“THE RESTORATION OF A FAILURE”

JUDGES 16:18-31

JUNE 10, 2012

 

PLAY AUDIO

                        

            Mary Perry is a bulldog when it comes to researching her ancestors.  She travels to Florida once or twice a year, stays there a week or two and with a friend she searches cemeteries and court houses, all in the quest to fill out her family tree.  She’s pretty courageous because you never know whom you will find hanging from one of the limbs of your family tree.

            The Bible is big into family trees as well.  Based on the King James translation of the Bible we call these family trees “the begat” sections of the Bible, where it states “so and so begat so and so and so and so begat so and so” and on it goes, and from these begat sections of the Bible we notice some great people and some not so great people.  Hanging from some of the family limbs are real rascals, bad apples.  Take Jesus’ family tree, for example.  His family tree can be traced back to an illicit affair between David and Bathsheba. 

            But there’s another family tree in the Bible that’s a lot more enjoyable to read than the boring begats.  Let’s turn there for a moment, to Hebrews 11:32 on page 978 of your pew Bible.  This family tree is a selective family tree.  It only lists heroes of faith.  The author lists these heroes of faith to remind us of what the power of faith can accomplish.  One person on the list may surprise us.  It’s our boy Samson.  In listing the heroes of faith, listen to what the author of Hebrews writes,

 

            And what more should I say?  For time would fail me to tell of Gideon (remember him, the Don Knotts of the Book of Judges?”) Barak, Samson, Jephthah (he’s the most spiritual of all the Judges.  It’s no surprise he makes the list) of David and Samuel and the prophets - who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.

 

            Samson’s making this list surprises me.  Granted all the heroes of scripture are a mixed bag of strengths and weaknesses.  Even the best of them had their faults including Moses, Abraham and David, but when considering these other heroes of faith, at least the balance sheet of their lives included more strengths than weaknesses.  Not so with Samson.  His life was one of loose-living, squandered resources, and overall disappointing behavior.  If you had a daughter you wouldn’t want her to date Samson, let alone marry him. 

            Of course, he had his appealing side as well.  He had a lot going for him ... supernatural strength, daring, flash, charisma, humor ... and his exploits made for great drama and entertainment.  The four chapters in Judges devoted to his life are a masterful piece of storytelling, and would entertain all sitting around a campfire.  For example, one time the Philistines, Israel’s enemy at the time, had given Samson a raw deal and he decided to get back at them.  He went out and singlehandedly caught three-hundred foxes, which was a feat in itself, tied their tails together (this was in the days before PETA), attached torches to their tails, and turned them loose in the Philistine grain fields.  By the way, that’s the first reference to tail lights in the Bible and we can see Hebrew children sitting around a campfire, hearing that story, and their holding their sides with laughter at the thought of such a sight.

            Samson’s life is chock full of such stories.  He could give Hercules and Paul Bunyan and Superman a run for their money, but his life ends on a tragic note, and I’m not just referring to the way he died.  I’m referring to what his life could have been.  It’s a deeply tragic story of a squandered existence. 

            Samson had it all.  He was hand-picked by God before his birth.  He was raised by God loving, warm and wise parents.  He was set apart to live a godly life.  He was endowed with supernatural strength.  In other words, he was primed to be a great leader of his people, but he never lived up to his potential.  Instead he spent his days as a sometimes self-centered buffoon and playboy, doing as he pleased, and it was his loose living that brought him to the end of his life, a chained prisoner, a broken man, the laughingstock of the Philistines.

            But as he goes out, we encounter two bright spots in his story.  One involves his last prayer.  Picture what prompted it.  The Place - Gaza Memorial Stadium.  The Occasion - a celebration of thanksgiving to Dagon, the Philistine God, for capture of Samson.  The Mood - Ugly.   Liquor was flowing freely and suddenly the crowd began chanting “We want Samson.  We want Samson.  We want Samson.”  Finally, they bring him into the stadium, a blind, a chained, a beaten man and the crowd goes wild.  The crowd begins singing, “We will, we will rock you, rock you.”  The hated, the feared Samson is nothing now, no longer a threat at all, and they begin toying with him, embarrassing him.

            Samson, finally, has had enough, and he prays.  Look at that prayer with me beginning in verse twenty-eight.

 

            Lord, God, remember me and strengthen me only this once, O God, so that with this one act of revenge I may pay back the Philistines for my two eyes.

