Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
Then went Samson to Gaza, and saw there an harlot, and went in unto her.Jdg 16:4
In the preface to The Character of the Happy Warrior, Wordsworth notes that 'the cause of the great war with the French naturally fixed one's attention upon the military character, and, to the honour of our country, there were many illustrious instances of the qualities that constitute its highest excellence. Lord Nelson carried most of these virtues that the trials he was exposed to in his department of the service necessarily call forth and sustain, if they do not produce the contrary vices. But his public life was stained with one great crime, so that, though many passages of these lines were suggested by what was generally known as excellent in his conduct, I have not been able to connect his name with the poem as I could wish, or even to think of him with satisfaction in reference to the idea of what a warrior ought to be.'
Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant nation rousing herself like a strong man after sleep, and shaking her invincible locks: methinks I see her as an eagle renewing her mighty youth, and kindling her undazzled eyes at the full midday beam; purging and unscaling her long-abused sight at the fountain itself of heavenly radiance; while the whole noise of timorous and flocking birds, with those also that love the twilight, flutter about, amazed at what she means, and in their envious gabble would prognosticate a year of sects and schisms.
To the history of Samson, one of his favourite Scriptures, Milton returns in his Reasons of Church Government, where he frequently compares the Hebrew champion's career and character to the rulers. 'I cannot better liken the state and person of a king than to that mighty Nazarite, Samson; who, being disciplined from his birth in the precepts and the practice of temperance and sobriety, grows up to a noble strength and perfection, with those his illustrious locks, the Laws, waving and curly about his godlike shoulders. And, while he keeps them un-diminished and unshorn, he may with the jawbone of an ass, that is, with the word of his meanest officer, suppress and put to confusion thousands of those that rise against his just power. But laying down his head amongst the strumpet flatteries of prelates, while he sleeps and thinks no harm, they, wickedly shaving off all those bright and weighty tresses of his laws and just prerogatives, which were his ornament and strength, deliver him over to indirect and violent counsels, which, as those Philistines, put out the fair and far-sighted eyes of his natural mind, and make him grind in the prison house of their sinister ends, and practise upon him; till he, knowing this prelatical razor to have bereft him of his wonted might, nourish again his puissant hair, the golden beams of law and right, and they, sternly shook, thunder with ruin upon the heads of those his evil counsellors, but not without great affliction to himself.'
References.—XVI. 17.—H. P. Liddon, Penny Pulpit, No. 1111. XVI. 20.—R. J. Campbell, Sermons Addressed to Individuals, p. 73. G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 413. W. J. Bach, A Book of Lay Sermons, p. 247. S. Baring-Gould, One Hundred Sermon Sketches, p. 121. XVI. 20, 21.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv. No. 224.
A Forfeited Gift
I. The fall and the death of Samson are illustrative of a recurrent human experience. Unfaithfulness to a Divine gift results in its withdrawal. In a sense all men are divinely gifted, though their gifts differ both in quality and in degree, which is precisely what we ought to expect. Suppose Samson had lived and died like the great lawgiver of Israel—who can think about Moses without believing his estimate of manhood is better for that life? Joshua, who, inspired by a greater than himself, hearing his Divine call, 'Moses my servant is dead, now therefore arise,' rose captain of Israel, faithful to the call, was faithful to the last, in his dying hour calling Israel before him. 'Choose you this day whom ye will serve.' Elijah, the most picturesque of them all, a solitary figure in a decadent age, defying all the untoward tendencies of his time, witnessing for God and in the sublimity of his death impressing Israel for good like Samson, but oh, in what a different fashion! Suppose that Samson's life and death had been as these—for he was called to the first place just as these were? He had his opportunity and he put it away.
II. Vocation may be forfeited, and there is no tragedy so sad, no end so melancholy, as that in which a man discovers that he has been living for long without God and without the gift that ought to have led him to great things. You have had your gracious opportunity, your season of vision, and whatever kind of man you are it will be of no use to you in the great day of reckoning for you to deny the moment when the opportunity came. Do we know the opportunity when it comes? Are we clear as to the moment when we stop our ears and close our eyes and turn our feet from the pathway of duty? You know perfectly well if this gift that is in you is debased, and when you know it you have rightly judged in the day of dread discovery that the Spirit of the Lord has departed.
