THE FALL AND RISE OF A MIGHTY MAN OF GOD
PART 3: GETTING TOUGH WITH THE PHILISTINES – FOXES AND JAWBONES
“ANGRY, AVAILABLE AND AT-HAND”
SAMSON HAS BEEN ACCUSED OF BEING DRIVEN BY TWO THINGS – LUST AND ANGER. TODAY WE START BY ASKING THE QUESTION WHETHER HE WAS AN ANGRY MAN OR WHETHER HIS ANGER WAS WHAT WE CALL “RIGHTEOUS ANGER” – AN ANGER FROM GOD AGAINST INJUSTICE WHICH LED TO JUDGEMENT ON THE PHILISTINES. SECONDLY WE ASK WHY IT IS THAT HE USED FOXES AND THE JAWBONE OF A DONKEY AS THE “TOOLS” BY WHICH HE FOUGHT THE PHILISTINES – AND SUGGEST THAT GOD CALLED HIM TO USE THE THINGS THAT WERE AT HAND. THERE ARE LESSONS FOR US TO LEARN HERE.
[VIDEO CLIP: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qv5nwN9dQVU
12:22 – 18:30 – the riddle
18:30 – 19:50 – getting clothes from 30 Philistines
19:50 – 24:00 – foxes and the death of his wife
24:00 – 26:50 – the donkey jaw bone
Let’s use these clips to come to a greater understanding of the lessons to be learned:
- 4 Times we see Samson getting angry…
- When?… Why?… How?…
- Was this anger against the Philistines human, or from God, or a bit of both?
- Is anger ever OK?
- God used Samson to destroy the enemy – why him and not others?
- What shows that the other Israelites were not available to be used by God?
- 2 of the 4 incidents shown here clearly see Samson using “things” to attack the Philistines…
- What things did Samson use?
- Why did he use these?
- What can we learn from this? ]
- THE FIRST LESSON: ANGER
AN “ANGRY YOUNG MAN”?
Throughout time Samson has been vilified as being driven by anger – albeit an anger that the LORD used for His own purposes. Although we cannot deny the out-working of anger in his life, we DO have to ask the question whether this was a failing in a man who lost his way or whether this was an anger that arose OUT OF his dedication to God. So, let us look at the 4 instances of anger that we see in chapters 14 and 15 of the Book of Judges.
- THE RIDDLE:
Judges 14: 14-18 recounts the well-known story of Samson’s riddle to the 30 “companions” that had been chosen for him for the 7 days of his wedding celebration to the Timnite woman. Now certain that Samson was living a life of dedication to the LORD, I believe that this riddle and its consequences were from the LORD.
Having been “betrayed” by his wife we are now told this in verse 19:
Then the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him. He went down to Ashkelon, struck down thirty of their men, stripped them of everything and gave their clothes to those who had explained the riddle. Burning with anger, he returned to his father’s home.
Let’s look at a number of points that come out of this verse and the ones that come before it:
- His wife did not betray him because she was a Philistine but because she was afraid – she was threatened with her and her father’s household being burnt alive (v 15). I have sympathy for her. Without the strength that comes from God “there but by the grace of God go I”. Fear is an incredible motivator. Thank God that “perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4: 18)
- If there is any consistent failing in Samson then I believe it is that he succumbs to “nagging” – to pressure. Verses 16-17 tell of him being worn down by his wife’s pleading – and the consequences were that he lost his wife and he lost his “bet” with the Philistines. As we shall see later – in the tale of his relationship with Delilah – a person is at their most vulnerable with those whom they love the most – the ones with whom they are closest. One who is totally dedicated to God will not succumb. Samson shows me here the human frailty that I am beset with. The good news is that God does not condemn Samson for his very human weakness but rather uses it to fulfil His purposes.
- And God’s purpose here? It was to destroy Philistines. What! Is our Father in Heaven a cruel God? Not so! He remained a loving God who cared totally for His people and who was committed to saving them. The Philistines were a physical reality of the spiritual warfare that is going on constantly against God’s people. Just like Samson had to kill the lion so God was to destroy all the agents of our spiritual enemy, the devil.
- Can I be certain, though, that this is God’s judgement on the Philistines rather than simply Samson’s revenge? Yes! Because we are told in verse 19 that “the Spirit of the LORD came powerfully upon him”. Again, Samson’s strength to do GOD’S work came from the Holy Spirit and NOT from himself.
- Thus, the destruction of Philistines was God’s doing – using his dedicated servant, Samson, as His instrument.
- THE FOXES:
Here we turn to the account of Judges 15: 1-5. Although we are not expressly told that Samson was angry to discover that his wife had been given to one of his companions, yet we can justifiably infer from his reaction that he WAS angry – an anger that inspired him to attack his enemy again – this time damaging their source of foodstuffs. Again, we ask if he was RIGHT to be angry. Some thoughts on this passage might include:
- Having arranged his marriage to the Timnite woman, and having gone through the 7 days of the marriage ceremony, the woman WAS his wife. The Philistines had done WRONG to give her to someone else.
