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SAMSON’S CHARACTER AND END
Judges 16:28. And Samson called unto the Lord, and said, O Lord God, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.
SCARCELY any part of Scripture has afforded more occasion for the doubts of sceptics or the scoffs of infidels, than the history of Samson. True it is, that many strange things are contained in it; but there is nothing in it which may not easily be accounted for by those who consider the nature of that dispensation, and the power of the God of Israel. The doctrine of the Resurrection appeared to many incredible: but our Lord said to them, “Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God.” The same reply we would make to any persons who would question the facts contained in this history. Samson was raised up by God on purpose to chastise the oppressors of Israel: and he was strengthened by God to effect that by his own arm, which seemed to require the united exertions of the whole nation. The circumstance of his being recorded as a man of faith and piety, gives a great additional interest to his history; because it is difficult to conceive how such inconsistencies should be combined in one person. We must not however attempt to cloke his impieties, because he was a saint; nor must we contradict an inspired Apostle, because he was a sinner: we should rather examine the different parts of his conduct, that so we may form a just estimate of his character: and we shall find our labour well repaid by many instructive lessons which his history will afford us.
Let us then consider,
It must be confessed that there was in him much amiss. He appears to have been too much actuated by,
A vindictive spirit—
[He knew indeed the peculiar commission given him: but yet in executing that commission he seems to have been influenced more by personal considerations than by true patriotism. His first slaughter of thirty Philistines was an act of revenge for the treachery which he had experienced at his bridal-feast, both from the bride herself, and all his pretended friends. When he returned afterwards to be reconciled to his wife, and found her given by her own father to another man, he executed the strange device of tying three hundred foxes together, two and two, by their tails, with a fire-brand or torch between each couple, and sending them in among the ripe corn, and the sheaves already cut, as also among the vines and olives; by which he devastated a great extent of country [Note: This was not so impracticable a thing as we are ready to imagine: for the foxes in that country were very numerous; Song of Solomon 2:15; Ezekiel 13:4. And Samson, being the chief governor of the Jewish nation, would have many at hand to execute his commands.]. And, notwithstanding the Philistines themselves, on hearing of the reason of this conduct, avenged him on his wife and father-in-law by burning them to death, yet was he bent on further vengeance, and “slew the Philistines, hip and thigh, with a great slaughter.”
After this we do not wonder that the Philistines sought to take him: we only wonder that his own countrymen did not embrace this opportunity of uniting with him to shake off the yoke of their oppressors. The tribe of Judah, amongst whom Samson had taken refuge, were only alarmed for their own safety; and, to screen themselves, engaged to apprehend him, and deliver him up to the Philistines. On their swearing not to destroy him themselves, Samson surrendered up himself to them; and suffered them to bind him with two new cords. The Philistines seeing him brought to them a prisoner, exulted greatly, and shouted aloud for joy: but their joy was soon turned into sorrow: for Samson burst the cords asunder, as easily as flax is consumed by fire; and, with the jaw-bone of an ass, which he found near him, he slew no less than a thousand men.
Now we do not mean to ascribe the whole of this to mere revenge; for we doubt not but that he was moved to it by the Spirit of God: but as Jehu afterwards was actuated by pride even whilst in other respects he was under a divine impulse, so was Samson too much under the influence of a vindictive spirit, whilst in other respects he was executing the designs of Heaven.]
A vain-glorious spirit—
[On this last occasion, when God had vouchsafed to him so great a deliverance, we should have expected that he would have been forward to give God the glory: but behold, he took all the honour to himself: “With the jaw-bone of an ass, heaps upon heaps, with the jaw-bone of an ass have I slain a thousand men [Note: Judges 15:16.].” How lamentable, that at such a time he should forget by whom this miracle had been wrought, and should so provoke to jealousy his heavenly Benefactor! This, it is true, is but too common: but how evil it is in the sight of God, we may see in the judgment inflicted for it on a heathen prince; who, when applauded for his eloquence, omitted to give the glory unto God: he was smitten with a mortal disease, and “eaten up of worms [Note: Acts 12:22-23.].”]
A spirit of lewdness and incontinence—
[Here was his great failing. His first connexion in marriage was imprudent, but not sinful: but when that tie was dissolved by the death of his wife, he seems to have entertained no more thoughts of an honourable connexion, but addicted himself to an unlawful commerce with harlots. On one occasion, for the gratification of his sinful appetites, he put himself in the power of his Philistine enemies, and would have fallen a sacrifice to their rage, if he had not, beyond all reasonable expectation, risen at midnight from the harlot’s bed, and, by supernatural strength, borne away the gates of the city which had been barred against him [Note: ver. 1–3.]. At another time he became enamoured of a woman, called Delilah: and the violence of his attachment to her was ere long the occasion of his death. Bribed by the Philistines, she sought to obtain from him information respecting the source of his great strength. He to amuse her, and to avoid a disclosure of so important a secret, told her various things, and submitted to various experiments; all of which issued in wonderful displays of his strength. But at last, “wearied to death” by her incessant importunity, he madly confided to her the secret, ‘That his strength would vanish if only his locks were cut, since they were the badge of his Nazariteship, and the token or seal of his consecration to God: that seal once broken, the blessings which God had conferred upon him as a Nazarite would be forfeited and lost.’ She now saw that she had gained her point, and prepared every thing for his destruction. But would not one have thought that after such a disclosure he would have taken care not to put himself in her power? Yet behold, he soon afterwards fell asleep with his head in her lap; and afforded her an opportunity of employing a man to cut off his hair. This being done, she woke him, as on former occasions; and he, unconscious that the Lord had departed from him, went forth to shake himself as at other times. But now his strength was gone; and the Philistines seized him and put out his eyes, and bound him with fetters of brass, and made him grind in a prison. What an awful example is here of the miseries consequent upon unbridled lust! The infatuation it produces is beyond all conception. Verily the fetters of brass id not form a stronger bond for his feet, than ungoverned passions make for the souls of men. Even reason and common sense often appear to fail the persons who are under their influence; insomuch that, with temporal and eternal ruin before their eyes, they rush on, till they bring upon themselves the miseries which they would not shun.]
