The Story of Ruth (Ruth 1-4)

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Good morning. Please open your Bibles to Judges 21. Now, I know your bulletin says we are going to be in Ruth this morning, but we are going to start at the end of Judges, and I’ll explain why in a minute.

While you are turning there, I also want to recognize all the men and women from our church who have put in a lot of long days assisting with disaster relief after Tuesday’s tornado. This has been a unique situation this week, because we’ve got both the providers and the recipients of disaster relief here this morning. Some of you had storm damage. Others of you helped with storm damage. I had the privilege of going out on Wednesday and Thursday as a chaplain with Alabama disaster relief. Jeff Williams asked me at the end of Thursday if I could go out again on Friday, and I said, “not unless you’re ok with me just googling “Mother’s Day Sermon” and preaching something I find online. And Jeff said, “Well, ain’t that what you do every Sunday?”

So I say all that to say this morning may not be as prepared, may not be as polished, but for better or for worse, at least it’s all from me.

I actually started outlining this sermon in the shower on Thursday morning. I was thinking about how I would summarize the book of Ruth:

1.Ruth picks a spot to gather grain in someone’s field. It turns out to be Boaz’s field.

2.They get married.

3.They have a child.

4.And that child turns out to be the grandfather of King David, and eventually, Jesus is born from this family tree, and now we all have a chance at redemption through Jesus Christ.

So if you want to boil that down to a concise, easy-to-remember, preachery outline, here it is:

  1. Ruth picks a spot
  2. Ruth and Boaz tie the knot
  3. Together, they have a tot…
  4. …who is the ancestor of our only shot.

So really, that’s today’s sermon. And if you want to go ahead and be dismissed so you can get in front of the Mother’s Day lunch crowd at Olive Garden, I totally understand. But if you stick around, I want to show you one of the clearest Old Testament pictures of the gospel you’ll find.

Hopefully you’ve found Judges 21. And what I want to do is look at just the last two verses, and pretend like there is no break between the end of Judges and the beginning of Ruth. We are going to read it as if it was just the next paragraph in an ongoing story.

24 And the people of Israel departed from there at that time, every man to his tribe and family, and they went out from there every man to his inheritance.

25 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes..”
(Judges 21:24-25)

On the first day of our series on Judges, remember when I said that most Bible scholars believe the period of the Judges lasted between 350 and 400 years, but that there are a few who make a case for a period of around 150 years? I told you to come back on Mother’s Day to find out why. Today, you’re gonna find out why! So I am sure that that’s THE reason you showed up this morning!

I want to talk first about how Ruth is a bright spot in a dark time.  It’s a dark time for Israel in general. We’ve been talking about Judges for the past several weeks, and the last two verses of Judges really kind of sum up the entire book. Something awful happens in the last couple of chapters, and by the last two verses you see that Israelite society has pretty much fallen apart.  You can barely even call it a nation anymore. The people are divided, everyone is just worried about their own tribe and their own factions, and in verse 25, everyone is just doing what was right in their own eyes.

Whew. It’s a good thing we can’t relate to that today!

So it’s a dark time for Israel, but it’s a really dark time for Naomi as well. Let’s keep reading: 

1 In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. 2 The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. 3 But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, 5 and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.

Ruth 1:1-5

After this, they get back to Bethlehem. Naomi tells her daughters in law to go back to Moab, that even if she gave birth to sons that day, that she didn’t expect for Ruth and Orpah  to wait around for them. So Orpah turns back and goes home to Moab, but Ruth gives her famous response, which has probably shown up in more wedding ceremonies than it actually should–

16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”

This is a beautiful statement of commitment, but before you put it on the cover of your wedding order of service, just realize that it was spoken by a widow to her mother-in-law. It’s not really a statement of commitment between a husband and wife. So if you do include it in your wedding, just make sure you feel really good about your mother in law!

