When I was a kid—back in the days when they only cost twelve cents, I loved comic books. I remember there was an AD like this on the back of most issues. As you can see, it challenged 97 lb weaklings like myself by claiming we could have a physique like Charles Atlas—and the super-human strength to match it. I sent in my $2.99 and you can see the amazing results!
All kidding aside, this week I googled Charles Atlas and found out that he was born in Italy in 1903 and immigrated to the US when he was 10. His real name was Angelo Siciliano and he was your typical 97 lb weakling—skinny and slop-shouldered, feeble and often ill. Angelo’s puny physique made him the constant target of bullies in the Brooklyn neighborhood where his family settled. But one day when he was on the beach at Coney Island with a girl-friend something happened that changed his life. A muscle-bound life-guard kicked sand in Angelo’s face and he swore revenge—which didn’t impress his girl-friend—who was google-eyed at the sight of the muscular lifeguard.
Well, poor Angelo decided he would be a weakling no more.
- Never again would bullies push him around.
- Never again would he lose a girl to a more muscular rival.
You might say that day on the beach was Angelo’s “Pop-eye moment” because it was, “All he could stands and he couldn’t stands no more!”
But instead of downing a can of spinach Angelo spent the next few months using home-made weights in an attempt to improve his body. He wanted muscles that would impress the girls—and make bullies leave him alone—but the results were disappointing. His homemade weights just weren’t good enough and he couldn’t afford the real thing.
Then one day Angelo visited the Bronx Zoo and as he watched a mighty lion stretch its powerful frame he said to himself, “That mighty lion has no barbells—he’s just pitting one muscle against another.” This gave Angelo the idea for a fitness regimen that he called “Dynamic Tension” which meant he flexed his muscles like the lion—using isometric opposition and adding a range of motion to stress the muscles further.
Well, it worked—the next summer he re-emerged on the beach at Coney Island and the difference was so startling that a friend said, “You look like that statue of Atlas on top of the Atlas Hotel.” Angelo loved that—loved it so much he legally changed his name to Charles Atlas and the rest is comic book history.
During his life, Charles Atlas was described as “A Modern Day Hercules” — and “the world’s most perfectly developed man.” His dynamic tension program became very popular. Boys all over the world saw the same ads I did and sent in their money to get the booklet Angelo wrote describing the necessary exercises.
- King George VI of England sent in a letter. Maybe he thought it would help with his stuttering.
- Mahatma Gandhi wrote to inquire about the course. I’m sure he was stronger than he looked under that sheet.
Angelo’s program and the ads it spawned have been described as “one of the longest-lasting and most memorable ad campaigns of all time.” In fact, thanks to all the 97 lb. weaklings in our world, his business, Charles Atlas, Ltd., is still thriving 46 years after Angelo’s death.
I mention all this because today as we get back to our series: “Connecting With the People of the Bible” we come to the story of a man of incredible strength named Samson. He didn’t get his muscles from isometric exercise. No—his strength came from God. But—the tragic thing about Samson is the fact that while he was a man of great PHYSICAL strength—he was also a man of great MORAL weakness. Samson had a serious problem all his life when it came to controlling his desires. I’m thinking he must have inspired Solomon to write Proverbs 16:32, where as one paraphrase puts it, “Better is a patient man than a strong warrior, a man who rules his own spirit than one who captures a city.”
The story of Samson’s life is found in Judges 13-16. Turn there and follow along as we connect with this Biblical strongman. The first thing I want you to know is that Samson was one of the JUDGES of Israel—in fact, he was the last one mentioned in that book of the Bible. And don’t think of him as a guy in a black robe with a gavel. No—in this chapter of the history of God’s people, judges were more like heroes—for they were primarily known for their military prowess. In fact, the Hebrew word for “judge” means “savior” or “deliverer.” In the BOOK of Judges we read about 12 such deliverers—eleven men and one woman—and they were all unlikely heroes—which are the kind of heroes God likes to use!
These God-empowered judges led Israel for 350 years—a time period in which there were several cycles of disobedience on the part of the Hebrew people. It would go like this.
- The people of Israel would rebel against God and begin to worship the same pagan gods of the nations around them.
- They would suffer the painful consequences of that.
- Then they would CRY OUT TO GOD FOR HELP—
- And, He would respond by sending a judge who would deliver them.
- After that miraculous deliverance the people would return to God
- But when the judge died they would rebel against God and the cycle would start all over again.