How in the midst of all this wickedness can he be deemed a saint?
[We must make great allowance for the dispensation under which he lived, and the peculiar darkness of his times. But God forbid that we should vindicate such conduct as his! We apprehend that we must look for his piety rather in his latter days than at any time previous to his confinement at Gaza. Certainly his early days were marked with a pious submission to his parents: and it is probable, that, in his wonderful exertions, there was more of affiance in God, and a regard for Israel’s welfare, than appears upon the face of the history. Moreover, when God rebuked his pride by suffering him to be in danger of perishing through thirst, he betook himself to prayer, and obtained a miraculous supply of water from God, by a well opened, not in the jaw-bone, as the translation imports, but in Lehi, as the marginal rendering more justly intimates [Note: “En-hak-kore” means, The well of him that cried: and it continued in Lehi for many years. Judges 15:19.]; the place being by anticipation called Lehi, in reference to this feat wrought by the jaw-bone.]
But in our text we see the greatest proof of his piety; as will more fully appear, whilst we consider,
[Like Manasseh, this ill-fated Judge humbled himself in his affliction, and sought the Lord. Of this there is abundant evidence in his prayer. We grant that even here there seems to be a remnant of that vindictive spirit which we have before noticed: but we are willing to hope, that it was the cause of God and of Israel that he desired to avenge, rather than his own. The compliance of God with his request seems to warrant this conjecture. Indeed God’s honour, if we may so speak, required such a signal act of vengeance to be inflicted on his enemies. The Philistines had assembled in a spacious edifice, to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon, their idol-god. To him they ascribed praise and honour, as having triumphed over the God of Israel. Thousands of their chief men and women were assembled in the place, and three thousand others on the roof; and Samson was brought forth, to be made an object of profane mirth and triumph. Then it was that Samson offered this prayer, and willingly devoted himself to death, that he might be an instrument of God’s vengeance on them. The place was supported by two contiguous pillars: and God enabled him, by a wonderful exertion of strength, to pull down the pillars in an instant, and thus to overwhelm at once the whole assembly. He fell indeed himself in the common ruin: but in his death he reminds us of that adorable Saviour, who “triumphed over principalities and powers upon the cross,” and “by death overcame him that had the power of death, and delivered those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”
Here we cannot but contemplate the benefit of affliction. At Lehi, it was rendered serviceable to humble his pride; and at Gaza it brought him fully to repentance. We are ready to pity the degraded Judge of Israel when we see him reduced to such a state of misery by his enemies: but, if we pity the man, we congratulate the sinner; to whose final salvation these heavy trials were made subservient: and we congratulate all, whatever their afflictions be, who find them overruled for so great a good.]
This subject may well be improved,
[How painful is it to see a person, who had been consecrated to God from his first conception in the womb, and who had given early hopes of fulfilling the desires of his parents and the designs of God, abandoning himself to the lawless indulgence of his appetites and passions! Yet thus it is with many, whose parents have watched over them with the tenderest care, and prayed for them with the most pious solicitude [Note: Proverbs 5:22.] — — — O that those who think lightly of such sins would ponder the cautions given them by Solomon [Note: Proverbs 5:1-13; Proverbs 6:25-28; Proverbs 7:6-27.] — — — and learn betimes to “abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul!”]
[Great as was the sin of Samson, and justly as he merited the judgments which he brought upon himself, he found mercy of the Lord at last: and sure we are, that every penitent, whatever his crimes may have been, shall obtain mercy, if only he flee for refuge to that Saviour whose “blood cleanseth from all sin.” We mean not by this observation to encourage any in the indulgence of sin, from a hope that they shall at last repent of it and be saved: for how do they know that they shall live to repent, or that, if their lives be prolonged, repentance will be given them? But, if any are desirous of humbling themselves for sin before God, let them not despair of mercy: let them rather expect, that God, who delighteth in mercy, will be gracious unto them; that he will refresh their weary souls in their deepest extremity [Note: Isaiah 41:17-18.]; and that, before he take them hence, he will give them victory over all their spiritual enemies; so that with their dying breath they shall sing, “Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Judges 16". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany