By Samuel Ridout
Samson and the Philistines: — Nazariteship
The last of these biographies, if you might call them that, is one of the most striking and interesting in the whole book of Judges. It is the history which is familiar to us from our childhood, of Samson and the wonderful feats which he performed. These I think have for children an added charm from the fact that they are feats of individual prowess, rather than any united action on the part of a company of people. I have been struck, and would say at the outset, that this seems to be the characteristic of all that God did through Samson — if one may use an expression which may have to be modified later on, for it seems as if Samson did it himself. But it is all individual energy, and does not result in any corporate activity.
If we remember that the book we are dealing with gives us the narrative of how a corporate testimony was to be maintained by the people of God, or how they failed in this; and if we remember that Samson's is the last record of any attempt at real work, and that this work was done by an individual, and not by the whole company of God's people, — I think you have one of the saddest comments on the degradation and deterioration of the spiritual power of the people. Things have dwindled down. We have reached in this portion the last of the deliverances, — for there are no further deliverances spoken of in the book of Judges after that of Samson. And when I say deliverances, I must correct myself at once, for they were not real deliverances at all. Samson himself needs a deliverer, is himself overcome. He even dies in the hands of the enemy.
And so everything tends downward, ever downward, until the very saviour whom God raised up needs to be saved himself. Such are the instruments that God would have made use of to help His people, and such, alas, is the state of His people at large that renders such a thing possible; for had not Israel been in the condition that it was, surely the history of Samson need never have been written in the way it has. He was but a reflection and example of the whole nation.
I speak of this by way of introduction to the whole narrative of Samson. National faithfulness is gone; you have scarcely anything but the individual. And in corporate things when you come down to the individual, mark my words, you come down to failure. Sometimes you hear people say it is a day of individual testimony, even as to principles which have to do with the people of God collectively. What is meant by individual testimony when it is a question of corporate testimony? It means the ruin, the wreck of what God wanted to be maintained. How can I as a individual maintain what should be the truth for God's whole people? I sacrifice His truth when I give up the corporate testimony. So by His grace, dear brethren, we will never give up our sense of responsibility to maintain a united testimony. Let us hold fast to this even if Satan should attempt to break it to pieces, until scarcely more than the literal two or three should be left to maintain a corporate testimony for God. These are the immensely important subjects that face us, and at the close of the history of these deliverances, how sad it is to see them dwindle down into the hands of one man.
But let us take up the account a little in order, beginning at the beginning in this chapter, and following on through the sixteenth chapter, to see the various steps in this history, and to get the lessons from them, as far as possible.
It is the same old story, alas, that we have had so often — the failure and sin on the part of the people, and as a result they are sold into the hands of their enemies. God never allows the enemy to gain power over us, unless it is a judicial result of our own failure. He never allows us to be brought under the power of evil, unless there has been a primary state of soul departing from Himself. The weakest, the most ignorant believer will be kept from the wiles and power of the enemy so long as the heart is true and loyal to Christ; true and faithful, and the conscience open to the enlightenment of the Word and the Spirit of God.
How blessed and comforting that is, dear brethren. What would you and I do in the face of Satan, who is only too glad for us to depreciate his power? He wants to make himself so utterly insignificant, that we will think but little of him. He would like even to obliterate himself from our minds. This is ever like the father of lies, most active when we least imagine it. Think of the power, the wisdom, or rather the cunning, and above all the malice of Satan: what could we do in the face of such a power, if we were left to ourselves?
What could we do in the face of this terrific Gulf Stream of worldliness and carnal religion that would sweep God's people like a mighty tide far off into the ocean away from Himself? How could we resist it for a moment? What a comfort it is that the weakest and most untutored saint, the youngest child of God, is perfectly safe from all this, so long as there is the simplicity of communion with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. Just so surely as the soul is abiding simply and quietly at the feet of Jesus, like Mary, — and I might remark in passing, that there is no such thing as abiding at the feet of Jesus without also hearing His word, and without the growth which that suggests; — but just as surely as a child of God is abiding in quietness at the feet of Jesus, hearing His word, not all the power and malice and cunning of Satan can succeed in drawing him away.
But that only emphasizes the guilt of the Church of Christ today. As we look about us, — nay, as we look amongst ourselves, — and see the proneness to departure, the subtle power that the enemy has over the people of God; as we see the condition of the whole Church of Christ, what a comment it is upon what has led to that state. We must remember that it is all, absolutely, entirely, the fault of the people of God, and not the fault of His almighty grace and power. He would have held us fast, protected us, kept us as the apple of His eye, had we allowed Him to do so.
