Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. WE OUGHT TO BEWARE OF A ONE-SIDED MORALITY. External morality, like Samson the Nazarite's, is almost certain to be of this kind. The saint should leave no unguarded place. Only the indwelling of the Holy Ghost can deliver from besetting sins. The blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanseth from all sin.
II. A SINGLE SIN MAY UNDO THE FAME AND SUCCESS OF A LIFETIME.
III. WHEN SAINTS FALL INTO SIN THE WICKED TRIUMPH AND ARE CONFIDENT OF THEIR RUIN. The conception which the world has of sainthood is one of perfect external blamelessness, the least infraction of which is hailed as utter failure. When one failing like this is discovered, many more are imagined. How sure are these cowards of the capture of their foe! Or do they only seem to be so, using words of confidence and procrastination to conceal their inward fear? Is there not an unsounded mystery, etc., that cannot be calculated upon, in the defections of God's people? What and if Peter be restored again? The awaking of him whom God rouses from fleshly slumbers will ever take the wicked by surprise. The evil is that the Church too often shares the world's view about the irrecoverableness of backsliders. How often have God's saints been able to shout, "Rejoice not over me, O mine enemy!"
IV. THE GRACE OF GOD SOMETIMES DELIVERS HIS SERVANTS FROM THE CONSEQUENCES OF THEIR OWN FOLLY AND SIN. Sometimes, but not always. Frequently enough for hope, but not for presumption. But the victory will be wholly his own. The trophy of deliverance will reflect no credit upon the delivered one. He would rather deliver us from our sin itself. He has promised that he will heal our backslidings.
V. THE TEMPORARY TRIUMPHS OF SIN ARE SWALLOWED UP IN THE ETERNAL REDEMPTIONS OF GOD. The gates of Gaza, the chief city of Philistia, are lifted off and carried to the top of the hill beside Hebron, the chief city of Judah. Every Israelite could see them in their exalted place of exhibition. So shall it be with the victories of the Lamb. He in whom was no sin, but who was made sin for us, shall deliver from all sin, and make us "more than conquerors." The seed of Abraham was to "possess the gate of its enemies" (Genesis 22:17; cf. 24:60). The gates of hell shall not prevail against the kingdom of Christ. - M.
2 Peter 2:15) to account salvation, is in Samson's case presumed upon, and the besetting sin at last finds him out. The sin is single, but it is not the first of its kind, nor is it isolated. The years of self-indulgence were preparing for this - a mad revel of voluptuousness and a deliberate denial of Jehovah. The scenes of this tragedy have a typical interest, and they are sketched lightly but indelibly by a master hand. In the gradual but deliberate breaking of his vow we have a parallel to Peter's threefold denial of his Lord.
I. SENSUALITY LULLS THE SOUL INTO A FATAL SLUMBER, AND DESTROYS ITS SENSE OF DUTY AND ITS CAPACITY FOR USEFULNESS.
II. COMPANIONS IN GUILT MAY DO US MORE HARM THAN OUR WORST ENEMIES. Here the serviceableness of Delilah is at once perceived by her fellow-countrymen, and they hasten to make use of her. The bribe offered, not necessarily ever paid, not only shows the importance of Samson in their eyes, but the value they set upon the influence of this lustful woman. How much mischief can a single transgressor do, not only directly, but through influence! Here it was not only a man betrayed to his enemies, but a soul undone. "What shall a man give," etc. "He knoweth not that the dead are there, and that her guests are in the depths of hell" (Proverbs 9:15-18). The harlot's house, and what it introduces to.
III. THE UNGODLY MISAPPREHEND THE SECRET AND NATURE OF SPIRITUAL STRENGTH. The Philistines evidently thought Samson's power lay in the efficacy of some charm. It is this they seek to obtain. They are incapable of thinking of a higher influence. Samson accordingly plays with this superstitious fancy, giving at the same time in each of his answers a parabolic or riddle-like shadowing forth of the true secret. So Satan and his servants tempt the Christian by altering the outward circumstances of life, associations, habits, etc., through which the life works, but of which it is independent. Until the saint yields it up, the secret of his life with God is safe.
IV. EVEN IN THE MOMENT AND CRISIS OF SPIRITUAL DOWNFALL THERE ARE DIVINE INTERPOSITIONS, RETARDATIONS, AND OCCASIONS FOR REPENTANCE. The Spirit of God was evidently working through the mind of Samson, and suggesting the evasive riddles, parables, etc., that seeing they might not see, etc. The question of his downfall is thereby brought several times before himself ere it actually takes place. So Peter and the cock-crow. In how many lives is this providential method illustrated! Temptation is played with until, constrictor-like, it springs upon its prey. Recollections of childhood's lessons, early scenes, etc. are very potent at such times.