III. It is sometimes said that the word of the prophet has no hearing in these days. Men are indifferent to the claims of the Christ. God has but little place in their lives. Now, is it true of the men who reject God and Christ, and the Bible, and with it all the ideals and associations that belong of right thereto—is it true that they are living the life of the highest they can see? When you exchanged something else for Christ, did you choose a higher or did you choose a lower? If you choose a lower, putting from you the higher, on whatever hypocritical pretext your choice was made, you did it knowingly, and you forfeited a great opportunity and you thrust from you the Divine gift. Recognize that the Divine gift rests upon you for just what you are and where you are, and that it can be withdrawn, and it may be so. You are not living to your highest, and yet you could in the strength of the Lord God.
—R. J. Campbell, Sermons Addressed to Individuals, p. 73.
His eyes were the first offenders, which betrayed him to lust; and now they are first pulled out.... It is better for Samson to be blind in prison than to abuse his eyes in Sorek: yea I may safely say, he was more blind when he saw licentiously, than now that he sees not; he was a greater slave when he served his affections, than now in grinding for the Philistines. The loss of his eyes shows him his sin; neither could he see how ill he had done, till he saw not.
Samson's hair grew again, but not his eyes. Time may restore some losses, others are never to be repaired.
In his fifth lecture on Heroes, Carlyle applies this incident to Benthamism, which, he avers, 'you may call heroic, though a Heroism with its eyes put out. It is the culminating point, and fearless ultimatum, of what lay in the half-and-half state, pervading man's whole existence in that eighteenth century. It seems to me, all deniers of Godhood, and all lip-believers of it, are bound to be Benthamites, if they have courage and honesty. Benthamism is an eyeless Heroism: the Human species, like a hapless, blinded Samson, grinding in the Philistine Mill, clasps convulsively the pillars of its Mind; brings huge ruin down, but ultimately deliverance withal.'
Those who would take away the use of our reason in spiritual things would deal with us as the Philistines did with Samson—first, put out our eyes, and then make us grind in their mill.
Ruskin, in the fifth volume of Modern Painters, asks, How did the art of the Venetians 'so swiftly pass away? How become, what it became unquestionably, one of the chief causes of the corruption of the mind of Italy, and of her subsequent decline in moral and political power? By reason of one great, one fatal fault—recklessness in aim. Wholly noble in its sources, it was wholly unworthy in its purposes. Separate and strong, like Samson, chosen from its youth, and with the Spirit of God visibly resting on it,—like him, it warred in careless strength, and wantoned in untimely pleasure.'
In his essay on Old Mortality, Stevenson describes the career of a brilliant, soulless, fellow-undergraduate, 'most beautiful in person, most serene and genial by disposition... a noble figure of youth, but following vanity and incredulous of good; and sure enough, somewhere on the high seas of life, with his health, his hopes, his patrimony, and his self-respect, he miserably went down.... Thus was our old comrade, like Samson, careless in the days of his strength.'
References.—XVI. 21.—J. Aspinall, Parish Sermons (2nd Series), p. 89. XVI. 21-31.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Judges, p. 250. XVI. 22.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxiii. No. 1939.
Compare Carlyle's grim description of British opera. 'One singer in particular, called Coletti or some such name, seemed to me, by the cast of his face, by the tones of his voice, by his general bearing, so far as I could read it, to be a man of deep and ardent sensibilities, of delicate intuitions, just sympathies; originally an almost poetic soul, or man of genius, as we term it; stamped by Nature as capable of far other work than squalling here, like a blind Samson, to make the Philistines sport.'
How Not to Pray
We have heard these words until we are heartsick of them. There are some words we cannot do without; we know they are lies, we mean them at the time, or at least we think we mean them; and lo, in a little while the remembrance utterly fades, and we come back upon the old spot with the old hammer, with a false repercussion, with a smiting that we promised should never be renewed.