Thus the attitude which we must take in view of the captivity of God's dear people, is one of humiliation and confession as to our responsibility, yea, as to our guilt. We must all of us take our share, not throwing stones at any of God's dear saints, but each one taking his share of the universal failure that has made such a chaotic state as you see today, possible amongst the saints of God. Christ's sheep hearing His voice, one flock, one Shepherd who will guide by the power of the Holy Spirit; where do you see it, dear brethren? It has vanished, it is dissipated, it is scattered everywhere.
And whose is the blame? Ah, solemn fact, the departure of soul in the individual, the individual departure of soul from God is responsible for all. And another word for our conscience individually in this connection, is that just in proportion as you and I grow cold in our affections, as our faith wanes, or our eye is fixed on something rather than Christ, — just in that proportion we are contributing afresh to further departure and disintegration amongst the saints of God.
There is no such thing as a person without influence. The simplest believer is either a link that serves practically to bind the Body closer to its Head, or it is that which weakens that tie. As the word of God says, "None of us liveth to himself." We are the Lord's, and in that sense are His people's too. We all of us have our responsible place in the house of God, and every day that we live, and every hour, is but an opportunity for us either to cement the saints of God more closely to Himself, or to spread them more widely apart. The secret of being a tie, is a life of communion with God, of abiding fellowship with Him. If we are abiding there, we will be holding together. We will be strengthening the things which remain, which are ready to die, as you have it in the address to one of the churches in Revelation.
And what an opportunity, the opportunity of our lives. The opportunity of the ages. Even in the times of the apostles there was no such opportunity as there is at this very time, for individual faith and energy and zeal and loyalty of heart. Who would not live in the Church of God today? Who would not seek to take up and bear some of the burdens which should be borne for that precious Church for which Christ died? Who would not seek to learn what the constitution of that Church is, what the mind of God is as to that Church, in order that we might fall into the current of His thoughts, and bear manfully and in faith our share of suffering as well as of service for the Church for which Christ died?
Beloved brethren, let us take courage. We are in the last days of the Judges, things are going to pieces, but if Samson's life has been written, it has not been that we should plunge into the same quagmire of failure that he did, but that we should take warning from his failure not to repeat it. Do you think that our God has given us the history of failure among His people in order that we should walk along the same path and plunge there ourselves? Has He not rather given us these as warnings? There are examples for our faith, as well as samples of unbelief. Let us take courage, the word of God is ours; the Spirit of God is amongst us, and the grace of our God is as fresh for us today, as it was at Pentecost. All that is needed is the living faith to cleave to Him, and the spirit of obedience to follow at all costs in the way that He has marked for us.
Ah, brethren, there is a nobility about Christian living, there is a dignity about a place in the Church of Christ that we all fail to appreciate. We get little glimpses of it, but we fail to realize the wondrous place of dignity and honor, and of danger too, which is always a place of honor. This is the place that we should be glad to occupy in these days.
Now I know that this is more or less or a digression from the unfolding of Samson's history, yet I have been led to it because of the place which Samson's life occupies here. It is at the close, and one feels that we want to get clearly this last lesson, to get the warning, so that we will profit by it in reality. We return now to the enemy.
The Philistines are the enemy into whose hand the Lord sells His people. We have had several glimpses of the Philistines in the previous history. Shamgar wins a noted victory over them with only an ox goad; and we saw in Abimelech, from his name, that which reminded us of what the Philistines are. But we have never till now had them prominently before us, occupying the whole scene. I will briefly give what Scripture seems to point out as to the character of these Philistine foes.
In the first place, they are the people who give the name to the whole land. It is called Palestine from the Philistines. It is very interesting to see, however, that God never uses the name Palestine, in speaking of His people's heritage. It always designates a hostile country. Thus in Moses' song of triumph at the Red Sea," Sorrow shall take hold on the inhabitants of Palestina." Faith looks on it as an enemy's land till it is possessed by the people of God. The prophet Isaiah pronounces a woe upon it, as one of the hostile countries, along with Moab and the rest. The usage of the Psalmist is the same. Edom, Moab, and Philistia are spoken of together.
It is thus the land of the Philistines, as you might say, and yet they had no right to it. They were intruders, or, as their name suggests, "wanderers," people who had no right there at all. They had wandered in and had settled down along the sea coast, where there was an easy way of getting into the land. This was a way by which God distinctly refused to lead His people, because they needed not only the training which conflict and hardship would give them, but they needed to be examples for all time, that the only true way to get into God's heritage is through death and resurrection.
