Tag Archives: israel

Do you have crippling fear? – Characters: David & Goliath, Part 1

24 Nov

What seemingly impossible situations are you facing?  What is causing you fear?  What keeps you up at night?  What gives you an upset stomach?  Fear is a powerful force that affects so many of us.  Fear of losing our health.  Fear of losing control.  Fear of poverty.  Fear of death.

In our Characters series, we come to a famous story of David who was confronted by a soldier named Goliath who drove fear into the hearts of the whole Israelite army. Their story is found in 1 Samuel chapter 17.  We actually met David last week.  Very briefly.  Last week we studied the amazing story of David’s great-grandmother, Ruth

Ruth lived in the period of the nation of Israel when judges ruled the land of Israel.  The very last judge was a man named Samuel, who was also a great prophet.  During his years he led Israel in victory over the Philistines, and he eventually anointed the first king of Israel, a man named Saul.  As king, Saul had some victories, but he also disobeyed God, and so in 1 Samuel chapter 16, we read that God instructs Samuel to anoint a new king to take over after Saul.

In nearly every nation in the history of the world that has a monarchy, they almost always use the same system for picking the next king or queen.  Do you know what it is called?  Primogeniture. 

My wife, Michelle, and I have been watching The Crown on Netflix, all about the life of Queen Elizabeth of England, and in one episode they show a flashback when Elizabeth and her younger sister Margaret are girls, and they are discussing how Elizabeth will someday take over for her father.  They both agree that with Elizabeth’s personality which was more quiet and reserved and Margaret being more the people person, Margaret, the younger sister, should be queen.  So Margaret goes to an official to make this request thinking it is for the best.  The official has to break the news that primogeniture is the way it is, and Elizabeth will be queen.  Margaret is crushed.

Primogeniture means simply that the first born child takes over as the next monarch. 

Interestingly God instructs Samuel not to follow primogeniture.  Saul’s son Jonathan would not be the next king.  In fact, no one from Saul’s family would be king.  Instead God directs Samuel to go to the town of Bethlehem to the house of Jesse, whose grandmother was a Moabite (a non-Israelite) lady named Ruth, and Samuel anoints not the oldest of Jesse’s sons, but the youngest, a shepherd poet named David.  Then we read that the Spirit of the Lord came on David in power.  1 Samuel 16 concludes with David traveling to Saul’s house from time to time to play the harp for Saul, because Saul was regularly afflicted with what seemed to be a combination of spiritual and psychological oppression, and David’s music would calm him.  That brings us to 1 Samuel 17, and the famous story of David and a man, named Goliath.

How do we normally understand the story of David and Goliath?  It is perhaps the classic underdog story, right?  In sports, in war, in a political election, and in just about any arena where one weaker, smaller person or group is pitted against an opponent that seems bigger, wealthier, more experienced, or more famous, we say that it is David vs. Goliath situation.  A famous example is from a few years ago when the Eagles were considered underdogs in the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots. 

But what we’re going to find is that the original David vs. Goliath story is almost certainly not an underdog story. 

1st Samuel 17, verses 1-3 tells us that two armies, the Philistines and Israel, are facing each other from opposing hillsides.  These two nations had been at war with one another for many years.  But this particular battle is unique. Why? Keep reading…

The Philistines have a secret weapon.  Well, a man.  A giant of a man.  Goliath.  And he is decked out in armor, armed with a javelin, and we later learn he also has a sword. He also has a shield bearer going ahead of him.  In other words, Goliath is an imposing soldier.  Intimidating.  Fearsome. 

Furthermore, as we keep reading, we learn that the Philistines use Goliath in a unique method of ancient warfare.  In verses 8-11, we learn that each side is to send out a single champion soldier to represent their army.  Whichever soldier wins the one-on-one fight, they will have won the battle for their whole army.  It is, in a way, a good idea to avoid loss of life.  But King Saul of Israel and his army are terrified.  Who wouldn’t be, right?  Goliath was a freak of nature!  Who would want to go fight him?

