Sunday, August 8, 2021

Lessons from Sunday School: Samson (Volume 1, Edition 4)

 Today's sermon was about a very abstract concept: Hope. 

My daily Bible reading was the complete opposite- Jeremiah, not the chapter 29 that we all love to think about with the promise of hope, but rather what comes before that... the prophecy that they will be captive and in exile. 

Heavy stuff for a Sunday School story... so I decided to draw some inspiration from my Facebook friends who got me thinking about their favorite Sunday School stories. 

Today, let's talk about Samson. If you'd like to turn to your Bible, which I hope you will... and I hope the sound of those onion-thin pages take you back... 

we'll be in Judges 13-

Samson was born during a period of Israelite history known as the Judges, because God sent a series of judges to help them figure out what they were supposed to do. These weren't judges in black robes with powdered wigs sitting behind large wooden tables with a gavel in their hand. Some of them traveled and one even sat and held court under a tree. The type of court they held isn't really what we are used to, either, although they did offer guidance and help settle disputes. The moral of the story of Judges, though, is just that. There was little morality in Israel. In fact, the very last line of Judges is (my paraphrase, depending on the translation that you use, "And there was no King in Israel, and everyone did what was right in their own eyes."

Anyway, this period sets up a cycle in the history of the Israelite. As a child we wouldn't have grasped that, but it's something I can relate to, because even though I love God and do my best to serve Him, I can understand sometimes falling away. The people would do wrong. God would send a judge to help them do better. They would, for a while, and there would be peace, but then they would "do evil again in the sight of the Lord." (But, they weren't really thinking about what was evil in God's sight. They were only concerned about their own vision, remember, doing what was right in their own eyes.)

Samson is born during this time frame. His parents received a visit from an angel with the promise of a son. His mother was barren, a fate nearly worse than death, so the news was astonishing and hopeful, but also scary, as they had never seen an angel before.  The angel came first to Samson's mom, telling her not to drink strong drink and to follow all that he said, that her son would be a Nazarite from birth. She told her husband, who wasn't sure that all she said could be believed, so God again sent an angel, who relayed the same message, and disappeared in the fire as they offered a sacrifice. Did this mean they would die? 

Samson was born and he was blessed and he grew as young men do. Being the only child of a couple who were sure they were barren, and also being a promise of God, I get the feeling he was a little spoiled. When he was of marrying age, he saw a young woman who was not from his tribe, but a Philistine, the dreaded enemy of the Israelite. You remember David and Goliath? Goliath was the great Philistine? This woman was of that people... but Samson had to have her. 

Lesson number one: Listen to your parents. 

They didn't like her, but Samson was young and in lust (which we don't understand in Sunday School) so marry her he did. We are also told that he killed a lion with his bare hands, and then ate honey from the lion's carcass, which meant he was unclean. Samson was a jokester, telling a riddle relating to honey in the carcass, and we've got some drama from the young woman (just read Judges 14 for the full story). Samson makes the Philistines mad as he taunts them over not being able to solve his riddle, and we see the beginning of the unraveling of his glory. I mean, when you call your woman a heifer, it all has to go down from there... (I'm not making it up. He says, "If you had not ploughed with my heifer...")

Lesson number two: Don't call your wife a heifer. 

These events led to a strong dislike for the Philistines. Samson returned to his father's house, and his wife became somebody else's wife. Samson's anger grew, and he destroyed the fields of the Philistines, catching them afire with torches tied to fox tails. A pretty creative way to seek revenge. The Philistines fight back, and seek to fight the tribe of Judah. The leaders come to Samson and ask him what he's done. He says, "I've only done what they did to me."

Lesson number three: Follow the Golden Rule- do unto others as you would have them do unto you, not as they have done to you. 

The leaders tie him up and hand him over to the Philistines, only to have him break free and kill everyone with the jawbone of a donkey. 

Lesson number four: Be resourceful. Use what you have. 

Young, headstrong Samson became the leader of the Israelites. 

One thing we don't learn about Samson in Sunday School is that he sounds like a little bit of a womanizer. The Timmonite woman that he married, a prostitute, and then Delilah... and those are the women we know about. 

Oh, Delilah... Samson fell in love. He was smitten. She had him wrapped around her little finger. You've heard the story.... she asks him where his strength comes from, and he lies, and lies, and lies again... but she finally gets it out of him. The Philistines cut his long locks and Samson loses his power. He lies, sleeping like a baby in her lap... I can't help but wonder if she had given him something to knock him out or what because I sure don't sleep soundly enough to let someone cut my hair off. 

He wakes when they try to subdue him, trying to fight without realizing he has lost his strength, which came from the power of God. 

Lesson number five, that was far too subtle for Sunday School: Sometimes we can think we are in God's presence, with His power, and not realize we have strayed. This is sobering to me... that Samson didn't realize the Spirit had departed from him. It makes me think of times when I maybe have thought I was being led by the Spirit, only to have been following my flesh. 

Samson is captured, blinded, and made to grind grain at a millhouse. He is taken from being a leader to being a servant. 

But this, lesson number six, might be the greatest lesson of them all. Our God is a God of redemption. As Samson was humbled, grinding at the millstone in prison, his hair began to grow back. I know this is a symbol of God's power. I can't help but think that as he blindly went about his day, he was crying out to the One who could save him, who could comfort him. And God was with him. 

Samson's final act is one that is so sad to me. The Philistines brought him forward in their arena to make fun of him. "Let's let Samson entertain him." Here's this great man of God who has been stripped of everything. He asks the person who led him in to put him between two pillars. He felt God's strength one last time as he pushed against those pillars, bringing down the arena and killing everyone inside. 

As a child, I didn't understand this ending, and as an adult I still think it could have been better. Just yesterday Wallace and I watched a movie with a very abrupt ending, and today, as I'm considering Samson, I thought of how the Hollywood of my growing up would have ended with Samson being rescued from the rubble, falling in love with a chaste young woman who would prove to cure him of the heartbreak of Delilah's deception, because we like things to be tied up in fancy bows...

but that doesn't always happen. Samson's story isn't a happy ending, but we see God's redemptive plan. He doesn't give up on us. And that, my friend is a happy ending in and of itself. 

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