V. WHEN THE SAINT'S VOW TO GOD IS BROKEN, ALL IS LOST. The secret is out, and the charmed life is helpless. A wreck of a man. Nothing left but the memory of an irreparable past and the burden of self-wrought helplessness. There are no ruins so pitiful as those of men who once were saints and Christian workers, Sunday-school teachers, ministers, etc. How dark is the world and life when the soul's light has gone out! With God the weakest is strong, without him the strongest is weak. "His eyes, blinded by sensuality, saw not the treason; soon, blinded by the enemy, he should see neither sun, nor men, but only God. That done, he turned back, and God came back to him" (Lange). - M.
I. SAMSON'S MORAL WEAKNESS. This is the man's great failing, apparent throughout his history, but reaching a climax in the present incident. Physical endowments are no guarantees for spiritual graces. Must not some of our young athletic barbarians of the aristocracy, adored by the multitude for chest and muscle, be condemned by true standards of judgment for contemptible weakness of character? Such weakness is far more deplorable than the bodily weakness of palsy and paralysis. St. Paul was considered miserably deficient an physical power and presence (2 Corinthians 10:10), yet his strength of soul exalts the apostle immeasurably above Samson. The moral weakness of Samson is illustrated by the circumstances of his great defeat.
1. Sin. Samson was neglecting his duty and degrading himself with those evil communications which corrupt good manners. There is nothing so enervating as the conscious pursuit of a guilty course.
2. Pleasure. Instead of toiling, fighting, and sacrificing himself for his country, Samson was wasting his hours in pleasure. Apart from the wrongness of this conduct, the lax, self-indulgent spirit it engendered was weakening. In seasons of pleasure we are off our guard.
3. The allurements of false affection. Samson can resist a host of Philistine warriors, but he cannot resist one Philistine woman. Strong against rude violence, he is weak before soft persuasion. Pure love is the loftiest inspiration for self-sacrificing devotion; but love degraded and corrupted is the deadliest poison to purity of character and vigour and independence of action. How many saints and heroes have found their humiliation in the same snares which caught the strong Samson and the famous St. Antony!
4. The self-confidence of strength. Samson plays with the curiosity of Delilah, sure of the power which will come to his aid in the moment of danger, till by degrees he is persuaded to betray the secret of that very power. Had he been less strong, he would have been less rash. Presumption is more dangerous than conscious weakness (1 Corinthians 10:12).
II. SAMSON'S PHYSICAL WEAKNESS. This resulted from his moral weakness. In the end the faults of the inner life will bear fruit in trouble to the outer life.
1. Samson's strength was a Divine gift. He had not attained it by self-discipline nor merited it by service. It was a talent intrusted to his care to be used for God. What God gives God can withhold.
2. Samson's strength was derived from spiritual sources. Samson was not a mere prodigy of brute force. He was one of God's heroes, and the glory of his strength lay in this fact, that it was the outcome of an inspiration. The most exalted powers we have for earthly work are derived from spiritual sources. If these sources are cut off, the energies which issue from them will be exhausted. Samson grows weak through the departure of the Spirit of the Lord.
3. Samson's strength depended on his observance of the Nazarite's vow. When the vow was broken the strength fled. God has a covenant with his people. He is always true to his side, but if we fail on ours the covenant is void and the blessings dependent on it cease.
(1) The vow of the Nazarite implied consecration to God. God bestows graces on us so long as we live to him, but our departure from him necessitates the just withholding of those graces.
(2) The vow required obedience to certain regulations. These were trivial in themselves; but the obligation of obedience is determined not by the importance of the commands given, but by the authority of the person giving them. Disobedience is shown not to the law, but to the authority. A small test may be sufficient to reveal this. Disobedience to God is the fundamental element of all sin, and, as in Samson''s case, it will be the sure cause of our ruin. - A.
I. SPIRITUAL IGNORANCE RESULTS FROM SPIRITUAL DOWNFALL. This is a partial converse of "he that doeth the word shall know of the doctrine." A mark of those in whom the truth is not, is that they deceive themselves; they fancy they are still the same as formerly. How subtle yet infinite is this distinction - with God, without God!
II. THE LOSS SUSTAINED BY THE FALLEN SOUL IS GREATER THAN IT REALISES. Only gradually does the experience work itself out, in a Judas's remorse or a Peter's repentance. Samson thought his strength merely had gone - it was God, the Giver of his strength. "Whoever has God knows it; whomsoever he has left knows it not" (Lange). - M.
I. THE FACT.
1. There are men whom God has forsaken. No man is utterly forsaken by God; our continued existence is an evidence of the continued presence of him in whom we live and move and have our being. But the fuller presence of God, that which secures strength and blessing, may depart.
2. His departure is the greatest curse which can fall upon a man. The consequences of it are weakness, shame, ruin. The conscious realisation of it is hell.
3. The cause of this departure of God is in the conduct of men, not in the will of God. Samson forsook God before God forsook him. God does not visit his people casually, and only for seasons; he abides, and will never leave them (Isaiah 41:17) till they wilfully depart from him.
