By Samuel Ridout
Samson: Alliances and Conflicts
Judges 14, 15.
Our subject last evening was largely and necessarily introductory to the life of Samson, and therefore we scarcely had anything to say about him at all, but rather about that which was to characterize his life and service, according to the purpose of God, and the peculiar character of the enemy against whom he was to be used by God, for the deliverance of Israel.
You remember we saw that the Philistines represent that carnal, worldly religion, which introduces the flesh into the things of God; that it answers largely to the church of Rome, and everything that has the principles of the church of Rome. It is a carnal religion, with all its uncertainties with reference to God, and with all its tyrannies with reference to man. Connected with it you have not only the introduction of legalism, ritualism and formalism of various kinds, but also the tyranny of the priesthood, clericalism and everything that would bring God's priests and freemen into bondage.
The one who is to overthrow all that must be a Nazarite, must be separate. It is a separate personality, a separate walk and a separate testimony which alone can give power over that which is external, carnal and formal. You might say the entire thirteenth chapter is devoted to emphasizing the fact that Samson is to be a true Nazarite. He was promised of God, the purpose of God was declared, and he was in that way to represent God Himself in his relation to the Philistines, — separation. Thus he was to have power over them.
What is before us tonight is the history of Samson, and, alas, dear brethren, I am sure that none of us who knows what grace is in our own souls, but realizes how God's purpose and our accomplishment are two very different things. We have just been singing1 what we are in Christ. Sometimes the words seem almost too strong to describe a place that sinners by nature and practice should occupy, and yet they are not too strong, for they are Scripture words, and show us our place in Christ, but only in Him. But as to the practical manifestation of this in the life, — to turn grace into history, to turn the counsels of God's love into practical reality that can be handled, that is visible in the eyes of even the world, that is a very different thing. So Samson in the purpose of God is a complete Nazarite: in actual character of his life, what was he? That is what we have to learn, and what a humbling lesson it is. How far short he comes in any measure to answering to the purposes and counsels of God.
The very first act of his life shows that we cannot emphasize too much the importance of the first step. It is that first step that costs. It is the first step that opens the way to all of our subsequent steps. For a young man who is going to enter upon a career of service for God, how absolutely necessary it is that the first step he takes should be in the right direction. So we look at Samson's first step, and what a step it was! It was a step down.
You remember we were reading in one of the earlier chapters, that an angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bochim; it was an ascent. The thought suggested was that lowliness is the place that becomes God's people, lowliness in the presence of God; that is, down at Gilgal. Any leaving of Gilgal is an ascent, a great and terrible folly. To go down to Gilgal is a blessed thing. You say, then we have something encouraging in Samson, for he went down. Ah, brethren, he did not go down to Gilgal. It is in relation to God we must go down; in relation to man we must go up.
We must maintain a very lowly position with reference to our blessed God. The sense of His holiness and of our nothingness and helplessness ought to keep us humble before Him; but when it is a question of our fellowman, we are not to take a low place. I do not mean in our relation with one another as Christians. Surely, we are to gird on humility one toward another; but in relation to the world I am not to take a place low down. I am to maintain my high place, my position as a heavenly man, separate from them.
So when you read that Samson goes down, it is suggestive. The first step that he takes is a downward step. But more than that; he went down, as we are told, to Timnath, and saw a woman in Timnath, of the daughters of the Philistines. He goes down to that which is claimed as "a portion" of the Philistines, and going down there he forms an alliance with his enemies. The first step that Samson took, thus, was an alliance with the enemies of God.
Look at it in a natural way. Here is a young man, going to enter on a career of service for God. How important that hp should make no alliance that will hinder his usefulness and service. How important that every step should be taken in dependence upon God, with earnest prayer for guidance, particularly in so important a step as choosing a partner, a companion. How absolutely important it is that she should be of the same mind with himself. First of all she should be one of the Lord's people, surely, and besides she should have like faith and obedience with himself.
