If you would turn with me in your Bibles to Judges chapter 13; it’s also found printed in your bulletins tonight. We’re beginning the story of the last judge in the book of Judges and it’s the story of Samson. And Samson is the most famous of the judges. He’s the most likely to be granted celebrity status, even in our own day. After all, Samson has appeared in a number of different art forms and in a number of different entertainment venues over the years. Rembrandt painted various scenes from Samson’s life on canvas. John Milton dramatized Samson’s life in epic poetry. Handel composed an oratorio to tell about Samson’s story in music and in song. Even Jerry Garcia sang about Samson and Delilah. From art galleries and opera houses to outdoor music festivals, the events in the next section of Judges have worked their way into our own popular culture. We’re familiar with Samson. We’re familiar with this man and his exploits.
But try to forget all of that. Try to come to chapter 13 tonight as we read this passage about the beginning of Samson’s life, try to recognize the promise and the privileges that are associated with his birth. Try to get a sense of the expectation of what the future could hold for this man and for the people of Israel. And along those lines, we’ll consider two points tonight. We’ll consider first, the making of Samson, and secondly, the undoing of Samson. The making and the undoing of Samson. And we’ll see, hopefully, how Samson ultimately points us beyond himself and away from even the best of men to see Jesus, to depend upon the true and faithful Deliverer, our Lord Jesus Christ.
So let’s pray that God would help us to do that as we study His Word tonight. Let’s pray.
Our Father, we thank You that You have given us Your Word, that You have revealed Yourself to us. You’ve told us Your promises, You have invited us into the way of salvation in Christ Jesus. We thank You for Your Son and we pray that You would help us to see Your Son Jesus tonight, to see our need of Him, and of His perfect sufficiency. We pray that as the Spirit stirred in Samson, that the Spirit would stir tonight in our hearts. And we ask, Lord, that You would speak, for Your servants listen. And we pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.
Judges chapter 13:
“And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, so the Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years.
There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. And his wife was barren and had no children. And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, ‘Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.’ Then the woman came and told her husband, ‘A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome. I did not ask him where he was from, and he did not tell me his name, but he said to me, ‘Behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. So then drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death.’’
Then Manoah prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord, please let the man of God whom you sent come again to us and teach us what we are to do with the child who will be born.’ And God listened to the voice of Manoah, and the angel of God came again to the woman as she sat in the field. But Manoah her husband was not with her. So the woman ran quickly and told her husband, ‘Behold, the man who came to me the other day has appeared to me.’ And Manoah arose and went after his wife and came to the man and said to him, ‘Are you the man who spoke to this woman?’ And he said, ‘I am.’ And Manoah said, ‘Now when your words come true, what is to be the child’s manner of life, and what is his mission?’ And the angel of the Lord said to Manoah, ‘Of all that I said to the woman let her be careful. She may not eat of anything that comes from the vine, neither let her drink wine or strong drink, or eat any unclean thing. All that I commanded her let her observe.’
Manoah said to the angel of the Lord, ‘Please let us detain you and prepare a young goat for you.’ And the angel of the Lord said to Manoah, ‘If you detain me, I will not eat of your food. But if you prepare a burnt offering, then offer it to the Lord.’ (For Manoah did not know that he was the angel of the Lord.) And Manoah said to the angel of the Lord, ‘What is your name, so that, when your words come true, we may honor you?’ And the angel of the Lord said to him, ‘Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?’ So Manoah took the young goat with the grain offering, and offered it on the rock to the Lord, to the one who works wonders, and Manoah and his wife were watching. And when the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the Lord went up in the flame of the altar. Now Manoah and his wife were watching, and they fell on their faces to the ground.
The angel of the Lord appeared no more to Manoah and to his wife. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the Lord. And Manoah said to his wife, ‘We shall surely die, for we have seen God.’ But his wife said to him, ‘If the Lord had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering at our hands, or shown us all these things, or now announced to us such things as these.’ And the woman bore a son and called his name Samson. And the young man grew, and the Lord blessed him. And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.”
The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God endures forever.
The Making of Samson
Without looking at your Bibles, I wonder if anyone could tell me or recite to me from memory Judges 2:11. That’s probably not in anyone’s “Top 10” list of favorite Scripture verses. It’s no John 3:16. And so maybe you’ll have a hard time coming up with it, but how about Judges 3:7? Or what about Judges 6:1 or Judges 10:6? Those may seem like obscure Scripture references, random to us perhaps, but those verses actually should be familiar to us by now. You probably have memorized them if you’ve been studying along with us in the book of Judges because they are basically the same words that we find in chapter 13 verse 1, that “The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” This chapter begins in the same way that a lot of the other accounts in the book of Judges begins. We’re introduced to most of the judges with this description of life in Israel at that time – that the people were doing evil in the sight of the Lord. Verse 1 sounds like the typical beginning of the Lord raising up a judge to deliver Israel.