4. A past enjoyment of God's presence is no guarantee against his future departure. God is not only absent from those who never knew him, he departs from some in whose hearts he has once dwelt. If the Christian has left his first love, he will find that all his previous experience of God's blessings will not secure him against the dreary night of a godless life.
II. THE IGNORANCE OF THE FACT. Samson was unconscious of the fearful loss he had sustained. So there are men who retain their honoured position in Christian society and in the Church while, even unknown to themselves, the source of the life which gave it them is ebbing away. The causes of this ignorance should be traced.
1. The presence of God is spiritual, inward, silent, secret, and his departure makes no outward sign.
2. Old habits continue for a season after the impetus behind them has ceased, as the train runs for a while after the steam has been shut off.
3. God may leave us gradually as we forsake him by degrees. The fall is not sudden and violent, rather it is a quiet gliding back; and the loss of Divine grace is not often (as in the case of Samson) sudden, but little by little it leaves us.
4. One of the worst effects of God''s departure is that it leaves us in a state of spiritual indifference. As with the death which follows extreme cold, the very fatality lies in the fact that the more dangerous our condition is, the more numbed are our faculties to any feeling of distress. The man from whom God has departed has neither the keenness of con- science to discern the fact, nor the feeling of concern to take any notice of it.
5. The tests of God's absence are not always immediately applied. The rotten tree stands till the storm strikes it; the corpse mocks sleep till corruption ensues; Samson does not know of God's departure till the Philistines are on him. But though postponed for a season, the revelation must come in the end. How much better to discover the evil first by self-examination! (2 Corinthians 13:5). - A.
I. GOD OFTEN SUFFERS HIS ENEMIES TO OVERLEAP THEMSELVES. Here they are exultant. They rejoice as over a foe utterly vanquished. They do not know that their festival, blasphemy against God, is to be the occasion of their destruction. "The green bay tree" may be nearer to the axe than insignificant fruit tree.
II. THERE IS AN "UNKNOWN QUANTITY," NOT TO BE CALCULATED UPON, IN THE REPENTANCE OF THE BACKSLIDER. Even the ruin of a believer may be the temple of the Holy Ghost. A short time with God's blessing may suffice to retrieve the errors of a lifetime. "Faith as a grain of mustard seed" can "remove mountains." How often has Satan been disappointed of his prey! Some of the greatest of God's servants have been won back from backsliding. Let the wicked beware then of their companion and laughing-stock, and let the believing Church work on; the poor useless wreck over which we despairingly weep may yet become a man again, a blessing and a comfort to many souls.
III. THE PRAYER OF REPENTANCE AND FAITH MAY RETRIEVE A SOUL'S RUIN. Can God give ear to this heart-touching cry, and shall he not listen to his captive children in the dungeons of sinful habit or the temples of superstition? "This once," "only this once." One prayer, one look at the Crucified, one grand effort in God's strength, how much it may do I
IV. EVEN THE WEAK ONES OF GOD ARE MIGHTIER THAN THE GREAT ONES OF THE WORLD. - M.
I. THE RETURN OF STRENGTH.
1. It followed a great fall. We may learn lessons from our own failures. Through our very weakness we may discern the secret of strength. The humility which should accompany failure is one of the first steps towards wiser conduct.
2. It came in a season of distress. Samson was a prisoner, defeated, insulted, mutilated. Sorrow is one road to God's grace,
(1) as it teaches us the folly of the evil conduct that produced it,
(2) as it leads us into a mood of serious and heart-searching reflection in which true wisdom is found, and
(3) as it teaches us our helplessness, and compels us to turn to God for deliverance.
3. The return of strength followed a return to obedience. This was suggested by the growing of Samson's hair and the return to fidelity to his vow. It was gradual. We are received into God's favour immediately we return in penitent faith; but we only conquer evil consequences of sin and regain lost powers and position by degrees.
4. The return of strength was realised through prayer. Samson now knows his weakness. In his own soul he is weak. Strength must come from above. There is no prayer which God will more certainly hear than that which invokes his aid in our performance of some great self-sacrificing duty.
II. THE HEROIC DEATH.
1. Samson uses his new strength for the deliverance of his nation. It is not given him merely for the amusement of the Philistines. If God gives us any special powers, he does so for some high purpose. We must not waste these in idle amusements, but put them to practical service.
2. Samson can only accomplish the greatest feat of his life by means that bring death to himself
(1) This was partly a result of his sinful weakness, which had betrayed him into the bands of his enemies, and brought him to such a position of bondage that his own death must be involved in that of the Philistines. Thus sin leaves consequences which produce suffering even after repentance and a return to a better life.
(2) It was also an instance of that strange law which makes the greatest good to men depend on the sacrifice of the benefactor. It has thus something in common with the death of Christ, though with many points of difference, Samson's death involving the destruction of his enemies, while Christ's death is expressly designed to give salvation to his enemies. - A.