Samson: A Tragedy in Four Acts: A Little Fun In Philistia
The story of Samson is a tragic tale told in four Acts. And I suppose that Act Three could be summarized with a single word. That word is “Delilah.” I do think it is interesting to note that that word “Delilah” has two meanings. The first meaning was “Darling.” That was appropriate, don’t you think? I mean she became the darling of Samson’s life. The other meaning? Well, we shall come to that later…
The curtain rises on Act Three.
The Valley of Sorek extended from Mount Zion on the east to the shores of the Mediterranean on the west, from the highlands of Judea to the plains of Philistia. Samson knew that valley—he knew it well. In fact, there is no evidence in Scripture that he ever set foot outside it. Yet strange to say, Samson got lost in that valley—not lost physically, but lost spiritually. For the Bible tells us that Samson went down to Philistia to dwell in the tents of Delilah. He turned his back on his own people and his own father and took up residence in the midst of wickedness and unbelief.
Now it is not too difficult to understand why Samson did this. I would suggest to you that this was a classic case of “male mid-life crisis.” He was looking for a little excitement in his life. He wanted to get away from all of the pressure of his faith and his family. He wanted to break free from the confines of ritual and responsibility. He wanted to have a little fun in Philistia. That’s not too difficult to comprehend, now is it? I mean, church people are so stuffy! They keep singing the same old songs, praying the same old prayers, and preaching the same old themes. Who wouldn’t want a little change from all that? Do you know the little verse that goes like this:
To live in love
With the saints above,
O that will be glory!
But to live below
With the saints you know
That’s another story.
Samson probably felt like that. He just wanted to get away from it all for a little while, to have a little fun down the valley in Philistia. But a little fun in Philistia turned into big trouble for Samson. It all happened in the tents of an ancient Mata Hara named Delilah…
Let’s see how the story unfolds.
It is astonishing to read these verses in Judges 16 and see Samson submit himself so repeatedly to one temptation after another. It’s almost enough to make you think that Samson must have been a man of all brawn and no brains. But the fact is that Samson not only possessed great physical strength, he also possessed great intellectual power. When we see him in Scripture weaving baffling riddles or exercising significant and decisive leadership, we realize that the Lord not only blessed Samson’s body—He also blessed Samson’s mind. How is it then that one so powerfully gifted could fall prey to such evil? I submit that it is because of the hypnotic, entrancing power of temptation.
Delilah wanted to know the secret of Samson’s strength. Samson toyed with her. He teased her. “Bind me with seven fresh bowstrings,” he said. “That will hold me.” She did that but he easily broke the strings. She pouted. She said: “Samson, you didn’t play fair.” So he teased her some more. “Bind me with new ropes,” he said. She did that, but again he broke free. Now Delilah accused him of lying. (It’s interesting how evil always accuses good of doing wrong.) Once more, Samson continued the game. “Weave my hair into braids,” he said, getting closer to the truth. His defenses were weakening. So while he slept, she braided his hair, but his strength was not diminished. She was blazing now. She said: “Samson, if you love me, you will tell me.” And before this temptation, repeated again and again, Samson fell. You see, he stayed in the presence of evil too long and he became charmed, hypnotized, entranced by the temptation. And what else could you expect to happen?
I remember in Biology Lab, in college, one day the instructor brought in a glass tank containing a boa constrictor. He dropped a little white mouse into the tank to serve as the boa’s meal for the day. The snake was lying in perfectly still folds in the corner of the tank. It didn’t even appear to be alive. At first, the mouse ran all over the tank, even right over the snake. Then slowly, ever so slowly, the serpent began to move. The mouse didn’t even notice. However, after a few minutes, the mouse detected the slight movement. It stopped running. It began to stare at the snake. It became fascinated—actually hypnotized into helplessness by the slow but never ceasing movement. Then it happened—it was so sudden that the mouse never knew it. There was a flash of movement, and the mouse was gone.
Samson, get out of Philistia! Can’t you see what’s happening? You’ve been charmed, hypnotized. You’re being sucked in. That’s what always happens when you toy with temptation. The Bible tells us that no temptation ever comes to us which we cannot defeat. But the Bible also tells us that the first thing to do when temptation comes, is to run for your life! Get away from it! That’s the teaching of Scripture. Play with temptation, and ultimately it will destroy you. Samson played with temptation there in the tents of Delilah.
But let’s interrupt the story for a moment.
I think it is worth our time to take a look at the temptation which finally brought Samson down. Delilah said to him: “If you love me, you will tell me.” That’s the corruption of love. That’s the most contemptible thing anyone can do. We don’t know much about Delilah. But we do know that she was paid to entice Samson. And if that isn’t enough to turn us against her, then surely this is: she took the noblest emotion God ever put into the human heart, love, and she transformed it into an instrument of evil. I say it again: that’s the most contemptible thing anyone could ever do.
