The Honor of Family

When we started this crazy ride of Samson’s life, his parents were childless. The Angel of Yahweh visits them, and bingo, no longer childless. But we’re never told there are more kids following, at least not until now. Up to this point Samson has even acted like an only child, as if the world revolved around him. Only now do we discover that wasn’t it.

And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” And he bent with all his might so that the house fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he killed in his life.  Then his brothers and all his father’s household came down, took him, brought him up and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of Manoah his father. Thus he had judged Israel twenty years. (Judges 16:30 — 31 NASB)

Samson’s claim to fame lay in his great strength. And this strength was not in his muscles, but in Yahweh. The key to unlocking his strength was in his choice of Delilah over Yahweh. Sure, she had his hair cut, but it was his choice to tell her that brought him down. And, it’s in his death, in finally choosing Yahweh, he becomes the quintessential weapon of Yahweh against the Philistines. 

But, it’s also in his death we learn more of his family. We learn he had brothers. We learn of the family grave. And we learn of their honor of Samson. He is “gathered to his fathers”, which, in that culture, is acceptance highly prized. It means that, in his death, probably more so than during his life, he was accepted as one of the people of God. 

He went from “terrifying freak” to “Samson son of Manoah”, from weapon to champion. It’s not so subtle a change in their culture. In a way, his burial with his father, Manoah, brings this one so-holy-as-to-be-avoided, into the circle of a holy people. He was a Nazarite from birth who tears lions, kills a thousand men with a donkey jawbone, and carries the city gates of Gaza up a prominent hill. He probably gives people the creeps, especially when they look into his eyes and see the a man trapped in there. It’s haunting.

Now he’s home, finally. He’s at peace, finally. He’s among his people to stay, finally. And he’s welcomed, finally. There aren’t 3,000 of his own people showing up with new ropes to bind him and hand him over to his enemies. Samson is a tragic character. His tragedy is partly due to his lousy choices, but also due, maybe mostly due, to Yahweh’s choices of how to use him. 

We can’t blame others for our bad choices, not even our Master, Jesus. When our Master calls us to a purpose that we find uncomfortable or detestable, what choices will we make? Not the missionary type? Too invested in your secular job to consider vocational ministry? Does a jail or prison chaplain ministry scare you too much to consider?  Perhaps you’re too busy to be a hospital chaplain. 

The callings of our Master, from local soup kitchens to foreign missions, force us to choose. The Spirit of Jesus, living in us, empowers us for His use. And that empowerment can have detrimental effects in other areas of our lives when we resist that call to service. Often, people cling to the master of our warped culture’s pantheon, and resist the Master living within us. 

There’s time to relent, to cease resisting, to acquiesce to our Master’s intentions for us. I have, sort of. And in the struggle to be what He wants rather than what I want, I move in and out of bad choices along the way. I medicate fears and frustrations with choices that gratify my desires, not His. In a sense, it’s like I’m being passively aggressive with my Master, I’ll do what He wants, but refuse to be happy with it. 

And my culture says that it can’t be His call if I’m not happy. Not according to Samson. Not if we read of Jephthah. Not anyone familiar, really familiar, with Jeremiah. Scripture teaches me about my Master, and that He’s less interested in my happiness than in my usefulness to His Kingdom. My happiness saves no one. But His Kingdom redeems the whole cosmos.

That’s my view through my knothole this morning. What do you see of our Master through yours? 


The Inglorious End?

Betrayed by his love for a woman. His eyes gouged out by his enemies. Forced to grind grain like an animal. Yahweh, the God of his people, had abandoned him, leaving him powerless for the first time in his adult life. This is the end of his life. There’s no way out, he’s blind, he’s weak, Yahweh is through with him…or is He?

