17 February 2018

What happened when …

Samson’s heart ruled his head?

Running his rough fingers through her silky hair, Samson slowly inhaled the erotic perfume as she lay beside him.

It smelt sweet and intoxicating, exactly like the woman who had sensually applied it, before he had knocked on her door earlier that evening. Her beauty had captivated this judge of Israel so completely that he easily pushed any thought of wrongdoing to the back of his mind. Such exquisite loveliness was his for the taking – as long as he paid her fee: since the woman who had satisfied his sexual desires on that evening was a prostitute. And a Philistine prostitute to boot!

Recognising that it was time to go, Samson threw a woollen cloak over his broad shoulders. Not wishing to wake his night-time purchase, Philistia’s ‘most wanted’ threw a coin on the bed.

Pretty she may have been, but Samson knew he couldn’t trust a Philistine! And as he walked toward the city gate Samson reckoned that, forty miles from home and well inside Philistine territory, Gaza was more than risky for him. He was much too easy to spot: long hair, big, strong and clearly a Hebrew with attitude. The word that he was in town was bound to be out by now! However pleasant the evening had been up to this point, Samson knew he couldn’t wait until morning before heading for home.

But he was fearless. He almost wished, as he put stride to his pace, that the Philistines would dare to try to intercept him. He longed for the opportunity to teach them another lesson. And as the strong man of Israel passed through the narrow passage leading to the city’s fortified gate, the sound of drunken snoring bounced off the adjoining guardroom walls. Samson could barely stifle his laughter as he realised that the noise-makers were indeed none other than those who had planned his ambush!

Humiliation was the name of the game with Samson, and he was a master player as far as the Philistines were concerned. The sleeping enemy presented too good an opportunity to miss. With one heave-ho and barely an audible grunt, the mighty man pulled the gate of Gaza out of its foundation and headed off into the night with it draped over his shoulders like a skinned rabbit! Needless to say, none dared to follow him into the darkness.

Mile after mile he walked with the product of Philistine engineering still across his shoulders. “What fools these oppressors of Israel are,” Samson told himself, as he talked with the trees on his long walk towards Hebron. His arrogance all but exceeded his strength and his utter disdain for the Philistines exceeding both. He spent a lot of time with his thoughts these days, for he was a loner: a man of retaliation… of violence… of hatred: all fuelled by passion.

Samson’s head was invariably ruled by his heart! “It’s my job to hate the Philistines!” he argued with himself as one foot followed the other. Wasn’t he the one whom Yahweh had appointed as deliverer of Israel from his mother’s womb? As usual, Samson was only partly right. His parents had told him frequently about the Angelic messenger who said that they would have “a child – a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.” (Judges 13:5) Yet most of Samson’s encounters with Israel’s enemies were hot-headed responses to personal strife, and had little to do with using his God-given gift of strength to carry out God’s plan for the nation! None more so than the havoc caused by his choice of a pagan wife.

As Samson finally deposited the gate of Gaza on a hill in sight of Hebron, the memories came flooding back. Memories of the village of Timnah, of the beautiful woman he had fallen in love with, of his parents disapproval when he suggested marriage. Even yet he could not bring himself to accept the folly of a “Nazirite to God” marrying a pagan Philistine woman! But Samson always got his own way – breaking a vow was nothing new to him. The wedding was a disaster. Samson didn’t get his bride because of a bet that backfired and a wife that told his secrets. It was her betrayal that taught him not to trust Philistine women. Yet he loved her… but he lost her – forever: murdered in retaliation for his revenge!

Heading for the nearest cave Samson revelled once more in the sweetness of that revenge – one thousand Philistines cut down with the fresh jawbone of an ass! He laughed at the night sky as he recalled how bone and teeth had cut through the horde of Philistines like a razor, when they had come to take him prisoner. Yet, as Samson’s eyes eventually closed in sleep, he little thought of the fact that it was God who had strengthened him on that day, and God who had miraculously burst open the rock to quench his insatiable thirst.

In what was to be his final year, the man who was set apart to begin Israel’s deliverance, was ruled by the ill-controlled passion of his heart and led step by step by the lust of his eyes. Thankfully, the Lord Jehovah, in His mercy, can use us in spite of ourselves, as Samson was to discover.

The city of Beth-shemesh, in the Valley of Sorek, wasn’t far from Samson’s home, situated on the border of enemy territory. These days, Samson turned more easily towards the homeland of the Philistines than towards the neighbouring towns of his own people. There happened to be a magnet in the valley that was attracting his hormones once more.

The magnet’s name was Delilah! Like an excited teenager Samson rushed out of Zoar; his father’s despairing words about a former attraction barely registering with him any longer. “Isn’t there one woman in our tribe or among all the Israelites that you could marry?” (Judges 14:3) What did his father know? Delilah was something else! Israel didn’t have a match for her! And this time Samson was in love! It wasn’t only her beauty, or her sensuality, or the smile he received from those luscious lips that excited him – he was captivated by Delilah’s sense of fun! And no one loved a game more than Samson! She seemed to enjoy his stories of how he had fooled and humiliated the Philistines on numerous occasions; so much so that every time he visited this new love of his life, Delilah played ‘the Philistines have come to capture you!’ game.

The reality that Delilah lived among the Philistines, and that, up to now, Samson was able to come and go undisturbed, eluded him. In Samson’s case love wasn’t only blind, but blinding!

One particular night he was barely in her bed when she started with her game. “Please tell me what makes you so strong and what it would take to tie you up securely?” (Judges 16:6) Samson teased Delilah as he laughed over her previous attempts at winning this little game. The seven fresh bow-strings had snapped like dried flax; the seven new ropes broke like thread, and Delilah was furious with Samson for destroying her loom when he pulled out the strands of his hair that she had woven into her fabric! Instead of continuing the fun, Delilah began to nag: accusing the man in her bed of not loving her, of not trusting her. Then, impatient and weak, Samson gave in, revealing the secret of his strength!

But he loved Delilah! And as he slept in her arms, the Nazirite of God had allowed love for a pagan woman to come between him and the Lord Jehovah. And the results were catastrophic.

Shaven while he slept; betrayed by a woman who’s only true love was money; Samson was set upon, and captured! And while the evil Philistines gouged out his eyes, Samson “didn’t realise that the Lord had left him.”

Broken-hearted and bereft, the strong man of Israel spent the remainder of his days chained to the prison grain mill, unable to see with his eyes, but now able to see more clearly with his heart. Day after day passed in torturous monotony, but soon Samson heard talk of the preparations that were being made for the Feast of Dagon.

“I know that temple,” he whispered to himself as he stroked the short cap of hair that had re-grown on his head. “If only I could get in, somehow.”

Heaven heard, and God was ready to give his servant a second chance to keep his vow. In their drunken state, the foolish Philistines wanted to make a further spectacle of the man who had at one time offended Dagon, by burning the very crops he allegedly supplied. Now standing between the pillars of the temple, before the gathered leaders and people of Philistia, Samson cared little about their mocking jeers. In one last cry of faith, Samson called on Jehovah, “O God, please strengthen me one more time so that I may pay back the Philistines…” (Judges 16:28)

Suddenly, laughter turned to screaming, calm to chaos, as the man who finally remembered his vow pushed those pillars apart, crushing the enemies of God’s people! In his last tragic act, Samson allowed his head to be moved by God’s heart, rather than his own… and “began to deliver Israel.”

Catherine Campbell