Defeat and Restoration
We now enter upon a new period in Samson's history, characterized by the loss of his nazariteship and by his restoration. Judges 16: 31, compared with Judges 15: 20, marks outwardly this division. In Judges 15, God had preserved His servant in spite of himself, in a definite engagement with a woman who served other gods. But that did not rectify the natural tendency of his heart. And the first verse of this chapter shows us where this tendency led him. He had courted the idolatrous world, and now he goes after the defiled world, not fearing temporary association with it. A worldly propensity unjudged leads us necessarily to more serious falls. Thus it was, in the history of the church, that Pergamos led to Thyatira. Samson's connection with this woman was but a passing one, and he did not lose his strength there, for the secret between himself and God still continued. Waylaid all night, at the gate of the city, by his mortal enemies, he arose from his slumber, "and took the doors of the gate of the city, and the two posts, and went away with them, bar and all, and put them upon his shoulders, and carried them up to the top of an hill that is before Hebron" (v. 3).
More than once does the history of Samson remind us of that of Christ; as, for instance, his victory over the lion of Timnath, and again in the achievement of the gates of Gaza. Like Samson, the Lord awaking from the sleep of death, has brought to nought the machinations of the enemy in breaking the gates of his terrible fortress. He has led into captivity that which held us captives; and, ascended on high, He has displayed the trophies of His victory. Death, the citadel of Satan, having no longer doors to hold us, has become for us a passage;* no bolt could imprison Christ there, no power is able to keep us there. The "hill that is before Hebron," the place of the risen Man who passed through death,** is a sure guarantee to us.
We have said more than once, that there is not a man of God who is not called to manifest, and who does not, in fact, manifest some traits of the person of the Saviour. Ah! how beautiful it would have been to have seen Samson a worthy representative of Christ in his victory over death, as he was in his victory over the ravening lion! Whence went forth this strong man with the gates of Gaza on his shoulders? For whom did he fight? Who had placed him in this extremity? In all these things, his history presents the most complete contrast to that of our adorable Saviour.
Let us pay attention to a still more humiliating recital (vs. 4‑21). Samson, who had hitherto only formed a passing connection with evil, now went further. The daughter of the Philistines had been pleasing to his eye; the woman of Gaza had ensnared him for a moment; Delilah took possession of his affections. "He loved a woman in the valley of Sorek" (v. 4). This is the termination of the path of the child of God who gives way to, instead of judging, the first movements of his natural heart. Samson had hitherto guarded his intimate and secret relationship with God, in spite of everything. He possessed something which the world could not understand, and to the source of which it could not rise. His strength remained an enigma to his enemies; no doubt they saw the effect of it, but directed against themselves, and that made them all the more eager to wrest the secret of it from him, in order to find out what weapons to use against this servant of Jehovah. Doubtless, also, his long hair, a garb not common to all, was a public avowal of separation to God. But had his secret not been betrayed, the world would never have imagined that what was typical of dependence and of self‑forgetfulness, was for the Nazarite a source of strength.
Samson loved Delilah. His heart was divided, and God could not go on with this. It is impossible for our affections to go out to the world and likewise to God. "No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other" (Luke 16: 13). In loving Delilah, Samson as much as said that he hated and despised God; when, in actual fact, he belonged to Him. This woman's influence over him increased more and more. "How canst thou say, I love thee, when thine heart is not with me?" (v. 15). From that time his heart was taken captive, and it was not long ere he surrendered the whole of his secret.
Three times-the seven green withs that never were dried, the new ropes that never were occupied, and the seven locks of his head woven with the web-had not been able to quench the power of the Spirit. God still sustained His poor, unfaithful servant. But when his secret was divulged, the mark of his dependence removed, the bond of communion between his soul and God abolished, what remained for him? All his strength had vanished. The past experiences of God's deliverances, in spite of his moral bondage, only served to deceive him and to lull him into security. Three times he had extricated himself at a critical moment. Why not a fourth? The blinded heart said to itself: "I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself." But, with communion lost, intelligence of the thoughts of God was wholly lacking. "He wist not that Jehovah had departed from him" (v. 20).
Not that Samson was very happy under the yoke of Delilah. "She pressed him daily with her words, and urged him, so that his soul was vexed unto death" (v. 16). That was all he got from what had most attracted him! He would gladly have refused but was no longer capable of doing so. A man of the world may find his joy in the world; a believer, never. At bottom, the heart of Samson was in a measure with God and the Israel of God. From that fact sprang all this conflict, struggle, vexation and misery. Our conscience speaks and we have no real rest, our joy is embittered. At last he took the final step, and "told her all his heart" (v. 17). That was followed by sleep: "She made him sleep upon her knees" (v. 19). The soul loses all sense of its relationship with God, and falls into heavy slumber in the dense atmosphere of corruption. Then the enemy in ambush, watching for this moment, advanced, bound the strong man, put out his eyes, and treated him as one of their most wretched slaves. A condition, alas, worse than sleep! Samson is now only a poor blind slave, the sport of the enemies of Jehovah. Let us not be mistaken as to this, that the enemy was more hostile to God than to Samson, for the vanquished Nazarite became apparently the witness of the victory of the false god Dagon over the true God. The lack of reality in Christians is the world's most powerful weapon against Christ. In despising the unfaithful believer, it is really Him which the world finds the opportunity of despising.
Thank God, the history of the last of the judges does not close with this defeat. God will have the final victory in spite of the unfaithfulness of His witnesses. Samson recovered his nazariteship in this state of bitter humiliation. "Howbeit the hair of his head began to grow again after he was shaven" (v. 22). Samson was not a man of prayer. Only twice in all his history do we hear him addressing God (Judges 15: 18; Judges 11: 28). Here, whilst his enemies were celebrating their triumph, Samson cried to Jehovah. For my own part I appreciate in a man of God an end brighter than the commencement, though, doubtless, this is not what is highest. The path of Christ, the perfect Man, was one of perfect evenness and uniformity in the very many varied circumstances through which He had to pass, and it is thus that we see Him in Psalm 16, and in the Gospels. And yet to end like Samson, whose life presented so many contrasts; to end like Jacob, whose course, full of schemes and human devices, closed with the glorious vision of Israel's future and by worship which recognized in Joseph the type of the promised Messiah; to end like that was far better than to terminate his career like Solomon, in idolatry, after a magnificent reign of wisdom and power. Yes, Samson's end was a splendid victory. "The dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life" (v. 30).
May we profit by this history, and not require such experience of ourselves, either by a bad beginning or a bad ending. Paul, a man subject to like infirmities as ourselves, avoided both, although weakness was manifest in his walk on more than one occasion. Let us learn to regulate our steps by those of our sinless Model; that was the strength of the apostle, and it will be ours. Then will God say of us: "They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God" (Ps. 84: 7).
*"Hebron" means "a passage."
**We have remarked elsewhere (Meditations on the Book of Joshua) that Hebron is always in Scripture the place of death.