But here is a man whose testimony is to be one of separation, and the first thing he does is to link himself with the enemy. Thus he has settled the whole question of his relationship and testimony at once. A man that can receive a Philistine into his bosom cannot be an uncompromising witness against them. Let us apply it personally to our relationship with this world. Who that receives the world into his bosom can bear faithful testimony against it? Or remembering what Philistinism is, spiritually, who can dally with a carnal religion? Who can dally with formalism, sacerdotalism, everything that is suggested by this Philistine imitation of the reality? Who can take it to his bosom and expect to maintain a godly testimony against it?
Ah, how many there are who desire to be Nazarites for God, and yet the very first step they have taken is to link themselves with a system which is against the will of God. How can I fight Philistines if I have one in my bosom? How can one truly maintain a testimony against a system when he has become identified with it in the closest way? It costs, it hurts, to maintain a separate position, but Samson wrecked his whole testimony by this first act of his. He never actually and fully regained what he lost in that step.
Look at it in detail and you will see he has no thought of God in it. God has His thoughts in it, blessed be His name; He overrules even our follies and mistakes. His parents, we are told, did not know that it was of the Lord that he might find occasion against the Philistines to overthrow them. But it is one thing for God to have His purpose and quite another thing for me to be accomplishing that purpose. God's purposes will be accomplished in spite of my disobedience, but I can never use His purposes to endorse my disobedience. I cannot be a partaker with God when I disobey Him, and so here, though God intended to overrule this thing, to bring Samson in collision with the very people that he was seeking an alliance with, yet we can get no comfort, nor can Samson get any comfort, from any such compromise, for he had not God in his thoughts.
"Get her for me, for she pleaseth me." What is the thought of a Nazarite? To refuse all self-pleasing. Self-denial was one of the characteristics of a Nazarite. He refused that which was naturally pleasing to the flesh. He denied himself many things that ordinary people enjoyed. Here is a man then who should be characterized by self-denial, and the first thing he does is to please himself. How often is a path of union with the world pursued, simply because it pleases. Samson did not ask whether it would be pleasing to the Lord, but it was pleasing to him. Do we not oftentimes ask the Lord's guidance after we have formed our desires? Something pleases us, and then we will ask the Lord if it pleases Him. We need not be surprised if we get no clear answer; for the Lord will never have the second place. If you have made up your mind to pursue a certain course, you may rest assured that going through the form of asking God's consent is not going to change your mind, nor is it going to bring an answer from Him. No, God must be honored, and He can never be honored unless He has the first place.
Samson's parents too are linked with him in this entire chapter. He drags them down into this defilement completely, making them partakers of his own folly. Is there not instruction in all that? For his parents had been instructed of God entirely apart from him. It was a failure on their part entirely irrespective of Samson's failure. What answer could Manoah give to the angel of the Lord who had given him such definite instruction as to how they should bring him up? What answer could they give the Lord when Samson carried them along in his own course? They might have said, We brought him up as a Nazarite, but he departed from the path of obedience when he came of years.
But they could not answer that way, because they went along with him in his disobedience. They made a protest and went along with him in it. How many people protest against that which they go along with. How many seem to satisfy their consciences by registering a protest, saying that a thing is not of the Lord, and that it is disobedience, then quietly go along with it. How many today are connected with systems of things which will not stand the test of God's truth. They do not bear the stamp of Nazariteship, and well is it known, yet these dear people who know that the thing is not of the Lord, register their protest against it, and then quietly succumb and follow along with it. I think, as I said, that there is real instruction, real warning in this course of the parents, their weakness in submitting to Samson's self-pleasing.
It was on the occasion of his going down to get his Philistine wife that we have the first feat of strength on the part of Samson. A lion attacks him, and is torn to pieces by him, all unarmed as he was. He has not yet lost his strength, and there is no doubt some of the freshness of spiritual vigor about him. He has not yet become defiled by association with the Philistines.
But we want to get, of course, the spiritual lesson out of it. As he goes down into the Philistines' land need he be surprised that a young lion roars against him? If one forsakes God's place, and goes down on low, carnal ground, need he be surprised if he finds an assault of the adversary, Satan, who is like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour? Satan flourishes where the path of obedience is left. There is no lion in the path of obedience. It is the slothful man that says, A lion is without, I shall be slain in the streets. No one was ever slain in the street. He may have been assailed when he was in the path of disobedience, but, as Bunyan has put it so vividly in his allegory, the lions are chained so that they cannot reach the path of obedience. In God's path Satan can never assail; the path of obedience is the path of safety. Forsake that path and the lion is there.
God's path for the prophet who went down from Judah to Israel was a clearly marked one; he was to go down, to bear witness against the king of Israel, and not to eat or drink, and return back to the place from whence he came. It was a clear path, apparently a dangerous one, as when the king of Israel reached out his hand to smite him. But he was protected, and the king's hand was shriveled into helplessness, from which it could only be restored by the word of the prophet. No power of the king could assail him, nothing could hurt him; but, ah, when he left God's path of obedience for himself, and listened to the old prophet, and went to eat and drink with him, a lion met him and slew him. There is a lion when you leave God's path.
So that roaring of the lion ought to have been for Samson a warning, at least, that he was getting on Satan's territory. To be sure he takes and rends him as he would a kid, which is the mark of a certain kind of faith. But it is a sort of disgrace in having met certain enemies. How do we have to meet them? I think in one sense Israel could get no great credit for having overcome Amalek. Why should Israel be fighting with Amalek? They would not have been fighting him if they had not been lagging in the rear. If they had been pressing on diligently to the front, Amalek would never have overtaken them. A man says he has had a terrible conflict with Satan, but thank God he has won the victory; but how did you come to have the conflict with Satan? Been in his territory? Been leaving the path of faith where God would have had you? It is all very well to gain a victory, but some victories tell plainly the need for fighting.
You know the ordinary use of Samson's riddle growing out of this victory. He goes down later, and he finds that a colony of bees have established themselves in the carcass of the lion. He gets the honey out of the carcass and eats it, and gives it to his parents. When he goes down to take his wife, — still going down, bound to consummate the alliance, to have his own pleasure — he propounds this riddle to his friends: "Out of the eater came forth meat, out of the strong came forth sweetness."
You know, as I have said, how it is usually interpreted, and I will not question that interpretation, though I cannot but believe there is something more too. I will give you that interpretation first. Satan is the eater, the lion. "Your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion goeth about seeking whom he may devour." As the lion conquered is the occasion of providing food, so when we were captives of Satan and in his power, our blessed Lord came down and overthrew him. "Through death he destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the devil." As a result, the very fact of Satan's mastery over us, gave the occasion for Christ to overthrow him. That very occasion becomes the means of our spiritual food, the richest sustenance of heaven, honey out of the carcass. Surely from the cross of Christ all sweetness and all food has come. No one would question that when Satan was vanquished at the cross, the door was opened wide into God's treasure-house, and His inexhaustible resources were made ours to feed upon. We eat and drink abundantly because of that slaughter of the lion that was in the way. I will not further dwell upon that, the gospel side. You can preach the gospel from it surely.
And when you apply it to our own experiences you could find some time when Satan has been overthrown. We will say, in the energy of faith you have found sweetness as a result of his very attack. For instance, Satan has roared against you with some special threatening, some special temptation. You have met him and conquered him, and you have found that having conquered Satan, there is a spiritual repast for your soul. This seems to be suggested in the twenty-third psalm, "Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies."
We find it so corporately speaking. The enemy may threaten a company of God's people, and they in the simplicity of their faith may meet and rend him, for you resist the devil, and he will flee from you he has no more power than a kid. As a result of meeting Satan and overthrowing him, you find that there is a rich spiritual repast for the saints. How often have these attacks of the enemy been but the occasion of real and fuller blessings.
