SERMON: "Samson and Delilah," by the Rev. Lee Woofenden

Lee Woofenden leewoof@tiac.net
Sun May 3 23:45:11 UTC 1998



                   Samson and Delilah
                By the Rev. Lee Woofenden
          Bridgewater, Massachusetts, May 3, 1998


Readings:

          Judges 16:4-22. Samson and Delilah.

Samson fell in love with a woman in the Valley of Sorek whose name was
Delilah. The rulers of the Philistines went to her and said, "See if you
can lure him into showing you the secret of his great strength and how we
can overpower him so we may tie him up and subdue him. Each one of us will
give you eleven hundred shekels of silver.
     So Delilah said to Samson, "Tell me the secret of your great strength
and how you can be tied up and subdued."
     Samson answered her, "If anyone ties me with seven fresh thongs that
have not been dried, I will become as weak as any other man."
     Then the rulers of the Philistines brought her seven fresh thongs that
had not been dried, and she tied him with them. With men hidden in the
room, she called to him, "Samson, the Philistines are upon you!" But he
snapped the thongs as easily as a piece of string snaps when it comes close
to a flame. So the secret of his strength was not discovered.
     Then Delilah said to Samson, "You have made a fool of me; you lied to
me. Come now, tell me how you can be tied."
     He said, "If anyone ties me securely with new ropes that have never
been used, I will become as weak as any other man."
     So Delilah took new ropes and tied him with them. Then, with men
hidden in the room, she called to him, "Samson, the Philistines are upon
you!" But he snapped the ropes off his arms as if they were threads.
     Delilah then said to Samson, "Until now, you hove been making a fool
of me and lying to me. Tell me how you can be tied."
     He replied, "If you weave the seven braids of my head into the fabric
on the loom, and tighten it with the pin, I will become as weak as any
other man." So while he was sleeping, Delilah took the seven braids of his
head, wove them into the fabric, and tightened it with the pin.
     Again she called to him, "Samson, the Philistines are upon you!" He
awoke from his sleep and pulled up the pin and the loom, with the fabric.
     Then she said to him, "How can you say, 'I love you,' when you won't
confide in me? This is the third time you have made a fool of me and
haven't told me the secret of your great strength." With such nagging she
prodded him day after day until he was tired to death.
     So he told her everything. "No razor has ever been used on my head,"
he said, "because I have been a Nazirite set apart to God since birth. If
my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak
as any other man."
     When Delilah saw that he had told her everything, she sent word to the
rulers of the Philistines, "Come back once more; he has told me
everything." So the rulers of the Philistines returned with the silver in
their hands. Having put him to sleep on her lap, she called a man to shave
off the seven braids of his hair, and so began to subdue him. And his
strength left him.
     Then she called, "Samson, the Philistines are upon you!"
     He awoke from his sleep and thought, "I will go out as before and
shake myself free." But he did not know that the Lord had left him.
     The Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes, and took him down to
Gaza. Binding him with bronze shackles, they set him to grinding in the
prison. But the hair on his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.

          Matthew 2:21-23. He will be called a Nazarene.

Joseph took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel....
Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and
he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said
through the prophets: "He will be called a Nazarene."

          Doctrine of the Sacred Scriptures #149. Head and hair.

We cannot know why the Naziriteship was instituted, or why Samson's
strength was from his hair, unless we know what the head means in the
Bible. The head means the heavenly wisdom that angels and people have from
the Lord through divine truth. So the hair on the head means heavenly
wisdom in the most external things, and also divine truth in the most
external things.


Sermon:

Samson fell in love with a woman in the Valley of Sorek whose name was
Delilah. (Judges 16:4)