The river Jordan speaks in this way of the death and resurrection of Christ; all who pass in to their inheritance in that way are His people, whereas any who take their place claiming a portion amongst the people of God, who have not really been identified with Christ in His death and resurrection are wanderers or intruders upon God's territory. For instance, take this company tonight, take any company you please. Any one of them may have the name of Christian. How can we distinguish those who are His from those who are not? We might make, any one of us, the highest kind of pretension; we might claim all kinds of dignity in the Church of Christ, but that would not make it true. There is one thing would settle whether we are rightly in our heritage; have we come into it by virtue of the death and resurrection of Christ, and by living faith in Him? Have we been identified with Him in His death and resurrection, so that practically for us there is a new creation, and we are alive unto God in Christ Jesus? Thus the old man is set aside, and it is a new man that has come into existence. It is a living man in his heritage with resurrection life, a life which links him with that eternal joy which shall never fade.
But that is not a Philistine. A Philistine has slipped in by the easy way, the way of profession. It is more than that; it is the way of the world. There has been for him no unbearable bondage in Egypt, no sense of divine wrath for sin met by a divinely appointed sacrifice. He has not seen a Substitute, who in love to his soul, went down into the dark waters of death and judgment for him. He has seen no "waves and billows" of Red Sea or Jordan, pass over that blessed Substitute, that a way out of bondage and into a divinely provided heritage might be opened up for him. Ah, no; the Philistine is a stranger to all this; he has slipped in by a "short and easy" way — the way of nature. My hearer, are you a Philistine, an intruder into God's heritage?
The Philistines, in that way, correspond to the world church. It is the earth link with the Church. I have been struck in going over the addresses to the various Churches in the Book of Revelation, that when you come to Pergamos, where you have the Church married to the world, you have growing out of that Thyatira, which is, as we know, the great world system where the Church usurps the place of Christ, the great world system of which Rome is the representative. But she is not the sole representative. Pergamos already has those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes; it is there. Succession, the spirit of clerisy and a priestly class, that spirit of the rule of man as contrasted with the rule of Christ is what marks a world church.
In connection with that spirit, you have the law which appeals to the natural man, and the ritualism and ordinances, which, while they have a show of wisdom in will worship, are really, after all, but the puffing up of the creature. Now, all true worship sets aside man. Man is lost sight of; he is, as it were, simply identified with his worship, and true worship always puts him in that place. The fragrance of what Christ is is so completely before his soul that it obliterates every thought of himself.
Ritualism is exactly the opposite. It includes carnal ordinances, carnal worship, everything that appeal to the eye, ear and sense of the natural man. Everything that excites what people call reverence, by which they mean feeling. Everything that simply pleases man in common with all mankind.
Take, for instance, the whole gorgeous ritual of Rome with its vestments, its incense, its rolling music, its wondrous pageants, its processions, and everything of that kind, its imposing places of worship, and long line of hierarchs that can be appreciated by the world. It requires no spiritual sense, no guidance of the Spirit by the Word, no new birth. All can appreciate the ritualism of Rome. All that is suggested in the Philistines — it is the world coming in and taking possession of the religion of the Church; and when the world takes that possession, it introduces its legalism, its ritualism, and its apostolic succession as that which is to tyrannize over the people of God. The apostle calls them, "The weak and beggarly elements of the world."
Another thing you will notice is that while they take a very small slice of the land, — Philistia being a very small portion of it, that south-western strip along by the plain of Sharon close to Egypt, — yet they tyrannize over the whole people of God. And this tyranny is more particularly exercised over those who should really be the leaders amongst God's people. Judah was particularly exposed to the inroads of the Philistines; and Judah, as you remember, represents that spirit of praise which is indeed the spirit of rule and government amongst the Lord's people. The Philistines spread all over their territory and prevented them exercising their God-given privilege, and enjoying their God-given portion.
There is much more to be said, of course, about the Philistines. I could speak, for instance, of how the very names of those from whom their descent is traced seem to suggest that distance from, as well as professed nearness to, the things of God which is so characteristic of Rome. You have, for instance, their boast of forgiveness. But when examined closely it is seen to be forgiveness only in name. It is a forgiveness on the lips of the priest to be purchased with penance, and all that, but after all, it is no true forgiveness, which enables one to draw near to God, eternally saved. Then they claim to be instructors and interpreters of the truth of God; but it is after all not true interpretation. Rome claims to be the teacher, but when you ask what she teaches, you have nothing. She claims to have the right to interpret the word of God, but when you ask what it means, she closes the book and puts it away in her archives, and then says you must listen to the church instead of the word of God. If you ask for the Church's teaching, you get the contradictory statements of popes, fathers and councils — each different from the other, and all opposed to the word of God.
So that all these claims of Rome are simply names, simply professions, and not, after all, the reality at all. This is all suggested by the descent of the Philistines. They are from the Caphtorim, and that word means "as though they were Jephthahs," "as though they were openers," and Casluhim, "as if forgiven," not really forgiven. Thus you have a make-believe teaching, and a make-believe nearness to God, when after all there is nothing of the kind.