- The implication too is that it was the Philistines as a whole who had ensured that she had been given to another man. It was a deliberate slight against Samson and the whole Israelite nation – and therefore against God.
- Why foxes? To us, today, what he did in his use of the foxes seems like abuse of animals. However, the fox that was indigenous to Palestine was the burrowing fox – a destroyer of crops and vineyards and considered to be vermin and to be destroyed. [NB: some commentators see these not as foxes – which are solitary and unlikely to be captured in large numbers –but jackals, which could be found together in large numbers and were also seen to be vermin]
- THE DEATH OF HIS WIFE:
Judges 15: 6-8 tells us the horror story of the Philistines burning Samson’s wife and father to death! Samson takes revenge on them by “slaughtering many of them”. What are we to make of this!
- The Philistines could not “get at” Samson, so they hurt those close to him instead. This is the way that our enemy, the devil, tries to hurt us – by causing harm to those whom we love. Good reason to ALWAYS uphold those who are dear to us in prayer – for God’s hedge of protection to be around them as well.
- Once again there is no direct statement that Samson was angry…but he clearly was. He now speaks of taking “revenge” on the Philistines. Paul reminds us in Romans 12: 19 that “‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord”. In the story of Samson, he is used by God to carry out the Lord’s vengeance on the enemy of His people. Now, we are taught to leave it all in God’s hands – for He WILL repay our enemies – physical and spiritual – for harm done to us. There WILL be a time of reckoning. This Old Testament story is a declaration of this truth. So, let us not take the example of Samson literally – we are not called to wreak revenge on any one for the hurt they do to us or our loved ones – that is God’s job. Instead we are called to “not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12: 17-21)
- THE JAWBONE:
Judges 15: 8-20 recounts the amazing story of Samson being handed over to the Philistines by his own people and, after breaking his bonds, using the fresh jawbone of a donkey to kill 1000 of his enemy. Although again there is no direct statement that Samson is made angry it is clear that it was after the Philistines came towards him shouting at him – probably mocking him and telling him exactly what they were going to do to him – that in anger he broke the bonds and attacked them. Some things that stand out here are:
- He had gone to live in a cave in the rock of Etam. Why was this? Was it to physically distance himself from the Israelites so as not to “drag” them into a situation that he had got himself into? Or was it because it was seen to be a stronghold (Etam literally means “eyrie/aerie – the nest of an eagle or other bird of prey, built in a high inaccessible place”) and so a place where Samson could hide-out in safety from any Philistine reprisals.
- The Philistine army threatened to attack the Israelites unless they handed over Samson to them. Again we see the fact of the enemy attacking others in order to “get at” us. This time the threat is to all God’s people rather than to those who are closest to us. There is no doubt – we see it in our society today – that our enemy, the devil, through his (often) unwitting agents on earth attacks a weak church with moral issues – such as sexuality – causing a fearful church to try to silence those within it who are fighting against the lies of the enemy from a Biblical standpoint on such issues.
- So, the Israelites – in their fear of the Philistines – handed Samson over to them. We see this later in the story of David and (the Philistine) Goliath. The Israelite army shrunk back in fear from Goliath. Only David had the courage to face him. And what gave David this courage? The knowledge that God was with him and with His people and that there was therefore nothing to fear from the enemy. Let us learn from the fear of the Israelites (in both these instances) to put our whole trust in the LORD no matter how big the enemy appears to be.
- And, of course, we are again reminded that it is not because of Samson’s natural strength that he is able to kill 1000 Philistines but because “the Spirit of the LORD came powerfully upon him” (Judges 15: 14). It is ONLY in the power of the Holy Spirit that we can – and will – overcome the attacks of our enemy, the devil.
- Verse 18 shows that Samson did not claim the victory for himself but recognised that it was the LORD who gave the victory. That God was pleased with what Samson had done, that Samson had fulfilled the will of God, was seen in God opening up the earth to provide him with water to drink. God rewards those who serve Him – not necessarily with gold and silver, but with being our Provider.
HUMAN ANGER OR RIGHTEOUS ANGER?
In all 4 instances Samson reacted as a result of anger. But, was his anger a human anger or a godly anger? And is there a difference?
Human anger is born out of selfishness. A person gets angry because someone has hurt them (or someone they care for) – through words or actions. Their pride or their person has suffered. They are incensed because it is all about “them” and they want revenge – they want to make the other person suffer – suffer more than they have. Human anger manifests itself through a vengeance that might be either uncontrolled (an outburst or attack) or cold-blooded and considered. In either case anger is understandable but is wrong
Righteous anger – or godly anger – is outside of oneself. It is an anger that is born from a profound understanding that what has been said or done is wrong – morally wrong and so against God Himself. Now, many might say that this is just an excuse – that anger, is anger, is anger and that it is always wrong and cannot be justified. This is not correct! For Jesus NEVER sinned, never did wrong, and yet He was angry on occasions. The Pharisees were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus when He saw a man with a shrivelled hand at the synagogue. We are told in Mark 3: 5 –
5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored
And again, in the famous incident when Jesus entered the Temple we are told (in Mark 11: 15-17) that He drove out those buying and selling and overturned the tables of the money-changers. This is a clear example of righteous anger.