Well, the pagan enemy in Samson’s day were the Philistines. This particular pagan people group had tried to invade Egypt after being forced our of their homeland in Greece. They were defeated by the Egyptians—so they moved up to the southern coastal plain of Israel. But this time they didn’t attack with military force. No—this time the Philistines used a powerful weapon known as ASSIMILATION.
Here’s how it worked. Unlike the Hebrews, the Philistines had the ability to smelt iron. So—if a Hebrew farmer wanted a new, MODERN IRON axe head or plow—he had to go to the Philistine blacksmiths. And their business was more than welcome. They liked the Hebrews to intermingle. They wanted the Hebrews to learn to depend on them. In fact, if a young Hebrew man wanted a wife—the Philistines were happy to provide one. It was sort of an intentional merging of cultures—through which the Israelites gradually lost their unique identity—as God’s people. And like a cancer cell engulfing a healthy cell, this “assimilation strategy” worked. Listen as I read Judges 13:1 and you’ll see how WELL it worked:
“Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, so the Lord delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years.”
Did you notice something missing this time—something different from the prior cycles?
Let’s see how did the cycle go?
- The people of Israel would rebel against God and begin to worship the same pagan gods of the nations around them.
- They would suffer the painful consequences, CRY OUT TO GOD FOR HELP.
- Then He would respond by sending a judge who would deliver them.
Was there a cry for help this time? Everyone shake your heads because NO there wasn’t. This time there was no groaning under oppression. Things were going too well for that. Thanks to all those iron plows, it was a time of affluence. Plus—to quote the Beach Boys, the Hebrew young men wished all girls could be Philistine girls. These two things led the people of Israel to completely adopt and adapt to the values, and customs—and worst of all—THE IDOLS—of the Philistines.
Now—here’s how I’d like us to frame our study. Samson’s problem was he ignored certain dangers—dangers that eventually took his God-given super-human strength from him. It is my prayer that by “connecting” with Samson we’ll be reminded that these same dangers threaten to sap our health—our strength—as followers of Jesus. So, as we look through these four chapters—every time we get to one of those dangers—you’ll hear this sound.
[DANGER WILL ROBINSON]
I’m hoping this will keep you awake and attentive! No naps today! Now before we get going I want to point out that Samson’s life reminds us of something we learned about God in our study of His attributes. We learned that God is SOVEREIGN—that no matter how things may look—God is in control. Well, we see this attribute of our Heavenly Father in Samson’s life because—in spite of Samson’s many weaknesses—in spite of his fraternization with the enemy and his sexual sin and his uncontrollable temper—God still used him to bring about a confrontation between the Philistines and the Israelites. Samson’s weaknesses led to a “blood feud” that caused more and more conflict, and finally the division between the two nations that was so desperately needed. Samson will be a wedge that will begin to divide Israel from the Philistines—free them from their pagan influence. His tragic life is proof that our Sovereign God can use a crooked stick to draw a straight line. Okay—let’s go back in time and get the biography going.
As you can see in Judges 13, one day the Angel of the Lord—our pre-incarnate Savior—appeared to the wife of the man who would be Samson’s father—a man from the tribe of Dan named Manoah. The Lord told Manoah and his wife—who was barren—that she would conceive and have a son. He also told them that their son had been chosen to be a judge before his birth—before his conception in fact. The Lord went on to say that their son was to be a NAZARITE. He said, “He is to be set apart to God from birth, and he will BEGIN the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”
Note that word “BEGIN.” That’s Samson’s charge—the good work that God had prepared in advance for him to do. He was to be a WEDGE that BEGAN to counteract this assimilation—began to pry the Hebrews away from these pagan invaders. Now—let me tell you about this Nazarite VOW deal. And pay attention. It had three main stipulations.
- A Nazarite was not to cut his hair.
- He was not to drink any produce from the grape vine—alcoholic or non-alcoholic.
- He was not to have any contact with any dead body.
Usually this vow was taken by the person for a limited period of time. But in Samson’s case he didn’t take the vow. It was given to him. And it was to be a vow that would last his entire life. Okay—here’s a sermon assignment for you. Whenever Samson breaks one of these three vows, I want you to raise your hand. To be clear—if he cuts his hair—touches a dead body—or imbibes the fruit of the vine—raise your hand. Got it? Good!
Okay—just as the Lord promised Samson is born. It’s cool how many times God miraculously uses barren women to give birth! When Samson few up—when he reached manhood—like his fellow Hebrews he began to adopt the customs and lifestyle of his Philistine neighbors.
[PLAY DANGER SOUND CLIP]
(1) And that brings us to DANGER number one—WORLDLINESS.
