Today we are coming to the end of our series on Judges, where we’ve seen this cycle repeat over and over:
But the cycle doesn’t just repeat. The book of Judges is a progressive spiral where each time around is more intense. The point of this building narrative is to bring us, the readers, to a point where we cry out in desperation. Where is this going to end? Something NEEDS to change or the destruction will be complete.
This change that is needed–a savior, a messiah–the CHANGE is what we celebrate at Christmas. I love these words in Luke 2:
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:8-14)
Peace to those on whom his favor rests. The judges fought for it, and it was fleeting. Peace to those on whom his favor rests. The people had it for a moment and then it faded. Peace to those on whom his favor rests. The spiral makes it feel unattainable. Peace to those on whom his favor rests. Peace is now through Jesus.
Today we come to Samson. Here’s a list of the judges: Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah, Gideon, Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon, and Samson. These are the people who stepped up in times of crisis and oppression. They provided military leadership, a uniting force, a voice of reason, a vessel for God’s help and provision. The judges have been average or set apart, maybe impressive or maybe unimpressive, mighty warriors or unexpected heroes. But through them all, the result has been predictable: the cycle repeats.
And as we come to the end, we see that Samson was set apart and impressive and the worst. Fun.
Now, Samson had superhuman strength.
If you had a superpower, what would it be? Why?
There is a feeling that hits hard in this story of Samson–one of not living up to expectations. We all know that feeling. Sometimes people or moments or opportunities or holidays don’t live up to our expectations.
I do think you do, to a degree, get what you expect, and I do think it is very easy to manage disappointment by bottoming out expectations.
But the theme of the book of Judges is that something needs to change. And as we get to Samson, here is a judge that from the beginning seems set up for success–he’s set apart by God, set apart by the miraculous, and set apart in lifestyle and in giftings. All of this set-apartness is so different from the other judges right from the beginning, right from the introduction of Samson. It has been going poorly, but this time, with this guy, something different is happening.
I can feel my expectations starting to creep up again–maybe this time it will be different. Maybe there will be a real victory. Maybe it won’t be a tragedy. Maybe it will all be fine.
But don’t worry–the train wreck continues!
But before we get to the story, let's build some connection and shared thought process. When there has been failure, pain, disappointment, and regret; when there has been let down after let down–some people are really good at this and some aren’t–after all of that heaviness, some people are really good at having hopeful expectations again.
What is the value of having illogically high expectations?
Now let’s flip that on its head. When there has been failure, pain, disappointment, and regret; when there has been let down after let down–some people are really good at this and some aren’t–after all of that heaviness, some people are really good at having pessimistic expectations.
What is the value of having illogically low expectations?
Now process this:
How does a person walk amid the imperfections of humanity without becoming jaded or untrusting?
One more question before we dive into the story. There is a connection between faith and expectations. Hebrews 11 starts off with a faith is statement:
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)
Then Hebrews 11 gives 22 “by faith” statements, including these:
By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead. (Hebrews 11:4)
By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. (Hebrews 11:5)
By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith. (Hebrews 11:7)
By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death. (Hebrews 11:17-19)
How can a person maintain faith while navigating the challenges of life?
The characters in Samson’s story:
- The Philistines: they were the oppressors
- Manoah: Samson’s dad
- Samson’s mom (not named)
- The angel of the Lord: he appeared to Manoah and Samson’s mom and declared they were going to have a son and that he was to be a Nazarite
- Samson: the promising and flawed judge
- A Philistine woman who was briefly Samson’s wife, and her father
- Samson’s attendants: the men of his wedding party
- A prostitute: someone Samson had a brief relationship with
- The people of Israel
- The people of Gaza
First, the buildup in Judges 12:
Again, the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for 40 years they were under the oppression of the Philistines. Manoah, from the tribe of Dan, and his wife were childless. The angel of the Lord appeared to her and told her she was going to have a child, but not just any child–a Nazirite, dedicated to God from the womb. This comes with some rules: no drinking and no hair cutting. He is going to be the leader to deliver the people from the oppression of the Philistines.
Manoah hears the story and asks who told her this and says, “Take me to him.” They didn’t realize that this was an angel of the Lord. When they made an offering to God, it was consumed and the angel ascended in the flame. He was afraid: We are going to die! But Manoah’s wife was the smart one: If the Lord wanted to kill us, why would he have promised us a child? And so they did have a son and they named him Samson. They raised him as a Nazarite, set apart.
On to Judges 14.
Samson grew and went to Timnah and saw a Philistine woman he liked, and he wanted to marry her. He told his parents to get her for him. They asked if there wasn’t an Isrealite that he would like to marry. No, only this Philistine girl.