So Ruth is a bright spot at a dark time, both for Israel in general, and for Naomi in particular. But Naomi is, still, understandably, in her feelings. She’s been a refugee from her home because of a famine, and she’s lost her husband, both her children, and one of her daughters in law. Now she is returning to her home town of Bethlehem because she believes she has a better chance of being provided for in Israel than in Moab. But you can’t really blame her for feeling like God has turned against her. Check out what Naomi-from-the-block says to all her high school friends when she gets back to Bethlehem.

The women come out and they’re like, “Hey, isn’t that Naomi?” And Naomi says to them…

20 She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi;[a] call me Mara,[b] for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” (Ruth 1:20-21)

Some of you get this, don’t you? Thursday, a bunch of us were at the home of a woman who had a ginormous tree come down in her yard. As a chaplain, it was my job to come to the door and just talk with her while the rest of the team started in with the chainsaws.  First thing she said to me was, “Well, I’ll be honest. If this year doesn’t get better in a hurry, I’m just going to ask Jesus to take me home. [Explain her situation]

Mara is a Hebrew word that means “Bitter.” This is actually a good time to talk about the significance of a lot of these names–

Mahlon and Chilion probably didn’t date much in high school. It’s a little like naming your sons Broke and Homeless. 

Summarize all of chapter 2, about how Ruth met Boaz. In chapter 2:1, Boaz is described as a “worthy man.” More on that in a minute. After finding out who she was, he made sure everyone knew she was under his protection (verse 9). Not only did he give her permission to take water breaks alongside the young men (also verse 9), but later in the chapter, he actually served her himself.

14 And at mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here and eat some bread and dip your morsel in the wine.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed to her roasted grain. And she ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over. 15 When she rose to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her. 16 And also pull out some from the bundles for her and leave it for her to glean, and do not rebuke her.” (Ruth 2:14-15)

In verse 14, it says that she ate the roasted grain he served her from his own hand. He invited her to dip the bread into the wine with him. Then, as if that wasn’t blessing enough, he instructed his servants to pull out some of the sheaves from the bundles that had already been harvested and drop them for her to glean. He allowed her the dignity of work, but he also provided for her above and beyond. So he provided for her, protected her, served her, respected her, and blessed her above and beyond.

And this is when you begin to see why the book of Ruth made it into the Bible. If there’s one thing that you’ve learned over the past three years in Sunday School, it’s that every story in the Bible-–Old and New Testament– is designed to point to Jesus!

Charles Spurgeon, one of the greatest preachers in the English language, made the comparisons between Boaz in this chapter and Jesus. In his devotional book Morning and Evening, Spurgeon called Jesus “our glorious Boaz” wrote about this meal that Ruth had with Boaz and said,“Whenever we are privileged to eat of the bread which Jesus gives, we are, like

“Whenever we are privileged to eat of the bread which Jesus gives, we are, like Ruth, satisfied with the full and sweet repast. When Jesus is the host no guest goes empty from the table. Our head is satisfied with the precious truth which Christ reveals; our heart is content with Jesus, as the altogether lovely object of affection; our hope is satisfied, for whom have we in heaven but Jesus? and our desire is satiated, for what can we wish for more than “to know Christ and to be found in Him?

Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening

And now, let’s talk about Ruth.

Ruth’s character– she is working hard. Scholars say that the amount she gleaned in one day was the typical yield for two weeks’ work. Even though she doesn’t know who Boaz is, Boaz knows who she is. He knows what she sacrificed for the sake of her mother in law, who don’t forget is his relative.

But Ruth doesn’t meet her sugar daddy and then forget about Naomi. She doesn’t decide that her ship has come in and start buying bridal magazines and practicing writing ”Mrs. Boaz” over and over. Look at Ruth 2:17:

17 So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah[b] of barley. 18 And she took it up and went into the city. Her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also brought out and gave her what food she had left over after being satisfied. 

