Samson And Delilah
August 9, 2009
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
The Power That Was Given By God
1. Today I read to you the story of the superman Samson. Every one of us is given powers in some form or other. When alive, a person will invariably have an effect on something, put something in motion, [or] change something. [People] have powers that have already come out and that have not come out yet. Either way, we all re-make our surroundings, and are given the power to put this world in motion. The superhuman strength of Samson is no more than one actual example anyone will understand if they look. All of us are given something corresponding to this super strength.
2. When we ponder the power that is thus given to us, from the story involving the birth of Samson, we can see what is important enough to be worth remembering. It is written in chapter thirteen. It says that before Samson was born his parents were given instructions through a messenger from God. "You will conceive and give birth to a boy. You must not apply a razor to the head of the child because he will be consecrated to God as a Nazarite, from the time the child is in the womb. He will become the forerunner of salvation, he will release Israel from the hands of the Philistines," (13:5).
3. The word, "Nazarite," is found here in the text. Nazarite refers to a person who has taken a vow of devotion and dedication. [A Nazarite] is to live as a person consecrated unto God. The details are found in chapter six of the Book of Numbers. Some cases are for limited time periods, other cases are life long. Samson's was for life long. Three things were required of Nazarites. First of all, they were not to eat anything made from the grapevine, [like] wine. Second, they were not to cut the hair [from their heads]. Third, they were not to touch a corpse. They kept these three things. That's what a Nazarite was. How [does that seem to you I wonder]? Doesn't that sound like a simple duty in proportion to [the text's] saying, "He is to live as a person consecrated unto God?" [The text] has not said, "Do rigorous and hard deeds of penance." I'm leaving out minor details, but to get to the point, the [required] actions in and of themselves are not what matters. The major point is the conscience, the awareness. The person consecrated unto God is conscious of belonging to God. In particular, it should be easy to understand in the case of the hair on one's head. One could never go a day not touching one's hair. One could not help but be conscious every day of the hair that has gotten so long. By being like that therefore, you will be conscious of the Lord every day, and you will be constantly aware that you belong to the Lord. That's where the emphasis lies.
4. Samson would soon come to have superhuman strength and he was required to live as a Nazarite. Don't you think this is telling us something important? The message itself announced to the parents does not say a thing about the superhuman strength soon to be given to him; because it doesn't need to. There is something else more important than that. It is that Samson is to live with the awareness that "I belong to God." It is that he is to live with the consciousness that "My life is for God." As long as he doesn't lose that awareness, he will be fine regardless of what strengths he is given.
5. Thus, there is something more valuable for us than "What kind of strength is given to me?" and "What am I able to do?" It is this: With what kind of awareness am I living? All strength derives from God. Not just Samson's super strength. All power comes from God. It is precisely because of the fact that we live as God's, who has given us strength, and that we live as servants of God's purposes, that in the true sense we can live using the strength given to us.
For What Purpose Has [God] Given Strength [To Us]?
6. But as long as we are looking at the immediate development of the narrative, it won't look like Samson had an awareness of being consecrated to the Lord. He certainly kept the responsibilities of a Nazarite, that is, until his meeting with Delilah. Some how or other he has not cut his hair until then. It looks like he never does as long as he lives thinking, as he looks at his long hair, "I belong to the Lord," "The strength given to me is so I can serve the Lord's purposes." Since several episodes are covered, about how Samson uses his strength, let's take a look at some.
7. The wedding story is the first one covered in the text. Samson fell in love with the daughter of a Philistine. His parents opposed it. But Samson wouldn't give in. He practically threw a fit, saying, "Please accept her as my wife. I love her a lot," (14:3). Finally both parents cave in to him, and the father and the mother went with Samson to the town of Timnah where the woman was.
8. Along the way, Samson is attacked by a lion. But with his superhuman strength, Samson tears apart and kills the lion. Some time later, when he comes [back] by the corpse of that lion, there is a swarm of bees on the remains and it has honey. He has seen this interesting thing, and so later as entertainment for the wedding banquet, Samson proposes "a riddle" to the thirty Philistines who were seated with him. His reasoning goes: If you solve it, I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothes. If you don't solve it, please give me thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothes; what do you say?
9. Samson said, "Eats came out of the eater. Sweets came out of the strong." Hmm, what in the world could that be? We'll never get that. Then, the thirty guests coax the Philistine wife of Samson over to their side. Samson's wife badgers him insistently on the answer to the riddle. At last, Samson explained it to her. The wife leaked the answer to the guests. In the end, Samson lost the contest.
10. Well, what did the super strong Samson do? We're told, wild with anger he goes as far as Ashkelon, he kills thirty Philistines, tears off their clothes, and gives it to the people who solved the riddle. On the last day of the wedding banquet which lasts for seven days, at the moment when [his] newly married life [is supposed to begin], he is burning with anger and goes back to the house of his father.
11. This is the first story, that appears in the text, about Samson's super strength. To say that [a man] killed a lot of enemies is one of the elements in hero stories in ancient times. But on the side of the spectrum, were one to read this in a normal way, one would be taken aback by how dumb Samson's behavior was. He took offense at his wife taking sides with the Philistines, who were of the same tribe as she. We can understand that. But it was just supposed to be a story of entertainment for the banquet. It turns out that he loses thirty sets of clothes. (Though, since he actually steals them, he didn't lose anything.) That seems a bit irritating [to him] too. But which is more important, the clothes or the married life? Even though he gets married claiming I love her so much, it turns out that his super strength, of all things, destroys it. Just as the text says, "The spirit of the Lord descended upon him fiercely," it was a power from God. However, the precious power that came from God was used to destroy something valuable over something that was not worth worrying about. It is truly a foolish tale, but don't you think there are things like this [going on out there]?
