The following meditation was presented to the FBC of Benbrook on Wednesday night, August 25, 2010.
Several years after Bill Clinton had left the White House, the former President sat down with Dan Rather for an interview as part of the CBS television news show, 60 Minutes. As was inevitable, the conversation eventually turned to the events that tainted his presidency and his legacy: his relationship with a now famous intern, Monica Lewinsky. Rather asked Clinton, “The central question is ‘why’?”
Clinton’s response was remarkable. He said, “I think I did something for the worst possible reason: just because I could. I think that’s just about the most morally indefensible reason that anybody could have for doing anything, when you do something just because you could.”
The reader of the book of Judges has already come to the same conclusion about Samson: it seems that he does some things just because he could. He not only seems to lack a moral compass, but he seems to lack an understanding of God’s plan for his life, that he was born to begin the deliverance of Israel from the Philistines (see Judges 13.5). Every action that Samson has taken so far, as recorded in the book of Judges, has been self serving, vengeful, or both. We have yet to see him act for the welfare of another. We have yet to see him live in accordance with any kind of moral standard or wisdom. And in chapter 16, we will read the most famous story of his life, and we will look again for wisdom, purity, or valor and find none. Instead, we find a man who seemed to do things just because he could.
Before we meet Delilah, who is the only woman in the entire Samson narrative whose name is given in the biblical account, we again encounter Samson doing what Samson did best, which was doing what was right in his own eyes. This short story that begins chapter 16, though not nearly as well known as the Delilah story, serves to introduce the longer story of his encounter with Delilah.
1One day Samson went to Gaza, where he saw a prostitute. He went in to spend the night with her. 2The people of Gaza were told, “Samson is here!” So they surrounded the place and lay in wait for him all night at the city gate. They made no move during the night, saying, “At dawn we’ll kill him.” 3But Samson lay there only until the middle of the night. Then he got up and took hold of the doors of the city gate, together with the two posts, and tore them loose, bar and all. He lifted them to his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that faces Hebron. (Judges 16.1-3 NIV)
Gaza was one of the five major cities of the Philistines. Since Samson had already become infamous among the Philistines through some mighty feats, such as killing 1000 men with the jawbone of a donkey (see Judges 15.15-17), it should come as no surprise that the men of the city lay a trap for him once they found out he was in their city.
Not only is the reader disappointed to see Samson visit the house of a prostitute, but we are also saddened by the fact that he went to Gaza. Of course, this was nothing new for Samson. He was attracted to the Philistines, as if that people had a strange hold on his affections. He wanted a Philistine woman from Timnah to be his wife (see Judges 14.2), and here he returns to the region to take delight in a prostitute. This is obviously not a man who sees his life as key to the deliverance of Israel from the Philistines.
But more than just not living into his calling, this is a man who, in the words of Gary Inrig, “Deliberately and brazenly exposed himself to the enemy with a self-confidence and arrogance that bordered on carelessness in both the physical and spiritual realm” (Hearts of Iron, Feet of Clay, 267). Again, his eyes led him to do what was right according to his own eyes: he saw the prostitute. There is a way that seems right to us, but it only leads to death.
The men of Gaza waited for Samson by the city gates, knowing that he would have to leave the walled city through the gates in the morning. But in the middle of the night, Samson ripped the doors of the gate off the hinges and carried them up the hill. Samson was a man who used the gifts and skills given to him by God for selfish and fleshly purposes. The New Testament teaches us a different way: “Do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature, rather, serve one another in love” (Galatians 5.13). Samson used his power and position to indulge the sinful nature, and it never crossed his mind to serve either the Lord or his countrymen.
The man who would wind up in the parlor of Delilah is a man who was gifted by God with great strength, but a man who used that gift to please his sin nature. And while he thought he was able to wisely control his indulgence, he was about to learn one of the most painful lessons of sin and temptation: sin starts out as something we enjoy and control, but always ends up being something that controls us and destroys our joy. Sooner or later, we will reap what we sow (see Galatians 6.7).