I know, dear friends, many would be glad enough to hear us talk against Rome. People rather like, you know, to run down the system of Rome. They say, "Papal Rome, what a horrible thing it is, — that woman Jezebel, that false prophetess, and the harlot riding upon the scarlet beast." You cannot characterize her for them in any too dark colors. But what I am after is the practical thing for ourselves. You may rest assured, for Rome is a popular system, that it is popular because it appeals to the flesh, and the flesh in us just as much as the flesh in anybody else. You may rest assured that if Rome has laid its unclean hands on the holy things of God, and undertakes to dispense a substitute, a counterfeit for the divine reality, you may rest assured that it is because there is certainly in the natural man, and even amongst the true people of God, that which answers, which responds to it. What is Rome in relation to us?
What are the principles of Rome? We have already seen some of them. For instance, take that very matter of counterfeit forgiveness. How common it is amongst God's professing people to hear of a forgiveness, — if. You are forgiven if you have repented enough, or if you have believed in the proper way, or if you continue in faith. What kind of forgiveness is that which has something added to it that may snatch it out of my hand at any time? What kind of a pardon is it if I cannot look into God's face and bless Him with all my soul, and say to Him, Abba Father? Does it not show that after all a little bit of the spirit of Rome exists in anybody's heart who will allow unbelief to nestle there? If there is anyone here tonight, for instance, that does not bow implicitly to the word of God as to forgiveness, that we have redemption through Christ's blood, even the forgiveness of sins if you have attached any condition to that forgiveness, if it is, as I said, a forgiveness if you have got the right kind of faith, repentance, holding on, and so forth, I know you have not peace. You have not settled peace.
That is not the kind of forgiveness that God bestows. He gives you a forgiveness that has attached to it past, present and future sins. We are put out of an unforgiven place into a place to which forgiveness attaches. Sometimes the Lord's own dear people are not clear as to that. They do not realize, for instance, that their future sins, if they should commit them, have been forgiven. But, let us ever remember that we who believe in Christ are a forgiven people. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord WILL NOT impute sin. The believer is in the place where sin will never be imputed to him again, as to his eternal security.
I would make that as bold as Rome would make it cloudy. I would make it as clear as it is possible for words to make it, — yea, as the word of God makes it — that every believer in Christ is so completely and eternally forgiven, that he can never again during his entire life be in a place where sin can be laid to his charge, as to his salvation. He is out of that place forever more. You know how it is put in Colossians. Gloriously put. He says, "And you, being dead in your sins, and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath He quickened together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses" (Col. 2: 13). Our union with a risen Christ is connected with our forgiveness, and if we are a quickened people, if we have life with Christ risen, we are out of the place forevermore where imputation of sin applies. He never can lay sin to our charge, there is no condition at all. "Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more."
How the Philistines have come in there. You meet the people of God, and ask them, "Do you know that your sins are forgiven? can you rest assured that for all eternity you are a forgiven soul?" and how many will reply, as they look you in the eye, and look God in the eye, "Thanks be to God, I am eternally forgiven everything?" If persons cannot go into their closets, and have communion with and worship God over their forgiveness, you may rest assured that the Philistines have possession. The Philistines are preventing them from enjoying what is so sweet and clear a portion for every son.
And that is only one thing. Take the question of law. I dwell a little on this. Why you would hold up your hands (unless you were delivered yourself) in horror, if I said, the child of God is delivered entirely from law. "Delivered from law, what, to be lawless? To go and do as he pleases, to go and plunge headlong into all kinds of sin?" Hold, not so fast, dear friends. "All kinds of sin," — is that what a believer likes? Is that what a child of God delights in, to plunge into all kinds of sin? Suppose he is let go, where would he go? Where would you go if you had your choice tonight? Let go? I think we would go right into the Father's bosom.
We are born of God, that is our place. What is all this talk that if people are not under law it would open the floodgates to antinomianism? Why, brethren, that is an impossibility for those who have been born again, an utter impossibility. It is impossible that any child of God would want to plunge headlong into all kinds of sin. I thank God, though once I was the servant of sin, once, alas, I loved sin, but, ah, brethren, can you not join me in saying that when the grace of Christ laid hold upon your soul it made you hate sin? It made you rejoice that you could be free from sin, and the desire and the purpose of the soul is now for righteousness and not for sin. Is not that true?
So then we need not be afraid of the Philistine objection that people who are delivered from law are going to plunge into sin. But, in view of this, ask now, how many of the saints of God realize that freedom from the bondage of the law. It is only another word for freedom from the bondage of sin, for the strength of sin is the law. But how many of God's people know what practical emancipation from the power and thraldom of sin is? They turn to the law for strength of righteousness, only to find in it the strength of sin.
