Pride, Passion, and Destruction
Topic: Expository Passage: Judges 16
This morning, we are going to study the climax and conclusion to Samson’s life. We’ve seen that Samson’s story is dominated by the ongoing tension between God’s sovereign, redemptive purpose that he is faithfully accomplishing and Samson’s foolishness and sin, which repeatedly keeps him from being all that God called him to be.
This tension comes to a head in Judges 16. On one hand, no one, not even Samson, can thwart God’s purpose. He graciously continues rescuing Israel from the Philistines. But Judges 16 is also a tragedy of passion, pride, and destruction, which God intends as a sober warning. 1 Corinthians 10:11–12 says of OT stories like Samson’s, “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”
Therefore, as we consider how Samson was deceived, we need to see the deceitfulness of our hearts and the need to flee temptation, not play with it. So ask the Spirit to reveal your blindness, and determine by the grace of God to walk in humble dependence on the Lord. If that’s your heart, I’m certain God has something for you in this story. There are 3 pretty obvious chapters to the story of Judges 16. Let’s begin with vv. 1–3, which tell us how…
I. Samson played with fire (vv. 1–3).
It’s probably been several years since Samson’s conflict with the Philistines that ended on Jawbone Hill. But Samson remains consumed with the Philistines, so for reasons we don’t know he goes down to Gaza (map).
Gaza was the leading Philistine city, so Samson is putting himself in the heart of Philistia. Considering how much damage Samson had done, this was terribly dangerous, but again Samson thinks he is invincible. While he is there, an old nemesis strikes.
Samson pursued his lust. Samson loves the ladies, particularly Philistine ones, and while he is in Gaza, “He saw a harlot there, and went in to her.” Samson caved to his lusts. He disobeyed God’s law, and he made himself very vulnerable, to a Philistine attack. He’s playing with fire.
Samson narrowly escaped with his life. Samson was quite famous, so naturally someone recognized him, and word quickly spread that Samson was in Gaza. The Philistines think they got him. But it’s late at night, and the gate is closed, so they figure they have Samson trapped until morning. They probably planned to ambush him at the gate when it opened in the morning.
But Samson had other plans. He gets up in the middle of the night and heads toward the locked gate. It’s a bit of mystery how no one seemed to notice when he got to the gate, because ancient cities typically had several guard posts leading to the actual gate. Maybe they got too comfortable and fell asleep. Maybe God put them to sleep, or maybe they tried to resist, but the were no match for Samson.
Regardless, Samson comes to the gate, and he “took hold of the doors…” This is a remarkable feat of strength and endurance. This was a reinforced, defensive gate. When you factor in the weight of the timbers as well as the metal reinforcement, we are talk about somewhere between 10 and 20,000 pounds of wood and steel. That’s huge! But Samson rips it out of the ground.
Then he carries the gate all the way to Hebron (map). As a kid I always pictured him carrying it to a hill outside town, but it’s roughly 38 miles from Gaza to Hebron, and Hebron is some 900’ higher elevation. This took incredible strength and endurance.
The Israelites would have loved this story. They despised their Philistine rivals, and Samson absolutely embarrassed them. Their greatest city couldn’t hold Samson. And by taking the gate to Hebron, the leading city of Judah, the leading tribe, he made a powerful statement to Israel not to accept Philistine dominion.
But it’s also obvious that Samson has a weak spot for women, and he’s playing with fire. We’re left wondering when his pride and passion are going to come back to burn him. Predictably in the next account, his passion for Philistine women will to come back to roast him.
II. Samson was burned by the fire (vv. 4–21).
It’s evident in this section that…
Samson was a slave to passion and pride (vv. 4–14). Notice that v. 4 connects this story with the previous one. It’s saying, “And once again Samson loved a Philistine woman.” This time he loved Delilah. She is from “the Valley of Sorek,” (map) which is not far from Zorah or Timnah. We’ll see that she is a resourceful woman who is also cunning and cold-hearted.
Notice as well that Samson “loved” Delilah. They never married, but he clearly feels much stronger passions for Delilah than his previous lovers, because she totally will have Samson wrapped around her finger.
