It can be difficult being DIFFERENT.
If you’re like me you hate standing out. I distinctly remember getting glasses when I was about ten years old. And I hated wearing them because no one else I knew at school had them. And I’d only put them on to show my best friend behind some bushes in the playground where no one else could see me.
And then there was being DIFFERENT because Dad was a minister. I used to wish Dad had a NORMAL job like everyone else. In fact, I almost died of embarrassment when Dad would come and teach Scripture at Gosford High School. We’d meet in the teacher’s common room. Dad and about 40 or 50 high schoolers. I COULD have been a big help – setting a good example, listening, answering questions, standing up for what I knew was true.
But instead, I was more concerned about FITTING IN. And I either said NOTHING, tried to hide. Or I was BADLY behaved to show everyone I was normal. Probably one of the WORST BEHAVED in the class! Something I’m embarrassed about NOW.
It’s TOUGH to be different.
Israel – destined to be different
Which is exactly what the Israelites are finding back in the time of the Judges. They’re supposed to be different.
When God gave them the promised land, he told them NOT TO BE LIKE EVERYONE ELSE. They were to stand out from the Canaanites and the Amalekites and the Philistines who were living round them…. who all had their own idols.
God wanted the Israelites to BE SET APART… as his special people. And he told them not to make TREATIES with the other nations. Not to get MARRIED to them. And most of all. He told them, not to follow their gods.
But as we’ve seen in Judges, being DIFFERENT was just too hard. They just couldn’t resist the temptation to FIT IN. To CONFORM. To make treaties, to marry, to follow whatever gods they came across. It happened time and again. Even the judges hadn’t been able to keep them DIFFERENT.
And when we get to Samson. The LAST judge. Things in Israel have hit rock bottom. We talk about a CYCLE that’s repeated in the book. But it’s really more of a DOWNWARD SPIRAL.
And with Samson, we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel.
You might remember the pattern the judges follow. It goes like this. Israel sins. God punishes them by sending someone to oppress them. Then Israel cries out to God for help. And then he sends a judge to rescue them. That’s the basic cycle.
But this time it’s different. One part of the cycle is missing. The Israelites don’t call out for help. Have a look at the beginning of the story in ch 13 v 1.
“Again the Israelites do evil in the eyes of the LORD, so the LORD delivers them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years.”
That’s the START of the same old pattern… But in v 2… Where you expect the Israelites to cry out for help, you’re introduced to Samson’s Dad. God has to take the initiative. Raise up a judge without being asked.
The Israelites are so caught up with their idols they don’t even WANT to be saved anymore. They’ve decided living under the Philistines is better than living as God’s people. Easier to go with the flow, than fight against the current. Happier not to rock the boat, than to live obediently before God.
But God’s not going to leave the Israelites living like that. He wants the Israelites to be his SPECIAL people. DIFFERENT. And so he gives them a judge even though they don’t want one.
He gives them a judge who’s destined to be different. A judge who should be A LIVING PICTURE of what it means to be set apart for God… just like Israel itself. That’s what the angel says to his mum. When he comes to announce that she’s going to have a son. V 4 The angel says to her,
“Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean, because you will conceive and give birth to a son. No razor may be used on his head, because the boy is to be A NAZIRITE, SET APART TO GOD FROM BIRTH, and he will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”
To be a Nazirite was to be DIFFERENT. It was a special vow Israelites could take. And it made them stand out. For a certain period of time. You can read about it in Numbers 6. No haircuts. No alcohol. And absolutely no contact with anything dead or unclean. It was a kind of walking picture of what all Israelites were supposed to be. Set apart to God. And it’s what Samson’s going to be. Right from birth.
At least he SHOULD be.
Denying the difference (Ch 14-15)
The tragic thing about Samson is, he’s like me when I was a kid. He doesn’t WANT to be different. Just like all the other Israelites. He wants to fit in with the Philistine’s. Settle down with them. And deny the difference.
Things are bad right from the start. The first thing Samson does is to try and marry a Philistine woman… Something no ISRAELITE should do, let alone A NAZIRITE. But in Ch 14v 1. Samson goes down to Timnah and sees a young Philistine woman… And he likes what he sees… and v 2, When he returns, he says to his father and mother, “I’ve seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.”
And, by way of explanation, he comes out with a phrase that’s going to resonate through these last chapters of Judges. V3. He literally says, “Get her for me because SHE SEEMS RIGHT IN MY EYES.”
Doesn’t matter that she’s a Philistine. She’s good looking. And that’s all he cares about. He’s got a real eye for the ladies, Samson. Especially Philistine ladies. Finds them irresistible.
