God Is the Real Hero
Topic: Expository Passage: Judges 14
During the 20th century superhero stories grew very popular through the rise of comic books, television, and movies. Today superhero stories are big business. For example, in 2009, Disney bought Marvel Entertainment and their rights to several popular superheroes for $4.24 billion. That’s a lot of money! I imagine that with all the superhero movies they’ve made since, they’ve probably recouped much of that money. People clearly love superheroes, and they make for compelling stories.
And over the next 3 weeks, Lord willing, we are going to look at what you might say is the oldest recorded superhero story—the story of Samson. After all Samson literally had super human strength. And he wasn’t just strong, because some of the things Samson did require incredible athleticism, not just strength.
But like many modern superheroes, he was also troubled and complex. At one moment he is cunning and brilliant and the next, he’s a complete idiot. At one moment he’s beating his chest with pride and the next his pouting like a spoiled child. As such he’s a complex personality to try to understand. Samson really is one of the most fascinating characters in the OT.
But as fascinating as he is, Samson is not the real hero of Judges 14–16. God is the real hero of the story. This is because ironically God accomplishes his redemptive purpose as much through Samson’s failures as he does through his victories (title).
This is especially clear in Judges 14, because the story is not so much built around Samson’s great feats as it is around his great failures. As such, my outline today is built around 4 of Samson’s failures that God used to begin accomplishing his sovereign purpose. Samson’s first failure was…
I. Samson desired a Philistine woman (vv. 1–4).
Remember from last Sunday that the Philistines are oppressing Israel making them the enemy of God’s kingdom purposes. This is because God had promised to make Israel a mighty kingdom wholly dedicated to himself. They were to be a “kingdom of priests” and a “light to the nations.” But the Philistines now stood in the way of God’s purpose.
But we saw last week that Israel didn’t seem to mind. I’m sure godly individuals grieved, but Judges never says that Israel as a whole cried out to the Lord for help. They seemed very content to let go of God’s promise and to blend in with Philistine culture. And it’s hard to overstate how devastating this would be to God’s redemptive and kingdom purposes. It would undo everything God had promised to Abraham and Moses, but that’s where Israel is headed. And even though Samson was a Nazirite whom God had set apart before birth to deliver Israel, we meet a man in v. 1 who is also very content blending in with Philistia.
He’s just hanging out in Timnah, which as you can see on the map, is only 4 miles, or an hour’s walk from Zorah, Samson’s hometown. Samson feels very comfortable among the Philistines, and they don’t mind him being there.
And while he is in Timnah, Samson spots a beautiful Philistine woman. He wants her, even though that was a clear violation of the Law and of God’s purpose to set Israel apart from their pagan neighbors as a holy nation.
So Samson goes home, and rather than obeying the 5th command to honor his father and mother, he harshly demands, “Get her for me as a wife.” Imagine how devastating this must have been for Manoah and Mrs. Manoah. God had said their son would deliver Israel from the Philistines, not marry one of them. So they challenge him to obey what God said (v. 3).
But Samson didn’t care. He wants what he wants. He curtly replies, “Get her for me, for she pleases me well.” The literally reading is, “She is right in my eyes.” Samson only cared about what “was right in his own eyes,” just as the theme verse of Judges says.
Samson says very clearly that he is unwilling to submit his passions to the law of God, and he’s going to keep doing this over and over with terrible consequences. It’s a good reminder that God’s Word is our authority. When he speaks, it doesn’t matter how much I want something; I must obey God. Maybe you are wrestling with some intense desire of your heart that you know God forbids. God’s will is often not easy, but it’s usually not complex. So look to God grace, obey his will, and say “no.”
Well, Samson’s parents had to be crushed. This is not how they expected the angel’s promise to be fulfilled. But then 4 follows with the key statement for the entire Samson narrative. That’s a rather shocking statement isn’t it? God says that Samson’s sinful and foolish choices were “of the Lord.”