Here’s what is sometimes missed in the story: Israel had a giant too.  It’s true.  Israel had a tall man.  He wasn’t as tall as Goliath, but they had a man who we are told was a head taller than all the rest.  You know who it was?  King Saul.  In 1 Samuel 9:2, we read that Saul was impressive too, without equal among all Israel, as he was a head taller than the others.  He should have been the one to go fight Goliath.  But he didn’t.  No one from Israel’s army would fight.  They were all terrified. 

Fear is crippling, isn’t it?  Fear can cause you to forget truth.  Fear can cause you to fixate on disaster.  Think about that in your own life.  Have you ever succumbed to fear, to assuming the worst of things?  Assuming that things are terrible and awful and insurmountable, as if there is no hope?  I’ve been there.  If I’m driving down the road, for example, and I hear what seems to be a new noise coming from the direction of the engine of the car, my mind can go lightning fast down a negative path thinking, “Oh man…our car is dying and it is going to cost a ton to fix and it is going to ruin us financially.”  Because I heard one little new noise?  Fear can do that, if we let it.  Hear that last bit of the sentence?  If we let it. How have you let fear cripple you?

Saul and Israel allowed Goliath to fill their hearts with fear.  Jump down to verse 16, and we read that this was going on for forty days.  Forty days!  Goliath would come out twice a day, challenging any Israelite soldier to fight him.  That’s forty days of fear.  Forty days of Saul and Israel crippled by their fear.  Maybe you’ve been there.  If we allow it, fear can linger, and it can ruin our lives.  We can’t sleep good.  We can’t eat.  We can be very difficult to be around.  Our friends and family try to help us out, but fear can get a stranglehold on us and lock down our lives.  Anyone know what I mean?  We know it is no way to live.  We hate the struggle, but we can get so stuck that we have no idea what to do.  That seems to have been happening to Saul and his army.

As we continue the story, we’re going to learn an amazing response to fear.

A possible key to unlock healing in your broken life – Characters: Ruth, Part 5

22 Nov
Photo by CMDR Shane on Unsplash

In Part 4 of our study through the ancient Hebrew story of Ruth, we watched as Ruth makes a most unusual proposal to Boaz. If you are just jumping into the story here at the end, I urge you to start at the beginning, as the drama has been building. This Part 5 will be much more meaningful, in my opinion, if you start at Part 1 and continue from there.

We concluded Part 4 with Ruth having just made a marriage proposal to Boaz. It was very risky, as it was uncommon for a woman to propose to a man, not to mention the way she did it was quite forward. Boaz could easily be offended and say, “Get away from me you inappropriate woman!”

But Boaz’ answer is a resounding “YES!”  From his comments in verse 10, we hear a hint of relief in his voice.  Apparently he is an older man, maybe wondering if a young woman would go for him.  He sees Ruth’s proposal as a great kindness, which brings us to what is possibly the most significant part of the story.

There is a word in the Hebrew that is used here.  It is hesed.  Kindness.  It is a word used often in the Old Testament, and it is often translated “love”.  So it is more than just being kind.  It is loving-kindness!

In 1:8, Naomi, when she is telling her daughters-in-law to return to Moab, says “May the Lord show hesed to you.”  So this is something God is capable of.  Or better, it can be said of God.

In 2:20, Naomi says it again when she realized that Boaz will be their kinsman-redeemer, and again, she attributes this to the hesed of God.  So twice now we have God showing loving-kindness.

But then Boaz says in 3:10 that Ruth had done a kindness to him.  This is a deep kindness. 

One commentator I read noted that nowhere in the book of Ruth do people say to God “I need help, I want you to be kind to me! Save me! Help me!” Instead, the main characters in the book go out and they themselves act with kindness.  They seem to have understood that their role in being faithful followers of God is by being like God himself. 

Do you want to experience the hesed, the loving-kindness of God in your life?  Then go share that same hesed with others.

This is the high point of the story, and from there it is all joy and wonder.  Boaz goes and pleads at the city gate because there is actually another kinsman-redeemer closer in lineage than himself.  That gentleman defers, and Ruth and Boaz are married. 

They have a son, and the son becomes grandfather to the most famous King of Israel, David.  Because Jesus was of the family of David, that means this Moabite lady, Ruth, is Jesus’ great, great, great….and many more greats grandmother. 