He might be strong, but they’re his weak point. He keeps courting them all his life. When his first marriage doesn’t work out, he tries again. Look over to chapter 16 v 1 One day Samson goes to the Philistine city of Gaza, where he sees a prostitute. And again he can’t resist. He goes in to spend the night with her.
And it’s the same story in v4. Years later, he falls in love with ANOTHER woman, whose name is Delilah. He’s been a judge for 20 years.
And, as the story unfolds, it seems like he’s HAD ENOUGH. Had enough of leading Israel, had enough of being different. He can’t possibly be THAT stupid, or THAT in love. It’s like he WANTS to get caught. Wants his secret to get out. And then he can just be NORMAL. Like everyone else.
The story unfolds a bit like a James Bond movie. Beautiful woman sent to seduce the hero and get secrets out of him. The Philistine leaders offer Delilah a huge reward to find out the secret of Samson’s strength. And so she starts asking him about it.
At first he plays hard to get. Gives her the wrong answer. And when they try to capture him he gets away easily. But finally she gets fed up and puts the whole relationship on the line. In v 15 she says to him,
“How can you say I love you when you won’t confide in me? This is the third time you have made a fool of me and haven’t told me the secret of your great strength.”
And so Samson’s got to choose. Keep Delilah or keep his secret. Keep Delilah or keep the hair that makes him so different. And he makes his choice. V17. He tells Delilah everything. he says “No razor has ever been used on my head, because I’ve been a Nazirite set apart to God since birth. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and”, literally, he says, “I’ll become weak and BE LIKE ANY OTHER MAN.” Which seems to be what he wants all along.
Samson knows what’s at stake. And he chooses Delilah. Just like he chose all the other Philistine women. He chooses to give up being set apart to God, so he can settle down LIKE ANY OTHER MAN. Being different isn’t part of his agenda. He doesn’t care about being an Israelite and he certainly doesn’t care about being a Nazirite.
And it’s not only in his love affairs. One of the other things that made Israelites different was they weren’t supposed to touch DEAD THINGS. It made them ceremonially unclean. And Nazirites in particular took a special vow to stay away from corpses. They had to go through an 8 day cleansing ritual if they came into contact with one. But not Samson. He spends half his life surrounded by corpses. And it doesn’t worry him.
First there’s the famous lion incident. Where he kills a lion with his bare hands. That’s enough to make him unclean by itself. But in ch 14v8, some time later, when he’s on his way to marry his wife, he turns aside to look at the lion’s carcass again. And there’s a swarm of bees and some honey in it, which he scoops out with his hands and eats.
Contact with a Corpse. No worries for Samson. Especially if he’s hungry…. Or if he needs some money. In v 19 he kills thirty Philistines, and then strips their corpses to pay off his betting losses. And in chapter 15v15 he kills 1000 Philistines with a fresh jawbone from a donkey.
Just like with his love affairs. When it comes to corpses, Samson’s nothing LIKE a Nazirite. He’s not even like a normal Israelite. The way he lives, he might as well be a Philistine.
But that’s the way Samson lives his whole life. In a huge rage. Carrying out personal revenge. Abusing his special power. Just look at the times Samson goes into battle.
Ch 14 v19. When the Philistines cheat to answer his riddle, he goes out and kills 30 of them.
Ch 15v3. When his wife’s given to another man. He says, this time I’ve got a right to get even with the Philistines; I’ll really harm them. And he goes out and burns down all their grain using the old torch tied to the fox tails trick.
Ch 15 v 7. Same again. This time because they’ve killed his wife. He says to them since you’ve acted like this I won’t stop until I get my REVENGE on you. And he attacks them viciously and slaughters many of them.
And Ch 16 v 28. Right to the end of his life. As he’s standing in the Philistine’s temple, with his eyes gone. He’s still only got one thing on his mind. He prays ‘O Sovereign LORD, remember me. O God, please strengthen me just once more, and LET ME WITH ONE BLOW GET REVENGE on the Philistines for my two eyes.’
Revenge…revenge…revenge. That’s all Samson wants. He couldn’t care less about what God’s plans. Not interested in delivering the Israelites. Not even once. All he uses his strength for is to get even.
Which is just like the Philistines again. Because they’re into revenge as well. When he burns down their crops, they burn his wife. When he kills them, they cut out his eyes and make him a slave. With all his revenge, Samson’s just treating the Philistines the same way they’re treating him. There’s no DIFFERENCE.
