POWER STRANGERS SERMON SERIES
JUNE 1, 1997
Fifteen years ago this month, Lisa and I traveled together to Hawaii to celebrate our honeymoon. On the first night at our resort we made restaurant reservations for dinner. We walked up to the establishment and a maitre’d greeted us. He looked at us and said that we must be on our honeymoon. We nodded and he indicated that we should follow him to a special place that he had reserved just for us. We followed him through a maze of tables until finally we got to a table in the very back.
While Lisa and I were taking our seats, I happened to look behind her and I will never forget what I saw. A couple was sitting at the table right next to Lisa. The man’s hand was in front of his face and in between two of his fingers was a collosial Cuban cigar. I decided that this man had the biggest arms I had ever seen. Folks, the vein running across his biceps was the size of a garden hose. I watch him take a puff from his cigar and there he was, Arnold Schwarzenegger. I said, “Lisa, look at me, honey. Stay cool and calm because right behind you is Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Schriver.” With that we both proceeded to stare.
We tried to overhear every conversation. We tried to examine all that they were eating. It was great. The next morning we were walking out on the beach together and I noticed a group of ladies doing aerobics on the beach. To my amazement, there was a lone male figure in the group and you can guess who it was. He was doing the dance steps with the ladies. Now, I am not a big aerobics guy, but the next morning I was there with Arnold doing aerobics on the beach. If I sound like I know him well, I never really met him. I just did some aerobics with him.
Anyway, when Arnold Schwarzenegger walked around the hotel, people looked at him in awe. I had never seen anyone with a physique like Arnold’s, especially 15 years ago.
When Samson, the Biblical bodybuilder, walked down the streets of Palestine, people looked at him in awe. Samson was so muscular, he would have made Arnold Schwartzneger look like Steve Erkle. The guy was powerful. But sadly, Samson’s life is a tragedy of what might have been. A man with so much potential, but potential means that you haven’t done it yet.
This weekend I am beginning a mini-series on the life and times of Samson entitled Power Stranger. We chose that title because on the one hand, Samson was the most powerful man to ever walk on planet earth, but on the other hand, he was a stranger to the true power that God wanted him to utilize in his everyday life. That is why Samson is a very contemporary figure. That is why he is someone we can relate to. Many of us have the signs and symbols of power, but like Samson, we are strangers to the true power that God desires for us to have operative in our lives. Over the next few weeks we are going to see how this Biblical bodybuilder turned into a 90-lb. weakling. Samson, a true power stranger.
To understand Samson, I want us to get some history under our belts. We are going to look at Judges 13 and 14 for this message. While I have lifted out most of the verses that we will hit on and put them in your outline, please, when you get home read the book of Judges and specifically chapters 13 and 14. This stuff is amazing. It is so relevant and so applicable to your life and mine.
Israel was stuck again. The CD was playing the same song, same verse, same chorus over and over again. The Bible says in Judges 13:1, “Now the sons of Israel, again, did evil in the sight of the Lord.” Here is the vicious cycle; here is the stuck CD. Israel, collectively, would thumb their noses at God in sin, then they would experience the consequences of sin. Then God would send a deliverer, a judge, a man or woman, to turn them back to God. They would finally repent. This happened over and over, time and time again.
In this scenario, Israel was under the domination of a group of people known as the Philistines, the sea people, the beach bums who lived in the western coast of Palestine. They were ugly and wicked and warlike individuals. The Bible says that the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord so that the Lord gave them into the hands of the Philistines for 40 years. They were under the rule of the Philistines because they were experiencing the consequences of their sin. Now the Philistines were sly. They dominated Israel in two areas. First, they dominated them in the area of trade. The Philistines had a corner on the iron market. They knew how to smelt iron. And the Hebrew hillbillies, when they would have a broken axe, or a messed up plow, had to go in to one of the five Philistine cities and buy a replacement axe or a plow. It was one of the ways that the Philistines dominated them. Yes, they could have taken them out militarily, but they didn’t.
Another way the Philistines dominated Israel was that they allowed their people to intermarry with the Israelites. And as the Israelites intermarried with the Philistines, they began to accept their pagan worship practices, their lifestyle, their language. Suddenly, they were rendered helpless and hopeless. Israel, collectively, had their lives in neutral. Same old, same old. No problem, they said. Yes, the Philistines run the show but everything is OK.