As I said, like the Hebrews around him, Samson became LIKE the pagan WORLD of his day. And, the NAME his parents gave him didn’t help. “Samson” means “Son of the Sun.” The sun was considered a god by the Philistines. This shows us that in spite of their son’s miraculous birth, his parents had become worldly—like the pagan culture that surrounded them. I mean, think of it! This future judge of Israel—God’s deliverer—was himself named after a pagan deity. Is that assimilation or what?!
And, this continued when Samson chose of a BRIDE. Like many other Hebrew young men, he picked a Philistine. One day he told his father, “I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.” (Judges 14:2) And note—this was not disrespectful of his EARTHLY father because that’s how weddings were done back then. Men would kind of “window shop” for a bride. And when they found the one they wanted they’d tell their dad to set it up. But whereas this was not respectful of Samson’s EARTHY father—it was disrespectful of his HEAVENLY FATHER. You see, back in Deuteronomy 7 God clearly said, “Do not intermarry with pagans. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons for they will turn your children away from following Me to serve other gods.”
Well, Samson’s parents warn him about breaking God’s law but Samson was not willing to listen. He told his dad, “I don’t care. She’s the one I want. She’s right in my eyes.” Did you catch that?Samson was like his WORLDLY Hebrew peers—for instead of obeying God’s loving laws everyone did what was right in their own eyes. This should be a warning to us for, “There is a way that seems right to man—but it leads to destruction.” (Proverbs 14:12)
Now—I need to point out that the issue here is not inter-RACIAL marriage. The Bible does not forbid this. In fact, Moses and Zipporah were from different races. No—the issue is about inter-FAITH marriage. And this is a warning young Christians of marrying age TODAY should heed—for when spouses don’t share a faith in the REAL God—the one TRUE God—they pull in different directions. If they both don’t serve Jesus as Savior and Lord, their values are different. They can’t share the same level of intimacy. They can’t experience the “one-ness” that they are designed to share. Keller writes about this and says, “The natural response is to make God less central to everything. There is a daily unseen pressure to worship something else: your spouse, or the priorities they bring to the marriage.”
But back to this first danger. We are to be in the world. We are commissioned to do that. Like Jesus, we are to go where sinners are. But we are not to become like the world. We are to be different. Romans 12:2 puts it this way: “We are to not be conformed to the pattern of this world—but rather transformed by our relationship with Jesus.” That relationship is to inspire and empower us to life differently—so much so that we stand out. Paul says we are to be like bright “…stars without fault in this warped and crooked generation.” (Philippians 2)
How are you doing in response to this particular strength-sapping danger? Are you rubbing off on the world or is it the other way around?
Well, en route to Timnah Samson and his parents got separated and Samson finds himself in a vineyard.
VOW BROKEN—or at least ALMOST!!! NO WINE! STEER CLEAR OF THE GRAPES!
In that vineyard Samson encountered a lion. And, Judges 14:6 says, “The Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon Samson, and he tore the lion apart as one would have torn apart a young goat.”
Everybody say “WOW!” I don’t know about you—but I couldn’t tear a goat—young or old—apart with my bare hands! So, if it was me it would have to say, “The Spirit of the Lord came mightily on Mark and he tore the Lion apart as one would a wet cardboard box.” Well, months later on a return trip for the actual wedding Samson saw the carcass of this lion. He investigated and found that a colony of bees had taken up residence inside.
VOW BROKEN! RIGHT! NO TOUCHING A DEAD BODY!
Well, ignoring his vows Samson collected some of the honey and ate it as he walked. I have to point out that in this marriage/vineyard/lion/honey chapter of his life Samson showed that he was the kind of guy who thought the rules didn’t apply to him. Have you ever thought that way about one of God’s loving laws—like you were above it? Perhaps you judged that one of God’s rules was no longer applicable—old fashioned. Well, remember, God’s loving laws NEVER go out of date. They are ALWAYS applicable. As 1st Peter 1:25 says, “The WORD of the LORD endures FOREVER.”
When Samson and his parents arrived—they followed Philistine custom, and Samson hosted a pre-wedding feast. Actually, it was more of a seven-day drinking party.
VOW BROKEN! RIGHT—once again, NO WINE!
Well, Samson apparently didn’t bring any groomsmen with him so at random he picked 30 Philistine men who were friends of the bride’s family and he invited them to the feast. In the midst of all the drunken revelry, Samson challenged his guests with a wager.
[DANGER SOUND BYTE]
(2) Here’s a second Danger – GAMBLING.
