Out of Control
February 18, 1990
Listen to this Sermon
It’s been a tough week for Donald Trump. He’s the billionaire developer and deal-maker from New York City who is leaving his wife, Ivana. Since the news broke last Sunday, the story has been on the front page of virtually every newspaper in America. Just this morning, the Chicago Sun-Times called it “the divorce of the decade.”
This is how USA Today (p.4D, 2/15/90) reported it on Thursday:
There’s nothing juicier. Greed, sex, power, infidelity, egomania—the story of the fallen glamour couple of the 80s has truly taken Manhattan.
Since the news broke Sunday that Donald Trump left Ivana, Trump-mania has exploded. It’s all everyone can talk about.
TV shows slap together pieces on the intricacies of the Trumps’ prenuptial agreement. Newspapers rehash every known detail of the marriage, print charts on other big divorce settlements, devote hundreds of inches to commentary.
Top prize goes to the New York Daily News and the New York Post, both relentless on the story, devoting pages daily to uncovering new dirt.
That’s the downside of being a public figure in America today. You spend millions of dollars creating a certain image and then, Boom!, in one week it explodes in your face. Suddenly all your dirty linen is being washed in public and all the skeletons in your closet are paraded in public.
What is happening to Donald Trump is what you might call an occupational hazard of being a millionaire. The amazing thing is, there’s nothing he can do about it. The media are in a feeding frenzy and they won’t stop until every tiny bit of dirt is uncovered.
There is another snippet of news worth noting—this one from Rob Lowe, the teenage heartthrob who knows a thing or two about skeletons coming out of the closet and dirty linen showing up on videotape.
In a recent interview he had this to say about the perils of being famous in America:
In today’s world the right to privacy and freedom of the press are on a collision course. Whether you’re a presidential front-runner, an actor, or head of a TV ministry, if you stay in the public eye long enough, they’re going to try to find a scandal.
Anyone who’s lived their life to the fullest extent has a scandal buried somewhere. And anybody who doesn’t have a scandal I have no interest in meeting … You show me somebody who’s led a perfect life, I’ll show you a dullard.
A Hero With Dirty Linen
Let me put it this way: Rob Lowe would have loved meeting Samson. He was no dullard and his life was far from perfect. And he didn’t bury his scandals at all. Everything he did, he did right up front. In fact, he had enough skeletons to fill two closets and enough dirty linen to keep a laundromat going 24 hours a day.
That was Samson—larger than life, a he-man with a she-weakness. He was a hero, a freedom fighter, a troublemaker, a playboy and a miscreant whose life was dedicated to God before he was born. His story is one of the most amazing, perplexing, contradictory bafflements in all the Bible.
He should have been a godly man … but he wasn’t.
He shouldn’t have been in Hebrews 11 … but he was.
Samson—The Man Of The Hour
In you missed it, last Sunday I began a new series of messages from the life of Samson. His story is found in the Old Testament book of Judges—that’s in the “White Pages” section of your Bible, the part you don’t read very often. But we ought to read about Samson more often than we do, because his life is filled with lessons, examples and applications.
A few days ago someone asked me why I had decided to begin preaching about Samson. There are three basic reasons:
1. Because his story is so well-known, yet so little understood. In one sense Samson is one of the best-known heroes in all the Bible. For generations little children have heard about Samson’s long hair and how Delilah tricked the secret out of him and how he had his eyes poked out and how as he was dying he pushed the pillars apart and killed all the Philistines. If you go to church at all, you know about that.
But the rest of it we don’t understand at all. What made Samson tick? How could a man start so well and end so poorly? How could he forget all the things his parents taught him? Why did he have such a weakness for women? How did he end up in Hebrews 11? What did God see in this man? In short, there’s more to Samson than meets the eye.
2. Because we are so much like Samson and he is so much like us. Sometimes we read the stories of men like David or Moses or Abraham and we think, “I could never be like them.” They seem to be in a different category, as if we should label them “Special Cases” and the rest of us as “Regular People.” After all, Abraham was the friend of God and Moses saw God face to face and David was a man after God’s own heart. Those are great stories and we profit greatly from reading them, but those men don’t seem very much like us.
Not so with Samson. He’s a lot like us. Many of us know what it’s like to come from a godly home. And many of us entered life with great expectations laid on us by other people. Most men know what it means to be tempted by women. All of us struggle at times with the desire for revenge. We’ve been there, we understand, and when we see Samson struggling and falling, we know exactly what he is going through.