Now the lords of the Philistines assembled to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god, and to rejoice, for they said,
“Our god has given Samson our enemy into our hands.”
When the people saw him, they praised their god, for they said,
“Our god has given our enemy into our hands,
Even the destroyer of our country,
Who has slain many of us.”
It so happened when they were in high spirits, that they said, “Call for Samson, that he may amuse us.” So they called for Samson from the prison, and he entertained them. And they made him stand between the pillars.  Then Samson said to the boy who was holding his hand, “Let me feel the pillars on which the house rests, that I may lean against them.”  Now the house was full of men and women, and all the lords of the Philistines were there. And about 3,000 men and women were on the roof looking on while Samson was amusing them. (Judges 16:23 — 27 NASB)

The Philistines thought Dagon had defeated Yahweh, giving them the powerful weapon of Yahweh into their hands. From their belief about the cosmos, the spiritual conflict had finally been won by their god. It was time to party! It was time to gloat over the destroyer of their people, the one humiliating their god, Dagon. Now Dagon was the superior, had usurped the divine chief among the gods, and thrown down the pretender to El’s seat, Yahweh! Now Dagon is Elohim! Or so they thought.

Then Samson called to the Lord and said, “O Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me just this time, O God, that I may at once be avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.”  Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and braced himself against them, the one with his right hand and the other with his left.  And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” And he bent with all his might so that the house fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he killed in his life.  Then his brothers and all his father’s household came down, took him, brought him up and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of Manoah his father. Thus he had judged Israel twenty years. (Judges 16:28 — 31 NASB)

Samson is placed in a temple supported by two pillars. The geniuses who brought us the least effective ambush ever, now party in the worst archetecural achievement of man. And, of course, when partying in an unstable structure, always party on the roof…with 3,000 of your closest friends. In way, this is a tremendous statement of faith. We only call it foolishness because they all died, crushed in the temple of their false god.

Notice a few things here. Notice , first, that Samson calls out to Yahweh again. He may have done so before, or he may not have. We’re not told. But he does now. He continues to seek Yahweh, his God. He hasn’t given into the belief that Dagon won, he knows where the failure comes from, he knows who truly failed. That’s the first lesson, keep seeking our Master, regardless of the circumstances.

Secondly, notice Samson acts on what he’s asked for. In fact, technically, he started to act before he even asked. He asked the boy leading him by the hand to let him rest against the two pillars on which the whole temple rested (is “village idiot” too strong a term for this kid?). After he rested against the pillars, then he seeks Yahweh. Samson demonstrates faith in risking action before he has confirmation. Or, is that presumption, assuming Yahweh wants what Samson wants? It’s probably faith. The second lesson is to act on what we ask before God answers. Samson didn’t have to ask whether destroying the temple of Dagon was in Yahweh’s will. That was a no brainer, he simply asked to be the one Yahweh used to do it.

Finally, notice that, in his death, Samson is a more deadly divine weapon. He gave his final breath in service to the purpose of Yahweh for him. He had been the weapon of Yahweh, like it or not. Now, at the end, he is the effective weapon of Yahweh, because he gives himself into the calling. Our final lesson is to surrender to the purpose of our Master for our life. We want to direct our own paths, do what makes sense to us, have what we want or desire, go where we want to go. This is choosing from the wrong tree, when we want the knowledge of good and evil for ourselves. Instead, let’s chose life, and let our Master direct our paths.

That’s my view this morning through this knowhole. What do you see of our Master through yours?

Suicide By Lover

Three times Samson told Delilah a fib about how to take away his strength, and three times she has tried it. Samson knows what she’s doing, and who for. Delilah knows he knows. Basically, she’s trying to get him killed. And finally, Samson goes along with it.

And she said to him, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me? You have mocked me these three times, and you have not told me where your great strength lies.”  And when she pressed him hard with her words day after day, and urged him, his soul was vexed to death.  And he told her all his heart, and said to her, “A razor has never come upon my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If my head is shaved, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak and be like any other man.” (Judges 16:15 — 17 ESV)

She wore Samson down. After three times failing her benefactors, three times failing to get the silver, she plays the “you don’t love me” card. And she kept at until “his soul was shortened to death”. Samson would rather die than hear her say that again. As far as he knew he did love her. Clearly, that love was not returned.
What does a woman do when a man who loves her reveals whole heart? She betrays him, of course. If the question had been, “what does a woman do when the man she loves reveals his whole heart”, that would have received a different answer. But that’s not what happened. 

