I’m presently preaching through the book of Judges and loving every minute of it. I never imagined how such a dark and confusing book could be so gospel-rich. Last Sunday I covered the story of Samson – 4 chapters, in one hit. It wasn’t an easy thing to do but I sensed it was better way to handle the narrative and retain the big picture. And the big picture was clearly Samson points us to Jesus.
In fact all the Judges point to Jesus in one way or another, because they all show us how human deliverers are insufficient. Some are better than others of course (such as Othniel and Deborah), but all are weak and flawed, and all eventually die. Jesus is not weak or flawed. He is the perfect deliverer-judge. And he doesn’t die.
The most powerful connections to Jesus in the Samson story was his birth and his death (everything in between was an absolute disaster!). One entire chapter (Judges 13) is devoted to the birth narrative – something unequaled with any other judge in the book. But just note the parallels: Samson’s birth is announced by an angel; Jesus’ birth is announced to Mary by an angel. Sampson is miraculously conceived in a barren woman; Jesus is miraculously conceived in a virgin. Samson is consecrated to God from the womb; Jesus is consecrated to God from the womb. That’s more than a coincidence.
And then with regard to his death, the author of Judges tells us that those who died with Samson that day were more than all he had killed his entire life (Judges 16:3). This was in fulfilment of the promise the angel of the Lord gave to his mother, “he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines” (13:5). The next time the Philistines appear in the Bible is in 1 Samuel, but Israel is no longer ruled by them; Israel is at war with them. And that war continues for centuries all the way to king Hezekiah. But never again are the Israelites ruled by the Philistines as they are in the times of Samson. But note again the parallels with our Saviour: Both are betrayed, Samson by Delilah and Jesus by Judas. Both are handed over to Gentile oppressors. Both are chained, tortured, mocked, and put on public display. Both chose to sacrifice themselves. Both died with their arms outstretched. And both enabled God’s people to triumph over God’s enemies by their deaths.
The story is a wonderful pointer to the true deliverer-judge who defeated our two great enemies, sin and death. Jesus’ death freed us from sin’s rule just as Samson’s death freed Israel from the Philistine rule. That doesn’t mean that we don’t sin any more just like it didn’t mean that Israel’s problems with the Philistines ended with Samson. What changed is that we now have the power through Christ to say no to sin and to refuse to let it reign over us.
So what did I do with the middle; that is, the record of his life? I simply retold the story, reading the pertinent verses and showed how even a man like Samson, whose life was completely out of control and lived for self could be used by God when his purposes are at stake. This is made very plain to us in chapter 14 where Samson goes against his parents counsel and insists they “get” for him Timnite girl. We are told in the follow verse, “His father and mother did not know that it was from the LORD, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines” (14:4). This is an interpretive key for the entire narrative. It informs us this was all in God’s plan. God was going to use Samson’s weakness to bring about a confrontation between the Israelites and the Philistines. They had become way too comfortable together. This was God’s way of prying them apart.
Well that sermon did open a few eyes! However at the end one faithful brother (whom I have a very good relationship with) came up and said, “Great Sermon Peter. That was a great connection you made between Samson and Christ. However, didn’t miss the obvious?” I said, “Go on.” “You had in the congregation a very large number of men, all of whom are tempted by lust on a daily basis. Samson’s life was ruined by his lust. You never made the connection.” He was right. I alluded to it of course, but I never pointed it out clearly. Nor did I take the time the time to drive it home.
The question is – should I have? There are two concerns I can see if I chose to go down that road.
1. I would likely obstruct or at least weaken my main point (the big idea) which was the entire story points us to our need for the Saviour. You can’t preach a message on the story of Samson, majoring on the dangers of lust and then add something at the end how this points to Jesus. I’ve tried it before. People wind up thinking most about what was stressed. They would go away thinking a lot about the dangers of the sin of lust and not a lot about Jesus.
2. I don’t think that was the main issue – even in Samson’s life. Samson’s biggest problem wasn’t a struggle with lust (in fact it doesn’t appear that he struggled with it at all!). It was unbelief. He lived for himself, not God. He lived to please himself, not the Lord. And as a result, his life spun completely out of control. He wanted freedom, but his way. What he got was bondage. He became a slave of his own sinful desires. And of course that is the point Paul makes very plain in Romans 6. Which is why we all need the gospel!
Perhaps if I preached that passage again, I might do things a bit differently – but not too much differently. I’ve heard enough moralizing sermons in my life (particularly in the Old Testament) that have put me off teaching about sin. I already know I sin. What I need is the answer to overcome it.
And that lies in Jesus.