3. Because Samson is the perfect man for the 90s. Here is a man who would feel right at home at the end of the twentieth century. He’d have a ball Looking Out for Number One. This morning a brochure arrived at my office advertising a seminar on how to reach the Baby Boomers. It said that the Boomers desire self-fulfillment above everything else. They are materialistic, non-traditional and heavily into lifestyle issues. They lack institutional loyalty and crave a cause to believe in. They will give of themselves but always expect something in return.
That sounds just like Samson. Give him some Dockers, a BMW, and a condo in Lincoln Park, and he would fit right in. Rob Lowe would find him fascinating. Donald Trump would party with him. Geraldo would interview him. Jay Leno would make jokes about him. Kids would hang his posters on their bedroom walls. Somebody would make a rap song about his affair with Delilah. Yes, he’d feel right at home in America in the 90s. Perhaps more than any other Bible character, Samson is one of us.
Before we go any further, let’s remember where Samson started. Judges 13 is meant to impress upon us the five great advantages Samson had as he stepped onto the stage of human history:
# 1 — His birth was announced by the angel of the Lord. (2-3)
# 2 — His mission in life was declared by God before he was born. (3-5)
# 3 — He was raised by godly parents. (8)
# 4 — He was blessed by God as a young man. (24)
# 5 — He was empowered by the Holy Spirit. (25)
No man ever had so much going for him. Compare Samson to the other great heroes of the Bible. Which of them ever had advantages like this?
That only leaves one question: Where did Samson go wrong? Fortunately, we don’t have to wonder about the answer. Judges 14 unfolds the tragic story of how a man who had it all let it all get away from him. In particular, it reveals to us his seven great mistakes.
1. He Went to The Wrong Place 1
Judges 14 begins this way: “Samson went down to Timnah.” (1) the writer is telling us two things in that little phrase. First, he is telling us something about geography. Timnah was in Philistine territory, about four miles from Samson’s village of Zorah. To get there, you walked down a ridge into the Sorek River valley and up the other side. So it’s literally true—Samson went down to Timnah.
But the writer is also telling us about the decline in Samson’s spiritual life. In this, his very first public act, he leaves the land of Israel for the land of the Philistines. To put it bluntly, Samson left his friends to visit his enemies.
Verse 2 informs us that this was more than just a casual visit or a weekend shopping trip. Samson went to Timnah looking for a wife. But that was his first mistake: If he was looking for a wife, he shouldn’t have gone to the Philistines. If he wasn’t looking for a wife, he didn’t have any business there at all. Either way, he shouldn’t have been there. By going to Timnah, home of his sworn enemies, Samson is indeed “going down.”
2. He Was Looking For The Wrong Thing 2-3
Notice carefully what the text says. “Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman.” (1) When he returned home, he told his parents, “I have seen a Philistine woman.” (2) After his father objects, he says, “Go get her for me. She’s the right one for me.” (3) Literally, the phrase in verse 3 reads, “She is right in my eyes.”
The Bible is telling us something crucial about Samson. He is a man motivated purely by physical appearance. He saw this young woman, she looked good, and now he wants her for his wife. That’s all there is to it. In fact, it doesn’t seem like he even bothered to meet her.
But why should that surprise us? Samson is a red-blooded young man. His hormones are boiling within him like steam inside a pressure cooker. He’s away from home, away from his parents, away from his family and away from his spiritual heritage. He sees some hot young Philistine fox and she turns him on. Why not marry her?
The only problem is, he doesn’t know her at all. He doesn’t know her name or who her parents are. He doesn’t know if she can cook or keep house. He doesn’t know if she has any brothers or sisters or whether she is musical or mean or mousy or messy. He doesn’t know if she wants a career or children or both. All he sees is this beautiful babe in front of him. The rest of it doesn’t matter to Samson.
Samson was looking in the wrong place for the wrong thing for the wrong reason. And he found it! But that shouldn’t surprise us either. In life, you get what you pay for and Samson is investing in all the wrong places.
3. He Rejected Godly Counsel 3
The downward spiral continues but now takes an ominous turn. So far, Samson has made some mistakes but they are not fatal. That is about to change.
There is the reaction of his parents to the news that he wants to marry a Philistine girl. “Isn’t there an acceptable woman among your relatives or among all our people? Must you go to the uncircumcised Philistines?” (3) His parents recognized that marrying a Philistine woman was not in his interest and they tried to warn him. But Samson would have none of it.
There are many things that need to be said about this. For one thing, God had already spoken on the matter. In Exodus 34:16 and Deuteronomy 7:1-4 the children of Israel are explicitly commanded not to seek husbands or wives from the surrounding pagan nations. The reason is clear—if you marry a pagan, he (or she) will turn you away from God.
