Monday, October 18, 2010

Judges series - Judges 16 – Presumptuousness kills

The way to read this article is that the orange underlined texts are the verses of the Bible (NIV, unless otherwise stated). The black texts following the Bible verses (and enclosed by square brackets) are my commentaries. At the end of these Bible texts and commentaries, I have inserted a section on "Points to take note/What we have learnt/can learn".
{For full listing of all articles in this series, click here}

{At Gaza}
1 One day Samson went to Gaza, where he saw a prostitute. He went in to spend the night with her. 2 The 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." 3 But 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. [For what reason Samson went to Gaza, a big city of the Philistines, we do not know. He did nothing there except to sleep with a prostitute, and afterward, in the middle of the night got up, ripped apart the city gate and carried it to the top of the hill.

To me, it was a demonstration of brute might. It was as if Samson was saying, “See, I have come into your stronghold, enjoyed myself, and afterward, torn apart your city gate for all to see, what can you do to me?” But why this conduct? Moral character flaw? Or was it presumptuousness?]

{Samson and Delilah}
4 Sometime later, he fell in love with a woman in the Valley of Sorek whose name was Delilah. 5 The 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." [Some time later, Samson fell in love with a woman called Delilah who was then bought over by the Philistine rulers to find out the secret to Samson’s great strength.]
6 So Delilah said to Samson, "Tell me the secret of your great strength and how you can be tied up and subdued." 7 Samson answered her, "If anyone ties me with seven fresh thongs that have not been dried, I'll become as weak as any other man." 8 Then the rulers of the Philistines brought her seven fresh thongs that had not been dried, and she tied him with them. 9 With 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. 10 Then Delilah said to Samson, "You have made a fool of me; you lied to me. Come now, tell me how you can be tied." 11 He said, "If anyone ties me securely with new ropes that have never been used, I'll become as weak as any other man." 12 So 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. 13 Delilah 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 14 and 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. 15 Then 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." [Delilah proceeded to pester Samson to reveal the secret of his strength. We read here for 3 occasions, Samson lied to Delilah, and the Philistines could not take Samson. Tying Samson with fresh throng did not weaken him. Neither did tying with new rope, nor having the 7 braids of his head woven into a fabric.]
16 With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was tired to death. 17 So 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." 18 When 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. 19 Having 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. 20 Then 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. 21 Then 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. 22 But the hair on his head began to grow again after it had been shaved. [Delilah continued her nagging, finally Samson told her everything, that he was a Nazirite since birth; and no razor had ever been used on his head, and that his strength would leave him if his head was shaved. So, while Samson was asleep, Delilah shaved his head and had the Philistines come and successfully seized him, and had his eyes gouged out and took him down to Gaza, the city he had previously openly defied by needless show-off. Afterwards they shackled him and put him to work in the prison. Meanwhile in prison, his hair began to grow, but the sad thing was that he had already lost his eyes. This is my take, and you do not necessarily need to agree with me: Samson grew presumptuous and proud, became a show-off, did slacken on his morality {although, not right from the beginning, as thought by many}, again was not discreet with secrets, fell, got humiliated, humbled, and became repentant.]

The Death of Samson
23 Now the rulers of the Philistines assembled to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god and to celebrate, saying, "Our god has delivered Samson, our enemy, into our hands." 24 When the people saw him, they praised their god, saying, "Our god has delivered our enemy into our hands, the one who laid waste our land and multiplied our slain." 25 While they were in high spirits, they shouted, "Bring out Samson to entertain us." So they called Samson out of the prison, and he performed for them. [The rulers of the Philistines began to celebrate the capturing of Samson. They attributed it to their god, Dagon, and had the celebration carried out at the temple premise. While in high spirits, they wanted to make fun of Samson and to have Samson to be brought to the open.]
When they stood him among the pillars, 26 Samson said to the servant who held his hand, "Put me where I can feel the pillars that support the temple, so that I may lean against them." 27 Now the temple was crowded with men and women; all the rulers of the Philistines were there, and on the roof were about three thousand men and women watching Samson perform. 28 Then Samson prayed to the LORD, "O Sovereign LORD, remember me. O God, please strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes." 29 Then Samson reached toward the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other, 30 Samson said, "Let me die with the Philistines!" Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived. [With the loss of his eyes, Samson decided he shall die glorifying God.

While it is praiseworthy that Samson had glorified God by bringing down the temple and killing a few thousand Philistines, I feel I must say that one must not be too quick to imitate Samson. No point in time, no matter how difficult things may become, we must not end our own lives, unless God directs so. Our lives are not ours to take. Our first response should be to live and stay alive to glorify God. If all else failed, and we lose our lives to the enemies, so be it, but otherwise, we are to will and hope to live.]
31 Then his brothers and his father's whole family went down to get him. They brought him back and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of Manoah his father. He had led Israel twenty years. [Samson’s family came and collected his body to be buried with his father, Manoah. Samson led the Israelites for 20 years.]

