Samson, Delilah & You – sermon on Judges 16

by Bobby Gilles

in Liturgy & Sermons

Samson and Delilah film posterYou can hear my sermon on Judges 16 in the audio player below, or in the Sojourn New Albany iTunes podcast. You can also read it, right below the audio player:

Intro/Problem: Samson’s Tale:

Samson was the strongest man of all time, capable of feats of strength that would seem to come straight from the pages of a Marvel comic book. But don’t just think of Samson as a super hero, because many of us have more in common with him than we think: man or woman, young or old, strong or weak. We keep making the same bad decisions, day after day, year after year. We’re either oblivious to them or we’re indifferent, or we feel powerless to change.

That’s bad news for us because things didn’t end well for Samson. And if they didn’t end well for a superhero, what hope do we have?

This is a dark, twisted cautionary tale. But through it, God is calling us to a relationship with himself, so we can experience a new, better life. If you’re a Christian, you’ve been given this life, but many of us don’t experience the joy and power of it because the relationship is lacking.

And so late at night you look in the mirror and say, “I don’t even know this person. I’m a child of God, but this person just spent another day doing the very things I’m trying to stop doing.”

And so, little by little, we go down Samson’s painful path.

This is the story of a man who accomplished everything a man would want to accomplish, and in one sudden turn went from top right down to bottom.
But it only seemed sudden. Samson’s own sinful nature had been laying the groundwork for his fall, slowly and steadily, his whole life:

  • Like the 50-year old Christian who has consumed pornography for 35 years.
  • Like the Christian businessperson who always seems to drink too much when out of town on business (or like the spouse who gives in to the same temptation when left home alone).
  • Like the angry young man who becomes a Christian, but in spite of that, a few decades later everyone knows him as the angry old man – always feuding with someone, always ready to bite your head off.

The key to this story is found in the last verse of Judges 15.

Samson judged Israel for twenty years during the period when the Philistines dominated the land. – Judges 15:20

He was about 20 years old when he first began to deliver Israel, and this verse tells us he led them for 20 years. So now comes the mid-life crisis.

Remember everything Stephen preached about last week, when we looked at Samson’s early years: the fast living, the anger, the affair with the Philistine woman that ended when she got burned to death by her own people.

Well, the guy we read about in these Last Days Of Samson is the same old guy, all these years later. He never dealt with the heart issues that plagued him back in the beginning.

Because he hasn’t dealt with his issues, they’re going to come back, and this time they are going to destroy him.

The story begins in Judges 16:1 —

One day Samson went to the Philistine town of Gaza and spent the night with a prostitute. Word soon spread that Samson was there, so the men of Gaza gathered together and waited all night at the town gates. They kept quiet during the night, saying to themselves, “When the light of morning comes, we will kill him.”

Gaza is 25 miles from Samson’s home. Not only is it a Philistine city, it is their capital.

This is a crazy risk, like if our president went to a Syrian strip club in a town controlled by Isis. Maybe Samson thinks he is far enough away that word won’t get back to Israel, and hurt his reputation. Or maybe he is driven by the thrill of danger.

If you remember last week, you’ll see that this story fits the pattern of Samson’s life – falling into a dangerous situation because of his weakness for ungodly women. But the pattern is deepening: his recklessness in going to the Philistine capital, and his sexual addiction in sleeping with a prostitute.

Many of us have known people like this – good, upstanding Christian people who risk their family in an affair. Maybe it’s secret for awhile but then they become more and more brazen. Friends even start seeing them around town in the company of a lover. When you sin long enough you fall into a false sense of security, where you think you have nothing to lose.

But at least Samson is smart when it comes to battle tactics. He doesn’t wait till morning. Verse 3:

But Samson stayed in bed only until midnight. Then he got up, took hold of the doors of the town gate, including the two posts, and lifted them up, bar and all. He put them on his shoulders and carried them all the way to the top of the hill across from Hebron.

There’s that superhero strength. The doors Samson takes are probably 700 pounds each, and he carries them 40 miles, into Israel (some commentators say the doors could have been much heavier, and some say that the journey may have been just nine or ten miles. Regardless which numbers we use, this is still superhuman strength).

The city gate was there for safety. Samson does this to humiliate the Philistines as well as to scare them. He’s saying, “You think you’re safe? You think you can touch me? You’re not, and you can’t. I can come straight into your city, sleep with your women, and leave with your security gates. I can do anything I want.”

This episode only increases Samson’s sense of invulnerability, and his entitlement to the gift of God. In last week’s sermon, we saw him calling out to the Lord for help. And three times the story said, “The Spirit of the Lord came upon him.” But there’s none of that now.

And the only women we know that Samson ever got involved with were ungodly Philistine women. We learned about one last week. The second was this prostitute. The third will be his undoing. Next verse:

Some time later Samson fell in love with a woman named Delilah, who lived in the valley of Sorek. The rulers of the Philistines went to her and said, “Entice Samson to tell you what makes him so strong and how he can be overpowered and tied up securely. Then each of us will give you 1,100 pieces of silver.” – Judges 16:4-5

This silver amounted to hundreds of times the average yearly wage. And Delilah would be famous – the woman who took down her people’s greatest enemy. On the other hand, remember what happened to Samson’s first Philistine lover, years ago?

So the most powerful people in the land want something from Delilah. Depending on her answer and her skill in pulling it off, she could land anywhere between being a rich hero or a charred corpse. And so, Delilah betrays Samson.

She keeps asking for the secret of his strength. He makes up silly stories: if you bind me this way I’ll be weak; if you bind me that way I’ll be weak. She keeps binding him, and he keeps breaking free.

Why does he keep giving her chances when she proves that she’s trying to trap him? Maybe because Samson is in denial, like so often happens when we fall in love. He craves Delilah so much that he thinks, “I know she’s bad for me. But maybe I can change her.”

After three cat-and-mouse games, Delilah plays her trump card:

Then Delilah pouted, “How can you tell me, ‘I love you,’ when you don’t share your secrets with me? – Judges 16:15

That’s just what his first Philistine lover said 20 years earlier, and it worked then, too. Samson has learned nothing.

And so he tells her about his special vow to the Lord. Or rather, he tells her about the last remaining condition of the vow, because he’d broken the others long ago, from last week’s sermon: touching dead bodies and drinking alcohol. All that’s left is the hair.

So he tells her to shave his head. She lulls him to sleep, and while she coddles his head on her lap, the Philistines shave him bald. Verse 20:

When he woke up, he thought, “I will do as before and shake myself free.”

Why wouldn’t he think his strength would remain when his hair was gone? He’d been breaking his Nazirite vows for a long time. It’s not just about hair – it’s about the covenant relationship he had with God, symbolized on his end by his Nazirite vows. He no longer thinks the relationship is where his strength comes from, which is why he goes ahead and breaks the last part of his vow. Then the rest of verse 20:

But he didn’t realize the Lord had left him.

Solution: How Samson Went Wrong/ How We Can Go Right

Why did the savior of God’s people come to this? Because he had lived for twenty years without ever dealing with his heart issues, until he felt like he didn’t have issues anymore.

Maybe you have never dealt with the problems in your life—anger, bitterness, lust, selfishness.
 You’ve convinced yourself you can ignore it or manage through it on your own.

Verse 21:

So the Philistines captured him and gouged out his eyes. They took him to Gaza,

Oh, Samson, when was the last time you were in Gaza? Oh, that’s right. When you slept with the prostitute, and you took the doors off their gate. When you thumbed your nose at them and said, “I can do anything I want.”

When you live in slavery to sin, it may not feel like slavery for a long time. You may think you’re strong and free, right up until the moment when everything comes crashing down around you.

I don’t know what pain, or what childhood circumstance might have led Samson to his particular patterns of self-destructive behavior – the Bible doesn’t tell us. But I do know that whatever it was, he wasn’t taking it to God.

Look at verse 20 again – one of the saddest statements in Judges:

But he didn’t realize the Lord had left him. Judges 16:20

See, in the end, he no longer believed he could lose his strength. And he was shocked that God had left him. What’s between the lines in the story of Samson is the destruction of a relationship – not between Samson and Delilah, but between Samson and God.

Do you think Samson had been regularly confessing sin, like we practice together every Sunday so we can continue doing it every day of the week? Confession isn’t just saying, “I did wrong,” but, “God, I’m heartbroken about this and I need you to make it right. Will you forgive me? Will you help me to turn from my sin?”

When your confession is just, “I did wrong,” sooner or later you start justifying yourself.

  • “God, I know I should have chosen one of your followers for a mate but these Christians are boring. And they just don’t get me.”
  • “I know I shouldn’t take office supplies home, but I haven’t had a raise in two years – they owe me!”
  • “I know that having an affair is wrong, but I’m trapped in a loveless marriage. This new person makes me laugh, and supports my dreams.”

And your heart hardens so you can sin more. And sooner or later you don’t even feel the need to justify yourself to God.

The truth is, change is hard. Whatever self-destructive thought patterns or behaviors you’ve been engaged in, ultimately it’s because on some level you doubt that God fully loves you and that his way is best.

We change when we allow God to move us from a posture of mistrust to trust. This takes awhile because the thoughts and activities that we’ve allowed to form into habits are hard to break. Without God, they’re impossible to break, as Samson learned.

They took him to Gaza, where he was bound with bronze chains and forced to grind grain in the prison. V. 21

But God has done something miraculous for us – something beyond what Samson knew, living 1100 years before Christ. God the Son came and showed us how to live in complete obedience and trust to the Father. Then he died for our sin – all those consequences of our mistrust and our foolish decisions. He rose from the grave, ascended into heaven and sent his Spirit into each one of us who believe in him. Now we have a helper, living inside of us.