I say it deliberately and advisedly, on the authority of God's precious Word, that anything short of a full, real and practical deliverance from the authority and the thraldom of sin comes short of our Christian portion, and, so far, we are under the dominion of the Philistines. Dear brethren, that is true if we are not a delivered people; I say what I believe to be the very truth of God. Ah, that presses. That comes into a pretty narrow circle of God's saints. You find that the Philistines have reached pretty well up into the land, and they have got possession.
There are plenty of people who delight in the fact of assurance, who cannot delight in the fact of deliverance. And yet deliverance is by the truth, it is by the simple truth of God. That is what sets the soul free. The truth received by faith sets us free, and we find ourselves delivered from the thraldom of sin, because we are delivered from law.
Thus far we have looked at only two points, dear brethren, and yet I think we know something now of the Philistine power. There are only two points that I have spoken of, and if we cannot return a clear unequivocal answer to our conscience and to God, that we are free both from doubts as to forgiveness, and free from the power and bondage of legalism, which brings us into subjection to sin, beloved, you need to be set free from the Philistines. That is how close the enemy is to us.
Let us take a third feature, which has already been hinted at — the whole question of worship. I have dwelt on the gorgeous ritual of Rome, with her vestmented priests, her clouds of incense, and all that. You include in this at once, all the weak imitations of that — which sport themselves in the borrowed plumes of Rome. But we can be all the more severe on that because we can "thank God we are not as others."
Let us come nearer home. Carnal worship: — does not that include all that is not of the Spirit, all that depends upon mere nature? The Spirit of God uses only the word of God; therefore, all worship that is not according to that Word — ah, how it cuts! Who is unexposed to the keen edge of that sword? May not a Philistine lurk in the most inornate service of some Protestant chapel? May he not intrude into the plain unobtrusive quiet of an assembly? Ah, brethren, we see here a common foe, a common danger.
Is it not significant that these Philistines are the last enemies that are mentioned in Judges, the last form of evil. To go back to Revelation a moment, you find there that Thyatira is the Church that goes on to the end. You may end with Thyatira. Everything after Thyatira is only partial. Thyatira gives you the Church as a whole, and the Church as a whole is under the influence of Rome, even where Rome's dominion is rejected. Even where it is refused, people are yet practically, and to a great extent, under its influence. Will you tell me what all this aping of Rome in architecture, in church ritual, means? Does it not mean that we are servants to the Philistines? Brethren, it is a serious thing. Rome is relegated, as it were, to Italy and Southern Europe, with exceptional authority elsewhere, but the error of Rome today is world wide, and it is in every heart that has not been emancipated by the grace of God from the false teaching that goes with that system. There is a vast amount of the teaching of the errors of Rome in that which calls itself Protestantism, and that is what I want to get at.
But that is sufficient as to the enemy, though we have but touched upon a few points. If I have gone at too great length into it, my excuse must be because it is an intensely practical thing, a thing that we want to be clear about. I have already mentioned, and, therefore, will not go into that, the principle of succession, of clerisy. Wherever you have cloudiness as to teaching, you will always have one man put in a place of nearness to God. Priesthood, true priesthood, can only flourish where the false priesthood has no place. All the people of God are priests, and you will never find that all His people realize their priesthood, except where they are emancipated from the thraldom of Philistia.
What now is the character of the person whom God is going to raise up to deliver from these Philistines? It is the character of the man who will answer, as Gideon did in his day, to the special need. We find it in the history of Samson. There are two distinct things what God intended Samson to be, and what he was. These are two very different things. The history of Samson, as he was, furnishes abundant material for warning but the history of Samson, as God intended he should be, shows us who and what it is that alone can deliver God's people from the power of the Philistines, from the power of a mere fleshly religion.
It is very interesting to see how far you go back in his history. It is not now, as with Gideon, God merely working in the individual. He is actually working in the parents of Samson. And it is beautiful to see, as emphasizing the lesson of weakness, that we have been learning all through, that he takes up a woman first of all, and she is a nameless woman. It is one who is in the place of subjection, and not of sufficient importance, as you might say, at least in the world's eyes, to have her name mentioned. Who ever thought about the name of Samson's mother? so, too, we sometimes forget that Moses's mother has her name given in Scripture. They are eclipsed by their children. Here the Spirit of God does not even give us the name of the woman.