What we can learn here:

Some who wrote on Samson’s life, almost had nothing good to say about Samson. I believe some of the negativities were over-rated. Some writers tended to inject their own judgmental spirit into scriptures, despite in some places the plainness of matter was staring in their faces. For example, for the marriage of Samson with the Philistine woman in Timnah, it was clearly said that it was a stirring from the Lord (Judges 13:25 & 14:4), yet some writers just ignored that, and claimed that Samson did wrong to entertain the marriage with a pagan woman.

This tends to show the judgmental attitude in us all, to even judge others’ ministries. The Apostle Paul was very clear about judging another’s ministry. Put it very simply, Paul was saying that only the Master knew what He had assigned out, only He was in any position to judge His servant, not us, because we were not the ones who knew what the minister was to do, unless the Lord revealed to us what He had instructed the said minister.

Hosea (from the Book of Hosea), for example, was told by the Lord to go and take an adulterous woman with children as his wife! Nothing is foolishness if that is what the Lord has wanted done! Bible is filled with many more of such things, which men would have labeled as foolishness, if not for them being said to be asked of, or done, by the Lord.

Nonetheless, we have to ask ourselves whether or not there is anything to be learnt from the passage that talked about Samson’s episode at Gaza (vv 1-3).

In verse 4, of Judges 14 (previous chapter), where we read of Samson’s wanting to marry a Philistine woman at Timnah, it was said that the LORD was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines who were oppressing the Israelites then. Was this episode at Gaza, another of such occasions sought by the LORD? Should we be kind and understanding, and just assume it?

My own view is that the 2 episodes were clearly separate occasions and matters. Much time might have even elapsed between the 2 episodes; do not forget that Samson led for 20 years (v31), altogether. Without mentioning of time, just the mention of these 2 episodes, and even the one that followed - Samson’s association with Delilah, which led to the secret of his strength exposed, and he being captured, blinded, and eventually died, one might be tempted to think that the events occurred consecutively, one following another, but I believe that was not necessarily the case.

For the former (marriage at Timnah), God had allowed it to be written into scripture that it was His idea; to me, if the latter (at Gaza) was also His idea, He would have also inspired the author to pen it in as well, unless the latter clearly patterned after the former. Do you think it was fair for Samson, and for us, too, to assume it being the case? I think not, and so, my view is that for this occasion, Samson had been presumptuous to do the thing he did, sleeping with a Philistine prostitute and thereafter, demonstrated His strength in deviance of the enemy. It is tempting to argue, it was an attempt by God to “do it back” to the Philistines for the latter’s dishonoring of God by ridiculing a chosen man of God at Timnah. But, the dishonor had already been avenged, many Philistines had paid the price, we read that in Judges 14, Samson even killed 1,000 men with a jawbone at Lehi. I do not think this is the right argument.

It is obvious that Samson was chosen of the LORD, even before birth, to be a judge for the Israelites, to lead them in the face of the Israelites’ suffering under the oppression of the Philistines. After the events at Timnah and Lehi, we can be sure that Samson by then realised that he was called (to service) by the LORD; the only thing was, what were the more precise things that he was to do?

I am inclined to think that Samson thought what he did was what the LORD would be pleased with. And so, I do not think it was a moral character flaw (at Gaza), as such {but that event might have led him to suffer decline in morality}; but rather it was presumptuousness on the part of Samson.

If it had been a case that Samson had wanted to have fun, and afterward, was remorseful and repentant as some commentators put it (saying that he laid AWAKE until middle of the night for that reason; but not necessarily the case, I believe, it could just be that he stayed on, until middle of the night!), do you think he would then go and do something that very obviously would “hit the headline”, by pulling out the gate and waving it around on the top of a hill? Why couldn’t he have fun in Israelites’ territory? He was a judge, and would be afraid to be seen visiting prostitutes in his own territory, that he had to go to the enemy’s city to do it? If it were the case, do you think he would want to publicise it by the subsequent show of might?

I believed Samson planned to confront the Philistines, and it entered his mind that those acts would be what he would do. And so, I believe he was not believing that he would be judged as being of loose moral character; more I think, he was thinking that he would bring honor to God’s name by being able to say, “I have gone into the enemy’s stronghold, enjoyed myself, and afterwards, torn apart their city gate for all to see, and the enemy could do nothing to me!”