In fact, the warning against mixed-faith marriages is one of the clearest teachings in the whole Bible. Over and over again the people of God are warned not to intermarry with those who do not share their faith. I have talked with many, many Christians (mostly women) who violated this command. Some of them have been married to unbelievers for 30 or 40 years. It’s not an easy life. They have struggled to win their husbands to Jesus Christ, mostly to no avail. All because early on, in a rush of emotion, they decided to ignore what God said. More than a few have said to me, “Pastor Ray, it was the biggest mistake of my life. Please warn the young people not to make the same mistake I did.”
That’s what I’m doing in this message. As your pastor, I’m warning you not to do what Samson did. We have many singles in our church. Some of you are sorely tempted to neglect this teaching. Please don’t do it. It’s okay to be single. You’re all right just the way you are. God loves you and we love you. You don’t have to get married, but if you do, marry someone who loves the Lord as much as you do. Remember, it’s better to be single for 50 years than to be married for even one day outside the will of God. As the saying goes, it’s better to be single than to wish you were.
I realize this is not an easy teaching. After all, it’s the Philistines who always seem to have the money and the power and the good looks. They laugh, they smile, they don’t seem so different from us. It’s only after you get married that you realize that they are uncircumcised. Then it’s too late.
So Samson rejected godly counsel from his parents. In so doing he also rejected God’s counsel. But that was inevitable. When you go to the wrong place looking for the wrong thing with the wrong values in your heart, this is what happens. You end up rejecting the counsel of those who know better.
(Some people may wonder if verse 4 somehow contradicts this point when it notes that Samson’s parents did not know that the marriage was from the Lord, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines. The answer is No. The verse is not saying that Samson was right to marry the Philistine girl. After all, the Scriptures are clear on that point. It is saying that God was working behind the scenes to bring about a confrontation between the people of God and the pagans. Samson was wrong to make the marriage, but God allowed it in order to bring about something good from it. That doesn’t justify what Samson did. After all, he wasn’t looking to stir up trouble; he was motivated by lust. This verse is teaching us something about the providence of God, that he can bring something good out of the stupid things we do. That, however, is no excuse for stupidity.)
4. He Continued A Wrong Relationship 7
Notice what verse 7 says: “Then he went down to the woman, and he liked her.” Evidently he has not met her before now. But that doesn’t matter because Samson is motivated entirely by her physical appearance. He is hormone-driven, not Spirit-driven, at this point. He’s not looking for Mother Teresa or Florence Nightingale. This is the Old Testament version of “Hello, I love you, won’t you tell me your name?”
It fits. One bad move leads to another. He is going down, down, down, and it all started when he went to the wrong place. His fate was sealed when he rejected godly counsel. So now Samson is out on his own—away from God, away from godly influence, away from his family, away from his friends, away from his past.
Just write Proverbs 16:25 over verse 7, “There is a way that seems right to a man but in the end it leads to death.” Samson is all smiles because he thinks he has found the girl of his dreams. But the smile won’t last and the dream soon turns into a nightmare.
5. He Played Fast And Loose With His Spiritual Commitment 6-10
Two things now happen that point out the spiritual deterioration in Samson’s soul. The first occurs as he and his parents make their way down to Timnah to arrange the marriage. While they are traveling, Samson turns aside to a vineyard and there encounters a young lion. The Spirit of the Lord comes upon him and he tears the lion apart with his bare hands.
Verse 6 notes that “he told neither his father or his mother what he had done.” Why?
You would think a man would be glad to tell of a mighty deed like that. He doesn’t tell them because killing the lion meant touching its corpse after it was dead. That is a violation of the spirit of the Nazirite vow. Remember, Numbers 6 specifies that a Nazirite could not touch a dead body. In handling the lion’s corpse, Samson has now become ceremonially unclean and defiled before God.
But the same thing happens again in verse 9. This time Samson is traveling alone and stops by the vineyard to revisit the scene of his great exploit. He finds that bees have built a honeycomb inside the dried-out carcass of the lion. Stooping down, he scoops out the honey with his hands and eats it as he walks along. Later he gave some honey to his parents but did not tell them where it came from. Why? Because it would force him to reveal that he had touched a dead body.
That’s not all. According to verse 10 Samson made a feast “as was customary for bridegrooms.” The feast was like a rehearsal dinner or like a stag party. The Hebrew word for feast is misteh which means “a banquet, an occasion for drinking, a drinking party.” That particular word was used for parties where people got drunk.