Wagering is sin because it causes us to worship the god of chance instead of the one TRUE God. Plus, it causes us to waste God’s blessings. There’s been a lot of hoopla about the mega-millions lottery this week. Someone in South Carolina guessed the right number. This person won nearly a billion dollars. But the way that one person won—was by 15.7 million people losing—and most of them were poor people—wagering—wasting—money they don’t have.
Here’s a couple stats to underscore this fact.
- A recent survey by the Chicago Sun Times showed the average per capita lottery purchase was $221 in the ten Chicago zip codes with the lowest incomes. That’s almost three times greater than was spent in the Chicago zip codes with the highest incomes.
- Here’s something else. The Des Moines Register reported that lottery ticket sales surge when welfare checks arrive.
Listen, the lottery is nothing but a tax on the poor. But I digress—my point is, any time we feel a prompting to gamble we can know it comes from Satan. He wants us to waste God’s blessings. He wants us to give finances IDOL status. Well, Samson foolishly gave in to this satanic idea and said he would give each of his impromptu wedding feast guests a full set of clothes—if they correctly guessed the answer to his riddle. If they failed to do so they would have to give Samson 30 outfits. Riddles were apparently a popular form of entertainment in those days and Samson’s was virtually indecipherable. It’s in verse 14 of chapter 14: “Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet.”
What is the answer? RIGHT—the lion! But of course, these Philistine groomsmen didn’t know what had happened in the vineyard and the Bible says that for three days they tried to come up with the answer—but no matter how much they drank they could not figure it out. Well, Samson thought he had them stumped—but he didn’t count on the ruthlessness of these last minute wedding guests. Look at verse 15 and following: “On the fourth day, they said to Samson’s wife, ‘Coax your husband into explaining the riddle for us—or we will burn you and your father’s household to death.”
Well, Samson’s bride threw a fit and Samson gave in. He told her the answer. Then she shared it with her Philistine friends and Samson lost the wager.
This is the first example we have of another weakness of this “mighty hero.” He could not say “no” to a girl. He had the muscles of Superman—but the limp backbone of The Elongated Man.
[DANGER SOUND BYTE]
(3) Yep—this leads us to a third danger—the danger of uncontrolled ANGER.
Samson is so angry at losing his sinful bet that as verse 19 says, “He went down to Ashkelon, struck down thirty of their men, stripped them of everything and gave their clothes to those who had explained the riddle.”
This should remind us that as Paul says in Ephesians, anger can “lead us to sin—for it gives the Devil a foothold.” (Ephesians 4)
And that’s what happened here. Samson killed 30 men for their clothes! Then this hot-tempered runaway groom went home to sulk. Once he cooled off, he went back to this bride’s home and he brought a young goat as a gift. I guess that was the cultural equivalent of a dozen roses and a box of chocolates. But when Samson arrived, he learned that he was not married. His former father-in-law told him he assumed Samson had backed out of the marriage so he gave his daughter to one of her Philistine buddies—one of the guys who “won” a new outfit thanks to Samson’s riddle deal.
Well, now Samson was REALLY angry so this time he hit the Philistines where it hurt—in the stomach. He captured three hundred foxes or jackals—which is a lot harder than it looks. He tied the jackals in pairs—put a torch between their tails—and set them loose in the midst of the Philistines’ grain crop—right at harvest time. Well, not only did it destroy a major part of their grain crop—the fire also spread to engulf vineyards and olive groves. These were the main crops of the region—so this would have been a devastating blow indeed. This did hit them where it hurt. I mean, the Philistines didn’t retaliate for Samson’s killing the 30 men but now they do. Since they couldn’t get their hands on Samson, they took his former father-in-law and his almost wife and burned them alive. This infuriated Samson further. In verse 7 it says,
“He attacked them viciously and slaughtered many of them. Then he went down and stayed in a cave in the rock of Etam.”
Well, now the Philistines realized that no halfway measures would work. Samson had to be eliminated. So they mounted a major search-and-destroy mission into Judah. When they entered Judah they met absolutely no resistance. In fact, when the fully assimilated Hebrews saw this massive army and learned they were coming to get Samson—-they offered to help. They sent 3000 of their own soldiers to the cave where Samson was hanging out to arrest him. Samson allowed his fellow Hebrews to bind his arms—and let them lead him to the Philistines. But verse 14 says, “The Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him. The ropes on his arms became like charred flax, and the bindings dropped from his hands. Finding a fresh jawbone of a donkey, he grabbed it and struck down a thousand men.”
After making “donkeys” of the Philistines, for the first Samson prayed—but it wasn’t the kind of prayer you would expect. Look at verse 18: “You have given Your servant this great victory. Must I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?”