In Ruth 3:11, Boaz calls Ruth a “worthy woman,” or a woman of noble character. The only other woman in Scripture who gets that description is the ideal, hypothetical, theoretical, seemingly unattainable woman of Proverbs 31

We actually talk about her almost every Mother’s Day– the same way we talk about the birth of Jesus at Christmas and the resurrection of Jesus on Easter. If you come to church on Mother’s Day, there is like a 90% chance you are going to hear about the wife of noble character from Proverbs 31. But in Ruth, the theoretical description becomes flesh and bone. Ruth is proof it can be done!

But then there’s Boaz and his character. When Boaz is introduced in Ruth 2:1, he is introduced as a worthy man. Same word!

So when we get to chapter 3, both Ruth and Boaz have shown that they are people of noble character.

And its important to keep that in mind when we look at chapter 3, because there has been a lot of speculation and questions throughout history about exactly what happened at the threshing floor. Here’s what we know:

In verses 1-5 of chapter 3, Naomi realizes that Boaz is what is called a kinsman-redeemer. In Levitical law, if a woman’s husband died, his nearest relative was expected to marry the widow, assume the debts of the dead family member, and work his land.  That way, his property wouldn’t be passed to someone from another tribe. Also, any children they had together would be considered the sons of the dead man. So Naomi realizes that in God’s providence, Ruth “just so happened” to have been working in the field of one of her kinsman redeemers. So she gets Ruth ready for date night.

Ruth goes to the threshing floor, waits until Boaz has had plenty to eat and maybe a little too much to drink, then goes and lays down at his feet.

Now,  I don’t want you to read Ruth 3 and think that Ruth did something sketchy or inappropriate by coming to the threshing floor at night and uncovering Boaz’s feet. You will read in some commentaries that “uncovering thefeet” might have been polite language for something else. But realize that  before this encounter and after the encounter, she is described as a woman of noble character.

8 At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! 9 He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings[a] over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” (Ruth 3:8-9)

Ruth is asking Boaz to receive her and be her redeemer. She calls herself a servant. She submits herself to the authority and the protection of Boaz. And she calls him “a redeemer.”

But notice this: Ruth doesn’t yet call Boaz “her redeemer.” Yes, she submits herself to the authority and the protection of Boaz. But let’s be clear that Boaz is the agent of her redemption.

Let’s be clear that Boaz is the agent of her redemption. Ruth has made her request. She has acknowledged that Boaz is able to save her, but it’s Boaz that does the saving.

Remember, the whole point of the book of Ruth is to point us to Jesus. Jesus is our great and glorious Boaz. And this is a beautiful picture of what it means to ask Jesus to be our Lord and Savior. We come to him as His servant. We ask Him to cover our sins, just like Ruth asked Boaz to spread his cloak over her.

We acknowledge that he is able to save, just as Ruth said, “You are a redeemer.”

And then, we ask him to save US.

Can we do something together? Can we agree that when we talk about someone getting saved, we don’t talk about them accepting Jesus? Salvation isn’t when we accept Jesus. It’s not like “The Voice,” where you hear Jesus sing, and you turn your chair around and hit the button and say, “Hey, Jesus. I want you on Team James.”

Salvation is when we ask Jesus to accept us. And the story of Ruth reminds us to get that right. But let’s also remember that Boaz just points to Jesus. He isn’t Jesus. Verse 12 points out that legally, there is a closer relative to Naomi that should get the first right of refusal.

So in chapters 3-4, Boaz tells Ruth to stay there until morning, and the next day Boaz meets the other relative to see if he wants to exercise his right of first refusal. And at first, he’s all ready to get Naomi’s land. But then Boaz says, in 4:5, ok, but just know that on the day you get the field, you also get Ruth, and any children you have together are considered to be part of Naomi’s family, not yours.  And so, In one of the greatest ironies of history, This nearer relative turns Ruth down, and look at why:

6 Then the redeemer said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.” (Ruth 4:6)

This guy is worried about his inheritance, so he rejects Ruth. By the way, do you know what this guy’s name is?

Neither do I! Neither does anyone else, ever, in all history. We will always know the name of Boaz. But the guy who is worried about his inheritance and his legacy disappears from history!