Samson would gather himself up for a grand final effort; he said in effect, O Lord, the Philistines have taken away mine eyes, I am no longer what I was, I am no longer a prophet and servant of Thine, I am no longer a judge in the country, I am a poor fool; I gave up my secret, I was fallen upon by cruel wretches, they are laughing at me and mocking me with a most bitter sarcasm; Lord, remember the old days, direct my hands, some of you, to the pillars on which this house stands, and now, Lord, this once, the last time, give me back the old Samson, and I will tear these Philistines down as a palace might be torn down by an earthquake: Lord, this once, only this once; I pray Thee let the old strength come back, and I will be avenged for my two eyes. It was very natural, it was most human, it was just what we would have done under similar circumstances, and therefore do not let us laugh at the dismantled giant.
Let us accommodate the passage, so that it may become a lamp which we can hold over various points of life.
I. Now let us note three things about this prayer. First of all, the prayer was to the true God. It was not offered to an idol or to a graven image of any kind or to a mere filmy ideality, a shadowy half-something that was wraith-like, apparitional, but not nameable or not approachable in any suitable and substantial way. This prayer went up directly in the line of the true throne. It was the Lord God of Israel, it was the cry of necessity to the Giver of all good. Know then that we may be praying to the right God; that is no guarantee that we shall get the answer which we desire.
II. What ailed this poor prayer? what was its mortal disease? The mortal disease of this prayer uttered by Samson was that it was offered in the wrong spirit. It is the spirit that determines the quality. 'That I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.' It was a prayer for vengeance. That prayer comes easily to the natural spirit. We love to magnify the individual, and to think that individualism is personality. Prayer is self-slaughter, in so far as the will and the supreme desire of the heart may be concerned. Prayer is self-renunciation; prayer says, Lord, Thy will be done, not mine. Thus the Divine will is done by consent human and Divine, and is the law, in its own degree of the universe; the soul then falls into the rhythmic movement of the creation, and the man is translated out of individuality into personality in its broadest definitions, and he is part and parcel of the great unity which swings like a censer round the altar Divine.
III. In the third place this prayer was answered, but answered in judgment. Samson had his way, but his way killed him. We will not say anything about Samson's character, we have too much to say about our own; it does not do to stretch our hands across the centuries that we may smite some downtrodden man, but we must begin at the house of God. The judgment must begin in every man's own secret soul. But this we may say; for the eternal comfort of the race it is written according to the blessing pronounced by father Jacob, 'Gad, a troop shall overcome him: but he shall overcome at the last'. So we come upon the familiar thought of intermediate and final victories. We were caught in all the sins; the decalogue was flying round us in splintered, shattered pieces, the devil was triumphing over us, but we overcame at the last. It was a long time in coming, but the purpose of God cannot be set aside, and if we diligently, humbly, and reverently entreat the Divine presence, and if we be heartily ashamed of our sins, and name them one by one in the face of the noonday sun, and smite upon our hearts and say, 'All these sins are ours, and we repent them,' who can tell whether God will be gracious unto us, and give us a nail in His tabernacle, and one small place in His great providential plan?
—Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. III. p. 32.
In his introduction to Woolman's Journal Whittier has occasion to speak of the magnitude of that evil which Woolman set himself to grapple. The slave-trade had rooted itself in all departments of American life. 'Yet he seems never to have doubted for a moment the power of simple truth to eradicate it, nor to have hesitated as to his own duty in regard to it. There was no groping like Samson in the gloom; no feeling in blind wrath and impatience for the pillars of the temple of Dagon.... He believed in the goodness of the Lord that leadeth to repentance; and that love could reach the witness for itself in the hearts of all men, through all entanglements of custom and every barrier of pride and selfishness.'
Death is no such terrible enemie, when a man hath so many attendants about him, than can winne the combat of him. Revenge triumphs over Death; Love slights it; Honour aspireth to it; Grief flieth to it.
References.—XVI. 30.—Phillips Brooks, The Law of Growth, p. 253. A. P. Stanley, Sermons on Special Occasions, p. 274. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iii. p. 388.
A man's life is his whole life, not the last glimmering snuff of the candle.... It is neither the first nor last hour of our existence, but the space that parts these two—not our exit nor our entrance upon the stage, but what we do, feel, and think, while here—that we are to attend to, in pronouncing sentence upon it.
