Then went Samson to Gaza, and saw there an harlot, and went in to her.…
Now the story of Samson is told in this book, just in the characteristic fashion of Bible biography. There is nothing extenuated, and there is nothing concealed. Here you have the man as he is — in his strength and his weakness, in his right-doing and his wrongdoing. Now, in the story of Samson itself there is nothing very puzzling. The one puzzling thing about it is in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where we find this man canonised as one of the heroes of faith. Now, as we candidly read the story, we must confess that Samson does not seem to have very much religion about him. That unshorn hair was a solemn thing to him. It marked out a certain dedication of him to God, a certain separation of him among men. But so far as we can see that is all the religion that Samson had about him. Whence that verdict of the Epistle to the Hebrews? There is no doubt that Samson was possessed of a certain faith in the God of Israel, and in Israel's future, which did help to redeem his life from utter ignobleness, which did inspire him to make a part of that history that leads up to Christ. As I understand, that is all that the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews says. Samson is an illustration of how far a liberal, true, and noble faith will go to redeem what is essentially a poor life from utter ignobleness. Samson's life is far from that of inspiration and example. He is here rather as a signal warning. I daresay some of you are familiar with Miltons poem of Samson Agonistes. If so, let me remind you that the Samson of the Bible is not at all the Samson of the poem. Milton's tragedy depicts Samson as a stately, majestic, fallen hero, great and admirable in every respect, even in his overthrow. The Samson of the Book of Judges is quite another man. I do not think that he is, on the whole, a man whom you can possibly respect, though I think he is a man that you cannot possibly help liking. A boyish, sunny, radiant soul — keen for life as he understands it. Just the sort of man to be exposed to extra temptation by the very qualities that were fitted to make him so popular. Aye, we too need that natural and happy hopefulness in God's campaigns — and we have too little of it. We are too sour and grim, we who fight His battles. And yet, I think, there is a false ring in Samson's laughter. There is just a touch of the crackling of the thorns under the pot, of the noisy laughter of the fool. The youth of him was the best of him; and that is a hard thing to say of any man. The strongest man of his day, he was about essentially the weakest man of his day. No doubt he did much to save his country; he began to save Israel from the Philistines. But himself he could not save. First of all, glance at his childhood and youth in Zorah, for that is the first chapter of his life. How the story of Samson's birth is as beautiful and tender as a summer morning. And how mother and father resolve together that the life God would have their boy lead they, by God's grace, will help him towards. They will not take God's gift apart from God's purpose. They will not plan their boy's career to please themselves. And so, under these happy auspices, the boy is born, and under such training he grows up in his happy youth until the time comes that, as an Israelite, he must take his responsible part in the burden and the pain of his people. And now I think we may entitle the second chapter, "Samson in the camp of Dan." There he has betaken himself, with his consecrated life, where the manhood of his tribe are wont to gather for military exercise, or perhaps for grave counsel concerning the public peril; for they seemed to be ever in peril in those days. There his forefathers, long ago, had established their camp. There was the ancestral burying-place of his people. There he felt himself moved nearer to all that was great and glorious in the world and in the history of his people. There we read , "The Spirit of the Lord moved him in the camp of Dan." And I think that to all of us ere we took our plunge into life there came this same experience in some sacred spot when a vision was given us of the future that dawned so fair for us when we were children, but now shown so near, a vision of the heaving and wresting of immortal powers, of the battle between good and evil, between God and the world; and when we felt, oh, a great scorn of the world and the trivial and the selfish, and a great purpose to strike in and strike out on the right side — to be for God and for God's cause in this world, to win the glory that is of God. Well, well, the Spirit of the Lord, I venture to say, hath moved us all in the camp of Dan. And now we pass on to the third chapter, and we may entitle it "Samson in Gaza," or "Samson plunging into Life," or if you prefer, "Peril and Pleasure in Gaza." Gaza was the chief seaport of the Philistines, a great commercial city, a gay, pleasure-loving place, contrasting strikingly with the quiet monotony of the home-life in the tribe of Dan. And, although Samson's first visit to Gaza is first spoken of well on in his life, there is no doubt whatever that he had visited Gaza in early youth. Gaza lay very near to the camp of Dan, and there all that he had purposed and felt was to be put to the test. The fact is, there is no escaping Gaza for you and me. We have to mix with life. One ought, in one sense, to trust life utterly. You cannot believe too strongly in the good of life, and in all that you can get from life if you live it rightly. Yet, on the other hand, one is bound to say you must distrust life. Ah, it is life that undoes folk, and undoes them smilingly and tenderly, as Delilah undid Samson in Gaza. It is life that lays the unholy hand on the holy secret, that asks insinuatingly, "Tell me, tell me, wherein the secret of thy strength lies. Tell me what makes thee different from other folk. Tell me what prevents thee now from coming in with us. Tell me — " and wins the secret from us, laying the unholy hand upon the holy secret for the unholy purpose. So Samson in Gaza gives himself away. Not knowingly, mark you. He believed that even if he got into some kind of mess, he was strong enough to get out of it. He believed that he could touch the fire and not be burnt. Samson one day woke up finding he had made a mistake, but saying to himself, "Well, I must retrieve; I will go out as at other times, and resume my life." But he was never more to go out as at other times. He had gone too far; he had done it once too often; he had given way too much. Now, it seems to me that this is the teaching of Samson's life. The man had no principle, no definite and consecutive purpose in life. Even an inferior principle, even any kind of purpose, would have spared him much that he suffered. Why, one would rather have seen that man set himself to be a millionaire than drift as he did; one would rather see the man's heart given to gold than to Delilah. But the man had no purpose at all, he had no rudder to steer by. That man was doomed to drift upon the rocks, to make shipwreck of his life. Ah, what a strange and awful trust this life of ours is! It is the one thing that you must not play with. You must take it very seriously. The gift that God gives you, if you do not use it properly, it will undo you. "I will go out as at other times." That is the history of every temptation and of every failure. That is the encouragement every one applies to his soul, ere he goes into temptation. You cannot do that. It cannot be with you as it was, you who have yielded to the temptress, you who have yielded to sin. Oh, then, you must come straight back to God, and get His forgiveness, and begin life again with His help. But be very sure you can never without that leave your sin behind you; you cannot go out as at other times.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then went Samson to Gaza, and saw there an harlot, and went in unto her.