Samuel and Samson:
The Story of Two Nazirites
Sabbath Day Sermon, Saturday 31 July 2004
Why is it, I wonder, that so many of those great men of the Bible came to an unhappy end? When we read about the lives of great men we usually start at the beginning, chronologically-speaking, and then read our way through their lives. Because we are looking for the admirable in them we generally aren't so interested in the big mistakes they made in their lives. True, some of these men overcame the consequences of big mistakes, but it seems to me that far more did not. So as I lay meditating I decided to look at these great men's lives by starting at the end - because, really, what matters is how you end your life, not how you began it.
Ask a Jew to name his greatest hero and he will probably mention Solomon to you. Israel as a nation reached her height under this man's rulership. Or did it? Most Jews like to remember Solomon's achievements - his great empire, wealth, wisdom, and fame. Power, wealth, knowledge, and fame. And then I thought to myself: why do they like this man so much? Because, you see, over the years, I have come to dislike and even despise that man who had such great potential to be a mighty one for Yahweh but who sunk into the lowest abyss. So I shall briefly look at the end of his life. What was Solomon like? He was a pagan. He had rejected the God of his father, David. He was a debaucher and allowed his sexual lusts to not only burn him up but lead him into falsehood by marrying pagan wives. He corrupted his people with his degraded religion. He was a tyrant, who forced his people into slave labour, without pay, and taxed them into poverty so that he could live the luxurious life. So why do some people exalt Solomon? He was a failure. And today he is probably in hell. If the end of a life is what counts, then what went before was ultimately meaningless. Solomon the Great? No, Solomon the Apostate, Solomon the Depraved, Solomon the Fool. I don't want any of my children to imitate him. What greatness he indisputably possessed earlier in his reign he possessed only because Yahweh gifted it to him - he didn't earn it. Instead, he abused it, and thought himself more intelligent and wise than his counselors, his priests, the Torah and, ultimately, Yahweh Himself. Solomon is definitely not one of my heroes. He is a buffoon.
How many people do you know in the Bible who ended their days as great? How many do you know who stuck to the straight and narrow path and who ended their days in glory and honour, faithful to the last, someone whose life you would wish your sons to imitate in the knowledge that that in so doing they would earn for themselves a crown in heaven? Apart from Yah'shua (Jesus) Himself, who is our Chief Example, there are few others who grip my imagination. King David made two disastrous mistakes that left him repenting in sorrow all his life and sowed the seeds of trouble in his son Solomon. I love David in so many ways but I would not wish to end my days as he did, hounded by civil war and domestic strife.
Jeremiah used to be one of my heroes. A man of great sensitivity, courage, and resolution to do what was right in Yahweh's eyes. Don't misunderstand me, he had many admirable things about him that are worthy of emulation, but like too many others, he bitterly complained. I identify with him because I, too, have bitterly complained, but such is not edifying. Such does not build you up spiritually.
We all remember Jonah because of the whale. He was a hard one to mold in Yahweh's will. He did his job in the end - he went and preached to the Assyrians whom he loathed and despised because of all the cruelty they had done against his people, Israel. And he caused them to repent! But how did he end his life? Was he happy that his enemies had turned to Yahweh? Far from it. He ended his life pitifully. He was bitter and resentful. He continued to hate the Assyrians of Nineveh even after they had repented when he should have been rejoicing. Yahweh's patience and chastising had, ultimately, been in vain. He chose to hate and he died, we presume, in such a spirit. What a pathetic sight.
Frankly, the conduct of these men worries me: Yahweh used them mightily but in the end they rejected Him. That tells me something frightening about human nature: we can make the most foolish, thoughtless, stubborn and insane decisions about Yahweh after He has mightily revealed Himself. How could men be so stupid?! And yet that's what they did. Did they have a choice? Or were they driven by powers they had no control over? People like to blame the latter - when we fail to take responsibility for our own actions we are setting ourselves up for a terrible fall.
