THE RIGHT WAR FOR THE WRONG REASONS
A Study in the Biblical Book of Judges: Part 1 in the Life of Sampson
WPBS (Wolf Pack Bible Study)
Pause whatever you are doing. Write, text, or type your answer to this question,
“What is your calling?”
Perhaps this is something you have not put much thought into yet…
So what did you write down? The majority of people will answer this question with something broad and general. Not that that is a bad thing, but I believe that the Bible teaches that each person has a specific calling unique to them.
Romans 12:4-5 says,”For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” Essentially, as a Christian community, as a Church, we are both united and unique. We are united in purpose, but unique in calling.
Our purpose is to live the gospel. In Matthew 22 Jesus gives us the greatest commandment (which interestingly comes in the form of two parts). He tells us the greatest commandment is to love God. Than He immediately states that the second is like it, to love our neighbor. There is a direct relationship between these two commandments because without loving God you can’t effectively love people, and without loving people you can’t genuinely love God! Amazing! Right?
So as Christians our purpose is rooted in the greatest commandment to love God and love people. We are all united in that being our purpose! So what makes us unique? Our calling does. Our calling is how we uniquely carry out our purpose. For example, a Christian who owns a business shares the same purpose as a Christian in the NFL. Both of them have the joy of having a covenant relationship with God, and both of them have the responsibility of loving people- who are made in the image of God. However, how they specifically fulfill that purpose will look very different. The businessman may help fund/serve church ministries both local and abroad, he also may be a witness to those he works with and those who he conducts business with. The NFL player may use his platform to be outspoken of his faith, and as we have seen with some Christian NFL players, may spend spare time encouraging kids at hospitals or starting foundations that benefit those less fortunate.
So what makes you, YOU? What passions has God instilled in you? What gifts has He given you? What cause are you burdened to do something about? How is the gospel going to exude through you?
So why are we talking about purpose and calling? Well, in the past few weeks at a Wednesday night Bible study that I lead at we have been making our way through the book of Judges. this week we find ourselves in Judges chapters 13-15 which begins the narrative of Samson. Now if you know anything about Samson he is like the hulk of the bible.
I mean this guy seems to be a one man army! He is famous for his strength (which really was the Lord’s strength), and he is infamous for his weaknesses. Samson has many issues that appear on the surface but at the root of his issues lies what I believe to be his main struggle, and a struggle many Christians share- Samson struggled with his calling, and his whole life collapsed around the realization that he had been living under the vain influence of selfish ambitions.
Judges chapter 13 verse 1 sets the scene and says,
“And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, so the Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years.”
It is a heartbreaking introduction to a new generation of Israelites. Oh how the Israelites have lived up to their name (Israel means “to struggle with God” or “to wrestle with God.”) The rest of the chapter is dedicated to the prequel of Samson’s life. Within this chapter we find a married couple (Manoah and his wife) who have not been able to have children, for the woman was barren. The Lord sends them a visit and tells them not only that they are going to have a child, but that their child will be the one He will use to deliver the Israelites from the Philistines’ oppression. In this God commands this child to be set apart for His purposes. Samson is to be set apart under the Nazirite vow. This meant that Samson would not be allowed to eat anything “unclean”, wouldn’t be allowed to cut his hair, etc. (for more about the Nazirite vow see Numbers ch. 6). The Nazirite vow was symbolic of the covenant purpose God has set apart for Samson before Samson was even born!
What if God had a prequel for your life… what if you were set apart for something greater than yourself… what if God wants to make His glory and greatness known through you?
In chapter 14 we see Samson do something that upset his parents very much, Samson had his eyes on one of the Philistine woman (Judges 14:1-3). Historically this would have been mind-boggling, even offensive for Samson to betray his people to have affection towards a Philistine women. This was not a race issue, it was beyond that. The Philistines were incredibly corrupt and they ruled over Israel ruthlessly. The pagan gods of the Philistines had become a stumbling block for many of the Israelites who turned away from God and started to worship these false gods. Now do you see why his parents would ask Samson why he had feelings for a Philistine? However, Judges 14:4 gives us pivotal information for the life and calling of Samson.