Now these are applications which have been familiar to you, I am quite sure, and they are upon the very surface. I would not contradict them for a moment, and yet, I confess, when I think of that man Samson and of all the opportunities he had, and how utterly he failed to make use of them when I think of the mission upon which he was when he met that lion, and how he pursued it, after he overthrew the lion, it seems to me that there must be some warning, some practical lesson connected with it also, and that I will try to give you.
Honey is sweetness, and you will remember that the land of Canaan is described as a land flowing with milk and honey. Honey in Canaan is good. Thank God, we will feed forever upon the sweet and the fat, we will delight ourselves in it. Thank God, there is no question that in heaven's fields we can eat honey without any danger. But honey in the Philistines' land surely suggests something. "Hast thou found honey? Eat so much thereof as is good." The question of eating honey is settled, as far as God is concerned, in connection with the sacrifices, where He forbade it. It stands for natural sweetness and natural attractiveness. Now the sweet things of a heavenly nature are, of course, proper food in a heavenly place, but to feed nature, and to enjoy the sweets of nature on the enemy's ground, I think is something else. To eat honey in that way is not now feeding upon the precious things of Christ, but upon that which may very easily be a snare to the soul.
So you have the enemy met in one form. Satan as a lion is put to flight and destroyed. That is one form of overthrow. But then, out of apparently a carcass that can do no harm, a conquered foe, ah, that subtle and insinuating honey is found that will draw the soul away from God. I do not think these two applications contradict one another, for the simple reason that if we look at the parable from the point of view of true Nazariteship, as we see in it our blessed Lord who carried it out really, it means the sweet, blessed things of the gospel. But if we look at the parable, dear brethren, in the light of facts, how Samson was departing from God, I would at least commend this view that I have suggested, that he was taking a downward path; and Satan, finding that his roar did not terrify Samson, tried what honey could do for him.
Poor Samson is always telling his secrets. He is always anxious to talk about things that nobody ought to know but himself. Things that surely Philistines ought not to know about, he wants to tell them. And if you will notice, he does not come right out and tell them plainly, but he propounds a riddle to them. Why should he want to propound a riddle? Ought he not to have seen, as surely any one could see, that he was getting mixed up terribly with these people? He went down to marry one woman, he finds he has thirty Philistines as companions. What kind of companions are these for a man who is to be the bitter enemy of these people? He is linked with one, and that one has grown to thirty. There he is with a whole company of Philistines in his house, and he associated with them.
The lessons are so plain that we cannot fail,. I am sure, to see them. You are only going to compromise on one point. You are only going to adopt one principle that is not quite scriptural. You adopt that one principle, you take it into your bosom, for you know the woman stands for the principles of conduct. You take a single Philistine principle into your bosom and say, This pleases me well. It is some piece of religious machinery, some short cut to spiritual success that is going to work wonders, and you say, Ah, this is a good thing, I will make use of it. To be sure it is a Philistine thing, but then it will draw the crowd.
Here is a man going to preach the gospel, for instance, and he is tempted to take some principle of formalism, some principle of legalism into his bosom, into association with himself, and use that. You take but one, you are just going to marry one Philistine, and find your house, is full. You have got thirty, and they are companions for you, they are your friends. They are your spiritual companions. You cannot adopt one unscriptural principle without finding a whole host of others equally unscriptural that follow with it.
I am not quite clear that Samson's riddle could mean in his lips, the lips of an unfaithful man like that, what we usually understand about it. Nor do I believe that we can speak of him as a type of Christ. How could such an unfaithful man be a figure of Christ in His redemption? I must say it creates a sort of revulsion in my heart to connect him in any way with our Lord. Though, as I think of God's purposes in the Nazarite, and of what Christ has really been, I can see a contrast. Had Samson been faithful he would have been a type of Christ. But I cannot bring myself to think of the historical Samson as a type of Christ. Can you think of the Lord Jesus Christ going down and allying Himself with His enemies in that way? To meet souls in grace surely He came down to the lowest.
