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Stories for Children and Grown-ups: A Strong Man Gets a Bad Haircut

January 30, 2011

Sermon: Stories for Grown-ups and Children:  A Strong Man Gets a Bad Haircut
Text: Judges 16:19

I received a catalog in the mail recently from an outdoor outfitter company, a business that specializes in fishing equipment.  I rarely order any items from these catalogs, and I do not know why companies keep sending them to me.  As I thumbed through the catalog, I saw page after page of all kinds of fishing lures.  Sometimes the same lure was painted five or six different colors.  I looked at the prices and thought, Do the fish really care about what color the lure is painted? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the lures are not to attract the fish; they are to attract the fishermen.  This company is trying to make a killing off of fishermen.  I know of people who even collect fishing lures.  What an expensive habit!  Many things in life are alluring to us.

Today, we will consider in our sermon series Stories for Children and Grown-ups the story of Samson, a man so distracted by things that seemed so alluring that he could not be the person God intended.

I heard a story about Benjamin Franklin I would like to share with you.  When Ben was just a boy, he wanted the tin whistle one of his friends owned.  Franklin paid all of the little bit of money he had saved to buy that whistle.  He discovered later that he could have had the very same whistle for only one penny.  The whistle was not worth the money he had paid for it.  From that time on, he often used the expression, “It wasn’t worth a whistle,” meaning that something has low value.

Some of you will remember an outstanding basketball player for the University of Maryland named Lenny Bias.  In 1986, he voted was the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year.  He was a first-team All-American.  Many thought that Lenny Bias was the best college basketball player in the country.  Red Auerbach, the owner and manager of the Boston Celtics at that time, wanted to sign Lenny.  When the National Basketball Association held a draft, Auerbach gave up a very good player and several draft picks in order to put himself in the position to draft Lenny Bias.

The Celtics were so glad to have Lenny, and he was glad to be going to Boston.  They were, after all, the world champions.  The day after the draft, Lenny and his father flew to Boston, where he signed a lucrative contract with the team.  On that same day, he signed another contract estimated to be worth three million dollars with the Reebok shoe company.  His father caught an airplane and flew back to Washington, D.C.  Lenny stayed in Boston a while longer, and then returned to the campus of the University of Maryland.

Some of Lenny’s friends wanted to celebrate with him, so they planned an off-campus party.  At some point during the party, Lenny took cocaine.  His heart went into arrhythmia.  By 6:00 the next morning, just two days after signing a contract with the Boston Celtics, Lenny Bias was dead.  His death came as a great shock to many people.  Some called him the best basketball player never to play in the NBA.  Such talent was wasted because of a bad decision.

The story of Samson is very much the same.  Samson, I suppose, would have been considered one of the premier athletes of his day.  Like Lennie, he was a young man who went his own way.  Samson’s birth is one of those miraculous births of the Old Testament.  From the time of his birth, his parents knew that he was going to be an unusual man.  He had so much potential.  The Bible says repeatedly that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him.  Samson’s parents made the decision to dedicate their son to the Lord.  They made a Nazarite Vow, promising that Samson’s life would be spent in service to the Lord.  As a symbol of this dedication, his hair was never to be cut.  Samson’s parents had wanted this child for so long that they seemed to have doted on him, giving him everything he wanted.  By some accounts, Samson was probably a spoiled brat.

Early in his life, Samson spent a lot of time walking alone back and forth from the country of the Israelites to the land of the Philistines.  Samson eventually went his own way, not heeding or following the teachings of the Lord.   Part of his problem was his strong attraction to Philistine women.

One day as he walked from one area to the other, a lion attacked him.  Because of his great strength, Samson was able to kill the lion with his bare hands.  The Scripture says that he killed the lion as easily as a man could have killed a very young goat.  Following the killing of the beast, Samson returned to the body and saw that bees had made a hive inside the lion’s remains.  Samson ate some of that sweet honey out of the carcass.

When Samson told his parents that he wanted a wife from among the Philistines, his mother and father tried to persuade him, “Don’t you want a good Jewish girl, one of these girls from the tribes of Israel?”

“No, I like one Philistine woman better.  You get her for me.”

I do not know what arrangements were made, but Samson’s parents made it possible for their son to marry this Philistine woman.

