Judges Chapter Thirteen
The Philistines, Samson announced. (1-7) The angel appears to Manoah. (8-14) Manoah's sacrifice. (15-23) Birth of Samson. (24,25)
Commentary on Judges 13:1-7
(Read Judges 13:1-7)
Israel did evil: then God delivered them again into the hands of the Philistines. When Israel was in this distress, Samson was born. His parents had been long childless. Many eminent persons were born of such mothers. Mercies long waited for, often prove signal mercies; and by them others may be encouraged to continue their hope in God's mercy. The angel notices her affliction. God often sends comfort to his people very seasonably, when they feel their troubles most. This deliverer of Israel must be devoted to God. Manoah's wife was satisfied that the messenger was of God. She gave her husband a particular account, both of the promise and of the precept. Husbands and wives should tell each other their experiences of communion with God, and their improvements in acquaintance with him, that they may help each other in the way that is holy.
Commentary on Judges 13:8-14
(Read Judges 13:8-14)
Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet, as Manoah, have believed. Good men are more careful and desirous to know the duty to be done by them, than to know the events concerning them: duty is ours, events are God's. God will guide those by his counsel, who desire to know their duty, and apply to him to teach them. Pious parents, especially, will beg Divine assistance. The angel repeats the directions he had before given. There is need of much care for the right ordering both of ourselves and our children, that we may be duly separate from the world, and living sacrifices to the Lord.
Commentary on Judges 13:15-23
(Read Judges 13:15-23)
What Manoah asked for instruction in his duty, he was readily told; but what he asked to gratify his curiosity, was denied. God has in his word given full directions concerning our duty, but never designed to answer other questionings. There are secret things which belong not to us, of which we must be quite contented to be ignorant, while in this world. The name of our Lord is wonderful and secret; but by his wonderful works he makes himself known as far as is needful for us. Prayer is the ascent of the soul to God. But without Christ in the heart by faith, our services are offensive smoke; in him, acceptable flame. We may apply this to Christ's sacrifice of himself for us; he ascended in the flame of his own offering, for by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, Hebrews 9:12. In Manoah's reflections there is great fear; We shall surely die. In his wife's reflection there is great faith. As a help meet for him, she encouraged him. Let believers who have had communion with God in the word and prayer, to whom he has graciously manifested himself, and who have had reason to think God has accepted their works, take encouragement from thence in a cloudy and dark day. God would not have done what he has done for my soul, if he had designed to forsake me, and leave me to perish at last; for his work is perfect. Learn to reason as Manoah's wife; If God designed me to perish under his wrath, he would not give me tokens of his favour.
Commentary on Judges 13:24,25
(Read Judges 13:24,25)
The Spirit of the Lord began to move Samson when a youth. This was evidence that the Lord blessed him. Where God gives his blessing, he gives his Spirit to qualify for the blessing. Those are blessed indeed in whom the Spirit of grace begins to work in the days of their childhood. Samson drank no wine or strong drink, yet excelled in strength and courage, for he had the Spirit of God moving him; therefore be not drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on Judges》
 And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD delivered them into the hand of the Philistines forty years.
Did evil — That is, fell into idolatry, not after the death of Abdon the last judge, but in the days of the former judges.
Forty years — To be computed, not from Abdon's death, but before that time. And it is probable that great slaughter of the Ephraimites made by Jephthah, greatly encouraged the Philistines to rise against Israel, when one of their chief bulwarks was so much weakened; and therefore began to domineer over them not long after Jephthah's death. These were a very inconsiderable people. They had but five cities of any note. And yet when God used them as the staff in his hand, they were very oppressive and vexatious.
 And there was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren, and bare not.
Of the family — That is, of the tribe or people.
Bare not — An emphatical repetition of the same thing in other words, which is an usual elegancy both in scripture and other authors.
 And the angel of the LORD appeared unto the woman, and said unto her, Behold now, thou art barren, and bearest not: but thou shalt conceive, and bear a son.
The angel — The Son of God, yet distinguished from the Lord, because he appeared here in the form of a servant, as a messenger sent from God. The great Redeemer did in a particular manner concern himself about this typical redeemer.
 Now therefore beware, I pray thee, and drink not wine nor strong drink, and eat not any unclean thing:
Beware — Because the child was to be a Nazarite from the womb, verse 5, and from the conception; and because the mother's pollution extends to the child, she is enjoined from this time to observe the following rules belonging to the Nazarites.
