“Of all the sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, it might have been.”
The Man Who Might Have Been
We begin the study of one of the strangest characters in the Bible. His name and his exploits are well-known, but the man himself remains a mystery. Of his life it could truly be said that he had unlimited potential. No man in the Bible started out with as much going for him; no man ended with less. Without question, he would have been voted by his classmates - Most Likely to Succeed. He had it all and he let it all get away from him.
His name is Samson. In 4 chapters of Judges we read about his rise and fall. It is a story rich in human drama - full of love and sex and intrigue and violence and passion and strange twists of fate. The 4 chapters - 13 - His miraculous birth, 14 - His untimely wedding, 15 - His battlefield heroics, 16 - His tragic death.
A. His feats are legendary - killed 1,000 Philistines with a the donkey’s jawbone, set fire to the wheat fields by putting torches in the tails of 150 pairs of foxes, killed 30 men to pay off a gambling debt. We all know the story of his tragic, heroic death when he destroyed the Philistine temple by pushing apart the pillars.
B. His flaws are legendary. His greatest flaw was a weakness for women. He could never say no to a good-looking woman, a fact that repeatedly got him into trouble and eventually cost him his life. The woman who took him down, Delilah, has become a symbol for the seductive female.
What we see in Samson is a bristling bundle of contradictions: He was a man of faith with a weakness for women. He was a man of prayer given to uncontrollable fits of anger. He was a leader of Israel who lusted after Philistine women. He was a man of God who lacked common sense. "A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” He is listed in Hebrews 11 as a man of faith, yet he slept with prostitutes. How do you figure it?
In The Beginning – v. 1
Samson’s story actually begins before he was born. The Philistines had made their way up the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea—into the area we now call the Gaza Strip. They possessed one major advantage over the Israelites—iron. Iron beats bronze any day. So the squeeze was on and the Philistines eventually came to a position of total dominance. In fact, they terrorized Israel for 40 years.
But God had a plan for delivering his people—a plan that involved a most unlikely man. But to make his plan work, God needed a special couple. He found one in the village of Zorah, right on the frontier between Israel and the Philistines. Most families had moved north to safety. But one family stayed put.
Better Paint the Nursery Blue – v. 2 - 5
I wonder what this unnamed woman thought about it all. Here she is washing clothes, preparing supper or just sitting by herself when suddenly an angel shows up to talk to her. He comes with some amazing news: You are about to have a baby even though you are sterile. Don’t drink any wine. Don’t eat anything unclean. When he’s born, don’t cut his hair. He’s going to be a Nazirite. He will begin to deliver Israel from the Philistines.
A Nazirite was one who had taken a special vow before the Lord. The whole purpose of the vow was to provide a way in which an ordinary (non-priestly) person could dedicate his life to God. The Nazirite vow was meant to be temporary and voluntary but in Samson’s case it was to last for his whole life. The Nazirite’s long hair proclaimed his inner dedication to God, a fact that comes into play in the affair between Samson and the Delilah.
Samson’s mother must have been a woman of great faith because v. 6 says she told her husband all about it. She even adds, “I didn’t ask him where he came from, and he didn’t tell me his name.” She’s convinced she’s seen an angel and since angels don’t lie, she’s about to have a baby. So far, so good. Now all eyes shift to Manoah. Clearly, the news is a shock to him. A baby! No wine! A Nazirite! Biggest surprise of all - a deliverer of Israel! Too much to take in, so Manoah decides to talk it over with the Lord.
A Few Questions from the Father – v. 8
This tells us something about the home Samson grew up in. It is clearly a household of faith. There is no doubt in Manoah’s prayer—no doubt that he is about to be a father even though his wife has been sterile for years. No doubt about his mission, no quibbling over the details, no argument of any kind. It is a simple request: “Tell us how to raise this child you are giving us.”
So the angel comes back and has a conversation with Manoah.
(v. 9 – 14) - the angel simply repeats to Manoah what he has already told his wife. She is not to drink any wine during the pregnancy and she is not to eat anything unclean. Furthermore, she is to do all that the angel has already commanded her.
Perhaps Manoah was disappointed by that response. I don’t know. But the angel is driving home that this baby is very special. After all, the angel of the Lord doesn’t announce every birth. In fact, it only happens 2 other times in the Bible, apart from Jesus—once to Sarah in Genesis 16 and once to Elizabeth in Luke 1. Think who was born in those cases—Isaac (to Sarah) and John the Baptist (to Elizabeth). That puts Samson in pretty good company.
Could You Stay For Supper?
Manoah asks him to eat with them. The angel replies that he can’t do that, but if they want, they should offer a burnt offering to God. Such a burnt offering would be a sign of their wholehearted devotion to God. So Manoah offers a sacrifice on a rock to the Lord. That’s when the fun begins: v. 19, 20. First they fell on the ground, scared to death. Then they realized it was the angel of the Lord. Then there is a funny exchange between the two of them (v. 22, 23): Manoah: We’re going to die. Wife: Why do you say that? Manoah: We’ve just seen God and no one can see God and live. Wife: If God wanted to kill us, we’d be dead already. Why did he accept our offering if he wanted to kill us? And why did he say we’re going to have a baby if he was going to kill us? How could we have a baby if we’re both dead? Manoah: Good point.