Here is yet another foreshadowing of the gospel. Jesus said in Matthew 16, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will save it. When we reject Jesus’ offer of redemption, we gain the world, but lose our soul.

If you are following the outline, here’s what you’ve got so far:

1.Ruth is a bright spot.

2. Boaz ties the knot. And number three…Together, they have a tot.

So Ruth and Boaz get married, and they consummate the marriage, and a child is born to them. But when you look closely at chapter 4, you see something really interesting. Here you have two people of noble character. Their personalities have been defined by sacrificial serving. Ruth has sacrificially met Naomi’s needs. Boaz has sacrificially met Ruth’s needs. And that a son is born to them, look at verse 14 and following:

14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! 15 He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” 16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. 17 And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David. (Ruth 4:14-17)

With these verses, it starts to dawn on us that this isn’t really the story of Ruth’s redemption. It’s the story of Naomi’s redemption. Naomi went from “sweet and pleasant” to “bitter” and now she’s back to Naomi again. Ruth is the one who gives birth to a son.

But verse 17 says that the women of the neighborhood were the ones who named the baby. (Cody and Kendyl, is that how you named Eden? Did you get on the neighborhood facebook page and do a survey?

Obed is a Hebrew name that means “serving”

THIS IS THE GOSPEL!

A willing servant (Mary), gives birth to a son, Jesus. But when the prophet Isaiah described this, he didn’t say, “For unto her a child is born.” He said, “Unto us a child is born!”

Mary didn’t name the child. His name was picked out by someone else.

And just as Obed’s name means “serve,” and he redeemed Naomi, God’s word says that Jesus didn’t come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Centuries after this, Matthew would begin his gospel account with this story. And this, by the way, is why some people argue for a shorter time period for the Judges. Remember that Rahab was the prostitute from Jericho who sheltered the spies at the beginning of Joshua. So if Matthew didn’t skip any generations, then there were only four generations from the beginning of Joshua to the end of Judges, the beginning of Saul’s reign, and the birth of David.

But don’t you see that the story of redemption in Ruth is so much bigger than just the love story between Ruth and Boaz. It’s Naomi’s story of redemption. And through Jesus, it is our story as well. 

[INVITATION]

Samson, Part 2: Kryptonite


Summary: We all deal with little pieces of our world that can sap us our strength and immobilize us. Learn how to identify your Kryptonite and how, with God’s help, to neutralize it.

Good morning. Please turn in your Bibles to Judges chapter 14. I think this is going to be our last sermon in this series. Next week, brother Mel Johnson will be filling in while I’m at kids camp. However, there is a whole lot to cover in these three chapters, so if we don’t get to all of it today, we’ll put a bookmark here and finish up when I get back.

Also, I want to let you know that throughout this series I’ve really benefitted from the work some others have done on the book of Judges. There has been some controversy in Baptist circles over plagiarism in recent weeks, so, full disclosure, I’ve used some material from Tim Keller’s Judges for You commentary, JD Greaar’s sermon series Broken Saviors, and, for these messages on Samson in particular, Craig Groeschel’s book Fight, which our men’s ministry went through together last year. So, credit where credit is due.

Now, if you are a fan of Superman, you know what Superman’s weakness was, right? That’s right. Kryptonite. Kryptonite was little pieces of Superman’s home world of Krypton, which had made its way to earth. And when Superman was anywhere near it, his power was zapped away. And I think that’s actually a really good metaphor for some of the things that can zap away our power as followers of Jesus. You know, little chunks of the world that, if we continue to expose ourselves to them, will diminish our power and make otherwise strong believers weak.

God warns us in 1 John about these little chunks of the world. 1 John 2 puts it this way:

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life[c]—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

You’re going to see how the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride brought Samson down. He’s the ultimate Bible superhero. But just like Superman, and just like us today, there are chunks of the world that robbed him of his supernatural power. They made this strong man weak. And if we aren’t careful, they will make us weak too. So this morning as we look at the story of Samson, we are going to see the Kryptonite that made him weak. (Or, since it’s the story of Samson, maybe we should call it Samsonite. Because, you know, he had some baggage.). But then, in some of the comics, there was an antidote to the Kryptonite. So we will wrap up this morning talking about the antidotes to Samsonite. So let me pray for us before we dive in to God’s word.