During his time in the land of the Philistines, Samson made a gambling deal with thirty men.  He told them, “If you can solve my riddle, I will give you thirty robes.  If you cannot solve the riddle, you will give me thirty robes.”  Apparently, he wanted to fill up his wardrobe.  The bet was on.  Samson’s riddle to the Philistine men stated, “Out of the eater something to eat; out of the strong something sweet.”

The Philistine men struggled with that riddle.  Unable to solve it, they threatened Samson’s Philistine wife, Delilah.  They told her that if she did not comply with their wishes and tell them the answer to the challenge, they would kill her father.  Delilah persuaded Samson to reveal the answer to her.  When the men finally returned to Samson with the solution to the riddle, Samson accused them of “plowing with his heifer.”  Samson honored his debt by going to another Philistine town, killing thirty men, and giving these dead men’s robes to the gamblers.

Samson’s strength and a quick temper to boot made him a dangerous fellow.  He became so angry with the Philistines on one occasion that they tried to lock him in a city.  He lifted the gate off its hinges, then gathered and paired three hundred foxes by tying their tails.   Have you ever tried to tie two cats together?  I have never tried it, but I have heard of people who have.  It is not good for you, and it is not good for the cat.  Samson then attached a torch between the tails and turned them loose in the unharvested grain fields.  Furious with Samson’s act, the Philistines determined to get payback.  A thousand men came at him.  Samson found the jawbone of a donkey, and he cleaned house, killing them all single-handed.  What a strong man!  Listen to a words of the song about this encounter:

You’ve heard about Samson, the story of his birth.
Samson was the strongest man who ever lived on earth.
One day Samson was walking along,
Looked down on the ground and found an old jawbone.
He lifted up that jawbone high above his head
And when he got to moving, a thousand men were dead.

The story of Samson is similar to the story of so many lives.  We can think of people who, like Samson, had so much potential, so much ability; but they squandered it on bad decisions.  Samson had many problems in his life.  He certainly faced powerful adversaries.

Do you know who Samson’s biggest enemy was?  His greatest enemy was the enemy within, himself.  Have you heard the expression, “We have met the enemy, and he is us”?  That is exactly what happened to Samson.  One of our favorite old hymns of invitation is “Just As I Am.”  The third verse of that hymn says, “Just as I am tho’ tossed about With many a conflict, many a doubt, Fightings within and fears without, O Lamb of God, I come!”  Samson was a man who had fightings within and fears without.  His greatest enemy was himself.

Years ago when Clare and I lived in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, I went to a Boy Scout fundraising event and won one of the door prizes that businesses around town offered.  When I showed the card that stated I had won a free haircut, Clare, said, “I’m going with you.”  We went together to the business…named Delilah’s Den.  I sat in the chair as this gal cut my hair, and Clare watched.  The cut was fine, but Clare said as we left, “This is the last time you are coming here for a trim.  You won’t be coming back to this place.  You’ll go back to your regular barber from now on.”

Samson had an eye for these Philistine women.  The one that caught his eye in particular was Delilah.  The song continues:

Delilah was a woman.  She was so fine and fair.
She had good looks and coal black hair.
Delilah climbed up on Samson’s knee.
She said, “Tell me where your strength lies, if you please.”
She talked so fine.  She talked so fair.
Till Samson said, “Delilah, cut off my hair.
Shave my head just as clean as your hand
Then my strength will be like a natural man.”

The first story that comes to mind when you think about Samson is his relationship with Delilah. She was up to no good.  It seems as though they played games with each other.  Delilah questioned Samson about the source of his strength, but it may be that she was more interested in having some control over him.  Delilah’s Philistine cohorts insisted that she find the source of Samson’s strength.  The first time she questioned Samson, he told her, “Bind me with seven new bow strings.  That will destroy my strength.”  That tactic did not work.  He popped those straps as if they were nothing but kite strings.

The second time she asked, he advised, “You must bind me with seven new ropes.”  She called some helpers to bind Samson while he was asleep.  That attempt did not succeed either.

Next, he told her, “Plait my hair into seven braids and weave them into a loom.”  Again, Delilah brought helpers in while he slept.  When Samson awoke, he lifted up the loom, broke it into pieces, and escaped.  This attempt also failed.

