How an Angry Man Gets Even
February 25, 1990
It happened again this week, something that’s happened every week during this series from the life of Samson. Someone said to me, “I didn’t know there was that much to Samson’s story” That’s one of the reasons why it’s so much fun to study the characters of the Bible. There’s a lot more in the Bible than we normally think. Even the stories of relatively obscure people reveal to us wonderful spiritual truth.
The exciting thing about Samson is he is a man who is easy to understand. Sometimes when I start reading about the really great heroes of the Bible I have a hard time relating to them. It’s easy to read about David and Abraham and Moses and the incredible things they did and to think to yourself, “I could never be like them.” It’s almost as if you read about the really great heroes and you think they’re in a class of special saints and the rest of us are in the class of regular people.
One of the nice things about Samson is there’s no question he doesn’t belong in with the special saints. He belongs here with the regular people (or maybe with the irregular people). At least Samson is a man whose life is understandable to us. He’s a lot like us, and we’re a lot like him. He’s sort of a spiritual zigzag who’s up and down and all over the map. He’s totally unpredictable and that’s what makes the story so exciting.
We’ve seen his beginning—how Samson had it all. No Bible character ever had a more promising start in life. Then, right out of the gate, he begins to make mistakes. It’s one dumb move after another. Now we’re going to trace his life as he begins to fulfill God’s purposes. You won’t be surprised to know that Samson wasn’t trying to do God’s will; he was just trying to get even with the Philistines.
In his book Hearts of Iron, Feet of Clay, Gary Inrig tells a little illustration that brings Samson’s life into perspective. The real question that you have when you read Samson’s story is, “How did a guy who started so well end up so poorly?” It’s hard to understand. Gary Inrig tells a story about something unusual that happened out on the West coast about 15 years ago. When I say the West coast, I mean literally the west coast—out on the beaches of Oregon or California. It seems that some whales were beached out there. They came in too close and when the tide went out, the whales were stuck on the sand. The only thing that was unusual was that there were 300 whales beached at the same time and in the same place. Sadly, before they could get the whales moved all 300 had died. It was a great mystery until the marine biologists discovered that the 300 whales had come to the beach and had met their death because they were chasing sardines. Have you ever seen sardines? Do you know how small sardines are and how big a whale is? But even a little sardine can bring a whale to its death if the whale keeps chasing it long enough. That’s a parable of the life of Samson. A man of enormous resources who wasted his life chasing small goals. He was a whale chasing sardines.
I mentioned to you earlier that there are four things that make Samson’s life interesting: Love, Sex, Revenge, and Violence. We’re already past the love and sex part. Don’t worry, we’ll come back to it later. But we’re past it for the moment. We’re into the last two things this morning: Revenge and violence.
This is one of the amazing stories of Samson’s life. This is the story of how a man who started so well and went down so far, turned around and accomplished an amazing feat for God. A man who started high and went low, now goes high again. It’s one of the amazing paradoxes of his life.
You Bet Your Life
We pick up the story in Judges 14. It’s the story of Samson’s multiplied mistakes:
He went to the wrong place.
He was looking for the wrong thing.
He rejected Godly counsel.
He continued a wrong relationship.
Samson, the man of God, went to Timnah, home of the Philistines, and there saw a young Philistine woman—a hot Philistine fox. When he saw this hot Philistine fox, his hormones started boiling and he said, “She looks good in my eyes.” (14:3) That was the beginning of the downward spiral in his life. After he met her, he wanted to marry her, so he asked his father to arrange the marriage, which he did.
Then came the rehearsal dinner and the boasting contest between Samson and the Philistines (who probably weren’t too happy about seeing one of their girls marry an Israelite). Eventually Samson challenged the Philistines to solve his riddle. So confident was he that he made a bet with the groomsmen. Do you remember that part? There were 30 Philistine groomsmen at the wedding feast listening to Samson make jokes and tell stories. He was a wisecracker, the kind of man who always has a joke or a witty saying or a pun.
Samson stood up and made a bet with the groomsmen, a typical occurrence in those days (and one that wouldn’t be all that unusual at a modern rehearsal dinner). He said, “I’m going to tell you a riddle. If you can solve the riddle, I’ll give you thirty changes of clothes—one for each of you. But if you can’t solve the riddle you’ve got to give me thirty changes of clothes.” Not a bad deal. Samson wanted a new wardrobe for the start of his marriage.
