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Then. It should be and. There is nothing to show when the incident occurred. It may have been many years after his victory at hal-Lechi, towards the latter part of his twenty years' judgeship. Gaza, now Ghuzzeh, one of the five chief cities of the Philistines, once a strong place, but now a large open town. It was the last town in South-West Palestine on the road from Jerusalem to Egypt (Acts 8:26, Acts 8:27). It played an important part in history in all ages—in the times, of the Pharaohs, the Seleucidae, the Maccabees, the Romans, the Khalifs, and the Crusaders. It was within the limits of the tribe of Judah (Joshua 15:47). It is first mentioned in Genesis 10:19, as the south-west border of the Canaanites. Its real transliteration from the Hebrew is Azzah, as it is actually expressed in the A.V. of Deuteronomy 2:23, and 1 Kings 4:24. Gaza is the Greek form.
And it was told. These words have no doubt accidentally fallen out of the Hebrew text, but they are necessary to the sense, and are expressed in all the ancient versions. We have no clue as to the motive of Samson's visit to Gaza, whether he was meditating its conquest, or an assault upon its inhabitants, or whether he came merely in the wild spirit of adventure, or upon civil business. We only know that he came there, that, with his usual weakness, he fell into the snare of female blandishments, that the Philistines thought to have caught him and killed him, but that he escaped by his supernatural strength. Gaza is about thirteen hours' march from Thimnathah. They compassed him in. The Hebrew does not express this idea, nor is it what the Gazites did. It should be rendered, They went about and lay in wait for him. Instead of attacking him directly, they took a round-about course, and set an ambush for him in the city gates, probably in the guard-room by the side of the gate, intending when he came forth unsuspectingly in the morning, at the hour of opening the gates, to rush upon him and kill him.
Samson arose at midnight. Possibly the woman had learnt the plot, and gave Samson warning, after the manner of Rahab; or she may have been his betrayer, and reckoned upon retaining him till the morning; anyhow he arose at midnight, when the liers in wait were sleeping securely, and tearing up the two gate-pests, with the gates and the cross-bar attached to them, walked off with them "as far as the top of the hill that is before Hebron." Took the doors, etc. Rather, laid hold of. For went away with them, translate plucked them up. It is the technical word for plucking up the tent pins. Bar and all, or, with the bar. The bar was probably a strong iron or wooden crossbar, which was attached to the posts by a lock, and could only be removed by one that had the key. Samson tore up the posts with the barred gates attached to them, and, putting the whole mass upon his back ,walked off with it. The hill that is before Hebron. Hebron "was about nine geographical, or between ten and eleven English, miles from Gaza, situated in a deep, narrow valley, with high hills on either side." It is approached from Gaza over a high ridge, from the top of which Hebron becomes visible, lying in the valley below at fifty minutes' distance. This spot would suit very well the description, "the hill that is before Hebron." Some, however, think that the hill called el Montar, about three-quarters of an hour from Gaza, on the road to Hebron, is here meant, and that the plain before Hebron merely means towards, as in Genesis 18:16; Deuteronomy 32:49.
Sorek. See Judges 14:5, note. The name has not yet been discovered as applied to any existing spot; but Eusebius in the 'Onomasticon' speaks of a village Caphar-sorek as still existing near Zorah. The term valley (nachal) describes a wady, i.e. a narrow valley with a stream.
Lords. See Judges 3:3, note,' His great strength lieth—literally, wherein (or by what means) his strength is great. They guessed that it was through some charm or secret amulet that his Herculean might was nourished. Eleven hundred pieces, or shekels, of silver. The whole sum promised by the five lords would be no less than 5500 shekels, equal to about £620 of our money. The curious notation, eleven hundred pieces, occurs again Judges 17:2. The reason of it is unknown.
As another man—literally, as one of men, i.e. of mankind, not different from other men. As regards the word rendered withs, it is not certain whether strings of cat-gut are not meant In Psalms 11:2 the same word is used of a bow-string. The word rendered green means fresh or new, and might be equally applied to catgut strings or withs.
There were men lying in wait—literally, and the liers in wait were abiding for her in the chamber. She had hid some three or four men in the chamber unknown to Samson, that they might be ready to fall upon him should his strength really have departed from him. The word for liers in wait is in the singular number, but is to be taken collectively, as in Judges 20:33, Judges 20:36-38. In Judges 20:37 it is joined to a plural verb. It is to be presumed that through some concerted signal the liers in wait did not discover themselves.
Wherewith, or rather, as in Judges 16:8, by what means.
Ropes—literally, twisted things; hence cords or ropes, as Psalms 2:3; Isaiah 5:18. Occupied—an old obsolete phrase, for which we should now say used.
Took new ropes. She had them by her, apparently, or could easily procure them, as it is not said that the lords brought them to her. And there were liers. Rather, as before, and the liers in wait were abiding, etc. Each time she had persuaded the lords that Samson had divulged his secret, and that she would deliver him into the hands of the men whom they sent.
The seven locks, by which we learn that his mass of hair as a Nazarite was arranged in seven locks or plaits. His resistance was becoming weaker, and he now approached the dangerous ground of his unshorn hair. With the web. This must mean the warp, which was already fastened in the loom, and across which Samson s locks were to be woven as the woof.