This morning's sermon is a warm-up for, and a preview of, the topic for the
second week at the Fryeburg New Church Assembly this August. You can thank
the Rev. Ken Turley of the Fryeburg church for it. He is working on a
musical production of the Samson and Delilah story, which he plans to
perform with the Assembly's attendees. He has been asking the lecturers for
their topics; this sermon is my way of looking over the story and finding a
focus for my second week lecture. For the _brevity_ of the sermon you can
thank the Massachusetts Association, which is having its meeting at
Blairhaven this afternoon. My family and I are going there for the
luncheon, which means we have to get out earlier than usual!
     But to our topic. Many couples are mentioned in the Bible, especially
in the Old Testament. One of the most famous--or infamous--is Samson and
Delilah. They are a classic case of almost everything that can go wrong
with a relationship.
     By the time Samson meets and falls in love with Delilah, he has
already had a disastrous marriage with a Philistine woman who nagged him
for a secret of his so that she could betray his trust to her people, who
were enemies of Israel in general, and of Samson in particular. Her
betrayal had led to dozens of deaths, most of them inflicted by Samson in
revenge on the Philistines for _their_ betrayal of _him_. This led to a
cycle of revenge, in which the Philistines killed Samson's wife and her
father, and in turn Samson killed even _more_ Philistines, eventually, the
story says, killing a thousand men with the jawbone of an ox. Now, all of
this was good for the Israelites, who rejoiced at anything that made their
Philistine overlords weaker. But to modern eyes, it looks like one _sick_
relationship!
     Unfortunately, Samson did not learn from his mistakes. In our story,
he falls in love with Delilah, another Philistine woman, who proves just as
treacherous as the one Samson had married earlier. No sooner has Samson
hooked up with Delilah than the Philistines are at her to find out the
secret of Samson's strength so that they can subdue him.
     As we read about Samson lying to Delilah three times about what will
take away his strength, and Delilah each time trying it out and shouting,
"Samson, the Philistines are upon you!" we may wonder Samson would ever
tell her the truth. Of course, the Philistines who intended to capture
Samson were hiding, and we are not told that they came out on these three
occasions; perhaps Samson did not realize Delilah was laying a trap for him.
     Whatever the case, Delilah eventually wears Samson down with her
continuous nagging and prodding day after day, and finally Samson tells her
the truth: that his great strength comes from his consecration to the Lord
as a Nazirite, and that if his hair is cut, he will become "as weak as any
other man." The law of the Nazirite is given in Numbers chapter six. It
specifies that among other requirements, men and women who dedicate
themselves to the Lord as Nazirites are not allowed to cut their hair until
the end of their period of dedication, when their hair is cut in a special
ceremony.
     Before Samson's birth, an angel tells his parents-to-be that Samson is
to be a Nazirite "from birth until the day of his death" (Numbers 13:7).
Samson's hair was _never_ to be cut. His long hair is a symbol of his
dedication to the Lord, and the source of his great strength. When Delilah
has her Philistine friends shave Samson's head as he sleeps in her lap, it
breaks his Nazirite vow, and also his superhuman strength. Samson ends out
blinded and shackled in prison, where he was forced to do the monotonous,
and, for a man of those times, disgraceful work of grinding grain with the
hand mills that the women used. As our reading ends, we are given the
hopeful note that "the hair on his head began to grow again." If you don't
know the exciting climax to this story, read the rest of Judges 16 when you
get home!
     As we read Samson's story, it is easy to dismiss him as the perfect
comic book superhero: a man with a lot of brawn and very little brain. For
all his physical strength, Samson has little endurance when it comes to
resisting things that are bad for him--especially bad relationships. First
he marries a woman who betrays him before the wedding feast is over. Later
he spends the night with a Philistine prostitute, whose house is quickly
surrounded by enemies intent on killing him. And finally, he falls in love
with Delilah and lives with her, leading eventually to his imprisonment and
death. "Doesn't he ever learn?" we might ask.
     In asking that question, we are falling into exactly the "trap" that
the Lord has set for us in telling us this story of human strength, pride,
and folly. For Samson's is really _our_ story. We may not have the strength
of ten men, but each one of us _has_ developed some strength of
character--especially in those areas where we have turned to the Lord for
guidance and help.
     Yet, don't we also make the same mistakes over and over again? Once we
have gotten used to some addictive or destructive habit, we seldom quit
cold turkey and never look back. Much more often, we struggle again and
again with the same flaws and shortcomings that have been plaguing us for
years. For all the spiritual strength we may have developed over the years
going to Sunday School, attending church, reading the Bible and other
spiritual books, and so on, when the rubber hits the road, we are still
fallible, mistake-prone humans!
     Samson's story is _our_ story. To use another mighty figure from
mythology, our Achilles heel is represented by Delilah. Delilah is that
simple, stubborn bad habit that we continue to fall into even when we have
seen its destructive effects. We _know_ the excuses and arguments we use to
justify it are false. But when we feel that allure; when that desire comes
over us; when something or someone _pushes our button_, we throw aside all
our spiritual principles, ignore everything our rational mind tells us, and
surrender to the moment once more.
     Unfortunately, Samson's story does not have a happy ending. This, too,
is realistic. When we continue to live in ways we know we shouldn't, it
damages both ourselves and others, just as Samson both killed others and
was himself maimed, and eventually killed in his revenge against the
Philistines. For us, it sometimes does take the breakup of a marriage, the
loss of a job, the destruction of family relationships and close
friendships, to wake us up to what is happening. If, like Samson we do not
heed these warnings, things will continue to go downhill.
     Our old life may have to die before we can begin a new one--just as
Samson died so that the Israelites could go on to the next step in their
development as a nation. We can only hope that in that death of the old,
what dies is our old attitude of pride in our own selves, and the false
notion that what counts is what we _believe_, and not whether we _live_ by
it. That attitude of belief without action, of religious faith that is not
expressed in kindness toward others, is what the Philistines represent. It
is an attitude that is just as deadly to us today as the Philistines were
to the Israelites in Samson's day.
     Each time we indulge once more in that bad habit, or yield to that old
weakness, we demonstrate for ourselves once more that our beliefs _must_ be
backed up by action, or they come to nothing. Each time we feel the
consequences of what we have done, or have _not_ done, it is another
opportunity to learn that when we abandon our faith in our actions, it
results in damage and pain both to ourselves and to others.
     Yet there is always the possibility of redemption. In the Old
Testament there is only one other mention of the Nazirite vow after
Samson's story (in Amos 2:11-12), and it is a reference to _breaking_ the
Nazirite vow. However, in our brief reading from Matthew, we have a
tantalizing reference. Joseph took Mary and the young Jesus and they "went
and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through
the prophets, 'He will be called a Nazarene.'" If you look in a Bible that
has cross-references, you will find no reference to any Old Testament
prophesy that says "He will be called a Nazarene."
     Perhaps it is a reference to a book that is not in our present Bible.
But I suspect Matthew was making a play on words (Nazarene instead of
Nazirite), referring to the story of Samson. And so, once again, we are
reminded that when our own strength of character is not enough to overcome
that old character flaw that has bedeviled us for so long, we do have a
place to turn for a new and deeper strength that is equal to the task: we
can and must turn to the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. 



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