[Pray]

[Recap from last weak]

• God’s people Israel was in the seventh cycle of sin, oppression, and deliverance. Unlike other cycles, the people did not cry out for repentance, and we will talk about why in just a minute. But because of God’s relentless pursuit of his people, he sent a deliverer anyway. Samson was set apart before he was even born. He was called to be a Nazirite, which meant he was forbidden from doing three things. He couldn’t touch a dead body (human or otherwise); he couldn’t drink alcohol, and he couldn’t cut his hair. And in return, God would empower him with supernatural, superhuman strength in order to deliver God’s people from the Philistines. So let’s see how this all played out. Follow along with me as I read Judges 14:1-9:

Samson went down to Timnah, and at Timnah he saw one of the daughters of the Philistines. 2 Then he came up and told his father and mother, “I saw one of the daughters of the Philistines at Timnah. Now get her for me as my wife.” 3 But his father and mother said to him, “Is there not a woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you must go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes.” 4 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. 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. 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.

Ok. So, here you see the first chunk of Kryptonite. Or Samsonite. Whatever. It’s Lust: Lust is the attitude that says I want it, even if its not right for me to have it.

Samson went down to Timnah, and at Timnah he saw one of the daughters of the Philistines.

Now, Timnah was actually a city within Israel. It was only about four miles away from Samson’s hometown of Zorah. So you might be wondering what a Philistine girl was doing in the middle of Israel in the first place. Hold that thought. But Samson sees her, and so he goes to his mom and dad and says, This is the girl for me. Get her for me!

Remember that God told Samson’s parents that Samson would be the one to deliver Israel from the Philistines. So they knew that to deliver a Philistine daughter to Samson was way out of bounds.

So they say to Samson, “Look: can’t you find a nice Jewish girl to settle down with? Why do you have to take a wife from these uncircumcised Philistines?” Quick word here: this is not a verse you can use to argue against interracial marriage. The important word here isn’t Philistine; it’s uncircumcised. There were plenty of interracial marriages God blessed. Moses married a Midianite woman and a Cushite woman. Boaz married Ruth, a Moabitess, and his mother was Rahab, who was a Canaanite. So their objection wasn’t that Samson was interested in someone from another race, but that she was under a different covenant. She was not a follower of the one true God, Yahweh.

But Samson wasn’t worried about little things like covenants and faithfulness to God. He was being driven by his lust, and so he says to his parents, “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes.”

That’s a key phrase to explain how lust works. Lust replaces what is right in God’s eyes with what is right in one’s own eyes. Lust says I want it, even if it isn’t good for me. I want it, even if it belongs to someone else. I want it, even if I belong to someone else.

Let me take just a moment to do a little sidebar. You might be wondering what the point of the Samson story is. Why is it even in the Bible?

I think it’s here because Israel was supposed to see itself in the story of Samson. Think about it. Israel was what Jacob’s name was changed to. Jacob was the grandson of Abraham and Sarah, who had never been able to have children. Similarly, Samson’s mother had also been barren, just like Sarah.

Israel was set apart from all the other people groups in the promised land. Through the Nazirite vow, Samson was supposed to be set apart as well. But just as Samson broke his vows when he chased after these pagan women, Israel broke the covenant with Yahweh when they chased after foreign gods.

And now you may start to see why Samson only had to go four miles from home to find a Philistine woman. Remember how Israel never cried out for deliverance from the Philistines? Part of that was because they had grown pretty comfortable with Philistine culture. They had been thoroughly assimilated into it by this point in their history.

On this Independence Day, it’s worth asking whether or not we as Americans have done the same thing. Has the church lost its relevance because it has tried to be too accommodating to the world? That can go in one of several ways. Tim Keller points out that for liberal churches, the temptation is to appeal to Americans’ idolization of personal choice and freedom and the rejection of absolute truth.