When the Philistines hear that Samson is with Delilah, they are delighted. They know they will never defeat Samson in open conflict, so they are determined to find Samson’s kryptonite, the secret to his supernatural athleticism. They also know that Samson has a weak spot for women, so the Philistine lords (probably the heads of the Philistine Pentapolis) approach Delilah with an irresistible deal.
Each lord offers her 1,100 pieces of silver for the secret of Samson’s strength. We don’t know for certain how much money this is, but it was definitely a fortune that would leave Delilah wealthy and set for life. When Delilah sees the dollar signs, she’s ready to kick Samson to the curb, and she coldly goes to work trying to manipulate Samson into sharing his secret. It’s fascinating is that Delilah is pretty open about the fact that she wants to know how to destroy Samson (v. 6). You would think that he would be out of there in a flash considering what happened the last time a lover begged him for secrets.
But Samson always thinks he is the smartest guy in the room. As such Delilah knew that the danger in her question would arouse Samson, not drive him away. And Samson is also a man of passion, so Delilah surely peppered her questions with the lure of deeper intimacy. So rather than running from danger, Samson wants to play. “Yeah, she might not have good motives, but I’ll be fine. I won’t cross any lines.”
Delilah took a page right out of Satan’ playbook. Satan loves to put something before our eyes that grabs our passion, and lust begins to wrap around our heart. We see the danger, but we tell ourselves, “I won’t fall. I’m too smart for that. I can dabble with sin and mostly be a good Christian.” But Satan hooks us, he uses our passion and pride to lead us much further than we ever planned to go.
For example, a Christian couple thinks, “We will never be immoral; we just want to enjoy play a little.” And one day when the consequences of sin strike, they are shocked at how far they went. Or a man is exhausted by the demands of family and a cranky wife, so he starts staying out later and hanging out with friends. One day he wakes up in disbelief, that he’s committed adultery and lost his family.
Sometimes Satan uses seemingly innocent desires. A Christian couple stretches their budget as tight as possible to get a new car or entertainment center or house, but when unexpected bills come, they are stuck. They have to take all sorts of overtime and side jobs. They have no time for church (or so they think), and they are so stressed out that their marriage begins to rip apart. So before we laugh at Samson’s stupidity, understand that none of us are immune to same foolishness. Christians do this stuff all the time.
So Samson decides to have some fun with Delilah’s question. He tells her that his strength will evaporate if he is bound with 7 bowstrings. Naturally, Delilah tries it. The Philistines station armed soldiers just outside, and she ties him up, seemingly while he is still awake. Then she yells, “the Philistines are upon you, Samson!” Samson easily snaps the cords, probably laughing the entire time, and the Philistine soldiers sneak off. Samson thinks it’s all a big game and that he can stay a step ahead no matter what comes.
And vv. 10–12 repeat the same cycle. Delilah pleads for the intimacy of personal secrets, and Samson makes a game of it. This time he tells her to bind him with new ropes. She does, he breaks them in another teasing show, and the Philistine soldiers sneak away again.
Delilah is not going to miss her payday, so she ups the pressure (v. 13). She probably teased him sexually, while holding out the carrot of intimacy. As Samson’s passions rise his defenses begin to break down. He wants Delilah, and he’s willing to go a step further, though he tells himself this will be the last step. For the first time he brings up his unshaven hair. This is important, because Samson’s hair symbolizes his dedication to God. Therefore, this isn’t just about hair; for Samson, his hair reflected his sacred duty. But Delilah can have a bit of this intimate secret.
He tells her that if his hair is weaved into a loom, he will lose strength. Naturally, Delilah is going to try it. This time the text says Samson went to sleep while she worked. He probably went to sleep laughing, because he thinks he’s really playing Delilah. She’s going to spend hours tediously weaving his hair into a piece of cloth, and it’s not going to accomplish anything. He has no idea that he’s the fool.
When she’s done, she wakes him, and Samson easily rips the loom out of the floor, demonstrating that nothing has changed. Again, the Philistine soldiers sneak away. Then Samson and Delilah had a long day working to untangle his hair from the loom.