When you practice the Hesed, the loving-kindness of God in your family’s life, you can change the destiny of your family.

In his commentary, my OT professor, the late Dave Dorsey says, “In Ruth’s loyalty, diligence, and determination to support her again mother-in-law, combined with Boaz’s kindness and generosity, the audience is left with the central moral to the story: the admirable qualities exhibited by Ruth and Boaz can be used by God to reverse the fortunes of a whole family; or even the fortunes of a whole nation, as shown by the final outcome of this story—the Davidic dynasty.”

The same can happen in our families.  What is the tragedy, the brokenness in your family?  Will you see yourself as the one who can be used by God for renewal and healing?

How can you practice loving-kindness to the people in your family this holiday season?  The process of healing what is broken can take time, and that is normal.  Can you practice hesed at least in some way big or small this season?

Ruth chose loving-kindness when she could have easily responded to her loss and pain in a self-focused way.  She could have been bitter and angry at God.  Instead Ruth responded to her pain in a selfless way, reaching out, serving, and helping.  She decided to trust that God was at work and she reached out to her mother-in-law, Naomi. How can you reach out?  By giving selflessly, you just might launch your family on a whole new trajectory.

So where is the pain in your family that needs to be healed?  Where is the brokenness?  Ruth ran toward the broken with loving-kindness.  She could have easily stayed with her family in Moab and let Naomi go back to Israel alone.  I think most people would understand if Ruth had stayed in Moab, and we would not have faulted her.  If she had stayed in Moab, of course there still would have been healing to do in her life.  She just lost her husband.  But Ruth didn’t stay. She took an even riskier path.  She gave herself to care for her mother-in-law Naomi, who was of a different nationality, thus taking Ruth away from her support network, her family, her country!

What do you need to do to practice that kind of loving kindness in your family?

A most unusual marriage proposal – Characters: Ruth, Part 4

21 Nov

Do you remember your marriage proposal? Or if you aren’t married or engaged, do you have a hope or dream for what your proposal will be like? In our culture proposals have become more and more elaborate. Today we learn about a very unusual one!

The ancient Hebrew story of Ruth has been unfolding, moving from tragedy to hope. If you want to catch up, read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. At the end of Part 3, we learned that Ruth’s mother-in-law, Naomi, has gotten over her bitterness at losing her husband and two sons when she observes the Lord’s blessing on her life through Ruth, who not only stuck with Naomi, but also goes to work for their relative Boaz and he cares for them with food. So Naomi concocts a plan.  It might sound bizarre.  Look at Ruth chapter 3, verses 1-4 where you can read Naomi’s plan.

What Naomi suggests amounts to a marriage proposal, but it sounds totally unfamiliar to what we would consider a marriage proposal. Naomi says Ruth should go to Boaz’ barn at nighttime, because it was harvest and Boaz and his workers would be working late to bring in the harvest, so they wouldn’t go home but would sleep in the barn. Naomi instructs Ruth to find Boaz asleep, uncover his feet and lay down there!

Are you thinking, “Huh? How is that a marriage proposal?”

Imagine people a couple thousand years from now trying to explain the significance of our engagement rituals.  Men spend lots of money buying a rock, usually a very shiny one, and they pay to have that rock fastened to a ring, and then they super nervously get down one knee and ask a woman to accept the rock.  She starts crying tears of joy. Assuming she says yes, he then puts the rock on her finger, and that starts a process whereby they will be together for the rest of their lives.  Totally normal and romantic and even emotionally joyful to us, right?  But imagine people from another culture looking at that. They might think our ritual is weird.  That’s very similar to what we just felt reading what Naomi says Ruth should do.  Uncover his feet while he is sleeping! 

And yet we need to know that what Noami suggests is not totally normal for their culture.  In their culture, Naomi and Ruth are being forward.  

Even here in the USA in previous generations, a girl never approached a guy to ask him out.  You would be considered a floozy.  Parents would be very suspicious about a girl who just called a guy on the phone to talk.

What about a Sadie Hawkins Dance?  That is a dance, usually once/year, where the girl asks a guy to be her date to the dance.  But it is the exception that proves the rule. 

