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Game Over!

Sermon passage: (Judges 16:1-22) Spoken on: July 20, 2009
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Pastor Daniel Tan
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Judges

Tags: Judges

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About Pastor Daniel Tan: Pastor Tan served as the youth pastor of Jubilee Church till his retirement. He is currently serving actively in missions.

Sermon on Judges 16:1-22

Many years ago, something unusual happened out on the West coast of America. It seems that some whales were beached out there. They came in too close and when the tide went out, the whales were stuck on the sand. The only thing that was unusual was that there were 300 whales beached at the same time and in the same place. Sadly before the rescuers could get the whales moved, all 300 had died. It was a great mystery until the marine biologists discovered that the 300 whales had come to the beach and had met their death because they were chasing sardines. I am sure we all know how small sardines are and how big a whale is. But even a little sardine can bring a whale to its death if the whale keeps chasing it long enough. This tragedy is indeed an appropriate illustration of the life of Samson. Samson, a man of enormous resources, wasted his gifted life chasing his own small goals. He was a whale chasing sardines. Just like a whale in its chasing game after sardines, game is over when it hit the beach and was stuck on the sand. In the chapter that we read just now, game is likewise over for Samson when out of his desire for Delilah over God, he revealed his secret to her. Game is over for Samson because in pursuing his own ambitions, he also betrayed the vow as a Nazirite, to be set apart from God since his birth. Therefore, I would like to entitle this morning sermon “Game Over”.

1. Game is over when one continues to toy with God- given talent (blessing) for self-gratification.

An over-view of the story of Samson reveals three decisive periods in his life. The first period concerns his birth (13:1-24a), the second comprises of different subjects related to his marriage episode (14:1-15:19) and the third is the final period of his life (16:1-31a). Let us first do a quick review on the first section of Samson’s story, his birth narrative. Before Samson’s stepping onto the stage of the Judges’ period, Yahweh’s presence and participation is most notable in the beginning phase of Gideon’s life. But as Gideon becomes a bully and self-serving, he later fights his own battles without assistance or approval from Yahweh. We thus see Yahweh’s absence in the second phase of Gideon’s life. His successor, Abimelech though not considered as a judge, he is in fact a leader against Yahweh. We see only s single, negative involvement of God, the sending of an evil spirit. Jephthah’s judgeship is only seconded by Yahweh’s granting of the divine spirit, and man’s choice based on battle experience because he is a mighty warrior. It is not stated specifically that Yahweh has raised him to be a judge. As each of these judges/leaders prove themselves unworthy, Yahweh becomes increasingly silent and takes no further part in the action of empowering. But in the opening chapter of Samson’s story, we are quite surprised to see the visit of the angel of Yahweh with the message he brings. This time Yahweh does not appoint or inspire a judge; He announces the birth of a son. The angel of Yahweh makes it very clear that this child is a gift from God, born to a childless woman. He is to be set apart for God’s purpose to initiate delivery of Israel from the Philistines. So, we see this child, Samson, the leader to be is twice sacred to Yahweh in being a first-born and in his consecration to Yahweh at conception. And as he grows up, we are told that he is blessed by God and empowered by the Holy Spirit. We therefore anticipate that a mighty hero to bring upon Israel’s deliverance will be forthcoming.

Furthermore, Samson is superior to any previous judges in terms of family background and social status. All of the prior judges whose stories are fully told are marked by a weakness or a social disadvantage. Ehud’s left-handedness was considered in the same light as a crippling or deformity; Deborah, a woman, is at an obvious disadvantage in the patriarchal society; Gideon, the last and cowardly son of an insignificant family in an insignificant clan, even protests to Yahweh that he is in a weak position; and Jephthah whose mother is a prostitute is a social outcast. In direct contrast, Samson is born to an Israelite married couple, pious parents of the tribal clan of Dan, and his birth involves some degree of wonder. So, unlike the other judges, who begin disadvantaged, Samson begins with every advantage.

