has all the marks of a covenant between God and them.  It was sealed with a sacrifice, which God accepted. 

Samson grew up as a specially consecrated instrument in the hands of God.  His name was carefully selected:  “Sunshine” as if his mother saw the mission of her son as God giving light to his people.

Through his diet, appearance and everyday activity his parents would imprint on him God’s calling for his life.  One can be sure that his extended family and neighbourhood knew about God’s mission with the young man. God affirmed his intentions with Samson; we read,  

And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol. (Judges 13:25, ESV)

 Samson’s misguided program to of attack

Timnah was a Philistine town only a few miles away from where his parents raised Samson, on the other side of the border. He probably went there often.  In the back of his mind the words of his parents echoed:  You must deliver the people of God from Philistine oppression.   

In his mid-twenties, he met a girl and fell in love with her.  Maybe he thought he could overcome the enemy by first becoming part of them, he would thus gain a platform to execute his mission.  All along we read: the Lord was seeking an occasion [the right moment/time] to confront the Philistines.  Samson knew this fact very well, but his personal strategy went along a different path.  

His patents protested because they disagreed with his strategy.  Samson insisted, “She’s the right one for me.” (Or: “She’s right in my eyes”.) This was probably not the action of a man only blindly in love.  He understood his mission, and all along he probably still thought God will bless him through his marriage to get a foothold on the oppressors.  

So, the parents went along to make arrangements for the marriage.  They had to negotiate the dowry.  This made the betrothal to be married binding.  (So by the way, in this word betroth, the word for truth is buried.  This, of course, leads us to understand marriage between man and wife as a relationship based on truthfulness.) 

But on the way to Timnah, something extraordinary happened.  In the Sorak valley of vineyards, God’s Spirit came upon Samson.  When a lion attacked him, God gave him the strength to rip it apart as if was a young goat.  This must have impacted Samson to know getting married to the Philistine woman was not in God’s plan. Keep in mind, the Bible gives us no indication that Samson was physically stronger than any other person of his age.  He most probably never was, but God enabled him with exceptional strength when only he needed it. 

Samson suppressed God’s plan, but even subconsciously he must have known it was the right thing to do.  Contrary to what one might expect, he hid the episode with the lion from his parents,.  Would you not tell your parents that God empowered you and you just killed a lion with your bare hands? He was probably afraid that they might see it as a sign of God to not go ahead with the marriage.

If it was my mother, she would be quick to tell me that God wanted me to listen to God’s voice!

But his heart was set:  if he had to deliver the enemy, he would do it his way!  He did not abandon his mission, he just went about it in his own strength, thereby rejecting the power by which God wanted him to go about it. 

On his way for the actual wedding day, he diverted into the vineyard and had a look to see if the carcass of the lion was still there.  Yes!, and this time it had bees and honey in it.  He took the honey and gave it to his parents—but did not tell them where he got it from?  Why?  

Once again he missed the message.  He probably saw it as a sign that God would bless his marriage, but he lost the picture as a followup of him killing the beast:  if he could kill a roaring lion by the strength God provided, he would lead the people to restore the Promised Land to a place of milk and honey.

Samson did not overcome the enemy; he only somewhat distressed them

From what we gather from the Scriptures, unlike the custom of the day, the wedding feast did not take place in the house of the groom’s father.  That was in some sense humiliating for Manoah:  having a wedding feast in the house of your oppressors. If his relatives were present, those who had been told that God gave Samson to deliver Israel from the hand of their oppressors, this wedding celebration was instead a sign of defeat and further oppression.  It would be a riddle to the Israelites who attended it.

But maybe God can still hit a straight blow with a crooked stick.  Samson, as God’s special consecrated man, might have other insights regular folk did not have!

It lasted a full week. The guests were intrigued by Samson’s riddle:  Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet.” If only Samson’s heart were receptive to understand his own riddle, he would have followed God’s plan: he would have assumed that the eater, the Philistines, would be defeated and God would restore his people in the land of milk and honey.

Instead, Samson, the consecrated Nazirite, frivolously squandered the opportunity amongst the enemy known for their wallowing in drunkenness and hedonistic self-gratification. Does it remind you of the lost son in the parable of our Lord? 

Surely, Samson did infiltrate the enemy, but only thirty Philistines lost their lives, and that because the Spirit of God enabled him.  It was hardly a comprehensive victory!  Even more so when this episode in Samson’s life ended up where his ministry started: in his father’s house:  he lost his wife and went back to live with his parents.

Application

There are other examples in the Bible of men of God who made the same mistake as Samson.  

  • Abraham:  instead of staying in the land God promised to him and his descendants, he went down to Egypt, gave up his wife, only to return humiliated.  He misunderstood the promises of God, and he wanted it to come true as he saw it. Through the school of faith, Abraham learnt to fully trust and obey God, even if it were needed to sacrifice his only son.
  • Lot:  He thought he could gain something by living in Sodom.  He chose wrongly.  Yes, the Bible calls him a righteous man (2Peter 2:7), but his witness became weak, and none in Sodom believed him when he told them to flee the city ahead of God’s judgment.  By the grace of God, he was saved.
  • Samson: Samson had it wrong and initially squandered the opportunities God gave him because of his own stubborn understanding of God’s purposes.  Pigheadedly, he insisted on being the leading player in his life drama, instead of being like clay in the hand of the Holy Spirit.

Borrowing from Spurgeon’s sermon, we have to say that the secret of Samson’s strength only lied in his consecration as God’s instrument. Never should we think that we have any power and understanding of our own.

We have to guard our consecration; it must be sincere; we must mean it, and then look up to the Holy Spirit, relying on Him to give us daily grace.  It is not by any grace or insight, or power we have in us, but by the grace that is in Christ, and that must be given to us hour by hour, or we will fall.  Then, when we have done all required of us, we will be crowned last as a faithful one, who has endured unto the end.

Just one last thought:  Samson, and all human deliverers before and after him, was born of a man; they were sinners.  They were born on the long road to Bethlehem.  It was only then that the Messiah, not born of a man, but of the Holy Spirit, was born.  Being sinless, being one with the Father, His mission succeeded.  He totally destroyed the enemy.  For his wedding feast we, his bride, are waiting.

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 2 December 2018