But you cannot think of Him taking enemies into His bosom, or doing aught that would compromise His Father's holiness. So, while God's thoughts are that out of the eater comes forth meat, and out of the strong comes forth sweetness, and that every one who can guess — to whom God will reveal — that secret, will get a change of raiment, will get a new standing before God; will, as it were, be clothed with the best robe, which makes a beautiful gospel, yet, when we look at the personal side of it, there is a warning there such as I have suggested.
Samson wants to tell his secret, and you will notice this, that the person who wants to tell the secret, and yet does not want to, the secret will come out. The person who dallies with the enemies of God, who is not quite ready to unbosom himself absolutely to them, but still suggests possible ways of their coming into the secret of his spiritual life, he will find that the very principle that he has adopted as the partner of his life, is the one that is going to betray him into giving up the secret which he holds so jealously. And so Samson finds it. These companions of his — what a wretched state it is., what wretched company, just looking at it for a moment in a purely natural way; what company he had got into — his wife's friends threaten her that they will burn her house with fire if she does not get the secret out of him somehow. Fine company for a Nazarite to be associated with. They will burn her and her father with fire. And so under the fear of that threat she spends the time, which naturally is a very happy time, in weeping, for well she knows that her companions are cruel enough to carry out their threat, and that there will be no home for her, and her life probably sacrificed, if she does not get the secret out of Samson.
Samson met his end because he told his secret; right here at the beginning his telling the secret forebodes what the end may be. Samson tells here the secret, and finally has to tell the deeper secret of his whole separation to God, the secret of any testimony and power that he may have.
There is much more in that chapter that is of sad and striking interest, but these are the outlines of it, and I think that you can apply it for yourselves, and see how wide-reaching it is. I would like to say just a word or two further as to the ecclesiastical application. It is that even a spiritual mind, even one that desires to please God, may be tempted to form alliances that are not of God. That is particularly true in the day in which we live. There is a vast amount of activity going on in Christendom, of religious activity. Much of it of a philanthropic character, and a good deal of an evangelical character, so called, in reaching out after people.
Here is an earnest soul who really desires to do something for God, and he finds, perhaps, that his Nazarite position is rather a dull one. He finds that in the path of separation, perhaps with those with whom he is associated in that path of separation, things are rather slow in the gospel. They are not as warm hearted as some others that he may know, and there may be a temptation just to link himself in gospel activity, just in the gospel. He says, I will link myself with that, which, I will admit, is not exactly scriptural, is not exactly what God wants, but still I will link myself with only that. Ah, brethren, how many have found themselves quite surrounded by Philistines, who have simply sacrificed the one point. I speak of that ecclesiastically, because these truths are meant for us in these days, meant for warning in Church matters, in assembly matters, and wherever we may yield in one single point, we may find to our cost that we have yielded in more than that.
For the time Samson gets the better of his enemies; God overrules even this. He tells the riddle to his wife, and she, of course, tells it to her and Samson's companions, and then, as they give the answer to him, he, seeing the treachery, says, "If ye had not plowed with my heifer ye had not found out my riddle." Ah, if he had only reversed it; "If I had not plowed with your heifer." But he blames them, you see; he is blaming them for an alliance which he himself had formed, and from which, as a result, his secret had been disclosed to them. Did it not belong to them? How did he get his secret except as going down there at all. How had he got it except as he met the lion on his way down to the Philistines' land. Perhaps it was their right to have it in that way.
And now he is brought into open antagonism with them, and there is a breach, for you must always remember there was living faith in Samson; he was not dead, only defiled and dulled by that alliance. So he slays other Philistines, goes down to another place and slays them, and brings back their garments. He gives them, not changes of raiment in the spiritual sense, but simply other garments like the very ones they wore, Philistine robes. He gets these garments and gives them thus, as it were, in very mockery. For the man who gets the gospel secret not in God's way may get a change of raiment. There are plenty of people that get the gospel secret in their heads, but not in their hearts; plenty of people that can tell you that out of Satan's power has come the sweetness of the blessing of God, and say it off because they have heard somebody else tell it. They have not learnt it in their own soul. They may get a change of raiment, but it is only a new garment of the old creation yet. It is only the turning over of a new leaf, mere reformation, or something of that sort, it is not really the soul set free. With the best robe put upon him that means heart work, and to be in the presence of God.