“His father and mother did not know that it was from the Lord, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines. At that time the Philistines ruled over Israel.”
You see, God was raising up Samson to be the one who would delver Israel from the evil hand of the Philistines. But the problem was that the Israelites had gotten far too comfortable being slaves of the enemy. God allowed Samson to pursue this Philistine woman as his wife, knowing that something had to cause the Israelites to go to war with the enemy.
Lets keep reading.
5 Then Samson went down with his father and mother to Timnah, and they came to the vineyards of Timnah. And behold, a young lion came toward him roaring. 6 Then the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and although he had nothing in his hand, he tore the lion in pieces as one tears a young goat. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done. 7 Then he went down and talked with the woman, and she was right in Samson’s eyes.
So Samson tore apart a lion with his bare hands and then didn’t tell anyone? I am sorry but if I ever kill a lion with my bare hands you will see a selfie posted on Instagram. Here Samson I will post one for you…
What happens next is where we see the first of many mistakes for Samson…
8 After some days he returned to take her. And he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion, and behold, there was a swarm of bees in the body of the lion, and honey. 9 He scraped it out into his hands and went on, eating as he went. And he came to his father and mother and gave some to them, and they ate. But he did not tell them that he had scraped the honey from the carcass of the lion.
I don’t know if you know much about biology but this is an abnormal situation. When an animal is dead the process of decay begins to take place, but something different happens here. The divine fingerprints of the almighty Creator leaves not decay and ruin in this dead beast, but a flourishing community of bees producing something sweet, honey. Perhaps God was just reminding Samson that He was with him, but Samson carelessly forgets his Nazirite vow and instead of appreciating this anomaly and recognizing God’s hand in his life he takes some of the honey from the dead, “unclean” animal and goes about his day. Already Samson has rejected his Nazirite vow, his set apart identity that was given to him before his birth, his calling.
But his foolishness doesn’t end there. Let’s continue in Judges 14 starting in verse 10…
10 His father went down to the woman, and Samson prepared a feast there, for so the young men used to do. 11 As soon as the people saw him, they brought thirty companions to be with him. 12 And Samson said to them, “Let me now put a riddle to you. If you can tell me what it is, within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothes, 13 but if you cannot tell me what it is, then you shall give me thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothes.” And they said to him, “Put your riddle, that we may hear it.” 14 And he said to them,
“Out of the eater came something to eat.
Out of the strong came something sweet.”
And in three days they could not solve the riddle.
15 On the fourth[a] day they said to Samson’s wife, “Entice your husband to tell us what the riddle is, lest we burn you and your father’s house with fire. Have you invited us here to impoverish us?” 16 And Samson’s wife wept over him and said, “You only hate me; you do not love me. You have put a riddle to my people, and you have not told me what it is.” And he said to her, “Behold, I have not told my father nor my mother, and shall I tell you?” 17 She wept before him the seven days that their feast lasted, and on the seventh day he told her, because she pressed him hard. Then she told the riddle to her people. 18 And the men of the city said to him on the seventh day before the sun went down,
“What is sweeter than honey?
What is stronger than a lion?”
And he said to them,
“If you had not plowed with my heifer,
you would not have found out my riddle.”
19 And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon and struck down thirty men of the town and took their spoil and gave the garments to those who had told the riddle. In hot anger he went back to his father’s house. 20 And Samson’s wife was given to his companion, who had been his best man.
At the celebration of his wedding with this Philistine women Samson is given some “companions” (kind of like groomsmen), so Samson decides to gamble with these men by giving them a riddle, if they solve it they will get many valuable possessions, if they can’t then he will obtain many valuable possessions. Piece of advice… never gamble with the enemy. So what did the enemy do? They convinced Samson’s new wife to get the answer from him. As you saw in those verses, she succeeded! So Samson ends up losing this bet and in response he goes and kills 30 Philistines and takes their possessions and gives them to those who he owed. In his anger he stormed home without his wife and so Samson’s father thought he no longer wanted to be married so she was handed over to his best man. What a messed up family dynamic, right?
