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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/baldivis/
 
Title:The LORD establishes Samson as judge over Israel
Text:Judges 15:20 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Maintaining the Antithesis
 
Preached:2014-21-14
Added:2015-04-23
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

2010 Book of Praise

Bible Translation:  NKJV

 

Psalm 18:1,10

Psalm 86:4

Psalm 18:11,12,15

Hymn 18:1,3

Psalm 98:1,2

 

Read:  Judges 15

Text:  Judges 15:20

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Could we please spare a thought for the foxes?  Three hundred foxes, all caught, turned tail to tail and tied up, two by two, in that position.  Three hundred foxes with a burning torch attached to their tails and then let loose in the standing grain of the Philistines.  What a horrible thing that was being done to them!    Being tied together like this, they could hardly run away and escape and so in sheer terror they ran through the standing grain of the Philistines, burning up the shocks of grain that were already harvested as well as the grain still standing in the fields, and also the vineyards and the olive groves.  And it all started because of a riddle posed between Samson, an Israelite and thirty men of the Philistines.

  There is a lot of violence, death and destruction in Judges 15, a lot of repaying evil with evil.  And we, with our twenty-first century sensitivities shake our heads and we wonder how to make sense of it all.  Surely this getting angry at one another, this repaying evil for evil wasn’t right?

It is true:  there is much in Judges 15 that wasn’t right, cruelty to animals being one of them.  And yet, even in all of the destruction that was going one, the LORD was at work, He was fulfilling His promise to Manoah and his wife in Judges 13 that Samson would begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.

There are clues in the Bible chapter of Judges 15 that call us to dig deeper, to look below the surface and to see what God was doing through all of these things.  Samson was right, in verse 18 to call the Philistines “these uncircumcised.”  Samson was not being racist here, nor was he doing a bit of dirty name-calling.  Rather Samson recognized that the battle he was engaged in was more that simply doing to the Philistines what they had done to him.  At the time, Samson’s motives for revenge were not all pure, but even then God was declaring war between His covenant people and the uncircumcised Philistines.  And below the surface of that war was another war, the war between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman.  The war between God along with the people of God, and Satan along with the people of Satan.  And that is a war that we are engaged in today too.  In Revelation 12 the Bible describes how war broke out in heaven between Michael and his angels and the dragon, and his angels.  The dragon, that’s Satan, was cast out along with his angels, and they are now making war with God’s people on earth.  Revelation 12:12 says,

“Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea!  For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.”

And Revelation 12:17,

“And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”

We are at war, a war that is really the same war that God had declared between His people Israel and the uncircumcised Philistines.  But we are in a different age, a different era.  And not only does that mean that the nature of this war is different – for we do not fight against flesh and blood but against the powers of darkness – but for us the outcome of this war has been sealed by One who is greater and stronger than Samson, that is, our Lord Jesus Christ.

It was as a part of this battle, this war, that the LORD raised up Samson as a judge over the people Israel.  Even as Samson sinned and God’s people Israel sinned, the LORD showed Himself to be the true God, and He showed His grace to Samson and His covenant people.

I preach to you the Word of God under the following theme:

The LORD establishes Samson as judge over Israel.

  1. Israel’s need.
  2. God’s provision.

1. Israel’s need.

It had all started, it seemed, with a riddle.  To add a bit of interest and excitement to his seven day wedding feast, Samson posed a riddle to the 30 men who were with him:

Out of the eater came something to eat,

Out of the strong came something sweet.

The thirty men who were with Samson couldn’t figure out the answer to the riddle, so they pressured Samson’s wife, threatening to burn her and her father’s house with fire, if she didn’t find out the answer for them.  Samson’s wife then cried for the rest of the wedding party, sobbing that Samson didn’t love her, until Samson gave in and told her the answer.  Samson’s wife then told the thirty men at the feast, who told Samson the answer to his riddle.  But from there, enraged that they had “plowed with his heifer”, had pressured his new Philistine wife, Samson went down to the Philistine city of Ashkelon, killed thirty of their men, took their apparel and gave the changes of clothing to those who had explained the riddle.  Samson, visibly angry at what had happened then went back home.  Meanwhile, Samson’s new father-in-law, thinking that he’d seen the back of Samson, gave his daughter away in marriage to Samson’s companion, the best man at the wedding feast.  Samson doesn’t know about that, so later when his anger had subsided, he goes back to claim his wife.  Learning that his wife was no longer his and refusing the offer of her younger daughter, Samson said in Judges 15:3,

“Now I shall be blameless regarding the Philistines if I harm them!”