But Samson is the only judge in this book whose story begins with his birth. And actually it begins before that. It goes back before his birth to a man named Manoah and to his wife, who were barren. She was barren and had no children. The narrative of Judges here at this point, it really slows down to some extent. It really has given us more of an anticipation, a build up to the life of Samson. There’s a sense of anticipation here. What kind of man will this be? What will Samson accomplish for Israel? All of the other judges, you remember, have pretty much been on the scene at the time God called them to be a judge or to be a deliverer. And of the ones that we know anything about their background, you remember that Gideon was born, he was the son of a Baal worshiper and Jephthah was the son of a prostitute, but Samson is different. For one thing, Samson is born to godly parents. Manoah and his wife are probably the bright spots in the whole book of Judges, especially when you consider the culture in which they lived and the wickedness that was going on around them. They, on the other hand, are an example of faithfulness and humility.
Let’s think about that. Let’s think about some of the godly characteristics that we see from Manoah and his wife here in this chapter. We’re told that when the angel of the Lord, in verse 3, appeared to Manoah’s wife, she responds with respect and with awe. She takes seriously what this man, what this angel, says to her. She tells her husband, “His appearance was like the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome.” Now this is not the first time we have come across the angel of the Lord in the book of Judges. Back in chapter 6 when the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon and commissioned Gideon, this is the same figure here. The angel of the Lord – it’s a mysterious figure. At various places in the Old Testament sometimes he is identified as an angel or a messenger of the Lord; other times he is identified as the Lord Himself. And in ways that we can’t understand, the angel of the Lord is a visible appearance of the invisible God with a message to tell, with a message to bear. And what we can say for sure about this angel of the Lord is that he is holy and he is awesome. Manoah’s wife recognizes that. She recognizes the dignity of this figure and the magnitude of this moment. And so she goes and she tells her husband. She tells him about the message about a son and about his lifestyle and about his mission.
Then notice what Manoah does – verse 8. “Manoah prayed to the Lord.” What does that tell us about Manoah? It tells us that Manoah knows the Lord. It tells us that the Lord is his God. It tells us that Manoah has not gone the way of the culture around him to serve the Baals and the other idols. He is a man of God. He prays to the Lord. This is like a breath of fresh air. It’s a relief in this turbulent book, the book of Judges, just to read those few words – “Manoah prayed to the Lord.” We want to say, “Thank you, Manoah! Thank you for being such a clear and simple example, for giving us such a clear and simple act of faith and devotion in the midst of an ungodly society!” Maybe you’ve had those same thoughts as you’ve seen a family in a restaurant as they stop to pray and to give God thanks for their meal as it comes. Or maybe it’s been when you’ve gathered together with a handful of brothers and sisters in Christ to pray. It can be an incredible encouragement. This is an encouragement to hear that Manoah stops and he prays to the Lord.
But it’s more than that. Ralph Davis says that this is more than just an encouragement to us; it’s actually a miracle. We might actually read right past these verses and skip right over them and not think much about what they say here, but we read that Manoah prays, and then notice what happens next – “God listened to the voice of Manoah,” verse 9 says, “and God sent the angel of God again to the woman as she sat in the field.” That’s astonishing. This is the miracle. It’s the miracle that God condescends to hear the prayers of His people. This is an amazing exchange. It is an amazing exchange anytime God’s people pray to Him and He hears our prayers. That’s what’s going on here. And you notice that when the angel returns, Manoah and his wife are attentive to the Lord. They are attentive to His Word. The angel of God comes to the woman again. Notice what she does. She goes quickly and gets her husband. And then Manoah came right away and he said, “When your words come true, what is to be the child’s manner of life? What is his mission?” You see what they’re doing there. They want to know and they want to do the will of God. And besides that, they make the sacrifice to the Lord. It says that he took a young goat and a grain offering, he offered it on the rock to the Lord, to the One who works wonders. They’re giving cheerfully. They worshipped gladly. And then when they’re confronted with the glory of God they respond reverently. Manoah says, “We’re going to die because we have seen God.” He recognizes that he is not worthy to stand before the holy God. That’s when his wife reassures him and says, “We will not die because the Lord has accepted our offering. He’s shown us these wonders and He has given us this great message.”
And when we take all of those things together, what we have is a picture of a family that trusts the Lord, they are engaged with His Word, they are in prayer and worship and they are living a life of piety. Not perfectly of course; by no means are they doing it perfectly, but this really is a remarkable picture here in the book of Judges when we consider all that was going on around them. This is the family into which Samson is born. Samson is born to godly parents.