In the next chapter, fifteenth, you find more than the individual alliance of Samson. You might say that even a conflict to provide robes for the Philistines would be better. He goes down in the time of the wheat harvest to visit his wife with a kid, and finds that she has been taken from him, for surely no Philistine alliance is a binding one, even on their side, much less on the side of faith. She is taken from him, and when Samson protests, the father-in-law answers that he thought she had been forsaken, and, therefore, he had given her to a friend, and he offers another one. Philistines are always ready to do that, offer some fresh link with themselves. This Samson resents, and he goes now to take vengeance on the Philistines for this personal wrong. It is a mere personal vengeance. The personal element comes in now to put a man on the right side.
There are many suggestive things here. Perhaps it is scarcely up to the dignity of an illustration, and yet I feel like giving it, simply to make it very plain. One allies himself with that which is not of God, Philistinism, and now he finds that he has been treated unfaithfully, he has been treated in a very shabby manner, and there is the personal resentment. But how often you have met with people that have been treated outrageously, they tell you, at the hands of the church that they have done so much for. They have worked, given their money, their time, and everything else, and they have met with nothing but ingratitude. As a result of that, there has been anger and the desire for vengeance, and how many a church quarrel is simply the result of this personal animosity, rather than zeal for God's honor. So with Samson here, he is angry because of the treatment against himself, and he goes and takes jackals — strange thing for a Nazarite to be tampering with, the uncleanest beast that roams around Palestine, the beast that feeds upon carrion, that hides the bones that it preys upon in the earth, until it is ready to renew its putrid repast. It is a striking picture of the flesh, which feeds on putridity, on carrion, on corruption. He takes that which feeds upon corruption, he catches these three hundred jackals, ties them tail to tail, and puts a torch between them and lets them fly. He is not caring what they do, and I don't read that he killed a single Philistine by doing it. He burnt up corn, he burnt up vineyards, he burnt up olive orchards, but in the land these things stand for spiritual blessings. In the land these things represent what the people of God had a right to. Why not drive out the Philistine and enjoy the corn, the olives, and the vineyards? why burn them up and leave the enemy?
How often personal strife, personal vindication, and everything of that kind simply results in consuming, not the enemy, but the spiritual things that we should enjoy. Have you not seen jackals turned loose that just burn up everything, as it were, everything on the face of the ground that would be food for the soul? As the apostle says, "If ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another." And so Samson turning loose jackals I do not look upon as any kind of dignified, or spiritual conduct. The man seems to be playing, and not in earnest.
Could you imagine Jephthah, even with all his harshness, turning jackals loose amongst the enemy? Does that look anything like Gideon? He held his torch in his hand, and did not use it to inflame the flesh. He held it simply to maintain a testimony, the torch and the trumpet proclaiming the sword of the Lord. There is no resemblance between them. I think that Samson is on very low ground when he does this. It effected no victory for God surely. Let us beware of fighting with jackals, let us beware of trying to use the flesh against one another. Beware of stirring up and inflaming that which feeds on corruption. If you tell a whispered word that you know is going to stir up resentment, to make enmity, it seems to me that you are getting ready to put the torch to a jackal, and turn it loose. "As a madman who scatters firebrands, arrows and death, so is the man that deceiveth his neighbor and saith, Am I not in sport?" The very next verse adds a warning about tale-bearing.
The Philistines repay Samson's wife and his father-in-law for all this by going and burning her and her father with fire. Then, at last, Samson takes open and public ground, and now smites the Philistines hip and thigh, and there is a great slaughter. But how long it has been before he gets into direct and open conflict. How much that is purely idle and beneath the dignity of a servant of God has there been in all this grotesque exhibition of a strength which, while it was superhuman, did not seem to suggest divine power.