Apart from Yah'shua (Jesus) Himself, there are only two men whose lives are described as flawless, men who I greatly admire and who, one might say, I can 'recommend' whole-heartedly. The first was Joseph of Egypt who reflects in his nature the character of Yah'shua (Jesus) more than any other biblical personality. His story had always moved me to tears. He is a man I have been able to spontaneously love and respect who, more than any other human being apart from Christ Himself, I would love to have been. Of course, I am looking at the end of his life which was one of glory. His beginning was very unhappy. 30 years of deep sorrow because of betrayal, false accusation, imprisonment, and slavery. But, overnight, this dejected figure - because of his faithfulness to Yahweh - because of his patience, industry, courage, and generosity of spirit - was elevated to power, wealth, and fame in an instant. One minute he was a slave. The next he was Governor of Egypt and betrothed to a lovely woman who would be his faithful and loving companion. He got everything a man could desire. But none of it was of his own making. It was all gifted from heaven. He knew he had earned nothing. He understood that all he had was because of our Heavenly Father. And he knew that it was good. So should we.
The other man, whose story is very different from Joseph, was the last of Israel's judges, the prophet Samuel. He learned to know Yahweh as a boy, in fact, the best way to get to know God. Many boys and girls postpone making their commitment to Yahweh until later in life and don't know what they are throwing away. And because they do this, they have to wade through much affliction, tribulation, doubting, and overcoming of aspects of their lives they wished they had never lived. Samuel knew nothing of this. He began his life in the temple as a boy in the service of the High Priest Eli and witnessed first hand the corruption of his sons who had fallen into the type of temple prostitution practiced by the Canaanites. But he did not imitate them. Yahweh spoke to him and he remained attentive to the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) for the rest of his life.
Why did this happen? Two reasons I think. Firstly, his mother dedicated him as a Nazirite, someone especially consecrated to Yahweh. Instead of trying to possess him as her own, she gave him to Yahweh. This act of motherly sacrifice blessed both her and Samuel. She did what was right and in so doing spared her son the trials and vicissitudes of life that possessiveness bring to a child when it grows up. Secondly, Samuel possessed a godly character all of his own. He had a hunger for Yahweh and learned to know and love Him.
Today I want to contrast two men who began life the same way but ended it very differently. Samuel began in honour and died in honour as an old man. He was obedient and faithful. He started life as a Nazirite and ended it true to his vows and in right relationship with Yahweh. This name, incidentally, has nothing to do with the village of Nazareth where Yah'shua (Jesus) came from. It comes from the word nazir meaning to 'separate', 'consecrate' or 'abstain' and is related to another Hebrew word, nézer, meaning a 'diadem' or a 'crown of God'. In ancient Israel, a Nazirite separated himself from others by consecration to Yahweh with a special vow or covenant. This special order of discipleship in so many ways prefigures discipleship in the New Covenant under Yah'shua (Jesus).
What was so special about a Nazirite? Firstly, he could not drink alcohol. Why was alcohol forbidden? It was to safeguard the Nazirite from possession by a spirit other than that of Yahweh, whether demonic or human. This was the same covenant officiating priests entered, so they could more worthily approach Yahweh and have a clear mind at all times. This same restriction applies to all true Christians for as we are told in the New Testament, all who are truly born again of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) are New Covenant priests, separated for service to Yahweh (1 Pet.2:9). That is why, like the Rechabites (Jer.35), we as a people abstain totally.
The second restriction was that he could not cut his hair so long as he was under this vow, and the third that he was not allowed to go near, let alone touch, a dead body (Num.6). If he inadvertently touched a dead body, the Nazirite had to undergo a set of closely-detailed purification rites, and begin all over again. In all other respects, he could carry on a normal social life.
Now the last two restrictions may seem strange to some but nothing that Yahweh does is purposeless. From a purely hygienic point-of-view, the rule that Israelites not touch dead bodies has resulted in, for example, the Jews of Europe during the Middle Ages mostly escaping the plagues whilst Christians, who did not observe this rule, were smitten. But it is not the biological aspects that concern me, but the spiritual. Let's quickly examine them.