In America, however, things have been changing to the point where little by little women are taking the initiative to ask men out.  Though it is still most common, in my observation, that males make the first move.

Back to our story.  What is going on here?  Like I said above, the harvest has to get in, so Boaz is up late into the night working, and he crashes in the barn for a few hours.  Like sleeping in your the office when things are so jammed up at work, you can’t come home. 

If any of you noticed a sexual connotation to what happens next, you are right!  Ruth is very daring.  She doesn’t actually do anything sexual, but when she finds him there sleeping in the barn, and she uncovers his feet, this is a proposal for marriage.

The imagery is fascinating. Look at verse 7.  This uncovering of the feet essentially says, “Open your bed for me to come in.” 

It could go very wrong, and she could be shamed if he wakes up to a woman sleeping next to him and says, “What the heck are you doing…get out of here you inappropriate women.” 

But Ruth is not inappropriate at all.  Instead I want you to notice a beautiful wordplay that Ruth uses.  Look at verse 9.  As Boaz groggily rubs the sleep out of his eyes, not even sure who this is and what is happening, Ruth says to him, “I am your servant Ruth, spread the corner of your garment over me.”  In the original language, Hebrew, this is literally the phrase “spread your wings” over me.

If you’ve been following along with the story, do you remember where we have heard that phrase before?  Look at Ruth chapter 2, verse 12. There Boaz had said the same thing to Ruth when he first met her. It was essentially a prayer of blessing: “May God bless you as you have taken refuge under his wings.” 

It very well could be, and I would say likely, that Ruth is remembering these words that Boaz said to her, and basically is saying to him, “You are a kinsman-redeemer (which we talked about in Part 3), you are part of Naomi’s husband’s extended family, and you could be the means by which God provides refuge for us.”

In no uncertain terms, Ruth is saying, “You desire God’s blessing for me? Will you be that blessing, and thus will you marry me?”  Do you see the boldness in that? It’s so risky.

Though contemporary America is far more egalitarian than ancient Israel, it is still in our culture very uncommon for a woman to propose marriage to a man.  How much more in her culture, then, was Ruth making a bold, rare move! Because of that, the gap between verse 9 and 10 is interesting.  I wonder how long it took Boaz to answer Ruth.  Maybe it was quick.  Sometimes the answer is obvious.  Perhaps he had been thinking about this for some time and just didn’t know how to go about it.  But as in our culture when people get engaged, the guy is usually a nervous wreck, wondering “What is she going to say when I pop the question?” Ruth was probably very nervous.

How long did Boaz wait to answer? What will Boaz say? Check back in to the next post!

A healthy way to face bitterness and loss – Characters: Ruth, Part 3

20 Nov
Photo by Toimetaja tõlkebüroo on Unsplash

Have you ever been bitter and angry about the pain that life has brought your way. If so, you’re not alone. So often we are dealt a horrible hand, and at no fault of our own, we are faced with loss, ruin, or sickness. In those moments, bitterness can take root. Maybe its not you. Maybe you are close to someone who is struggling with bitterness. Whether it is you or a friend, is there anything you can do to move in a healthy direction? As we continue the story of Ruth, there is something we can do, and Ruth will show us.

In the previous post we observed Ruth’s amazing reaction to tragedy. In our world we see many different reactions to tragedy.  We have felt them within ourselves.  In this post let’s discover Ruth’s mother-in-law, Naomi’s reaction to the tragedy when she and Ruth return to Bethlehem. If you want to read for yourselves, open a Bible to Ruth chapter 1, verse 19 and following.

Some of your Bibles will have text notes connected to some of the words in this section because Naomi, in her reaction to tragedy, uses some creative wordplay regarding the meaning of her names.  Naomi means “pleasant”, but she says, “Don’t call me that.  Instead call me ‘Mara’,” which means “bitterness.”  Why? Naomi is upset at God.  When she left Israel with a husband and two sons, a full family, now ten years later, she has returned to Israel, empty. 

If you’ve been through loss, you get what Naomi is saying. Just the loss of one person is deeply painful. But Naomi has just had her husband and two sons taken from her. If you were walking with Naomi through this, what would you say to her? How would you counsel her? Many of us get extremely angry or bitter at God for lesser things. When we hear Naomi pouring out the pain in our soul, then, we don’t blame her.