But as we follow his behavior and activities in adulthood (chapters 14 &15), and come to his final life period in Chapter 16, we are deeply disappointed of the ways he conducted his life and his mission. Why did Samson betray all the expectations generated by the angel’s annunciation and his Nazirite dedication? Where did Samson go wrong? This is the first point I want to bring to your attention: Samson failed because he toyed with God’s blessing and talent given to him for his own gratification. And this is also true for us: Game is over when one toys with God- given talent or blessing for self gratification. There are three aspects of mistakes revealed in this man’s tragic life:

First is his affair with women. His tragic life began when he went down to Timnah in Philistine territory and saw there a young philistine woman. Motivated purely by physical appearance, he wanted her as his wife despite his parents’ objection. Most readers are puzzled with the narrator’s comment in 14:4 that Samson’s parents did not know that this marriage was from the LORD, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines. Yahweh’s seeking does not imply that Yahweh incited Samson’s desire for this Timnite woman, nor Samson was right to marry her. Rather, it suggests that Yahweh was working behind the scenes to bring about a confrontation between His people and the pagans. Samson was wrong to make the marriage, but Yahweh allowed it in order to bring deliverance for His people. Samson had no excuse for ignoring God’s warning against mixed-faith marriages. After all, he was not looking to stir up trouble in accordance to God’s will to bring deliverance for his people. He was motivated by physical attraction.

When the marriage did not work out and after twenty years of his ruling as a judge, we are told once again in today’s chapter that Samson went to Gaza, a Philistine city, and saw a prostitute. This short episode (16:1-3) presents to the reader an entirely different kind of eros, one based on physical gratification. Whereas the first Timnite woman, Samson’s wife to be, highlights the dangers of involvement with a lovely foreigner; the second woman, the prostitute, points out certain repercussions of a one night stand. Whereas previously he had been driven by his senses, now womanizing has become a fundamental aspect of his character.

Then some time later as the story progresses, we see the third time the character weakness of Samson: “He fell in love with a woman in the Valley of Sorek whose name was Delilah”. Samson was infatuated with the Timnite woman, he was filled with lust for the prostitute in Gaza, and this time, with Delilah, we read that he loves her. If habit means anything, one should assume that she belongs to the camp of the Philistines. Because of his love for her, Samson was blinded to the reality she represents. As an agent of the Philistines motivated by monetary reward, she capitalized on Samson’s confession of love and was thus able to penetrate his innermost secret. The moment the Philistines discovered the truth of Samson’s strength, Samson became their captive.

So, we see in the story of Samson, three Philistine women play a destructive role in his life. Samson intends to marry a Philistine woman, has an affair with a Philistine prostitute, and loves another Philistine, Delilah. All this was in contrast to God’s Law. His preference for women whose allegiance belonged to their pagan gods other than Yahweh leads him to his ultimate downfall. So, Samson, the strong man blessed by God from birth, reveals himself as essentially the weakest, weaker than any of his predecessor judges for he is a slave to physical passion, the lowest kind of subjugation. And because his passions demand woman, Samson is at the mercy of womankind, a deplorable situation from the point of view of a patriarchal society. Samson is the last hope of Israel in the book of Judges, but turns out to be a judge who chases women instead of enemies and who avenges only personal grievances. To this we now come to the second aspect of mistakes Samson committed of toying with God-given talent.

The obvious talent that Samson had is his great strength given to him by Yahweh. In the episode with the Timnite woman, when the time has come for the wedding feast (which lasted for seven days before the marriage is consummated), Samson began by offering a riddle to the 30 Philistine groomsmen. It was a kind of friendly battle of wits very common in those days. The riddle involved the honey that Samson took from the carcass of the lion he had killed. The 30 groomsmen had seven days to solve the riddle. If they did, Samson would give them 30 linen garments and 30 sets of clothes. If they could not solve it, they would give Samson the same things. In order to solve the riddle, the Philistines put pressure on the woman to get the answer from Samson. She started begging Samson who eventually broke down and told her. Realizing that he was betrayed by his wife to be and thus losing the bet, Samson was upset, angry, embarrassed and humiliated. He wanted to get even. So, he went out and killed 30 innocent Philistines, stripped them of their belongings and gave their clothes to those who had explained the riddle. He then left his wife to be and went back to his father’s house. Sometime later, when he found out his wife to be had been given to another man, he sought revenge by burning the fields of grain, vineyards and olive groves belonged to the Philistines. He single handedly destroyed the economic base of the whole nation. The Philistines retaliated by killing his wife to be and her father. Samson now became even bloodier, attacked them viciously and slaughtered many of them. So, we see that each time the Philistines did something and then Samson got mad did something back in return to get even. Though Samson was empowered by the Spirit but he himself was out of control. In the beginning, he wanted romance; in the end he wanted revenge. In between, he made one mistake after another, using his strength to avenge his personal grievances.