And she fastened it with the pin. The Septuagint and many commentators understand that she used the pin (it is the common word for a tent pin) to fasten the loom or frame to the ground, or to the wall. But a good sense comes out if we understand the phrase to mean, So she struck with the shuttle, i.e. she did what Samson told her to do, viz; wove his locks into the warp which was already prepared. This was done by successive strokes of the shuttle, to which the hair was fastened. To strike with the peg or shuttle may have been the technical phrase for throwing the shuttle with the woof into the warp; and it is a strong argument in favour of this interpretation that it makes her action the simple fulfilment of his directions. He said, "Weave my locks into the warp. So she struck with the shuttle." With the pin of the beam, and with the web. The Hebrew word 'ereg cannot mean the beam, as it is here translated; it is the substantive of the verb to weave in Judges 16:13. Its obvious meaning, therefore, is the woof. The pin of the woof, therefore, is the shuttle ,with the woof attached to it, i.e. Samson's hair, which was firmly woven into the warp. He went away with. This is the same word as was applied in Judges 16:3 to his plucking up the gateposts. Now, with the strength of his neck, he tore up the shuttle which fastened his hair to the warp, and so dragged the whole solid frame along with it. However, as we do not know the technical term of the art of the weaving among the Hebrews and Philistines, nor the precise construction of their looms, some obscurity necessarily attaches to this description.
Thy great strength lieth—as before, Judges 16:6, thy strength is great.
So that. Omit so. The meaning is, that in consequence of her daily solicitation his soul was vexed (Judges 10:16) to death—literally, was so short, so impatient, as to be at the point to die.
That he told her. This begins a new sentence. Read, And he told her. Any other man. Rather, like all men. Man, though singular in the Hebrew, is collective as in Judges 16:7, and as the lier in wait in Judges 16:9 and Judges 16:12, and is properly rendered men in English.
He hath showed me. So the Keri; but the written text has her instead of me, which is favoured by the tense of the verb came up. If her is the true reading, these words would be the addition of the messenger, explaining why she told them to come up once more, or of the narrator, for the same purpose. Brought money. It should be the money, the stipulated bribe (Judges 16:5).
She called for a man. It is she called to the man—the man whom she had secreted in the chamber before she put Samson to sleep, that he might cut off the locks. She caused him to shave. In the Hebrew it is she shaved, but it probably means that she did so by his instrumentality. She began to afflict, or humble, him. His strength began to wane immediately his locks began to be shorn, and it was all gone by the time his hair was all cut off.
And shake myself, i.e. shake off the Philistines who encompass me; but when he said so he knew not that the Lord had departed from him, and that he was indeed become weak like other men (see a fine sermon of Robert Hall's from this text).
Put out his eyes. One of the cruel punishments of those times (see Numbers 16:14; 2 Kings 25:7), and still, or till quite lately, practised by Oriental despots to make their rivals incapable of reigning. So King John, in Shakespeare, ordered Arthur s eyes to be put out with a hot iron (King John, Act IV. scene 1.). Herodotus says that the Scythians used to put out the eyes of all their slaves. He did grind—the most degrading form of labour, the punishment of slaves among the Greeks and Romans (see too Isaiah 47:2).
Presumption leading to a fall.
One of the most instructive observations we can make with a view to our own guidance is that of the extreme danger of self-confidence. Humility is of the very essence of the Christian character, and the moment that presumption takes the place of humility the danger to the soul commences. Now humility is not necessarily an underrating of our own powers or our own gifts. Our powers are just what they are, and our gifts are of a certain value, neither more nor less, and there is no reason why we should not appraise them at their true value. Samson did not overrate his strength when he submitted to be bound by the men of Judah, nor when he put the gates of Gath upon his shoulders, and carried them to the hill over against Hebron. But the transition to presumption commences as soon as we forget that we have nothing which we have not received, and begin to use what we have for our own purposes, and not for God's glory, and reckon upon its continuance, whatever use we make of it. When a gift or power generates self-conceit, as if it originated with ourselves, presumption has begun; the use of it for our own glorification is the next step; security in its continuance, however much we abuse it, is the third stage of presumption. We seem to see this in the history of Samson. He was the child of prayer, and of great expectations. From his mother's womb he was consecrated to God in the bonds of a special covenant. From his birth he had the special blessing of God resting upon him. From his youth he was moved in an extraordinary manner by the Spirit of the Lord. Before his birth he was announced as the deliverer of Israel. To enable him to fulfil his grand destiny, he was endowed with supernatural strength; and to mark how entirely that strength was God's gift, it was tied to the outward sign of his Nazarite vow, his unshorn locks. But very early he began to show a certain unfitness for his great task. His marriage with the Timnathite was a distinct downward step from the platform of heroic self-consecration to the service of God. That God designed to make use of that act in forwarding his own purposes does not in the least affect its nature as a subordination of high spiritual resolves to self-will and carnal lusts. Again, in his assaults upon the Philistines we see much more of a wayward resentment of personal injuries than of enlightened patriotic efforts to deliver his country from a degrading foreign yoke. His wife betrays his secret, so the Philistines of Ashkelon are slaughtered and plundered; his wife is given to another man by her father, so the whole country is wasted with fire to avenge the