'Silent was that house of many chambers,' writes Mr. Meredith of Lassalle. 'That mass of humanity, profusely mixed of good and evil, of generous ire and mutinous, of the passion for the future of mankind and vanity of person, magnanimity and sensualism, high judgment, reckless indiscipline, chivalry, savagery, solidity, fragmentariness, was dust. He perished of his weakness, but it was a strong man that fell. His end was a derision because the animal in him ran him unchained and bounding to it. A stormy blood made wreck of a splendid intelligence.'
References.—XVI. 31.—Bishop Alexander, The Great Question, p. 145. XVII. 3.—G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 261.
The Element of Unconsciousness in Character
Moses wist not, he did not know, that the skin of his face shone after he had been with God. Samson wist not, he did not know, that the strength which he had with God had departed from him until he arose and wished to shake himself as at other times, and then he found, and it was a sad discovery, that all his strength was gone, that the Lord had gone away from him. Now why was this? Why were they both unconscious, one that his appearance was so glorified and the other that he had become so weak? In both cases this unconsciousness was due to their former way of life.
I. Think of Moses.—You cannot read the story in the early books of the Bible without having the truth brought very closely home that Moses was a man of prayer. He never forgot the need of supplication, of asking God to help him in every hour of his difficulties as he led the children of Israel through the many trials of the wilderness. He was a man who trusted in God. He never forgot that he was in God's hands, and he thought all the time of the honour and glory of God. He did not think of how he himself could gain honour and glorify himself, but he remembered the great truth that every one who loves God must learn, that we must seek first the honour and glory of God. And so throughout his life he was one who spent much time in God's presence, and all this had an effect upon his character. It brought him more and more into union with God Almighty, and he became more humble, maybe. He remembered all the time that God was his loving Father, and that his life was safe in the keeping of God, and that all the people who were trusted to his care would be safe, because they were in God's hands. But here is the remarkable fact, he does not seem to have been conscious of it. He does not seem to have recognized his own power and his own greatness; he thought of the glory of God. And this was the most marked and most evident when he was in the mount with God. He met God face to face. He had the letters written upon the tables of stone, and he brought them down and gave them to the children of Israel, and when he came down from the mountain a wonderful thing happened: his very countenance shone so that he was compelled to veil his face before the people could look upon him and he could speak to them. Yes, so it was with Moses in some marvellous way, because he lived so near to God there was beauty in his life and in his character. He came down from the mountain, and he was a different man from what he was when he went up.
II. There are many People today, and there have been many people in every age in the world's history, who are also very anxious to know what they are like in the sight of God. It may be that they have so often drawn near God that they have humbled themselves, that they think themselves the greatest sinners of all (like Saint Paul, who, we know, was such a holy man and yet thought he was the least of all saints), and they are disappointed, it may be, and cast down; but here is a great encouragement which I would bring to you, that if you feel your sin is so great you can yet feel that the power of the Saviour is greater, that if you are conscious of your terrible state in God's sight, that there is One Who has taken the sin upon Himself, and all is well. It may be that the work of these people for God, though it seems so unimportant, will one day be recognized, and their faces will shine.
III. Look at Samson.—He was entrusted with a great gift, he was a very strong man; but that great physical strength given him by God was given to him for a special purpose. He, like Moses, had work to do for his God. He was a chosen vessel, he was to be used of God. He was set apart to bring salvation to the people, and yet he seems to have thought of his own strength, and not of the honour and glory of God. He tampered with temptation. He went into the very stronghold of the Philistines, into Gaza, and then all through his life forgot the work he had been called to do. The years passed by, and Samson forgot God. The life of Samson seems so sad when we think of his great opportunities, what he might have been, and how he failed. And why was it? It surely was that great reason that he had forgotten God. If he had remembered that he was set apart, if he had understood that from his earliest years his work in life was to free the people from the burden of the Philistines and from the trouble that was in the country, he would have looked up to God and trusted Him and been able to do great things for God.