Delilah didn’t love Samson. Although, there is the story-element that the Philistines don’t kill Samson. We’re not told that this part of the deal Delilah makes, but what if it were? The thing is, Samson is safer being strong, so it’s doubtful Delilah was interested in his safety. It’s more likely the Philistines wanted him alive to torture, than dead as some sort of inspiring hero of Israel.

Either way, having now seen his whole heart, she promptly betrays him.

When Delilah saw that he had told her all his heart, she sent and called the lords of the Philistines, saying, “Come up again, for he has told me all his heart.” Then the lords of the Philistines came up to her and brought the money in their hands.  She made him sleep on her knees. And she called a man and had him shave off the seven locks of his head. Then she began to torment him, and his strength left him.  And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had left him.  And the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes and brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze shackles. And he ground at the mill in the prison.  But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved. (Judges 16:18 — 22 ESV)

This time the princes of the Philistines brought payment. This was sure to succeed. The ambush set, Delilah has Samson sleep in her lap. How tender and sweet, she does love him…and then calls for a man to shave the seven braids of his hair. Okay, maybe she doesn’t. In fact, she “torments” him after his hair is shaved. That statement doesn’t fit here. Literally, she “profanes him to humiliate him”, but that word, “profane” can also mean “begin”, hence the common translation. Since what she does causes him to lose the Nazarite status, I think “profane” actually makes more sense.  Samson sleeps, how does she “torment” a sleeping man? She probably put his hand in warm water.

Whatever it is she does, Samson’s strength leaves him. It’s not blatant, but the writer has personified Samson’s strength. Once Samson wakes, the writer notes, “But he did not know Yahweh had left Him.” In a rather literal sense, Yahweh was Samson’s strength. Samson was now separated from his true Master. Instead he is bound to new masters, they put out his eyes, and force him to grind grain in the mill, like an ox. Samson may not have enjoyed being the weapon of Yahweh, but it had to be better than this.

Have you ever wondered if serving God was worth it? Your friends seem to be having so much fun…without you. They do what you can’t, go where you shouldn’t, and talk about things unholy, with smiles and laughter. Does your Master seem a heavy burden? Let’s be honest, in many tangible ways, He is. Our enemy makes sin stuff easy, popular, and sensible. The lie is that “it’s all about us”, and we like that. 

Don’t deny it, you know it’s true. We’re not referring to bars, singles scenes or “clubbing”. We’re referring to other things to do on Sunday, no time to read Scripture, pray, no time for our Master. I did it in my late teens, in the Army. It became “inconvenient” to go to chapel. So, I didn’t do church at all. Eventually, I didn’t recognize the place I was in my life, not at all. It happens, once we choose “easy”, which is to not to follow our Master. And that choice is death, it’s suicide-by-<enter your personal desire here>. You know its true. So, lets chose life instead.

That’s my view through this knothole this morning. What do you see through yours?

The Dangerous Game of Love

Delilah seeks to betray Samson, and he plays a game with her around it. It’s a similar game he played with his first wife regarding his riddle. Once again, someone is “plowing with Samson’s heifer.” Clearly, Samson needs to give up cattle altogether.  

Samson said to her, “If they bind me with seven fresh bowstrings that have not been dried, then I shall become weak and be like any other man.”  Then the lords of the Philistines brought up to her seven fresh bowstrings that had not been dried, and she bound him with them.  Now she had men lying in ambush in an inner chamber. And she said to him, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” But he snapped the bowstrings, as a thread of flax snaps when it touches the fire. So the secret of his strength was not known.

Then Delilah said to Samson, “Behold, you have mocked me and told me lies. Please tell me how you might be bound.”  And he said to her, “If they bind me with new ropes that have not been used, then I shall become weak and be like any other man.”  So Delilah took new ropes and bound him with them and said to him, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And the men lying in ambush were in an inner chamber. But he snapped the ropes off his arms like a thread. 