But Numbers 6 is clear that a Nazirite was not to drink wine or any intoxicating beverages. And here Samson is throwing a key party just before his wedding. Does that mean Samson himself took a drink? No, but it certainly implies that he might have.
Let’s just take these two incidents and put them together—Samson and the lion and Samson and the feast. Both of them are coming very close to breaking his Nazirite vow. Samson is now living close to the edge. He’s pushing the outside of the envelope. The only part of his vow that he is clearly keeping is the command not to cut his hair. But if he keeps going down this road, he’ll break that part too.
Samson at this point pictures a believer going further and further away from God. If you simply look at his long hair he appears to be dedicated to God, but his lifestyle tells another story. On the outside he looks like a man of God, but on the inside he’s no different than a man of the world.
That’s what eventually happens when you drift away from God. You start out innocently enough, testing the water, carefully wandering where you don’t belong, following your emotions to see where they will lead you, casually going your own way, oblivious to those who would warn you of the danger ahead. Eventually your spiritual commitments don’t mean much to you anymore. You end up like Samson, looking spiritual on the outside, but worldly on the inside.
6. He Couldn’t Bear To Hear The Truth 11-17
Now the time has come for the wedding. In order to understand this, we need to know a little bit about the marriage customs of Samson’s day. Basically it all started with an agreement to be married. That agreement—called a betrothal—was usually arranged by the parents. The betrothal period lasted anywhere from six months to a year, at the end of which there was a seven-day wedding feast. At the end of the feast, the marriage was consummated. That is the basic picture behind Judges 14.
We pick up the story in verse 11 on day one of the seven-day wedding feast. Samson begins 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 riddle (which happens to be an excellent example of Hebrew poetry) went this way:
Out of the eater, something to eat;
Out of the strong, something sweet. (14)
No doubt the riddle was announced with great fanfare and with much amusement. But there was a catch. Samson offered a wager along with the riddle. The 30 groomsmen had 7 days to solve the riddle. If they did, Samson would give them 30 linen garments and 30 sets of clothes. If they couldn’t, they would give Samson the same things.
The first day came and went but the groomsmen couldn’t figure it out. The second day passed the same way, and so did the third day. By the fourth day the groomsmen were getting nervous so they approached Samson’s bride and made her an offer she couldn’t refuse:
“Coax your husband into explaining the riddle for us, or we will burn you and your father’s household to death.” (15) Suddenly things turn ugly. These are not nice people. They are deadly serious in what they are threatening.
The word they use is crucial. “Coax” is the Hebrew patah, meaning “to seduce a simple-minded person.” The Philistines would say the same thing to Delilah some 20 years later. (16:5) Samson was coaxable because he was all hormones and no brain. Here’s the sad part: Samson’s weakness was apparent to everyone but him. His enemies knew it, but he didn’t.
So his bride uses the number-one strategy of brides everywhere: When in doubt, cry. For three days she cried, wept and pleaded with him to tell her the riddle. Finally, the seventh day came and just before sundown, he told her the secret. Why did he wait three days and then finally tell her? Because on the evening of the seventh day the marriage would be consummated and that’s what Samson was waiting for. Remember, he’s a man driven entirely by his flesh. Lust finally overcame good sense and he gave in.
One other point. When she pleads with him, she makes a telling statement: “You hate me! You don’t really love me.” (16) As a matter of fact, that’s true. There is no evidence that Samson truly loved this woman. From the beginning, his interest has been on the physical level. He didn’t love her, she knew it and in the crunch she used the truth against him.
That was a blow to his ego and he dare not admit it was true. So to cover up, to prove he loved her, he revealed the secret of the riddle.
The point is, Samson was a weak man. He is putty in the hands of a cunning woman. She tapped into his ego and he was, quite literally, defenseless. Delilah would use the same tactic 20 years later. Samson never saw his weakness, refused to admit he had one and consequently never came to grips with it. In the end it would prove his undoing.
For the moment, hold this thought in mind: It is our refusal to deal with our weaknesses that most often gets us in trouble. Most of us are just like Samson—we will do anything to avoid dealing with the real issues in our lives. It’s easier and less painful (we think) to pretend that everything’s okay, even when deep inside we know it isn’t.