Let us continue to Judges chapter 15.
After some days, at the time of wheat harvest, Samson went to visit his wife with a young goat. And he said, “I will go in to my wife in the chamber.” But her father would not allow him to go in. 2 And her father said, “I really thought that you utterly hated her, so I gave her to your companion. Is not her younger sister more beautiful than she? Please take her instead.” 3 And Samson said to them, “This time I shall be innocent in regard to the Philistines, when I do them harm.” 4 So Samson went and caught 300 foxes and took torches. And he turned them tail to tail and put a torch between each pair of tails. 5 And when he had set fire to the torches, he let the foxes go into the standing grain of the Philistines and set fire to the stacked grain and the standing grain, as well as the olive orchards. 6 Then the Philistines said, “Who has done this?” And they said, “Samson, the son-in-law of the Timnite, because he has taken his wife and given her to his companion.” And the Philistines came up and burned her and her father with fire. 7 And Samson said to them, “If this is what you do, I swear I will be avenged on you, and after that I will quit.” 8 And he struck them hip and thigh with a great blow, and he went down and stayed in the cleft of the rock of Etam.
Notice Samson’s attitude? Never once is he fighting the Philistines to deliver Israel, like he is supposed to, he is fighting them only when they make him angry. I guess this guy really is like the hulk…
But even worse, his rage comes from a place of unrighteousness, out of selfish motives he is waging war against the enemy. Samson is fighting the right war for the wrong reasons. God certainly set him apart to be a man of war, but instead of rallying together the armies of Israel to drive out the enemy, he is too busy avenging his own personal vendettas. Like Samson, our problem may not be avoiding the fight, but we may be waging the right war for the wrong reasons. Vengeance against the Philistines was never because Samson had been wronged, it was always because God had been wronged. The sin of the enemy was against Samson; it was against God.
After stirring up the anger of the Philistines Samson is about to find himself faced with a decision to make, and the ultimatum will not be coming from the enemy, but from his own people…
9 Then the Philistines came up and encamped in Judah and made a raid on Lehi. 10 And the men of Judah said, “Why have you come up against us?” They said, “We have come up to bind Samson, to do to him as he did to us.” 11 Then 3,000 men of Judah went down to the cleft of the rock of Etam, and said to Samson, “Do you not know that the Philistines are rulers over us? What then is this that you have done to us?” And he said to them, “As they did to me, so have I done to them.” 12 And they said to him, “We have come down to bind you, that we may give you into the hands of the Philistines.” And Samson said to them, “Swear to me that you will not attack me yourselves.” 13 They said to him, “No; we will only bind you and give you into their hands. We will surely not kill you.” So they bound him with two new ropes and brought him up from the rock.
You know you are one bad dude when an army sends 3,000 soldiers just to arrest you. Samson must have had quite the reputation to intimidate even his own people this way. Here we see that Samson is not alone in his negligence, the Israelites too have forgotten that the Lord wanted to deliver them from their captivity but they seem to want to arrest Samson to appease their rulers, the Philistines. Their primary goal became survival, and they thought that their best chance lay in extraditing Samson, rather than rallying around him to fight their enemy.
Has no one remembered their calling? Has the nation of Israel forgotten their corporate calling as a nation to be set apart, to submit themselves only to the kingship of God? Has Samson forgotten his calling to be the one to deliver Israel from the oppressive hand of the Philistines?
Let’s see how this confrontation with the Philistines goes with Samson being bound and handed over by his own people.
14 When he came to Lehi, the Philistines came shouting to meet him. Then the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and the ropes that were on his arms became as flax that has caught fire, and his bonds melted off his hands. 15 And he found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, and put out his hand and took it, and with it he struck 1,000 men. 16 And Samson said,
“With the jawbone of a donkey,
heaps upon heaps,
with the jawbone of a donkey
have I struck down a thousand men.”
17 As soon as he had finished speaking, he threw away the jawbone out of his hand. And that place was called Ramath-lehi.
