When I was a little boy, we had some Arch Bible Books around our house.
The one I remember most vividly was called Samson’s Secret.
What is interesting to me now as an adult and as a pastor is the enormous gap between the Samson of Samson’s Secret and the Samson of the book of Judges. So I spent a good deal of time yesterday playing off that gap and presenting Samson much more as anti-hero than hero.
The Crash Test Dummeriest of them all who helps us land at the bottom line:
Surrender your impulses so you don’t surrender to them.
One of the most interesting gaps I know of in the world of bible, church, faith, & Jesus is the gap between the Samson we THINK there is, and the Samson there is. Between the Samson we WANT and the Samson we GOT. The distance, really, between the Samson of folklore and the Samson of the bible. Or: between the Samson of my illustrated children’s bible (AV) and the Samson who is really in here. Like here’s what many of us – church goers or not, bible readers or not – know about Samson. His girl is ______________. He is really ____________. And the source of his strength was because he had really long _____. Yep! The guy with Delilah, the guy with guns, the guy with hair. Like this: (AV of Fabio).
And yet as we open up Judges, which we have been doing during CTD, we will see together that Samson is probably the Crash Test Dummeriest of them all. And the gap is not only between the Samson of folklore & the Samson of the bible, but more critically, the gap between who Samson COULD HAVE BEEN and who he was.
Because here’s where we’ve been in CTD. It’s been a multi-week look at the book of Judges, which chronicles the escapades of the people of God (the Jews) between about 1400 and 1100 BC. It was a time in which they were both ungoverned and ungovernable. And the book itself is this series of recurring cycles, repeating patterns in which the people of God keep doing the same dumb things over and over again. And they never learn! Because the later cycles in the book are worse than the first! The whole thing culminates with self-centered anarchy in 21:25, the last sentence of the book that we actually figure was the first one written.
And guess what? Samson, rather than the hero many of us have understood him to be, is in many ways the apex (or nadir) of those cycles. We’re going to look at some snapshots of his life, because in those Polaroids a fascinating pattern emerges. Look first at 13:1, which is not about Samson per se, but it begins his story:
Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, so the Lord delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years.
If you’re like, “wait, haven’t I read this before?” the answer is “Yes! You have! It’s all over the book!” Hello! That’s why they are CTDs! So then we move on from the almost predictable by now intro, and Samson gets born. And his birth is interesting because . . . it’s almost like Jesus’. It involves an angel and a mom and a child who is marked from birth for a special purpose. And the name Samson literally means “Sun Child” or “Bright Sun.” All that serves to heighten the expectations of what this particular judge/deliverer is going to be and do. Which makes the crash to earth that much more painful.
Speaking of which, look at 14:1-3:
14 Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman. 2 When he returned, he said to his father and mother, “I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.”
3 His father and mother replied, “Isn’t there an acceptable woman among your relatives or among all our people? Must you go to the uncircumcised Philistines to get a wife?”
But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me. She’s the right one for me.”
He sees, he wants, he gets. That 14:3 literally reads “in his eyes.” Huh! (21:25) The gap between his impulse, his senses and his action is microscopic. Then, after he marries this unnamed woman, he gets in an argument with her people, who are Gentiles. Gentile In Laws! Look at 14:19-20:
Then the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him. He went down to Ashkelon, struck down thirty of their men, stripped them of everything and gave their clothes to those who had explained the riddle. Burning with anger, he returned to his father’s home. 20 And Samson’s wife was given to one of his companions who had attended him at the feast.
Wha-what?! Mass murder / warfare AND giving up his wife? Discarding her like an obsolete cassette? Notice again: there’s no gap between his impulse and his action. Between having an appetite & satisfying it. As if that wasn’t enough, he becomes a Mozilla-like vandal, setting a bunch of foxes on fire so they burn the fields of those same people from his wife’s side of the family. (AV Mozilla Firefox) And look at the result of that: READ 15:6b.
When the Philistines asked, “Who did this?” they were told, “Samson, the Timnite’s son-in-law, because his wife was given to his companion.”
So the Philistines went up and burned her and her father to death.
My gosh! That part was conveniently left out of my childhood bible story book about Samon! (Arch books AV). Samson’s understandable response is in 15:7-8:
7 Samson said to them, “Since you’ve acted like this, I swear that I won’t stop until I get my revenge on you.” 8 He attacked them viciously and slaughtered many of them. Then he went down and stayed in a cave in the rock of Etam.
The child of the sun brings about a lot of darkness, does he not?
You read this pile on of events and it seems much like he is an animal, doesn’t it? Brute? Like we have a cat who loves us. But when we’re on the back porch and she is loving us and she hears a bird . . . (DO JOLT). Instinct takes over. No gap. Because killing a bird is a stronger impulse for a cat even than loving a human. That’s like Samson. No gap between having an impulse and acting on it. His life philosophy seems to be summarized in 15:11b:
He answered, “I merely did to them what they did to me.”
In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s the anti- Golden Rule. His birth may be reminiscent of Jesus’, but nothing else is.
Ready for more? Look at 16:1:
One day Samson went to Gaza, where he saw a prostitute. He went in to spend the night with her.
Another story that was left out my illustrated children’s bible. But notice again: He saw, he wanted, he got. See/Want/Get. No hesitation, no reflection, no counting the cost (literally or emotionally!). It’s all appetite, all instinct, all impulse. Remember: this is a guy marked by God! Set apart with a vow! The gap between his potential and his actual is enormous; the gap between this impulse and his action vanished a long time ago. It’s like he’s got a missing synapse.
