I remember being in Israel the day the news broke of Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky. One Israeli newspaper ran the headline "Monica Lewinsky: Bibi's Queen Esther?" Why? Because to many Right Wing Israeli’s, she was perceived to be a heroin, a modern day Queen Esther who had rescued Israel from territorial concessions by compromising the US President.
The embarrassment strengthened the position of the Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu in subsequent peace negotiations. A failure in leadership? A ‘honey trap’? A sign of the moral bankruptcy at the heart of modern society? Probably all three. The following Summer I attended the Willow Creek Leadership Summit at which President Bill Clinton was a guest speaker. Bill Hybels was heavily criticised for inviting Clinton. The interview was actually very moving. Hybels did not pull his punches and Clinton did not excuse his moral failures. I believe we can learn as much from ‘fallen’ leaders and their failures as we can from those who have not made them. Samson is a good example in Scripture. Samson was a ruler of Israel for 20 years. He had everything going for him – supernatural strength, good looks, and a divine anointing to lead God’s people. And yet, in spite of all that, he blew it. He wasted his life and brought all kinds of troubles on himself. He became his own worst enemy.
Samson’s life is told in the book of Judges. Chapters 13-16 tell of his supernatural conception, his Nazirite consecration, his exploits as a Judge of Israel and his fall from grace. Even though he lived so long ago, his story typifies three of the most common ways we bring trouble on ourselves. Three ways we can get ourselves into big trouble. Samson made a mess of his life because he made three fateful choices. If we identify these traps, with God’s help, we can not only make sense of the mess we may be in right now, but also find a way out.
1. Learn self control
“Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman… (Judges 14:1) “ One day Samson went to Gaza, where he saw a prostitute.” (Judges 16:1)
Samson had two big weaknesses in his life. He never learned to control either of them. What were they? Samson lacked self control over his temper and his lust. All his life they plagued him and eventually led to his downfall.
Samson’s first weakness was a bad temper. He frequently blew up. A primary motive for his actions was revenge. Samson killed 30 men to get their clothes because he burned with anger (Judges 14:12-19). He set a field afire just to get even (Judges 15:3-5). Samson said to a group of men he didn't like, "Since you've acted like this, I swear I won't stop until I get my revenge on you" (Judges 15: 7). Later he said, "I merely did to them what they did to me" (Judges 15:11). And then he went and killed another thousand men. Samson's life seemed filled with anger, and he never quite got control of this problem. He refused to learn from his mistakes, so he just kept committing them over and over again. He never understood that revenge merely escalates tension and invites retaliation.
The first written appearance of the proverb "revenge is a dish best served cold" is often credited to the 18th century novel les Liaisons dangereuses, but since it doesn't actually appear in the original text, the validity of this attribution is unclear. The phrase gained modern fame as a "Klingon proverb" in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Samson’s anger.
The other area that Samson had a weakness in was uncontrolled physical desire. Though physically strong, he was morally weak. For him it was really kind of a game: "How close to the fire can I get and not get burned? How close to the edge of the cliff can I get and not fall off?" Samson deliberately ignored God's moral principles, particularly in the area of physical desires. Having taken a vow to avoid drinking wine, he should never have been hanging around a place like Timnah, renowned for its vineyards (Judges 14:5). Had he avoided the place he would never have been attracted to marry someone who was his enemy. The first step toward sin is being in the wrong place. We must be careful where we go. Are you careful where you go. Don’t hang around the contemporary vineyards of Timnah.
Samson never learned and kept making the same bad decisions over and over again. In chapter 16 we find Samson is visiting the wrong kind of places again – this time Gaza. He meets Delilah and repeats the same mistakes over again. When she repeatedly asked about the source of his strength, Samson teased her – but each time he did so, he got a little closer to the truth. By toying with her, he played with temptation – and ended up getting burned. We tend to do the same thing. We say, "Just this one time. What's one time going to hurt, anyway?" We rationalise guilty pleasures. None of us plans to be a failure. It just comes naturally, inexorably, irresistibly.
Our lives don't fall apart in one day; the problem builds up gradually when we refuse to learn from our mistakes. As Paul says in Galatians 6:
“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. People reap what they sow. Those who sow to please their sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; those who sow to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7-8)
You may be saying, "But this is an area of my life I just have no control over. I'm defeated in it over and over again. It's a chronic area of failure in my life. That's just the way I am." The good news is that God can give you the power to break out of that cycle of failure.
“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to us all. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)
Self control is a fruit of the Spirit. When Samson finally turned to God, God broke his cycle of failure and gave him victory. The first lesson from the story of Samson is the need to learn self control. The second lesson?
2. Choose the right friends
“Some time later, he fell in love with a woman in the Valley of Sorek whose name was Delilah. The rulers of the Philistines went to her and said, “See if you can lure him into showing you the secret of his great strength and how we can overpower him so we may tie him up and subdue him. Each one of us will give you eleven hundred shekels of silver.” So Delilah said to Samson, “Tell me the secret of your great strength and how you can be tied up and subdued.” (Judges 16:4-6)
Not only did Samson visit the wrong places, he also hang out with the wrong people. He saw a pretty Philistine girl. There he got into a relationship with the wrong person. Samson’s parents tried to talk him out of this mistake but he wouldn’t listen to their counsel. The Israelites were supposed to stay away from the pagan nations.
This separation was designed to protect their fidelity to God. It would have never been a problem in the first place if he had not been going to the wrong place with the wrong people for the wrong reason. Samson was defeated by bad associations; he had unhealthy relationships even though God had chosen him for a special task. His so called ‘friends’ eventually led him astray.