So they went to Timnah. On the way a lion attacked him. The Spirit came on Samson and he ripped the lion apart with his own hands, but he didn’t tell anyone, including his family. Sometime later, he was returning to marry his “perfect Philistine” and he peeked back at the lion and found that there were bees in it, so he scooped up some carcass honey and ate it.
Samson’s wedding involved a feast with the Philistines. Samson told his Philistine attendants a riddle, promising if they could figure it out, he would get them all some clothes, but if they couldn’t, they would have to give him the same amount of clothes. This was the riddle:
“Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet.”
On the fourth day, after nobody had figured it out, Samson’s wife came sobbing and pleaded for him to tell her the answer. He did, and she told the attendants. Samson was ticked. He went to Ashkelon and killed thirty men and stripped off their clothes and paid the debt. And his wife was given to one of his attendants.
Sometime later, Samson went to go visit his wife. The wife’s dad said, I was sure you didn’t want her so I gave her to one of your attendants. Take her younger sister instead.
Again Samson was ticked. He caught three hundred foxes, tied their tails together with torches tied between them, and released them into the fields. All of the Philistines’ farmland in the region was burned. When the farmers heard it was Samson who did this, they killed Samson’s wife and his father-in-law. Again, Samson was ticked and he killed a bunch of them.
Samson hid. And when 300 Philistines came, his people–the Israelites–came to tie up Samson so they could take him away. They didn’t want trouble with the Philistines. The tied-up Samson was delivered and the Spirit of the Lord came upon him. He ripped off the ropes and then took a donkey jawbone he found and killed the 300.
After all that fighting, he was thirsty: God, You have given your servant this great victory. Must I now die of thirst? God provided water. Samson led for 30 years.
One day Samson went to Gaza, and he saw a prostitute and spent the night with her. The people of Gaza heard that Samson was there and they wanted to kill him in the morning. He got up in the middle of the night and ripped through the gates of the city and escaped.
Some time later, he fell in love with a woman of the valley of Sorek. Her name was Delilah. The Philistine leaders came to Delilah and asked her to figure out the secret to his strength, promising to pay her a fortune.
She asked Samson to tell her his secret. Tie me up with fresh bowstrings and I will be weak. Strangely, he fell asleep, and woke up tied with fresh bowstrings as Delilah yelled, The Philistines are upon us! But Samson beat them down. She pouted: You made me a fool. You lied! Tell me!
Samson said, Tie me up with new ropes and I will be weak. Strangely, he fell asleep, and woke up tied with new ropes as Delilah yelled, The Philistines are upon us! But Samson beat them down. She pouted: You lied again! Tell me!
Okay. If you weave my hair into the fabric on the loom and tighten the pin, I will be weak. Strangely, he fell asleep, and woke up with the loom across the room and his hair woven into the rug as Delilah yelled, The Philistines are upon us! But Samson beat them down. She pouted: How can you say you love me? You lied to me again! Tell me!
She begged and begged and begged. Finally, Samson told her the truth: If you shave my head I will be weak. She knew it was real this time. Strangely, he fell asleep, and woke with a shaved head as Delilah yelled, The Philistines are upon us! Samson was beaten and arrested. They gouged out his eyes and bound him in prison.
The Philistines gathered to make a great sacrifice to their god Dagon, celebrating that Dagon had given them Samson. They brought him out in the masses of people to entertain them. Samson asked his attendant to bring him between the pillars, and he prayed, Sovereign Lord, remember me. Please, God, strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes. Samson was one more time filled with strength. He pushed over the pillars and killed many more Philistines in that moment than he had earlier in his life. And he also died.
There are many things we can talk about out of this story–whether we liked Samson, what was his preferred weapon, why he was so good at making bad decisions… But I’d like you to process this:
How does the failed savior of Samson point towards the need for a true Messiah?
Judges is the narrative pointing towards the need for something to change. Jesus is that change.
This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-24)
Jesus is God with us.
We are going to bring the call for something to change and Jesus together for our final question of this series:
How does Jesus' forgiveness of our sins change everything?
Take It Deeper Questions
- Read Matthew 1:18-24.
- What have your parents told you about your birth?
- What do you think Joseph and Mary were thinking and feeling through hearing this flood of information?
- How does Jesus’ forgiveness of sins change everything?
- How does Jesus’ being ‘God with us’ change everything?
- How are you challenged, encouraged, focused, and/or confused by this text?
Bible Reading Plan
- 2 Chronicles 27
- 2 Chronicles 28
- 2 Chronicles 29
- 2 Chronicles 30
- 2 Chronicles 31