You would think that this would be enough for Samson to get out of there. Delilah clearly wants to destroy his strength, and he came awfully close to giving up his secret. But Samson’s passion has blinded his vision, and he dismisses any fears with the lie that he will never go too far. It’s so foolish, but Christians do the same thing all the time. And ultimately in Samson’s case.
Samson forgot his dependence on the Lord (vv. 15–21). Delilah is getting frustrated and desperate, so she turns up the heat (v. 15). She pulls the “love card,” and Samson resists, but he doesn’t flee. She pesters him “daily” (v. 16), but Samson stays. Finally she wears Samson down, and “his soul was vexed to death…(so that) He told her all his heart.”
It’s impossible to know exactly what went through Samson’s mind. Did Delilah convince Samson he could trust her? Did she just wear him down to the point that he didn’t care? Or did he believe that he would remain invincible even without his hair? Whatever the reason, Samson has toyed with temptation so long that he can’t tell up from down any longer.
Samson goes on to say (v. 17), “No razor…” It’s worth noting that there was no magical power in Samson’s hair. Again, it was a symbol of his dedication to God. And it was this special relationship to God that gave him great strength. But when Samson told all to Delilah, he essentially put his relationship to Delilah ahead of his relationship to God. That’s ultimately why God will remove his hand. Samson has fallen.
All that is left is for him to reap the consequences of his sin. This time Delilah knows she has broken Samson, and he isn’t playing games anymore. She coldly calls the Philistines, and they bring her a bag of money that will last her the rest of her life.
They station their men outside, and Samson falls asleep “on her knees.” That’s ironic, because earlier in Judges, the pagan general Sisera died while sleeping at the feet of Jael, when she put a tent peg through his skull. But how the tides have turned, because this time it is Israel’s anointed leader who is destroyed while sleeping on the knees of a woman. It reflects how far Israel has fallen.
Delilah brings in a barber who shaves Samson’s head, and once he is done, Delilah “torments” or “afflicts” Samson. We don’t know for sure what she did, but it was obvious that Samson’s supernatural strength had left him. With cold evil in her voice, she yells, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!”
Samson wakes up, and I’m sure recognizes that his hair is gone. Yet he proudly declares, “I will go out as before, at other times, and shake myself free.” But then the narrator adds the chilling note, “But he did not know that the Lord had departed from him.” Samson was delusional. He was so deceived by his sin, and his mind had become so twisted that he actually believed he was invincible in himself and that he didn’t need the Lord.
Then his world came crashing down. The Philistines easily subdued him, and they gouged out his eyes, permanently impairing his effectiveness. Then they brought him down to Gaza, and put him to work doing to the trivial and monotonous work of grinding flour.
It’s a stunning fall isn’t it? How could someone with so much potential end up so broken and battered? And how did Samson not see what was happening? I’ve wondered the same thing many times as I’ve watched professing believers get wrapped up in the deceitfulness of sin. Sometimes, I’ve wanted to lovingly grab them by the throat and ask, “What are you thinking? Can’t you see where this is headed?”
But they don’t want to see, or they can’t see because in the words of Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it.” They’ve followed the sinful passions of their heart so long that they are completely disoriented. The most loving thing God can do is to chasten them with painful trials in order to shake them into reality.
Maybe God’s Spirit is right now graciously showing you how you have been deceived by passion and pride. Do not quench the Spirit; listen to the Spirit. Repent of your sin and run hard and fast away from it and toward Christ and his church. Let us help you climb out of the hole you have dug.
And then maybe even more importantly, how do we keep ourselves from going down that hole? I’d like to offer 3 preventative steps we need to live every day in order to maintain a healthy immune system that fights off Satan’s devices.
First, walk by the Spirit, not by the flesh. It’s not that different from your physical body. Some people eat poorly and never sleep, and they are always on medication to fight something that is wrong. Some basic disciplines would solve a lot of problems.