Do you remember that when Jesus was arrested and crucified, there was only one thing against which He protested? He did not protest about His arrest or the unjust trials or the brutality of the soldiers or the walk to Calvary or the nails in hands and feet. He protested only once. And when was that? It was the moment when Judas kissed Him. He said: “Would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” That’s what really cut the heart of Jesus—that the kiss—the sign of love and affection and deepest commitment—was desecrated, transformed by Judas into an act of treachery.
There is nothing worse than love being used to manipulate. How many people there are whose lives were made miserable, who didn’t marry one they loved or who took a job they didn’t want all because a parent said: “If you love me, you will do this.” How many times have young people in the back seat of an automobile or somewhere else heard the voice of temptation say: “If you love me, then you’ll let me.” How many marriages have disintegrated because one partner said to the other: “If you love me, you’ll let me do my own thing, you’ll let me be free to do what I want to do.”
Dear friends, hear this please. Love never asks for evil as an expression of proof. Love never asks for proof at all. The grandest words ever written about love are those of Paul: “Love does not insist on its own way. Love does not rejoice at the wrong, but rejoices in the right.” I tell you: if there are levels of torment in hell, then the deepest hell is reserved for those who, claiming love, twist and manipulate and make what ought to be beautiful into that which is ugly.
Now let’s return to our story.
The word Samson means “child of the shining sun.” Well, you know that the only thing that can extinguish or blot out all of sun’s light. The Philistines had a word for “night.” It was Canaanite in origin. So you know what that word was? It was “Delilah.” Night. The only thing that can put out the light of the sun is the night.
So the words are spread across the pages of the Bible like tumbling teardrops. “And he told her all his mind and said to her, ‘a razor has never come upon my head.'” He had now broken the last of his vows. The first vow was to stay away from strong drink and impure food—he had filled himself at pagan feasts. The second vow was to stay pure in his faith—he had repeatedly fellowshipped with unbelievers. The third vow was to never touch the dead—he was himself a mass murderer. But up to now, he had kept the vow of his hair. No longer. While he slept, Delilah sheared off his hair and his great strength vanished into helpless, hapless weakness. Then comes one of the saddest lines in all of the Bible. “Samson did not know that the Lord had left him.”
We think of people departing from the Lord, but we do not often think of the Lord departing from people. We are quick to remember the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but not so quick to remember Samson. You see, it is possible to jam so much of yourself and your own concerns into your life that you squeeze God out of it. It takes a long time to do that. But if you work at it, it can be done. It is possible across the years to so harden your heart that God cannot get in. And He will depart from you, and He will come to you no more, unless you call Him. That’s what happened to Samson.
There is a well-known painting by Holman Hunt called “Christ at the Door.” It pictures Christ knocking at the door of the heart. The door is closed. Once a father and his son were looking at that painting. Suddenly the boy said: “Daddy, why won’t they let Him in?” Good question. Perhaps they weren’t listening for the knock. What’s so sad is this: when you aren’t listening for the knock, then not only do you not hear the knocking when it comes, but also you don’t notice when the knocking stops. If we are so lost in our own little pursuits in life that we do not know Christ at His coming, then we shall not know the moment when He doesn’t come anymore. That is what it says of Samson: “He did not know that the Lord had left him.”
Let me ask you point blank: Do no sermons pierce your heart anymore? Does no hymn that we sing lift you up to truth? Do you come to worship so caught up in the affairs of your own life that the Holy Spirit cannot possibly penetrate? Do the prayers of your son or your daughter, which you sometimes listen to, fail to open you up to that which is beautiful? Can you think back to how your parents hoped for you and prayed for you—and perhaps are still hoping and praying here or hereafter—and not be changed? Oh, then, my friend, beware! God may have departed from you.
I call you “my friend” though you may not think of me as such. Most friends will tell you about a spot on your tie, but not a spot on your soul. They will talk to you about politics, but not about prayer; about business, but not about blessing. Yes, they will talk to you about many things, but not about your faith. Well, I am your friend and I am talking to you about your faith. And I am asking you: Are you at peace with God? Are you sure, as a Christian can and ought to be sure, that the kingdom of heaven is yours now and for all eternity? Do you hear what God is saying to you through Samson’s story?
He is saying: “Samson, male or female—Samson, old or young—Samson, listening here or listening on radio or watching on TV—Samson, I so loved the world that I gave my only begotten son. Believe in Him and eternity is yours.” O, Samson, listen to what He is saying. He really means it…
Act Three ends with these tragic words: “The Philistines seized Samson and gouged out his eyes and bound him with bronze chains and he ground the meal at the mill in the prison.”
The curtain descends. It is a mercy of God that it does, for the “sun” is in eclipse. But that’s the way it is in life, you know. The curtain always comes down. When it rings down on your life, how will it be for you? The sun shining? Or in eclipse?