But that’s not the only thing that’s distinctive about this chapter because Samson’s birth itself comes in a miraculous way. Think back into the Old Testament that came before this section, before this time. Think about Sarah and Rebekah and Rachel. Like Manoah’s wife, they were barren and were unable to have children. And we have in this chapter really a wonderful symmetry between verse 2 and verse 24. In verse 2 it tells us that “his wife was barren and had no children,” and then verse 24, “and the woman bore a son and called his name Samson.” There’s nothing about the tears, there’s nothing about the tears of longing that came beforehand, and there’s nothing about the tears of joy that came afterwards; only this – that the Lord opens and closes the womb. And that the Lord has brought about this birth in His time and for His purpose. This also is a miracle in this passage.
But then we find not only that but Samson is also set apart from the womb to be devoted to God. Not only is he not to drink wine or strong drink or to eat any unclean food, but he’s not to let a razor come upon his head. And on top of that, his mother is also to be set apart. She is to abstain from wine and strong drink and unclean food. Samson is set apart. He’s set apart from the womb to be a Nazarite to God. A Nazarite – we find out about Nazarites back in Numbers chapter 6. It’s a person who took a special vow for a period of their lives to set their lives, to set themselves apart for God. We actually don’t have very many examples of Nazarites, people who took this vow in the Bible, and so Samson is a rare case; he’s a rare example of someone who is a Nazarite. Not only that, his vow is given and taken from the womb, from his birth, until the day of his death. You see, God’s preparation for this judge begins very early, before he was even born. God promises in verse 5, “He shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.”
Once he is born, he grew and the Lord blessed him. It says in verse 25 that “The Spirit of the Lord began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan.” Samson has all of the credentials, all of the qualifications to be a great man of God and to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines. There is a great expectation attached to this man. Rich Cohen, in a popular level history of the modern state of Israel, he makes the comment that “messiahs are the great export of the Hebrew nation.” In fact, much later in Judaism there developed a tradition among the rabbis that Samson was a type of messiah. He was a fallen messiah, but he was a type of messiah; a savior for his people nonetheless. There really is in this chapter a Messianic thread that’s running through it. Samson is set up to be the last and the greatest of the judges in this book. Here he is. He is the twelfth and the final one. And this chapter, it’s almost like a bridge in a musical arrangement. You know how sometimes when we used to sing hymns before the last verse Dr. Wymond or Rae Shannon will play maybe a few more notes to sort of build up the anticipation for that last verse to be sung. That’s something like what’s going on in Judges chapter 13. If you didn’t know the rest of this story you’d think, “Here is Samson. He’s the man. This is the one. If he can’t do it, no one can. Surely great things are on their way!”
The Undoing of Samson
But we know the rest of the story, don’t we? We know about the undoing of Samson. I don’t want to be a spoiler for the next few Sunday nights, but most of us are pretty familiar with what happens next. Samson makes poor choices in marriage, he feasts lavishly at banquets, he eats honey out of the carcass of a lion, he lets Delilah cut his hair, he tears down the pillars with him and the Philistines under the temple of Dagon. Almost every part of Samson’s life was an undoing of the hope and the promise that are associated with his birth. He disregarded the Nazarite vow in every way. He was a grief to his parents.
And yes, the Spirit of the Lord used Samson to save the people from the Philistines, to defeat the Philistines, but there’s not one indication throughout the judgeship of Samson that there was rest in the land. There was no indication of rest during the time of Samson. And Samson’s greatest victory, it came at the expense of his own life. Samson’s life is a tragedy, and what follows in the book of Judges is as low a point in the Bible as there is. What happened? What happened with Samson? What happened with someone who had all of the benefits of a godly heritage, who had the blessing of God from his earliest days and who God used to deliver His people? Yes, Samson showed evidence of faith in God. He is, after all, listed in Hebrews chapter 11, but he certainly seems like one of those cases that Paul speaks about in 1 Corinthians chapter 3 – someone who is saved, but only as through the fire.
Samson’s life, it’s a lesson. It’s a lesson for anyone who is born with every spiritual advantage but who pays little attention to God and little attention to the things of God. Or maybe someone who has all of those advantages and turns away from God altogether. It’s a lesson for us. And we’ve known people, haven’t we, we’ve known folks who have grown up in a Christian home who may have even served in ministry for a time and yet they made a mess of their lives and they left their loved ones in doubt of their own salvation. Maybe that’s you. Maybe you are that person in your family. And it’s a tragic life. It’s a reminder to us as we read about Samson and all that he had, all that he was given, it’s a reminder to us to fan and to flame the gift of God, the gift of God in Christ Jesus, to watch our souls, to stand fast and to walk with God. It’s dangerous. It’s dangerous to assume that the way we start the Christian life will automatically translate to the way we finish the Christian life. It’s dangerous to think that just because we grew up in a Christian home and grew up in a good church that that will automatically produce a godly man or woman. No, we have to watch our lives, to remember our first love, to repent and to trust and to walk in obedience.