Against this backdrop, a husband and wife team emerges, a husband and wife team of faith who knew God. They, however, were also people of failure. That is right. Manoah and his wife were infertile. They were barren. They could not have any children though they had tried and tried and tried. Studies show that one out of three couples experience infertility. Many couples here have. It is silent, it is difficult, it is depressing. I am sure that this husband and wife team said the same things that you might be saying right now. “How can those ungodly Philistine women crank out kid after kid after kid and we would make the best kind of parents and do not have a single offspring.”
They were struggling but they were still people who loved God. They stood out in the midst of the status quo, neutral culture. I think it is kind of funny to look through birth announcements. We get a lot of birth announcement at our house. Baby boomers are so creative in their birth announcements. We got one the other day where the birth of a son was compared to a box score, like with the Texas Rangers. It was really creative. I saw another announcing a daughter and they compared her to a beauty queen. Very creative and cool. Card makers make a lot of money.
But the birth announcement here, to this husband and wife team, would blow all of those out of the water. Let me tell you what happened. The Bible says an angel of the Lord visited this couple. First the angel talked to the wife and said that she would have a baby and that the baby would be special. Look with me at Judges 13:5. “…for the boy shall be a Nazarite to God from the womb.” Now we have to understand what the term Nazarite means. It means to be set apart. The boy, obviously, is Samson and he was a Nazarite. Most people took the Nazarite vow for just a season. God wanted Samson to take the Nazarite vow from birth until death.
The Nazarite vow was made up of three things that you could not do. First, you could not touch anything deceased. Secondly, you could not touch anything that had to do with grapes. That’s right, no Raison Bran. No wine. Third, you could not go near a Tony and Guy Hair Salon. You couldn’t get your hair cut. Now there was nothing magical about these outward signs but they were an outward symbol of an inward commitment. The angel of the Lord told this to Samson’s mom.
Well, when she told her husband this, he said that he needed to ask God for an instant replay. He would have fit perfectly in the NFL, wouldn’t he, with his instant replay request? The angel visited him and told him the same thing. Then Manoah asked the angel for his name. You know what the angel said? He said that was a secret.
Now let me stop here and say something. Oftentimes, we ask God question after question after question. Although God is not necessarily saying no, He may not be giving us the answer. Because if He gave us the answer, He knows that our little limited minds are to fragile and to finite to take it. We would not understand it. We would blow a gasket. Like our twins. I might be walking with them in the parking lot and they might just want to run in front of a car. I would say, “No.” I can’t sit down and explain the situation in detail. I just say no, and they have to trust me. And that happens as we relate to God.
So everything is getting set up here. Let’s read along. In verse 5 the angel continues by saying, “…and he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines.” Isn’t that exciting. Circle the word begin. Samson’s job was to begin to deliver Israel from the Philistines. He didn’t complete the task. It took the prayers of Samuel later on and the military genius of David to wipe them out. Yet, Samson was going to begin the process. How many times have I said in my life that I didn’t see any results? How many times have I questioned God about what I was doing? Oftentimes, I am just beginning the process for someone else to complete. Samson was a man separated as a Nazarite. He was separated but he still lived in the world.
Sometimes when Christians read this they wonder if they should not separate themselves from everything that is worldly. Jesus told us to be salt. And salt is only effective when it leaves the salt shaker and permeates food. Too many times in our lives we just sit on the shelf, in the shaker and just kind of get all glued together, don’t we. That is not what the Bible says. Jesus was with people who were outside the family of God geographically. He ministered to them. He loved them. But He did not adopt their lifestyle. And that was God’s plan for Samson. But this he-man with the she-weakness messed up.
We read on. Let’s get down to verse 24. “Then the woman gave birth to a son and named him Samson; and the child grew up…” That’s an understatement, isn’t it? Samson was probably hitting 500-foot homers in T-ball when he was a kid. The guy had supernatural strength. “…and the Lord blessed him.” He had a supernatural empowerment and anointing of physical strength. The hand of God was on his life. And I love verse 25. “And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.” As a kid, God began to move in his life.
Oftentimes, God will begin to move in our lives when we are kids. Have you had that happen? Maybe God will tap you on the shoulder regarding a certain area. Maybe He will say that He wants you to get involved in something specific. When I was younger, I knew one day that I would be doing what I am doing. God stirred my heart when I was 12 and 13 years of age.