Strong drink — Under which are comprehended the other particulars mentioned, Numbers 6:2-4.
Nor eat — Any of those meats forbidden, Leviticus 11:1-47, which were forbidden to all, but especially to the Nazarites.
 For, lo, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and no razor shall come on his head: for the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb: and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.
A Nazarite — A person consecrated to God's service.
Begin to deliver — And the deliverance shall be carried on and perfected by others, as it was by Eli, Samuel, and Saul; but especially by David. God chuses to carry on his work gradually and by several hands. One lays the foundation of a good work, another builds, and perhaps a third brings forth the top stone.
 Then the woman came and told her husband, saying, A man of God came unto me, and his countenance was like the countenance of an angel of God, very terrible: but I asked him not whence he was, neither told he me his name:
Man of God — A prophet, or sacred person, sent with a message from God.
Terrible — Or, venerable, awful, full of Majesty.
 And Manoah said, Now let thy words come to pass. How shall we order the child, and how shall we do unto him?
Let thy words — Or, thy words shall come to pass: I firmly believe thy promises shall be fulfilled.
How — What rules shall we observe about his education?
 And the angel of the LORD said unto Manoah, Of all that I said unto the woman let her beware.
Let her — Whilst the child is in her womb, and after the child is born let him observe the same orders.
 And Manoah said unto the angel of the LORD, I pray thee, let us detain thee, until we shall have made ready a kid for thee.
Made ready — Supposing him to be a man and a prophet, to whom he would in this manner express his respect, as was usual to strangers.
 And the angel of the LORD said unto Manoah, Though thou detain me, I will not eat of thy bread: and if thou wilt offer a burnt offering, thou must offer it unto the LORD. For Manoah knew not that he was an angel of the LORD.
Bread — That is, meat, as bread is commonly taken in scripture.
To the Lord — Not unto a man, as thou apprehendest me to be; but unto the Lord, as thou wilt by and by perceive me to be.
 And Manoah said unto the angel of the LORD, What is thy name, that when thy sayings come to pass we may do thee honour?
Honour — Either by making honourable mention of thee, or by shewing respect to thee, by a present, which they usually gave to prophets.
 And the angel of the LORD said unto him, Why askest thou thus after my name, seeing it is secret
Secret — Hidden from mortal men: or, wonderful, such as thou canst not comprehend: my nature and essence, (which is often signified by name in scripture) is incomprehensible. This shews, that this was the angel of the covenant, the Son of God.
 So Manoah took a kid with a meat offering, and offered it upon a rock unto the LORD: and the angel did wondrously; and Manoah and his wife looked on.
Meal-offering — Which were generally joined with the chief sacrifices.
A Rock — The angel's presence and command being a sufficient warrant for the offering of sacrifice by a person who was no priest, and in a place otherwise forbidden.
 For it came to pass, when the flame went up toward heaven from off the altar, that the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar. And Manoah and his wife looked on it, and fell on their faces to the ground.
The altar — That is, from that part of the rock which served instead of an altar, upon which the sacrifice was laid.
Ascended — To manifest his nature and essence to be spiritual.
Fell — Partly in reverence to that glorious presence manifested in so wonderful a manner: and partly, out of a religious horror and fear of death; for the prevention thereof they fell down in way of supplication to God.
 But his wife said unto him, If the LORD were pleased to kill us, he would not have received a burnt offering and a meat offering at our hands, neither would he have shewed us all these things, nor would as at this time have told us such things as these.
Nor would, … — This expression seems to have some emphasis in it, to enhance God's mercy to them, as being afforded them in a time of such grievous calamity; and in a time when the word of the lord was precious; and there was no open vision.
 And the woman bare a son, and called his name Samson: and the child grew, and the LORD blessed him.
Blessed him — That is, endowed him with all those graces and gifts of mind and body which were necessary for the work he was designed for.
 And the Spirit of the LORD began to move him at times in the camp of Dan between Zorah and Eshtaol.
To move — That is, to stir him up to heroical designs; to shew forth its power in the frame of his mind, and in the strength of his body, discovered to his neighbours in extraordinary actions; to encline his heart to great attempts for the help and deliverance of God's people, to give some essays of it to his brethren, and to seek all opportunities for it.