On the other hand, conservative churches can make an idol out of some idealized past. Or the good old days. Or a political party. And by so doing, we lose our distinctiveness in the world.

Other churches try to be so appealing that they hardly ever address issues like sin and repentance, and God’s just and righteous wrath against sin, and instead every sermon winds up being a self-help session on how to balance your budget or how to be better parents.

Samson didn’t have to go to Philistia to be seduced by the Philistines, because his people were already thoroughly bought into it. They didn’t cry out for repentance because they didn’t think they had anything to repent of.

Well, Samson’s lust isn’t just about his sexual appetite. It also is about his physical appetite. He goes down to Timnah with his mom and dad to negotiate with the girls family. And on the way, he gets attacked by a lion. Verse 6 says he tore the lion in pieces as one tears a young goat. I don’t even know what that means, but apparently young goat tearing was pretty common in those days.

Samson’s parents come to an agreement with the girl’s parents on a bride price, and they go back to Zorah. Then, a few days later, Samson goes back to Timnah to get married. And on the way, he sees the carcass of the young lion. It has apparently been long enough for a swarm of bees to have built a hive in the lion carcass, and there is honey in the hive, and Samson scoops some out and eats it.

First: ewww. Guys are just kind of gross that way.

Second, what was one of the points of the Nazirite vow? Right. Don’t touch a dead body. Let alone eat from its bloated carcass.

But again, this is what lust does. Lust says I want it, and I want it now, and I don’t care how wrong it is, or how dirty it is, or who else I drag down in order to get what I want (because when Samson gave some of the honey to his parents, he involved them in his sin).

Lust is a Kryptonite that won’t just destroy you, it will destroy the people that are close to you as well.

Now let’s look at another chunk of Kryptonite.

Verse 10 says that Samson throws a feast for the young men there in Timnah. The Hebrew language lets you know that it’s basically a multiday bachelor party for Samson and his thirty companions. And no, it’s not a dry bachelor party. In the original language it is referred to as a mizteh, which is essentially a week long kegger (what’s the second point of the Nazirite vow? No alcohol. So Samson has broken the second of the three vows.)

In the middle of this Oktoberfest, Samson suddenly remembers the lion. And he stands up and says, “Hey guys, I’ve got a riddle. And if you can figure it out, I’ll give you thirty sets of clothes. But if you can’t figure it out before the feast is over, you’ve gotta give me thirty sets of clothes.”

And they’re like, “Let’s hear it.” So in verse 14, Samson says,

“Out of the eater came something to eat.

Out of the strong came something sweet.”

Believe it or not, it actually rhymes in Hebrew, too!

But all the groomsmen are stumped. They ponder it for three days, and on the fourth day, they go to the bride to be and say, “If you don’t get the answer to this riddle, we’ll burn your father’s house down.” (Sidenote—single guys, be careful who you pick as groomsmen).

So in verse 16, in a foreshadowing of what will happen later with Delilah, Samson’s fiancé turns on the waterworks and says “You don’t love me. Otherwise you would tell me the riddle.” And she wears Samson down, and Samson tells her the riddle. Then she tells the riddle to the Philistine groomsmen, they win the bet, and Samson, who is NOT known for his beautiful love poetry, says in verse 18:

“If you had not plowed with my heifer,

you would not have found out my riddle.”

Single guys, I beg you. If you are getting married, thinking about getting married, dating, thinking about dating, whatever. If there’s even a girl you think you might be interested in: DON’T CALL HER A HEIFER. EVER. It won’t end well.

And it doesn’t end well for Samson. In a fit of rage, verse 19 says,

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. (14:19)

Throughout his life, Samson is driven by his rage. Every time he lashes out against the Philistines, its not to bring honor and glory to God, it’s to settle a personal score. It’s because he’s been insulted. This is what rage does. Rage says, “You’re gonna get it, and I’m going to be the one to give it to you.”