In today chapter, we see Samson travels to the Philistine city of Gaza, pursuing a woman who is a prostitute. Since Samson by this time has become the number one public enemy of the Philistines, his act of going to the prostitute’s house would indeed endanger him. The word got out that Samson was in the city. So, the Philistine men of Gaza plot to trap him. They surround the house, thinking that he will come out in the morning and they can capture him. But Samson got up in the middle of the night and escaped. On his way out of town, by virtue of his supernatural powers he ripped out the doors of the city gate, together with the two posts, and put them on his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that faces Hebron in the land of Judah. By carrying off the doors of the city gate, Samson was humiliating the Philistines once again, putting them to shame. Nearly all the ancient cities were surrounded by a thick wall, which meant the gate was the main entrance. The gate symbolized the safety and security of the city. For Samson to carry the city gate away was indeed a way showing off his supernatural strength, and at the same time teasing the Philistines, saying, “See, not only can you not catch me, I have destroyed the symbol of your security. With my strength I can do anything I want.” So, we see the feat is completely self-serving. It is not that Samson should not have acted to save himself. But it is precisely that Samson only acts to save himself. He has not delivered Israelites from the hands of the Philistines. His only desire is for personal revenge against the Philistines than to bring deliverance for his people. The feat is indeed unnecessary –carrying the gate for a long distance to the top of the hill. Simply breaking down the gate would have been sufficient. So, we see from his many encounters with the Philistines, Samson uses the great strength God has blessed him to pursuit his own purpose rather than God’s purpose. In short, he sought revenge from those who became his enemies. In addition to this abuse, he even toys with God’s blessing (his strength and Nazirite status) in his affair with Delilah, the woman he loves. This is the third fatal mistake Samson has committed.

Samson’s mighty act of taking the doors of the city gate and removing them to Hebron was a harsh blow to the Philistines. His great strength was indeed a main threat to their security. It is therefore not surprising for the rulers of the Philistines to pay Delilah such a dear price in return for her information concerning the secret of Samson’s strength. Motivated by the reward offered her and perhaps by a sense of loyalty to her countrymen, Delilah agrees to cooperate with the Philistine lords in their plot to capture Samson and to torture him. Samson apparently learned nothing from his disastrous experience with the Timnite woman about the danger of telling secrets. Once again he falls prey to the same sort of feigned emotional appeal from Delilah. He even toys with her three times about the secret to his strength. But we see each time he gets closer to telling her the truth. First he told her that if they bound him with fresh bowstrings he would be helpless. Then he said if he were tied up with new ropes he would become weak. Finally he said that if the seven locks of his hair were woven into a web he would be as weak as any other man. Three times after his teasing answer, Samson has made use of the unique power given him to make fun with Delilah and her countrymen. This unique power God has given him is intended for national needs, but Samson uses it for his personal needs, for the fun of it. He squanders his great power within the four walls of Delilah’s room. Samson is feeling so self-confident, thinking he is invincible. But the third time he let her touch his hair. She does not know the secret yet, but he is letting her get closer and closer. He is indeed toying with the gift God has given him. He is really playing with fire, since his hair represent the key to his great strength. Delilah continues to press Samson to tell her the secret of his strength. She asserts that his love for her cannot be genuine if he is not fully committed to her, to tell her the truth. Instead of getting up and leaving Delilah, the love-smitten Samson remains, exposing himself to her relentless pressures. And indeed after days and days of nagging, Samson is tired to death and tells her everything: “No razor has ever been used on my head, 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”. Samson’s “confession” demonstrates that he has known all along that he is a Nazirite. Delilah now has succeeded in obtaining the information she was hired to do. As soon as the victim is sound asleep, she calls “a man to shave off the seven braids of his hair”. His strength leaves him. We now come to the most tragic verses recorded in the Hebrew Bible: He awoke from his sleep and thought, “I will go out as before and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the LORD had left him. The Spirit of Yahweh is no longer empowering him. As each of the seven braids is cut, so is his Nazirite status finally severed. Samson’s uncut hair symbolizes divine favor; once that hair was cut, he lost God’s special presence. God has continually stood by and invigorated Samson so long as he clings to the one last requirement of being the Nazirite, the prohibition against shaving the head. For Samson, game is over when he had become entangled in the love of a Philistine woman and given her the secret of his divine power. He was thus punished. The Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes. Overnight this man was transformed from one whose life is governed by sight and whose actions are determined by what is right in his own eyes into a blind man. To further humiliate him, they took him back to Gaza, the place where he had escaped from the prostitute’s house and displayed his mighty power. In addition he was bound with bronze shackles, and made to grind in the prison, which was the work of the female or the slave. Samson who had spent his life insulting and humiliating others now became the object of their humiliation.

