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How do You Solve a Problem Like Samson?

Sermon passage: (Judges 15:1-20) Spoken on: July 6, 2009
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Judges

Tags: Judges

Listen to sermon recording with the play button or download with the download link. 您可点播或下载讲道录音。
About Rev. Wong Siow Hwee: Rev. Wong is the moderator of Jubilee Church, serving there since 2002. 王晓晖牧师是禧年堂的主理牧师。自2002年,在那牧会将近20年。
Bible passage (ESV) of the sermon can be found at the bottom of the page.

Sermon on Judges 15:1-20

She climbs a tree and scrapes her knee, her dress has got a tear. She waltzes on her way to Mass, and whistles on the stair. And underneath her wimple, she has curlers in her hair. I even heard her singing in the Abbey. These are the lyrics to the song Maria, also known as “How do you solve a problem like Maria?”, from the movie musical, Sound of Music. This song was sung by the nuns at Nomberg Abbey, who were exasperated with Maria for being too frivolous and frolicsome for the prim and proper life at the Abbey. What do you do with a person so out of sync with the rest of the community? How do you solve a problem like that? Pastors sometimes are similarly troubled when it comes to the character of Samson. It doesn’t take an expert to figure out that Samson is not your usual sort of biblical hero. His character is so repulsive that we wish he is in the opposite camp like Goliath the Philistine. Then we would fight to cast the first stone on him. But he is not, he is one of us. In fact, scripture clearly states that God’s Spirit is with him and in today’s passage, God saved him from thirst and the persecution of the Philistines. So it is hard to deny his relationship with God. A character like Samson totally clashes with the nice loving community that we wish the church will always be. So how do you solve a problem like Samson?

Maybe we can defend ourselves using some excuse. We can say that we have tried to accept him. So we cannot be blamed if he falls out of our grace by his own deeds.

We might say, if only he were more gentlemanly, he might be more acceptable. The passage today begins with Samson the insensitive brute. After storming off at his wedding, he still has the audacity to return after months of absence to visit the Timnite woman. The woman’s father was quite right in assuming that Samson must have hated her, and hence married her to another man. We can recall Samson’s last romantic words before he left ‘If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have solved my riddle.” A heifer is a young female cow. You can try that line with your wife, just to get a feel of how loving the statement is to a woman. “My dear heifer, my cow, how would you like some plowing tonight?” I assure you that you will be plowing on the living room sofa every night thereafter. The fact that Samson thought that he could pretend as if nothing had happened by bringing a young goat showed how insensitive he was.

We might say, if only he were more law-abiding, he might be more acceptable. Exodus 22:6 states “If a fire breaks out and spreads into thornbushes so that it burns shocks of grain or standing grain or the whole field, the one who started the fire must make restitution.” Yet we see Samson disregarding God’s law about property and doing only what is right in his eyes. He burnt up the entire wheat harvest of the Philistines together with the vineyards and olive groves.

We might say, if only he were more Christ-like, he might be more acceptable. Jesus taught “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.”(Matt 7:12) Yet, Samson confessed that he did just the opposite, “I merely did to them what they did to me.” Jesus was about forgiveness, and Samson was about taking revenge. He slaughtered those who burnt his wife and father-in-law.

We might say, if only he were more righteous, he might be more acceptable. I mentioned two weeks ago that as a Nazirite, he just had to keep 3 vows, namely no fermented drinks, no shaving and no touching of dead bodies. Yet, once again we see that he intentionally used a fresh jawbone of a donkey as his weapon. What is wrong with this guy? Only 3 vows and he still failed in his mission?

We have many excuses to reject this insensitive, vengeful, law-breaking and vow-breaking character. We thought that by listing down these reasons, we can protect ourselves from accepting this person. But at the end of the story, we are faced with the shocking fact. That when Samson cried out to the Lord when he was dying of thirst, God intervened to give him water so that he revived. God accepted Samson. For all the valid reasons that we have for rejection, we are confronted by God’s acceptance.