Let’s not forget, Ruth, however. She is right there hearing Naomi say this. I wonder what was going through Ruth’s mind as she listened to her mother-in-law.

Ruth could potentially hear Naomi say, “Call me ‘bitter’ because I have returned empty,” and think to themselves, “Why is Naomi saying that?  What about me?  Am I worth nothing to her?  She shouldn’t say ’empty”! She has me!” 

It would be very easy for Ruth to join right in with Naomi’s bitterness but direct it back at Naomi.  How many times have you experienced something like that in your family relationships?  Have you ever thought, “I can’t believe they said that!”  Or “They are taking me for granted.”  Or “I’m not being treated right.”  Or “Look at all I have done for them, and this is the thanks I get?”  Ruth could easily have thought to herself “Wow, lady, I just lost my husband too, and yet I decided to leave my homeland, my people, and travel all this way to start a whole new life, just to support you…and you give me this.  You call yourself ’empty’?  I’ll show you ’empty’…I’m out of here.”  And Ruth could head back home.

But Ruth doesn’t do that!

No, her reaction shows no sign of bitterness.  Instead look at chapter 2, verse 1.  We meet a new character: Boaz, a relative of Naomi’s deceased husband. Into the pain and bitterness, Ruth says, “I’ll go to work.”  She decides to pick up grain to make ends meet for herself and Naomi.  When she goes to work, she ends up in Boaz’ fields.  Boaz shows up and does a double-take when he sees Ruth, saying “Who is that?”  He learns her story, and he is amazed. Here again, I urge you to read the story for yourself in Ruth chapter 2, starting at verse 8 and following. Ruth and Boaz have a very nice conversation. After the work day is over, Ruth returns to Naomi with a bundle full of food.  At home, when Naomi learns what happened, her mood shifts dramatically from bitterness to joy! The two widows have been in Bethlehem for only one day, and the Lord has provided. 

Did Ruth get noticed because she is beautiful?  Maybe.  We don’t know.  Did she get noticed because she was new?  Maybe, certainly Boaz realizes someone new is there, and if Ruth was beautiful, I’m sure that didn’t hurt.  But when Boaz hears her story, then his heart is warmed.  He learns about a foreign lady who has left her people to help her mother-in-law!  Through this we learn about the kind of person Boaz is, as he is willing to help a foreigner, which was something else that God put in the law.  God’s people were to welcome the foreigner into their land. 

So just as Ruth has gone out of her comfort zone, sticking her neck out for Naomi, Boaz decides to the do the same thing for Ruth!  Even though she is a foreigner and immigrant, he welcomes her and blesses her with loads of food.

Naomi also responds with joy because she has inside information about Boaz.  She knows who he is.  She tells Ruth, “Boaz is one of our kinsman-redeemers.” 

What is Naomi talking about?  What is a Kinsman Redeemer?  Remember the Levirate marriage I mentioned in Part 2?  Widowed girl marries her brother-in-law?  By the time of the era Ruth lives in, it seems that Levirate marriage had expanded to be even more generous than the specific law required.  That’s a good thing. That means the people of Israel got not only the Law, but the heart behind the law.  They got the principle that God was trying to teach them: help those in need!  Just because there wasn’t a brother-in-law available, that didn’t mean the other relatives were off the hook.  Instead, the levirate practice extended outward to other relatives.  Cousins and uncles could be counted upon to care for Naomi and Ruth.  They were kinsman, family, who could redeem or rescue her. 

For Naomi and Ruth, therefore, Boaz, as a relative of Naomi’s husband, Elimilech, was one of their kinsman-redeemer. 

At this point we learn that Ruth continues her job with Boaz.  As we continue reading in Ruth chapter 3, the author doesn’t tell us how much time passes.  It is enough time, though, that Naomi seems to have gotten over her bitterness, and she begins to play matchmaker for her daughter-in-law.  Naomi knows that Ruth is young enough to get remarried and start a family, and perhaps Naomi saw romantic sparks fly between Ruth and Boaz. So Naomi concocts a plan.  Get ready.  It might sound bizarre.  …And we’ll learn about the plan in the next post!