When you hang out in the wrong places, it is very likely we too will hook up with the wrong people. There is still a Biblical mandate for you and me to not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For example, 1 Corinthians strictly forbids Christians marrying non-Christians.
You will eventually become like the people you spend the most time with. That's why it is so important to choose our friends wisely. Let me ask you: How do you rate your friends? Do they assist you or hinder you from fulfilling God’s propose in your life? What about Sundays? Your lifestyle? Your vocabulary? Your values? Do they tear you down or do they build you up? Do you find yourself having to conform to things you don't like to do? What about your children and the friendships they are developing? The Book of Proverbs warns us over and over again about negative associations. Here are some examples:
“The righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray” (Proverbs 12:26)
“Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.” (Proverbs 14:20)
“Do not make friends with the hot-tempered, do not associate with those who are easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself snared.” (Proverbs 22:24-25)
“Do not envy the wicked, do not desire their company.” (Proverbs 24:1)
Constant exposure to wrong attitudes and wrong values will eventually take its toll. It's always easier to pull somebody down than it is to lift them up. Godly friends will lift you up, they will encourage you, they will help you become more like Jesus.
How can I avoid getting my life into a mess like Samson? First. Develop self control and learn from our mistakes. Second. Use discernment in choosing the right kind of friends and role models.
3. Put God first
“Then Samson prayed to the LORD, “Sovereign LORD, remember me. Please, God, strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.” (Judges 16:28)
The third principle we learn from Samson’s downfall is the most important of all. Samson was careless about his spiritual life. He lived for himself. He was always doing his own thing. He was unaccountable. He let his own personal desires dictate his actions. Samson lived by the philosophy, "If it feels good, do it." Another thing we see in Samson's life is that he never prayed about anything, except when he wanted something from God. In chapter 15 we read “Because he was very thirsty, he cried out to the Lord. You have given your servant this great victory. Must I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?” (Judges 15:18).
Is prayer your spare tyre or your steering wheel? There just for emergencies or for daily communion with your Father? Samson did not ask God for direction. He just went ahead and did whatever he wanted to do. We would save ourselves so many problems and so much pain if we would just stop and ask God for direction before we jump into something with both feet and get all messed up. How often have we prayed like Samson, “If you get me out of this mess just one more time, I promise I’ll serve you faithfully…” Taking God seriously means paying close attention to what he has said in the Bible and seeking his wisdom and guidance every day. David knew this.
“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.” (Psalm 143:8)
Samson never really got serious about living for God until the very end of his life, after everything had finally fallen apart: He was captured by his enemies, they put his eyes out, and they made him grind grain at a mill, just like an animal. Only then did he acknowledge that God is indeed Sovereign. Why did he wait until everything fell apart before he finally turned to God? He was discredited and lost his freedom; he became a slave to the people he had been sent to conquer. Sometimes God has to take everything away before we will acknowledge our total dependence on him.
This would be a hopelessly tragic story if it just ended there, but it doesn't. The Philistines had cut off Samson's hair, which was a sign of the covenant he had made with the Lord. Samson's hair was just an outward symbol; it was not the source of his strength but the sign of his strength. In the last few verses of the story of Samson we see glimpses of God’s free unmerited grace and mercy. In prison "The hair on his head began to grow again after it had been shaved" (16:22). The process of renewal began. Samson repented and began to pray.
As he began to look to God for strength, God honoured his desire. God gave him his strength back, and Samson ended his life with an act of self sacrifice. Samson was brought to the great temple of the false god Dagon so that thousands of his enemies could laugh and joke about him and also about Samson's God – the true God of Israel. Samson was placed between the two main pillars of the temple, and with every last ounce of strength that God gave him in answer to prayer, he pushed the columns aside and the roof of the huge building collapsed, killing everybody in the temple and those on the roof.
Maybe you can identify with Samson. Maybe you feel you have messed up real bad. Maybe you are thinking God can’t possibly love you, or use you ever again. Then remember Samson. God never gave up on Samson. God knows why he created you. He loves you so much he sent his one and only Son to die for you. He sent his Holy Spirit to indwell you. He caused his perfect will for you to be written down in the Scriptures, and translated into your language so you could learn from Samson and the other heros of the faith. So that you could learn from your mistakes and failings.
For all his failings, Samson gets a mention in the New Testament. He is included in God’s Hall of Fame in Hebrews 11. Was he a saint or a sinner? Probably both.
If God can take a person like
Samson who displayed such serious character flaws, who made such poor
decisions, committed such moral failures and never seems to have leant his
lessons – if God could still use a Samson, he can use you and me too. “How did
I get myself into this mess?” That is a good question to ask. But an even
better one is this: “How, with your help, can I redeem this mess, Lord?” What
should you do if you're a Samson? Exactly what Samson finally did: Turn your
life over to the Lord.
Give him all the pieces, and let him realise his plan for your life. In his time, in his way and for his glory.
Three lessons we can learn from Samson’s failure: Exert self control. Choose wise friends. Put God first. On October 29, 1941, Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited Harrow to give a speech to the students. Lasting just 4 minutes and 12 seconds, he ended with those words:
“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never--in nothing, great or small, large or petty--never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy… I say that we can be sure that we have only to persevere to conquer… Do not let us speak of darker days: let us speak rather of sterner days. These are not dark days; these are great days--the greatest days our country has ever lived; and we must all thank God that we have been allowed, each of us according to our stations, to play a part in making these days memorable in the history of our race.