He works in us through the natural process of healing that he created, which is why change takes time. He cultivates within us an open heart, not only so we can confess but so we want him involved in our decisions.

For instance, what if Samson were in the habit of asking himself one simple question before making a decision, and inviting God to help him answer it? Here’s the question:

“In light of my past, is this wise?”

Notice, “is this wise”? Not, “is this legal,” or “permissible,” or “is there anything in the Bible that specifically prohibits this?” Is it wise? And is it wise “in light of my past”?

Your answer to that question might be different than the person sitting next to you, because we all have different pasts.

  • “In light of my past, is it wise to accept this Facebook friend request?”
  • “In light of my past, is it wise to go to this event?”
  • “In light of my past, is it wise to pass up this opportunity to meet with an accountability partner?”

Being in relationship with God means involving him in your decision-making process.

And God has provided many other tools to help us, too, like fellow believers who encourage and challenge us. Like opportunities to serve and to give so our hearts become less selfish. Above all he’s given us his word – not just so we can read it to learn facts but so we can meditate on it as we place ourselves in the story. We examine our souls in light of God’s word, asking God to show us what’s going on in our hearts, and what he wants to do in us.

Vision/New Situation That Is Now Possible In Christ

God is calling us to a relationship with himself, so we can experience a new, better life. This life enables you to change, and it empowers you for a life of mission and purpose, like Samson was empowered. Even if you’ve ignored God for decades, it’s not too late to trust him. Verse 23:

The Philistine rulers held a great festival, offering sacrifices and praising their god, Dagon. They said, “Our god has given us victory over our enemy Samson!”

Thousands of God’s enemies are in this temple, and they decide to bring out Samson to make fun of him. Blind Samson is leaning against two central pillars. Archeologists tell us the weight of the perimeter was drawn to those pillars and down to the foundation. So verse 28:

Then Samson prayed to the Lord, “Sovereign Lord, remember me again. O God, please strengthen me just one more time. With one blow let me pay back the Philistines for the loss of my two eyes.” Then Samson put his hands on the two center pillars that held up the temple. Pushing against them with both hands, he prayed, “Let me die with the Philistines.” And the temple crashed down on the Philistine rulers and all the people. Judges 16:28-30

Finally Samson calls out to God. He demonstrates great faith, and delivers a crushing blow to the enemies of God’s people. We still see his anger and desire for personal revenge. And of course, his strike leaves himself dead along with the Philistines.

Thankfully our savior is a new and better Samson. Both Jesus and Samson were sold for silver by someone close to them. Both were tortured, chained, and put on public display. Both died with their arms outstretched.

But Samson lived in slavery to his lusts, and he sacrificed his life to kill his enemies. Jesus lived victoriously over sin, and he sacrificed his life so his enemies could become his friends.

We were once rebels and enemies of God, doing only what is right in our own eyes. If Jesus were like Samson, he would burst through these doors and leave heaps of dead bodies in this room. But Jesus filled this room with his body – you, the people of God, the body of Christ.

You were born with a nature like Samson. But you’ve been filled with the Spirit of Jesus. And he not only empowers us to win our personal war with sin but to take to these streets as God’s liberating force, not through violence, but through love and compassion.

Jesus is our new and better Samson, but through his spirit we become new and better Samsons, carrying away the gates of hell and inviting our neighbors into the kingdom of heaven. Jesus said in John 14:12

I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works … – John 14:12

The greatest miracles are those that can’t be reproduced or bettered by science and technology. We’ve figured out how to level mountains. We’ve cured diseases. And walking on water? Jet skis are faster and more fun.

What about Samson’s last miracle? Killing thousands of people at once? We can kill millions with the push of a button, from half the world away. But human technology cannot even measure the soul, let alone save it. Jesus lets us take part in saving souls, through his Holy Spirit.

When that really sinks into your heart, it creates a sense of mission that is more exciting and fulfilling than the temptations of sin.


(pick up the bread) Remember how the relationship between God and Samson was symbolized by those weird Nazirite vows? Well, ours is symbolized by this bread, and that cup. But this time it wasn’t us making the vows; it was the Son of God. And Jesus always keeps his promises.

On the night that he was betrayed, Jesus took a loaf of bread like this one, and after giving thanks he broke it, and said, “This is my body, broken for you.” Then he took a cup of wine like this one, and said, “This is my blood, shed for you. Drink this in remembrance of me, until I come again.”

The death and resurrection of Christ was your entry point into a death-defying royal family — the relationship, the home, and the sense of purpose you’ve always wanted.

In a moment you’ll come forward after we pray, tearing off a piece of bread and dipping it into either wine or juice as your conscience permits. The cups with wine will have strings of twine tied around them. And we’ll have a gluten-free station here on my left.

If you’re not a Christian we ask that you don’t come forward to take communion, because it symbolizes a union that you haven’t chosen yet. Instead pray at your seat to receive Christ as your Lord and Savior.

God is calling you to a relationship with himself, so you also can experience a new, better life.

Let’s pray.

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