MAY 13, 2012





            When we hear the name Harrison Ford, we often think Indiana Jones and Hans Solo.  We don’t think of John Book, from the movie Witness.  Maybe you saw it.  The movie focuses on a detective, played by Harrison Ford, going undercover in an Amish community to protect a young Amish boy who becomes the target of a ruthless killer because the young boy witnessed a murder in Philadelphia.     

            Witness, nominated for eight Academy Awards, gave us a peek into the Amish community.  As you know, the Amish scorn most modern day conveniences.  They place a high value on humility.  They prize the group over the individual.  They abhor pride, arrogance, and self-promotion.  They refuse to adopt modern innovations so much so that a sign of creeping worldliness into the Amish community would be putting rubber tires on their horse-drawn carriage, and a sign of deep-seated worldliness would be to own a car, even a black one with all the chrome plated black.  We may consider such practices, such beliefs, to be archaic and over-the-top.  We may think they go too far in putting into practice the words of the Apostle John.  In his first letter John wrote ...


            Do not love the world or the things of the world ... for all that is in the world - the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches - comes not from the Father but from the world.  (I John 2:15-16). 


            What does it look like not to love the world?  The Amish have come up with their answer.  How about the rest of us?  What does it mean to be “in the world but not of the world?”  Well, the next Judge in our series on the Book of Judges, Samson, touches on this subject.  Let’s see if his life can answer any of our questions.

            If there is a key word to keep in mind when studying Samson it is the word “unique,” although the same could be said of the other judges.  All the judges were unique, but in a group of unique individuals, Samson was in a category all his own.  Three things set him apart from the other judges.

            First, his were very unique times.  Look with me at verse one in the thirteenth chapter. 


            The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years.


            Once again we see the same dreary cycle.  There are times in the Book of Judges where we get the feeling that the record is stuck.  Some of you who did not grow up with vinyl records, do not have the same reference point as others of us.  In the days of vinyl records the record at times would stick, repeating the same spot on the record again and again, and we see that here.  This marks the seventh cycle of Israel’s spiral into apostasy, however, with one major difference. 

            Notice what’s missing from the previous cycles.  Sometimes the Bible is so eloquent in its silence.  It certainly is here.  At every previous point in the Book of Judges, the people cry out to God for help.  They cry out, they clean up their act, and God sends a judge to deliver them.  That, however, did not happen here.  There was no cry for help, and we wonder why?

            In large part it was due to Israel’s enemy at the time ... the Philistines.  The Philistines had a great military advantage.  They had learned how to smelt iron, which gave them a leg up on the nations they fought, but they did not use that to subjugate Israel.  Instead, they used another tactic.  They overcame Israel through trade and intermarriage.  If an Israelite wanted a plow or an ax, he would go the Philistines and buy one.  If an Israelite man or woman wanted a spouse, the Philistines were all too happy to oblige.  As a result, slowly and subtly, the Philistines gained a stranglehold on the Israelites without the Israelites even knowing it. 

            The Israelites did not cry out for help because they did not know they were in danger.  Without raising a sword, the Philistines had the Israelites adopting their values, their way of life.  They were friends, they were allies, they brought prosperity to the land, and if the Israelites did not wake up to the spiritual and cultural seduction happening to them, the would be assimilated totally into Philistine ways.  The Israelites were in danger of losing their distinctiveness.  So given this unique threat, God wanted a deliverer who would stand out and draw people’s attention to their plight.

            That’s leads us to Samson’s second distinctive mark: his unique lifestyle.  Let’s continue with chapter thirteen.  Let’s turn to verse two.


            There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah.  His wife was barren, having borne no children.  And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Although you are barren, having borne no children, you shall conceive and bear a son.  Now be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, or to eat anything unclean, for you shall conceive and bear a son.  No razor is to come on his head, for the boy shall be a nazirite. 


            Samson was to be a nazirite, which literally means “to separate” or “to set apart.”  As a result he would stand out from the people of his day.  The sixth chapter of Numbers outlines three abstentions for a nazirite.  A nazirite could not cut his hair.  A nazirite could not consume beer or wine.  Third, a nazirite could not touch a dead body.  Most of the time, the nazirite vow was taken for a period of a few months and it was purely voluntary.  In Samson’s case, however, it was not voluntary, and it was not temporary.  He was to keep that vow for his entire life.  Unfortunately, as we will see in the weeks ahead, he wasn’t a very strict nazirite.

            So Samson not only had a unique birth -- after all only four other times in the Bible does an angel announce the birth ... Isaac, Samuel, John the Baptist and Jesus -- but he also had a unique lifestyle.  He was to be a nazirite.

            Lastly, there was Samson’s unique ministry.  Look with me at verse five.  The angel announced,


            It is he who shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines.


