Does anyone here remember – or remember hearing about – that huge gorilla at the Milwaukee County Zoo named Samson? The work of a taxidermist allows you to see Samson at the Milwaukee County Museum, but if you were able to see Samson in person, you were able to see the largest gorilla in captivity – a 652 pound show-off who loved banging on the large windows in front of his exhibit to scare half to death any big or small person who was just standing there, staring at him. People just loved being entertained by him, especially, I’m sure, because they felt safe and secure on the other side of those windows.
The people who were being entertained by the strongman Samson of the Bible were not just staring at him for simple fun and amusement. The words which the Bible uses here make it clear that they were gloating, mocking, insulting – they were laughing at him. That’s why when they called Samson out of his prison, they wanted him to “perform” for them, we are told. The reason they were gloating and in such good spirits is because they had finally captured the one who had killed so many of their fellow Philistines in battle. Twice they repeated in celebration, “Our god has delivered Samson, our enemy, into our hands.” Obviously we don’t normally quote Hebrew in our sermons, but the words which are recorded here sound like a poetic cheer from a football stadium: nah-thun eh-low-hay-noo buh-iah-daynoo eth shumsown oh-iuh-vaynoo – they repeated and they roared — nah-thun eh-low-hay-noo buh-iah-daynoo eth shumsown oh-iuh-vaynoo.
“Shumsown”- Samson – was in this predicament because he had been a show-off for much more serious reasons than a gorilla at a zoo. Samson had been blessed by God to be a leader of the people of Israel, someone set apart already at his birth to rescue God’s people from the people called the Philistines, the same people who later on had a show-off, taunting giant named Goliath, whom the Lord led little David to cut down to size. And Samson did wreak havoc on the Philistines. Known for his long hair, which God had told him needed to be kept long in order for him to maintain his great strength, Samson seemingly could not be stopped.
But sin doesn’t stop seeking people like Samson any more than sin stops seeking people like you and me. Samson’s downfall was his lust and desire for sexual gratification, with the added spiritual problem that he was often drawn to those who worshiped other gods – the gods of the Philistines, whose chief god was called Dagon, an idol most normally sculpted with the head of a fish, since the Philistines lived along the Mediterranean Sea and depended on fishing. It was a Dagon-worshiper named Delilah – Samson and Delilah – with whom Samson fell in love and to whom he finally told the secret of his long hair, which she soon cut off and yelled for Philistine henchmen to come on in and capture the no longer strong Samson and then gouge out his eyes and put him into prison until this very night, when the high and mighty high society people of the Philistines summoned Samson so he could put on a show for them as they stared at his now pathetic body.
It really wasn’t the hair, was it? The hair was the sign God gave that he was with Samson in a special way and had given him special strength, but the secret of his strength was God himself. Earlier when Samson had been captured, we are told that he did not know it at the time, but the Lord had left him. The Lord had left the big man who thought he was too big to need the Lord.
This whole period of time when people like Samson, who were called “Judges” — or “Champions,” “Leaders” – ruled, was not a good time. In fact, many of these three hundred years or so were just plain disgusting and downright filthy. It just so happened that as I was studying this lesson, I was reading through the book of Judges in my own personal reading. This is not an enjoyable book, because it shows how low people can go when they think they don’t need the Lord. A previous generation had seen the crossing of the Red Sea on dry ground to escape Egypt; and the previous generation had seen the crossing of the Jordan River on dry ground so they could enter the land of Canaan and begin the conquest of the Promised Land, where the long-promised Savior of the world would be born, as Pastor Free preached about last week. They even set up twelve stones as a memorial to help them be able to say, “We will not forget the great power and mercy of the Lord.”
But they did forget, and the record of the book of Judges reads like a disgusting, filthy movie or book or newspaper or website or personal life that you can see in our land – and in our lives – today. There is nothing new when people forget the power and mercy of the Lord. Every single time you or I forget, we add another chapter to the book of Judges, which shows exactly how much we need the power and mercy of the Lord.
And that is the whole point. If you or I are tempted to not turn back to the Lord and cry out to him, “Lord God, I am sorry. I can’t believe I was even capable of thinking that about someone else, of wanting to do that to someone else, of saying that about someone else…” If that is not what you and I cry out every day, we will continue to go away from our Lord in a way that should only make our Savior cry, just as he did cry hundreds of years after Samson lived over the city of Jerusalem to which he had come to die for the very same sins that have continued from the time of the show-off Samson to the time of your and my life today.
But Jesus did die that death in Jerusalem, and what our Lord allowed Samson to do while he was being stared at by the Philistines, is what allows you and me to stare at our Lord in awe and wonder as to how he could be so good to us. We don’t know everything going on in Samson’s mind when he asked God for his strength one more time, but even as he asks for God to help him get revenge on the Philistines, it seems that by addressing his God as his “Sovereign Lord,” he is humbly acknowledging that he needs the Lord to do for him what he had failed to continue to do both in being an example to God’s people and in rescuing God’s people from the people who now had him on display. “O Sovereign Lord,” Samson said, “remember me. O God, please strengthen me just once more…” And God did. And Samson did…, bracing himself in his blindness against the two pillars on which the temple stood – and bringing it down. Those who stared stared no more.
Understandably some of these events in the Old Testament can confuse us in some respects, but what stands out clearly is that, despite the sin and the messed-up lives of people in the world — including in the lives of people who call on the name of the Lord — the Lord rises above it all with grace and love that simply cannot be fathomed by our little brains. God did all this to keep the children of Israel safe in the land of Israel, so that over one thousand years later Jesus could be born not much more than thirty miles away from where Samson died. God did all this so that you and I could someday learn about his plan of salvation and not put our trust in our own strength, but in the power and love of our Lord, who sent his Son, whose strength could never be taken away from him, even when his life was taken away from him. God did all this so that we could believe his promise that no matter how it looks, we are safe and secure with the one who will not let the walls come tumbling down on us, even if earthly walls do come tumbling down. God did all this so that we can stay away from the things that he wrote about in these books for our learning and instead seek to thank him in every way we can because we love him so much who loves us so much. God did all this so that we can know the joy of the ultimate Promised Land – the place where that crown of life will replace this cross of life.
And what is the way to keep remembering why God did all this? Brothers and sisters, Don’t stare at Samson! Stare at God’s Son. Stare at Jesus — who in spite of us, is the Savior of us, because of what he did for us. Both of the Samsons are gone, but God’s Son is with us now — and he ever shall be. Amen.