wrong; she is put to death, and he avenges her death by a great slaughter of her countrymen. His visit to Gaza, and the extraordinary feat of carrying away the gates upon his shoulders, savoured more of the wanton display of great powers for self-glorification than of a sanctified use of them for God's glory. But it is in the painful transaction with Delilah that we chiefly see that presumptuous abuse of great gifts which precedes a great fall. Unwarned by the previous treachery of Philistine women, unmindful of previous deliverances from imminent peril by the mercy of God, he gave himself up to the wantonness of self-confidence. Either not seeing or despising her designs for his destruction, he went on step by step toward his ruin, as an ox goeth to the slaughter; he tampered with his solemn vow as a Nazarite, which hitherto he had respected, and placed it at the mercy of a heathen harlot, and never woke from his delusion and presumption till he found himself a helpless captive in the hands of his enemies, deprived of his eyesight and of his liberty, an object of scorn, and, still worse, an occasion of blasphemy against God. The lesson is a striking one in every way, and it is one much needed; for nothing is more common, or more fruitful in falls and failures, than a selfish misuse of God's gifts, and a presumptuous confidence in the possession of them. We see it in men like Napoleon Buonaparte. A giant in abilities, but those abilities were used only for self-exaltation. Success led him on to blind self-confidence. He thought his power was his own, and could never be taken from him. He fell at last into the wantonness and fatuity of presumption, acting with incredible folly, and bringing upon himself an utter ruin. But we see the same thing with regard to spiritual gifts. The possession of spiritual discernment, or of eloquence in expounding the word of God, or of influence over men, begets conceit. The sense of having only what God has given us, and of being tenants at will of his mercies, becomes weakened, and spiritual pride is permitted to grow. Then men begin to use their gifts unfaithfully, i.e. not with a single eye to the glory of God and the good of men's souls, but for themselves. They use them and display them to feed their own vanity, to increase their own consequence and importance. They use them to gather parties around themselves of which they may be the heads and leaders. Sometimes they use them for gain. for filthy lucre, seeking the advancement of their own worldly interests, while they are ostensibly working for God. Every kind and degree of such a spirit needs to be carefully guarded against and nipped in the very bud. That simplicity of aim and purpose which was so sublimely apparent in the words and works of the Lord Jesus should be the mark which his disciples should constantly strive to attain. The work which is done partly for a man's self is only half done. The work which is done entirely for God is done wholly. The thorough practical feeling that all our gifts and powers, be they great or small, are given to us by God for his service is a great help towards such pure and righteous use of them. But we must not forget that there is a further stage of this abuse of spiritual gifts which can only end in a grievous fall. God is very patient and long-suffering, and puts up, maybe, with our lesser offences in this respect, only gently rebuking us, and giving us significant warnings of our danger. But if these warnings are neglected, the state of presumption may grow till there is no remedy. In this state of mind men rush into temptation as if there could be no danger for them. They repudiate or neglect prayer, as if prayer was not needful for them. They lose all the marks of a gracious soul, and yet they are not frightened at their absence. And then comes a fall, maybe into the gross darkness of unbelief, maybe into the abyss of sensual sin, which to the world seems sudden, but which had really been steadily advancing through the successive stages of presumption and self-confidence. The Spirit of the Lord departs from them, and Satan enters into them. Gifts without grace unprofitable. But we cannot dismiss the sad history of Samson without the reflection that gifts, however splendid, and powers, however eminent, are useless without the grace to use them aright. What might not Samson have effected for his country and his generation if his extraordinary strength had been used humbly, wisely, and consistently in the service of God and for the good of Israel! If his own passions of lust, and anger, and revenge had been under the control of that Holy Spirit which so wondrously strengthened his body, and his single aim had been to walk with God and do good to man, what a career his would have been! But as it was all went to waste. Desultory actions leading to no lasting result, mighty efforts followed by shameful weakness, and heroic courage defeated by his own imbecility of purpose, made a life all marred and blotted, aimless and purposeless—a brilliant disappointment, a splendid failure, a glorious shame. But it has left this further lesson to be weighed and pondered by us all, and especially by those who are most richly endowed with intellectual or spiritual gifts, that while God can accomplish his own designs through our abuse as well as our use of his good gifts, and through our failures as well as through our successes, it rests with ourselves to improve each talent committed to us, and so to use them that they may be found unto our own honour and praise and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
God redeeming the error of his servant.
The visit to the "harlot" is not to be explained away. The character of Samson explains its nature. This was the side where he was weak, the love of women. His sensuality betrays him into a great danger. God shows his affection for his servant, and for Israel whom he had delivered: by granting strength for a signal and unexpected escape which was marked by trophies covering his enemies with shame.
I. WE OUGHT TO BEWARE OF A ONE-SIDED MORALITY. External morality, like Samson the Nazarite's, is almost certain to be of this kind. The saint should leave no unguarded place. Only the indwelling of the Holy Ghost can deliver from besetting sins. The blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanseth from all sin.
