Outward Strength, Inner Weakness

Recently Tiger Woods admitted to hurting his wife and children through being unfaithful. Many were baffled. How could someone so successful and in control on the sporting field be so weak in giving in to impulses off the field? Many other high profile people have been amazingly successful in some areas, yet amazingly weak in others. Yet if we look closely at our own lives, we can all identify with this weakness. Perhaps you’ve struggled with issues like purity or faithfulness, anger that keeps hurting those you love, bitterness, unforgiveness, a desire for success or approval etc. Judges 16 illustrates this problem, and helps us see the causes as well as reasons for hope.

1. Problem: Outward strength, inner weakness

In the opening verses of this chapter Samson seems trapped by his enemies. Yet v4 tells us he got up and took hold of the doors of the city gate, together with the two posts, and tore them loose, bar and all. He lifted them to his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that faces Hebron.

Though some picture Samson with a body-builders physique, what he does here cannot be explained physically. His enemies realise there is something extraordinary, or supernatural about his strength, and try to work out his secret.

Despite his amazing strength, Samson’s weakness with regard to lust is obvious. His visit to a prostitute in v1 is consistent with his poor judgements with other women including his first attempt at marriage in chapter 13, and Delilah in chapter 16.

Although the liaison with the prostitute demonstrated his moral weakness through his uncontrolled lust, yet the strength which God gave him was once against used to perform a heroic act of defiance against the Lord’s enemies. This is the paradox. The brave man who could strangle a lion cannot control himself. He can break the fetters with which his enemies bind him, but he ends up the prisoner of his own appetites. (David Jackman)

This paradox is a reality in all our lives whether we are Christian’s or not. We all have gifts we’ve been given by God, including things we may excel at. Yet we also experience an inner moral weakness. There are things we find ourselves giving into that hurt us or others. More tragic than the physical consequence Samson experienced in this chapter (blindness, imprisonment etc.) are the spiritual consequences. V20 tells us that eventually the LORD left him. As much as our inner moral weakness can ruin our lives, far more serious are the spiritual consequences of separating ourselves from God. Our rebellious behaviour is against Him.

2. Cause: False confidence, misplaced love

When Samson is eventually caught by the Philistines, it’s clear that he is surprised. V20-21 tell us: He awoke from his sleep and thought, “I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the LORD had left him.  Then the Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza.  How does it get to this point, where someone who was so strong, a leader of his people, has so betrayed himself and his people? Notice two things:

a) False confidence: Samson has been set apart from birth. He knows his ability comes from God, but when you look at the way he acts in this chapter, it seems he’s begun to presume on God’s grace.

He had come to believe that his strength was simply his, that no matter what he did, or how he lived he would not lose it. The “web of self-deception”, then was not just psychological it was theological. Samson was unable to see how dependent he was on God’s grace. He had come to see his strength as an inalienable right, not a gift of God’s mercy. (Tim Keller)

Samson acts in this chapter as though he can do anything and get away with it, and for awhile he does. We must be aware of the very real danger, of allowing outward abilities or privileges to give us a false sense of confidence.

Samson’s defeat did not happen overnight. There was a hidden movement of the heart, by stages, long before the public [fall]. We all need the warning because, while we tend to be very observant and critical of the sins of others, we are all inclined to be indulgent of our won “little weaknesses,” with often frightening results. (David Jackman)

b) Misplaced love – What ultimately motivates Samson and Delilah in this passage? In v5 the Philistine rulers offer Delilah eleven hundred shekels of silver each, a huge sum of money. She’s lured by this offer, and perhaps  the fame of being the one who brings Samson down. She loves herself more than she loves Samson.

What’s motivating Samson? He tells Delilah that he loves her. Yet notice, when he finally betrays her. In v15-16 we read: 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. Samson says he loves Delilah, but he ultimately loves something more than her – himself, and it’s only to give himself peace from all the nagging that he eventually gives in.

Samson and Delilah are a rather extreme case of using one another rather than serving one another. They say to each other ‘I love you’ (v15), but they mean ‘I am attracted to you because you are so useful to me’. Doubtless there was a lot of passion and romance here – but it was all done out of the motive of self-enhancement of oneself rather than self-giving for the growth of the other. (Tim Keller)

The real cause of Samson’s demise is his love. His love for Delilah, and ultimately his love for himself is greater than his love for the God who’s given him everything.

The Philistines are looking for some sort of magic secret to Samson’s strength. Yet the power of God is very different to magic. It seems even Samson doesn’t fully grasp this:

In explaining his “secret” to Delilah he concentrates merely on the externals of the Nazarite vow; but they were never designed to be an end in themselves. The whole point was that the external signs represented the internal reality of a life devoted to God…If that reality had been there within Samson he never would have betrayed the secret of his strength (David Jackman, 241-242)

Samson’s power goes, not by ‘magic’ when his hair is shorn off, but because his heart is not devoted to God. If you call yourself a Christian, is your love for God growing? Are you pouring out your heart to him when you pray, and hungering after him when you read his word, or just going through the motions? Is your life, (like Samson’s) showing signs of loving other things more than God?

3. Hope: Power through humility and God’s grace

Though Samson dies at the end of this chapter, his story gives us hope. The Lord had left Samson, but returns to strengthen him one final time. Samson’s eyes had been part of his downfall, he’d gone after what he saw ignoring the consequences. Now his eyes are gone, he begins to see ‘spiritually’ and understand what’s most important.

In v28 we see Samson doing something we never read him doing before this – he prays to God for strength. He is very aware of his own weakness and inability – he can’t see and needs a servant to direct him, he prays realising he needs God’s strength. Hebrews 11:32-42 mentions Samson among the great heroes of the faith, among other things it says ‘his weakness was turned to strength’. As he humbles himself and prays, God graciously answers his prayer for strength.

As I look at Samson’s life, I am faced with the reality of inner moral weakness in my own life.  Samson shows us there is hope for those who humble themselves and trust God’s grace.

Samson’s death, points us forward to the death of Jesus. There are many similarities. Both were betrayed, both were humiliated and mocked in their last hours, both died alone representing God’s people, both prayed in their final moments, both died willingly, and both achieved a great victory over God’s enemies through their death. However, unlike Samson, Jesus was innocent. Jesus’ death was on behalf of  those sinners who will humble themselves and trust his death as being for them. Though both were buried, unlike Samson Jesus rose on the third day, showing the reality of his victory over sin and death through the cross. In the death of Jesus we find the forgiveness and transforming power we all need. 

(Summary of sermon on Judges 16 preached at EHBC on 17 January 2010)

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