That’s also true of the Christian life. A disciplined, healthy Christian life will solve a lot of problems before they ever start. Don’t be a slave to passion. Live in the Scriptures, and obey the Scriptures. Walk in the power of the Spirit, manifesting the fruit of the Spirit. Satan will still attack, but you will have the necessary health to resist far better than if you are bumbling along.
Second, flee temptation; don’t arrogantly toy with it. 1 Corinthians 10:12 says, “Thereforelet him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” One of God’s greatest graces is a healthy fear of my own hear and the power of temptation. Don’t ever believe the lie that you can play with sin and not get burned. Jesus said you can only serve on master, so chase after Jesus, and run away from sin.
Third, lean on the church. The scariest thing about the deceitfulness of my heart is knowing that I might be believing a lie and not realize it. How do you know that you are not deceived right now? How do you make sure you aren’t deceived in the future? The answer is maintaining godly relationships that are close enough that people can see your heart, so that when your heart is deceived, they can see it for you and bring you back to reality. If you fear sin, then let people in, so that they can help you see truly.
Let’s all learn some hard lessons from Samson’s failure, so that we don’t repeat his mistakes. And so Samson was burned by the fire, and then Judges 16 closes with a final chapter as…
III. Samson went down in the fire (vv. 22–31).
Verse 21 ended on a sour note. Samson failed, yet God has never been restricted by Samson, and he won’t be restricted now. Verse 22 adds a curious note. Samson’s hair is growing. God must have something up his sleeve. Samson’s story ends by proclaiming that God is on the throne, and he will accomplish is purpose with us or without us. Notice that…
The Philistines believed that Dagon is supreme (vv. 22–25). In the ancient world, every war was a holy war, and so the Philistines attributed their victory over Samson to the glory of Dagon, not the judgment of Yahweh. They hold a massive sacrificial feast to honor Dagon, and notice how they praise him in 23–24.
Once they are happily drunk, they call Samson in to mock their prize prisoner. Archaeologists have found a temple in the region that was probably similar to this one. It had a courtyard surrounded by a large 2-story structure that sat on 2 large pillars only a few feet apart.
And so the Philistines paraded Samson through the courtyard mocking him the entire time. They felt invincible. They believed Dagon was lord, and they were sure that Israel would never stand against them. But God had a lesson for them.
God proved that he is supreme (vv. 26–31). After a time, Samson gets a break, and he has a plan. He asks the boy who was leading him around to help him lean on the temple pillars. Then he prays to the Lord for the second time in Judges ( 28).
It seems that God had truly humbled His tone in this prayer is much more respectful than his prayer on Jawbone Hill. Samson recognizes now like he hadn’t when his hair was cut that God was the source of his strength. On the other hand, the prayer still leaves a lot to be desired. Samson’s primary motivation is to avenge his eyes, not to defend God’s glory or to fight for Israel. But certainly Samson has made progress.
And God graciously answers. Samson puts an arm on each pillar, and the Lord again empowered him with supernatural strength. Samson splintered those massive cedar pillars, and the entire structure came crumbling down, killing most if not all of the 3,000 Philistines who had gathered to mock Samson, Israel, and ultimately the Lord.
God proved again that he is God, and in so doing, he took Israel one step closer to his purpose of redeeming Israel from the Philistines. Verse 30 says that all the Philistine lords were killed that day and probably many other significant leaders. But probably even more significance was the inspiration this act would be for Israel. If God could strengthen one man to destroy Dagon’s temple in the center of the great city of Gaza, what would happen if the whole nation turned to him in faith? God is doing marvelous things.
And so despite all his potential, Samson was not the righteous king Israel so desperately needed. But God was moving his sovereign purpose toward the day when the righteous king would come. Christ alone was and is that righteous king. He alone has a perfect heart and a perfect love. And he alone can deliver his people, not merely from a physical enemy like the Philistines but from our own sin and the judgment we deserve for our sin. He didn’t just crush some Philistines; he crushed the head of the serpent. And he provides forgiveness, righteousness, and new life to all who come to him.
If you have never received Christ as Savior, come to Christ today as our only perfect redemption. If you are saved, flee the temptations that destroyed Samson, and live in humble dependence on his strength.