II. A SINGLE SIN MAY UNDO THE FAME AND SUCCESS OF A LIFETIME.
III. WHEN SAINTS FALL INTO SIN THE WICKED TRIUMPH AND ARE CONFIDENT OF THEIR RUIN. The conception which the world has of sainthood is one of perfect external blamelessness, the least infraction of which is hailed as utter failure. When one failing like this is discovered, many more are imagined. How sure are these cowards of the capture of their foe! Or do they only seem to be so, using words of confidence and procrastination to conceal their inward fear? Is there not an unsounded mystery, etc; that cannot be calculated upon, in the defections of God's people? What and if Peter be restored again? The awaking of him whom God rouses from fleshly slumbers will ever take the wicked by surprise. The evil is that the Church too often shares the world's view about the irrecoverableness of backsliders. How often have God's saints been able to shout, "Rejoice not over me, O mine enemy!"
IV. THE GRACE OF GOD SOMETIMES DELIVERS HIS SERVANTS FROM THE CONSEQUENCES OF THEIR OWN FOLLY AND SIN. Sometimes, but not always. Frequently enough for hope, but not for presumption. But the victory will be wholly his own. The trophy of deliverance will reflect no credit upon the delivered one. He would rather deliver us from our sin itself. He has promised that he will heal our backslidings.
V. THE TEMPORARY TRIUMPHS OF SIN ARE SWALLOWED UP IN THE ETERNAL REDEMPTIONS OF GOD. The gates of Gaza, the chief city of Philistia, are lifted off and carried to the top of the hill beside Hebron, the chief city of Judah. Every Israelite could see them in their exalted place of exhibition. So shall it be with the victories of the Lamb. He in whom was no sin, but who was made sin for us, shall deliver from all sin, and make us "more than conquerors." The seed of Abraham was to "possess the gate of its enemies" (Genesis 22:17; cf. Genesis 24:60). The gates of hell shall not prevail against the kingdom of Christ.—M.
Samson's betrayal and fall.
The long-suffering of God, which the saints are exhorted (2 Peter 2:15) to account salvation, is in Samson s case presumed upon, and the besetting sin at last finds him out. The sin is single, but it is not the first of its kind, nor is it isolated. The years of self-indulgence were preparing for this—a mad revel of voluptuousness and a deliberate denial of Jehovah. The scenes of this tragedy have a typical interest, and they are sketched lightly but indelibly by a master hand. In the gradual but deliberate breaking of his vow we have a parallel to Peter's threefold denial of his Lord.
I. SENSUALITY LULLS THE SOUL INTO A FATAL SLUMBER, AND DESTROYS ITS SENSE OF DUTY AND ITS CAPACITY FOR USEFULNESS.
II. COMPANIONS IN GUILT MAY DO US MORE HARM THAN OUR WORST ENEMIES. Here the serviceableness of Delilah is at once perceived by her fellow-countrymen, and they hasten to make use of her. The bribe offered, not necessarily ever paid, not only shows the importance of Samson in their eyes, but the value they set upon the influence of this lustful woman. How much mischief can a single transgressor do, not only directly, but through influence! Here it was not only a man betrayed to his enemies, but a soul undone. "What shall a man give," etc. "He knoweth not that the dead are there, and that her guests are in the depths of hell" (Proverbs 9:15-18). The harlot's house, and what it introduces to.
III. THE UNGODLY MISAPPREHEND THE SECRET AND NATURE OF SPIRITUAL STRENGTH. The Philistines evidently thought Samson's power lay in the efficacy of some charm. It is this they seek to obtain. They are incapable of thinking of a higher influence. Samson accordingly plays with this superstitious fancy, giving at the same time in each of his answers a parabolic or riddle-like shadowing forth of the true secret. So Satan and his servants tempt the Christian by altering the outward circumstances of life, associations, habits, etc; through which the life works, but of which it is independent. Until the saint yields it up, the secret of his life with God is safe.
IV. EVEN IN THE MOMENT AND CRISIS OF SPIRITUAL DOWNFALL THERE ARE DIVINE INTERPOSITIONS, RETARDATIONS, AND OCCASIONS FOR REPENTANCE. The Spirit of God was evidently working through the mind of Samson, and suggesting the evasive riddles, parables, etc; that seeing they might not see, etc. The question of his downfall is thereby brought several times before himself ere it actually takes place. So Peter and the cock-crow. In how many lives is this providential method illustrated! Temptation is played with until, constrictor-like, it springs upon its prey. Recollections of childhood's lessons, early scenes, etc. are very potent at such times.
V. WHEN THE SAINT'S VOW TO GOD IS BROKEN, ALL IS LOST. The secret is out, and the charmed life is helpless. A wreck of a man. Nothing left but the memory of an irreparable past and the burden of self-wrought helplessness. There are no ruins so pitiful as those of men who once were saints and Christian workers, Sunday-school teachers, ministers, etc. How dark is the world and life when the soul's light has gone out! With God the weakest is strong, without him the strongest is weak. "His eyes, blinded by sensuality, saw not the treason; soon, blinded by the enemy, he should see neither sun, nor men, but only God. That done, he turned back, and God came back to him" (Lange).—M.