To be clear the text does not say that God caused Samson to sin. God is holy, and the Scriptures are clear that he is never the direct cause of evil. Rather, Samson made his choices, and he is culpable for all of them. And yet God know how Samson would rebel, and he determined to use his rellion to further his purpose.
Yeah, none of us can fully understand this. But we better not respond by trying to bring God down to a level we can understand and in the process deny what Scripture The reality is that God is infinite, and finite minds will never fully understand the ways of God. Therefore, we must embrace the fact that God is holy, and he is also sovereign over every action of men including these sinful choices of Samson. And then we should just marvel at how he works. He is able to use even the rebellion of man to accomplish his will.
But it’s also important that we understand the role of this verse in the rest of the Samson story, because you can’t really understand Samson’s life unless you look at it through the lens of v. 4. Again, God was determined to break Israel free from the Philistines even though they had grown very content under the Philistine thumb. To do this God needed to create conflict between Philistia and Israel. That’s where Samson comes in. God used him to stir the pot and to drive these nations into conflict.
That’s why I said earlier that God is the hero of this story not Samson. After all God works as much through Samson’s failures as he does through his victories. God didn’t need a superhero to rescue Israel. His power and wisdom were more than enough. It’s a reminder to us that God doesn’t need any of us God can use a bumbling fool just as easily as a choice servant. And we should just be thankful that we get to go along for the ride, when God chooses to use us.
In sum, Samson’s choice of a Philistine woman is the 1st of 4 sinful choices in this chapter that begin to stir the conflict between Israel and Philistia that needed to happen in God’s purpose. Samson’s 2nd failure was…
II. Samson broke his Nazirite vow (vv. 5–9).
After Samson makes his demand, he and his parents head to Timnah to negotiate for a bride. Samson is out walking in the “vineyards of Timnah” when “a young lion came roaring against him.” When we read “young lion” we shouldn’t think of a small cub. Rather, this is probably a 2-3.5 year old male lion that is big enough that the older male drove him from the pride. As such he’s out looking for his own territory, trying to be macho. Therefore, young male lions are unusually aggressive, which helps explain the story.
And so Samson is walking along without any weapons when suddenly a full-grown lion comes charging toward him. Most of us would probably wet our pants and curl up in a ball, but, “the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him, and (Samson) tore the lion apart.”
It’s truly remarkable. It’s a story made for little boys. What could be manlier than killing a lion with your bare hands? Samson must have been incredibly athletic, agile, and reflexive. He was uniquely gifted of God.
If we killed a lion with our bare hands, we’d have pictures on FB and Instagram, and we’d be telling everyone. But Samson just nonchalantly goes on with his business, and he doesn’t even tell his parents what happened. He just goes back into town, and he and his parents secure his marriage to the Philistine woman and then travel back to Zorah.
Later on Samson travels back to Timnah for the wedding. He’s alone, and out of curiosity, he decides to see what happened to the dead lion. To his surprise there’s a beehive inside the lion’s carcass. That’s very unusual. Usually you’d find flies and maggots inside a rotting carcass, not bees.
But considering the fact that he scoops up some honey and eats it, it’s safe to assume that the hive was not in the middle of rotting flesh. That would just be disgusting. Maybe scavengers picked the carcass clean, and then now the hive was inside dried out bones. It could also be that the hot sun dehydrated the carcass so fast that it didn’t rot.
Regardless, the honey looks good, and Samson eats some. Not only that he gives some to his parents, though he doesn’t tell them where he got it. But why? Why do you think he didn’t tell them? For one they never would have eaten it had they known he got it from a dead carcass.
But the more significant reason is that Samson had to violate his Nazirite vow to eat the honey. Nazirites were not allowed to have any contact with dead bodies. But this honey was formed inside a dead body, and Samson had to put his hand inside the body at the very least to scoop up the honey.
We see again that Samson wasn’t all that concerned with obeying God’s law. Rather, just like he had done with the woman, when his eyes saw something he wanted, he followed his glands not the Law of the Lord.