4Some time later, he fell in love with a woman in the Valley of Sorek whose name was Delilah. 5The rulers of the Philistines went to her and said, “See if you can lure him into showing you the secret of his great strength and how we can overpower him so we may tie him up and subdue him. Each one of us will give you eleven hundred shekels of silver.”(Judges 16.4-5)
Samson again falls in love, or falls into lust, with a Philistine woman, or at least with a woman with Philistian sympathies. While the text does not tell us that Delilah was from Philistia, it is very difficult to imagine a Hebrew woman so easily betraying a lover over to the enemy. In light of his past affections and Delilah’s actions, the simple reading of the story is that Delilah was a Philistine woman, and her allegiances did not change just because a strong, handsome Hebrew came into town.
Regardless of her nationality, it would have been very hard to resist the bribe offered to her. The text does not tell us how many rulers of the Philistines came to her, but since there were five major cities, it is reasonable to think that five rulers may have come to her. If they each offered her 1100 shekels of silver, it is estimated that the 5500 shekels of silver were the equivalent to 550 years of the average workers income. To translate that number into a modern equivalent, a common worker earns the minimum wage of $7.25. At 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, a year’s wage is $15,080. 550 annual wages would be the equivalent of nearly $8.3 million. The Philistines really wanted to capture Samson.
Samson does serve to illustrate or teach us how to avoid temptation. One of the first principles of escaping temptation is to avoid it in the first place. In other words, by not providing an opportunity for the flesh (see Romans 13.14), we can avoid situations where temptation will come. So much of life comes down to not being in the wrong place at the wrong time. With his moral compromise, in this case seeking out a Philistine woman, Samson put himself in a situation where temptation was inevitable. One we start down the road of temptation, we can only get off through a drastic change in course.
As Samson found out, temptation always comes in attractive packaging. There are passing pleasures to sin (see Hebrews 11.25), and when we are more attracted to the bait than we are aware of the hook, fishing becomes easy pickings for the Devil. Maturity is learning how to see the hook rather than the bait. Samson never met a piece of bait that didn’t catch his eye.
6So Delilah said to Samson, “Tell me the secret of your great strength and how you can be tied up and subdued.” 7Samson answered her, “If anyone ties me with seven fresh thongs that have not been dried, I’ll become as weak as any other man.” 8Then the rulers of the Philistines brought her seven fresh thongs that had not been dried, and she tied him with them. 9With men hidden in the room, she called to him, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” But he snapped the thongs as easily as a piece of string snaps when it comes close to a flame. So the secret of his strength was not discovered. (Judges 16.6-9)
This lovely woman began her deceit and betrayal very quickly. The startling thing is that she stated her intentions so directly: “Tell me how you can be tied up and subdued.” A smarter man might have wondered, “Why does she want to know this?” But Samson, in his foolish wisdom, toys with the woman instead of recognizing the danger at hand. He told her a story to play with her. Those who want to play with temptation have no intention of running away from it. This is why the Bible tells us to flee immorality (see 1 Corinthians 6.18).
The thongs to which Samson referred to were the tendons of newly killed animals, often used to make bowstrings. Even though this was not the secret to his strength, surely he must have known that the un-dried thongs would end up on his hands one day. Again, Samson is denying or ignoring his Nazirite vow not to touch a dead animal. Not only does he play with Delilah, he is also playing with his calling. Of course, the thongs do not contain Samson, and they fall off of his hands as easy as the ropes of Judges 15.14.
10Then Delilah said to Samson, “You have made a fool of me; you lied to me. Come now, tell me how you can be tied.”11He said, “If anyone ties me securely with new ropes that have never been used, I’ll become as weak as any other man.”12So Delilah took new ropes and tied him with them. Then, with men hidden in the room, she called to him, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” But he snapped the ropes off his arms as if they were threads. 13Delilah then said to Samson, “Until now, you have been making a fool of me and lying to me. Tell me how you can be tied.”He replied, “If you weave the seven braids of my head into the fabric on the loom and tighten it with the pin, I’ll become as weak as any other man.” So while he was sleeping, Delilah took the seven braids of his head, wove them into the fabric 14and tightened it with the pin. Again she called to him, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” He awoke from his sleep and pulled up the pin and the loom, with the fabric. (Judges 16.10-14)
Samson is so foolish that Delilah can claim that he was making a fool of her, but the reverse is actually happening. New ropes didn’t do the trick, and weaving his hair in the fabric loom was insignificant. One can almost see Samson walking around the room with the remains of a fabric loom hanging from his long locks of hair, but what seems even more preposterous is that Samson can be so incredulous to believe and trust Delilah. So far, every time he tells her a “secret,” he winds up being tied up by that very secret method. A wiser man might get the message, but here is another principle of sin and temptation: sin clouds the mind. Normal thought processes are suspended when we play around with temptation and sin. What would seem foolish under normal circumstances, seems quite normal when we are bound in sin. Just ask Bill Clinton.
15Then she said to him, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when you won’t confide in me? This is the third time you have made a fool of me and haven’t told me the secret of your great strength.” 16With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was tired to death. 17So he told her everything. “No razor has ever been used on my head,” he said, “because I have been a Nazirite set apart to God since birth. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.” 18When Delilah saw that he had told her everything, she sent word to the rulers of the Philistines, “Come back once more; he has told me everything.” So the rulers of the Philistines returned with the silver in their hands. 19Having put him to sleep on her lap, she called a man to shave off the seven braids of his hair, and so began to subdue him. And his strength left him. 20Then she called, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” He awoke from his sleep and thought, “I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the LORD had left him. 21Then the Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza. Binding him with bronze shackles, they set him to grinding in the prison. 22But the hair on his head began to grow again after it had been shaved. (Judges 16.15-22)
Samson’s stupidity is only outmatched by Delilah’s brazenness. She could actually say to the man whom she is trying to betray, “How can you say ‘I love you’ when you won’t confide in me?” But worse than that, Samson demonstrates his weak character by giving into her constant nagging. One sign of a fool is that he does not learn from his mistakes, and Samson made this same mistake before. His fiancé nagged him for the solution to his riddle (see Judges 14.17), and the result was that the Philistines took advantage of him. Samson seems to have no recollection of that event at all, for he made the same mistake with Delilah. Instead of fleeing, he stayed around long enough to be nagged into submission.
After being nagged to death, Samson told her everything. And we see for the first time that he did have some kind of understanding that he was a Nazirite set apart to God since birth, even though he enjoyed the fruit of the vine and touched an awful lot of dead bodies. No one, but Samson, is surprised when Delilah acts on his “secret” and shaved off his pretty hair.
Samson ends up blind and imprisoned, shackled to a grinding stone, all because his hair was cut off. But the writer tells us the real reason: the Lord had left him. His hair was not magical, but it was the last straw. Throughout his life, the Lord had worked through him to do some mighty things, but now the Lord left him. We know that the Lord will redeem his folly and strike a mighty blow against the Philistines at the end of his life, but the folly of Samson ends with this story. No longer will the Lord allow Samson to use the gifts and talents He had given to him for selfish gain. No more would Samson be able to rip the doors off the gates or kill a thousand men with the jawbone of a donkey. His selfishness had run its course. The man who thought he would always be able to be in control of sin and temptation paid the ultimate price.
We should not miss the irony of the end of Samson’s life. Through out his life, it was his eyes that got him into trouble. He “saw” the woman in Timnah and wanted her for his wife (see Judges 14.2). He “saw” the prostitute in Gaza (see Judges 16.1). All of his life, he was guided by doing what was right in this own eyes (see Judges 21.25). And when God’s judgment finally fell, his eyes were gouged out. It was his eyes that ultimately got him into trouble.
The tragic story of Samson and Delilah teaches us several great principles of sin and temptation.
- First, bad company corrupts good morals (see 1 Corinthians 15.33). We become like the people we hang around with. Samson loved hanging out with the Philistines, and it rubbed off on him in the end.
- Second, the best way to escape temptation is to avoid it in the first place. Toying with temptation, believing in our own strength to resist it, is a foolish way to live.
- Third, we are reminded of the passing pleasure of sin. Temptation always comes in attractive packaging, and we must mature to the point where we can see the hook behind the bait.
- Fourth, the mind trapped in sin and selfish pursuits can rationalize anything.
- Finally, the story of Samson teaches us that sooner or later, we will reap what we sow. We might be able to use the gifts of God for selfish gain for a while, but sooner or later, those who sow to the flesh will reap destruction (see Galatians 6.8).
A tragic end to a wasteful story. May our story be different.