But there is another reproach attached to her, a reproach which she shared in common with many a woman whom God raised up to be a channel of blessing to His people. She is barren. Like Sarah, like Hannah, like Rebekah, there is nothing of nature's energy and nothing of nature's strength in her at all. Perfectly desolate, perfectly helpless. May not the very fact of her sense of this, — for while it is not spoken of, yet we know the intense longing, the intense sense of reproach amongst Israelitish women, — may not that have produced exercises in her own soul which prepared her for God to reveal His will to her? Just as we have in Hannah one so deeply exercised before God about her need that He can give it, and answer the request of her soul.
Here is a poor nameless woman, nameless helplessness; what could be weaker than that? You have helplessness of such an intense character, so general, so vague even, that you could not even give it a name. Nameless helplessness is reached by the word of God, and that word which is living gives her the assurance that there is to be life and power through her, the nameless one, whose weakness alone appeals to God. When did weakness ever appeal to Him in vain? When did the sense of utter helplessness ever leave itself at God's feet that He did not make use of it? It is our strength, our vigor, that He has to break to pieces. It is our helplessness that He can use, our utter worthlessness.
It is to her, and not even to Manoah her husband, that the messenger goes. It is the message of a deliverer, one who is going to deliver Israel, as far as God's purpose is concerned, from the most subtle, dangerous and persistent snare that could possibly hold them, that of Philistia. Now what is it that He emphasizes for her, and afterwards for Manoah her husband, when he prays that he may get the message and instruction for himself?
There is one great thing that is emphasized in connection with this child, who is to be given as the deliverer for Israel. He is to be in one word a Nazarite. He is to abstain from wine, strong drink, and everything of the grape; everything that grows of the vine he is to be kept from. More than that, the mother herself is to keep herself from everything of the kind, and when the child is born, from his birth no razor is to come upon his head. He is to be a Nazarite to God, as Samuel was, as John the Baptist was, a Nazarite from his mother's womb.
What is a Nazarite? Go back to the sixth chapter of Numbers, and you find what the Nazarite means quite plainly. The very word means separation. How it cuts, that word "separation;" how it hurts; how self-righteous it sounds; but, brethren, God says that if there is to be any true victory for His people, it must be on the lines of Nazariteship, separation from the very things that the world counts absolutely necessary.
Wine, the grape, is a figure of human joy and human strength. The ingathering time, when the vintage was gathered and the blood of the grapes burst from the vats, was always connected with festivity and songs and gladness; it was the time of joy. You remember in one of the earlier psalms, the psalmist in faith says, "Thou hast put gladness in our heart more than the time when their corn and wine increased." Ah, brethren, it was merely reminding them that said it of the happiest times in nature, the fullest natural joy, and comparing it with a fuller, deeper joy. Wine is the type of human joy. It is just at the crown of the year, when everything is reaching its vintage, when everything is ripe, ready for enjoyment. The time of work is over, the time of rest and pleasure has come. Labor can rest its weary limbs and enjoy the vintage season.
But then wine is a figure, too, of stimulus, that which stimulates natural man; "strengthened as with wine," is a common expression; "one that shouteth by reason of wine," feeling the blood coursing through his veins, every muscle tense under the stimulus of that which has imparted, alas, a fictitious strength. In that way wine speaks of human joy and human strength.
Our joy comes from a purer spring than the wine vat — our strength comes from a mightier source than that which merely stimulates nature. By wine, Scripture means, of course, not the literal, material thing; but it means that which stimulates and stirs up the flesh, whatever it may be. One can be a thorough teetotaler as to the use of wine, and yet be absolutely under its power, spiritually speaking. Everything that simply imparts fleshly energy, fleshly stimulus, or fleshly excitement in the things of God, has got to be eschewed.
God cannot use the flesh. Sometimes you will hear the expression that a strong will is a good thing, that plain speech is a good thing, if it is only on the right side. That means that God can use wine, that God can use the natural stimulus of this world in His things. He wants no strong will, whether it is on His side or the enemy's side. I quite believe, that God would rather have self-will on the side of the enemy than on His own side. Nay, it cannot truly be on His side. I quite believe that plain speech, as it is called, in a large majority of cases means mere selfish, fleshly indulgence, the mere indulgence of pride, the absence of self-control. I care not how truthfully one speaks, if he does not speak by the power of the Spirit of God. If it is plain speech without the Spirit, it means fleshly speech; and if it is a strong will, it means fleshly will. It is not for God. It is only the stimulus of nature's wine. It is not Nazariteship.
Nazariteship means the absence of all that. I may have a strong will, and if I have a will, it must be broken, rest assured of that. If you have a strong will it must be broken, for it will never be of any value until it is broken. People tell me that Saul of Tarsus was naturally a strong character, and that is what explains his after life. If it does, the grace of God is a fiction. If Saul of Tarsus simply used the energy that he once employed in the service of the law, and Judaism, if he simply diverted that energy into Christianity, — there is no miracle of grace about it.