So often our culture urges us to follow our heart, as if it’s some great virtue to be true to your desires. The problem is your heart is “deceitful and desperately wicked.” The Bible is the only certain guide to how you should live, so obey God’s Word, and then watch as obeying this book reshapes your heart into the likeness of Christ.
And so Samson disobeyed God again, but again, Samson’s disobedience couldn’t thwart the purposes of God. Instead, by eating the honey Samson sets the stage for the next step in God’s plan to stir up conflict between Israel and the Philistines. Of course this step is built on a 3rd set of sinful choices.
III. Samson lost a foolish bet (vv. 10–18).
After Samson gets the honey, he and his father meet up in Timnah for the marriage feast. It was customary for the groom to throw a seven-day feast, at the end of which he and his bride would consummate the marriage. And seeing as he is following Philistine custom, you’d have to assume that throwing such a feast would require Samson providing lots of alcohol. And knowing Samson, we can assume that he ignored his Nazirite vow and planned to drink it up with everyone else.
But 11 adds an interesting note. When Samson shows up to town and the Philistines see him, they recognize that Samson is no ordinary man. He was clearly a mighty warrior who ought to be feared, so “They brought 30 companions to be with him.” They weren’t a token of friendship; they were the muscle that was there to make sure Samson didn’t do any harm.
But Samson is a cocky guy who thinks he is virtually invincible, so he doesn’t feel threatened by these guys. Rather, he also thinks he is the smartest guy in the room, so he challenges them with a riddle. He proposes a fairly costly bet, because if they lost, they would each have to give Samson a linen garment or an undergarment, and a “change of clothing.” This would have been a nicer festal garment or their “Sunday best.” Most people would only have one of these garments, and it would be fairly expensive.
But they aren’t too concerned about losing, because it sounds like a really good gamble. One guy is going to challenge 30 guys, and they have 7 days to conglomerate to solve the riddle, so they accept the challenge.
Samson responds with the riddle (v. 14). It’s clear that Samson is not just a dumb jock. The riddle is highly poetic, and it’s built on 2 unusual paradoxes. The eater gives something to eat vs. eating himself, and the strong produces sweetness rather than harm.
The riddle is beautifully worded, but it’s also skillfully vague, and without firsthand knowledge of what Samson had done, it’s virtually impossible to solve. After 3 days of deliberation, the Philistines recognized they needed a different strategy.
As a result, they resort to an awful threat against Samson’s wife ( 15). They’re not messing around are they? And we know they mean it because the Philistines actually burn this family’s house down in chapter 15. Therefore, Samson’s wife has to decide where her loyalties lie, and as you would expect, they don’t ultimately lie with Samson and frankly, Samson’s loyalties aren’t with her either.
No this relationship was based on lust and selfish interest; it was never built on biblical love or a desire to honor God’s design for marriage. This becomes apparent in the conversation of v. 16. Samson’s wife loves “her people” more than Samson, and Samson trusts his parents more than he trusts her. I guess they didn’t read Genesis 2:24 where God says “A man shall leave his father and mother and be joined (i.e., cling) to his wife.”
As such she resorts to proven female strategy of laying on the tears. She cries and cries the last 4 days of the feast. She tells Samson he doesn’t love her. On and on she goes, and it’s sort of funny to picture Samson listening to this nonsense.
And again, Samson is not stupid, so I’m sure he knew exactly what she was doing. But Samson thinks he is invincible, so he doesn’t run from the situation; he just listens. But she continues to press him, until finally on the 7th day, Samson has had enough. Again, Samson is not one for discipline. Rather, he’s an impulsive slave to his passions. He probably just wants her to shut up so he can enjoy consummating the marriage without her crying in his ear. As a result he tells her the solution to the riddle. What a fool!
She runs off to tell the men the answer. And just before the feast ended with Samson consummating his marriage, the 30 men answer the riddle with their own 2-line poem (v. 18). The unthinkable has happened. Samson, who has always been the smartest, fastest, and strongest. He never loses.