Do you dread holiday family gatherings? – Characters: Ruth, Part 1

18 Nov
Photo by Jordan Arnold on Unsplash

I recently heard a news report about a family fighting their home owners association because the family put up Christmas decorations on November 1st, and the home owners association said it was too early.  I don’t know if there is a right or wrong time to put up holiday decorations.  Our local Lowes was selling Christmas inflatables months ago.  But what I do know is that when we see the lights going up, we know the holidays are just around the corner, and that means we think about family gatherings.  Of course we can think about family all year long, but in the holiday season there is often a focus on family gatherings.  For some of you that thought is joyful. For some it is ho-hum, no big deal.  For some it is painful.  When we look at our family trajectory, we might be very frustrated.  In fact, some of you might think, “My family is so messed up, why do I put myself through family gatherings at the holidays?  Why not just get together with people I actually enjoy?”  Many do just that, actually, as Friendsgivings are becoming quite popular.

Today in our series on Characters, all about flawed people that God uses, we meet our first woman, Ruth, who was in a bad family predicament. Not only was she a women, which meant she started off life in the Ancient Near East at a disadvantage, but she was widowed, AND she was an immigrant. Yet her story is amazing. 

To start, it is really important that we understand the historical context of this story.  When is this taking place?  Read verse 1 of the Book of Ruth, and you’ll notice that the author tells us the story occurs in the time of the Judges.  The people of Israel had been enslaved in Egypt for over 400 years.  But God raised up Moses, and eventually he helped lead the people to freedom.  After wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, once a new leader, Joshua, had taken over, they entered into the Promised Land, called Canaan.  After Joshua, there was a period of about 300 years, in which a succession of men and women called judges led Israel.  Samson, the long-haired strong man, we studied a few weeks ago was perhaps the most famous.  It was a time of great upheaval for the people of Israel as they were regularly disobedient to God and faced threats from surrounding enemy nations.  The story of Ruth takes place near the end of the period of Judges. 

We learn in verse 1 that there was a famine in the land of Israel, and a man from Bethlehem went to Moab.  The word Bethlehem means, “House of Bread”.  So the author is telling us that there was no bread in the House of Bread!  This man, Elimelech, moves his family to find bread. In other words, we are reading a refugee story.  A family is displaced by a natural disaster.

They go to Moab, across the Dead Sea from Israel.  Not too far actually.  If you’re walking fast and took a boat across the Dead Sea, you could get there in a long day’s travel.   

Moab and Israel were cousins.  Distant Cousins.  They had a common great-grandfather in Abraham’s father, Terah.  Abraham’s nephew, Lot, is a rather notable Old Testament character as well, primarily because his wife turned into a pillar of salt. Moab was Lot’s son, but not from his wife. Instead Moab was from an incestuous relationship with his daughter (Genesis 19).  Throughout their history, Israel and Moab did not always get along.  In Deuteronomy 23, for example, God decreed that Moabites were not to be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.  There are also many times in the Old Testament when we read that Israel and Moab engaged in armed conflict with one another.  At the timeo of the book of Ruth, it seems that the political situation between the two countries was calm, but Elimilech has to take into consideration the historical ethnic and political conflict between Moab and Israel as he emigrates his family into what was not always friendly territory. How will it go? Check back in tomorrow as we continue the story of Ruth.

How to recover when you’ve squandered your potential – Characters: Samson, Part 5

9 Nov
Photo by Fernando Dearfer on Unsplash

Samson is an illustration of a man with unbelievable potential for good, yet who allows himself to be degraded by his lusts and revenge.  There is such a lack of desire in his life to follow God, to keep his Nazarite vow, which could have and should have guided him to lead Israel back to God.  Instead Samson’s story is not that of a godly leader, but of a flawed individual who has some amazing individual victories, and a lot more individual failures.

