The title of today’s message is “A Flawed Human Being.” Do we have any flawed human beings here today? If so, this message is for you. If you are a perfected little angel, you probably won’t be able to identify with this sermon.
One of the amazing truths in Scripture is that God’s loves flawed people. His grace flows to the low places. He extends His hand of mercy to people who know their need for that mercy. Jesus told the Pharisees, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Matt. 9:13).i He was talking to self-righteous people. He was talking to people who were sinners but did not acknowledge their sin. They were too busy portraying themselves as righteous. The first step toward knowing God is acknowledging our need for His mercy and grace. We must all come to Him on bended knee of humility. We must all come confessing our sin and asking for forgiveness. God’s salvation is for flawed people. That’s good news for you and me!
Today we will examine the life of a flawed human being. He was a bundle of contradictions. On the one hand, he was a person of great strength. He was used by God in a mighty way. On the other hand, he was a person with glaring weaknesses. He compromised his calling and brought reproach on his own life and disappointment to those he loved.
Nobody fits that description more clearly than Samson; a man flawed yet favored. A man who did mighty things in God yet dishonored God by his own sinfulness. There are some instructive surprises in the way God dealt with Samson. We can learn from his life. That’s why God gives us biographies like this in Scripture.
I. We begin with Samson’s CALLING.
God placed a call on this man’s life before he was born.ii God was the initiator of this calling. The wife of a Danite named Manoah was barren. We are not told her name in Scripture. The Jewish rabbis gave her a name in the Midrash. Some claimed she was from the tribe of Judah. They considered her one of “the twenty-three truly upright and righteous women who came forth from Israel.”iii But from Scripture we don’t know much about her.
The story begins with an Angel appearing to her. The first words the Angel said to her were: “. . . you are barren” (Judges 13:3). You have tried and failed. You cannot bring about what is about to happen. The day you got saved God said something like that to you. You had to recognize your sinfulness. You had to acknowledge your inability to save yourself. Titus 3:5 reminds us of the way we got saved: “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us.” The miracle of the new birth follows our impotence. The miracle of Samson’s birth followed the barrenness of this couple.
Many believe the Angel which appeared to Samson’s mother was the pre-incarnate Christ. There is nothing in the story that is inconsistent with that. “Manoah said to his wife, [in Judges 13:22] ‘We shall surely die, because we have seen God!’” So, he felt they had seen God. Manoah’s wife calmed him down with this reasoning in Judges 13:23: “If the Lord had desired to kill us, He would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering from our hands, nor would He have shown us all these things, nor would He have told us such things as these at this time.”
The promise that she would have a son came to pass and they named the child Samson. The Hebrew word means “like the sun.”iv This child was the “sunshine” of their lives. Can you imagine how this child brightened up their lives?
Samson was called to be a life-long Nazarite. He was to drink no wine or eat anything unclean. He was to never cut his hair as a symbol of his consecration to God.v The terms of the Nazarite vow were given to them by Moses in Numbers 6 and explained to them by the angel (Judges 13). Samson’s parents taught these conditions to their son. He seems to have stayed true to the vow while he was growing up. Judges 13:24 says, “and the Lord blessed him. 25 And the Spirit of the Lord began to move upon him at Mahaneh Dan between Zorah and Eshtaol.”
This calling was initiated by God at a time when Israel was in a backslidden condition. God always has a remnant of people who fear Him and serve Him. But as a whole the spiritual condition of the nation was extremely low. God did not raise up Samson because Israel was diligently seeking Him. He raised up Samson when Israel desperately needed His grace. The Joshua generation had conquered the land. They did not drive out all the enemies. But they did successfully enter the Promise Land under Joshua’s leadership. Judges 2 records the death of Joshua and the passing of his generation. Then in Judges 2:10 we read these words: “another generation arose after them who did not know the Lord nor the work which He had done for Israel.” That explains a lot about the condition of Israel at the time Samson was born. The previous generation had failed to teach their children the things of God. The new generation did not know God, and they did not know the history of what God had done for those people.
It’s easy to see a parallel with what we’re dealing with in America today. Our generation, like Joshua’s generation, has failed at a crucial point: we have failed to lead the next generation into a deep personal relationship with the Lord. I’m speaking in general terms for there are parents that did that. But as a whole our generation has failed in this respect. The result is a new generation that is much like Samson’s generation. It was a “Me generation” then. And it is a “Me generation” now. The times are described in Judges 17:6: “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” The so-called progressive relativism in our culture is nothing new. Each person during the times of the judges lived by his own rules—lived for his own desires.