So, we see self-gratification is what drives Samson to the extent of toying with God’s blessing and super power given to him. Never in Samson narrative does he operate in anyone’s interest but his own. He does not care about the will of his parents and his lust led him to the abuse and exploitation of women. He seeks revenge for anyone who became his enemy. All are to be manipulated for his sake. He is in fact the center of his own world. He squandered his life playing with his God-given gifts and indulging in every sensuality. He seems to think his God-given strength was his plaything. He did not seem to realize that our gifts are not given so we can toy with them as we please but to serve and care for the good of God’s people. Samson’s beginning is so promising, yet his ending is so tragic. All because he does not care about God’s plan or any of the divine standards set for him as God’s deliverer for Israelites and as a Nazirite. This is the second point I want to highlight now from the story of Samson. Game is over when one continues to betray his vocation by ignoring God’s calling in his life. This second point is in fact closely linked to the disaster I mentioned just now when one continues toying with God-given blessing or talent. These first and second points are in fact two sides of a coin.

2. Game is over when one continues to betray his vocation by ignoring God’s calling in his life.

From Samson’s birth narrative, we learn that he is destined to be a Nazirite from birth, set apart to God and is to deliver Israel from the Philistines. The angel’s message thus concerns this child’s personal lifestyle and his public office. And he was blessed by God since young. We therefore expect him to be totally devoted to God and excel in his vocation, but this son of promise behaves in total disregard of his status and calling. Neither hope materialized. Instead, Samson brought disgrace to his family and after his death, Israel has not been freed from the Philistine oppression. We are not told by the narrator that Samson ever led the Israelites in battle against the Philistines.

So, in Samson’s life, we see that God cannot effect deliverance in the presence of this unfaithful leader. Although Samson has been set apart from birth and is apparently quite aware of his chosen status, his actions have been driven almost exclusively by the pursuit of his own purposes rather than God’s purpose. As a Nazirite whose life is to be distinctively faithful to God, he behaved in the opposite way. How did Samson show his unfaithfulness to God in his life? He did not obey a single element of standards set for him as a Nazirite.

First, he violated the vow not to touch any dead body. One day when he found that bees had built a honeycomb inside the dried-out carcass of the lion he once killed, stooping down he scooped out the honey with his hands and ate it as he walked along. After losing his bet to the groomsmen, he killed 30 of their men, stripped them of their belongings and gave their clothes to those who had explained the riddle. This means he had touch their dead bodies in order to get the clothes off. Again, using fresh jawbone of a donkey to strike down the philistines and asking Delilah to use fresh bowstrings to tie him, both are clear violation of getting himself in contact with the dead animals.

Second, in his pursuing of the Philistine women, each of them had caused him to move further away from being the man of God he had been called to be. It is a violation of the ascetic vow being a Nazirite. His participation in the drinking bout associated with the wedding feast also constituted a violation, the prohibition against alcoholic beverages. And in love with Delilah, Samson had indeed deviated and distanced himself from the plan that had been intended for him by God. In the end, he was himself harmed by her.

