Men Who Slept
This fresh article in Andrew Borland’s (Irvine, Scotland) series on ‘Men Who Slept” is not only unusual, it really encourages the heart and confirms confidence in the Lord.
The story of Samson is one of the most pathetic in the Bible. A life which began with such promise, with the prediction that he was to begin to deliver Israel from the Philistines who occupied the adjacent strip of seaboard, ended in the disgrace of captivity and the dishonour of a man blinded by his enemies and made a spectacle for the entertainment of his captors.
At his birth, he was a child in honourable company. That he was to be a person of outstanding importance is evident from the fact that his birth and the nature of his vocation were communicated to Manoah and his wife by a specially commissioned divine messenger, ‘a man of God,’ ‘an angel of the Lord.’ In that respect Samson is classed in Scripture with Isaac, with Samuel and with John the Baptist, whose mothers were barren women until a heavenly messenger announced the birth of a male child. That fact in itself gives significance to the history of Samson. Judged by human standards, so far as being the heroic deliverer of his people from oppression by the Philistines, his life was a failure. Yet the inspired writer of chapter eleven of the Epistle to the Hebrews includes him in the same category of men of faith like Gideon and Barak, Jephthah, David and Samuel. In the reckoning of God his life was not a failure.
The Importance of Character
It should not be forgotten that character is often formed in the context of one’s upbringing. Early influences play a great part in the moral and spiritual future of young folks. Hence the need for careful behaviour by the parents. Samson had the advantage of being born into a Danite family in the south of Judah on the border of the land occupied by the Philistines whose presence was a constant menace to the peace of family life. Zorah, the pastoral village where Manoah and his wife lived, was close to the border of the country where the Philistines had settled, and only a few miles from Timnah which was to figure much in the life of Samson. His parents were a God-fearing couple, probably farmers, who understood the implicates of the Nazarite vow which imposed definite restrictions upon the person who was under obligation to it.
The visit from ‘the man of God’ ‘the angel of the Lord’ whose name was Wonderful, made a deep impression on Manoah and his wife. They knew that their son was to be an unusual child, and that he was to be brought up under strict discipline. His mother, too, was to prepare herself by accepting similar restrictions on her way of life. Several times instructions were given by ‘the angel of the Lord,’ ‘drink not wine nor strong drink, and eat not any unclean thing’ (Judges 13:4). Of the child it was said, ‘No razor shall come on his head: for the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb…to the day of his death’ (Judges 13:5-7).
That Manoah and his wife paid heed to the instructions given is evident from the summary of Samson’s life until he reached manhood and appeared in the camp of Dan between Sorah and Eshtaol: ‘And the woman bare a son, and called his name Samson: and the child grew, and the Lord blessed him. And the Spirit of the Lord began to move him at times’ (13: 24-25). It is to be concluded that the woman strictly observed the restrictions placed upon her and that she brought up the boy after the manner prescribed. Samson was an extraordinary child, specially blessed of the Lord, growing up into vigorous manhood, and outstanding for his physical strength. He gave evidence of his powers in the camp of Dan when ‘the Spirit of the Lord began to move him.’ He must have astonished those about him by his first exhibitions of unusual strength.
The Influence of Four Women
Samson’s story as recorded in the Bible revolves around four women: his mother, the wife in Timnah, the harlots in Gaza, and Delilah. That Manoah and his wife were deeply concerned about the rearing of the child is evident on two occasions. Manoah, probably prompted by his wife, prayed, ‘O my Lord, let the man of God… come again unto us, and teach us what we shall do unto the child’ (Judges 13:8). When ‘the angel of the Lord’ came again, Manoah asked the question, ‘How shall we order the child, and how shall we do unto him?’ However, it was to the woman that instructions were given, and it was to the early training and example of his mother that Samson owed much. A mother’s influence extends even to the very end of a child’s life.
The story of the woman of Timnah occupies two long chapters in the Samson narrative. Against the wishes of his parents he arranged for the wedding with the Philistine woman whose charm evidently attracted Samson. On the way over he slew a lion, and later he found honey in the lion’s carcass. At the wedding feast Samson put forth the riddle which baffled the guests. Under pressure from the guests his wife wormed the answers from her husband and in consequence he had to supply thirty changes of raiment. Those he acquired by slaying thirty Philistines, and this naturally created enemies.
