Telling the story: Samson & Delilah

given on Sunday, February 19 2012

Telling the story:  Samson and Delilah

Women, wine leave Samson’s reign in shambles

The press release accompanying the latest movie poster leaves a lot to the imagination.  This story is one many already know so why did the producers think it was important to reissue it?

The young Jewish students had probably wondered why they had to learn about this judge, too.  He certainly did not seem to follow God’s laws, yet for some reason the priests wanted them to learn about him.

A little background may help set up the students to understand why stories about Samson are included in the studies.  Judges tells the stories of 12 individuals who were responsible for freeing the Israelites from the control of the Philistines.

The stories of Samson may well be the most memorable because they are so sensational.  Consider the images that Google provides when doing a search.  Most could not be published in church, and the movie’s poster was one of the tamest.  Cecil B. DeMille recognized the elements of a blockbuster movie.

Why are the stories retold?  Look at Samson’s birth.  For years his mother had not conceived, and yet an “Angel of the Lord” appeared and told her that she would give birth to a son.  This story of a late pregnancy also comes with instructions:

. . . he told me, ‘You’re pregnant. You’re going to give birth to a son. Don’t drink any wine or beer and eat nothing ritually unclean. The boy will be God’s Nazirite from the moment of birth to the day of his death.'”

After she told her startled husband, the Angel of the Lord reappeared and repeated the instructions.

Turns out that the instructions are key to Samson’s stories, and the classification of Nazirite is also significant.  A Nazirite could not drink any intoxicants, could not cut one’s hair, nor could one touch any dead body-even if a parent.

As storytelling goes, these restrictions foreshadow real trouble for Samson as he reaches adulthood.  In fact, Samson sounds spoiled.  As a young man, he is ready to marry and as a Nazirite he is expected to marry within the faith, an Israelite.  But he looks around and sees a Philistine woman that pleases him:  3 Samson said to his father, “Get her for me. She’s the one I want—she’s the right one.”

And Samson’s troubles begin.  He does not follow the lifestyle of a Nazirite, nor does he follow his parents’ advice much less God’s.  This young Nazirite is mixed up with the Philistines and both women and wine stir up problems for Samson.

The priests used Samson’s stories because it demonstrated what happens when one does not follow God’s law.  Adolescent Israelites including Jesus, certainly listened to all the details with special interest. Samson’s story is a story of what not to do.  It has all the key, tantalizing human ingredients for a blockbuster that Cecil B. DeMille recognized.  [By the way, Jesus was also a Nazarene that according to Harper’s Bible Dictionary was another term for the Nazirite making another connection for today’s Christians.]

There are at least three acts to Samson’s story.  He begins drinking wine and chasing women.  Yet, God has a plan and the key is the extraordinary strength connected to his uncut locks of hair—remember one precept of a Nazirite is not to cut the hair.

Act I:  Samson is attracted to a Philistine woman and marries outside his faith.  Remember the Philistines ruled the Israelites.  He goes by a vineyard, a lion attacks and he kills him with his bare hands.

Act II:  Samson returns to marry the Philistine woman, passes the lion’s dead body—another Nazirite precept was not to touch any dead body—and finds honeycomb inside it.  He reaches into it and eats the honey.

Continuing the story, at the wedding he creates a riddle and is tricked by the woman to reveal the solution.  One thing leads to another:  his father-in-law gives Samson’s wife to a friend; Samson gets made and wants revenge.  He battles a group of Philistines, destroys them, and ends up going to live in a cave.

Act III:  Men from Judah, Israelites, confront Samson in the cave, he comes out, and whether tricked or not, a battle ensues and Samson becomes Israel’s leader for 20 years.  Still, he falls in love with another Philistine woman, Delilah.

The climax of the story comes when she cuts his hair in his sleep, he loses his strength and is captured by the Philistines.  The trouble that Samson keeps getting into connects to his failure to follow the Nazirite lifestyle.  He fails to follow God.

The story could end there, but all good movies need a grand finale.  Samson’s story does not fail to provide that, either.  The lesson for the young Israelites is that you can still ask for God’s forgiveness and it will be given to you.

Captured, Samson again outwits the Philistines.  Even though the Philistines blinded him, put him in shackles and had him grinding grain.  His strength was gone since Delilah had cut his hair, but hair does continue growing.

As his hair grew, so did his strength. The final scene has him being paraded around, entertaining the Philistines.  The servants place him among the pillars of the temple filled with Philistines.  He prayed:

Master, God!
Oh, please, look on me again,
Oh, please, give strength yet once more.
God!
With one avenging blow let me be avenged
On the Philistines for my two eyes!   (Judges 16:28, the MSG)

And he pushed against the pillars; it destroys the temple and everyone there—including Samson.  His twenty-year reign as leader ends.

Granted Samson’s story takes four entire chapters in Judges.  The stories are pretty sensational, and the young people probably remember more of the details than they do the overriding themes.  Yet, the Old Testament stories do have clear guidelines for lives then as well as today.

Today, over 3,000 years later, the news repeatedly reports similar stories to us.  Our world is not just the small piece of land that the Israelites lived in, but it is the entire globe.  Evil seems to be winning.  The stories include sex, alcohol and drugs, jealousy, political control, greed, and more.  We easily forget that there is good news, too.

Samson’s story covers many of today’s issues, too.  In the Life Application Bible’s study notes, explanations provide guidelines for us:

  • Referring to v.15:1—Revenge is an uncontrollable monster.  Each act of retaliation brings another.  It is a boomerang that cannot be thrown without cost to the thrower.  The revenge cycle can be halted only by forgiveness.
  • Referring to v.15:14-17—The Lord’s strength came upon Samson, but he was proud and boasted only of his own strength. . . . Pride can cause us to take credit for work we’ve done only because of God’s strength.
  • Referring to v.15:18—Emotionally, we are most vulnerable after a great effort or when faced with physical needs.  Severe depression often follows great achievements; so don’t be surprised if you feel drained after a personal victory.
  • Continuing with v. 15:18—During these times of vulnerability, avoid the temptation to think that God owes you for your efforts.  It was his strength that gave you victory.  Concentrate on keeping your attitudes, actions, and words focused on God instead of yourself.

We may not be able to bring in the movie and show it today, but the images that Samson’s stories provide us are easy to translate into various visual images we see on today’s screens.  The human characteristics, including the flaws, are easy to detect in today’s world.  Yet we tend to forget the lessons that the Old Testament delivers.

Just like Samson, we easily are swayed by what is attractive to our eyes—whether a good-looking man or woman or whether some material thing that catches our favor.

Just like Samson, alcohol or drugs or other addictive traits can impair our best judgment.

Just like Samson, we forget who gives us the skills and talents that we can use to follow God’s law—to love one another and to make believers of others so the world can be transformed by unconditional love.

Just like Samson, we need to talk to God regularly because then we listen to God, we follow his directions, and when we complete the task we are to praise him—not take pride in what we do, but in what God does through us.

This week stop and evaluate your lives.  Are you following Samson’s model or are you following Jesus’ model?  Pray about it.  Make sure that the decisions you make are those that would please God, not the Philistines which surround you.  Who knows, maybe the next generation’s Cecil B. DeMille will want to make a movie of your life!

Dear God,

Years have passed; centuries have passed;

Yet the stories of the Old Testament continue to teach.

As we have heard the stories these past few weeks,

guide us in using the lessons in today’s world.

Keep us from making the mistakes that others make

by failing to follow your teachings.

Help us to continue teaching the stories

so others may see your love through our lives.

As we depart today, we praise you

and we will try to live the stories so others

may learn them, too, and the world can be transformed.

–Amen.

 

 

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