And he wist not that the Lord (Jehovah)was departed from him.
A common state with many in Christ's Church. They are useless, helpless, and miserable, and they do not realise its significance. They try the customary methods, duties, etc; but fail to produce the looked-for results. They "go out as at other times before," but still is the spirit bound. Hitherto the Philistines knew not the secret of his strength, now he does not realise the secret of his weakness.
I. SPIRITUAL IGNORANCE RESULTS FROM SPIRITUAL DOWNFALL. This is a partial converse of "he that doeth the word shall know of the doctrine." A mark of those in whom the truth is not, is that they deceive themselves; they fancy they are still the same as formerly. How subtle yet infinite is this distinction—with God, without God!
II. THE LOSS SUSTAINED BY THE FALLEN SOUL IS GREATER THAN IT REALISES. Only gradually does the experience work itself out, in a Judas's remorse or a Peter's repentance. Samson thought his strength merely had gone—it was God, the Giver of his strength. "Whoever has God knows it; whomsoever he has left knows it not" (Lange).—M.
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY
Samson's weakness is twofold. Through lack of moral strength he reveals the secret of his physical strength, and is thus betrayed into the loss of this also.
I. SAMSON'S MORAL WEAKNESS. This is the man's great failing, apparent throughout his history, but reaching a climax in the present incident. Physical endowments are no guarantees for spiritual graces. Must not some of our young athletic barbarians of the aristocracy, adored by the multitude for chest and muscle, be condemned by true standards of judgment for contemptible weakness of character? Such weakness is far more deplorable than the bodily weakness of palsy and paralysis. St. Paul was considered miserably deficient an physical power and presence (2 Corinthians 10:10), yet his strength of soul exalts the apostle immeasurably above Samson. The moral weakness of Samson is illustrated by the circumstances of his great defeat.
1. Sin. Samson was neglecting his duty and degrading himself with those evil communications which corrupt good manners. There is nothing so enervating as the conscious pursuit of a guilty course.
2. Pleasure. Instead of toiling, fighting, and sacrificing himself for his country, Samson was wasting his hours in pleasure. Apart from the wrongness of this conduct, the lax, self-indulgent spirit it engendered was weakening. In seasons of pleasure we are off our guard.
3. The allurements of false affection. Samson can resist a host of Philistine warriors, but he cannot resist one Philistine woman. Strong against rude violence, he is weak before soft persuasion. Pure love is the loftiest inspiration for self-sacrificing devotion; but love degraded and corrupted is the deadliest poison to purity of character and vigour and independence of action. How many saints and heroes have found their humiliation in the same snares which caught the strong Samson and the famous St. Antony!
4. The self-confidence of strength. Samson plays with the curiosity of Delilah, sure of the power which will come to his aid in the moment of danger, till by degrees he is persuaded to betray the secret of that very power. Had he been less strong, he would have been less rash. Presumption is more dangerous than conscious weakness (1 Corinthians 10:12).
II. SAMSON'S PHYSICAL WEAKNESS. This resulted from his moral weakness. In the end the faults of the inner life will bear fruit in trouble to the outer life.
1. Samson's strength was a Divine gift. He had not attained it by self-discipline nor merited it by service. It was a talent intrusted to his care to be used for God. What God gives God can withhold.
2. Samson's strength was derived from spiritual sources. Samson was not a mere prodigy of brute force. He was one of God's heroes, and the glory of his strength lay in this fact, that it was the outcome of an inspiration. The most exalted powers we have for earthly work are derived from spiritual sources. If these sources are cut off, the energies which issue from them will be exhausted. Samson grows weak through the departure of the Spirit of the Lord.
3. Samson's strength depended on his observance of the Nazarite's vow. When the vow was broken the strength fled. God has a covenant with his people. He is always true to his side, but if we fail on ours the covenant is void and the blessings dependent on it cease.
(1) The vow of the Nazarite implied consecration to God. God bestows graces on us so long as we live to him, but our departure from him necessitates the just withholding of those graces.
(2) The vow required obedience to certain regulations. These were trivial in themselves; but the obligation of obedience is determined not by the importance of the commands given, but by the authority of the person giving them. Disobedience is shown not to the law, but to the authority. A small test may be sufficient to reveal this. Disobedience to God is the fundamental element of all sin, and, as in Samson' s case, it will be the sure cause of our ruin.—A.
God's departure from the soul unrecognised.
"He wist not that the Lord was departed from him."
I. THE FACT.
1. There are men whom God has forsaken. No man is utterly forsaken by God; our continued existence is an evidence of the continued presence of him in whom we live and move and have our being. But the fuller presence of God, that which secures strength and blessing, may depart.
2. His departure is the greatest curse which can fall upon a man. The consequences of it are weakness, shame, ruin. The conscious realisation of it is hell.
3. The cause of this departure of God is in the conduct of men, not in the will of God. Samson forsook God before God forsook him. God does not visit his people casually, and only for seasons; he abides, and will never leave them (Isaiah 41:17) till they wilfully depart from him.