God’s accepted Samson even though he was arrogant and self-centered. The song that Samson sung about the donkey’s jawbone was him boasting about how good he was. Even though he later attributed the victory to God, he made it clear that it was done through him. Furthermore, his next line was to rant at God for his personal crisis. If he was really concerned about the uncircumcised, then why did he try to marry one in the first place? He was blaming God were he to die undeservingly (in his own opinion). With such an attitude, even a waiter with a best service award would have chased him out of the restaurant. But God gave him water. Why? Today, let’s learn to look at people from God’s perspective.

An American pastor once said, “Anyone can count the seeds in an apple. Only God can count all the apples in one seed.”[1] As humans, we focus on what we can see, and that is sometimes superficial and temporal. But God focuses on the big picture. With the hindsight of history, we can have a glimpse of all the apples that is in the seed Samson. I have stated in my previous sermon that the issue in this part of the history is cultural assimilation. The Israelites did not seem to be oppressed by the Philistines, in fact the greater danger was that they were fast losing their identity and becoming like the Philistines in many ways. As a people called to be holy and to worship God alone, cultural assimilation is worse than death. We continue to see this danger in the behavior of the tribe of Judah, who were supposed to be the elite of the 12 tribes. When faced with the threat from the Philistines, they chose to give up their own fellow Israelite, Samson, rather than face up to the fight. Look at what they said, “Don’t you realize that the Philistines are rulers over us? What have you done to us?” You can almost read the subtext, “We are determined to avoid confronting the Philistines. We are contented with them ruling over us. The Philistines are the rulers, not God. I don’t want any trouble.” The scary reality is that Israel’s best tribe, Judah, was allied with the Philistines against God’s chosen leader. They didn’t even hide their intentions saying, “We have come to tie you up and hand you over to the Philistines.”

Despite the people’s seeming determination to commit national suicide, God continues to work. The killing of a thousand Philistines cannot be considered a great military victory. In the proper perspective, it is only a personal vengeance. But in light of the issue of assimilation, we see that God is in control and the story today ended exactly where he wanted it. “In the days of the Philistines, Samson led Israel for twenty years”. God had successfully provoked tension between Israel and the Philistines even though Samson and the rest of the main characters did everything out of their own motives. Through the actions of Samson, the alliance between Israel and Philistine was broken. This animosity kick-started by Samson would continue through the time of Eli, Samuel and Saul. Only in the time of David would be the Philistines finally be overcome. But the final fruits began with the seed of what Samson had begun. And that is what God sees. When we look at the obvious flaws of Samson, we are rightfully repulsed. Anyone can count the seeds in an apple. Only God can count all the apples in one seed. God accepted Samson for starting the work of fighting against the Philistines.

The danger of assimilation is no less real today than in the days of the Philistines. We are constantly exposed to the cultures of the world which are sometimes at odds with Christian values. One aspect that I have touched on today is the culture of meritocracy. Meritocracy is a system of organization where responsibilities are given based on talent and competence. Taken by itself, it is an excellent way of management compared to other systems that favor wealth, connections, class privilege and so on. But unfortunately, when it is practiced to the extreme in Christian communities, we begin to judge people based on their existing functional worth. When the value of a person becomes fully determined by their visible abilities, it is contrary to our Christian belief in grace. We are counting the seeds in an apple. We begin to find excuses for non-acceptance. If only that guy is better in this way, I might have accepted him. If only this lady is better in that way, I might have accepted her. If you are looking for seeds, I’m sure you can find some in every apple. What can we do with the problem of so-and-so? If only the person is good enough.

God shows us how we can deal with the problem. Instead of counting the seeds of an apple, he counts the apples in a seed. God accepted Samson despite all his flaws because he saw that the fight against the Philistine assimilation has begun with Samson. God saw the future instead of all the imperfections in Samson. In the passage today, the lesson is not in looking at Samson, but looking at the grace of God. I believe the fight against assimilation continues today. The world tells us to accept people by their merits. But God often shocks us with Samsons in our community. Samsons are people who are repulsive to us, but yet there is no denying that the work of God is in their lives. Maybe it is time that we start looking at these people from God’s perspective. We can stop counting the seeds in the apple and start counting the apples from that one seed. When that happens, we break free of the world’s assimilation and become a community of grace.