And the same thing goes for churches too, you know. After all, that’s the way Paul rebuked the church in Galatia. He said to them as they turned to a different gospel, he said, “You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?” It can be a temptation for a church to live in the past and rely on the blessings of those who came before them, and then to go astray. We as a body have to walk by the Spirit today and to plead with God in prayer today and to be faithful to the call of God to go and make disciples in our own day and in the unique circumstances and situations of our culture and the community around us. This is an urgent word for us.
Samson shows us the limits of a godly heritage, and Samson also shows us the limits of human instruments. I think we tend to place, sometimes, a lot of merit on a person’s credentials, on a family name or a college degree, on success in career, or on personality type. But there’s a big difference between being “Most Likely to Succeed” and being a godly and faithful leader. You’ve heard the cliché before, that “The best of men are men at best.” We must be on guard against making too much of ourselves or making too much of other people, making too much of their gifts and of their resources. That goes for ministry; maybe in a more timely way goes for political leaders as well. Because human leaders are flawed and insufficient and the benefits that they provide are limited. Only One is able. Only One is sufficient to rescue us from all trouble, to rescue us from sin and sin’s penalty, to rescue us from death. That One is the true Deliverer and Savior, the One to whom Samson and all of the rest of the judges in their inadequacies direct our attention – to Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the anticipated, the expected One, the One who meets and accomplishes all the expectations of them.
I wonder if you noticed as we read through Judges chapter 13 that there are actually a good number of similarities between Samson’s birth and the arrival of Jesus. After all, there was a time of anticipation, a buildup you could say; a preparation that dawned with John the Baptist. You remember that his birth was announced by an angel. He was born to a barren mother. He lived as a Nazarite and was stirred by the Holy Spirit. But what did John the Baptist say? He said, “I am not the One, but there comes One after me whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” That One, Jesus, was blessed by the Holy Spirit without measure, with a fullness. He’s the One to whom John said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” He lived the righteous and upright life. He gave His life to rescue His people and He was raised in glory, the true Savior, the real Judge, the eternal King. He will not let you down. He will not fail of any of His promises to you. He will not fail of anything that is demanded of Him. “This is a faithful saying and worthy of full acceptance, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners and He came into the world to save even the worst of sinners.” Jesus did what Samson could not do. All the hopes and the expectations that Samson carried, all of the hopes and the expectations that we may place on any other figure, only Jesus can provide what we most deeply need.
Alexander Whyte has a series of books on Bunyan’s characters from Pilgrim’s Progress. And in it, he recounts the story of Little-Faith. Little-Faith was a good man and he came from good parents and he came from a good town, but somewhere along the way on his journey, Little-Faith fell asleep and he was attacked and robbed by thieves. They took him of everything that he had except for his greatest treasure. The thieves could not take his greatest treasure. But as he continued on his journey, as he continued on the way, he found no comfort in that great treasure that they had left and he was forced to beg the rest of his way. And his was a dim and joyless journey.
Whyte says that that parable of Little-Faith, it’s about the secret ways of faith; it’s about time in God’s Word and time in prayer, love for God, love for neighbor, forgiving others and denying one’s self. Those were the things that were unknown to Little-Faith as he went along the way. He wasn’t a bad man, but his story is a sad one. He didn’t appreciate the treasure that he had. And White tells us that faith, even little faith, grows by the exercise of it. And to exercise our faith we must look to Jesus. We must marvel at who He is, at His uniqueness, how He is set apart and set above anyone else. We must wonder at what He has done in His death and His resurrection. We must wonder at the power of His deliverance, the greatness of His salvation. And we must make Him our true hope. In Samson, we have one who does not match the expectations that are placed on him. In Jesus, we have One who exceeds our expectations, whose salvation is greater than anything that we can imagine. So look to Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God.” Look to Jesus again, and again, and again, and again, and run the race with endurance. Let’s pray.
Father, we pray that You would help us tonight to look to Jesus to see where Samson failed, Jesus succeeded; where Samson was great and then failed, that Jesus is greater still. And He is worthy of all our worship, all our devotion, all our praise. Would You help us to rest in Him. Would You help us to see again tonight new dimensions, new aspects of His glory and of His grace and of His beauty, how He is worthy, how He is sufficient. Turn us from any other thing that this world offers. Turn us from relying on our past, relying on others, and to rely only on Jesus. Father, we pray that You would do that so that You would receive all of the glory. And we pray it in Jesus’ name, amen.
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