But, what about Samson? Was his anger within himself – that of natural, human frailty of which we are all guilty, or was it a godly anger?
- Samson did “burn with anger” (though interestingly this is only stated AFTER he had killed the 30 Philistines). But, was his anger that of natural human, selfish, frailty? Although I cannot be certain, yet I am increasingly seeing his anger as a “righteous” anger. God empowered him by the Holy Spirit to slay the Philistines. Are we saying that on the one hand God did this while on the other hand Samson was driven by selfish anger? You can’t have it both ways. I increasingly see Samson, a man dedicated to God, as being filled with the righteous anger of God, which empowered by God’s Holy Spirit, enabled Samson to be the instrument of judgement upon the enemies of God’s people.
- Samson killed 30 Philistines; then he destroyed the standing corn, vineyards and olive groves of the Philistines; then he slaughtered many more after the murder of his wife; then he killed 1000 more with the jawbone of a donkey. How come God didn’t use Samson for the “big blow” from the start? It seems that Samson killed a few here and a few there rather than deal with the enemies of God all in one fell-swoop. Maybe the lesson here is that God builds us up gradually – developing our abilities one step at a time. Samson wasn’t ready yet to deal the “death blow” to the Philistines – it wasn’t his time. It’s the same with us. Preparation takes years and years. Let us not rush God but let us accept God’s perfect timing.
What shall we then say to this? When our enemy, the devil, attacks – either us, our loved ones, the church, or society in general – God will give us righteous anger against the wrong of it all, and will empower us through the Holy Spirit to overcome the wrong that has taken place.
Righteous anger and righteous passion go hand-in-hand. If we do not get passionately angry about injustice and the way that our enemy, the devil, is deceiving the world then we are likely to be disinterested or overly passive. A righteous anger, a righteous passion, will ensure that we say that we are not going to just accept what is wrong and that we are going (like Samson) to do everything in our power to work hand-in-hand with God to do our part in defeating it.
Samson’s anger was a “righteous anger”
- THE SECOND LESSON: AVAILABILITY
SAMSON IS AVAILABLE
Samson is a man whose life is dedicated to the LORD. He is NOT perfect but he has chosen to live day-by-day in service to the LORD.
As such he is available to be used by the LORD to “take the lead in delivering Israel from the hands of the Philistines” (Judges 13: 5).
The passages we have been studying in this session clearly show that he is available and willing to be used by God against the Philistines.
THE ISRAELITES ARE NOT AVAILABLE
Judges 15: 11 gives us a clear picture of where the Israelites were “at”:
Then three thousand men from Judah went down to the cave in the rock of Etam and said to Samson, ‘Don’t you realise that the Philistines are rulers over us? What have you done to us?’
They saw only the worldly strength of the enemy – the Philistines. They did not see the spiritual enemy, the devil, that was behind their oppressors. They had no appreciation of the power that they had in the LORD and so were allowing the enemy to rule over them.
They were not available to the LORD, they were weak and fearful. They lacked faith in their God.
WHAT ABOUT US? ARE WE AVAILABLE?
Am I, are we, like Samson or like the Israelites?
In life, in the world, am I available to do for God whatever He asks? Am I living a life dedicated to Him and trusting in Him? Am I living a life of faith and believing that He is greater in me than he (the enemy) who is in the world? Or am I living in fear? Am I focusing on the problems? Am I accepting the power and authority of the world in which I live? Am I living in defeat?
The choice is mine. The choice is ours.
- THE THIRD LESSON – AT-HAND
When Samson was inspired to destroy the Philistine economy (corn, vineyards and olive groves) what was it that he used? Foxes and torches that ran and burned and destroyed.
When Samson stood before the shouting Philistines what was it that he used to kill 1000 of their soldiers? The fresh jawbone of a donkey.
Not the most inspiring of weapons in either case! So, why did he use them? The answer, of course, is because they were there. The foxes were all around him. The jawbone was on the ground in front of him.
He used what was at-hand to do the work of the LORD.
The lesson for us is this: God has provided for us all that we need to do whatever He calls us to do. He has given us His Holy Spirit which is powerful enough to defeat all the work of our enemy, the devil. He has given us our voices and has said that He will tell us what to say when we are faced with an enemy (Luke 12: 11-12). The LORD has given us gifts and talents and abilities – given to us to be used for His work. He will provide for us all that we need to deal with any and every situation.
So, let us no longer say “if only”. “I cannot be a good witness of Jesus – If only I were clever or more articulate I would know what to say”. “If only we had more people we would be able to do this work”. “If only God sent us more gifted people we would be able to be a great church”. God is calling us to look at what we have got – and to use the people, the finances, the abilities, that we have “at-hand”. We have all that we need to do the work that He has called us to do. Let us no longer worry about what we have not got. God knows. God knows what He has called us to do.
Let us be passionate about what is right, let us be available to be His servant at all times, let us use what He has given us to do the job. Let us learn these lessons from the story of Samson.