These are serious thoughts, brethren, I am quite aware that they are not in the ordinary line of what is presented in connection with Samson, but, I confess, having meditated upon his career from end to end, I find very much to mourn over, but very little to be thankful for, so far as he was concerned. That little we get now, and it is the one bright gleam in the whole history, that which we reach here at the ninth verse.
At the close of the eighth verse we find something suggestive. He went down and dwelt in the top of the rock Etam. The top of the rock. "The coneys be a feeble folk, but their dwelling is in the rock." And when he takes the place of dwelling in the rock, which suggests the thought of Christ, and of hiding in Him, you may expect something more now than what we have been having, and so you will find it.
The Philistines resent any such place as that. They "went up and pitched in Judah and spread themselves in Lehi, and the men of Judah said, Why are ye come up against us? And they answered, to bind Samson are we come up, and to do to him as he hath done to us." Samson had made himself an outlaw, and though now he had retired from conflict, or had retreated, as it were, from the territory of the Philistines, and had taken his place amongst the men of Judah, they are bound to have their revenge. They were far from being overcome by what he had done they press on, and must have his blood.
But what a mournful picture you have in what follows. The men of Judah come to Samson, and they are simply horrified that he should dare to array himself against the Philistines. "Knowest thou not that we are the servants of the Philistines?" Their slavery was so abject, so complete, that they were simply horrified at anyone resisting the authority of that which had such a powerful hold upon them. And how true it is, dear friends, that a vast amount of the people of God seem to be perfectly horror struck at the idea of your resisting in any way that which is an evident encroachment of the Philistine.
To illustrate again in a very simple way, as I did before: there are certain great principles such as I have already alluded to. These principles have been adopted amongst professing Christians, such, for instance, as unscriptural thoughts as to justification, worship, and things of that kind. We have already alluded to the Philistine views of these things. If one now dares to protest that these are not the truth of God, that they are simply the enemy's device, and a witness of his power, people raise their hands in horror. What! the idea of anybody but an ordained man performing a sacred work! The idea of having anything but a humanly constructed organization, the idea of declaring that these things were unscriptural and contrary to what God intends! Knowest thou not that we are the servants of the Philistines? What do you mean by raising questions that can only bring the whole power of the enemy upon us? Beloved brethren, is it too strong a figure to say that God's people shiver at the very thought of raising any opposition to the authority of this terrible power that holds God's dear saints in its grasp?
Samson says to the men of Judah, I will only ask you one thing. You will not kill me, will you? This is the only bright gleam that you have in his whole history. No, they say, we will not kill you, we will hand you over to the Philistines. He can meet them. He is not afraid of them, just so that which links him vitally with his own people, the vital link with the people of God is established and kept, so they will not cut him off, spiritually speaking, he will meet the Philistine.
So they bind him with the ropes, that suggest regulations to hold him down, and deliver him safe enough to the Philistines, as they think. But, ah, when he comes into the presence of the enemy, faith exercises itself, and these regulations which his own people have put upon him to hold him down, these new ropes, snap like tow touched by the fire, they have no power to hold him.
It is beautiful and striking to see this. And I think it is closely connected with his dwelling in the top of the rock. His own people spiritually, his own brethren, Israel, had not the faith to act as he did. They actually were base enough to hand him over to that whole system which was contrary to God, did all that was needful to put him in the enemy's hands. But here, at least, there is a simple faith that counts upon God, and that God can make use of. He is not in the power of the Philistine, and in the open field will have a free conflict with them, in the energy of something like faith.
I regret that again I have to point out that which, it seems to me, is the characteristic of Samson all through, — his disregard for his Nazariteship. "All the days of his Nazariteship he shall come at no dead body." For an Israelite, if there was one thing above another that was defiling, it was to touch a bone. To touch a dead body was defiling, and an Israelite lost his ceremonial Nazariteship if he did so. Yet, here is Samson with all the lessons of the past — surely one would have thought that he might have learnt something at any rate with all the lessons of the past — he takes up an unclean weapon to use against the Philistines. He takes up the jawbone of an ass — that which was an evidence of death, and the beast itself an unclean beast.