Samson made several mistakes during this episode. He refused to take the advice of his parents. In marrying a Philistine he failed in loyalty to his family and his nation, for intermingling nth the Philistines was considered an irreligious act. He failed in loyalty to himself. He knew better, otherwise he would not have forced his will upon his parents. He failed in loyalty to God who had forbidden alliance with an idolatrous people. When Samson seemed to be in default his wife was given to his ‘best man,’ and to avenge himself of the insult he tied three hundred foxes in pairs, put a burning brand between each pair, and sent them to make havoc among the standing crops. When his wife and her father were burnt by the Philistines Samson slew them ‘hip and thigh.’ Samson then took safety in the rock Etam where three thousand men of Judah threatened to hand him over to his enemies. They bound him with ropes which he broke, and, being free, he found the jawbone of an ass with which he slew a thousand of his would-be captors.
It is at that point in the story that we are informed that Samson judged Israel twenty years. It is evident that the inspired narrator was guided to include only a few illustrative incidents to show how even a strong man may be seduced by evil and led to his downfall.
The third woman in Samson’s life lived in Gaza, the chief city of the Philistines, and a considerable distance from the scenes of Samson’s national activities as judge in Israel. It was in Gaza that he encountered the harlot in whose house he stayed and where he was nearly trapped. The question may justly be asked, What was the leader of the Israelites doing in the stronghold of the Philistines? Was he tired of the commonplace, unexciting life as an itinerant judge? He had no just cause for which to be in Gaza. He must have known he was risking detection and his life. He may have been attracted by reports of the pleasures to be found in the new city, a place where he could find plenty of excitement to satisfy his energetic nature. There he might be free from the moral restraints which his responsibilities imposed upon him. Did he travel in disguise? That would be difficult, for doubtless he would be easily recognized. There he made contact with a woman whose company he should have avoided. Did he allow himself to be identified by the woman? She in turn informed the rulers of the city, and the trap was laid for him at the gate. It failed, for during the night Samson escaped by carrying off gate, posts and bars, to the discomfiture of his would-be captors. Again Samson had made a wrong move. He should not have been in Gaza; nor should he have courted the company of a woman of loose morals. He exposed himself unnecessarily to moral danger in the harlot’s house and to physical danger in the city of the Philistines.
Delilah was the fourth woman under whose influence Samson came. The story is so well-known that it does not need repetition. Three times Samson deceived Delilah about the source of his strength and three times he escaped from the Philistines who were lying in wait. The woman’s persistence paid off, and when Samson disclosed that he was a Nazarite and that his strength was in his unshaved head, the end had come. His seven locks were shaven off, and he was easily overpowered by his enemies. Blinded, and in fetters of bronze, he was led from the Valley of Sorek to Gaza, where in prison he was made to grind at the mill, a task usually assigned to slaves. How long he was in prison we do not know, but the day came when the Philistines made festival to celebrate their triumph over their foe. He was led out to provide sport for the thousands who had gathered to watch. By this time his hair had begun to grow again, evidence that the strength he had lost while he slept on Delilah’s knee was returning. With a mighty effort he pulled down the pillars upon which the roof of the building where hundreds of people who were watching had gathered, rested, and in the collapse those people and others were killed. Samson had his revenge at the cost of his own life. Poor Samson!
The Instruction from His Life
There are lessons to learn:
1. It is often easy to satisfy one’s personal longings at the expense of defiling one’s separation to a life of godliness. Small beginnings may have disastrous ends. Let us beware.
2. Like Samson it is possible for a Christian to be robbed of spiritual vitality and to know not that the Lord has departed.
3. Just as Samson performed feats of strength when the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, so the Christian attributes every achievement to the help of the Spirit of God.
4. As Samson made his recovery when his hair began to grow again, so too, those who have fallen may be restored to usefulness when they return to the path of separation and honour the Lord by an act of rededication.