We even see that thinking in Samson when he wanted to marry the pagan Philistine woman. When his parents tried to talk him out of it, his response was “Get her for me, for she pleases me well” (Judges 14:3). The mentality was I must have what I want. Samson was not concerned with what God wanted. He was not concerned with what his parents wanted. He had one filter for his decisions: what I want. There is no doubt in my mind that Samson’s parents loved him very much. By every indication they lived godly lives. They taught Samson what his Nazarite vow entailed. They instilled in him a very positive self-image. It was so positive that Samson thought everything revolved around him and what he wanted. The mistake these parents made was to spoil little Sunshine rotten. He became the center of their lives and the fulfillment of their dreams. They failed to teach him the disciplines he would need to carry the anointing of his calling.
Judges 13:1 introduces this story by saying, “Again the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord delivered them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years.” There’s a principle in that verse that always works. When God’s people forsake Him and live ungodly lives, the result is bondage. There is usually a little time between the sowing and the reaping. But Galatians 6:7 is very clear: “God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” Forty years is a long time to live under oppression and bondage. But it happened back then, and it happens today. When Samson was born Israel had been under bondage to the Philistines for 40 years.vi
The nature of Samson’s calling was articulated by the Angel in Judges 13:5: “the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.” The calling very specifically says of Samson, “he shall BEGIN to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.” The full deliverance from the Philistine rule did not come until David finished the job. God knew in advance what He could and would do through Samson. Samson’s lack of character limited his effectiveness. But God knew that in advance. With all his flaws, Samson did “begin” to deliver Israel from the oppression of the Philistines. Samson got off to a good start under the love and guidance of godly parents.
II. But we begin seeing his COMPROMISES in Judges 14:1: “Now Samson went down to Timnah, and saw a
woman in Timnah of the daughters of the Philistines.”
His first compromise was to go into the enemy’s territory. He was in the wrong place, keeping the wrong company. He was hanging out with the Philistines. We adults need to remember the little nursery song that says: “Be careful little feet where you go.” Another verse says, “Be careful little eyes what you see.”vii In the wrong place he saw something that he wanted. It was a Philistine woman. I am sure she was quite beautiful. Otherwise, she would not have been such a temptation for Samson. Samson was strong. But not too strong to ignore those simple nursery warnings. Neither are we. The downfall of Christians usually begins with a small compromise. But small compromises very often lead to big compromises.
Judges 14:2-3 says, “So he went up and told his father and mother, saying, ‘I have seen a woman in Timnah of the daughters of the Philistines; now therefore, get her for me as a wife.’ 3 Then his father and mother said to him, ‘Is there no woman among the daughters of your brethren, or among all my people, that you must go and get a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?’ And Samson said to his father, ‘Get her for me, for she pleases me well.’” Samson is going headstrong in the wrong direction. Here is his first caution from the Lord. His parents give him godly counsel. It was not what he wanted to hear. So, he immediately dismissed it.
During many years of pastoring I have seen this over and over. People want a pastor, but many don’t want him telling them anything they don’t want to hear. Some come asking for counsel, but when the counsel is contrary to what they have already decided to do, they reject it. What they have done is cast away that element of protection. It would have been a protection for Samson if he had listened to his godly parents.
The next verse tells us that God was going to use all of this to begin Israel’s deliverance from the Philistines. But Samson was at the same time making his own freewill choices. We see something about Samson’s parents and his relationship with them when we read Judges 14:5: “So Samson went down to Timnah with his father and mother, and came to the vineyards of Timnah.” They gave in to his demands. I suspect that had happened a lot in the past.
There is something subtle about Timnah that we could easily miss. Verse 5 tells us they “came to the VINEYARDS of Timnah.” A major stipulation of his Nazarite vow was that he was to drink no wine or anything else from the grapevine. Numbers 6:1 says, “All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine.” Yet where is Samson? He is right in the middle of all that. He came “to the VINEYARDS of Timnah.”
When we’re headed the wrong way, God is faithful to warn us in various ways. He first used Samson’s parents to warn him. When that didn’t work, He sent another obstacle. Verse 5 continues, “Now to his surprise, a young lion came roaring against him.”