And so he went and caught three hundred foxes, took burning torches, turned the foxes tail to tail, and put a torch between each pair of tails.  When he set the torches on fire, he let the foxes go into the standing grain and burned up their crops.  Samson took revenge for what his father-in-law had done in giving away his wife, but notice that he did not take vengeance directly on his father-in-law and his family, but the Philistines in general.

  The Philistines had good reason to be upset at the loss of their grain as well as their vineyards and olive trees:  food would be in short supply for a long time to come.  So it says in verse 6,

Then the Philistines said, “Who has done this?”

And they answered, “Samson, the son-in-law of the Timnite, because he has taken his wife and given her to his companion.” So the Philistines came up and burned her and her father with fire.

Samson’s wife, who had betrayed his confidence to escape the threat that she and her father’s house would be burned with fire, died by fire all the same.

But Samson was shocked and angry at what the Philistines had done in response to his burning their grain, and so he retaliated once more.  Verse 7,8.

Samson said to them, “Since you would do a thing like this, I will surely take revenge on you, and after that I will cease.” So he attacked them hip and thigh with a great slaughter; then he went down and dwelt in the cleft of the rock of Etam.

And so we have this tit-for-tat happening, action and reaction, with every reaction being worse than the action before it.  But notice that this was not some sort of uncontrolled anger, a fitful rage of revenge on Samson’s part.  If Samson was doing no more than giving in to his anger at his wife being given away to another man, he would have used his strength to beat down the door and take his wife by force.  But he did not attack his wife, nor his father-in-law’s house.  Rather, he took both the time and the planning to effect maximum damage on the Philistine enemy by burning down their crops.  And in this way we see that rather than this simply be a matter of people returning evil for evil, the LORD was using Samson’s personal situation to stir up a division between the people of Israel and the Philistines.  Impure though Samson’s motives and actions might have been, as it says in Judges 14:4, the LORD was seeking an occasion to move against the Philistines.  And that was what was happening here.

And this had to happen.  For the sake of His people, the LORD had to stir up the enmity between the people of Israel and the Philistines.  For at that time the Philistines ruled over Israel, they were the occupiers – and Israel was so subdued that they did not even seem to hope for things to change, hope for a deliverer to save them from under the yoke of the Philistines. 

  Piecing together the history of the people of Israel, it is most likely that it was just a few years before the rise of Samson as judge that the Battle of Aphek, as described in 1 Samuel 4, took place.  At the Battle of Aphek, the Philistines had a resounding victory over Israel, killing 30,000 soldiers and taking claim of the ark of God’s covenant.  These were dark days for the people of Israel and they concluded that the glory of the LORD had departed from Israel, and that Israel now had a new master, the Philistines.  And so Israel meekly submitted to the dominion and influence of the Philistines, accepting them as their masters.  Here then was Israel, the people of God, the ones whom the LORD had redeemed out of the land of Egypt with an outstretched arm, accepting a new form of slavery and domination under the uncircumcised Philistines.  And so Israel was in danger of being swallowed up by the Philistines, losing their identity, losing their position as the covenant people of the LORD.  And that becomes clear in how the people of Judah responded to what Samson had done in Judges 15:9-13.

The Philistines, angry at what Samson had done, went up and camped in Judah, spreading out at a place called Lehi.  The men of Judah were afraid at this show of force of the Philistines, and they had no stomach to fight.  Judges 15:10 – 

10 And the men of Judah said, “Why have you come up against us?”

So they answered, “We have come up to arrest Samson, to do to him as he has done to us.”

Now if we had any thoughts that all Israel was cheering Samson on, shouting with glee at the story of the foxes and the burned grain and olive groves, if we had any thoughts that they were pleased about his miraculous strength and how he had killed many of the Philistines “hip and thigh”, slaughtering the enemy, we would be very disappointed.  Rather than be thankful and excited that a mighty warrior had risen from among them, rather than be eager for the day that the yoke of the Philistines would be lifted from off their shoulders, they came down to Samson with 3000 men and they said to him,

“Samson!  Do you not know that the Philistines rule over us?  What is this you have done to us?”