Then Delilah said to Samson, “Until now you have mocked me and told me lies. Tell me how you might be bound.” And he said to her, “If you weave the seven locks of my head with the web and fasten it tight with the pin, then I shall become weak and be like any other man.”  So while he slept, Delilah took the seven locks of his head and wove them into the web. And she made them tight with the pin and said to him, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” But he awoke from his sleep and pulled away the pin, the loom, and the web. (Judges 16:7 — 14 ESV)

Back and forth, query, lie, frustration, query, lie, on and on. Use cords; no, use ropes; no, weave my hair in a loom. From silly to ridiculous, the game proceeds through attempts that must have been embarrassing for Delilah. Each time, the silver seems farther and farther away. Her benefactors are losing their interest in her information. In fact, by the third attempt. There are no more “ambushes” hiding in her bedroom.

Why play the game at all? Why trust a woman who attempts everything you claim saps your strength? Clearly that’s her goal: to sap your strength. It doesn’t actually say the ambushes actually sprung out from her bedroom, but whether they did or didn’t, Delilah is obviously persistently seeking to sap Samson’s strength. 

Now, look closely at Samson’s responses. “If they bind me…”, “If they bind me…”, then, “If you weave my hair…”. Samson knows! This guy’s knows she’s working for his enemies, his answers plainly reveal that, and, therefore Delilah knows he knows, and the game progresses. What is he doing? His whole security lies in his great strength, of which his enemies are terrified (and, rightly so). Yet he dances around that line, that cliff edge, foolishly.

But, don’t we do that? Don’t we flirt with sin so often because we’ve gotten away with it? Haven’t you danced around a secret sin because you’ve escaped the consequences so long, they have stopped scaring you? Consequences are one of the ways our Master sets boundaries. We can’t escape them for long. And that inescapable quality is part of our Master’s grace to us. It’s a painful blessing.

The game for silver, played alongside the game for love, ends without winners. No one is loved, the riches become meaningless. Yet, there are no shortage of players. We continue to choose the fruit of the wrong tree. Fortunately, the love of our Master succeeds where our foolish selfishness fails. All we have to do is agree that loving Him is more important than the love of anything else.

That’s my view through my knothole this morning. What do you see through yours?

Woman Trouble…Again

The character quality of Samson, to this point, hasn’t been awesome. The writer has been directed to this part of Samson’s story, setting Samson up along the way, helping explain why he seems to be so easily duped by Delilah. Notice the detail.

After this he loved a woman in the Valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah.  And the lords of the Philistines came up to her and said to her, “Seduce him, and see where his great strength lies, and by what means we may overpower him, that we may bind him to humble him. And we will each give you 1,100 pieces of silver.”  So Delilah said to Samson, “Please tell me where your great strength lies, and how you might be bound, that one could subdue you.” (Judges 16:4 — 6 ESV)

Notice that Delilah is the first woman given a name so far. Not even Samson’s mother was named. Think about how deeply ingrained in our culture she’s become, nearly as famous as Samson himself. We may, but probably won’t, remember the lion, sometimes the jawbone, doubtful the Gaza gates, but always Delilah. We don’t forget her.

This also the first time Samson is said to love a woman. Before you simply dismiss that as just another common romance, remember that such a reference is actually rare in Scripture. Isaac loves Rebecah, Jacob loves Rachel, Shechem loves Dinah (after raping her), Elkanah loves Hannah, Michal loves David, and Amnon,loves Tamar (until he rapes her).  That’s about it. All of 66 books, those are the only ones we have, and obviously not all were “healthy”.

The author is making a point that Samson loves Delilah. He was invested enough that he loves her, but doesn’t marry her. There’s no explanation given, it’s simply left out completely. That could be a cultural assumption, that they were married, no need to mention it. But, the author mentions it before, seems an odd assumption to make, not that this saga has made sense so far.

Notice how easily she’s enticed to betray Samson. That’s a lot of silver, but even so, that’s all it took. Samson’s love does not seem to be returned. She doesn’t even hesitate, but begins to wear him down seeking his secret. What we seem to find here is that love, the emotional bond anyway, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. We’ll see later, it seems to blind him, much like the cliche.

