Today we are wrapping up our series on the Book of Judges by reflecting on Judges 16 Samson – The Foolish Man. Samson once again finds a Philistine woman to fall in love with, but as we go through the story, we discover that their love is about using each other for their own goals, rather than a self-sacrificing love that builds the other person up. We see that Samson is addicted to his desires and to the adrenaline rush of danger and violence. Like all addictions, this makes Samson blind to the reality of what’s around him, leading to his ultimate destruction. Addiction, no matter what form it takes, hurts.
Samson—The Foolish Man
“The more things change, the more they stay the same” is a well-known cliché. Samson keeps getting drawn to the Philistines; he finds it hard to stay away from them. As we read Samson's story, we need to remember he’s a Nazirite, a man dedicated to God, set apart to be God’s man. However, Samson’s filled with strong desire for Philistine women and makes his way to Gaza, the capital city of the Philistines and spends the night with a prostitute.
Someone sees Samson come into the city and visit the prostitute and tells the leaders of the city that Samson’s there. Samson, instead of staying all night, knowing he’s a persona non grata with the Philistines, gets up in the middle of the night and leaves. Samson mocks the Philistines by taking their massive city gates to the top of a hillside outside the city and plants them in the ground there. Samson seems untouchable; able to do what he wants, when he wants. Then he meets a girl and falls in love.
Samson loves another Philistine woman. The Philistine leaders know of her as they come to see her when news gets out that Samson is seeing her. The Philistine rulers offer her big money to betray Samson, each of them offering her eleven hundred shekels of silver if she agrees to find out and tell them the secret of Samson’s great strength. Delilah’s seduced by their offer and tries to seduce Samson’s secret out of him. Once again Samson has a secret and it seems he hasn’t learned his lesson about the strength of a woman’s pleading. A game begins between Samson and Delilah. You have to wonder why Samson plays along. Delilah asks Samson, “Tell me the secret of your great strength and how you can be tied up and subdued.” Why would Delilah need to know how Samson can be tied up and subdued, why doesn’t Samson ask himself these questions?
Archaeologists, studying ancient Philistine cities have found iron tools and weapons. Israel had no such technology; they were still very backward in many ways, like country cousins. Philistine cities give evidence of careful town planning. The olive industry of Ekron included about 200 olive oil installations. Engineers estimate that the city's production may have been more than 1,000 tons, 30 percent of Israel's present-day production. Even simple things like household pottery was designed to look good, often painted with red and black geometric designs on white backgrounds. Certainly, the sophisticated Philistines represented the latest in technology and culture. This is probably what attracts Samson so strongly to the Philistines, he’s a leader in Israel and wants to be recognized by the people who were socially and culturally ahead of them.
But Samson forgets God in all this. He embraces the Philistine culture, much of it good, but he leaves God behind. Samson enters into a game with Delilah. He tells her, “If anyone ties me up with seven fresh thongs that have not yet been dried, I’ll become as weak as any other man.” Seven’s a magical number and the idea of un-dried leather thongs which bind Samson even tighter as they dried sounds right. Delilah takes seven thongs and ties Samson up and then calls out, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” Samson gets up and the thongs do nothing to hold him, but Delilah tries again.
Samson’s playing a dangerous game here and this time tells Delilah that new ropes will hold him. It sounds like it could be true. There’s an echo back to when ropes failed to hold him when the men of Judah handed Samson over to the Philistines. Delilah ties Samson up, calls out and Samson flexes and the ropes break like string. Delilah doesn’t give up and Samson comes close to revealing the secret of his strength by telling her that if she weaves his hair, the sign of his relationship with God, into a loom, this would make him weak. Samson’s becoming a slave to the game, it’s becoming an addiction to see how far he can go.
Finally, Samson can’t take the nagging anymore and tells her the significance of his hair and how he’s set apart to God. Samson belongs to God and now the Philistines know exactly who he is. Delilah convinces the rulers of the Philistines to come one last time and get rid of this barbarian threat once and for all. Delilah lulls Samson to sleep; there’s a play on words here, Delilah sounds like the word for “the night” and now Samson lies in “the night’s bed” and while he’s sleeping, she arranges for his hair to be cut off and the Lord withdraws his strength from Samson the dedicated one.
