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Book Review

Samson: Holiness, Character & Gifting by Maurice Smith

“And Samson said, ‘Let me die with the Philistines.’ Then he bowed with all his strength, and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life.” (Judges 16:30)

“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”
(Hebrews 12:14)

Earlier we discovered that, for the average Israelite, Old Testament holiness emphasized outward physical separation. As we saw, the rules of separation were fixed and inflexible, and the punishment for breaching them was swift and harsh (as Nadab and Abihu discovered). The separations of God’s holiness were not open to negotiation. One couldn’t simply conclude after prayer one morning that God was calling him or her “into the ministry” as a priest. If you weren’t a Levite and a son of Aaron, that simply wasn’t an option. So, besides obeying all of the rules of separation, how could the average Israelite express his or her desire for greater holiness and for greater personal devotion to God? Enter the Law of the Nazirite.

The Law of the Nazirite is described in detail in Numbers 6. A Nazirite was an individual (either man or woman) who entered into “a special vow . . . . to separate himself to the LORD” (Numbers 6:2). The vow of separation of the Nazirite was normally for a limited period of time and involved three commitments which were to last for the period of his (or her) separation. First, the Nazirite vow involved a personal commitment to separate oneself from wine or strong drink or anything made of grapes, “he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink. He shall drink no vinegar made from wine or strong drink and shall not drink any juice of grapes or eat grapes, fresh or dried. All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, not even the seeds or the skins” (Numbers 6:3-4).

Second, it involved a personal commitment not to cut one’s hair, “All the days of his vow of separation, no razor shall touch his head. Until the time is completed for which he separates himself to the LORD, he shall be holy. He shall let the locks of hair of his head grow long” (Numbers 6:5). This commitment effectively created a public declaration for all to see that this person was under the vow of separation and holiness of a Nazirite.

Third, the Nazirite vow involved a personal commitment not to go near a dead body, any dead body, including that of a family member (Numbers 6:6). The requirements were strict. The violation of any one of these commitments constituted a breach of the vow and required that the individual shave his head, offer appropriate sacrifices and start his vow over from the beginning, “the previous period shall be void, because his separation was defiled” (Numbers 6:12).

The separation of the Nazirites offered a public testimony to the challenge of being a holy people and sent a clear message:  Personal holiness requires a significant degree of personal discipline on our part. The Scriptures record three lifelong Nazirites-from-birth: Samuel, Samson and John the Baptist. We want to look at the life of one of them: Samson.

Samson The Nazirite

Samson was the 12th and last Judge of ancient Israel. His parents were from the small tribe of Dan. His life was auspicious from the beginning. An angel appeared to his parents and announced that they would have a son who  would be a Nazirite from His birth. Prior to his appearance as an adult the only thing we are told about Samson is that “the young man grew, and the LORD blessed him” (Judges 13:36). Fortunately for us, Samson’s life conveniently divides into three sections which we will briefly examine.

Samson’s Birth, which was supernaturally foretold (Judges 13).
Samson’s birth and ministry were supernaturally foretold. But that calling was first and foremost a calling to holiness and separation as a Nazirite, “Until the time is completed for which he separates himself to the LORD, he shall be holy” (Numbers 6:5). There is a lesson here that we must not miss. Supernatural calling does not guarantee either personal holiness or spiritual success. Nor does it give us a special “pass” when it comes to obedience. It simply makes us accountable to the promise on our lives.

Samson’s deliverance of Israel from the Philistines, which was spiritually powerful (Judges 14:1-15:20).
This section represents the “high water mark” of Samson’s ministry. In the five “incidents” recorded during this time, three of those five are characterized by the phrase “The Spirit of the Lord rushed upon Him” (see 14:6, 19, 15:14). But it was during this same time of apparent success, when he confounded the Philistines and killed just over 1,000 men, that  the flaws of Samson’s character began to manifest themselves.

The first issue arose in the incident of the lion, “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. 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” (Judges 14:5-6). Under the power of the Holy Spirit, Samson killed a charging lion with his bare hands.  No problem, and God was in it. The problem arose with what happened next:

“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. 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.” (Judges 14:8-9)

The Law of the Nazirite was clear. Contact with a dead body, any dead body, was a violation of the Nazirite vow. It meant immediate termination of the vow. The individual must shave his head and offer appropriate sacrifices and start the period of his vow over from the beginning (Numbers 6:9-12). If there could be such a thing as an “over the top” violation of his vow, scraping honey from the carcass of a dead lion would be it. Samson’s failure to inform his mother and father regarding the source of the honey strongly suggests that he understood what he had done. They, too, would have known that Samson had knowingly broken his Nazirite vow. And now he had lied about it.

A second issue arose with the marriage feast which Samson held in preparation for marrying a Philistine woman. The Scriptures tell us that the marriage was “from the LORD, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines.”(Judges 14:4) But the wedding feast itself presented a different problem. The Hebrew word translated “feast” in verse 10 (mishteh) specifically refers to a feast involving the consumption of alcohol. To put it in contemporary terms, Samson threw a seven-day long “kegger”. For the writer of Judges to use this term  can only be understood as a commentary on the obvious – by his actions Samson violated his Nazirite vow by consuming alcohol.