Think how different Samson’s life would have been had he loved Yahweh as strongly as Delilah. Yahweh can be a difficult Master, driving Samson to do terrifying things, but He’s faithful to His people. Among the other options of worship, He is the only option of the Sons of Israel. And, while Samson doesn’t choose other deities, he does seem to worship Delilah.

For what have you or I sold, or traded, our devotion to our Master, Jesus? Its not difficult to do, we have plenty of excuses why it makes sense, or why it isn’t necessarily a trade. But, we still find things more important than our Savior. We still discover we love something that consumes us more than our Creator, our Savior, our Master. We still find ourselves standing on unholy ground. 

Don’t panic, just step back, look around for Jesus’ light, and make for it. He’ll find you, He’ll bring us back to Himself. What He wants is our repentance, our continued desire for His attention, giving Him our attention in the process. Never doubt, just go home. He’ll meet us on the way, and we’ll walk with Him, and talk with Him in the garden, in the cool of the day; just like it was supposed to be.

That’s my view through the knothole this morning. What do you see of our Master through yours?

Did You Hear Something?

Every once in a while, I read something in Scripture that really makes me wonder, “Really? He did that?” This is one of them. I even wonder why the author even included it. I was going back and forth trying to decide whether Samson was strong all the time, or only when the Spirit of Yahweh came upon him. At least this passage answers that.

Now Samson went to Gaza and saw a harlot there, and went in to her.  When it was told to the Gazites, saying, “Samson has come here,” they surrounded the place and lay in wait for him all night at the gate of the city. And they kept silent all night, saying, “Let us wait until the morning light, then we will kill him.”  Now Samson lay until midnight, and at midnight he arose and took hold of the doors of the city gate and the two posts and pulled them up along with the bars; then he put them on his shoulders and carried them up to the top of the mountain which is opposite Hebron. (Judges 16:1 — 3 NASB)

The whole account is just off. Samson goes looking in Gaza for a prostitute? Are they famous for those, or something?  This isn’t the “temple prostitute” either. This your garden variety, pay for it in the alley, working girl. Why? Why is Samson in Gaza, why the prostitute? And before you say, “he’s a weak male” or something else stereotypical, remember that he’s now a judge of Israel. Things have changed for Samson. Sometimes people grow into a position. Samson seems to have regressed out of it. He was there, and lost it.

In any case, Samson is in Gaza, and with a prostitute. Next, his enemies try and ambush him. But this has to be the most inept attempt to ambush on record. These Gazites surround him, then wait for him in the gate. What does that even mean? And that is what it says in Hebrew. Now, the grammar is disjointed, but that’s not unusual Hebrew construction. These Keystone Cops, they have him surrounded, but then wait quietly in the city gate. I suppose they figured he was trapped in Gaza until dawn and the gates opened, so why worry. But why not at least keep a lookout for trouble?

There was no lookout, and they missed one amazing spectacle. In one of the most detailed descriptions of action in the entire account of Samson, the writer has him lifting out the city gates in their entirety. Nothing left, no doors, no posts, no bars, nothing. The most heavily defended part of a city defence, and Samson picks it up, and walks away with it. He doesn’t drag it, he carries it up the highest hill, one from where you can see the lights of Hebron. He doesn’t do a mic drop, he drops the gates. Done.

I’m pretty sure the point is the embarrassment of the Philistines. I’m pretty sure that’s the writer’s whole point. Samson cannot be touched by them, they’re powerless over him. Surround him, ambush him, it doesn’t matter. He can’t be trapped, he can’t be tied, or bound. Gates can’t contain him. The most powerful people in that part of the world are powerless against one man.

God uses Samson regardless of his obedience. Yahweh’s power is made obvious to these Philistines. Their God, Dagon, can’t help them against one man. Yet, they can’t be wrong, and continue to resist, not just Samson, but Yahweh. Not a great plan, and one that doesn’t work well for them in the end.

That’s all I have this morning. What’s your view through your knot hole this morning?