Samson has now completely broken all his Nazirite vows. He quickly discovers there’s a price to pay for failing to remain pure: the loss of his relationship with God. This time when he wakes up because Delilah calls out, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you,” Samson’s taken prisoner. Samson proves to be so weak and irresponsible because of his addiction to Philistine women and the adrenaline rush of fighting the Philistines. As Charles Spurgeon writes, “The secret of his strength lay in his locks. Not that his hair made him strong; but that his hair was the symbol of his consecration, and was the pledge of God's favour to him. While his hair was untouched he was a consecrated man; as soon as that was cut away, he was no longer perfectly consecrated, and then his strength departed from him. His hair is cut away; the locks that covered him once are taken from him, and there he stands a shaveling, weak as other men.”
Reverend Timothy Keller writes about Samson’s story, “sin and grace function on two completely opposed bases. In grace, God takes even our weaknesses and failures and uses them for us, but in sin, we take even his gifts and strengths and use them against him. Our sinful hearts will find ways to use even God’s blessings to ruin our lives.” Samson is dedicated to God from birth, set apart by God to begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines. The Spirit of the Lord has come on Samson multiple times in order to confront the Philistines and yet Samson’s shown little inclination to follow God in his life; his heart is filled with passion for foreign women and rage against the Philistines; driving his choices. As we study Samson’s life, Samson is unable to resist his passions, addicted to experiences of lust and rage. I will admit, as I’ve reflected on Samson’s story over the past few weeks, I’ve begun to feel really sorry for him, he became such a slave to his passions that they lead him to such brokenness!
Addiction is hard, it drives us to the very things that are hurting us the most. We find ourselves in situations where the things we first turned to in order to help us cope with life begin to hurt us. They wrap their chains around us, slowly making us slaves, but slowly so that we don’t recognize it until it’s too late. Having a family member who struggles with addiction, having walked with many who have wrestled with addiction, it’s hard. Every story is different yet everyone who struggles with addiction wanted to become addicted; it snuck up on them. There are huge similarities with sin; no one wants to sin when they’re a follower of Jesus, yet sin slowly and often without notice, wraps our hearts and minds with chains that are hard to break.
My brother tells me that ‘just saying no’ doesn’t work unless you’re connected to Jesus and surrounded by a group of people who compassionately care and challenge you to stay connected to Jesus and walk with you through the hard times when you fall, because falling will happen. But knowing that Jesus doesn’t give up on us and won’t abandon us is a huge source of hope and strength felt through the presence of caring believing people around us. Through the cross, Jesus offers forgiveness and healing. This is a hope and source of strength we can all hang onto, something that is repeated over and over again through the stories of Israel’s judges, that God remains faithful to his people even when they’re not faithful in return.
Samson’s a loner which makes his addictive behaviour that much more dangerous, we’re not created to walk alone; created in God’s image, we’re created to be in community as God is a community; three in one. Yet in his death, we see that he’s not alone. Surrounded by thousands of mocking Philistines, Samson turns to God and asks for strength one last time. He’s looking for revenge, but as we’ve seen in his story earlier on, God works in and through broken people, and so Samson’s given the strength to collapse the temple of Dagon, killing thousands to Philistine leaders, showing Samson’s God is the most powerful God. When we get to the book of Ruth, we discover the Philistines are no longer in control, Samson’s self sacrifice leads to Israel’s deliverance from the Philistines, as Jesus’ sacrifice leads to our deliverance from sin.
Through the cross, Jesus defeats sin and death so that we can have eternal life and hope, even in the darkest of times, and have the strength to walk with those who are walking through their own times of darkness because we know the Spirit is with us always. Jesus came to show us how to be God’s people in the world, but also came to bring healing and hope into the brokenness we may find ourselves in, like addictions.