Sidebar: The Spirit of the Lord and Samson

Several times in these verses we see “The spirit of the Lord coming upon Samson.” (or rushing upon him if you’ve got the ESV.

• 14:6–6 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.

• 14:19–9 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.

• You see it one more time in 15:14, when the Philistines first try to bind him. He breaks the ropes like they were candle wicks, and then turns around and kills 1000 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey.

One of the questions we have to wrestle with in the Samson narrative is why God would keep using someone who was so fundamentally flawed?

Why would God allow his Spirit to empower someone, only to have him turn around and use that empowerment to vent his rage?

and why, instead of growing in godliness with every empowerment by the spirit, Samson seems to be growing farther apart from God instead of closer to him?

Here’s the thing: the Bible always makes a distinction between the gifts of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit. Gifts are for doing. Fruit is for being. Paul talks about gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14—healing, prophecy, tongues, and so forth. But he breaks up that teaching with 1 Corinthians 13, which is all about love. And how does he begin that chapter?

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, I gain nothing.

What is the first fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5:22? Love, followed by joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.

Friends, I truly believe this is what has led to some of the character crises we have experienced in the church lately. We elevate exceptionally gifted communicators or musicians. We make celebrities out of them. But their giftedness has put them in a position that their character hasn’t caught up to yet, and when they experience a moral failure, it can almost always be traced back to a failure to cultivate the fruit of the spirit in their personal lives.

By the way, we do the same thing with government leaders as well, when we elect them because we believe they will get things done, but we turn a blind eye to issues of character.

Character matters more than ability. It’s true in ministry, its true in politics, and its true in our personal lives. Look at Psalm 78:72. When the Psalmist describes King David, the greatest king in Israel’s history, he says,

And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.

Integrity of heart always comes before skillful hands. Samson never got that lesson. He demonstrated amazing gifts of the Spirit without ever developing the fruit of the Spirit. And it destroyed him.

Let’s keep going. We actually get a two-fer in the next couple of verses: Two pieces of Kryptonite (Samsonite) in one section. Look at the last verse of chapter 15:

20 And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years.

I think there’s a lot between the lines here. You get the sense that maybe Samson has settled down in middle age. Twenty years go by since he killed a thousand men with a donkey’s jawbone. Scripture is silent on anything that happened during those two decades of leadership. So maybe Samson kept his nose clean. Maybe he’s grown complacent with the daily grind of leadership. Maybe he gets bored. Maybe he has a midlife crisis.

But for whatever reason, in 16:1, we see that

Samson went to Gaza, and there he saw a prostitute, and he went in to her.

Contrast this with Timnah, which was where he went the last time he was chasing skirts. Timnah was only four miles away from Samson’s hometown of Zorah, right in the middle of Israel. But Gaza was in the heart of Philistine territory, about 25 miles away. Craig Groeschel did the math, and figured out that there are about 56,250 steps in 25 miles. So Samson had 56,250 steps to think about the fact that visiting a prostitute is never a good idea. And it’s a reminder that people generally don’t ruin their lives all at once. Instead, it is almost always a series of small steps in the wrong direction.

Let’s look at the two pieces of kryptonite we observe here. The first is…

Entitlement: I deserve it. It’s the idea that after a streak of good behavior, or a season of nose-to-the-grindstone work, you deserve to cut loose a little. You’ve been good and obedient all through high school, and now that you’re in college it’s your chance to see if all those stories about fraternity parties are true. Or you’re an accountant and its April 16, after a grueling tax season, and you’re tempted to let your hair down and live a little.

[Personal story: getting drunk on the night of my high school graduation and being called out by someone who had looked up to me all through high school—“Congratulations—you’ve just blown four years of testimony in one night.”]

Samson may have believed that he was entitled to a night of letting his hair down (no pun intended). He might have thought that because he was God’s chosen servant, that he had experienced God’s favor from before birth, or that he had been faithful for such a long season, that he had accumulated enough brownie points to indulge a little.

This is the flip side of works-based religion. If someone feels like they have to work to earn God’s favor in the first place, then you get to the point of thinking you’ve earned enough on the balance sheet that you’ve got a surplus of good works, and you can get a little wild.