12. An even more ridiculous part comes next in the story. Soon Samson's anger comes to an end and he heads back to his wife. But, he comes to find out that his marriage has already fallen apart. When you get down right to it, it is the seed which he himself had sown. But, what did Samson do then? "Samson left and caught three hundred jackals, and bringing torches with him, he tied two jackal tails together, and in between the two tails he set a torch for each set of tails. When he set fire to the torches, he sent them into the wheat fields of the Philistines, and it burned from the piles of harvested wheat, to the wheat fields, to the grape fields, and as far as the olive trees," (15:4-5).
13. Three hundred jackals. The word is commonly translated as "fox." Three hundred foxes. This extreme number was probably written as an illustration of Samson's strength. But were we to also read this scene a normal way, with a normal imagination, it would be a truly dumb and ridiculous tale. Please try to see in your mind the picture of Samson chasing around foxes. The picture of him tying together tails, two by two, three hundred of them, and fastening torches to them. He is meandering about zigzagging from one to the other, doing this, all the while saying, "I'm gonna get even. I'm gonna get myself even with them." He is doing this stuff as hours and hours, days and days pass. It was not a good use of his strength no matter how you look at it.
14. I laugh when I think of this ridiculous picture. But, when you think about it some more, we too often do things similar to that. To pacify our anger, to hurt somebody, we use the precious strength that has been given to us, and we go meandering on some kind of cockamamie fox hunt, don't we? As seen from the outside, it is truly ridiculous. But when a person is in the heat of his or her anger, the person himself or herself does not realize it. In the final analysis, what did Samson really gain for all of his toil? Not only did he not gain anything but he ended up losing someone precious to him. The woman he had fussed over so much and her family got caught between the grudges [of Samson and her own society] and they were burned to death.
His Last Moments As A Nazarite
15. Nearly twenty years had passed since that fox incident, we're told. Samson had come to love a woman by the name of Delilah, who was in the valley of Sorek. The story omits a lot between the years, but we know that for the Philistines who were ruling over Israel, the super strength of Samson had become a dreadful menace. In that sense, Samson's strength had proved itself as protection for the people of Israel, and it had resulted in rescuing them. Samson was used by God. "He judged over Israel as a judge, in the time of the Philistines, for twenty years," (15:20). That's how it is written. We may feel surprised at those words. But, it was simply the mercy of God.
16. But, when it comes to humankind, one day the moment will come when it is not the question of what kind of strength one has that matters, but an even more important question will be asked. With what kind of awareness did you live [your life]? With what kind of awareness did you use the strength that was given to you? The moment is coming when you will be asked these questions. That moment came even for Samson. That is the passage that I read to you today.
17. Hired by the Philistines, Delilah asked from Samson. "Please tell me what is your superhuman strength hidden by? What do we have to do to tie you up and hurt you?," (16:6). This scene in which Delilah repeats this same question many times seems almost a comedy, but the main point is that [she] kept on asking Samson, "Where is the secret to your super strength?," that is, [she] kept on asking, "Where does the source of your power lie?" Of course Samson could not stop thinking of the significance of the fact that his super strength came from God, and that he had been a Nazarite, that he had never cut his hair. Therefore he says to Delilah, "Since I have been consecrated to God as a Nazarite from the time I was in my mother's womb, I have never applied a razor to my head. If the hair on my head is shaved, my power will be exhausted, I will become weak, I will end up like the average person," (verse seventeen). But also there is this, he himself personally let go of being a Nazarite. For, going by the flow so far, it has been clear that [he let] his hair be cut.
18. As a result, the hair on Samson's head was shaved off, and in a form visible to the eye, he had lost his being a Nazarite. Until that moment, generally speaking, the true story of his life seemed outwardly to be that he was a Nazarite. But, when that fact of who he seemed to be was questioned he gave up his being Nazarite in the form that was visible to the eye. And at the same time he also lost his super strength. "The Philistines captured him, gouged out his eyes, brought him down to Gaza, and placed bronze shackles upon his feet, made him grind grain in prison," (verse twenty-one), says the scripture. It was the first time he was unsuccessful in his strength. And so he had plummeted to the very bottom of misery. In that shape, he came to find out to the very core of his flesh and bones how that his strength had come from God, and that it was a strength that was given to him for him to live as God's and for him to serve God's purposes.
19. But the story doesn't end there. You would think the scriptures would say something [more], but it says, "However, after the hair of his head was shaved, it started to grow long again," (verse twenty-two). It wasn't over yet. Samson was still in God's mercy. God's mercy kept on. When God's mercy keeps on, you can start over again even from the very bottom. A person first becomes a loser, not when he or she got defeated, but when the person stopped getting back up. He lifts to God those eyes of his that could no longer see and he prays, "Please give me strength just one more time!" God gave him strength once more.
20. By that strength, he gets killed, squashed under the temple which he himself had knocked down. This ending is sad. I'd say it is way too sad. But at least, we can say though it was the final seconds of his life, yet he was living and dying with the awareness of himself, as a man who knew that he belonged to God, as a man who knew that he was given strength from God. In that sense we can say that God used this Samson even at the end of his life. In no way did he die as a loser abandoned by God.
21. Be that as it may, of course we do not need to lead a life like that of Samson. So now, what might be the strength that we are given? Will it be something that might be equivalent to Samson's superhuman strength? Whatever it might be, the important thing is that we live in the awareness that it comes from God. And that we live as God's, who gives it to us, and that we live knowing that it is a strength given to us for God's purposes. We do not need to start living like that at the last moment of life like Samson did. Now is the time.