All that is why is entanglement with Delilah (the only woman who is named; her name means either Night or Delicate) ends predictably: he gives up his secret to her while in bed, his eyes get gouged out (no more SEEING/WANTING/GETTING!), enslaved by the Philistines, and he ultimately dies in the midst of a terrorist attack against his oppressors: READ 16:28-30.
Then Samson prayed to the Lord, “Sovereign Lord, remember me. Please, God, strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.” 29 Then Samson reached toward the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other, 30 Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived.
I mean, let’s count em up (and I’ve edited much of it out!): burned wife, murdered people, more dead people, vandalized fields, a night with a lady of the night (one of many), a new woman Delilah, and then 3000 ppl dead. You see all the factors piling up one after another – women, revenge, strength – come crashing down on him in a heap of rubble. He is trapped, imprisoned, dead, along with the others. All he COULD have done lined up against all he DID . . . & there’s such a gap.
And is he the last to have such a gap between the potential and the actual because there was no gap between the instinct and his action? The last one to surrender to his impulses? I think not. Like have you heard of this guy? (AV Marcelo Rios) No? Neither has anyone else, yet in my (admittedly myopic) world he’s known as the most talented player never to win anything big. Why not? Because he had absolutely no impulse control at all. Or listen to the first lines of this letter that a parent gave me ten years ago: READ Stufflebeam. Oh. Impulse without control, appetite that’s met, and what results in an awkward, life-changing letter to the parents of the teenager you got pregnant. See: I know that a lot of you here are mini-Samsons. Not because you have long hair or are strong or even use firefox, but because you routinely surrender to your impulses and end up imprisoned by the consequences. There is no gap between what you think & what you say, between what you feel & what you do.
Now: you think I’m going straight into sex & booze & drugs – and yep, it certainly applies there. But there’s more. For some of you here, it’s road rage. You get passed on the right, you get cut off, you blow a fuse at the intersection from hell (160 & GH) and your impulse is to yell at the other guy, to honk, to give them half the peace sign. And all of a sudden because of your inability to grow the gap between impulse and finger . . . there’s a mess. Police, even. Or others of you, it’s that impulse to be right. You have such an appetite for correction that you’ll even correct the wrong ppl (your boss) in the wrong setting (in public). And you wonder why no promotion! Or for a lot of you, it’s that impulse to buy. You see, you want, you get. You didn’t know the product even EXISTED til you saw it, but once you saw it you couldn’t live without it! Even if you had to go (more) in debt to get there. For me? It’s the impulse to avoid. A hard talk, a dif decision, an unpleasant task. Leave it & focus on what I like. In all this, because there’s not a gap twixt impulse & action, there IS a gap between who you are & who you could be.
You know what yours is. (Object?) You know where and how it is that you repeatedly surrender to that impulse. And each time you do, there you go again, being a CTD. So: how? How do you stop being a CTD? How do you make sure you don’t become a Samson, dead in the middle of rubble that you caused? With God working in spite of you, not inside of you? You his obstacle, not his partner?
Here’s where our recovery friends live the gospel whether they not it or not. Step 3 of 12 says this: after acknowledging that only a Higher Power (we call him Jesus, the Highest Power!) can restore you to sanity, there’s this: (AV) Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. Turn will, lives, impulses and emotions over to God. Daily. Hourly. Repeatedly. A moment of surrender followed by a million other moments of surrender. Where you acknowledge: if I don’t surrender this impulse to drink (shop, argue, get last word in) to you, I’m gonna have to surrender to it! And that imprisons me! Here it is. Here’s what Samson could never do & so what I long for for you: Surrender your impulses so you don’t surrender to them. Those are your choices. Surrender those impulses to God (“I am powerless!”) or surrender to them & all their nasty consequences.
You surrender those impulses TO God and I’m convinced the most amazing thing happens: the GAP grows! Because you’re surrender, you’re no longer governed by your appetites; you govern them! And God does it! He restores the sanity, he grows the gap. Instead of giving the finger on the road, you breathe, pause, and realize you’ll get to your destination more quickly without the conflict. God does it. You see an ad online or a display at the store and you realize: if I resist, I can give. And God does it. And you get tempted towards an unhealthy relationship and then it comes to mind: I want to join the passionate ranks of the sexually restrained. And God does it. Surrender your impulses so you don’t surrender to them.
Can I confess one area where this brings up some uncertainty? ADD, ADHD, which has as its core a lack of impulse control. I know meds help and meds hurt. I know many of you adults grew up a time when it was not diagnosed & others of you millennials grew up when it was over-diagnosed. I guess I always trust the God’s power works even over our brain chemistry, even alongside Ritalin. Surrender your impulses so you don’t surrender to them.
Gosh it makes me think of that friend of mine from GS who was born in Liberia. And one day we were blessing houses, and I’m so kind of course I introduce him to the people at the homes. And I kept saying, “And this is my friend Emmanuel from Ghana.” Except he’s from Liberia & I’ve known that forever. He just stood and smiled. And then we got in the car afterwards, and he said, “Pastor, I’m from Liberia, not Ghana.” And then he said, “When I was a younger man, I would have corrected you in front of those people, but now that I’m older I know better (but DON’T get it wrong again!” Ah, restraint, impulse, a gap, and I get the blessing. Surrender your impulses so you don’t surrender to them.
Or even like that preacher boss I had one time who told a group of assembled clergy: “Whenever you want to get the last word in, don’t.” But I have so many last words! Don’t. And by and large, I don’t. Surrender your impulses so you don’t surrender to them.
Or even the recovering alcoholic who, when asked by a fellow pilgrim if he really believed that Jesus turned water into wine, replied simply, “I don’t know. All I know is that in my house he turned beer into furniture.” Surrender your impulses so you don’t surrender to them. And it’s the real story of Samson that shows us how it comes to pass.