“And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years.” Judges 15:20
“Samson went to Gaza, and there he saw a prostitute, and he went in to her.” Judges 16:1 ESV
The longer you are in a certain job, the more confident you become in it. Rather than waking up in the morning and hoping you can please your boss and exceed expectations, you wake up saying, “I’ve got this.”
Public ministry is no exception. When you are fresh out of seminary, or when you are first called to a new church, you want to hit your marks. You pursue your calling with passion. You daily pray for God’s strength, and acknowledge that you can’t do it on your own. But over time, you get comfortable in ministry. The public persona of a pastor is of God’s representative on earth. So you start to believe your own press. You begin to think that you can get away with pretty much anything. And you become very, very good at maintaining appearances.
Samson judged Israel for twenty years. For the sake of the analogy, let’s call that public ministry. It seems to me that this statement at the end of chapter 15 may reflect a period of Samson settling into the role. There were some early fireworks like we read about yesterday, but things have been pretty stable for a couple of decades. So maybe he’s complacent. Maybe he’s confident in his role as “God’s man” for Israel. Maybe for twenty years he’s been coasting on what he accomplished in the early days of ministry.
In the first verse of Judges 16, we see Samson on a road trip to Gaza—20 miles away, in Philistine territory. Temptation comes in the form of a seductive prostitute, and Samson falls, perhaps rationalizing that no one knows him there. In Gaza, he doesn’t have to act like Israel’s judge. He can—no pun intended—let his hair down.
The hair. The most visible aspect of the Nazirite vow. Samson could abandon every other term of the vow, and no one would know. And as long as Samson looked like a Nazirite on the outside, he believed it didn’t really matter what was happening on the inside. After Delilah succeeded in getting Samson to share his secret and cut his hair, Judges 16:20 says that he “didn’t realize the Lord had left him.” The bigger tragedy, I think, is that Samson never realized he had left the Lord.
Here’s the truth: we often are never aware of the decay on the inside of a person until there’s something observable on the outside. It’s only when the affair comes to light, or the police pull you over, or the accountants find the discrepancy in the books. That’s when the facade cracks.
Pastors and ministers, don’t get complacent. Don’t ever wake up in the morning believing you can do this job under your own strength. And when you are away from home, don’t fall for the lie that you are “off the clock,” and that what happens in Gaza will stay in Gaza.
It will cost you.