Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

Advent: The Long Road to Bethlehem (4)

Scripture Readings

  • Hebrews 2:10-18;
  • Judges 16:1-7, 23-31

Introduction

Han van Meegeren painted a work in the style of the great Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer and titled it “The Supper at Emmaus”, fooling the critics who thought it was a lost masterpiece of Johannes Vermeer. The painting was sold for millions of dollars, and displayed in the Boijmans Gallery in Rotterdam.

Van Meegeren painted more, raking in millions more dollars.  After WWII, a receipt led two investigators from the Allied Art Commission to the studio of Van Meegeren, who wanted to know from whom he had bought the artwork. Unwilling to divulge the truth, Van Meegeren was arrested on charges of treason and faced the death penalty. Van Meegeren then confessed, but no-one believed him. Even experts testified that his work was without question was originals of Vermeer, which it was not. The only way to prove his innocence was to produce another fake!

Van Meegeren later wrote that he was sure about one thing: if he died in jail, people would forget the details of his fraudulent paintings. Because “I produced them not for money but for art’s sake.”

What about Samson, was he a fake deliverer, or just a con artist?  Must we remember him for his sins, for his achievements, or for his failures? More importantly, was Samson the leading actor in the drama of Judges 13-16? Why is his life recorded in the Scriptures?

Wrecking victory 

What stands out like a sore finger in the ministry of Samson is that his work was a one-man-show.  His methods and strategies did not appeal to his fellow-countrymen.  Did they regard him as a fraudulent, self-appointed freak?  Not many people want to be associated with a seemingly out-of-the-box person who claims to be the liberator of the people. So, Samson went solo.  All along, he subdued the enemy, even if they only observed from a distance.

Did those who divided the Bible into chapters and verses do a good job in dividing chapter 15 and 16?  Maybe not.  A careful reading of chapter 16:1-3 would instead add these verses to the end of chapter 15.  Why?  Chapter 15 tells of Samson’s victories, explicitly stating in verse 20, “Samson led Israel for twenty years in the days of the Philistines.

Chapter 16:1-3 takes us to another significant victory.  Reading some commentaries, and drawing from superficial observations, this episode in Samson’s life is lumped together with his bad choices of women.  Verses 4-21 is without a doubt about his arrogant fall into sin with Delilah.  More about that later.

Judges 16:1-3 happened in Gaza, miles away from his meeting with Delilah?  So, what was Samson’s business in Gaza?

All of this is significant with the light of another episode in the Bible.  When Israel took possession of the Promised Land under Joshua, they destroyed the Anakites who lived in the hill country to the Mediterranean Sea (Joshua 11:21).  This is roughly where Samson and his parents settled in the towns of Zora and Eshtaol. 

Who were the Anakites?  This takes us back to the report of those whom Moses had sent to check out the land.  They also visited the Sorek Valley with all the vineyards (where Samson killed the lion? [Judges 14:4]), and even took a cluster of grapes back, so big that they carried it on a pole between them (Numbers 13:23). Some came back with this report: 

“There we saw the giants (the descendants of Anak came from the giants); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.” (Numbers 13:33, NKJV)

After the forty years of wandering in the desert because of their unbelief (Numbers 14:11, 21-23), Joshua led the people into the Promised Land.  The occupation of years later under Joshua was not complete.  We read, 

None of the Anakim was left in the land of the children of Israel; they remained only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod. (Joshua 11:22, NKJV)

And now we find Samson in Gaza!  

With the fearlessness of someone who understood something of delivering his people from Philistine oppression, Samson went to their own fortified capital. Gaza was the most powerful border-city of the Philistines.

Too quickly may we jump to conclusions about Samson spending the night with a prostitute.  Why was he in that house?  It was custom that the houses of prostitutes stood open to all, including strangers who had no friends in the city to take them in.  Do you remember the spies who visited Jericho and stayed the night with Rahab, the prostitute? (Joshua 2)  

Samson did not go to Gaza to visit a brothel.  Because he wished to remain there some time, there was no option for him but to check in with the prostitute. Who else would have taken him in?

Keep in mind, this was supposed to be the territory given to Judah (Judges 1:18), but they were nowhere near now?  They were hiding in the clefts, caves and strongholds (Judges 6:2) out of fear.  But Samson marched into the lion’s mouth.  The enemy had one desire:  kill him!

When they were keeping guard through the night around the city to prevent him from escaping, they fell asleep.  At midnight Samson “took hold of the doors of the gate of the city and the two gateposts, pulled them up, bar and all, put them on his shoulders, and carried them to the top of the hill that faces Hebron.” (Judges 16:3, NKJV).  To take possession of an enemy’s gate is to have a complete victory over them.  When Samson pulled out the gate of Gaza, he inflicted national humiliation of the Philistines before Israel, as if Israel, in the person of its representative, took their capital by storm.  