Samson was sure they could never solve his riddle. He was laughing all the way to the bank. The celebration went on for seven days, so that gave the thirty groomsmen plenty of time to put pressure on the bride to get the answer from Samson and then tell them on the sly. On the fourth day they threatened to burn her and her household if she didn’t tell. (These weren’t very nice people. This wasn’t an idle threat, although I imagine it did put a damper on the festive spirit.) So she started begging Samson who eventually broke down and told her. She told the 30 Philistine groomsmen and they came back to Samson on the evening of the seventh day and said “Samson, we know your riddle.” Suddenly, Samson the gambler has lost his bet and now Samson has to pay off with the thirty changes of clothing. But that’s not the real point. The real point of this part of the story is that Samson is upset, angry, embarrassed and humiliated. All of the thoughts of love and romance had gone far out of his mind.
The Sad End Of A Not-So-Great Marriage
Samson now is angry at being humiliated—first by his bride and then by the thirty groomsmen in front of the Philistines, who he really didn’t care that much for anyway. He’s angry and now Samson is going to get even. That’s where we pick up the story at the end of Chapter 14.
Samson does four things to get even with the Philistines. First, he kills thirty Philistines. Verse 19 says that “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.”
Second, he leaves his bride standing at the altar. Burning with anger he went up to his father’s house. That means he walked out of the marriage ceremony. After he’d gone down to Ashkelon to kill those men, he returned home, leaving his bride standing at the altar. He is angry, he wants nothing to do with the marriage, and so Samson’s wife was given to the friend (we would call him the best man) who had attended him at his wedding. Does that sound cold-blooded? Well, put yourself in the place of the father of the bride. He’s saying to himself, “I don’t think Samson is coming back.” He figures that he’s just walked out, so he looks at the best man and says “You want her?” Samson’s not the only one with good eyesight, so the best man says, “Sure, I’ll take her.” So they get married and you think they’re going to live happily ever after—but no, that brings us to the third thing Samson does.
“Sweetheart, I Brought You A Goat”
Third, he decides that he wants his wife back. A few months have passed. It is now the time of the wheat harvest—that’s May or June—and Samson takes a young goat as a gift for his bride. He still thinks he’s married. He thinks that he just walked out on her but he can come back when he wants to. Sounds like a man, doesn’t it?
Today we bring chocolates or we bring perfume or we bring candy or maybe we bring a new car—it just depends on how far in the hole we think we are. In that same spirit, Samson brings a young goat. That’s sure to win her heart over. When he arrives at her house, he says to her father, “I’m going to go visit my wife’s room.” And let’s face it—we all know what Samson is thinking. He’s not going to have a prayer meeting with her. He wants to go see her up close and personal.
But her father would not let him go in. Why not? “Well, because she’s married now. Someone else is in there with her.” Then her father tries to make a deal: “I was so sure you thoroughly hated her that I gave her to your friend. Isn’t her younger sister more attractive? Take her instead.” (15:2) Doesn’t that sound like something a father would say? “The older one’s taken. Why don’t you take the younger one? She’s better looking anyway.”
Now Samson is upset for two reasons. Number one, he’s upset because his wife is gone. Number two, he’s upset because the father has now insulted him. So Samson said to them “This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines. I will really harm them.” (15:3) Now underline this. The first two things he did—he killed thirty men and then he left his wife—those are relatively small things if you can call killing thirty men relatively small. But now he’s going to get serious.
So he caught three hundred foxes (or jackals, possibly) and tied them tail to tail in pairs. This is harder than it looks. If you’ve ever tried to do this, you know this is not an easy thing to do. (Just get two dogs, or cats, and try to tie their tails together. It’s not a fun way to spend an evening.) Once he had the tails tied together, he fastened a torch to every pair of tails and lit them. Now I don’t know how he did that, but that’s what he did. (The animal-rights people would probably condemn the whole Bible if they read this story.)
Samson lit the torches and let the foxes loose in the standing grain of the Philistines. This basically is on the level of a college fraternity prank. That’s about the level that Samson is working on here. It must have been a bizarre sight: Catch the foxes, tie them together, put the torches on the tails, light the torches, let the foxes go. The foxes are scared to death. They go north, south, east and west and Samson’s over there laughing hysterically. This is the greatest thing he’s done yet. Verse 5 says he burned up the shocks (that’s the wheat that had already been cut), the standing grain (that which hasn’t been harvested yet), together with the vineyards and the olive groves. Now the only thing you need to know about this is that the Philistines only had three cash crops. One was wheat, one was olives, and the other was grapes—vineyards. Samson single-handedly destroys the economic base of the whole nation.
If You Play With Fire …
Not surprisingly, the Philistines are not happy. When they asked, “Who did this?”, they were told that Samson had done it because his wife was given to his friend. So the Philistines went up and burned her and her father to death. I’ve already told you, these are not very nice people. That’s why you call them Philistines. They’re not nice people.
Now, it’s interesting and ironic, isn’t it, that we are told in chapter 14 that they came to her and said, “Tell us the secret of the riddle or we’ll burn you and your house down.” So she wheedles the secret out of Samson and ends up getting burned anyway.
The Cycle Of Revenge
But Samson is not finished yet. He does one more thing to get revenge on the Philistines. Fourth, he slaughtered many of the Philistines. He said to them, “Since you acted like this, I won’t stop until I get my revenge on you.” All bets are off now. Samson is an extremely angry man. By the way, do you notice what’s happened here? Do you see the cycle of revenge? The Philistines do something and then Samson does something. And then they do something and Samson does something back to them. And they do something again and Samson does something again. Only each time it’s getting more and more serious, and more and more brutal, and more and more bloodthirsty. That’s what happens when you try to seek revenge in your life. When you try to seek revenge for wrongs done to you, you set in motion an unending cycle of violence. The only way to get off the cycle of violence is to not seek revenge in the first place. As long as you want to get even, you’re going to go down, down, down and down.
But now look what happens here. Samson says to them, “I won’t stop until I get my revenge on you.” Verse 8 says, “He attacked them viciously and slaughtered many of them.” The King James Version happens to have a more accurate translation of this verse. It gives a very literal rendering of the Hebrew—”He smote them hip and thigh.” What does that mean? It’s a metaphor which stands for a violent, bloody massacre. Do you know what Samson did at this point? His anger has consumed him. When he kills them, he rips them apart hip and thigh. Arms over here, legs over here, heads over here, and chests over here. Do I have to go any further? This is the Old Testament version of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This is it right here. Samson was a guy you didn’t want to get mad at you because he could lose control real fast and just go way over the line and it would be too late.
So Samson slaughtered them. “Then he went down and stayed in a cave in the rock of Etam.” (15:8) All you see so far is revenge, revenge, revenge, revenge. Now Samson goes and stays in a cave in the rock of Etam. That seems odd. Why hide in a cave? Because he is scared of the Philistines. And you say, “my gracious, I thought it would be the other way around.” That’s the strange thing about Samson. Even though he is a violent killer in his heart, he is scared to death of the Philistines. Scared of what they are going to do to him because of what he has done to them.
I’m going to tell you something that I cannot prove. I cannot prove the following statement, but I do believe it’s true. I believe that the beginning of a spiritual turn around in Samson’s life took place in the cave of Etam, while he was hiding from the Philistines. I believe he, like David who would come after him, began to think about his life and his background and the kind of family he had and his godly heritage. And I think Samson began to re-evaluate the course of his life. I say that because as soon as Samson comes out of the cave of Etam his life is beginning to change.
He has gone from the top down, down, down. He’s made an unending series of stupid decisions. Now he has become nothing more than a violent, bloodthirsty terrorist kind of killer. He’s at the bottom now. When he comes out of the cave, he begins to act like a different man.
We pick up the story now in verse 9. “The Philistines went up and camped in Judah” That is, the bad guys came over to the good guys. The Philistines are looking for Samson.