Keeping away from dead bodies symbolises the commandment of Yahweh given to all believers to keep away from those things that would cause spiritual death. This means not simply avoiding contact with such things but keeping a healthy distance from them. We are commanded to have nothing to do with the world system, and yet believers have flaunted this without pause over the last two millennia. It has caused so much of the apostacy, evil and misery in Christendom. Many believers have this naïve and stupid notion that they can interact with Babylon and not be affected by it. And yet, time and time again, with regular monotony, the moment Yahweh's people cease to be separate, they start gradually imitating the ways of the world and are usually overcome by it. Indeed, pastors like myself can preach this again and again, but notwithstanding, believers throw all caution to the wind and interface with the world in reckless abandon. They have all kinds of rationalisations. You know them. Such as, "Oh, I am strong, this won't affect me". This was Solomon's foolish attitude, he who was so wise and intelligent, and he became a pagan for his stupidity, steeped in the occult and demonism. The Nazirite vow to keep a safe distance from dead bodies is reflected in the commandment given to Christians to have nothing to do with the world system except, where necessary, to earn a living, and to witness. When you embrace the world system, in whatever degree, you shed the Ruach Elohim (Spirit of God) and embrace the spirit of that system, that which the scripture calls the haunt of devils and every unclean bird (Rev.18:2). You can ridicule such a notion as much as you like but I guarantee that you will be negatively impacted by it, just as I guarantee that today is Saturday. So that is what keeping away from corpses means - it means stay away from that which is spiritually dead and decaying unless you want to join it and becdome a part of it.
What about the long hair? That sounds strange because men are commanded not to grow their hair long like women, for whom long hair is a glory (1 Cor.11:14-15). Men are not to look like women in clothing or in the way they arrange their hair. A clue to this Nazirite vow is to be found in another Hebrew word, názîr, which means 'unpruned vine' and finds its parallel in an agricultural law, namely, leaving a field fallow in the 7th year and also in the Year if Jubilee. During that time farmers were forbidden to till the ground, plant and harvest. It was to be allowed to grow wild (Lev.25:5,11). The purpose of this was to allow the field to regain the minerals and basic goodness lost to the crops in the six years of cultivation. The long hair symbolises this 'wild year', a time when energy and nutrients could be put back into the soil by nature. Until recent times, all farmers in the West did this, when greed pushed competitive farmers into ignoring this law. And it is a scientifically proven fact that allowing a field to be fallow a year in seven is chemically beneficial.
Notice as well that there are two 'resting periods' - a one in seven years resting periods, that corresponds to the weekly day of rest or Sabbath, and also the Millennial Rest that comes after the current 6,000 years of history are completed - and a one in 50 years rest at the Jubilee, which represents the end of the universe as we know it, before it is rolled up as a scroll and a new earth and a new heaven are made, when judgment and punishment come to an end, and hell finally ceases to exist.
Indeed, there were two types of Nazirite - there were those who were consecrated for life (like Samuel), who represent the Jubilee - and those who entered the covenant for a fixed amount of time - the majority of those who entered this order. At the completion of their tenure, those not under lifelong covenants had their hair cut off by the priest and burned on the altar. After a number of other rituals he was released from his vow.
So we see, then, that the Nazirite vow was a type of New Covenant or Christian discipleship. The most blessed are, of course, those who enter vows for life, as Samuel did, whose exemplary life is a testimony of how Yahweh blesses those who are true to covenant.
Which beings me to the second character - another Nazirite - who did not fare so well as Samuel, and whose story is recorded to us as a warning. Moreover, this Nazirite is so typical of your Christian who starts out well - full of zeal for Yahweh - but who ends his life in carnal slavery and spiritual blindness. I am, of course, talking about the Judge Samson.
Samson - who hasn't heard of him? Amazing, isn't it? People remember Samson, who ended his life with his eyes gauged out turning an animal treadmill like a beast of burden, but forget Samuel who did not do great feats such as would catch the eye and yet whose works have earned him an immortal crown of glory in heaven. Why is this? It is because those who love heroes are often as blind as the heroes who themselves ended up life blind and pathetic. Like attracts like.
Samson had everything going for him. Like his successor, Samuel, he was dedicated to Yahweh as a lifelong Nazirite, and in the beginning he did mighty things for Israel in the Name and power of Yahweh. But he had a fatal weakness - a weakness that is hinted at in his name, which comes from the Hebrew shemesh meaning 'sun' - the name Samson means 'little sun' or 'sun-one'. The name has a double meaning. On the one hand, Samson had this heroic, miraculous sun-like strength which would be the envy of any boy or man. But on the other, it represents another, darker side connected with sun-worship, what today we would call hero-worship. It's an idolatry that all boys and men have to be on the alert against - the idolatry of worshipping naked strength and force - for this carnal tendency lies at the heart of paganism. When physical strength - which as the story of Samson reminds us, does not last - is the object of our admiration or adoration, then what really matters (because it is everlasting) - spiritual strength - is soon forgotten. There is, of course, nothing wrong with physical strength. Where it becomes a snare and a trap is when it ceases to serve the spirit and instead serves self, that thing scripture reminds us is dead.
Samson's strength deceived the man Samson just as Solomon's wisdom deceived the man Solomon. Both forgot its source by using it in a way Yahweh had forbidden. Now we know that many carnal women are turned on by big, muscular men. That's true today as it was anciently. The Philistines had a few of these 'giant men of renown', these heroes, such as Goliath whose father was doubtless alive during Samson's time. Great physical strength was as much admired then as it is today. The Greeks had their giant muscular heroes like Hercules. But whilst such brute strength can be used in the service of Yahweh to protect the weak and innocent, it can also be used to serve Satan's ends. What is important to Christians is what Yahweh said through Zechariah:
"Not by might nor by power, but by My Ruach (Spirit), says Yahweh of hosts" (Zech.4:6, NKJV).
and that is how Samson should have operated, just as Samuel did. Instead, he led a double life. On the one hand, he used his brute strength to challenge and destroy groups of Israel's Philistine oppressors, and on the other to go chasing pagan women. At Timnah Samson demonstrated the dark, carnal forces that steered him, first by wanting to marry a Philistine woman contrary to Yahweh's Torah, and second by succumbing to the spirit of hate and revenge when the Philistines murdered his Philistine wife and father-in-law. This weakness for pagan women, as we all know, led to his eventual downfall. Satan set up Delilah to trap him and break not only Yahweh's laws of chastity but also his Nazirite vow, resulting in the loss of his supernatural strength when she cut his hair. Samson was ruined by lust turned into debauchery. He abandoned his people and his mission and made his home amongst the enemy.
What happened to the hero of Lehi, who slew 1,000 Philistines single-handedly with the jawbone of an ass? He ended up a prisoner in Gaza, his eyes put out, and forced into humiliating labour, and made to entertain the Philistine lords as a clown. Yes, he destroyed the temple of Dagon in his last act of repentance, killing more Philistines then than he had probably killed in his lifetime. But was this the way Yahweh intended him to end his life? He never had a family or a marriage - he had no descendants. He did not live to a ripe old age like Samuel who remained true. Half of his life was wasted - thrown away.
Now you may not think that Samson's life could have any relevance to an ordinary Christian like you today, and certainly not to you sitting here in this congregation. But it has every relevance. Every one of you is a potential Samson. You have all been called into Yahweh's service, to consecrate your lives to him, and be blessed by Him, you and your families. But Satan is not idle. He exploits self-confidence. Who amongst us has not, at some time in his or her life, been consumed by vain confidence? Who amongst us has not been teased by the immoral and unbelieving of the opposite sex at some time and offered forbidden fruit? Delilah was a bewitching and seductive woman, very charming, very beautiful. He could have fled, as Joseph did, but he did not. He made the fatal mistake of staying behind. Be broke his covenants and vows, he went to bed with this high-class pagan prostitute, each time falling deeper and deeper under her enchantment. It was then that he fell under the spell of the pagan god Shemesh, a demon which makes appeal to men by flattering them and puffing them up in their hearts.
For 20 years he served Yahweh faithfully and then threw everything away. If he had persisted in his calling, he could have raised an army for Israel and driven the Philistines out of the land. Satan won that battle. Two more generations had to suffer before that was accomplished under Saul and David, all because of lust. Yes, the Israelites won the Battle of Ebenezer (1 Sam.7) soon after the Temple of Dagon was destroyed, but a battle is not a war. Samson succumbed to his lusts and allowed himself to be enchanted by a woman whom he thought loved him but who was, in fact, a spy in the pay of the Philistine lords and plotting to betray him. In the end, she did.
The story of Samson is the story of the ruination of thousands of believers. And yet many believers don't even start as Samson did, and are destroyed much earlier by Satan. Samson at least began his life under covenant and spiritual endowment. How many of you have neglected to place yourself under baptismal covenants and in so doing failed to receive your spiritual anointing? If you haven't, perhaps how is the time to repent and straighten your lives out before some Delilah - who can come in many forms - is sent by the enemy to ruin you. Amen.
This page was created on 28 September 2004
Last updated on 28 September 2004
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