God was working on Samson. He was ready to go. We have to take a step back from Judges 13 and say this. Have you ever seen a man who had the credentials of Samson? He was the strongest person who ever lived, handsome, articulate, a leader. The guy had it. It was a slam-dunk deal. He was a Nazarite with godly parents. What happened? What happened?
I’ll tell you what happened. He had a problem with crowd control. Samson had a problem that many of us face, a problem of crowd control. The fourth word in Judges 14:1 tells us the true story about the Biblical bodybuilder. “Then Samson went down…” Down. This is more than a geographical description. Samson went down. He began his spiritual spiral downward. “Then Samson went down to Timnah…” Timnah was a Philistine city. What is the Biblical bodybuilder doing in Timnah? He is a Nazarite, he is supposed to lead the children of Israel. He is supposed to rally the troops, yet he is hanging out in Timnah. “…and saw a woman in Timnah, one of the daughters of the Philistines.” Verse 2, “So he came back and told his father and mother.” Now can’t you just picture this? He runs home and tells godly Manoah and his mom that he saw a woman. I think that it is interesting that these are the first recorded words from Samson. I saw a woman. “…I saw a woman in Timnah, one of the daughters of the Philistines; now therefore, get her for me as a wife.” It was definitely lust at first sight. You know what his parents said? They asked what he was thinking and told him to look at all the beautiful Hebrew women around him. They told him that Israelite men should marry Israelite women, that God should be in the middle of each relationship. His desire was against their wishes, God’s wish and against the Nazarite vow. Nevertheless, Samson in verse 3 said, “…get her for me, for she looks good to me.” He thumbed his nose at his parent’s authority, at God’s authority and his life’s purpose. Samson didn’t discipline his drive.
You see disciplining your drives is not doing without your drives; it is submitting your drives to the will and the timing of God. Don’t miss that. There was nothing wrong with Samson being attracted to the woman. He sinned when he didn’t submit his desire to God and began to get involved in lust. Boy, that tells a lot about a lot of singles here, doesn’t it? I saw a woman. I saw a man. I talk to so many single adults, especially single women who get married out of desperation. Have you watched an NBA playoff game lately? I kind of picture single women as NBA players. God is the coach on the sideline saying that there is a lot of time, take a good shot. But the single women have that biological clock going. 31 years of age. 32 years of age. 33 years of age. While God is saying to be patient, to wait for that person he has in place for them, they take that shot from half court. And they throw up another brick and they get married. You know the situation after two or three years. Their marriage is up for grabs and they wonder what happened. I’ll tell you what happened. They went down to Timnah and saw a man or a woman in Timnah.
Then Samson went down to visit the little Philistine filly. Verse 5, “Then Samson went down to Timnah…and came as far as the vineyards…” Don’t miss that. He came as far as the what? What is one of the aspects of the Nazarite vow? What is he doing in a vineyard outside of Timnah? “…and behold, a young lion came roaring toward him.” I would not be surprised if God caused that young lion to be there for the purpose of keeping Samson away from the vineyard. This lion jumps on the Biblical bodybuilder and Samson just tears him to pieces. Gone. It was over. But don’t miss the last part of verse 6. “…he did not tell his father or mother what he had done.”
Look at verse 9. After he had killed the lion and messed around in Timnah, he decides to go back into the vineyard to check out his trophy. Maybe he wanted to show some of his friends the lion that he had killed. The Bible says that he walked over to the carcass. He heard the sound of bees. “So he scraped the honey into his hands and went on, eating as he went.” Now in order to do that, he had to touch something dead. He just broke the second of the Nazarite vows. Can’t you just see this guy, covered with the honey he was eating, walking on home? And when he got home the Bible says that he gave some of the honey to his parents but that he didn’t tell his parents where he got the honey. I love what old Warren Wiersbe says. “Samson was a man of faith, but he was not a faithful man.” Everything was exterior, wasn’t it? Everything was up front. There was nothing down deep.
So in verse 10, he decides to throw a party. He is going to have a big bachelor party and none of his Israelite friends, if he had any, even came to this party. His parents did. They were nice enough to go along to the Philistine city. In Biblical times, most people would get married at the groom’s household, but because Samson’s parents were against the marriage, they went ahead and did the deal in the Philistine country.