The men of Judah asked, “Why have you come to fight us?” “We have come to take Samson prisoner,” they answered, “to do to him as he did to us.” Then three thousand men from Judah went down to the cave in the rock of Etam. (15:10-11a)
Isn’t it interesting? It took three thousand men to make them feel safe going down to see one of their own men. Three thousand men of Judah—the good guys—go down to see Samson. Listen to their cowardly words: “Don’t you realize that the Philistines are rulers over us? What have you done to us?” (15:11b)
What is happening to the men of Judah? They were called to be the people of God. They were called to drive the pagan nations out. They were called to stand for righteousness and now they’re saying, “O Samson, don’t you know the Philistines are over us? They have iron and we’ve got bronze. They’ll kill us, Samson. Are you crazy? What are you doing?” Instead of coming to Samson and saying, “Let’s go get them.” They’re saying to Samson, “Don’t you know, it’s supposed to be this way.”
When God’s People Sell Out
Three simple words tell us the story. In verse 10 we have intimidation. The Israelites were scared to death of the Philistines. They were so frightened that they approached Samson asking him to surrender. In verse 11 we have accommodation. They were too accustomed to the status quo. They said, “We like having the pagans rule over us. We’re scared of what they’ll do if you upset the apple cart.” And in verse 12 you have the inevitable result of intimidation and accommodation—cooperation. This is one of the saddest verses in the whole story. “They said to him, ’We’ve come to tie you up and to hand you over to the Philistines.’” We who are supposed to be your friends have come to hand you over to the Philistines.
Israel, whose side are you on? Are you on the side of God or are you on the side of the devil? The people of God are now doing the pagan’s dirty work for them. This is a tragic picture of the spiritual decline of the whole nation. They didn’t want to be set free because they were too scared to fight. They were scared of the unbelievers, intimidated by what the unbelievers might do to them. So they just said, “It’s supposed to be this way, Samson. It isn’t good but it’s supposed to be this way. Don’t rock the boat.”
The Pinnacle of Samson’s Faith
What you have in verses 13-17 is the pinnacle of Samson’s faith. He’s on the bottom but now he’s starting to rise to the top. And what you’re going to see in the next few verses is Samson rising to the top to the highest point he’s ever going to reach in his whole life. See what happens. It all begins at the end of verse 12:
Samson said, “Swear to me that you won’t kill me yourselves.” “Agreed,” they answered. “We will only tie you up and hand you over to them. We will not kill you.”
Those cowards. Those sniveling cowards. Those peace-at-any-price compromisers. Those lousy bums. “We won’t kill you, we’ll just hand you over to those guys.” What do you think those guys are going to do with him? They’re going to kill him. O, that really stinks. But notice how Samson responds. He says, “If you want to hand me over to the Philistines, that’s all right.” Notice how graciously he treats his countrymen.
So here comes Samson, his hands bound with two new ropes, walking toward the Philistines. Verse 14 says that as he approached, the Philistines came toward him shouting. Well, I guess so. They think they’ve got him now. They think they’ve got the man who’s been terrorizing their crops and killing their people. They think they’ve finally got Samson.
“The Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power. The ropes on his arms became like charred flax (that is, the ropes that bound him just fell off) and the bindings dropped from his hands.” (15:14)
Keep reading. It gets better: “Finding a fresh jawbone of a donkey …” That word for fresh really means moist. It means a donkey that hasn’t been dead very long. Samson found it, stripped off the skin, picked it up and waded into the Philistines. Donkeys have narrow chins so picking up a jawbone is like squeezing a boomerang. Verse 15 says that he took the fresh jawbone and with it he struck down one thousand men. You say, how did he do it? Well, I don’t know. But I discovered an intriguing suggestion in one book. Maybe he took a rope and tied it on to the end of the jawbone and tied the other end around his wrist and swung it over his head. You could do some serious damage that way. The Bible says he killed one thousand men with the jawbone of a donkey.
Eventually it’s all over. The Philistines have fled, leaving the battlefield littered with corpses. Then Samson, as he surveys the carnage, composes a little poem. That’s Samson again. He’s into gloating. Verse 16 records his poetry:
With a donkey’s jawbone I have made donkeys of them. With a donkey’s jawbone I have killed a thousand men.
