The Strength (and Weaknesses) of Samson (Phil Johnson)

Judges 14   |   Sunday, March 3, 2013   |   Code: 2013-03-03-PJ

         One of the saddest chapters in all of Scripture is the story of Samson. Here was a man with tremendous potential. He had godly parents, supernatural strength, and the Lord's favor. He literally had more gifts and more advantages than anyone else in his era. He was born and called and used by God to serve as a living picture of divine deliverance—and in that sense, he prefigured Christ. His birth was supernatural; he suffered for the sake of his people. Everything about him was amazing. He is very much a messiah figure—in every way but one: he was not particularly faithful. Scripture records several disastrous spiritual lapses in his life. He was especially prone to the kind of carnal failure that stems from unbridled lust blended with a lack of personal discipline. He couldn't control his fleshly desires, and he was a strong-willed man. And that is a disastrous combination.

          The fact is, if we looked only at Samson's personal character and the external evidence of his sanctification (or lack of it), we would almost certainly conclude that Samson was a miserable failure. He is a classic example of wasted opportunity. He is a vivid reminder that mortal men are totally depraved and in desperate need of a deliverer. And yet he himself was a great deliverer. So he stands as a warning about the dangers of compromise and worldliness; and yet at the same time, He himself is a living emblem of deliverance—and a reminder that God's grace is greater than all our sin.

          Samson is expressly named in Hebrews 11:32, among the great heroes of faith. And that is significant. Samson is a hero, not because of what he did; not because of his supernatural strength; but because of his faith. Keep that in view as we consider his life.

          It is an interesting fact that Scripture never tries to whitewash the heroes of the faith. Scripture paints these men realistically, even when the truth about them is negative. There's no need to paper over Samson's sin, because the point is to glorify God, not Samson. When we read of Samson's feats of strength, we are not supposed to gasp and wonder at the strength of a man; we're supposed to glorify God, who was the source of that strength. Samson was a man of great physical strength, but great moral weakness. When we read in Scripture about his moral failures, the lesson we're supposed to draw from this is not primarily a lesson about human failures; it is a marvelous example of the wonder of divine grace, which is capable of winning unimaginable victory in the midst of the most crushing kind of defeat.

          In other words, the Bible never shies away from telling us about the failures of our spiritual ancestors, because what Scripture aims to highlight is the grace of God, not the piety of people. If you lose sight of that distinction, you'll miss the whole point of the gospel. The gospel is the Good News about what Christ has done to redeem us; it's not a list of duties we're supposed to perform for him. It's about the righteousness of Christ, provided by grace through faith for sinners who have no real righteousness of their own. "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick." And throughout Samson's life, he kept manifesting the symptoms of sin-sickness. He was a redeemed man, but he continually got entangled by sins of the flesh, and he stumbled again and again. For one thing, at times he became too friendly and too familiar with the Philistines. They were the ones oppressing Israel, and they were out to destroy Samson. That's a perfect metaphor for the sins in his life. He kept fraternizing with fleshly activities that he ought to have mortified—and ultimately, those sins cost him his eyesight, his freedom, and finally his life. The great Puritan pastor and theologian John Owen famously said, "Always be killing sin, or sin will be killing you." Samson's life is a perfect illustration of that principle.

          Now I'm assuming that most of you are basically familiar with the story of Samson and Delilah. It's ugly. Judges 16 starts with Samson consorting with a prostitute in Gaza. The Philistines hear that he is in their city, and they lay in wait to kill him. No sooner has he escaped that threat than he tales up an ungodly affair with Delilah. So this is the culmination of a pattern of ungodly behavior on Samson's part.

          Delilah was a Philistine woman—a pagan—and she nagged him and tricked him into revealing the source of his strength. By the way, the issue was not really his hair, as if there were some magic in the tresses. The real secret of his strength lay in his devotion to God, which was bound up in an oath that forbid him to cut his hair.

          So Delilah cut his hair while he was sleeping, and the Philistines came and captured him, tortured him, and finally put him to death. That part of his story is probably familiar to you.

          And in Samson's death we see the whole lesson of his life, how God graciously turns human failure into divine victory. It's a great picture of redemption, divine deliverance, and triumph despite the awfulness of human depravity. This story used to fascinate me as a young boy. I think it fascinates all young boys—and all men, for that matter. We like the story of Samson, how in his very death throes, with his eyes gouged out and his life ebbing from him, the Lord finally restored his supernatural strength. There he was, blinded, put on public display, tortured, humiliated, and in bondage—but he prayed to God for the restoration of his supernatural strength. The Lord heard and restored his strength, and Samson pulled down the pillars of the stadium. The collapse of that thing killed three thousand Philistines! Judges 16:30 says, "So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life."

          But that's just a very quick summary of Judges 16, and that is the part of Samson's story you are already familiar with. I want to go back two chapters. Turn to Judges 14, and let's look at a different, earlier era in Samson's life. We're going to meet Samson as a young man, and here we see how he laid the foundation for failure in his later life. This chapter chronicles three serious mistakes Samson made in his youth, which determined the course of his whole life and ministry, and laid the foundation for the tragedy that would end his life.

          First some more historical background. Samson lived in the era of the Old Testament judges—after Moses and Joshua, but before the establishment of the kingdom. The book of Judges repeatedly says, "In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes." (You'll find that in Judges 17:6 and 21:25.) These were, for the most part, dark days in the history of Israel, punctuated by a few bright episodes in which God sovereignly raised up deliverers—the judges. Some of the judges were pretty unsavory characters, so the theme of this whole book and the era of the Judges is the same theme we see played out in Samson's life: That sin is vile and ruinous, but God will ultimately redeem His people—those who truly trust in Him. And He will deliver them from any kind of threat, any kind of calamity, and even from the destruction they bring on themselves because of their sin.

          There is a distinct pattern to the way events unfolded in the days of the judges. There are seven cycles of apostasy and revival described in the book of Judges, and they follow the same five steps every time. Here's how the pattern went: There was a period of rest, followed by a rebellion, then divine judgment, then repentance, and finally restoration— followed by more rest, and so on. So for those of you who like alliteration, it was: Rest, rebellion, retribution, repentance, restoration—rest, rebellion, retribution, repentance, restoration. That cycle was fully repeated 6 times in the book of Judges, and then the seventh cycle is: rest, rebellion, resignation. And the book of judges ends on a kind of sour note, with that verse I quoted just a minute ago (Judges 21:25): "In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes."

          As you follow these cycles in the book of Judges, you notice that the retribution the Lord meted out to the Israelites always came in the form of attacks from their enemies. And the Israelites had lots of enemies: the Mesopotamians, the Moabites, the Canaanites, the Midianites, the Amorites, and the Philistines.

          The Philistines were the specific enemies God permitted to flourish during the time of Samson, and these were particularly vicious and persistent enemies. Actually, we first encounter the Philistines back in the book of Genesis, and we still see them troubling the Israelites during the time of David and Solomon—and even during the times of the later kings.

          The Philistines' approach to conquering was like this: once they had won the military victory, they would pillage towns and cities, simply taking for themselves anything of value. Then they would enslave the remaining people, and eventually assimilate them into the Philistine race by intermarrying with them, or making captive women their concubines. So they prevailed over their enemies and gained strength for themselves by assimilation.

          This is, by the way, the exact reason God commanded the Israelites not to marry into the surrounding nations. By intermarrying with pagans, they not only opened the door to let pagan religions dilute the spiritual purity of Israel, but that kind of intermarriage also advanced the agenda of these pagan nations. In a sense, the threat the Philistines posed is precisely the same kind of threat the world as a whole poses to the church. This is why worldliness is such a danger: When we assimilate worldly values into the church, we advance the agenda of the enemy.

          This was, by the way, a running theme in the Old Testament law: Israel was to be separate in every regard from the surrounding nation. Did you know that the law prohibited the Israelites from wearing garments made of fabric that was a mixture of fibers? Deuteronomy 22:11 says, "You shall not wear cloth of wool and linen mixed together." Is that because there is something inherently unholy about mixed fabrics, like polyester? Look: I hate the look and feel of polyester, but it's not exactly the mark of the beast. No one would argue that some eternal moral principle is violated if we wear a garment made of blended fabrics.

          So what was the point of this Old Testament law? Like most of the dietary laws and the ordinances governing cleansing and defilement, it was a symbol of holiness. It was a ceremonial statute that embodied an important lesson about the basic truth that underlies the whole idea of holiness: the people of God are supposed to be separate from the people of this world.

          And this was a major theme of Moses' law. listen to Deuteronomy 7:1-6:

"When the LORD your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than yourselves,

2 and when the LORD your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them.

3 You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons,

4 for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the LORD would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly.

5 But thus shall you deal with them: you shall break down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and chop down their Asherim and burn their carved images with fire.

6 "For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.

So this is the historical context in which Samson appears: He is born into a backslidden nation, during one of these cycles of rebellion and spiritual decline, and his parents, godly people in a spiritually declining culture, dedicate him to the Lord.

          You can read all about Samson's birth and how his parents dedicated him to the Lord in Judges 13. The story of his birth is not the aspect of Samson's life I want to focus on, either, but if you'll look for a moment at Judges 13, I want to point out a few verses that show God's design for Samson's life, given to his parents before he was born.

          An angel appears to Samson's mother before he is born and tells her that she is going to bear a son (v. 3). Look at verses 4-5:

Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean,

5 for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.

And Samson's mother understood the message, too. She reports all this to he husband in verse 7: "He said to me, 'Behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. So then drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death.'"

          And verse 12. Samson's father meets the angel and asks him to repeat the instructions: "Now when your words come true, what is to be the child's manner of life, and what is his mission?" And the angel answered, "Of all that I said to the woman let her be careful. She may not eat of anything that comes from the vine, neither let her drink wine or strong drink, or eat any unclean thing. All that I commanded her let her observe." In other words, Samson's Nazirite vow began immediately, while he was in the womb, and it was supposed to be a lifelong commitment. As verse 7 says, he was to be "a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death." Samson's whole life was to be marked by a strict separation from everything evil, and everything that was ceremonially unclean.

          Now I want to review for you briefly what this Nazirite vow meant. It was normally a temporary vow, taken for a few weeks or months. The apostle Paul took a Nazirite vow at the end of his ministry in Corinth. Acts 18:18 describes how he cut his hair when the time of his vow was complete. The Nazirite vow is described in detail in Numbers 6. Be ready to come back to Judges. (We will get to Numbers 14; I promise.) But I want you to look for a moment at Numbers 6 and the law of the Nazirite. Numbers 6, starting at verse 1, says this:

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,

2 "Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When either a man or a woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the LORD,

3 he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink. He shall drink no vinegar made from wine or strong drink and shall not drink any juice of grapes or eat grapes, fresh or dried.

4 All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, not even the seeds or the skins.

5 "All the days of his vow of separation, no razor shall touch his head. Until the time is completed for which he separates himself to the LORD, he shall be holy. He shall let the locks of hair of his head grow long.

6 "All the days that he separates himself to the LORD he shall not go near a dead body.

7 Not even for his father or for his mother, for brother or sister, if they die, shall he make himself unclean, because his separation to God is on his head.

8 All the days of his separation he is holy to the LORD.

Now there were three important aspects to this vow: First, no wine. The Nazirite was not supposed to drink wine, or even drink anything with vinegar in it, or eat grapes, or partake of the fruit of the vine in any way. Nothing fermented, and not even unfermented grapes. This emphasized sobriety. The one who took the vow must be sober, focused in mind and heart only on his service to the Lord.

          Second, no razor. The Nazirite was to let his hair grow for as long as he was under the vow. This symbolized his submission. First Corinthians 14 talks about how a covered head is a sign of submission, and the Nazirite's unshaven hair was symbolic of his utter submission to God.

          And third, no touching dead bodies. This symbolized his separation from all that would defile. So you have:

          !  No wine—to signify sobriety

          !  No razor—to signify submission

          !  No cadavers—to signify separation, sanctification, segregation from any and every thing that is unclean

And all of this underscored how utterly separate the Nazirite was to be from the defiling influences of his surroundings. While you have your Bibles open to Numbers 6, notice how many times in these first 8 verses the words "separate" and "separation" are used. That is the key idea with this vow. It is a vow of separation. The Nazirite was to be set apart unto God, submitted wholly to God, and separated from every kind of worldliness and defilement.

          Now, with all of that as preliminary, turn back to Judges 14 and let's examine these three serious spiritual blunders Samson made early in his life that ultimately led to his demise.

          Transgression number one:


1. He dishonored his parents (vv. 1-4).

          We pick up Samson's story as he embarks on adulthood. Scripture tells us nothing about Samson's childhood except what we read in Judges 13:24-25: "And the young man grew, and the LORD blessed him.  And the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol." So as a young man, Samson was blessed by God, empowered by the Holy Spirit, regenerate and redeemed. He is a believer, not an unbeliever.

          Chapter 14 takes up Samson's story when he was probably in his late teenage years, old enough to marry. And here is where he begins to stumble. Scripture says,

14:1  Samson went down to Timnah, and at Timnah he saw one of the daughters of the Philistines.

2 Then he came up and told his father and mother, "I saw one of the daughters of the Philistines at Timnah. Now get her for me as my wife."

3 But his father and mother said to him, "Is there not a woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you must go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?" But Samson said to his father, "Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes."

Let me pause there and point out that what Samson was asking for was sinful. This was a grievous insult against the Lord, and against his parents, who had raised him in accord with the Lord's instructions to be separate.

          I already read Deuteronomy 7, which expressly forbids this sort of marriage between an Israelite and seven of the surrounding nations. Technically, Philistia is not expressly named among those nations, but nonetheless, Samson's actions here were a gross violation of the spirit of God's Law. And yet he is determined to pursue his own will.

          He is so determined to pursue his will that he ignores and scorns the tender pleas of his parents (v. 3): "Is there not a woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you must go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?" They were appalled at the very idea of this! It went against everything they had ever raised Samson to be. It utterly dishonored them in every way.

          Now I want to emphasize at this point that Samson is walking totally by sight, and not by faith. Notice the emphasis these verses give to this. Verse 1: "Samson went down to Timnah, and at Timnah he saw one of the daughters of the Philistines." He merely saw her. He could not have known anything about her. He had no relationship with this woman; he merely found her pleasing to look at. Verse 2, he tells his parents, "I have seen a woman  . . . [now] get her for me to wife." And verse 3, he says to his dad, "Get her for me; for she looks good to me." If you're using the New American Standard Bible, that is how that phrase is translated, because that is exactly its literal sense: "She looks good to me."

          Now I want to say that I have nothing against attractive women; I married one. But it is a sinful tendency for all men to be attracted too easily by external beauty alone, and in Samson's case, that is all he was concerned with. What he knew about this woman—that she was an enemy of Israel, who worshiped a foreign god—should have been enough to keep him from wanting her for his wife.

          But Samson seems to have utterly lacked discernment. Here he goes to an ungodly place; he chooses an ungodly woman; verse 11 suggests that he had ungodly companions. He gives the impression of someone who is utterly careless in all his thoughts, his behavior, and his associations with others. Someone with that kind of mindset will see nothing wrong with marrying a pagan partner whose chief appeal is good looks.

          The end of verse 3. "Get her for me"; Samson foolishly rebuff's his parents' wisdom. He is determined to have this woman at all costs.

          By the way, this sort of thing evidently became a pattern in Samson's behavior. He had retained throughout his life a foolish tendency to choose all the wrong women for all the wrong reasons.

          Before we move away from this point, I want you to see that these verses contain a lesson for us about the sovereignty of God. God had a good purpose even in Samson's sin. Verse 4 is intriguing: "His father and mother did not know that it was from the LORD, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines. At that time the Philistines ruled over Israel." The antecedent of the pronoun he in the second phrase of that verse is "The Lord." It was the Lord who "was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines." This was not a conscious plan on Samson's part. All Samson was doing here was following his glands. That woman looked good to him, and he demanded to have her as his wife.

          I once had a conversation with a fairly well-known pastor who wanted to argue that it was no sin for Samson to marry this Philistine girl because verse 4 says "it was from the Lord." But that's like saying Joseph's brothers didn't really sin when they sold him into slavery in Egypt because God meant it for good. They meant it for evil, and it was therefore a sinful act. The fact that God can bring good even out of evil and use human wickedness to advance his own perfect plan doesn't mean God approves of the wickedness.

          Verse 4 does not suggest that God approved of Samson's behavior. It does not mean that the Lord imposed this behavior on Samson against his will. Samson and Samson alone bore the guilt for all the sinful aspects of this deed. God did not coerce Samson to marry this woman. God did not move or coerce Samson to do this in any way that makes God the effectual cause or the agent of Samson's sin. Samson bears the full responsibility for his own sin. His motives were evil; the deed was evil; nonetheless, God meant it for good.

          God had a righteous purpose that He would sovereignly fulfill, and He would overturn and frustrate Samson's evil choice—judging the Philistines and disciplining Samson—in the process. It is true that God allowed this to happen, and not by a bare permission, either. God was no passive observer in these events. He was sovereignly orchestrating events so that even Samson's sin would ultimately bring about the fulfillment of God's higher plan. And in this case, God's plan involved the judgment of the Philistines, "for at that time the Philistines had dominion over [the people of God]" (v. 4). This was an unjust dominion, and God's ultimate plan involved a remedy to that injustice.

          To the human eye, it may have looked as if Samson was veering out of control here, thwarting the work and the will of the Lord. Samson's actions were certainly in conflict with the revealed will of God. But God had not lost control; He had a plan, and He would accomplish His own good pleasure—even as the fruit of Samson's disobedience. This is the wonder of divine sovereignty. Proverbs 20:24 says, "Man's steps are ordained by the LORD." In Jeremiah 10:23, Jeremiah prayed this: "I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps." Proverbs 16:1 says, "The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD." Proverbs 16:9 says, "The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps."

          Now it is very important to understand this, so I'll say it once more: God's sovereignty does not make God the author of Samson's sin. The bad moral choice here belonged to Samson. He made this choice freely and without coercion and without any kind of force. But God was nonetheless in complete control of all these events, as He always is, working "all things after the counsel of his own will" (Ephesians 1:11).

          Before I close, we'll return briefly to this point about God's sovereignty, but for now I simply want to point out that verse 4 does not suggest that Samson's intention to marry this woman was excusable or justifiable, merely because God's purpose in all of this was good. God is able to make all things work together for good, and the fact that God was working in the midst of Samson's  sinful, compromising marriage is no justification for the marriage itself. This was a sin that dishonored Samson's parents and put Samson at odds with the revealed will of God. That was blunder number 1 in this chapter: He dishonored his parents.

          But he is not finished pursuing his carnal desires. Here's blunder number 2:


2. He defiled his person (vv. 5-11).

          First he sinned by choosing the wrong mate; now he further sins by eating the wrong meal. Let me read verses 5-11:

Then Samson went down with his father and mother to Timnah, and they came to the vineyards of Timnah. And behold, a young lion came toward him roaring.

6 Then the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him, and although he had nothing in his hand, he tore the lion in pieces as one tears a young goat. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done.

7 Then he went down and talked with the woman, and she was right in Samson's eyes.

8 After some days he returned to take her. And he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion, and behold, there was a swarm of bees in the body of the lion, and honey.

9 He scraped it out into his hands and went on, eating as he went. And he came to his father and mother and gave some to them, and they ate. But he did not tell them that he had scraped the honey from the carcass of the lion.

10 His father went down to the woman, and Samson prepared a feast there, for so the young men used to do.

11 As soon as the people saw him, they brought thirty companions to be with him.

Now there's no need to spend a lot of time on this point, but I don't want you to miss the fact that Samson sinned grievously—he broke his vow—by eating this honey from the cadaver of a lion.

          Remember the third principle of the Nazirite vow? As a Nazirite, Samson was not supposed to come into contact with any dead body. This was such a strict principle for the Nazirite, that Scripture even prescribed what to do if a Nazirite was sitting next to someone who suddenly died. Listen to this. I'm reading from Numbers 6:9-11:

And if any man dies very suddenly beside him and he defiles his consecrated head, then he shall shave his head on the day of his cleansing; on the seventh day he shall shave it.

10 On the eighth day he shall bring two turtledoves or two pigeons to the priest to the entrance of the tent of meeting,

11 and the priest shall offer one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering, and make atonement for him, because he sinned by reason of the dead body. And he shall consecrate his head that same day.

          Contact with any dead body was ceremonially defiling in the Old Testament. Listen to Leviticus 5:2: "if a soul touch any unclean thing, whether it be a carcase of an unclean beast, or a carcase of unclean cattle, or the carcase of unclean creeping things, and if it be hidden from him [even if he is unaware of it]; he also shall be unclean, and guilty." But it was doubly defiling to have contact with the carcass of a beast that was an unclean animal to begin with. Leviticus 11:26 says, "Every animal that parts the hoof but is not cloven-footed or does not chew the cud is unclean to you. Everyone who touches them shall be unclean. And all that walk on their paws, among the animals that go on all fours, are unclean to you. Whoever touches their carcass shall be unclean."

          So this contact with a dead lion was a serious thing. It represented a willful breaking of Samson's lifelong vow—all to gratify a momentary fleshly hunger.

          By the way, I pointed out that Samson's choice of the wrong wife led to a pattern in later years, which ultimately left him vulnerable to the wiles of Delilah. This act of defilement also led to a pattern in his life. You remember the incident in Judges 15 where Samson killed a thousand men with the jawbone of an ass? What was a Nazirite, sworn never to come into contact with this sort of defilement, doing with the jawbone of an ass, anyway? Judges 15:15 says it was a new jawbone, too. So it came from the carcass of a freshly-killed donkey. This was once again a violation of Samson's Nazirite vow. It seems his wrong choices early on always developed into sinful patterns.

          Are you getting the picture of Samson as someone who is utterly undisciplined? He cannot control his eyes. He cannot control his appetite. We're about to see that he could not control his anger or his mouth, either. Having succumbed already to the lust of the eyes in his choice of a wife; and the lust of the flesh in the eating of this defiled honey; he now gives in to the boastful pride of life.

          Remember, Samson dishonored his parents; he defiled his person. Here is mistake number 3:


3. He defended his pride (vv. 12-18).

          He chose the wrong mate; he ate the wrong meal; and here he acts with the wrong motives. Samson has returned from his wedding with 30 Philistine men as his companions. Having debased himself by marrying an enemy of his God, he then defiles himself by eating honey that is ceremonially unclean. Now he further disgraces himself by acting in the most arrogant, fleshly manner. We're back in Judges 14, and I'm reading verses 12-18:

And Samson said to them, "Let me now put a riddle to you. If you can tell me what it is, within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothes,

13 but if you cannot tell me what it is, then you shall give me thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothes." And they said to him, "Put your riddle, that we may hear it."

14 And he said to them, "Out of the eater came something to eat. Out of the strong came something sweet." And in three days they could not solve the riddle.

15 On the fourth day they said to Samson's wife, "Entice your husband to tell us what the riddle is, lest we burn you and your father's house with fire. Have you invited us here to impoverish us?"

16 And Samson's wife wept over him and said, "You only hate me; you do not love me. You have put a riddle to my people, and you have not told me what it is." And he said to her, "Behold, I have not told my father nor my mother, and shall I tell you?"

17 She wept before him the seven days that their feast lasted, and on the seventh day he told her, because she pressed him hard. Then she told the riddle to her people.

18 And the men of the city said to him on the seventh day before the sun went down, "What is sweeter than honey? What is stronger than a lion?" And he said to them, "If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have found out my riddle."

Notice what is happening here. This starts out as a lark. Samson tells them a riddle for fun. He thinks there is no way they will figure out the answer to his riddle, but they outsmarted him. And what began as a contest of wits among friends turns quickly to a serious conflict, partly because Samson's pride was wounded, and he responded in anger.

          Samson at this point is not a model for us to emulate. Scripture says in James 1:20 that "The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God." This sort of anger is not pleasing to God. It is unrighteous and ungodly. The person in the grip of human anger is acting out of impure motives and therefore cannot possibly do a righteous act.

          But look at verses 19-20. God's will was being done despite Samson's sinful lack of self-control:

And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon and struck down thirty men of the town and took their spoil and gave the garments to those who had told the riddle. In hot anger he went back to his father's house.

20 And Samson's wife was given to his companion, who had been his best man.

Thus God sovereignly thwarted Samson's sin and prevented this woman from being his wife, and in the process he judged the Philistines. This should also have been sufficient discipline to turn Samson away from his sinful, self-destructive pattern, but his lust became a perpetual stumbling-block for him. Still, God's work is accomplished through Samson in spite of himself.

          Again, God is not the agent of Samson's sin here. God's purposes here were righteous. The Philistines deserved this judgment because of the extreme wickedness of their lives. You get a sense of the savagery of the Philistines in the way these men threatened (v. 15) to burn her and her father's household. We mustn't think they were kidding or exaggerating. This was exactly the kind of thing the Philistines were notorious for. And it is why their ultimate judgment was just, and part of the plan of God—even though Samson's motives in killing the thirty Philistines were wrong and tainted with human pride and human anger.

          God can act sovereignly to bring about His will in the midst of such a carnal display of human pride and anger—without being tainted by the sin. He is pure light in whom there is no darkness, and all His ways are right. And even though a sinful man cannot employ human anger to work the righteousness of God, God himself can make even the wrath of men praise Him. That's exactly what Psalm 76:10 says: "Surely the wrath of man shall praise You; With the remainder of wrath You shall gird Yourself." God wears the contempt of those who hate Him like a robe of glory. And no one can accuse Him of injustice when he does brings good out of evil, because God himself is never the agent or the effectual cause of the evil—even though He sovereignly uses the evil of his enemies to advance His eternal plan. "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!"

          I need to wrap up. I've been showing you how Samson's wrong choices when he was young led to repeated problems with the same sins throughout his life. Look at his wife's whining attempts to find out the secret of his riddle. What does that remind you of? This is exactly the same problem Samson had with Delilah, isn't it? You'd think this guy would learn not to tell his secrets to nagging women!

          And Samson's sinful pride here, as well as his violent anger, continued to plague him, though God used Samson in a marvelous way to deliver Israel from the Philistines.

          Samson did not escape the consequences of his own sin. As we know, he succumbed to the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life—and bore the full earthly consequences of those sins. Judges 16:21 records what happened to Samson at the end of his life: "But the Philistines took him, and put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with fetters of brass; and he did grind in the prison house." Those eyes that had lusted were gouged out. The flesh that had caused him to stumble was bound with fetters of brass. And the pride that had so often troubled him was finally humbled, so that Samson became a grinder in the prison house.

          But in the end of his life, even as the Philistines were putting Samson to death, God enabled Samson to perform his greatest feat of strength ever, and used that tragic situation to bring about the greatest victory of Samson's life.

          Once again, this is the great lesson of Samson: God is sovereign, and He can use even our most pathetic failures to bring about His greatest victories. All the credit for victory goes to Him, and all the blame for failure goes to us. Samson stands as a great illustration of this truth, and a reminder that God is working all things together for good—our good as well as his. And even when we fail Him, he remains faithful. He cannot deny Himself.

          Ultimately, these truths point us to the gospel, by reminding us that we need salvation from our own sin; that God is a redeemer; that He is sovereign over evil; that no one can thwart his ultimate purposes; and that He can use even the most sinister evil in the universe to accomplish eternal good.

          That is precisely what happened at the crucifixion of Christ—the most evil act ever perpetrated by the hands of wicked men. And yet through the cross of Christ God Himself atoned for our sin. The guilt of others' sin was laid on Christ and He suffered for it, so that His righteousness might be imputed to those who believe.

          And those who do believe are granted forgiveness, cleansing, and eternal life. In Jesus own words, "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life." That's John 5:24, and that very promise is the reason why despite his many failures, Samson ended up in the Hebrews 11 hall of faith rather than in the flames of eternal judgment. He believed. He trusted God for deliverance. When disciplined, he repented, and though he still bore the earthly consequences of his sin, he was delivered from the eternal judgment he deserved.

          That same promise holds true for you and me and anyone who feels the guilt of sin, turns from the love of sin, and trusts in Jesus as Lord and savior. Romans 10:13: "For 'everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'"

          The dying moments of Samson's life are a perfect illustration of that promise. Judges 16:28: "Then Samson called to the LORD and said, 'O Lord GOD, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once.'" God heard and delivered him, not from the temporal consequences of sin, but from eternal judgment. "He [did] not come into judgment, but . . . passed from death to life."

          If you are with us this morning and you're not a believer, or you don't know if you have been redeemed, you too can renounce your sin, call on the name of the Lord, and claim that promise of salvation. There's no ceremony or formal prayer you need to learn. You just need to believe in Him with a whole heart, confess that you are a hopeless sinner, unable to save yourself, and seek His grace. You can do that right where you sit.

          Jesus said in Luke 11: "What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" He urged people to ask for the grace of salvation. He said, "And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened." That is the promise of the gospel, and if it was true for a miserable scoundrel like Samson, it is certainly true for you and me.