4. A past enjoyment of God's presence is no guarantee against his future departure. God is not only absent from those who never knew him, he departs from some in whose hearts he has once dwelt. If the Christian has left his first love, he will find that all his previous experience of God's blessings will not secure him against the dreary night of a godless life.
II. THE IGNORANCE OF THE FACT. Samson was unconscious of the fearful loss he had sustained. So there are men who retain their honoured position in Christian society and in the Church while, even unknown to themselves, the source of the life which gave it them is ebbing away. The causes of this ignorance should be traced.
1. The presence of God is spiritual, inward, silent, secret, and his departure makes no outward sign.
2. Old habits continue for a season after the impetus behind them has ceased, as the train runs for a while after the steam has been shut off.
3. God may leave us gradually as we forsake him by degrees. The fall is not sudden and violent, rather it is a quiet gliding back; and the loss of Divine grace is not often (as in the case of Samson) sudden, but little by little it leaves us.
4. One of the worst effects of God' s departure is that it leaves us in a state of spiritual indifference. As with the death which follows extreme cold, the very fatality lies in the fact that the more dangerous our condition is, the more numbed are our faculties to any feeling of distress. The man from whom God has departed has neither the keenness of con- science to discern the fact, nor the feeling of concern to take any notice of Judges 2:5. The tests of God's absence are not always immediately applied. The rotten tree stands till the storm strikes it; the corpse mocks sleep till corruption ensues; Samson does not know of God's departure till the Philistines are on him. But though postponed for a season, the revelation must come in the end. How much better to discover the evil first by self-examination! (2 Corinthians 13:5).—A.
Gathered them, i.e. themselves. To rejoice. The Hebrew is for a festivity, or merry-making, or feast. There was to be a great feast upon the sacrifices offered to Dagon their God. Dagon (from dag, a fish in Hebrew), the national male god of the Philistines, as Atergatis, or Derceto, was their goddess. Both the male and female divinities seem to have had the head and breast and hands human, and the rest of the body fish-shaped (see 1 Samuel 5:5). The fish was a natural emblem of fertility and productiveness, especially to a maritime people. The fish-shaped idol is found upon old Phoenician coins, and also on the monuments of Khorsabad, and on some Assyrian gems in the British Museum. One of the chief temples of Dagon was at Gaza. Several towns bore the name of Dagon, as Beth-dagon in Judah (Joshua 15:41) and in Asher (Joshua 19:27), Caphar-dagon near Diospolis, etc; showing that the worship of Dagon was widespread.
And when the people, etc. The people, as distinguished from the lords in the preceding verse, to show how universally the capture of Samson was ascribed to Dagon. Rulers and people alike praised Dagon. Saw him. Not on the occasion of his being brought into the temple as mentioned in Judges 16:25, but after his capture, and whenever they saw him grinding or elsewhere. It was this universal ascription of praise to Dagon that led to the celebration of this great feast. This praise of Dagon is also dwelt upon to show that God, in what happened, vindicated the glory of his own great name, which was blasphemed by the servants of Dagon when they thus made him superior to Jehovah. So Milton makes Samson say, "All the contest is now 'Twixt God and Dagon ... He, be sure, will not connive or linger, thus provoked, but will arise, and his great name assert." Generally, the 'Samson Agonistes' is an excellent commentary on the history of Samson.
When their hearts were merry. They would not have acted so imprudently as to bring Samson out of his prison had not their judgment been clouded with drink. That he may make us sport. And he made them sport. The two verbs are not the same in Hebrew, but they have much the same meaning. It is not certain whether the idea conveyed is that of the A.V; that Samson was brought there to be as it were baited by the populace, jeered and jested at, reviled and reproached, perhaps struck or pelted; or whether the words do not simply mean to dance with music, which is certainly the meaning of the latter verb in 1 Samuel 18:7 (played, A.V.; see 1 Samuel 18:6); 2Sa 6:5, 2 Samuel 6:21; 1 Chronicles 13:8; 1 Chronicles 15:29. They set him between the pillars, i.e. when he had done dancing; because he must have been dancing outside the house for the people on the roof to see him.
Suffer me, or it may be rendered, Let me rest. He pretended to be tired, and asked to be allowed to rest a few minutes and lean against the pillars. That I may feel, or, literally, and make me feel. He adds his motive for making the request—that I may lean upon them—to rest himself after the severe exercise of dancing.
Now the house was full, etc. We do not know what was the construction of Philistine temples or houses of amusement; but from the description here given it seems that the interior was ranged like an amphi- theatre, with seats for the lords and principal people, and with an open front, so as to command a view of the stage just outside, and that front supported by pillars on which the beams of the roof, both the transverse beam and the longitudinal ones running into it, rested. The roof itself was fiat, and had the weight of 3000 people upon it, throwing a great strain upon the beams which rested upon the pillars. The sudden removal of the pillars would bring the roof down at that end, crowded as it was with the people, and would inevitably drag the whole mass in the same direction one over another, while the swaying of the people would bring the whole roof down upon the heads of those beneath, who would be crushed by the heavy timbers and stones and bodies of men falling upon them.
And Samson called unto the Lord. This is the first mention we have of Samson praying since the memorable occasion when he gave the fountain the name of En-hakkoreh (Judges 15:19, note). Perhaps we may see in this an evidence that his affliction and shame had not been without their effect, in bringing him back to God humbled and penitent. The language is very earnest. "O Lord, Jehovah, remember me strengthen me only this once, O God!" The threefold name by which he addresses the Almighty implies great tension of spirit. That I may be at once avenged. Meaning at one stroke—he would take one vengeance so terrible that it would be sufficient for his two eyes, which makes very good sense if the Hebrew will bear it. The literal translation would be, that I may be avenged with a vengeance of one stroke. Others take it, that I may be avenged with a vengeance for one of my two eyes, which it is not easy to understand the meaning of.
The two middle pillars. There may have been, say, four pillars in the front; the two middle ones standing near together, and the other two nearer the sides.
Let me die, or, my life shall perish with the Philistines. He knew it was certain death to himself, but he did not shrink from it. His last act should be to destroy the oppressors of his country. So the dead which he slew, etc. The words sound like the snatch of some song or proverb in which Samson's death was described.
His brethren, etc. Some infer from this that Samson's mother bare other children after the birth of Samson. But the Hebrew use of the word brethren is so wide, applied to cousins, or members of the same house of fathers, or of the same tribe, that it is by no means a certain inference. Here his brethren might mean the Danites generally, and all the house of his father those who were more nearly related, as belonging to the house of his father. His father was probably dead, and indeed the mention of his father's burying-place, or rather sepulchre, makes it certain that he was, so that Milton was in error in making him alive. Zorah and Eshtaol. See above, Judges 13:2, Judges 13:25, note. And he judged Israel. See Judges 15:20. The parallel between Samson and Hercules is in many respects very remarkable, and has been drawn out by Serdrius and others. The supernatural strength of each, the slavery to women, the tearing asunder of the lion, the violent death of each, partly voluntary and partly forced, are all points of strong general resemblance. But one of the most remarkable is the connection of Hercules with two pillars. The "pillars of Hercules" on each side the straits of Gibraltar, Mount Abila and Mount Calpe, were said to have been rent asunder by the strength of Hercules' arms. And Herodotus relates that in the temple of Hercules at Tyre were two remarkable pillars, one of refined gold, the other of smaragdus, some green stone like an emerald (2:44). But the account given of a visit of Hercules to Egypt is still more remarkable, as compared with the history of the binding of Samson and the slaughter of the Philistines, as related in Judges 15:1-20. The following are the words of Herodotus:—"The Greeks say that when Hercules went down to Egypt, the Egyptians surrounded him, and led him in a procession to sacrifice him to Jupiter; that he kept quite still for a time, but that when they were commencing the sacrifice at the altar" (the first act of which was cutting off the hair) "he turned in self-defence, and by his prowess slew them all." On which Herodo. tus remarks, "How was it possible for him, being but one, and being only a man, to slay many myriads?" The prevalence of the worship of Hercules among the Phoenicians, as, e.g; at Tyre and Thasos, a Phoenician colony, and the close connection of Egypt with Gaza, where the prowess of Samson was so well known, are points not to be omitted in considering the probability of some of the legends of Hercules being drawn from the history of Samson. So also is the title of the Phoenician Hercules, the saviour or deliverer, as compared with Judges 2:16, Judges 2:18; Judges 13:5.
The short-lived triumph.
One of the severest trials to which the faith of the people of God is exposed, is that triumph of evil over good, and of the enemies of Christ over his Church, which from time to time is permitted by God, and which in truth is one of the features of this disjointed age. The most signal and most awful triumph of the powers of darkness over the kingdom of light was when the only-begotten Son of God, Jesus our Lord, in the midst of his life of perfect goodness, and his service of perfect obedience to the will of his Father, was betrayed into the hands of sinners, and given up to suffer death upon the cross. When he hung in shame upon the cross, helpless and forsaken; when he bowed his head and gave up the ghost; when he was laid in the silent tomb, and the light of the righteous One was quenched in the darkness of the grave, then indeed the triumph of sin was at its height, and the hope of the servants of God was brought very low. But when on the third day the doors of that grave were burst open, and the prisoner of hope came forth in the power of an endless life, and he that was crucified ascended up to heaven, and sat down on the right hand of the majesty on high, from thenceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool, that brief triumph of the powers of darkness was turned into the far greater triumph of the kingdom of light; the enemies of Christ were put to shame, the servants of Christ were enabled to rejoice, and the joyful hope was exceedingly revived and established, that in due time there will be a final deliverance from evil, and that the kingdom is God's, and the power and the glory for ever. In the light of the resurrection the Church looks forward with unmoved confidence to the time when the Son of man shall come in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory, and shall take to himself his everlasting kingdom of righteousness, and reign with his ancients gloriously. But meanwhile the Church must expect many short-lived triumphs of evil over good, and of darkness over light. There will be many occasions on which the world will say, Let us rejoice, for our god hath delivered our enemy into our hand. We may expect that many an isolated affair, or even a connected chain of events, will take that turn that the servants of Christ will be put to shame, and ungodliness and irreligion will seem to have it all their own way. It may even come to pass that the champions of the gospel shall seem fit only to make sport for an unbelieving and self-sufficient age. Nor is it the least part of the trial that some of these discomfitures are brought on by the errors and failures of the servants of God. The presumption and self-confidence, the blindness and moral weakness, of some like Samson; the intemperate, fiery spirit of others like the Boanerges; the fear of man in others like Peter, and so on, provoke defeat by putting religion in a false light in the eyes of those who are always looking out for occasions to bring it into contempt. But in the midst of these trials of faith, whether they take the form of private discouragements, or of public checks to the progress of religion, and public triumphs of the spirit of ungodliness, it is the Church's unfailing comfort to know that the triumphs of evil are short-lived, and the triumph of truth is eternal. Magna est veritas et proevalet. We should never forget for one moment that behind the passing cloud there is shining the unchanging sun. The faith and patience of the saints are indeed required, sometimes more, sometimes less, but are always required in this present age. The depression of the truth, the insolent aggressions of the various forms of evil, the discomfiture for a time of the champions of the cause of Christ, and the temporary victories of Antichrist, are very painful episodes in the history of the world and of the Church. But the pages of Holy Scripture, and even the pages of the experience of centuries, continually testify that the triumphs of falsehood and evil are but for a moment, the victory of truth and righteousness will be for ever.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
A hero's exodus.