Actually the Hebrew word for donkey and the Hebrew word for heaps sound alike. That’s why some of the translations will say, “With a donkey’s jawbone, heaps upon heaps.” This little bit of poetry tells us what happened. Samson would take the jawbone and kill a few men and then make a heap of dead bodies and then kill a few more and make another heap and kill a few more and make another heap. Or if you want to use the King James terminology it’s something like this: “With the jawbone of a jackass I have made jackasses out of them.” With a donkey’s jawbone I have killed one thousand men. When he had finished speaking he threw away the jawbone and the place was called Ramath Lehi. Ramath means hill and Lehi means jawbone. Ramath Lehi means Jawbone Hill. Just a reminder of the great victory he had won.
The Greatest Prayer Samson Ever Prayed
Now our story is almost over but there is one more part: Samson’s humble prayer to the Lord. Because he was very thirsty (Killing one thousand men really works up a thirst) he cried out to the Lord, “You have given your servant this great victory. Must I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?” (15:18) This is the greatest prayer Samson ever prayed. He’s saying, “Lord I know that this victory did not come by my power.” It’s the one place where he really acknowledged God’s presence in his life.
And God opened up a hollow place in Lehi, and water came out of it. When Samson drank, his strength returned and he revived. So the spring was called En Hakkore (which means the spring of one who cries out to God). And it is still there in Lehi. (15:19)
That last little phrase is interesting. The writer of Judges is telling us that, even though many years have passed, there was still water coming out of that spring. The flow of water was a present reminder of God’s past provision for his people.
Samson’s great prayer comes after his greatest victory. His prayer is immediately answered and it reveals to us something which we might not have known otherwise. Beneath the carnality and beneath the worldliness and beneath all that compromise that there was a bedrock of faith in Samson’s life. Samson was a man of faith. That’s unbelievable. After all that carnage and all that killing and all that lust and all that anger, God is saying Samson is a man of faith. And he let this spring keep on flowing as a monument to Samson’s faith and as a rebuke to the compromising, cowardly men of Judah. It was a perpetual reminder that when things were at their worst, there was one man who was willing to stand up and fight.
This is one of the wonderful stories of the Old Testament. What a sinner Samson is. Samson sins and sins. And he doesn’t do it by halves either. When he sins, he really sins. He went down, down, down, down and then he begins to come up and his faith at the end is clear. In the end, Samson wins a great victory for God.
Three Abiding Principles
This story has a lot to say to us. Let me point out three abiding principles.
1. Whenever we come to one of those all too rare moments of spiritual victory we ought not to be surprised that other people do not understand us.
Whenever we come to one of those places of great spiritual victory, when we have prayed and worked and we have fought through, we ought not to be surprised that other people don’t understand us. If anything is clear from Judges 15, it’s that they were ready to give Samson up. They handed him over to the enemy because they didn’t understand that Samson, at this point, is God’s freedom fighter. It’s the one point where Samson’s faith is really shining. The men of Judah just look like a bunch of cowards, and that’s what they really are.
I was talking this week with a young lady who works in one of the stores here in Oak Park. She told me this week that she had to give up her job. I said, “Why?” She said, “Because I’m a Christian.” I said, “What do you mean?” She said, “When my boss found out I was a Christian, he put so much pressure on me that finally I could not work there anymore.” That’s in Oak Park, U.S.A.
We should not be surprised that when we reach the moment of real spiritual insight, some of the people who are closest to us will not understand. A husband won’t understand, or a wife won’t understand, or your brothers and sisters won’t appreciate the fact that you have discovered Jesus Christ. Your relatives won’t understand or your kids won’t understand or your grandparents or your neighbors or your friends at school or the people where you work won’t understand. We shouldn’t be surprised that when we decide to go all out for Jesus Christ, some people who ought to understand won’t understand at all and some of them will actively oppose what we are doing. It happened to Samson. It will happen to you and me, too.
2. Whenever the Spirit of God starts to work, incredible victories can be accomplished by means of the most unlikely instruments.
Suppose you were going to fight one thousand Philistines, what would you take? I’d take Rambo and a pickup full of Uzis. I’d bring along an AK-47 and a bag full of grenades. I’d take my chances that way. I wouldn’t go out with the jawbone of a donkey. I’m not that stupid. Or maybe, I’m just not that smart. When Samson defeated one thousand Philistines, he only had two things: he had the jawbone of a donkey, and he had the Spirit of God. And with the jawbone and with the Spirit he had enough to defeat one thousand men and set the army of the Philistines to flight.