IV. We need to Live very near the Lord Jesus Christ if our life is to be a life of usefulness and bring honour and glory to God. We need to sink ourselves, to be very humble, not to trust in our own strength, but to put all our trust in our God. Then our life, like Moses' life, will be a life of usefulness. We shall not get into the bad habits which bind so many people as Samson was bound, but we shall be able to help others on the heavenly road.
And it was told the Gazites, saying, Samson is come hither. And they compassed him in, and laid wait for him all night in the gate of the city, and were quiet all the night, saying, In the morning, when it is day, we shall kill him.
And Samson lay till midnight, and arose at midnight, and took the doors of the gate of the city, and the two posts, and went away with them, bar and all, and put them upon his shoulders, and carried them up to the top of an hill that is before Hebron.
And it came to pass afterward, that he loved a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah.
And the lords of the Philistines came up unto her, and said unto her, Entice him, and see wherein his great strength lieth, and by what means we may prevail against him, that we may bind him to afflict him: and we will give thee every one of us eleven hundred pieces of silver.
And Delilah said to Samson, Tell me, I pray thee, wherein thy great strength lieth, and wherewith thou mightest be bound to afflict thee.
And Samson said unto her, If they bind me with seven green withs that were never dried, then shall I be weak, and be as another man.
Then the lords of the Philistines brought up to her seven green withs which had not been dried, and she bound him with them.
Now there were men lying in wait, abiding with her in the chamber. And she said unto him, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he brake the withs, as a thread of tow is broken when it toucheth the fire. So his strength was not known.
And Delilah said unto Samson, Behold, thou hast mocked me, and told me lies: now tell me, I pray thee, wherewith thou mightest be bound.
And he said unto her, If they bind me fast with new ropes that never were occupied, then shall I be weak, and be as another man.
Delilah therefore took new ropes, and bound him therewith, and said unto him, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And there were liers in wait abiding in the chamber. And he brake them from off his arms like a thread.
And Delilah said unto Samson, Hitherto thou hast mocked me, and told me lies: tell me wherewith thou mightest be bound. And he said unto her, If thou weavest the seven locks of my head with the web.
And she fastened it with the pin, and said unto him, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he awaked out of his sleep, and went away with the pin of the beam, and with the web.
And she said unto him, How canst thou say, I love thee, when thine heart is not with me? thou hast mocked me these three times, and hast not told me wherein thy great strength lieth.
And it came to pass, when she pressed him daily with her words, and urged him, so that his soul was vexed unto death;
That he told her all his heart, and said unto her, There hath not come a rasor upon mine head; for I have been a Nazarite unto God from my mother's womb: if I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.
And when Delilah saw that he had told her all his heart, she sent and called for the lords of the Philistines, saying, Come up this once, for he hath shewed me all his heart. Then the lords of the Philistines came up unto her, and brought money in their hand.
And she made him sleep upon her knees; and she called for a man, and she caused him to shave off the seven locks of his head; and she began to afflict him, and his strength went from him.
And she said, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he awoke out of his sleep, and said, I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself. And he wist not that the LORD was departed from him.
But the Philistines took him, and put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with fetters of brass; and he did grind in the prison house.
Howbeit the hair of his head began to grow again after he was shaven.
Then the lords of the Philistines gathered them together for to offer a great sacrifice unto Dagon their god, and to rejoice: for they said, Our god hath delivered Samson our enemy into our hand.
And when the people saw him, they praised their god: for they said, Our god hath delivered into our hands our enemy, and the destroyer of our country, which slew many of us.
And it came to pass, when their hearts were merry, that they said, Call for Samson, that he may make us sport. And they called for Samson out of the prison house; and he made them sport: and they set him between the pillars.
And Samson said unto the lad that held him by the hand, Suffer me that I may feel the pillars whereupon the house standeth, that I may lean upon them.
Now the house was full of men and women; and all the lords of the Philistines were there; and there were upon the roof about three thousand men and women, that beheld while Samson made sport.
And Samson called unto the LORD, and said, O Lord GOD, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.
And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left.
And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.
Then his brethren and all the house of his father came down, and took him, and brought him up, and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the buryingplace of Manoah his father. And he judged Israel twenty years.