The blind captive, led by a boy, and degraded to the office of a buffoon in the idolatrous services of the Philistines, is a sad spectacle. But inwardly he was nobler than when carrying the gates of Gaza. His soul's eye has opened, and he repents. The locks that had been shorn grow again, and with them, gradually and, apparently, unconsciously, his strength returns. The Divinely-offered opportunity. The last act an atonement.
I. GOD OFTEN SUFFERS HIS ENEMIES TO OVERLEAP THEMSELVES. Here they are exultant. They rejoice as over a foe utterly vanquished. They do not know that their festival, blasphemy against God, is to be the occasion of their destruction. "The green bay tree" may be nearer to the axe than insignificant fruit tree.
II. THERE IS AN "UNKNOWN QUANTITY," NOT TO BE CALCULATED UPON, IN THE REPENTANCE OF THE BACKSLIDER. Even the ruin of a believer may be the temple of the Holy Ghost. A short time with God's blessing may suffice to retrieve the errors of a lifetime. "Faith as a grain of mustard seed" can "remove mountains." How often has Satan been disappointed of his prey! Some of the greatest of God's servants have been won back from backsliding. Let the wicked beware then of their companion and laughing-stock, and let the believing Church work on; the poor useless wreck over which we despairingly weep may yet become a man again, a blessing and a comfort to many souls.
III. THE PRAYER OF REPENTANCE AND FAITH MAY RETRIEVE A SOUL'S RUIN. Can God give ear to this heart-touching cry, and shall he not listen to his captive children in the dungeons of sinful habit or the temples of superstition? "This once," "only this once." One prayer, one look at the Crucified, one grand effort in God's strength, how much it may do I
IV. EVEN THE WEAK ONES OF GOD ARE MIGHTIER THAN THE GREAT ONES OF THE WORLD.—M.
Samson's heroic death.
The death of Samson was more honourable to the man and more useful to his nation than any event in his previous career. The heroism of his death followed the return of God's strength.
I. THE RETURN OF STRENGTH.
1. It followed a great fall. We may learn lessons from our own failures. Through our very weakness we may discern the secret of strength. The humility which should accompany failure is one of the first steps towards wiser conduct.
2. It came in a season of distress. Samson was a prisoner, defeated, insulted, mutilated. Sorrow is one road to God's grace,
(1) as it teaches us the folly of the evil conduct that produced it,
(2) as it leads us into a mood of serious and heart-searching reflection in which true wisdom is found, and
(3) as it teaches us our helplessness, and compels us to turn to God for deliverance.
3. The return of strength followed a return to obedience. This was suggested by the growing of Samson's hair and the return to fidelity to his vow. It was gradual. We are received into God's favour immediately we return in penitent faith; but we only conquer evil consequences of sin and regain lost powers and position by degrees.
4. The return of strength was realised through prayer. Samson now knows his weakness. In his own soul he is weak. Strength must come from above. There is no prayer which God will more certainly hear than that which invokes his aid in our performance of some great self-sacrificing duty.
II. THE HEROIC DEATH.
1. Samson uses his new strength for the deliverance of his nation. It is not given him merely for the amusement of the Philistines. If God gives us any special powers, he does so for some high purpose. We must not waste these in idle amusements, but put them to practical service.
2. Samson can only accomplish the greatest feat of his life by means that bring death to himself
(1) This was partly a result of his sinful weakness, which had betrayed him into the bands of his enemies, and brought him to such a position of bondage that his own death must be involved in that of the Philistines. Thus sin leaves consequences which produce suffering even after repentance and a return to a better life.
(2) It was also an instance of that strange law which makes the greatest good to men depend on the sacrifice of the benefactor. It has thus something in common with the death of Christ, though with many points of difference, Samson's death involving the destruction of his enemies, while Christ's death is expressly designed to give salvation to his enemies.—A.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Judges 16". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany