Judges 16 redeeming the folly of a middle aged man

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  • Last week we saw something of the trouble Samson got into with women.He had a taste for what was bad for him in women, and in spite of his phenomenal physical strength when the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, he didn’t have the discipline to say not either to himself or to them, and he seems to have LOVED a little playing with fire.In all of this Samson is a living picture of the weakness of the people of Israel, in their flirting with the culture and therefore the religion of the Philistines … drawn astray by wayward tastes, unable to say no either to their own wayward tastes or to Philistinism … and with a tendency to think that they could play with fire without burning their fingers.Samson has already proved otherwise and is now a blinded prisoner down in Gaza …
  • Dagon has been shown to be the cereal god and chief deity of the Philistines.They were more than a little bit keen on him.And the very sight of Samson is what causes the Philistines to praise Dagon.In fact it appears they’d gathered specifically for a celebration precisely because (they said) Dagon had delivered their enemy Samson into their hands.How does it feel when your personal failures bring disgrace on the Name of your God, and give rise to the exaltation of idolatry?Oh yes, your God has the power to organise things otherwise … but you just couldn’t say ‘No’ to yourself, or to someone else you grew infatuated with who has betrayed and destroyed you.A leader of Israel?!Samson knows he’s been VERY foolish.His situation is utterly desperate, as blind Samson is called upon to be taunted at the revels associated with this pagan deity and to show the supposed superiority of Dagon to Israel’s God … a supposed superiority which only arose because his bed-fellow’s bitter treachery got Samson delivered over to the Philistines.And the Philistines were clearly celebrating it ‘large’ …
  • The Hebrew text is very clear in its description of the actions of Samson. The text reads that Samson grasped the two middle pillars that supported the house of the temple, ‘ehādkîmînôwe‘ehādbiśmō‘lô (one with his right hand and one with his left).
  • We have the evidence of the excavation of a pagan Temple at Tell Qasile to put flesh on the account Judges 16 gives us of these events … The excavation site of Tell Qasile where the Philistine temple was discovered is now part of the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv.Although the Gaza temple of Dagon has yet to be excavated because a modern city sits on top of it, Wood suggests that the Gaza temple “must have been very similar to the one at Tell Qasile.” The Biblical text describes the Gaza temple as having two pillars supporting the roof (Jgs 16:24). He concludes, “the Bible writer knew his facts. He knew that Philistine temples were supported by two pillars and that this was how Samson pulled the temple down. The report is that of an eye-witness, again demonstrating that indeed the Bible is the world’s most accurate history textbook” (1974: 54).This slide shows you an artist’s reconstruction of the temple at Tell Qasile: 10—street; 1, 9—courtyards; 8—stone threshold (cf. 1 Sm  5:4–5); 2— entrance room; 3—main hall; 4—wooden pillar resting on a stone base; 7—raised plastered platform with steps where a number of cultic vessels were found; 6—storage room for discarded cultic vessels; 5—small auxiliary shrine. (Great Events of Bible Times, ed. James Harpur (London: Marshall Editions, 1987), p. 69.)
  • There’s an ancient Philistine temple like it that’s been excavated at Kiryat Gath destroyed by what is assumed was a huge earthquake from around this time … but we know most about the Samson Temple demolition from the very similar one at Tell Qasile.Here’s a photo of the excavation of Temple bases … let’s get a closer look …
  • The pillar bases at Tell Qasile are about 2 m (7 ft) apart, well within the reach of a tall man. Therefore, the first part of the description of Samson’s death is consistent with the excavated temple.The text then reads that Samson “bent powerfully” in his effort to dislodge the pillars. The Hebrew termnātāh (bend), while a common word, contains connotations of bending under a force or effort. (Issachar bends his shoulder to the burden (Gn 49:15). A wadi, riverbed, is said to bend or slope (Nm 21:15).)The word used in conjunction with the term “bend” is bekōha, literally “in strength.” The assumed root of the term is khh, meaning “the capacity to act.” The term is an expression of potency and refers to the subject’s capacity to produce by strength or force. The usual idea seems to be to denote physical strength .(Oswalt 1980: 436–37).So this slide is a photo of the site of the Temple at Tell Qasile as it is today …When the archaeologists continued excavating below the level of the temple, they left the two pillar bases in place for posterity.What Samson did was to lift the pillars that sat on these bases and dumped them down off those bases, bringing down the roof with the people standing on it.And that heavily loaded roof the fell on top of the ‘VIP box’ beneath the roof where the lords of the Philistines and their cronies were sitting watching the entertainment as Samson was being taunted.
  • There are three main conclusions that can be drawn from this revisiting of the temple issue. First, it is clear that the linguistic evidence supports the side of the debate that sees the temple scene as historical, as typified by Dr. Bryant Wood.Secondly, it seems very likely that the story of the destruction of the Gaza temple was originated by an actual eyewitness or a narrator who lived in close proximity with the events. The Hebrew terms that constitute the key actions (Samson BENT POWERFULLY AND THE TEMPLE FELL...) all contain connotations of violent power. Moreover, the actions that are described are completely consistent with the findings at Tell Qasile. According to the excavated findings, the wooden pillars were held in place by the weight of the temple. To dislodge and set the pillars in motion would demand an immense surge of power. The term denoting the collapsing of the temple complements this description, as it is used in reference to the result of a violent act that brings about damage, destruction, and death. Therefore, these should be seen as complementary terms that are validated by the archaeological findings at Tell Qasile.Thirdly, the combination of the findings at Tell Qasile and the specific wording of the text describing Samson’s final act validates the historicity of the temple tradition, if not the entire set of Samson narratives. The destruction of the temple at Tell Qasile has been dated to the early tenth century BC. Such a dating is consistent with the rise and fall of Philistine power, as they had a period of ascendancy before the monarchy and were defeated by David in the late 11th century BC. After that defeat the Philistines were no longer a powerful force in this region. Only one who lived in the time of the Judges or the early monarchy could have been familiar with the structure of Philistine temples. Defining the period of Philistine power as the era from the settlement to the early monarchy (ca. 1200–1000 BC) also helps to define the time period in which Samson lived. Because this temple account seems to have been generated by an eyewitness to the event, Samson could not have been the creation of storytellers or later Biblical authors.The world in which Samson lived was real and so was his strength.But for our purposes, just consider what it is not just from a physical but from a spiritual perspective here …Samson has sinned.God has been patient for a long time with Samson’s weakness.Then Samson gets himself into a situation where he is betrayed, blinded (so that LOOKS like the end of his Philistine-bashing ministry, then?) and bound in Gaza … but it’s so much worse than that.Samson has become responsible for the Name of His GOD getting dragged through the dirt.That’s a higher order situation altogether, and absolutely more than any believer wants to get into.Ever.What are Samson’s priorities in this situation?He is blind, bound, taunted, disappointed with himself, disillusionment can’t have been far from his door.But when he works out the layout of the place he’s been tormented in, works out who is where in that building, completes his structural survey of the edifice and checks on his haircut … he is NOT yet down and out.God has called Samson to clarify the boundaries for the Israelites by engaging the Philistines and doing it single-handedly.One big last effort then.The opportunity is there.Samson is ready for one more huge heroic effort.And it will cost him his life.But God has called Samson to this role … and for him repentance (turning away from your sin and turning TO embrace God and His plan for our life – that’s repentance!) …For Samson, practical down to earth repentance is DEMOLITION shaped.Do you know … repentance costs?Sin is EXPENSIVE, and correcting it by repentance exacts a price.Samson died disgraced, derided and alone.He had no way of knowing whether his family and the people who mattered to him would know the real achievement of his last few breaths.He had no idea how awful his last moments would feel crushed beneath the weight of the collapsing temple portico.He couldn’t be sure … he really couldn’t SEE very much … that his plans was going to work.And he almost certainly died without knowing the effect of what he had done.But Samson was back on the hymn sheet.It can cost.It was CERTAINLY EXTREMELY heroic.The flawed hero got things all straightened out in the end.