But that’s not how grace works.

Along with entitlement is the kryptonite of isolation. Have you noticed throughout Judges that the size of the army keeps shrinking? At the beginning of the book, the early Judges of Israel—Othniel and Deborah, led armies of thousands into battle. The middle judges—Gideon and Jephthah, had armies of hundreds. But when you get to Samson, well, Samson is an army of one. And when you are a lone wolf, it is that much easier to fall to temptation.

And so, here’s Samson, far from home, deep in enemy territory, and he falls victim to the Vegas mindset: What happens in Gaza stays in Gaza (by the way, has there ever been a more effective advertising campaign by a Board of Tourism than “What happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas”? It plays right into the way sin works. No accountability—far away from where you might be recognized, and Samson says, “I’m isolated. I can hide it.”

Listen: we may think we are hiding a besetting sin from the people around us. We get really good at deleting our internet history, or going incognito on Google, or only texting from our work phone, or whatever we wind up doing to hide our sin.

But it never works. Because whenever we try to hide from God, we always wind up running into Him. Because God pursues us. He loves us so much that He will expose what we think is our secret sin in order to call us back to Himself.

[Illustration: Allen’s seminary colleague and Ashley Madison]

All of this leads to the final piece of Kryptonite, and the one that ultimately led to Samson’s downfall, was…

Pride: I Can Handle It (16:4-21)

Recap Samson and Delilah. Emphasize that every time he gets a little closer to the truth. This is similar to guys and girls who are dating and keep pushing the boundaries of their physical relationship. We treat boundaries like the games on The Price is Right—“How close can I get to the actual retail price without going over?” Only it’s, how close can I get to the line of what’s appropriate without crossing the line?”

How many drinks can I have before I cross the threshold between buzzed and blackout?

How many times can I try a substance without being addicted.

So you see Samson pushing the limits a little further each time. First its bowstrings. Then its ropes. Then, in verse 13 its, “weave the seven locks of my hair into a loom.” See how much closer he gets to the line? Finally, look at verse 17. Samson tells Delilah the truth:

17 And he told her all his heart, and said to her, “A razor has never come upon my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If my head is shaved, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak and be like any other man.”

And even after she’s tried to kill him three times, he still falls asleep with his head in her lap! How big of an idiot is this guy? But this is how pride works. Pride says, “I can handle it. I’ve handled it before, and I’ve always been able to get out of it.” You see this in verse 20:

And he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the LORD had left him (16:20)

Sidebar: The Observable and the Invisible

Can I take just one more sidebar before we wrap this up? I want to suggest to you that the Lord leaving Samson didn’t happen the moment his hair was cut. That was just the final, visible, observable thing. Samson had character issues that were crippling him from the moment he is introduced, back in chapter 14. Like I said, ruining your life usually happens in a series of small steps. Its just that the last step is the one that is visible.

You know the rest of the story. [Recap]. As one preacher has said, sin binds you, and then it blinds you, and finally it grinds you.

Conclusion: The Antidote to Kryptonite

• Instead of “I want it…”, I want God.

Cultivate a desire for God. Psalm 42: as the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul longs for God.

• Instead of “You’re gonna get it…” God is just

Vengeance and justice are in God’s hands. Romans 12: Do not repay evil for evil, but leave it in God’s hands.

• Instead of “I deserve it…,”I deserve death.

We were the objects of God’s wrath. As sinners saved by grace, we deserve nothing. But because of God’s favor, we have received everything. So live with the conviction that you have been rescued, not that you are entitled.

• Instead of “I can hide it…” I can’t keep anything from you.

Hebrews 4:12—nothing is hidden from the one to whom we must give account. And this is actually good news. Think about secret sin like a cancer. When a surgeon goes in, you want the surgeon to find all the cancer, right?

• Instead of “I can handle it…” I can’t handle anything apart from you, God.

The starting point for salvation is to admit our utter helplessness before God.

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