When I read that I’m reminded of Balaam’s stubborn pursuit of the reward from Balak. God had told Balaam not to meet with Balak (Num. 22:12). But Balaam did not want to pass up the reward that Balak was offering.viii So he went anyway. In His grace God sent an obstacle to the journey. He sent an angel with his sword drawn. Balaam, the seer, was so blinded by his greed that he couldn’t see the angel. But his donkey saw him and refused to proceed. Balaam began to beat the donkey. Then God gave Balaam another warning: God supernaturally enabled to the donkey to speak to the stubborn prophet. Even that did not stop Balaam. When God puts obstacles and warnings in your path, pay attention. Don’t keep walking into a place of compromise.
Something unexpected happened when Samson encountered the lion. God empowered Samson to kill the lion. Think about it. Samson is going the wrong way. Yet the anointing on his life functioned and gave him victory over the lion. In our simplistic thinking, we would not expect that to happen. But the gifts and callings of God are without repentance.ix
One time when I was in Peru, we were confronting the drug cartels on the radio and telling Christians to stop working for them. Of course, they paid much better than anyone else. However, we were warning Christians that they were helping destroy lives when they worked for the cartels. During the evenings we were holding city-wide meetings at the town square. Everything was going well. In my zeal I stepped beyond the Lord’s instruction for us and challenged all the witches and warlocks to come to the meeting that evening. Well, they came, and we encountered a fierce spiritual battle. God mercifully gave us victory, just as He did for Samson in our text. But we fought an unnecessary battle. When I asked the Lord why the battle was so hard, He simply told me to ask Him before making challenges like that. There was an element of pride in my challenge that should not have been there. That’s not what God sent us to do. I learned to simply do what God tells me to do: no more, no less.
So, Samson proceeded and saw this woman he was set on marrying, then went back home.. Judges 14:8-9 picks up the story from there: “After some time, when he returned to get her, he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion. And behold, a swarm of bees and honey were in the carcass of the lion. 9 He took some of it in his hands and went along, eating.” His Nazarite vow also required him to not touch a dead body. Numbers 6:6 says, “All the days that he separates himself to the Lord he shall not go near a dead body.” That did not apply to the corpse of an animal. The verse is talking about a human body.x But his close interaction with the corpse of this lion may be an indication of his careless attitude toward the Nazarite vow.xi He takes honey from this dead carcass and eats it.
When Samson got the marriage all set, he threw a big party to celebrate with the Philistines. During the revelry of the event Samson decided to gamble some. He proposed a riddle about the lion and honey to the Philistine princes who were there. He bet them that they could not solve the riddle by the end of the festivities which lasted a few days. After seven days they couldn’t solve it. So they threatened Samson’s fiancé saying they would burn her home down if she didn’t get the answer from him. She nagged Samson until he finally told her. She told the Philistine princes, and Samson lost the bet. The bet was for 30 garments. To get even Samson killed 30 of their men and gave their garments in payment of the bet. Samson then went back home.
In the meantime, the father of the bride-to-be gave his daughter to Samson’s best man in marriage. When Samson was told this, the cycle of vengeance and retaliation continued. Judges 15:4-6 says, “Then Samson went and caught three hundred foxes; and he took torches, turned the foxes tail to tail, and put a torch between each pair of tails. 5 When he had set the torches on fire, he let the foxes go into the standing grain of the Philistines, and burned up both the shocks and the standing grain, as well as the vineyards and olive groves.” First, I would think catching 300 foxes would be quite a task.xii We are not told how he did that. Then think about these poor foxes, tails on fire running through the fields. Good thing for Samson they didn’t have PETA in those days.
One reason taking vengeance does not solve a problem is that the other party typically comes back with their own form of vengeance. The Philistine princes vented their wrath by killing the woman Samson had wanted to marry and her father as well. They burned them with fire. Samson’s response is recorded in Judges 15:7-8: “Samson said to them, ‘Since you would do a thing like this, I will surely take revenge on you, and after that I will cease.’ 8 So he attacked them hip and thigh with a great slaughter.” Was that the end of the conflict? No, the conflict continued: Samson would take vengeance; then they would take vengeance; then the cycle would begin anew.