I like that little gospel chorus: “Little is much when God is in it. Labor not for wealth or fame. There’s a crown and you can win it if you go in Jesus’ name.” It’s true. And that’s one of the lessons of this chapter. Little is much when God is in it.
Anybody here this morning feel like the jawbone of a donkey? Anybody here feel you’re about as useless as that? Let me tell you something. When the Spirit of God begins to move, with the jawbone of a donkey a whole army is put to flight. When the Spirit of God begins to move, incredible victories are accomplished by the most unlikely instruments.
3. When we yield ourselves to the Spirit of God the life of Jesus is reproduced in us.
If you read the old commentators on the life of Samson, you discover something fascinating. Those old commentators (I’m thinking of the Puritans and the 19th-century English writers) find in Samson a type of the Lord Jesus Christ. Do you know what a type is? It’s an Old Testament picture of a New Testament truth. They find that Samson is an Old Testament picture of the Lord Jesus Christ. Do you realize how incredible that sounds? But it’s true.
Samson And Jesus
This is how they put it together:
Samson was rejected by his countrymen. Jesus was rejected by his countrymen.
Samson was arrested by his own people. Jesus was arrested by his own people.
Samson was handed over to certain death. Jesus was handed over to die.
Samson didn’t resist his own people when they betrayed him. Jesus said not a word to those who attacked him. Samson’s hands were bound with cords. Jesus’ hands were bound as he went off to trial.
Samson broke the cords which bound him. Jesus in his resurrection broke the cords of death.
Samson in his mighty victory put the army of the Philistines to flight. Jesus in his victorious resurrection from the dead defeated Satan and the demons and all the powers of the devil. He disarmed the devil and made a public spectacle of all the demons. He led captivity captive when he ascended on high.
Samson in his victory delivered his people. And Jesus in his victory delivered his people.
Do you want to know why this picture of Christ is in the Bible? Because Samson is the last man on earth that you would ever think would be like the Lord Jesus. You couldn’t think of a more unlikely person. It’s there to encourage people like you and me, who have a whole lot of Samson in us, that we can be like the Lord Jesus Christ. Samson the man who went down and down and down and down at this moment is a type of Jesus. What happened to Samson could happen to you and to me. When we yield our life to the Spirit of God the life of Jesus is reproduced in us.
Hope For Modern-Day SamsonsThis is Samson’s finest moment, his greatest victory, his noblest prayer, and his most holy character. You want to know the most amazing thing I’ve said yet? It’s Samson’s greatest moment—the pinnacle of his faith—and it comes at the end of a whole series of incredibly stupid decisions.
He went to the wrong place. He looked for the wrong thing. He married the wrong girl. He made a bad bet. He gave in to revenge, and in uncontrollable anger he went down, down, down, down. And it is at this hopeless moment Samson achieved greatness. His past didn’t matter. It really didn’t matter. That’s the grace of God.
Some of you are laboring under the burden of a long string of bad decisions, stupid moves, wrong choices, blind alleys, dead end streets, broken relationships and broken promises. Every time you think about doing something great for God a voice inside whispers, “You’re dirty. You’re unclean. You’re no good. You’re a fake, a fraud, and a hypocrite.”
I’ve got good news for you. I don’t care if you’ve been like Samson, or worse. Your past doesn’t matter. If you will come to Jesus Christ you will find in one shining moment that you are forgiven. Your past does not have to hold you back unless you let it. You already know what’s holding you back, don’t you? Those mistakes and bad decisions from the past, those blind alleys and broken relationships, and those stupid choices. You’ve condemned yourself a thousand times for them; they’re like chains around your neck. You need to take all that ugliness and place it at the foot of the cross. You need to leave it there and never go back for it again.
It is my privilege to introduce you to the Lord Jesus Christ who died on the cross. His broken body and his shed blood have opened the way into heaven. Do you want a new life this morning? You can get one. Do you need a new start this morning? You can have one. Do you need to be forgiven? You can be forgiven right now. Do you need a new beginning? Now is the time, this is the place. Jesus Christ has made it possible.
Good News, Samson! Good News! And Good News to all of Samson’s twentieth-century sons and daughters. Your best days may be just ahead of you!