And women, you thought that soap operas, talk shows and romance novels were exciting. They can’t touch this stuff. They can’t come near it, can they? Samson throws this big feast. Underline the word feast in verse 10. In the Hebrew, it means a drinking bout. Here again, the Nazarite vow comes into play. I don’t get a picture of Samson during this bachelor party standing in the corner sipping Perrier and lime, do you? No. Samson was doing the drinking thing.
And after he had had a few, he was feeling free. He acted the big time comic. He stood up before everyone and gave a riddle. He says if anyone can guess the riddle, he will give them 30 Verchassi outfits from the mall. But if no one guesses it, they will have to give the outfits to him. Everyone agreed. Here is what he said. “Out of the eater came something to eat. Out of the strong came something sweet.” This is pathetic. Samson is making light of the Nazarite vow. He is joking around about holy things.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is dangerous to laugh and tease and joke about the things of God. If you do and make that a habit and lifestyle, I fear for what will happen to you. I can give you a list of certain comics and certain stars and others in the entertainment field who have made light of God’s things. They are no longer here. So this is serious. Samson was standing up making light of the Nazarite vow. Well the people in the back of the party couldn’t get it. So they go to Samson’s finance and tell her that if she does not find out the answer to the riddle they will burn her and her father to death. Great group, aren’t they?
So the Bible says that she wept before him seven days. Finally, old Samson broke down and told her the answer. When they come to Samson and told him the answer to the riddle, he goes on tilt. He marches down to the Philistine city and kills 30 Philistines and takes their Verchassi outfits and gives them to the people who guessed the riddle.
Samson used God’s gift in an incorrect manner. The Bible says that God has gifted all of us to use our abilities within the context of a local church. And if we use our abilities outside the local church and turn our backs on it, then we are wasting our lives. Samson is a tragedy of what might have been.
You know I have had the opportunity over the last fourteen years to speak to thousands of junior high and high school students every summer. When I talk to them, especially those who have gone through problems, they each start their story like this. I went down to Timnah. That is why I am an alcoholic at 14. That is why I am a drug addict at 15. That is why I have been having sex with two or three different partners. I went down to Timnah. Crowd control.
For the last seven years I have pastored this church. I have talked to many adults. And often their story starts the very same way. I went down to Timnah. I lingered too long in that flirtatious conversation at work. I hung out with this group of guys and went to the topless bars. I took this money under the table. I began to associate with this group on the golf course.
I want you to take your outlines and write down the following four words: people, places, principles and potential. That was the problem with Samson. He hung out with the wrong people. And when you hang out with the wrong people, you end up going to the wrong places. When you go to the wrong places, you end up breaking God’s principles for your life. When you do that you end up losing and burning up God’s potential for your life.
That is pretty straightforward stuff, isn’t it? There are a lot of us right now hanging around with the wrong crowd, the wrong people and we are breaking God’s principles and we are going to the wrong places and we are losing our potential. When we look back on our lives we realize that we have burned up a lot of time. Why do you think God insists on having relationships that honor Him? Why do you think that God wants us to be joined together in dating situations, in marriages, in friendships that have Him as the common denominator? Why? First, because God wants the best relationally for you and me. Don’t ever think that He doesn’t. Another reason why God insists that our closest connections be those who know Him personally is because He wants us to communicate on the deepest level. Thirdly, He wants to spare us from the heartache and turmoil of missing the boat on those relationships that matter.
This is a tough message. If you apply this word, you are going to have to change some of the people you associate with. I am not talking about doing the stiff arm on them, keeping them out of your holy huddle. But I am saying to pray for new relationships, to take relational chances, to associate with the right people. And to do that you have got to go to the right places, our church, our small groups, our classes and other activities which are for building friendships. You need to ask yourself if the relationships in your life follow God’s principles. If they don’t, change what you are doing. We need to discover God’s potential. And parents, this applies to children at such a young age. Monitor their relationships. Make sure every weekend that your child is at church. My heart is broken when I see child after child just miss the boat on all this because mom and dad have the lake house, like to travel, etc. Then one day they wake up and ask me, “Ed, what is wrong. Help me. Where did we mess up?” They were not consistent at church, they missed the boat. They were down in Timnah living with the Philistines in ungodly relationships.
So what is it going to be for you? Are you going to go through life like Israel, putting everything in neutral? Or, are you going to make the hard choices and really see what Jesus Christ has to say about crowd control? If you do, your life will never be the same.