The Philistines responded by threatening to attack the Israelites if they didn’t turn Samson over to them. They were so intimidated by the Philistines that they asked Samson to surrender.xiii To protect them, Samson agreed to be bound and turned over to the Philistines. When the Philistines took custody of him, Samson broke the ropes and began to kill the Philistines with the jawbone of donkey. Judges 15:14-16 says, “When he [Samson] came to Lehi, the Philistines came shouting against him. Then the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him; and the ropes that were on his arms became like flax that is burned with fire, and his bonds broke loose from his hands. 15 He found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, reached out his hand and took it, and killed a thousand men with it.”
In spite of all his compromises, the anointing was still working in Samson’s life. Imagine killing 1,000 trained soldiers armed with shields only using the jawbone of a donkey. The only way that jawbone could hold up was for God to supernaturally sustain it. Normally hitting a few brass shields with the jawbone would shatter it. Everything about that event was supernatural. Why did God do it? He was beginning Israel’s deliverance from the Philistines.
Once the battle was over, the anointing lifted, and Samson was exhausted. He was dying of thirst and cried out to God for help. God split a rock and supplied fresh water. The anointing of God can enable us to do things we could not naturally do. But when that anointing lifts, we feel the limitations of our humanity. We can go from being very high to being very low. Don’t be confused by that. It is simply the way the anointing works. The anointing comes for the fulfillment of God’s purpose. When it lifts, just get somewhere and recover.
We have dealt with some of Samson’s compromises. Next week we will examine two more. Then we will consider the consequences of these choices in Samson’s life. The patience of God with this flawed human being has been remarkable. And it does not end here. God is gracious to Samson all the way to the end. There is much to learn from his life.
i All Scripture quotes are from the New King James Version unless indicated otherwise.
ii Cf. Gen. 25:23; Jer. 1:5; Luke 1:13-17; Rom. 9:10-13. It is also interesting how the interaction of parents with God often played into these callings on children.
iii Tamar Kadari, “Wife of Manoach; Samson's Mother: Midrash and Aggadah,” The Encyclopedia of Jewish Women.” Accessed 5/8/21 at Wife of Manoach; Samson's Mother: Midrash and Aggadah | Jewish Women's Archive (jwa.org).
iv Strong’s Concordance, O.T. 8123: Shimshown. ISBE Bible Dictionary says the name Samson is “Derived probably from Heb: shemesh, ‘sun’ with the diminutive ending Heb: -on, meaning ‘little sun’ or "sunny.”
v “It is not a coincidence that the Nazarite’s long hair and the high priest’s diadem and anoiting oil are all called nezer, for in both cases these were outward symbols of the holiness expressed of high priest and Nazarite. Gordon J. Wenham, Numbers, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, D. J. Wiseman, ed. (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1981) 87.
vi The United Kingdom pronunciation and the American pronunciation is Philistines are slightly different. But both are acceptable. “Philistine,” Cambridge Dictionary. Accessed 5/8/21 at PHILISTINE | Pronunciation in English (cambridge.org).
vii Author Unknown, “O Be Careful, Little Eye,” Child Bible Songs. Accessed 5/8/21 at O Be Careful, Little Eyes (childbiblesongs.com).
viii Cf. 2 Peter 2:15; Jude 11.
ix Cf. Rom. 11:29.
x “The Torah only forbids his coming in contact with “a dead soul” – but not a dead animal (which doesn’t possess a true soul) (Talmud Nazir 48a).)” Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld, “Samson – Contact with Dead,” AISH.com. Accessed 5-5-21 at Samson – Contact with Dead: Ask the Rabbi Response (aish.com).
xi Spurgeon uses this story to picture the sweetness of victory after a fierce battle. Charles Spurgeon, “Hands Full of Honey,” Spurgeon’s Expository Encyclopedia, Vol. XIII (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978) 439-450.
xii Barnes understand these to be jackels rather than foxes. Barnes Notes, Exodus-Ruth, p. 454.
xiii We get insight on the defeated mindset of the Israelites at this time. They had lived in bondage so long (40 years, Judges 13:1) that it became their normal. They were comfortable under bondage to the Philistines and did not want to upset the status quo. There were at least 3,000 of them (Judges 15:11) and only 1,000 Philistine soldiers. But they had Samson, and as it turned out Samson could defeat the whole 1,000 by himself under the anointing of God. These Israelites were totally neutralized by their defeated mindset.