7. He Couldn’t Face Up To His Own Stupidity 18-20
This little episode is almost over. The groomsmen know the secret of the riddle and they come to Samson at the last moment with the answer. His reply is filled with sarcasm: “If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have solved my riddle.” (18)
But now Samson had lost the bet. He has to find 30 linen garments and 30 changes of clothes. Here is his solution: “He went down to Ashkelon, struck down thirty of their men, stripped them of their belongings and gave their clothes to those who had explained the riddle.” (19) That’s fine, except it meant that Samson killed 30 Philistines to pay off his bet. It also means he had to touch their dead bodies in order to get the clothes off—a clear violation of the Nazirite vow. But it doesn’t matter now. Samson is angry because he has been publicly humiliated—betrayed by his bride and embarrassed by the groomsmen.
But what was there to be angry about?
—He’s the one who went to Philistine territory in the first place.
—He’s the one who picked out the girl.
—He’s the one who decided to marry her.
—He’s the one who thought up the riddle.
—He’s the one who made the bet.
—He’s the one who named the price.
—He’s the only one who knew the secret.
—He’s the one who gave the secret away!!!
Samson, if you want to get angry with somebody, try looking in the mirror. The only fool you’ll see is the one looking back at you.
He paid off the debt and then returned to his father’s house (20). But what about his bride? What about the consummation? What about the marriage? Samson leaves his bride standing at the altar and her father (who is understandably embarrassed) gives her to the best man. He married her and the story is over.
Empowered But Not Controlled
This is a strange chapter in many ways. What starts out with lust ends up with anger. In the beginning, Samson wants romance; in the end, he wants revenge. In between, he makes one mistake after another.
Samson’s basic problem is that he never learned to control his own emotions. Time and again they get him into trouble—first in romance, then in revenge.
Samson is the perfect picture of a believer out of control. And here’s the irony. He was empowered by the Spirit but he was never controlled by the Spirit. That can happen to any of us. When it does, we’re just like Samson—capable of great accomplishments and incredibly stupid mistakes at the same time.
Incidentally, that explains how some Christian leaders can accomplish great things for God and yet fall into terrible sin. They are empowered by the Spirit, but they are not controlled by the Spirit. Unfortunately that happens more often than we think.
The Truth Will Set You Free But …
Several weeks ago I shared with the folks at snow camp the most important spiritual truth I have learned in the last several years. I stumbled across it when my brother Ron came to visit us in Dallas. He told me about a counselor he had been seeing who had given him a lot of help. A few weeks later I had the opportunity to travel to Jackson, Mississippi, to visit the counselor myself. He gave me a personality inventory and later mailed the results to me. When he mailed them back, my brother Ron also enclosed some sheets of paper the counselor had given him.
On one page the counselor had done a takeoff on the famous words of Jesus, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32) He had taken the last phrase and printed it like this: THE TRUTH SHALL MAKE YOU FREE … BUT IT WILL HURT YOU FIRST.
It startled me, and then it was as if someone had turned on a light above my head. Yes, of course, it makes perfect sense. The truth will set you free but it will hurt you first.
In a flash I realized why most people have trouble growing spiritually. It’s not because we don’t know the truth. My soul, we’ve got so much truth it’s running out our eyeballs. We hear the truth at church, on the radio, from our friends, from books and tapes and seminars and concerts. And we get it straight from the Bible. That’s not our problem. If just knowing the truth were all we needed, we’d all be candidates for permanent sainthood.
No, the problem runs deeper than that. We know the truth but we don’t want to let it hurt us so we deflect it, ignore it, deny it, attack it, argue with it and in general avoid it in any way we can. Our approach is like a spaceship being attacked by aliens. We put up the force field so we can deflect the incoming bullets of truth. After awhile we get so good at deflection that the truth never gets through to us at all.
We hear the truth … we know the truth … but we deflect the truth so it never gets close enough to hurt. Therefore, we are not set free.
And that’s why …
We’re still angry
We’re still stubborn
We’re still bitter
We’re still greedy
We’re still arrogant
We’re still filled with lust
We’re still self-willed
We’re still unkind
We refuse to let the truth hurt us!
Are You Willing To Let The Truth Hurt You?
Samson thought he was free, but he wasn’t. He was in bondage to his own uncontrolled emotions. Strangely enough, the truly free man is not the man who does whatever he wants. The truly free man is the man who has dared to let the truth hurt him and in the process of being hurt, he has been set free.
“The truth shall set you free … but it will hurt you first.” For some, that will be the most important thing you hear in this series on Samson. Take some time to think about it. It’s the most important truth I’ve heard in the last two years.
So here’s the question: Are you willing to let the truth hurt you? Whenever you decide to say, Yes, the words of Jesus will come true for you and the truth will at last set you free.