What was the miracle of grace? Who that knows the spiritual history of Paul would say for a moment that he turned the full current of his powerful will, and of his mighty intellect into the channel of God's will, and, therefore, He used it. Nay, beloved. There was the earthen vessel, and a beautiful one indeed. There was the power of the man, and God transfixes his power with a thorn in the flesh, in order that there might be no power in himself, and the word of Christ to him was not, "My strength is made perfect in your strength, when your strength goes along with mine," but, "My strength is made perfect in weakness."
That is the lesson of the Nazarite, and it is a hard lesson to learn; it is a lesson that searches the soul. After abstinence from wine comes the mention of long hair, which tells, not of boasting, but of shame; not of natural vigor, but quite the opposite. It tells of the woman's place of subjection and weakness and dependence. That is what God is going to use. Thirdly, contact with death was absolutely prohibited. A man lost his Nazariteship who touched a dead body. God is "the living God," and all not of Him defiles. Much that is most fair to the sight comes under the ban of death.
Thus this whole thirteenth chapter emphasizes the truth that the deliverer from the Philistines has got to be a Nazarite; he has got to be one who eschews nature's stimulus, he takes the woman's place of perfect helplessness and weakness, and in him must be alone the energy of life. And so if we are to be set free from a carnal religion, it is as a separate people, true Nazarites. Truly weak in ourselves, and refusing all creature help and strength, in our absolute helplessness and weakness, we are to let the power of Christ be manifest in us. How we should rejoice at that thought! Are we willing that God should use us as Nazarites? Are we willing that He should take us up simply to emphasize the humiliation of the flesh, the humiliation of nature, in order that all the excellency may be of Christ, His, and not ours?
If we are going to be Nazarites, there is a certain sense in which it must be a voluntary thing. We must be willing to be Nazarites. "When any one voweth the vow of a Nazarite." There was only one true Nazarite that ever walked this earth, and His Nazariteship was not a mere negative thing, it was that positive thing which associated Him with God, rather than merely separated Him from the world. As a matter of fact He was not a literal Nazarite. John the Baptist was a literal Nazarite. He was a man who abstained from all kinds of things; "he came neither eating nor drinking," and the compliment he got was that he had a devil. The Son of Man came eating and drinking. He was a Man with men. The blessed Lord did not need any external self-righteous separation. Ah, His holy soul was separate unto His Father completely, and He needed nothing to witness outwardly of that. None could ever approach Him with defilement, none could ever link His holy Name with even the thought of sin. He was so completely absorbed in His Father's will, so completely yielded up to His Father, that the very finger of the world itself could scarce point at Him as anything but what He was. It was such a palpable falsehood, when they spoke of Him as a gluttonous man and a winebibber, as not even to require contradiction. He even takes the name of reproach Himself. Yes, He is the Friend of sinners, and associates Himself with that expression. Do not our hearts delight to know Him in that way! But who thinks of Him as the friend of sinners in any way save to deliver them from their sins? Who thinks of Him as in any way identifying Himself with the low state about Him, save in grace coming down to bear the consequence of man's distance from God, in order that He might associate His people with Himself in true Nazariteship unto God!
Now that, I think, is what we gather from the offering that is brought by Manoah and his wife. Manoah had prayed that the Lord would send the messenger a second time, and He in grace grants the request. But, you notice, when the angel comes he comes to her, — always comes to weakness — and she goes and calls for her husband. When he comes you note Manoah is very anxious to know all about it over again. He gets no more than his wife had got before, simple instructions as to Nazariteship. Then he bustles about to do something of a religious character. There has got to be a feast. He is going to bring this messenger, though he calls him a man of God, rather on a level with himself. He will share his hospitality, and he wants to know the name of his guest, that he may honor him after all these things have been fulfilled.
And is it not significant that the very name that the messenger hides from him, — not as here, "My name is secret," but "seeing it is wonderful" — suggests the Name above every name? Does it not suggest the very thing about Nazariteship, of which we have been speaking? "His name shall be called Wonderful." Whose name? The name of the only Nazarite that ever lived. It is as though the messenger simply pointed from external Nazariteship that he had been telling them of, points away from that to One, not even himself the messenger of God, but to One who is the "Wonderful, the Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Father of eternity, the Prince of Peace," as you have it in the ninth chapter of Isaiah. He puts Christ before them, and then as though to emphasize it further, disappears in the sacrifice.