He’s furious, and he replies with another 2-line poem (v. 18). It’s not a compliment to call your wife a heifer. I know because when Heidi was pregnant with James, I made the mistake a couple of times of comparing her pregnancy with my experiences on the farm. It didn’t go over so well. Heidi actually said, “Stop comparing me to a heifer,” to which I astutely replied, “I’m not, because a heifer has never been pregnant.” Sometimes, you just need to be quiet.
But on a serious note, you really do see Samson’s heart in this verse. He doesn’t love the Philistine woman; she just appealed to his eyes. And he is too proud to accept defeat; he has to throw her else under the bus. And he is angry about it all.
There is nothing honorable or heroic about Samson, and yet God is still pushing his sovereign purpose forward. Samson is no longer happy to mingle with the Philistines; he’s furious at them. And they don’t like him all that much either. God is getting the conflict that is necessary to keep Israel separate and to preserve his redemptive purpose. Don’t miss the fact that a lot more is at stake than a stupid riddle. And then God takes this conflict to another level with Samson’s 4th
IV. Samson murdered 30 Philistines (vv. 19–20).
Of course Samson never imagined he’d lose the bet, and doesn’t have 30 changes of clothing to spare, so he has to find another way to fulfill the vow. Incredibly, he goes down to Ashkelon (map), which was 23 miles from Timnah. He probably goes so far so that no one will connect the dots between the bet in Timnah and what he plans to do in Ashkelon.
And he uses his God-given power to kill 30 men in cold blood. He then takes their clothes, carries them back to Timnah, and fulfills his word. It’s just awful. And he’s so mad and so humiliated that he just leaves his wife and goes back to his parents’ home. He’s acting like a spoiled brat.
To add insult to injury, his father-in-law assumes that Samson has abandoned his wife, so he gives her to Samson’s best man.
It’s all so sad isn’t it? What a tragedy, and what a waste of God-given ability! It’s a sober warning of what happens when we become slaves to our lusts rather than slaves to God’s law. Satan tells us over and over that pursuing your lusts will make you happy and that God’s law is too restrictive. But the truth is that God’s law flows from his perfect wisdom and love. God’s will is often hard, but it is always best.
Therefore, don’t believe the lie that following the sinful passions of your heart is somehow virtuous. No, believe that God’s Word is good, stay anchored to it, and determine by the grace of God that you are going to obey everything Jesus demands. That might mean that you need to repent before God today of some area of rebellion. If that’s what you need to do, then do it today. Don’t stay in the rut. It may mean that you need to seek out help. If that’s the case, please come to us. Regardless, obey God’s Word.
And so we can learn a lot about our own struggle with temptation from this story, but again let’s make sure that we don’t miss the larger redemptive theme to this account.
Judges 14 is a powerful statement of the fact that God will establish his kingdom, and he will fulfill his redemptive plan. Israel’s rebellion and apathy couldn’t stop him, and neither could Samson’s foolishness and pride. Quite the opposite, God was quietly stirring the shadows through Samson’s sin to get his people where they needed to be.
I’m sure word spread quickly about how Samson killed these 30 men and about all the mess he created in Timnah. He has begun to upset the fruit basket, and it’s only going to get worse.
And God will work to keep Israel holy, so that some 1,000 years later Jesus could be born from an Israelite woman, live a perfect life in obedience to God’s Law, and die in our place as the perfect sacrifice. Then he rose again, and someday he will come again and establish the kingdom he promised Israel over and over.
And if you have never received the salvation that Jesus provided, I hope you will come to him today to be saved. You can leave knowing that you are secure in Christ’s hands, if you will repent of your sin and receive Christ as your Lord and Savior. Please do that today.
And if you are saved, be encouraged that God will also be faithful to his redemptive purpose for you. He will absolutely finish is sanctifying Philippians 1:6 says, We are “confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Like Samson God is able to take all the mess of our lives and use it to form Christ in us, and he will finish that process. And then he will be faithful to bring us to glory where we will be with him for all eternity.
And so whether it be in Samson’s life or our lives, God is always the real hero. Praise the Lord that he is strong when we are weak. He is he is love when we are selfish. He is faithful when we are fickle.