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Samson and Delilah


by the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Bridgewater, Massachusetts, May 3, 1998

Readings

Judges 16:4-22 Samson and Delilah

Samson fell in love with a woman in the Valley of Sorek whose name was Delilah. The rulers of the Philistines went to her and said, "See if you can lure him into showing you the secret of his great strength and how we can overpower him so we may tie him up and subdue him. Each one of us will give you eleven hundred shekels of silver.

So Delilah said to Samson, "Tell me the secret of your great strength and how you can be tied up and subdued."

Samson answered her, "If anyone ties me with seven fresh thongs that have not been dried, I will become as weak as any other man."

Then the rulers of the Philistines brought her seven fresh thongs that had not been dried, and she tied him with them. With men hidden in the room, she called to him, "Samson, the Philistines are upon you!" But he snapped the thongs as easily as a piece of string snaps when it comes close to a flame. So the secret of his strength was not discovered.

Then Delilah said to Samson, "You have made a fool of me; you lied to me. Come now, tell me how you can be tied."

He said, "If anyone ties me securely with new ropes that have never been used, I will become as weak as any other man."

So Delilah took new ropes and tied him with them. Then, with men hidden in the room, she called to him, "Samson, the Philistines are upon you!" But he snapped the ropes off his arms as if they were threads.

Delilah then said to Samson, "Until now, you hove been making a fool of me and lying to me. Tell me how you can be tied."

He replied, "If you weave the seven braids of my head into the fabric on the loom, and tighten it with the pin, I will become as weak as any other man." So while he was sleeping, Delilah took the seven braids of his head, wove them into the fabric, and tightened it with the pin.

Again she called to him, "Samson, the Philistines are upon you!" He awoke from his sleep and pulled up the pin and the loom, with the fabric.

Then she said to him, "How can you say, 'I love you,' when you won't confide in me? This is the third time you have made a fool of me and haven't told me the secret of your great strength." With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was tired to death.

So he told her everything. "No razor has ever been used on my head," he said, "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."

When Delilah saw that he had told her everything, she sent word to the rulers of the Philistines, "Come back once more; he has told me everything." So the rulers of the Philistines returned with the silver in their hands. Having put him to sleep on her lap, she called a man to shave off the seven braids of his hair, and so began to subdue him. And his strength left him.

Then she called, "Samson, the Philistines are upon you!"

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 Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes, and took him down to Gaza. Binding him with bronze shackles, they set him to grinding in the prison. But the hair on his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.


Matthew 2:21-23 He will be called a Nazarene

Joseph took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.... Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: "He will be called a Nazarene."


Doctrine of the Sacred Scriptures #149 Head and hair

We cannot know why the Naziriteship was instituted, or why Samson's strength was from his hair, unless we know what the head means in the Bible. The head means the heavenly wisdom that angels and people have from the Lord through divine truth. So the hair on the head means heavenly wisdom in the most external things, and also divine truth in the most external things.

Sermon

Samson fell in love with a woman in the Valley of Sorek whose name was Delilah. (Judges 16:4)

This morning's sermon is a warm-up for, and a preview of, the topic for the second week at the Fryeburg New Church Assembly this August. You can thank the Rev. Ken Turley of the Fryeburg church for it. He is working on a musical production of the Samson and Delilah story, which he plans to perform with the Assembly's attendees. He has been asking the lecturers for their topics; this sermon is my way of looking over the story and finding a focus for my second week lecture. For the brevity of the sermon you can thank the Massachusetts Association, which is having its meeting at Blairhaven this afternoon. My family and I are going there for the luncheon, which means we have to get out earlier than usual!

But to our topic. Many couples are mentioned in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament. One of the most famous--or infamous--is Samson and Delilah. They are a classic case of almost everything that can go wrong with a relationship.

By the time Samson meets and falls in love with Delilah, he has already had a disastrous marriage with a Philistine woman who nagged him for a secret of his so that she could betray his trust to her people, who were enemies of Israel in general, and of Samson in particular. Her betrayal had led to dozens of deaths, most of them inflicted by Samson in revenge on the Philistines for their betrayal of him. This led to a cycle of revenge, in which the Philistines killed Samson's wife and her father, and in turn Samson killed even more Philistines, eventually, the story says, killing a thousand men with the jawbone of an ox. Now, all of this was good for the Israelites, who rejoiced at anything that made their Philistine overlords weaker. But to modern eyes, it looks like one sick relationship!

Unfortunately, Samson did not learn from his mistakes. In our story, he falls in love with Delilah, another Philistine woman, who proves just as treacherous as the one Samson had married earlier. No sooner has Samson hooked up with Delilah than the Philistines are at her to find out the secret of Samson's strength so that they can subdue him.

As we read about Samson lying to Delilah three times about what will take away his strength, and Delilah each time trying it out and shouting, "Samson, the Philistines are upon you!" we may wonder Samson would ever tell her the truth. Of course, the Philistines who intended to capture Samson were hiding, and we are not told that they came out on these three occasions; perhaps Samson did not realize Delilah was laying a trap for him.

Whatever the case, Delilah eventually wears Samson down with her continuous nagging and prodding day after day, and finally Samson tells her the truth: that his great strength comes from his consecration to the Lord as a Nazirite, and that if his hair is cut, he will become "as weak as any other man." The law of the Nazirite is given in Numbers chapter six. It specifies that among other requirements, men and women who dedicate themselves to the Lord as Nazirites are not allowed to cut their hair until the end of their period of dedication, when their hair is cut in a special ceremony.

Before Samson's birth, an angel tells his parents-to-be that Samson is to be a Nazirite "from birth until the day of his death" (Numbers 13:7). Samson's hair was never to be cut. His long hair is a symbol of his dedication to the Lord, and the source of his great strength. When Delilah has her Philistine friends shave Samson's head as he sleeps in her lap, it breaks his Nazirite vow, and also his superhuman strength. Samson ends out blinded and shackled in prison, where he was forced to do the monotonous, and, for a man of those times, disgraceful work of grinding grain with the hand mills that the women used. As our reading ends, we are given the hopeful note that "the hair on his head began to grow again." If you don't know the exciting climax to this story, read the rest of Judges 16 when you get home!

As we read Samson's story, it is easy to dismiss him as the perfect comic book superhero: a man with a lot of brawn and very little brain. For all his physical strength, Samson has little endurance when it comes to resisting things that are bad for him--especially bad relationships. First he marries a woman who betrays him before the wedding feast is over. Later he spends the night with a Philistine prostitute, whose house is quickly surrounded by enemies intent on killing him. And finally, he falls in love with Delilah and lives with her, leading eventually to his imprisonment and death. "Doesn't he ever learn?" we might ask.

In asking that question, we are falling into exactly the "trap" that the Lord has set for us in telling us this story of human strength, pride, and folly. For Samson's is really our story. We may not have the strength of ten men, but each one of us has developed some strength of character--especially in those areas where we have turned to the Lord for guidance and help.

Yet, don't we also make the same mistakes over and over again? Once we have gotten used to some addictive or destructive habit, we seldom quit cold turkey and never look back. Much more often, we struggle again and again with the same flaws and shortcomings that have been plaguing us for years. For all the spiritual strength we may have developed over the years going to Sunday School, attending church, reading the Bible and other spiritual books, and so on, when the rubber hits the road, we are still fallible, mistake-prone humans!

Samson's story is our story. To use another mighty figure from mythology, our Achilles heel is represented by Delilah. Delilah is that simple, stubborn bad habit that we continue to fall into even when we have seen its destructive effects. We know the excuses and arguments we use to justify it are false. But when we feel that allure; when that desire comes over us; when something or someone pushes our button, we throw aside all our spiritual principles, ignore everything our rational mind tells us, and surrender to the moment once more.

Unfortunately, Samson's story does not have a happy ending. This, too, is realistic. When we continue to live in ways we know we shouldn't, it damages both ourselves and others, just as Samson both killed others and was himself maimed, and eventually killed in his revenge against the Philistines. For us, it sometimes does take the breakup of a marriage, the loss of a job, the destruction of family relationships and close friendships, to wake us up to what is happening. If, like Samson we do not heed these warnings, things will continue to go downhill.

Our old life may have to die before we can begin a new one--just as Samson died so that the Israelites could go on to the next step in their development as a nation. We can only hope that in that death of the old, what dies is our old attitude of pride in our own selves, and the false notion that what counts is what we believe, and not whether we live by it. That attitude of belief without action, of religious faith that is not expressed in kindness toward others, is what the Philistines represent. It is an attitude that is just as deadly to us today as the Philistines were to the Israelites in Samson's day.

Each time we indulge once more in that bad habit, or yield to that old weakness, we demonstrate for ourselves once more that our beliefs must be backed up by action, or they come to nothing. Each time we feel the consequences of what we have done, or have not done, it is another opportunity to learn that when we abandon our faith in our actions, it results in damage and pain both to ourselves and to others.

Yet there is always the possibility of redemption. In the Old Testament there is only one other mention of the Nazirite vow after Samson's story (in Amos 2:11-12), and it is a reference to breaking the Nazirite vow. However, in our brief reading from Matthew, we have a tantalizing reference. Joseph took Mary and the young Jesus and they "went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, 'He will be called a Nazarene.'" If you look in a Bible that has cross-references, you will find no reference to any Old Testament prophesy that says "He will be called a Nazarene."

Perhaps it is a reference to a book that is not in our present Bible. But I suspect Matthew was making a play on words (Nazarene instead of Nazirite), referring to the story of Samson. And so, once again, we are reminded that when our own strength of character is not enough to overcome that old character flaw that has bedeviled us for so long, we do have a place to turn for a new and deeper strength that is equal to the task: we can and must turn to the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen

 

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Music: Conversations with My Soul
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