And that’s the pattern of his whole life. Set on denying the difference. With his love affairs, his ceremonial uncleanness, his angry revenge. He could just as easily be a Philistine hero as an Israelite judge.
Instead of a picture of how to be different, Samson’s a picture of how to BE THE SAME. And it’s a tragedy. It denies everything God had planned for him.
And it leaves you wondering, with leaders like this, where’s Israel going to end up? How are they EVER going to be different? How are they EVER going to live as God’s special people?
A leader who is different
What they need, of course, is a leader who’s going to be different. A leader who’ll be set apart for God and who’ll call them to be different.
There’s a sense in which Samson represents ISRAEL. A PICTURE of Israel. Chosen by God to be DIFFERENT. Born from a barren women. Samson’s mum, just like Sarah, the mother of Israel, couldn’t have kids. And as Samson grows up, he leaves behind his calling. Just like Israel. His life a picture of what ISRAEL looks like as they run after other gods, defile themselves, living just like the nations around them.
But there’s also a sense in which Samson is a picture of the ULTIMATE leader of God’s people. Of Jesus. He’s a SHADOW in some ways. A CONTRAST in others.
While Samson DIDN’T measure up to his calling to be different. Jesus ALWAYS did. The PERFECT leader. ALWAYS followed his Father’s will.
Samson’s actions were governed by HIS appetites, rather than following God’s agenda. But Jesus was ALWAYS obedient to his Father. The night before his death, he could have EASILY have chosen another path. “Please Lord, Jesus prayed, let there be some other way. But not MY WILL, but YOURS be done!”
It’s the complete opposite of Samson.
And yet there’s also some echoes. In Samson’s DEATH, we get a fuzzy picture of the death of Jesus. The prisoner, arms spread, leaning against the pillars of the pagan god Dagon. He pulls down the whole building, dying in the process, but delivering his people.
And for all Samson’s great strength, the writer of Judges, gives us this epitaph, 16:30 “Thus he killed many more when he DIED than while he LIVED.”
And we’re reminded of the death of ANOTHER, a criminal who’s arms were spread in death, who was ridiculed and insulted, who gave his life. And yet, despite what LOOKED like defeat, achieved a salvation in his DEATH far greater than any achieved by the living. A death that paid the great cost of our forgiveness.
(pause) And it’s that obedience. That call to be DIFFERENT that Jesus calls US to, as well. “If anyone would follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
And with that in mind it’s interesting to have a look at what Jesus has to say in Matthew ch 5. Because he wants followers who’ll be different. Matt 5:13:
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. 14You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
Jesus wants his followers to stand out. And in the rest of the Matthew 5 he goes on to say how. He says they won’t commit adultery. Even in their minds. They won’t murder. Even with angry thoughts. They won’t lie. They won’t be out for revenge. They’ll love their enemies. They’ll act the way Jesus himself acted when he died on the cross.
And people committed to living like that are going to be different. It’ll be obvious they’re God’s people. Not like Samson. Full of lust, murder, revenge… Acting just like everyone else. You won’t be able to miss Jesus’ followers.
How do people see US as different? As a church? DO we STAND OUT? Or do we BLEND IN? Could you mistake us for a P&F meeting, or a meeting of the Bromeliad Society? What makes THIS gathering of people different from ANY OTHER gathering around Blacktown this week?
How DO we stand out? How SHOULD we stand out?
Or what about you as AN INDIVIDUAL? If you’re a follower of Jesus, are you committed to being different? Because if you’re committed to avoiding lust, if you’re committed to not being angry with people, if you’re committed to the truth and to loving your enemies, you are going seem very strange in today’s world. Just as strange as a Nazirite back in the time of the judges.
What are you going to do next time someone cuts you off in traffic? When you’re tempted to blast them with your horn, or drive too close? Are you going to FIT IN, or are you going to be DIFFERENT?
When it comes to how you spend your money, or what you do with your time, are you willing to FIT IN? OR are you going to stand up, and follow Jesus? Make the tough decision?
We’re building up to the “Jesus all about life” campaign in a few months. And you’re going to have the opportunity to be talking to your friends about the ads. About Jesus. Inviting them to events we’re running. The EASIEST thing is going to be to SAY NOTHING. To blend in.
The HARD thing, the OBEDIENT thing, the Christ- like thing will be to SPEAK UP. To be DIFFERENT. To make a stand for Jesus.
Begin praying NOW for those chances. For courage. For opportunities. For God to be preparing the way in the people you’re going to talk to.
Will you DO it? I’m guessing Samson probably wouldn’t have. But what about you?