That which was intended as a mere act of hospitality, no doubt of a religious character, becomes now a sacrifice to be put upon the rock. That rock again reminds us of the Rock of ages surely, of that which is the only Rock, the only thing firm in a world that is as weak and unstable as water, and amongst the people of God who are as unstable as Reuben was in his day. It is on the Rock Christ Jesus. That is the only basis of communion with God, and instead of having the feast spread, as it were, upon Manoah's table, it is put upon the enduring Rock as the only basis of relationship, and the only basis of power which anyone can have who is to be a Nazarite and a witness for God.
The messenger acts according to the name that he has given. For this very messenger after all is, as you see, the angel of the covenant. He is that wondrous Stranger who came again and again in the Old Testament dispensation, with His face veiled, with His identity hidden away, and yet, after all, with sufficient suggestiveness to remind us that Jehovah and the angel of the Old Testament is, after all, our Jesus, who is Jehovah the Saviour. So He revealed Himself there. It is as if He would say to this lowly, weak, helpless couple, If you are to be true Nazarites, you must follow me by faith where I am. You must see me as I am first of all identified with the Rock, as the altar. This shows us the Person of Christ. Then the sacrifice upon it, the meat for the burnt and the sin-offering, and the meal as the meat offering speak of the work of Christ. Thus as He ascends in the smoke of the sacrifice, He says, as it were, to them, You must identify me with One on high, who has linked you with His sacrifice and the Rock.
All true Nazariteship, all true separation to God, all true testimony for God, and thus victory over unreality, must come through our identification with that Wonderful Person who is none other than Christ, the Blessed Christ of God. And so, when we talk about Nazariteship, and long hair; when we talk about renouncing this and that and the other thing, it is really renouncing, and yet it is more than renouncing; it is having the eye and the heart and the mind filled, controlled by Christ in glory. There is no true Nazariteship except as we are so identified and occupied with Him. Is it not that which He meant in the seventeenth of John, that holy chapter, where He is speaking- to His Father? "For their sakes I sanctify Myself." You can, as it were, see Him in the gospel of John passing up in the smoke of the sacrifice to God. You can see Him, as it were, ascending unto God. Why is He taking that place, sanctifying Himself, taking the Nazarite place, separating Himself from everything in this world? It is to show us the path of true sanctification and true Nazariteship, to follow Him there, and as we follow Him, looking upon Him, we are changed into the same image.
He leaves behind simply the savor of His wonderful name, and the savor of what He is before God, as the power for our Nazarite testimony down here. There, brethren, you have the birthplace of Samson. There is the spiritual birthplace of every Nazarite for God. There is where you get God's mighty men; there is where they are born; that is the only kind of mighty men God has.
Did you ever notice that in Samuel? David was describing the true king in the twenty-third chapter of second Samuel. He sets an ideal king before the eye, and he has at once to say, "My house is not so with God." But after he has said that, then you have at once "These be the names of the mighty men of David." How suggestive the connection. There is the ideal king; there is the One who is as the morning without clouds. And it is as Christ in glory fills the soul you have mighty men. God's mighty men are there.
It is like Elijah, looking upon him for the moment as the type of Christ ascending, going up where His place was. He says to Elisha, If thou see me ascend, then it shall be done for thee; that is, a double portion of his spirit will be given. As Elisha sees Elijah ascending, the mantle of Elijah drops upon him, and he becomes practically the representative of the one who had gone up. Scripture is full of that. Here are the disciples, led out to the mount of Olives. How suggestive every word of Scripture is; to the mount that speaks of the olive, the Holy Ghost surely, led out to the mount of Olives as far as to Bethany, the house of humiliation. Ah, brethren, what lessons are in those things. They are led out to where the Holy Ghost can witness unhinderedly to hearts that have nothing but humiliation, their own weakness, and there they see Him ascending, and as He ascends, they come back to be witnesses for Him, occupying His place, the place that He had vacated upon earth.
So, I say, there we get the birthplace of spiritual Nazarites. In that One ascending in the savor of the sacrifice from the Rock, you get the spiritual secret of all true testimony for God, and victory for God. Samson starts there, and begins to show his vigor, the vigor of life that he had, before there was any well-ordered, or well-sustained conflict. He showed what manner of life there was in him. He began to move himself in the camp of Dan against the Philistines.
We will all be Nazarites just in the proportion that we are gazing by faith there where our Lord has gone. We will all be witnesses for Him just in that proportion. I was going to say we will be Samsons. We will not be Samsons historically. It was because he failed to live, poor man, in the way that God's grace had marked out for him, that he ceases to be a Nazarite for God, and became a monument to what departure from God means.
May we not covet the Nazarite place? May we not do more, and enter by faith into that which will make us victors over the dead formalism that is all about us. A Nazarite is a heavenly man, one whose hopes are there, whose life is "hid with Christ in God." The Church was espoused as that to Christ; what is she now? What are we?