  • So ends the life of the last of the Judges of Israel.Personally, as Michael Wilcock points out,Samson issues a dreadful warning to all of us.He was a man of enormous potential who never grasped that that the Spirit’s call to holy discipline is even more important than the Spirit’s gifts.As the 19th Cambridge preacher put it:“his great failing … verily the fetters of brass did not form a stronger bond for his feet, than ungoverned passions make for the souls of men. Even reason and common sense appear to fail the persons who are under their influence …”So what are we to make of Samson, the man of God?Firstly, you won’t get Samson at all unless you reckon on the fact that he is living in a time LONG BEFORE God’s fullest revelation in Christ in the age of the Spirit through the completed Bible.Now – that doesn’t lead us to minimise Samson’s bad bits.But God has been dealing progressively with human beings down the ages, teaching us what sin is and showing us how to deal with it using the resources He provides.Gordon J Keddie: “The Christian of the New Testament has more light than Samson ever did, but, truth to tell, he still has the same old darkness clinging to him. If anything, we have less excuse, because we are given far more.”Secondly, then, no real Christian can fail to sympathise to some extent with Samson because we know the power and the hold sin and bad habits we’ve got into can also have on us.Again, that’s not to excuse sin … but to be realistic about it and to have our responses to the sins of others conditioned and designed for us by our common need of grace.Thirdly, the Lord surely reveals to us in Samson the folly of trusting in our gifts as if they were something we had produced or developed ownership of.Be aware that there are times when the good parent allows the child to fall, in order to have them realise what it is that enables them to stand.So it is with the Lord of Heaven and earth who may allow us to fall in order that we realise that there is no strength and no gifts that will enable us to stand outside our humble reliance upon Him.The Bible calls this faith.Keddie (again) “We must watch our hearts, otherwise the best of gifts will fail.”Fourthly, God seems to have designed Samson not simply to draw a line in the sand against the Philistines … a line that the people of Israel had not observed which had led to them just becoming like the Philistines all round tem and wandering away from God.God seems also to have designed Samson to sum up in one imperfect, flawed hero the weakness of the people’s relationship to God in the time of the Judges, as a very clear warning to people of later generations after Israel found peace.This man is the last of the Judges, but (again as Keddie points out) Samson’s trumpet calls not so much the Last Post, but the Reveille for an era of significant spiritual reformation and revival.And that is His call once more to us, in our time, when the Philistine’s quiet conquest of God’s people … as they lay on their backs waiting for their bellies to be scratched … poses as great a threat to us now as it did to them in the days of that flawed, uber-gifted hero from Dan.
  • Judges 16 redeeming the folly of a middle aged man

    1. 1. Judges 16 - Samson … redeeming thefolly of a middle-aged man• Introduction• Gaza, vv. 1-3• Sorek, vv. 4-20• The Temple of Dagon, vv. 21-31
    2. 2. Judges 16 - Samson … redeeming thefolly of a middle-aged man• Introduction• Gaza, vv. 1-3• Sorek, vv. 4-20• The Temple of Dagon, vv. 21-31– Taunting Israel’s God“When the people saw him, they praised their god, saying,‘Our god has delivered our enemyinto our hands,the one who laid waste our landand multiplied our slain.’”
    3. 3. Judges 16 - Samson … redeeming thefolly of a middle-aged man• Introduction• Gaza, vv. 1-3• Sorek, vv. 4-20• The Temple of Dagon, vv. 21-31– Taunting Israel’s God– Taunting Samson“While they were in high spirits, they shouted, ‘Bringout Samson to entertain us.’ So they called Samsonout of the prison, and he performed for them.”
    4. 4. Judges 16 - Samson … redeeming thefolly of a middle-aged man• Introduction• Gaza, vv. 1-3• Sorek, vv. 4-20• The Temple of Dagon, vv. 21-31– Taunting Israel’s God– Taunting Samson– Bringing the house down, vv. 25-31
    5. 5. Judges 16:25-31When they stood him among the pillars, 26 Samson said to the servantwho held his hand, ‘Put me where I can feel the pillars that support thetemple, so that I may lean against them.’ 27 Now the temple wascrowded with men and women; all the rulers of the Philistines werethere, and on the roof were about three thousand men and womenwatching Samson perform. 28 Then Samson prayed to the LORD,‘Sovereign LORD, remember me. Please, God, strengthen me just oncemore, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for mytwo eyes.’ 29 Then Samson reached towards the two central pillars onwhich the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right handon the one and his left hand on the other, 30 Samson said, ‘Let me diewith the Philistines!’ Then he pushed with all his might, and downcame the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killedmany more when he died than while he lived.31 Then his brothers and his father’s whole family went down to gethim. They brought him back and buried him between Zorah andEshtaol in the tomb of Manoah his father. He had led Israel for twentyyears.
    6. 6. Judges 16 - Samson … redeeming thefolly of a middle-aged man• Introduction• Gaza, vv. 1-3• Sorek, vv. 4-20• The Temple of Dagon, vv. 21-31– Taunting Israel’s God– Taunting Samson– Bringing the house down, vv. 25-31
    7. 7. Judges 16 - Samson … redeeming thefolly of a middle-aged man• Introduction• Gaza, vv. 1-3• Sorek, vv. 4-20• The Temple of Dagon, vv. 21-31– Taunting Israel’s God– Taunting Samson– Bringing the house down, vv. 25-31
    8. 8. Judges 16 - Samson … redeeming thefolly of a middle-aged man• Introduction• Gaza, vv. 1-3• Sorek, vv. 4-20• The Temple of Dagon, vv. 21-31• Conclusion

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