 

            Here’s the bright part of the prayer.  Write it down.  Underline it.  Here it is:  God can do so much with so little.

            After all, look at the prayer.  Why does Samson want his supernatural strength back?  Does he want it to show the Philistines who the true God really is?  Does he want to put the Philistine God, Dagon, in his place?  No, it’s pure revenge.  He wants his strength back to get even with them for gouging out his two eyes.

            There’s one other prayer associated with Samson in the four chapters devoted to his live.  I find that to be remarkable.  Four chapters and only two prayers from this man who was to be set apart as a Nazirite, a holy warrior for God.  The other prayer is not much better than this one.  After killing a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey, he offers this prayer.  Look at with me.  Judges 15:18.

 

            By then he was very thirsty, and he called upon the Lord, saying, “You have granted this great victory by the hand of your servant.  Am I now to die of thirst, and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?

 

            In other words, “Hop to it God.  I’m thirsty.  You are falling down on the job.”  Samson’s prayers leave a lot to be desired, but the lesson of these prayers, and really the lesson of Samson’s entire life is “God can do so much with so little.” 

            I think of a conversation I had years ago with a good friend Tom Hayes.  Tom’s wife had sued him for divorce and he was devastated.  It came out of the blue, and he went into a painful depression.  He had to see a doctor for it.  Eventually the divorce was granted, and one day sitting on our back porch, Tom said to me,

 

            Dick, when Sandra asked for a divorce, I started praying and praying and praying and thought if I just had enough faith, and prayed more and more she would reconsider and I began feeling guilty when things weren’t changing.  I thought I must not have enough faith.  Then in my devotional time I ran across Jesus’ words, “For truly I say unto you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here and it will move.’  Faith the size of a mustard see, that’s all I needed.  At time’s that’s all I had.  I was so depressed, my faith was almost none existent, but you know that’s all Jesus says we need.  Even the smallest amount of faith stirs God.  I did not get what I want because we are wrestling with principalities and powers here on earth, there’s a heavenly battle going on between good and evil, but now I know my situation has nothing to do with my lack of faith.  Any amount suffices.

 

            God is willing to do so much with so little. 

            The other bright spot in this dark ending surrounds verse twenty-two of chapter 16.  It’s one of the most awesome verses in the Bible.  Samson had just experienced his worst failure.  He had caved into Delilah’s pestering.  You know the sordid story.   After Samson fell for Delilah the Philistines asked her to find out what made Samson’s strength so great.  They gave her 1100 pieces of silver to do so, and at first, she begins to quiz him lightly. Then she begins to question him strongly.  Then she begins to nag him diligently about the secret of his strength.

            Speaking of Delilah, I heard about a little kid that came home one evening, and he was complaining to his dad about a certain kid in the neighborhood who kept picking on him.  He said, "Dad, I just don't know how to handle this kid. I  don't know what to do, and the kid just won't leave me alone."  Well, the father took the boy down to the basement, got into a boxing stance and showed him how to feint, duck, weave, and jab. He then taught him how to throw a vicious right hand.

            He said, "Son, the next time this kid picks on you I want you to let that kid have it right in the nose."  The little boy said, "Dad, do you really mean that?" He said, "I sure do.  You give that kid the old one-two and knock that kid into the middle of next week."

            Well, the next day the little kid came racing home, ran into the living room, his face alight with victory, his mouth one big smile.  He said, "Dad, I did it. I took care of that kid just like you said."

            The dad said, "Son, that's great, what did you do?"  He said, "I hit her right in the nose just like you told me."

            Well, Samson would have been far better off if he had punched Delilah in the nose instead of kissing her on the lips.  Because of his relationship with her, Samson went from champ to chump, from hero to zero, from the palace to a prison.

            Then after all that happened we read these words in verse twenty-two.

 

            But the hair on his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.

 

            On the heels of Samson’s greatest failure, God was working to restore.  Did Samson deserve it?  Not really, and therein shines the point of light:  No matter how far we fall we never fall beyond God’s grace.

            I’m not sure who needs to be reminded of that today, but my guess one of us here does.  Maybe your life would make Samson blush.  Maybe you think it’s too late.   Maybe you think the roof would cave in or lightening would strike if you showed up at church after what you have done.  But it’s not too late.  And lightening won’t strike and the roof won’t cave in.  God loves you and wants you to come home. 

            Amen.