Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Strongest Half-Hearted Man

One Year Bible
Old Testament passage for Wednesday, May 1, 2013:  Judges 13:1-14:20

And the Angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Indeed now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Now therefore, please be careful not to drink wine or similar drink, and not to eat anything unclean. For behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. And no razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.”  Judges 13:3-5 (NKJV)

From his birth, Samson was a Nazarite.  The word "nazarite" means "consecrated" or "separated."  These were individuals who made a special vow to God.  We read about this in Number 6:1-21. 

But Samson was unusual -- even for a Nazarite.  These vows were voluntary and for a specific length of time -- something like Lent today.  But Samson was designated as a Nazarite for his entire life.  In fact, before he was born the Angel of the Lord came to his parents and told them, "For behold, you shall conceive and bear a son.  And no razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazarite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines" (Jud. 13:5). 

There are two other individuals in the Bible who had similar stories surrounding their birth: John the Baptist and Jesus.  It is pretty clear that John the Baptist was a Nazarite like Samson.  The words of the angel to his mother Elizabeth are strikingly similar to the words spoken over Samson.  Luke 1:15 says, "For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink.  He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb."  We later learn that John had all the outward features of a Nazarite -- he lived in austerity, clothed in camel's hair and eating bugs (Mark 1:6).  It is easy to imagine that he did not cut his hair even though the Scripture never refers to this. 

Similarly, before Jesus' birth, an angel came to Mary telling her, "And behold, you shall conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus.  He will be great..." (Luke 1:31-32).  In Matthew, the words are added, "for He will save His people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21). Samson was a DELIVERER who pre-figured the coming GREAT DELIVERER.  We never read of how Jesus fulfilled Nazarite requirements, but in a strange twist of biblical language, He grew up in a town called Nazareth.  For this reason, Matthew quotes the story of Samson in Matthew 2:23: "And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, 'He shall be called a Nazarene.'"

In Numbers 6, we find four laws every Nazarite had to keep:
1. They had to abstain from wine or strong drink (Num. 6:3)
2. They couldn't eat or drink anything that had to do with grapes -- raisins, fresh grapes, etc. (Num. 6:3-4)
3. They could not cut their hair, but instead let it grow long (Num. 6:5)
4. They could not go near a dead body (Num. 6:6)

Once again, this was usually a vow taken for a specific time frame.  Samson was different in that he was a permanent, life-long Nazarite.  This is the reason, Samson is also a picture of a CONTRADICTORY MAN.  He was incredibly gifted and powerful.  But, he is also a tragic figure in Scripture.  It does not appear that Samson ever took the vows seriously.  As a result, he continually got into trouble.

Samson is a picture of a man who could do great things for God, but who did not know how to overcome temptation.  When the Spirit of God would come on him, he could bring great victory.  But then he could not overcome his lust problem, his pride problem, and his half-hearted approach to life.  He did not take his relationship with God seriously, therefore his was always in and out of difficulty.

Here are a few examples for the passage we are reading today.

Manoah, Samson's father, knew that his son was supposed to follow a "rule of life" (Jud. 6:12).  That involved not only the Nazarite requirements but also following the instructions God had given Israel.  No sooner had Samson grown however that he went down to a town called Timnah and fell in love with a Philistine woman.  He came back home and told his parents that he wanted to marry her.  They protested because they knew such intermarriage broke God's law (Dt. 7:2-3).  Samson, though a powerful leader, continually violated God's clear instructions.

It is interesting that the Bible says that as Samson traveled down this path of rebellion, he passed by "the vineyards of Timnah" (Jud. 14:5).  These vineyards represent temptation to break his vows.  He had a surprise attack that took place right in front of those vineyards -- "now to his surprise, a young lion came roaring against him."  This lion obviously represents a satanic attack (I Peter 5:8).  At the point of temptation, the devil comes roaring. 

By his amazing physical strength, Samson killed the lion.  We can often do that for a season.  Samson was a great warrior.  But, he was flirting with danger.  He was straying too close to that which was forbidden.

The next violation took place in connection with this dead lion.  When Samson passed by the vineyard a second time, he saw the carcass of the lion, but he also found that bees had built a nest in it and made honey.  Samson once again violated his vows by taking the honey out of the carcass of the lion.  As a Nazarite, he was forbidden to go near a dead body.

It seems that Samson was a man who thought his natural strength could make him immune to God's judgment.  He could break God's law and flirt with danger at will.  The straw that broke this camel's back was the cutting of his hair.  When that happened, ALL of his vows to God were broken. 

It is a picture of God's grace that even in his rebellion, God still worked in his life.  God brought about great victories through him despite his self-centeredness and sin.  God is faithful.  Though defeat and victory walked hand-in-hand in the life of Samson, he speaks to us of a better way to live.  The smartest thing any of us ever does is obey God. 

Charles Spurgeon said of Samson, "In many respects, he was one of the most remarkable men whose history is recorded in the pages of Scripture.  He was the strongest man in the world.  And yet he was also perhaps the weakest."  So today, may we "be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus" (II Tim. 2:1).  Not our strength, but His.

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