Like Samson, any of us can squander our potential.  We can make choices that ruin what God wants to do in us and through us.  In this third installment of our Characters series, we learned that God wanted Samson to be a godly leader. Samson had been set aside, given the gift of the Spirit of God who empowered him with legendary strength, but Samson used this gift for selfish passions.  This reminds us that we are not robots.  God gives us good gifts, but we have the choice to use those gifts for good or bad.  Consider how different Samson’s story could have been if he had used his gifts for good!

When we think about gifts, we must remember that we are made in God’s image, loved by God, and he is everything we need in life.  We can live out of the deep satisfaction that only God can give us, thus transforming our hearts to follow the ways of Jesus.  Samson, however, was constantly enthralled by anger, revenge and lust, rather than being enthralled by God. He didn’t give credence or credit to God for the gifts he’d been given, and he did not choose to use them for God’s glory.

Yet in the midst of squandering his potential, God is still a redeeming God. It was messy and far from perfect, but God used Samson to free Israel from the Philistines.  It wouldn’t last, though.  If you continue reading Judges, you’ll see how bad it gets.  Samson’s leadership did nothing to bring the people closer to God.  Sure, they had temporary relief from the Philistines for 20 years.  But the deeper issue of who they were went unchanged. The story of Israel as told in Judges goes from bad to worse after Samson.

In what ways has God gifted you? We are all made in His image. We all, whether following God’s ways or not, have attributes of God within us.  How can we use our gifts for Him?  You have time, gifts, talents. Are you using them in ways that benefit the Kingdom of God? Are you intentional in your thoughts and actions?  It will likely take sacrifice for that to happen, for you to grow in your knowledge and understanding of what a kingdom mindset looks like. Then work to follow that. It might go against the cultural flow and assumptions of how to live life. It might go against your family’s wishes for you.  But you will have the peace and joy of knowing that you will be in line with God’s ideas.  

So we should be people who practice confession, repentance, if we are not line with the lifestyle of God’s Kingdom.  We should seek to be humble and teachable, even when you are on the heights. 

Think of the example of President Jimmy Carter who has taught Sunday school for decades, and who has spent years serving with Habitat for Humanity, even now into his 90s. 

Think of the example of Tony Dungy, a Super Bowl winning coach, and who has committed to All Pro Dads and other ministry.

Even on the heights it is possible to be humble. Even when we have gifts that give us laud and attention, we can use them for God’s glory. What gifts has God given you? How will you use them for his Kingdom?

When God leaves you (and what to do about it) – Characters: Samson, Part 4

7 Nov
Photo by jean wimmerlin on Unsplash

How close do you feel to God? Do you know if he is a part of your life? Is it possible that he has left you? Today we read that God leaves Samson. Yes, you read that right. God leaves Samson. Is that wrong of God? Is God allowed to do that, based on the character of God himself? What is going on?

In the previous post, we learned about the devastating blow Samson dealt to the Philistines, the people who had occupied and ruled Israel for 40 years. The conclusion of that part of Samson’s story, as told in Judges 15, was that Samson led Israel for 20 years. In Judges 16, the writer of Judges fast-forwards to the end of those 20 years.

We read that Samson goes to Gaza, which is another Philistine area.  As we have seen in this series of posts on Samson’s story, it seems he loves to spend time around the enemy, doesn’t he? In Gaza he spends the night with a prostitute.  In so doing, Samson again shows no concern for God’s law.  I say, “again,” because he has been playing fast and loose with God’s law numerous times in the account.

The Philistines hear that Samson is in their town.  They surround the house where he is staying, and they wait, planning to kill him when he leaves the next morning. But Samson awakes in the middle of the night and slips away, though not before ripping their town gate from its foundation and carrying it away to the top of a hill.  I guess he just loved to mess with the Philistines. 

Sometime later, the writer of Judges next tells us, Samson falls in love with a woman named Delilah.

The Philistines come to her secretly, hoping to entice her to conspire against Samson.  Five Philistine rulers each offer her a huge amount of money to learn the source of Samson’s strength and tell them. For 20 years they have been not been able to unseat him, and they are at their wits end.  Delilah agrees to the scheme, cluing us in to the kind of woman she was: a massive bribe was enough for her to betray Samson.

