It has been awhile since I last took up my devotional study of Judges. I come this time to the final chapter detailing the life of Samson. He was one of the last Judges of Israel, preceding Samuel, but slightly overlapping his life.
In a way, Samson represents what the Bible teaches us about the weakness of man’s heart. Proverbs 4:23 states, Keep your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.
The heart is understood in Scripture as being the true person. It is the mission-control center that directs and orients man in his worldview, his thinking, his overall course of life. Proverbs goes on to explain for us the need to keep watch over it. Mostly to prevent the perversity found in our hearts from escaping, thus revealing our sinfulness. At the same time, we want to take heed to what we bring into our hearts as well.
Samson is a warning. Though he did great exploits under the power of God, his moral life failed to avoid the pitfalls of personal sin involving women and lust. We this unfold for us in Judges 16.
I. Samson at Gaza – 16:1-3
Judges 16 really opens in 15:20, where it says Samson judged for 20 years. His 20 year judgeship began when God stirred him to action against the Philistines in chapters 14 and 15. For 20 years in between those chapters and chapter 16, he is said to have judged. We are not entirely sure how that played out. Any further exploits against the Philistines is not recorded. The events of chapter 16 are 20 years later, making Samson around 40 years of age.
Chapter 16 begins with Samson at Gaza, the furthest city from where he lived, nearly 40 miles. While he is in the city, he visits a prostitute, a stark reminder of his major character flaw. Becoming cocky, or perhaps feeling invincible, he is forgetting where his abilities truly lie.
Someone in Gaza recognizes him and alerts the Philistines that he is there among them. They set up an ambush, but Samson is able to sneak past them. He lifts the massive city gate from off its foundations and carries it up toward Hebron, reminding the Philistines who he is.
II. Samson and Delilah and the Philistines
Though God was merciful in delivering him from his iniquity, Samson quickly falls into another snare. He loved of a non-Jewish woman of Sorek, essentially another Philistine like the one he attempted to marry in chapter 14. A woman of the very uncircumcised enemies God is stirring up against Samson.
Delilah’s name is uncertain. It means something like, “of the night,” meaning an unnamed woman who is merely another prostitute. Or it is the way the biblical writer is reminding the reader that it was a person of spiritual darkness. Whatever the case, she is different for Samson, because he keeps coming back to her.
The Philistines, however, are crafty. They hear of their affair and the main lords of the Philistines offer her a massive reward 1,100 pieces of silver from each lord, combining to make 5,500 pieces. (3 times what Gideon got in gold, 1,700 shekels). It is clear that the Philistines are desperate to rid themselves of their menace.
What follows is Delilah, over the course of four encounters, slowly uncovering the secret to Samson’s strength. Each time she asks Samson to explain how he could be overcome or bound. First, he says that if he were tied up with seven fresh bowstrings, then if he were tied up with fresh ropes, then if he weaved his hair into seven locks, and then finally, if she were to cut his hair.
Each time, he mockingly tells her a lie, but eventually dancing around the truth (his hair), until he tells her the entire truth of his strength. With each time, she lulls him asleep and does to him what he said would weaken him. Each time, the Philistines would try to capture him only to be beaten by him.
Finally, he “tells him all his heart.” He foolishly told her everything. He didn’t guard his heart. Delilah even knew he had, because she immediately told the Philistines what he had told her. As a result, she exploited his secret by cutting his hair and then calling in the Philistines. They seize him, put out his eyes, and make him grind in their mills.
III. Samson and God
Samson is finally at the end of his life. Helpless, he begins to turn his heart toward the Lord he served. The Philistines begin to make sport of Samson. They bring him to their main temple to have him entertain them. The temple complex was massive because it held nearly 3,000 people, men, women, and children.
While he is mocked Samson calls out to God. There is a hint of genuine repentance on his part. He calls on God to “remember me,” nearly the same words the thief on the cross spoke to Christ as he was dying. He asks to be avenged for his two eyes. He shouts out, “Let me die with the Philistines!” That obviously got every one’s attention, but it was too late. Pushing on the main support pillars, Samson tears down the temple. In that one act, he kills more Philistines in his death than during his lifetime.
1 Samuel 7 records when a young Samuel called the children of Israel to repentance after they had been humiliated by the Philistines 20 years prior when they captured the ark. God restored His ark to His people, but there was 20 years of silence when the people lamented for their sin. That 20 years is probably when Samson judged. When Samuel called Israel together to a public time of worship, the Philistines heard about them gathering in one place (7:7). They gathered their army to go out and kill Israel. Their action was stirred in part by Samson pulling down their temple and killing 3,000 people. Israel heard from God that day in a display that was like thunder. When the Philistines were put to flight, the men of Israel rose up, pursued them, and drove them back and out of their land.