Delilah’s cohorts insisted once more that she find the source of his strength, so she persisted.  Finally Samson revealed, “The secret is my hair.  I will lose my strength if you cut it off.”  Delilah must have seen Samson looking into whatever the Philistine version of a mirror was – a polished piece of glass, a reflecting pool – admiring those long locks.  While her husband slept on her lap, she called in a fellow to cut his hair.  Once his head was shaved, Samson no longer possessed any physical power.

I can only imagine what happened after Samson saw himself.  Someone has said that maybe it was not so great a loss that they gouged his eyes out.  He was so horrified when he saw his reflection.  Having your eyes gouged out would be a terrible, terrible punishment.  Samson had lived for himself.  He had sinned.

Three Hebrew words for “sin” are used in the Old Testament book of Psalms.  In Psalm 32, Verse 5, we find, “Then I acknowledge my sin to you.  It did not cover up my iniquity.  I said I will confess my transgressions to the Lord, and you forgave the guilt of my sin.”  The word translated “sin” means to miss the mark in our relationship to God.  When God has a plan, we simply do not hit the target.  We miss being the person God intends us to be.  The second word used here, “transgression” simply means to get out of bounds, to cross a line we are not supposed to cross.  For example, when we disobey God, we break a commandment, a covenant.  The third word, “iniquity,” means to be bent, crooked, or predisposed.  It is our inclination to violate what God intends for us.  It is our human nature to bend toward evil.  It is our tendency to do what is wrong.  Each of these three words describes Samson.  He yielded so many times to the temptations that came his way.  He yielded to his powerful addiction to women.  Spiritually speaking, I suppose that, like water, Samson sought the lowest level.

By the end of his relationship with Delilah, Samson had lost so much.  Once Delilah discovered the secret of his strength, she took physical power that from him.  Samson lost his spiritual vision about what God had in store for his life long before he lost his physical strength.  He refused to obey God and follow His plan.  He became a spiritual weakling.  Samson also lost his integrity.  We see him at a wheel, like an ox or a donkey.  He was turning a large stone to grind the corn of the Philistines.  He lost of vision, of course, when the Philistines gouged out his eyes.  We see Samson at his lowest point.  He was in a bind, he was in a grind, and he was blind.

Do you know how it feels to reach this point in your life?  Do you know how it feels to be on a treadmill going nowhere?  Do you know what it is like to be spiritually blind, to have completely lost sight of God’s intended purpose for you?  Do you know what it is like to be in bondage, bondage to things that inhibit your ability to be the person God has called you to be?  That is Samson’s condition of near the end of his life.

Our watchword here at Morningside is “Faith Honors God, and God Honors Faith.”  What happens when people do not respond to faith?  What happens when people decide to go their own way, do their own thing, live by their own wits instead of by faith?  You see what happens in human life.  Samson is Exhibit A.

In the last part of Samson’s story, we see a pathetic man, now taken into the temple of Dagon, the false god of the Philistines.  Chained between two of the huge pillars that support the temple, he called upon God.  His entreaty was an act of repentance.  He returned to God, praying that God would renew his strength one final time.  The Scripture says that his hair grew a little, and his strength returned.  Samson pulled the temple down, destroying so many of the Philistines, but also taking his own life.

I wish the sad story of Samson had a happy ending.  His life is an example of how God has created each of us to have great potential, how parents can dedicate their child to be holy, given to the Lord, and how all of that can go off track because the person refuses to follow God.  We see in Samson’s life the sin caused by missing the mark, by transgressing, by crossing the line, by having this bent toward the wrong, by making bad decisions.  Samson is an example of someone who had so much ability but who never understood his responsibility to God.  This story calls to my attention just how careful all of us have to be to heed God, to obey Him, and to live according to His will and not by our own wits.  We are all subject to this possibility.

Have you come to the place in your life when you feel as if you are in a bind, in a grind?  Do you feel as though you have lost your sense of vision?  Turn your eyes upon Jesus.  God has loved us, and He loves us so much He sent His Son Jesus into this world.  He wants us to accept that love by accepting His Son, Jesus Christ.  If you have never done that, could I extend that invitation to you?  We invite you to respond.

Kirk H. Neely
© January 2011

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