She asks Samson for the source of his strength.  He lies to her, and she, believing him, tells her co-conspirators, and ties Samson up one night, thinking she is trapping him in his sleep.  When the Philistines come to grab him, he easily breaks the bindings and is free, and the Philistines scatter.  This goes on multiple times. 

It would be obvious to Samson that Delilah is betraying him. Why does he stay with her? Why did Samson not at least ask Delilah, “Why are you doing this?”  Instead, he just goes along with her schemes, lying to her each time.  Why?  Maybe he just arrogantly thinks he can toy with her and nothing will ever happen to him.  He has been undefeated for two decades.  Perhaps it was like a game for him.

After multiple rounds of this bizarre game, Delilah is frustrated. She has dollar signs in her eyes, and Samson is blocking her ability to collect on the bribe! Finally, though, in verse 15 she plays on his emotions.  She tells him that in a loving relationship, they should be totally open.  A good argument, isn’t it?  On one level, she is right. In a healthy, trusting relationship, there should be no secrets. She nags him day after day, until the writer tells us Samson was tired to death, and he divulges the source of his strength, his hair that had never been cut since birth. (That would be some world record length hair, I would guess, right?)

Think about this with me a minute. What should Samson have done?  Well, he shouldn’t have told her the source of his strength.  But shouldn’t he be honest with her?  Yes, except that the reality is that he shouldn’t have been in with her in the first place.  The text never says they were married, so Samson was in another inappropriate sinful relationship.  Yet we can go back further, he shouldn’t have been in any of those bad relationships, and he shouldn’t have been so arrogant and prideful.  We could go back further, he should have followed the Lord’s way all his life.  He had allowed his life to go so far beyond what God desired.  The reality is that there is something deeply wrong inside Samson.

Finally he gives up the truth to Delilah.  Was he being flippant or arrogant, thinking he had defeated the Philistines for years and so there was no way he would lose?  Was his arrogance deceiving him about his ability to keep winning?  Could be. 

I suspect he was self-deceived by his arrogance.  The source of his strength was not truly his hair, but God.  When he disobeys God, he is showing his disrespect and arrogance, and ultimately his self-deception about the source of strength.

Delilah has a man come shave off the seven braids of Samson’s hair one night while he was asleep, and in verses 19-20 we read that his strength left him, but more importantly God left him, and Samson had no idea, blinded by his arrogance.  From birth God had set Samson up to be a great leader of his people, and now things have degraded to the point where God leaves Samson, and Samson is not aware of it. What a sadness.

The next day, his strength gone, God done with him, the Philistines capture Samson, gouge out his eyes, and imprison him, where the Philistines put him to work turning a stone wheel for grinding grain.

The story concludes at a Philistine banquet to their god Dagon.  It’s packed in the temple, with 3000+ people there.  They bring Samson out to entertain and he performs for them.  But standing by the load-bearing pillars of the temple, he offers a prayer to God, pushes over the pillars and kills all the Philistines in the banquet, and killing himself.

A quick read can leave us mistaken thinking that Samson has finally returned to the Lord and is sacrificing his life on behalf of his people. But look closely at Samson’s prayer. Yes, he is reaching out to God, and that is good. What he says, though, is that he wants revenge on the Philistines for gouging out his eyes. Once again, Samson war is lonely, bitter and vengeful. Never in his entire life do we read that Samson is concerned about following God’s ways, or that Samson wants to lead Israel back to faithfulness to God. Never do we read that his war with the Philistines is anything but one man with a superpower, drenched in anger and revenge, controlled by his passions. In the end, God left Samson.

The story of Samson is serious caution for all of us. Is God with you? Would you know if he left you? What should you do to find out? Examine Samson’s life, first of all: his lust, anger, revenge, deceit, foolhardiness. Does that describe you at all? If you’re like Samson, the problem is that you wouldn’t even know it. He had very little self-awareness. So who in your life can tell you the truth about yourself? Maybe you need to see a professional counselor, asking them to be honest with you.

Second, nurture a warm heart to God through spending time with him. Samson seems not to have done much to build his relationship with God. Learn to pray, listen to God, meditate on his word, fellowship with other Christians in a church family. Serve him.

These are all ways to avoid the self-deception of Samson, and the destruction that can follow in the wake of the self-deceived.