Part 1 of Samson’s life concludes with his most bloody feat yet, killing 1,000 men in one episode. And Samson even writes a hit chorus that praises his own abilities. but in verse 18 we see a slight shift in the heart of Samson, is there hope for his leadership?
18 And he was very thirsty, and he called upon the Lord and said, “You have granted this great salvation by the hand of your servant, and shall I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?” 19 And God split open the hollow place that is at Lehi, and water came out from it. And when he drank, his spirit returned, and he revived. Therefore the name of it was called En-hakkore; it is at Lehi to this day. 20 And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years.
Is Samson’s days of being a solo vigilante over? Is he finally becoming the leader he was set apart to be? Part 2 will determine the answers to those questions. In many ways the life of Samson serves as a warning to us; he is everything a servant of God should not be. And perhaps Samson’s most severe problem was his lack of conviction to live out his identity as a set apart Nazirite-warrior-leader. Samson was living like he didn’t know his calling.
To recap of part 1 of Samson’s life here are a few vital things we can learn and walk away with today:
God was using Samson in spite of his failings, not because of his faithfulness. Today we may fall short of walking in complete obedience to God but that should not mean that we throw in the towel and give up, God is not surprised by our mistakes just as He was not surprised by Samson’s. So take heart, God will use you despite your failures, because He is faithful. However, don’t let this be an excuse to disobey, we known that disobedience can definitely altar how effective you will be. God will accomplish His will despite you but wouldn’t you rather be able to participate as much as possible in the most epic mission of all time? Obedience is vital to live out the calling God has on your life.
Obedience done on your own terms is still disobedience. As we saw in Part 1, Samson entered the right war for the wrong reasons. When our reasons (aka our motives) are wrong, then our method will be wrong. Yes, Samson was set apart to be a warrior who leads the Israelites to freedom from their evil oppressors but Samson only seems to engage this mission on his own terms and only when he has been offended by the Philistines. This is where unity is so important. We were never meant to be a lone wolf solider, we were meant to work as a team (as a Church) towards a common mission. And how we do something is just as important as why we do it.
Our calling is a gift from God that will grant us direction, fulfillment, and a partnership with God. Let’s get something clear, God is not about making His glory known! He is worthy. He is awesome. He alone is God. If anything takes even an ounce of glory from God that thing is an idol and should be torn down and destroyed (physically or metaphorically). Our calling is God’s gift to us. It is a gift that should be solely used to reflect, give, and spread glory- God’s glory. Our calling should also give us direction, it should help us answer what we say yes to and what we say no to. Samson demonstrated a lack of self-control by not being able to say no to the honey in the dead lion carcass. Our calling should be like a compass that guides us and helps us determine how we invest our time for maximum impact. Our calling also gives us fulfillment, it should be what makes us come alive, after all- God is the author of life and their is no true, vibrant life outside of relationship with Him. And our calling gives us partnership with God. God doesn’t need us to accomplish His plan and His will but He chooses to let us participate with Him! What an awesome dad! Let’s go to work with Dad on a daily basis!
Discussion questions for small groups:
- The theme throughout Judges has been, “Obedience done on your terms is actually disobedience.” How do you see this in the life of Samson?
- Before Samson was born God had put a calling on his life. Samson was set apart for God’s purpose, but the way Samson lived made it seem like he was not aware of his calling. Do you think Samson was aware of his calling? What was his struggle in walking out His calling?
- Samson waged the right war for the wrong reasons. As Christians today have you found yourself in a similar situation? How can we make sure we wage the right war for the right reasons?
- At the beginning of the lesson you wrote down what you think your calling is. Read Romans 11:29, Romans 12:4, and 1 Corinthians 1:26-31. These are just a few verses of the many on the topic of “calling.” In light of the life of Samson, these scriptures, and all other understanding- how important is it to know our unique calling within our unified purpose as Christians? Do you know your calling? How are you pursuing your calling, or if you don’t know your calling how are you pursuing discovering your calling?
- (Side note:) If you feel don’t know your calling be encouraged, God may be working on your character before He reveals to you your calling. Our character needs to be ready if we want to walk out our calling. A God-sized calling without the character to fulfill it is a disaster waiting to happen.