An ass is typical of a strong self-will. The natural man is like a wild ass's colt. He takes up that unclean weapon, and does gain a victory with it surely, but you never use the flesh, an unclean thing, never use self-will without suffering for it. No matter how right the cause, you use a wrong weapon, and sooner or later it will react. So, I think, we have here an indication that the man did not prize his Nazariteship. He did not realize that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God. Oh to use spiritual weapons in spiritual conflict, not to take the weapon of the enemy, not to get down on the level of the enemy, no matter how wonderful it might be for him with that jawbone, as he says, to pile up heaps and heaps of Philistines, with that single weapon. He may boast if he please, but he has used an unclean weapon, and there is a shadow even upon this which is the brightest side of his life.
Then after the victory is won, another bright gleam comes out. Poor dear man, it is the first time we hear his soul going out to God. "My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God." We find him parched with thirst, and even after this great victory his soul, — as well it might be, having used an unclean weapon, well he might find a parchedness and dryness in his soul, — is afflicted with most grievous thirst. But he turns to God, he calls for help, and he finds that in that place which bore the name of his victory, Lehi, "the jawbone," God cleaves a place out of the rock, and there the water flows forth for his refreshment, — another type of Christ.
This portion begins and ends with the rock. He dwelt in the rock, and out of the rock, under the cleaving hand of God, flows forth the water for his refreshment. The well is called En-hak-kore, "the spring of him that called" to God. Now it is in connection with that, growing out of all that, that we read he judged Israel twenty years. That is, the record of his judgeship was connected with this period, this bright period in his life. Just as he dwelt in separation from the Philistines, in open conflict with them, he had power to judge the people of God. He could be no real judge for them when he was down allying himself with his enemies. Alas, he could be no real judge when he was later on grinding in the Philistines' mills. But in this period of absolute separation from them, when he dwelt, as I was saying, in the rock, and when he broke the bands which even his own people would put upon him, and stood out in all the energy of divine faith, then he could judge, and only then could he judge the people of God.
That brings us to the close of that part of his life, and leaves us, at the sixteenth chapter, with what is deeper and deeper darkness, and sadder, sadder failure. The gleam of light has been brief, as to its record, though one hopes there was a quiet faithfulness for God which has not been recorded.
I trust, dear brethren, that this apparent criticism will not be misunderstood. I verily believe that this last man, this sixth of all the heroes of Israel, is a man from whom we ought to learn some of the most important lessons that we have yet had before us. I believe that the lessons plainly written here, written upon the very surface, are lessons of failure largely, and I think, as I said at the beginning, that any effort to make Samson a type of Christ does violence to our spiritual sensibilities. Ah, our Holy Lord. Would you think of making David in his sin a type of Christ? You might make David in his rejection a type of Christ, and rightly so. You might make him in connection with his final kingdom a type of the Lord, and rightly so. You might make Solomon in his splendor and glory a type of Christ. But when Solomon departed from God, is he a type of Christ then? As a child of God in his disobedience can he be a figure of the truly obedient One? It seems to me that such handling of Scripture, which does violence to the conscience of saints, and does violence to our blessed Lord, and a sense of loyalty to Him, is a thing that is to be refused. We are rather to get warning from a man who might have been, — oh what a wonderful type he might have been of Christ, and yet, alas, he is simply a beacon, not to invite us into the harbor, but to warn us off the rocks, the rocks that he split upon.
What is the warning, brethren? "She pleaseth me well." Ah, let us beware of self-pleasing. Even Christ pleased not Himself. Let us beware how we please ourselves. Let us keep our Nazariteship inviolate. May we remember that the cross of Christ is that which has crucified us unto the world, and the world unto us; and more than that, that "they who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts."
1 Hymn 67, Little Flock Hymn-book.