What did he do with the gates?  He planted them on the hill the faced Hebron.  Is it of importance?  Sure!  Hebron was the city Joshua gave to Caleb (Joshua 15:13).  Hebron had been occupied by the giants, the Anakites, but Caleb was one of the spies who reported back to Moses in Numbers 14 with these words:  

Only do not rebel against the Lord, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the Lord is with us. Do not fear them. (Numbers 14:8–9, [24], NKJV)

And, of course, Hebron was the country of David, the king who would later totally destroyed the Philistines.  And not far from Hebron, in Bethlehem (the city of David) the Christ would be born, who single-handedly destroyed the enemy of enemies and enlarged the territory of God’s people into all the world.  To Him was given all power in heaven and on earth.  In His Name, we are marching on into final victory when He will crush all resistance and treads all enemy under his feet  (Psalm 2 and 110).

Samson was a man of faith, just as the Bible teaches in Hebrews 11.  Single-handedly, he made a spectacle of the oppressors.  He connected the Promised Land back to the former days, but his ministry also linked to future deliverance.  

He became a wrecking victory. 

Victorious wreck

The next and final episode in Samson’s life is a picture of failure.  In more than one sense Samson’s life became a symbol of the experience of his adulterous people, who traded her privilege as God’s treasured possession to become a spectacle of shame.

Samson toyed with his victories, took his eyes off his mission and, in arrogance and pride, squandered his God-given abilities.  

His power did not lie in his hair; his hair was merely a symbol of God’s presence with him.  In the lap of the adulterous women, now not deep in Philistine territory, but actually not far from home—and maybe because he felt safe in these environments—probably knowing that his hair had nothing to do with his strength, thought nothing of it to disregard God’s claim on him as a Nazirite.  He had Delilah snip off his hair. It was precisely because this careless attitude which dug the hole of his defeat. 

But God did not leave him at once.  Samson stretched the grace of God.  It was after the fifth time that he was not the deliverer of Israel anymore; what was left was just mortal Samson of Eshtaol. He became powerless and ended up blind, helpless, humiliated, labouring like an animal as a slave of the very people he was to destroy.

This was the story of Israel.  This was the story of the other judges.  A human deliverer would always fail.  God’s people would always fail.  They needed a Perfect Deliverer, a sinless one, a Saviour who could finally satisfy God’s wrath on sin, a Saviour who would finally destroy the enemy to set his people free.  

This Saviour was the One born in Bethlehem and who went on to destroy death and sin and hell and Satan on Calvary’s Hill.

Who knows what went through Samson’s mind as he, with eyes cut out, in the darkness of the mill floor reflected on his life.  What went through his mind when they came to get him to entertain them as they were gathered in the temple of Dagon, jeering: 

“Our god has delivered into our hands Samson our enemy!” (Judges 16:23, NKJV)

Dagon’s temple was most probably in Ashdod north of Gaza  (1Samuel 5:1).  

Wesley penned down this poem:  

Into their hands by sin betrayed,
(The sin I cherished in my breast)
Low in the deepest dungeon laid, 
Fettered in brass, by guilt oppressed;
A slave to Satan I remain,
And bite, but cannot burst my chain.

Now to their idol’s temple brought, 
A sport I am to fiends and men, 
They set my helplessness at nought,
They triumph in my toil and pain: 
Th’ uncircumcised lift up their voice, 
And Dagon’s worshippers rejoice.

He shuffled in, chains around his ankles.  He was stripped of all dignity and pride.  Around him, there was just darkness.  

All the rulers of the Philistine were there, and the galleries were packed with 3,000 Philistines.  Guided by another servant he asked to put between the pillars supporting the roof.  

Wesley’s poem continues: 

Remember me, O Lord, my God, 
If ever I could call thee mine;
Though now I perish in my blood,
And all my hopes of heaven resign,
Yet listen to my latest call, 
Nor suffer me alone to fall.

O cast not out my dying prayer, 
Strengthen me with thy Spirit’s might
This only once: I pray thee, hear, 
Avenge me for my loss of sight,
Avenge it on mine enemies,
For they have put out both mine eyes.

Was his prayer sincere?  Calvin helps us to understand:  

“…even though there was some righteous zeal mixed in, still a burning and hence vicious longing for vengeance was in control. God granted the petition. From this, it seems, we may infer that, although prayers are not framed to the rule of the Word, they obtain their effect.”

God gave him the strength to push the supporting pillars over, killing the rulers and the people—and most importantly, making a spectacle of the god of the Philistines. Yet, it was the end of Samson, killing “at his death were more than he had killed in his life.” (Judges 16:30)

Another deliverer failed.  Samson died a victorious wreck.

Conclusion

The scene shifted to Bethlehem where Christ was born.  Our reading from Hebrews states: 

Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14–15)

If your Christmas only takes you the stable, and not to the cross, you miss the message of Scripture.  If you do not worship Christ as the One who destroyed death and Satan, you will find yourself with Samson in the lap of sin, and with him, you will die with the enemy.  

I plead with you, fall down and worship Him as Lord and Saviour.

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 16 December 2018

 

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