Third, by confiding his Nazirite vow, he had moved from ignoring God to abandoning God. By revealing the secret of his power to the Philistines, Samson can no longer serve in the role of a judge or a deliverer. Even before the disaster event of losing his strength, Samson has already shown his egocentric attitude and did not acknowledge Yahweh’s saving grace. We see this in chapter 15 when Samson was in a desperate situation from which he was saved by calling upon God’s help. When he was about to be handed over to the Philistines by his own people, we read that the Spirit of the LORD came upon him in power. As such, the ropes that bound him just fell off and the bindings dropped from his hands. Samson then took the fresh jawbone of a donkey and struck down one thousand men. After the victory, instead of acknowledging God’s saving grace, he stressed on his own heroic act: With a donkey’s jawbone, I have made donkeys of them. With a donkey’s jawbone, I have killed a thousand men” (15:16). He even celebrated the victory by naming the site of Yahweh’s victory after himself: “The Hill of the Jawbone”. And after the battle, he felt thirsty. So, he called on Yahweh to relieve his thirst. Though this time in his call, Yahweh was given credit for the victory and Samson called himself Yahweh’s servant, he showed no reverence or fear. How could one dare call upon God just for a drink of water as if God was at his service? We are surprised at Yahweh’s ‘humble’ response to Samson’s importunate request. Instead of acknowledging God’s providence for him, Samson again was arrogant honoring himself in naming the site of the water source as “The Caller’s Spring”. In other words, Samson’s name for the spring which restored him did not even acknowledge Yahweh’s participation. He had totally ignored God’s saving grace in these two events.

It is therefore not surprising to read the narrator’s comment that Samson did not know that the LORD had left him. It is one thing to be cut off from God’s presence; it is quite another to be so spiritually insensitive that you assume that such a thing has not, and could not happen to you. This is the case of Samson. He had previously violated Nazirite obligations so many times that he really did not believe that he would lose his strength if his hair is cut. Forgetting that his strength came from God, he began to believe that his strength was his own. “I will go out as before and shake myself free”. This has been the story of his life. He has come and gone as he pleased. No one has told him what he could or could not do—until now, that the LORD had left him. He has abandoned God first by not clinging to the one last requirement of the Naziriteship, the prohibition against shaving his hair. To be abandoned by God is the worst fate anyone can experience. Now the divinely chosen agent of Yahweh has lost Him. In his life, he has been playing with his God-given talent and ignoring God’s call to be faithful to his vocation, now he discovers his game is over. He has squandered all the blessing God has given him. He is left alone without strength, without sight, without freedom, without dignity, and without God!

Yes, brothers and sisters, what can we learn from the Samson’s story? Let me highlight some of the practical implications:

1. Be aware of our self-interest and self-gratifying actions.

God cannot fulfill his purpose in our lives if our self-interest and self gratification serve as the motivation to control, to manipulate or exploit others. Those called to the highest positions of leadership may be more tempted to go into personal adventure than care about God’s purpose in their lives.

2. Be aware of our spiritual apathy.

When we are insensitive to God’s presence or calling in our lives, we will inevitably live out negative consequences of unfaithfulness and disobedience. It is worse to lack fellowship with God; it is even worst not to know that you lack that eternal relationship.

3. Be aware of our vocation.

We are all called by grace to live out the vocation as Christians. As people of God and followers of Christ, we must put our priority on the divine agenda rather than on the worldly agenda that offers compelling, attractive alternatives. If not, we will end up squandering our life chasing the worldly value of living. When we fail to be loyal to our vocation, it always means that other gods get worshipped.

4. Be aware not to play with God-given gifts and blessing.

Our vocation as Christians is to bring blessing to others. And God has bestowed upon us different gifts or talents in order to fulfill this purpose in our lives. As such, we should be vigilant of how we use our God-given gifts or talents and not to operate on the basis of our senses or feeling to please ourselves. Or else we will be like a whale chasing sardines and eventually get ourselves stuck on the beach!