I mean, talk about irreverent presumption! If I were God, I would have said, “I think I’ll let you thirst until you learn your place Samson!” But God is full of grace isn’t He! He doesn’t break bruised reeds. And Samson was “bruised” by a life of being immersed in a pagan culture. So, “God opened up the hollow place in Lehi, and water came out of it. When Samson drank, his strength returned and he revived.”
On top of that our graceful God used this miraculous victory to establish Samson’s judgeship. Chapter 15 verse 20 tells us that, “Samson led Israel for 20 years in the days of the Philistines.” With God’s help, for two decades under Samson’s protection, the Israelites enjoyed a time of reprieve. Although the Philistines continued to trouble them long after Samson’s lifetime, with his God-given strength he had broken the back of their dominance. Then one day at the end of his judgeship, Samson went to the Philistine city of Gaza and there he saw a prostitute.
[DANGER SOUND BYTE]
(4) Yep—Danger #4 – The Danger of Temptation.
Oscar Wilde once said, “I can resist anything—except temptation.” And Samson was like Oscar. He yielded to his sinful desires and slept with this woman of the streets. Well, the Philistines saw him go into this woman’s home and decided they had him where they wanted him. They thought he could not escape from a walled city so they locked the gates and waited for their enemy to come out. The next morning, he did and in His truly amazing grace God gave Samson the strength to rip the gates that weighed over 700 pounds right out of the walls. He took the gates—frame and all—carrying them—uphill 38 miles to Hebron. Samson had great super-physical strength indeed but the fact that he yielded to temptation so easily shows us he also had super-sinful weakness.
We must remember this danger—moral compromise ALWAYS makes us weak. It ALWAYS leads us to actions we will regret. It ALWAYS damages our relationship with God. Our constant prayer must be, “God, lead us NOT into temptation. Deliver us from evil. Help me to see the painful consequences of my sin—before I commit it!”
Well, at this point in his life Samson again ignored the danger of temptation and began an affair with another Philistine woman named Delilah. And—once again this caught the attention of the Philistine rulers who more than anything wanted to get rid of Samson—who had begun to thwart their assimilation plans. They went to Delilah and offered her an enormous amount of money if she could tell them the secret of Samson’s strength. They said they would give her the equivalent of the mega-million lottery—or more specifically what would have been equal to 550 years of wages for a worker of that day. And she was more than happy to do so. You know the story. Samson toyed with her by giving fake answers like tying his hands with new ropes or by weaving his hair into a loom—but in the end once again he could not say no and told her to cut his hair.
Right—up until this point Samson had broken only two of his Nazarite vows but now he broke the last. Weakened—he was easily captured—and blinded. They gouged out his eyes.
[DANGER SOUND BYTE]
(5) One more—the danger of SELF-CONFIDENCE.
I mean, Samson was aware of his Nazarite vows. For 40 years he has kept this last one—but now he got to the point where he pridefully thought HE was the source of his strength and he let his hair be cut. We must remember that anything good about us is from God.
Mature believers are not SELF-confident—they are GOD-confident. Well, Samson was led away to spend the rest of his life grinding grain for the Philistines. But look at Judges 16:15. It says something beautiful, “But the hair on Samson’s head began to grow again after it had been shaved.” That’s God’s grace. Even in the midst of the worst kind of failure God was present, working to restore Samson.
I believe Samson genuinely repented of his sin. Ironically, his BLINDNESS led him to SEE the foolish, rebellious way he had lived his life. He is proof of the truth of Jesus’ saying, “Better to have your eye gouged out—than for it to cause you to sin.” Sometimes our eyes aren’t opened until we hit bottom—and when we hit, we learn we are never beyond the reach of God’s forgiveness. A few months pass and the Philistines decided to celebrate their “god” Dagon’s victory over Samson. They gathered in the Temple of Dagon for a big banquet—3000 of them including all their rulers They decided to bring Samson out as the “entertainment” and when they did Samson prayed his best prayer ever—the prayer of a man who has been refined by the power of suffering.
Samson said, humbly, “Sovereign Lord, remember me. Please God, strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge…let me die with the Philistines.” He put his hands on the two columns that supported the temple and God gave him the strength to push them apart. The entire building came down and the Bible tells us, “Thus Samson killed many more when he died than when he lived.”
LET US PRAY
Father, Guide us so we learn from Your servant Samson—learn to throw off everything that hinders—weakens us—the sins that so easily entangle us. Keep Your Son in our eyes Lord—Keep us dependent on His indwelling so that we will be empowered—to stand out in this fallen and falling world—empowered to do all things through Him Who gives us strength. I ask this in Jesus’ name. AMEN.