According to a traditional Hebrew story, Abraham was sitting outside his tent one evening when he saw an old man, weary from age and journey, coming toward him. Abraham rushed out, greeted him, and then invited him into his tent. There he washed the old man’s feet and gave him food and drink.

The old man immediately began eating without saying any prayer or blessing. So Abraham asked him, “Don’t you worship God?”

The old traveler replied, “I worship fire only and reverence no other god.”

When he heard this, Abraham became incensed, grabbed the old man by the shoulders, and threw him out his tent into the cold night air.

When the old man had departed, God called to his friend Abraham and asked where the stranger was. Abraham replied, “I forced him out because he did not worship you.”

God answered, “I have suffered him these eighty years although he dishonors me. Could you not endure him one night?” [2]

I hope this story is a challenge to us all. The grace of God is upon all, even one as repulsive as Samson. What can you do with a problem like Samson? I guess my answer is: if he is good enough for God to show mercy, he is good enough for me.
_____________________________________________
[1] Robert H. Schuller

[2] Thomas Lindberg

Judges 15 (Listen)

15:1 After some days, at the time of wheat harvest, Samson went to visit his wife with a young goat. And he said, “I will go in to my wife in the chamber.” But her father would not allow him to go in. And her father said, “I really thought that you utterly hated her, so I gave her to your companion. Is not her younger sister more beautiful than she? Please take her instead.” And Samson said to them, “This time I shall be innocent in regard to the Philistines, when I do them harm.” So Samson went and caught 300 foxes and took torches. And he turned them tail to tail and put a torch between each pair of tails. And when he had set fire to the torches, he let the foxes go into the standing grain of the Philistines and set fire to the stacked grain and the standing grain, as well as the olive orchards. Then the Philistines said, “Who has done this?” And they said, “Samson, the son-in-law of the Timnite, because he has taken his wife and given her to his companion.” And the Philistines came up and burned her and her father with fire. And Samson said to them, “If this is what you do, I swear I will be avenged on you, and after that I will quit.” And he struck them hip and thigh with a great blow, and he went down and stayed in the cleft of the rock of Etam.

Then the Philistines came up and encamped in Judah and made a raid on Lehi. 10 And the men of Judah said, “Why have you come up against us?” They said, “We have come up to bind Samson, to do to him as he did to us.” 11 Then 3,000 men of Judah went down to the cleft of the rock of Etam, and said to Samson, “Do you not know that the Philistines are rulers over us? What then is this that you have done to us?” And he said to them, “As they did to me, so have I done to them.” 12 And they said to him, “We have come down to bind you, that we may give you into the hands of the Philistines.” And Samson said to them, “Swear to me that you will not attack me yourselves.” 13 They said to him, “No; we will only bind you and give you into their hands. We will surely not kill you.” So they bound him with two new ropes and brought him up from the rock.

14 When he came to Lehi, the Philistines came shouting to meet him. Then the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him, and the ropes that were on his arms became as flax that has caught fire, and his bonds melted off his hands. 15 And he found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, and put out his hand and took it, and with it he struck 1,000 men. 16 And Samson said,

  “With the jawbone of a donkey,
    heaps upon heaps,
  with the jawbone of a donkey
    have I struck down a thousand men.”

17 As soon as he had finished speaking, he threw away the jawbone out of his hand. And that place was called Ramath-lehi.

18 And he was very thirsty, and he called upon the LORD and said, “You have granted this great salvation by the hand of your servant, and shall I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?” 19 And God split open the hollow place that is at Lehi, and water came out from it. And when he drank, his spirit returned, and he revived. Therefore the name of it was called En-hakkore; it is at Lehi to this day. 20 And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years.

(ESV)