Was God glorified by what Samson did at Gaza? Obviously, many of us do not think so, especially those who argue that Samson was already of loose moral character, for he slept with the prostitute at Gaza. Can this possibly be the way of God? A later event, in history, shaded some light on this, and the event was that of Philistine’s Goliath’s ridiculing of the Israelites in the Valley of Elah during the reign of King Saul (1 Sam 17). God did not take kindly to what Goliath did, day after day, encroached into the Israelites’ border in deviance, in the presence of the Israelite army; and He engineered David to confront the giant enemy, and had the enemy fallen by a sling stone from the shepherd “boy”, David. Could God have resorted to those acts which Samson did at Gaza, with no apparent reason except to boast? I do not think so. I believe the lesson to learn in this, is that we are to be careful not to be too presumptuous in whatever manner of service calling of God.

Concerning Samson and Delilah, the important point to note was that Samson started to know of his power, and an inkling of God’s service calling on his life during the time of God’s stirring of him to go to Timnah and marry a Philistine woman. Although, there might be a certain peculiarity to Samson’s service calling, as indicated by what he did and accomplished with clear sanction of God, in the inaugural acts connected to the marriage at Timnah, still the overwhelming issue is whether or not, Samson had been too presumptuous thereafter. It could be that one initial isolated event that he got involved with enemy’s woman, with sanction of God, did not mean that his ministry for the LORD was to be inevitably tied to women of the enemy (but which Samson probably thought so).

Indeed, Delilah was possibly a Philistine woman {enemy woman}, or at least she was not an Israelite. Even if she was not a Philistine woman, she would have been one of the local inhabitants who easily would have aligned herself with the Philistines, owing to the root issue of Israelites being conquerors of the land, taking the Canaan Land from the locals, including the Philistines. Now, Delilah was a woman in the Valley of Sorek. This place was not in the Israelite territory. In fact, it is believed that Timnah, where Samson had earlier on, wanted to marry a Philistine woman, was in Valley of Sorek, making it all possible that, that territory was a territory of the Philistines. Even if Delilah was not born of the Philistines, she lived under the rule of the Philistines.

To fall in love, per se, is not wrong, but Samson fell in love with an “enemy woman”. Was that what the LORD had wanted? The scripture is silent on this. Again, the issue is that, whether or not, Samson was again presumptuous to think, since his inaugural episode from the LORD was connected to an “enemy woman” (even marriage), that he would receive God’s blessing to fall in love with Delilah. We, of course, know that Delilah brought about Samson’s downfall, and scripture did not attribute any good done by Samson from that relationship with Delilah, except, afterward, after Samson’s secret of his strength was leaked, and he was blinded, and imprisoned, he did exercise his strength for a last time and killed a couple of thousand Philistines.

It is all possible that Samson grew presumptuous {maybe even too presumptuous} and proud, became a show-off, did slacken on his morality {although, not right from the beginning, as thought by many}, again wasn’t discreet with secrets, and fell. But I believe his biggest mistake was possibly that he was too presumptuous. He was one earmarked for much more, and much greater exploits for the LORD, but because of his presumptuousness, he might have short-circuited the exploits that God could have accomplished through him. Nonetheless, in line with Romans 8:28, in everything God still works thing out for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose. Despite Samson’s presumptuousness and failings, God did not withdrew His hand completely, but had still performed miracles when Samson had needed it, for the sake of His name, and as a grace to Samson.

Concerning Samson taking of his own life, my comments are in the body of the commentary. I just want to say that I believe it is a sin for believers to take their own lives, and MUST NOT be attempted, unless instructed by God.

There is also a side point to note, and that is that we are to learn from our mistakes. Samson did not learn that from his mistake of not being discreet with secrets or confidential matters. He was deceived once by his bride at Timnah, and yet, he did not learn, and got deceived again, and this time by his lover, Delilah.

While I have said that generally we do not judge people concerning their ministries, it does not mean that we cannot engage such ministers if we think that something might be amiss. And for the ministers, be humble, be prepared to hear people out, and talk to God, ask Him, so that we do not end up like Samson, dishonor God, be ourselves humiliated, and miss the greater exploits that God has intended for our lives. That we start well, we should want to continue on to do greater exploits, and end well.

My Prayer (you can pray this, too):
Lord, the life of Samson, as recorded for us, is difficult to decipher, yet, overwhelmingly, I sense that I am being taught not to be presumptuous as to what is to be done for you, especially, what is to be done, borders into darkness.

Lord, I am not young anymore {you may adapt this!}, yet, I am still not very sure about what you want me to do, but I am quite sure that some inaugural acts have happened in my life.

Lord, I want to read correctly your service calling for my life. Though late in life, I have started, maybe, even started ok; although, it was nothing compared to what Samson had done at Timnah or at Lehi, but

Lord, I want to continue on to do greater exploits, and end well.

Lord, help me to be sensitive to your Holy Spirit, for only with favor and sensitivity to your Spirit, will I be able to do great exploits for you. Amen.
Anthony Chia

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