“What have you done to us, Samson?”  The men of Judah were upset that Samson was rocking the boat and they did not want that.  They did not want a deliverer.  They did not want a judge.  They did not want to be free from the Philistines, free to truly live under God once more.  And that is appalling!  That is worst thing about this story in Judges 15.  God’s covenant people Israel no longer looked to the LORD for help, no longer wanted to live under Him above all else.  And so rather than receive Samson as their leader, they saw him as their enemy, the greatest threat to their survival. 

  It had not always been like this.  A few hundred years earlier, in Judges 1:2 it was the men of Judah who, after the death of Joshua, were the first to go up and to fight against the Canaanites.  And, it says in Judges 1:18,

18 Also Judah took Gaza with its territory, Ashkelon with its territory, and Ekron with its territory.

Note that in the days of Samson these cities were Philistine strongholds. And so Judah had looked to the LORD in times past and the LORD was with Judah.  But now when He had raised up Samson and the Spirit of God had come upon Samson with great power, the men of Judah said

“No thanks!  We don’t want that!  Samson, you are disturbing the peace.  Do you not know that the Philistines rule over us?  What is this that you have done to us?”

And so they took Samson, tied him up with new ropes and handed him over to the Philistines.  Handed him over to be killed so that they could go on living under bondage to the Philistines. 

  That is quite terrible when you stop to think about it!  It is terrible that God’s people had given up on Him, had given up on being delivered, had even given up on wanting to be delivered.  The LORD had raised up Samson to be judge over Israel, but the Israelites had, in effect, shouted:

“We have no judge but the Philistines!”

That was terrible!  But it was not as terrible as something that happened later.  For what happened to Samson, being bound and handed over to the enemy, was a foreshadowing of what would happen to Jesus Christ.  Later it would be Jesus Christ Himself who would be rejected by His own people.  And concerning this Jesus John 1:11 says,

“He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.”

But instead they did this. Matthew 27:2:

“And when they had bound Him, they led Him away and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate the governor.”

They delivered Him to Pilate, accusing this Jesus of being a threat to Israel because he claimed to be King.  And then, in John 19:15 the Jews said the most terrible thing.  John 19:14,15 –

14 Now it was the Preparation Day of the Passover, and about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold your King!”

15 But they cried out, “Away with Him, away with Him! Crucify Him!”

Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?”

The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar!”

And there we have it that God’s covenant people, the people of Israel, rejected the One whom God had sent to deliver them from their bondage.  “We don’t want to be free”, they said.  “We will stay just as we are.”

But it is not just the men of Judah, who rejected Samson as judge and leader over them, nor is it just the leaders of Israel, who rejected the Lord Jesus Christ as their deliverer that we should think of.  We should also think of ourselves!  Do you see your need for a Saviour, your need for a deliverer?  There is a war going on, and you and I are a part of it!  There is a spiritual war going on between the body of Christ and the world that is without Christ.  But God has sent us His Son to deliver us from the world, to rescue us from darkness so that we might live with Him!  But do you want that?  Do you really want to be saved?  Do you want to be rescued from bondage?  Do you even see the bondage of sin?  Do you see the chains, do you know what it is like to be enslaved to Satan and the things of this world?  Do you look to Jesus not just for the forgiveness of your sin, but for a life of freedom in His name? 

Israel’s greatest need in the days of Samson was that their eyes might be opened, that they might see their need, that they might long for one to come, for a judge who could free them from bondage to the Philistines.  And in the same manner, your need and my need is that our eyes might be opened, that we might be see the bondage of sin, that we might flee from it and find in Christ a great Deliverer.

But thanks be to God:  when the men of Judah handed Samson over to be killed by the Philistines, the LORD did not abandon His people.  But rather, He provided His people with a judge and a deliverer, even when they did not yet want one.

2. God’s provision.

The LORD was not done with Samson either yet.  Although God was using Samson to stir up division between His covenant people Israel and the uncircumcised Philistines so that He might always have a people for Himself, Samson was not doing right.  There was a lot of personal vengeance going on in Judges 15 and, even though Bible makes it clear that it was the Spirit of the LORD that gave Samson his strength, Samson did not always acknowledge it. 

  When the people of Judah handed Samson, bound with new ropes, over to the Philistines, and the Philistines rushed towards him, confident that they had this troublemaker at last, the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon Samson and it was as if the ropes that bound him simply melted as they broke loose from his hands.  And then, finding a fresh jawbone of a donkey, an unusual but a formidable weapon, Samson went wild and he killed a thousand men.  And then Samson, lover of poems and clever words, said this:

“With the jawbone of a donkey, heaps upon heaps, with the jawbone of a donkey, I have slain a thousand men!”

Or, as one Bible commentator translated this:

“With the jawbone of an ass, I have piled them in a mass!”

But note what Samson says here:  “I have slain a thousand men.  I have piled them in a mass.  I have done it!”

But he had not done it, not of himself, for it was the Spirit of the LORD that gave him strength.  And so the LORD put His finger on this and once more showed Samson how weak he really was. Samson became thirsty, so thirsty that he felt that he might die.  And then Samson cried out to the LORD and he acknowledged what God had done.  Verse 18.

18 Then he became very thirsty; so he cried out to the Lord and said, “You have given this great deliverance by the hand of Your servant; and now shall I die of thirst and fall into the hand of the uncircumcised?”

You, LORD, You have done it!”  Samson admitted.  It was not Samson who had such strength, it was not Samson who could do all things.  It was, rather, the LORD, the God of the covenant, the One who was the God of His people Israel.  And now Samson, at the end of his physical strength, feeling that he might die of thirst, cried out to this God to save him.

And the LORD heard him and the LORD split open a hollow place and water gushed out so that Samson could drink.  And so Samson drank, his spirit was revived, and he changed the name of the hill.  Whereas in verse 17 he had called the place “Ramath Lehi”, that is, “Jawbone Hill”, he now called its name “En Hakkore”, that is, “Caller’s Spring”, for it was there that he called upon the name of the LORD.

And it was after these things that Samson was ready to be a judge over God’s people.  And so comes verse 20.

“And he judged Israel twenty years in the days of the Philistines.”

The LORD established Samson as judge over the people of Israel.  Whereas before this the people did not want a judge and handed Samson over to be killed by the Philistines, now they received him as a judge over them.  And he was a judge for twenty years.  Yes, it was still “the days of the Philistines” but the battle lines had been drawn: Israel would not be swallowed up by the Philistines and the day would come when the people of Israel would repent.  And then the LORD would be with them and they would overthrow the yoke the Philistines had placed upon them, they would be free once more.

Samson was a judge for twenty years.  We do not know much about his life as judge, but this we know:  it was the LORD who established him as judge over Israel.  And although Samson sinned, publicly, more than once, we also know from Hebrews 11:32 that God did approve of him as judge. 

But Samson would not be God’s final provision for His people.  Samson was weak, and Samson was a sinner.  Samson’s judgeship in many ways cried out for the Great Judge, the true Leader of God’s people to arise.  A leader who would not simply kill a thousand but who would give His life for His people.

When our Lord Jesus Christ hung on the cross to pay for our sin it took great power, far greater power than it took Samson to kill a thousand men.  As our Lord Jesus hung on the cross, carrying the weight of our sins, He bore in his human nature the burden of God’s wrath.  It took divine strength to do that, the power of His divine nature, as we confess in Lord’s Day 6 of the Heidelberg Catechism.  And as he hung there on the cross, He cried out in John 19:28,

“I thirst!”

But what did the Father do when His own Son said “I thirst”?  Did He break open the rocks so that the Christ might drink water?  Did He open the heavens that the rain might come down?  No, He did not.  Although someone close by took a sponge of sour wine and gave it to him, the Father did not quench his thirst.  When He was on the cross, the Father turned His back on His Son.  He gave Him no miraculous supply of water, nothing to revive Him.  And so our Lord died, He gave up His Spirit and He said, “It is finished!”

And so Jesus Christ, the ultimate Judge, the final Deliverer of God’s people, hung there unto death so that we might never thirst, so that we might drink in Him, so that in Him we might have life.  He is the One whom the Father has provided for us.  And so let us turn to Him, let us receive Him, let us put our trust in Him.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2014, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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