            The key word here is “begin.”  Because Israel had not repented, God was not yet ready to break the yoke of the Philistines, but neither would God abandon Israel.  In God’s grace, God raised up Samson to begin the process of liberation.  In this regard, Samson’s ministry was unique.  Unlike the other judges who would experience complete victory over an adversary, Samson’s victory would only be partial.  He would prevent complete assimilation, but he would not lead the people to a complete victory of the Philistines.

            One other note about his unique ministry.  It’s in verses twenty-four and twenty-five,


            The woman (by the way, his mother, who is at the center of this story is never mentioned by name.  His father is.  Samson is.  They even try to get the angel to reveal his name, which he doesn’t, but the mother is never named.  They obviously did not observe Mother’s Day back then!) bore a son, and named him Samson.  The boy grew, and the Lord blessed him.  The spirit of the Lord began to stir him (some translations say “strengthen him”) in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.


            Most of us know the story of Samson and his supernatural strength.  Why did God supernaturally strengthen Samson and not the other judges?  Well, unlike the other judges, Samson would fight alone, unaided by any human companions.  Due to the apathy of Israel, due to their ignorance of their situation, Samson would have to go it alone.  Which he does.  He begins the fight against the Philistines, but it will be years later until King David finally defeats them. 

            Well, that’s all for Samson this morning, and let’s go back to our original question.  What does it mean to be biblically separated from the world?  How do we live in the world without being consumed by it?  We see what it means for the Amish and we see what it meant for Samson, living as a nazirite, but what does it mean for us? 

            I’m going to turn to Jesus for this, and in so doing I want us to consider three words.  Number one, focus.  It all starts here.  In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.”  Someone else put it this way.  He said, “If the center of my life is Christ, the circumference will take care of itself.”  If we are not focusing our attention on God then we are ripe for assimilation.  So part of biblical separation is focusing on God to gain perspective on the world in which we live. 

            The second word is conviction.  Looking at Jesus’ life, he not only gained perspective by spending time with God, but he also acted upon what he knew to be true and right. 

            Many of you know I love baseball, particularly the Los Angeles Dodgers, and let me tell you a story about a former Dodger, a man named Frank Howard, and a brand new, major league baseball umpire Marty Sprinstead, umpiring his very first major league game.

            Frank Howard was physically imposing, like Samson.  Frank Howard stood 6’7” and weighed two hundred and fifty pounds.  Howard was at bat, and Springstead, was behind the plate, and he called the first pitch, at Howard’s knees, a strike.  Howard stepped out of the batter’s box and said to Springstead, “Get something straight, Buster.  On me that pitch is never a strike.’  Next pitch, same place.  Springstead hollered, “Two” meaning “Strike two.” Howard turned and growled, “Two what!”  Springstead said, “Too low.  Too low.” 

            That’s not conviction.   That’s not standing up for what is true and right.  Separation means standing for what is right in God’s eyes and not necessarily right in the world’s eyes. 

            The third word I want to borrow from Jesus’ life is involvement.  Jesus did not turn his back on the world, separating himself from people.  He did not turn his back on sinful people or on self-righteous people.  He did not become a hermit or a loner, but rather after focusing on God, and after being convicted of the truth, he sought out people, particularly the down and out, the type of people good people often try to avoid.  You see, the bottom line of biblical separation is a separation of character, not geography.  We are not to be isolated, but insulated by God’s presence.

            Let me close with a mother-daughter story.  The door slammed.  The mother looked at the clock.  It was time for her daughter to be home from school.  Fourth grade was not going very well, and from the sound of the slam of the door, it had not improved.

            She went up to her room and asked about her day.  "It was awful," she said, and then she filled in the details. When she unzipped her backpack at school, her homework was nowhere to be found.  Her normally charming teacher snarled at the class.  The class went outside to the playground and her best friend decided to play with somebody else.  To top it off, a big kid named Kevin had made fun of her on the bus.

            "It was a rotten day," she sobbed, and her mother held her.   After about ten minutes, she stopped quivering.  Mom rubbed her back as her daughter blew her nose.  One more hug, and then mom went downstairs.

            About a half hour later, mom thought it sounded unnaturally quiet, so she sneaked upstairs to see what was happening.  To her surprise, her daughter was down on her knees with her hands clasped and her eyes shut, and she was murmuring something.

            "Honey," she said, "is everything all right?"

            "I'm okay, Mom, I'm just praying."

            "That's good," he whispered. "What are you praying for?"

            "Mom, I've decided I don't like this world, so I'm praying for a new one."

            Whether she knew it or not, that fourth grader was rooting herself in thousands of years of Christian tradition.  Ever since Jesus appeared among us, Christians have been praying for a whole new world.   We live in this world, but we are not of this world.  Amen.