A third problem arose when Samson used “the fresh jawbone of a donkey” to kill a thousand Philistines in Judges 15:15: “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. 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.” (Judges 15:14-15)

The writer of Judges makes several important points in this story. He begins by making it clear that “the Spirit of the Lord” enabled Samson to break the ropes which were holding him. But the writer goes on to tell us that Samson found “a fresh jawbone” of a donkey. The clear implication here is that this was the jawbone of a recently dead carcass (another “dead body”). The writer then goes out of his way to tells us that Samson “put out his hand and took it”.  The writer wants us to understand that Samson knowingly “put out his hand” and violated his Nazirite vow. He could have looked for a different weapon, or he could have fought bare-handed (as he had done with the lion), or he could have run away. But he didn’t. He made a choice which was a direct and willful  violation of his calling and his vow to holiness and separation. We shouldn’t kid ourselves or excuse Samson at this point. God took note of this moment. The incident with the jawbone would be the last time that “the Spirit of the Lord” would ever come upon Samson. God’s patience had run out with His wayward Nazirite.

Samson’s personal destruction, which was breathtaking (Judges 16).
  The events of this phase of Samson’s life are difficult to read, like reading a novel where it quickly becomes obvious that things can’t end well for the main character, or like watching a slow-motion train wreck with someone we love onboard. But we humans have a morbid curiosity regarding such events (which television drama producers shamelessly exploit). We know we probably shouldn’t watch, but we do anyway.

Samson’s final journey into personal destruction began with a penchant for prostitutes. The fact that we are not stunned by such a profound moral failure by a leader whose public persona (the uncut hair of a Nazirite) was a lifelong call to holiness and separation to God gives silent testimony to our own “jadedness”. It’s a train wreck, but we’re accustomed to train wrecks. They’re entertaining to watch, especially if we “have no skin in the game”. If you and I had been present in Gaza to watch this train wreck we would have seen a Nazirite – a man called to holiness and separation to the God of Israel – visiting a prostitute. When his indiscretion is discovered by his Philistine pursuers he escapes by exercising – even flaunting – his God-given gift. The strength God gave him to save Israel from the Philistines Samson now uses to deliver himself from a visit to a prostitute. Samson picks up the gates of the city (gates, posts and bars) and carries them on His shoulders 40 miles to the town of Hebron. Why? Because he could.

Samson’s eventual (even inevitable) downfall came at the hands of another prostitute, named Delilah. Unaddressed character flaws have a cumulative effect on people’s lives. Apart from God’s chastening and discipline, each of us will eventually destroy with our character what we build with our gift. It is true of you, it is true of me, and it was true of Samson. Samson’s moral weakness, his lack of personal discipline, his lack of respect for his own calling, his flaunting of his gift and his contempt for his enemies eventually created the perfect storm of opportunity for the Philistines. When Samson finally confided the source of his strength to Delilah and allowed himself to be shorn, his lack of holiness caught up with him. In the blindness of his deeply flawed character, Samson expected to once again flaunt his gift and escape disaster as he had always done. But it was not to be. Instead, the writer of Judges pens the most dreaded words that any of us can hear spoken about us, “But he did not know that the LORD had left him” (Judges 16:20). Samson was captured by the Philistines who gouged out his eyes and shackled him to a grist mill to grind grain like a dumb animal. His descent from holiness to slavery was now complete.

But hair grows back. How long that process took we do not know. Perhaps about as long as it took for a humbled Samson to understand that his strength came, not from his hair, but from God, “Then Samson called to the LORD and said, ‘O Lord GOD, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes.’” (Judges 16:28) It wasn’t a particularly eloquent prayer, nor was it spiritually “deep”. It was the prayer of a defeated, blinded and humiliated man who was rediscovering that the Nazirite work of true holiness and separation must be lived out “not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit says the Lord of Hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).

“And Samson said, ‘Let me die with the Philistines.’ Then he bowed with all his strength, and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life.” (Judges 16:30)

Lessons In Holiness For A Samson-like Church

The life of Samson offers us some valuable lessons concerning holiness, devotion, gifting and character if we will take the time to listen. And it is vitally important that we take the time, because we have a Church today which increasingly looks more like Samson than Samuel . . . or Jesus.

In the world of politics and politicians we are told with increasing frequency that personal character is only incidental to one’s qualifications for public service.  We are told that “Does he have a vision” is a more relevant question than “Does he have a mistress”. Personal morals shouldn’t necessarily stand in the way of a man’s rise to greatness, we are assured.

Unfortunately, this attitude is quickly pervading the Church, with the result that we are seeing more Samsons than Samuels on display (and Jesus seems nowhere to be found). Mega-Church pastors accused of homosexual relationships with young men under their care remain in their positions and assure their congregations that all is well because they were able to reach an out-of-court financial settlement that will be covered by the Church’s insurance. Tattooed healing evangelists who punch, kick and slap demons out of victims are elevated to prominence by Christian media and receive public endorsements by Christian leaders who do so with knowledge of adulterous affairs and alcoholism. Teams of Christian body builders and martial arts practitioners break baseball bats across their knees, break handcuffs behind their backs and plow headlong through walls of burning 2X4s  as “evangelistic stunts” while their private lives unravel into divorce and bankruptcy, making headlines for internet bloggers who ridicule both them and Christianity. I could cite numerous other prominent examples (and so could you), but these are sufficient to make our point. Samson is alive and well in the Church today, and the consuming fire of God’s presence and holiness seems nowhere to be found.