Well, that’s not exactly what they said, but it’s close. Manoah caught part of the truth and his wife caught the other part. The angel of the Lord was no normal angel. He was God showing himself in human form. That is, the angel of the Lord is the Lord himself. Manoah worked that much out. His wife worked out that God had appeared to them—not to kill them—but to show how important this baby was going to be. With all of that as background, it’s time for Samson to arrive.
It’s a Boy! – v. 24, 25
A. The blessing of God rests on Samson even as a young child. B. The Spirit of God began to stir him as a teenager. Mahaneh Dan was the staging area for the soldiers. No doubt Samson liked to watch the men get ready for battle. The Spirit stirred him at a military staging area - indicates his life’s work - the deliverance of his people from the hands of the hated Philistines.
The Man Who Had It All
Now we can begin to see Samson in better perspective. All that we have learned so far impresses us with the fact - Here is a man completely prepared to do great things for God. If ever a man should have succeeded - if ever a man had it all - if ever a man had all the advantages life can offer - it was Samson.
His birth was announced by an angel of the Lord who turns out to be God himself. He was set apart to God as a Nazirite from birth. His mission in life was chosen by God - to begin to deliver his people. He was raised in a godly home by godly parents who wanted to cooperate with God. He was blessed by God as a young child. He was empowered by the Spirit of God.
Samson had it all! You will never understand his life until you grasp that fact. Samson is not just one of the guys who got lucky. No, he was chosen by God before he was born and uniquely gifted for the work he was to do. That’s the tragedy of Samson’s life. He started with everything and lost it all. The man who was Most Likely to Succeed … didn’t. His story is told in such great detail -we must think about it carefully and learn lessons from it.
A Word to Mom and Dad
Especially to those whose children have already left home. You are not responsible for how your children turn out, because godly parents do not always produce godly children. Samson is Exhibit A of that truth. We wish it were otherwise, that somehow we could guarantee that if you raise your children in the Christian faith, they will never drift away from God. We would like to say that, but we can’t.
If anything is clear, it is that Manoah and his wife were godly parents who more than anything else wanted to raise their son for God. They prayed for him, they taught him the Torah, they led him in the path of righteousness, and they lived a godly life before him. They did all the right things.
Yet Samson went his own way. It still happens today. There are many Christian parents who are heartbroken because their children have grown up, left home and drifted far away from God. They never go to church, they never read the Bible, they don’t pray, and they don’t raise their children for God. To all parents who have grown children like that, I have 2 things to say:
1. Don’t despair. Even though your children aren’t serving the Lord right now - doesn’t mean they can’t change later. All those prayers, those Scriptures and Sunday School lessons are like seeds inside the soul of your child. Sometimes those seeds lie dormant for many years and then suddenly they begin to blossom into a harvest of godliness. It may yet happen for your children.
2. Don’t blame yourself for what your children freely choose to do. You aren’t responsible for their choices. No, you weren’t perfect. Yes, there are some things you would do differently. But that’s not the point. God doesn’t hold you accountable for the choices your children make. They have to answer to God for themselves and they won’t be able to use you for an excuse.
It’s Not How You Begin…
There is one other great application from this chapter: It’s not how you begin but how you end that makes the difference. Samson had a great beginning, but look how he ended—enslaved, his eyes put out, his hair shorn, bound with shackles, grinding corn like an ox, and made to perform like a circus animal.
That’s a truth that cuts both ways. Some of you haven’t had a good beginning. In fact, you are the exact opposite of Samson. But that doesn’t matter, because it’s not how you begin but how you end that makes the difference. So take heart, my friend, God isn’t checking your ID at the door. If you want to be forgiven, you can be forgiven right now. If you have to be made new, it can happen right now. If you want a new life, you can have it. It doesn’t matter where you started or how you’ve been living. Just say, “Lord Jesus, I need a new start,” and he will give you brand-new life.
The rest of us have had a good beginning. Samson’s story is in the Bible so we would take nothing for granted. Even though you’ve been going to church for 50 years, you can fall just like Samson did. Even though you think you’ve got it made, it can happen to you. Even though everyone else thinks you’re the hottest thing since sliced bread, you may be the next Samson. It can happen to you. “Of all the sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, it might have been.”
Congratulations on a great start. But remember, to whom much is given, much is required. We’re expecting great things from you.
The truth is, there’s a little bit of Samson in all of us and a whole lot of Samson in most of us. He is the perfect man for 2010 - a man who had it all, an OT Baby Boomer born with every advantage you could ask for. He had it all and he threw it all away. Yes, Samson would feel right at home with the Baby Boomers and the Yuppies. He’s just like us and we’re just like him.
In the weeks to come we’re going to discover a lot more about this baffling, fascinating character. But for the moment, keep this thought in mind: It’s not how you begin, but how you end that makes the difference.