Samson and his modern-day counterparts provide living examples of what happens when the Church allows  alleged “spiritual power” or “anointing” or “supernatural calling” or “profound gifting” to trump God’s call to character and holiness. Samson is the biblical arch-type of a called and gifted person who destroys with his character what he builds with his gift. Neither calling nor gifting nor anointing can deliver us from the unredeemed flaws of our character any more than they delivered Samson from his. Samson was called and gifted as a Nazirite, but the weaknesses of his character got in the way and eventually proved his undoing.

The excuses most frequently offered to justify such bad behavior and astounding lack of God’s holiness include such things as “He has such a powerful call upon his life” (so did Samson), or “He walks in such a powerful anointing” (so did Samson), or “He is accomplishing such amazing things” (so did Samson) or “He’s God’s chosen man” (so was Samson). In fact, almost every excuse that is offered today to justify the modern day “Samsons” of the church could have been offered to defend the Samson who frequented a prostitute in Gaza. What is often overlooked both then and now is that Samson ended his career in disgrace. The best epitaph that the writer of Scripture could muster in his defense was that “the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life.” In other words, Samson’s great achievement was that He killed just over 4,000 Philistines. Did he “save” Israel for God? Hardly. The remaining five chapters of the Book of Judges record the rapid spiral of Israel into spiritual adultery, idolatry, and social chaos. Spiritually speaking, killing more Philistines represented the least of their problems.

The lesson of Samson reminds us that the chastisements of God for our violations of His call to holiness can be severe. The gifts, the power and the anointings of God belong to Him. They are merely on loan to us so that He can use us to accomplish His greater purposes. They cannot excuse bad behavior and a lack of holiness on our part. When we forget Who God is and who we are in relation to him, when we violate the calling He has placed upon us and forget the purpose for which He called us, when we fail to treat Him as holy in the eyes of others, the consuming fire of God’s presence and holiness must respond for His own glory sake.

The Inextinguishable Blaze

It is time to reject the “Samsons” of the Church, along with of the pseudo-arguments offered in their defense.  We do not need “Samsons” who can wow the crowds by breaking stacks of bricks with their heads. We need “Samuels” who know the voice of God and who daily walk in the consuming fire of His Presence and holiness. It is time for the Church to once again embrace holiness and character as the foundation for profound gifting and anointing. It is time to embrace “the inextinguishable blaze” of the God Whose presence and holiness are “a consuming fire” in the midst of His people. A failure of holiness proved to be Samson’s undoing, and it will prove to be the undoing of the Church in our generation if we fail to embrace “the inextinguishable blaze”.

“O give me Samuel’s ear,
The open ear, O Lord,
Alive and quick to hear
Each whisper of Thy Word,
Like him to answer at Thy call,
And to obey Thee first of all.”

The world of our generation is perishing because it has yet to see the fire and the power of a genuinely holy and obedient Church. Are you prepared to show it to them, or are you content to be a “Samson”, rather than a “Samuel”?

Chapter 9 – Samson: Holiness, Character & Gifting
From “The Inextinguishable Blaze” by Maurice Smith
© Copyright 2012 Rising River Media

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2 Responses to “Samson: Holiness, Character & Gifting by Maurice Smith”

  1. The teaching here is incomparable.Very educative and the philosophy of it goes down to the early priest of God. Thanks for the good job.

    Posted by Passc | April 20, 2012, 7:55 am
  2. Not having read the entire book I cannot speak to the author’s full position. However, as stated in this chapter regarding Samson’s failure, I must respond that it is not an either/or matter, i.e., either anointing and power, or a holy, intimate walk with God. Both are desperately needed by the end time Church for its calling in this increasingly wicked, sick world today!
    Without the fullness of the Holy Spirit unknown in most of the Church today, one is powerless to live above carnality.
    For many in the charismatic movement it meant only power. And certainly the powerless church today is not winning the battle with the enemy; without the power of the Holy Spirit to walk in the Spirit rather than the carnal flesh, the Gospel is especially offensive to the world as the enemy works through the flesh to glorify himself.
    However, Clayt Sonmore, former VP of the Full Gospel Businessmen, and author of “Show the House to the House,” upon his resignation, wrote at length about the critical need in the charistmatic movement also for repentance, holiness, and intimacy with our Lord Jesus Christ, not seeking only the power gifts of the HOLY Spirit.
    God intends the Gifts, the fruit, and a close relationship in holiness…for those overcomers walking in white as described in the book of Revelation, in the last days. May we follow on to experience and minister in all this sinful and sick world–and Church, so need in this hour.
    Seeking to KNOW Him…

    Posted by JW | May 6, 2012, 11:17 am

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