Of Dan — A place so called, either from the expedition of the Danites, Judges 18:11,12, which though placed after this history, was done before it: or from some other camp which the Danites had formed there, to give some check to the incursions of the Philistines.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on Judges》
13 Chapter 13
Manoah; and his wife.
The angelic appearances to Manoah and his wife
I. The unknown visitor. Manoah’s wife was just the woman to be visited by an angel--bold, energetic, large-hearted, believing. God’s gifts are regulated in their extent by our capacity for receiving them. We should have diviner visitations if we were fitted for them, or could appreciate them.
II. The fearful inference. We never get into the presence of the supernatural, but we are ready to say, “Let not God speak with us, or we die.” Whence comes this universal dread of God? I have seen a cross with the image of the dead Christ; the cross in the midst of nature’s fairest scenes, telling of sin, of suffering, of death. So there is always with us, in the midst of life’s engagements and joys, the shadow or the memory of some sin or sorrow. When God comes to a man, and separates him from other men the man feels, and confesses the sinfulness of his sin, and at first thinks he shall surely die. When God comes to us in His dispensations, when by a touch He causes our flesh to wither, when He removes friends, or strips us of property, we are filled with fear. It is only the sight of God in Christ “reconciling the world unto Himself,” the revelation of God in sacrifice, that can calm our minds and quiet our fears.
III. The conclusive argument. It is the woman’s: with her finer perceptions and keener senses, she sees the truth as by intuition--she does not arrive at the conclusion by the processes of an argument, she is guided by her emotional nature. There are some minds that possess the gift of seeing into the meaning of things, and instantly arriving at definite conclusions. We do not know how to construct an argument in reference to the Divine procedure; we are not sufficiently impressed by the past to infer the future; we need spiritual perceptions to see the real truth of spiritual things, and the intuitions of the heart may be left to help the judgment in its interpretations. If God has been at such pains to save us, then surely we shall not be left to perish. If there is a sacrifice for sin, then, sinners as we are, we may be saved through faith in Him “whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation.” We are not left without Divine manifestations. Christ has come, and has gone up again to heaven. Are we left without any manifestations of God? There are spiritual revelations for spiritual men. God does come to true and loving hearts. Love will always come to commune with love. (H. J. Bevis.)
Manoah and his wife: the representatives of two great prevalent moral states of mind in relation to God
I. A gloomy dread. This dread of God, which is all but universal--
1. Is an abnormal state of the soul. Antecedently it is impossible to believe that the God of infinite goodness would create beings to dread Him, and the revelations of His love and loveliness in nature prove that they are made to admire and adore Him. Whence came this dread, then? It springs from a sense of guilt.
2. Explains atheism. A desire to ignore and forget and destroy if possible the being we dread is natural. Because men dread God they do not like to retain Him in their thoughts.
3. Is the source of all blasphemous theologies. The being we dread, by the law of mind, we invest with the attributes of a monster. Much of our popular theology presents a God before whom the human heart cowers with horror and recoils with alarm.
4. Keeps the soul away from Him. We shrink from the object we dread, we turn our backs from such an one and hasten from his very shadow.
5. Reveals the necessity of Christ’s mission. With this dread in the human soul virtue and happiness are impossible. But how can it be removed? Only by such an appearance of God to the soul as we have in the all-loving tenderness of Christ. In Him God comes to man and says, “It is I, be not afraid.”
II. A cheering hope. The woman’s hope was based upon an interpretation of God’s dealing with them, and this indeed is a certain ground of hope. How has God dealt with us? “If the Lord were pleased to kill us”--
1. Would He have in our natures endowed us with such powers for enjoyment, and placed us in a world so full of blessedness and beauty?
2. Would He have continued our existence so long in such a world, notwithstanding all our transgressions?
3. Would He have sent His only begotten Son into the world to effect our salvation?
4. Would He have given us the gospel, the ministry, and all the morally restorative influences at work within us? (Homilist.)
God and His people
I. We may learn the loving forethought of God for His people. He never wounds them without at the same time making provision for their healing. Their emancipation may be only partial in the present; but it is certain in the future to be gloriously complete. The agents for bringing it about are in the counsels and resources of the Most High.
II. Parents may learn the right method of training their children for future service in the Church and the world (Judges 13:8). God’s teaching is necessary for the great and difficult work; and God’s teaching should be asked for and followed.
III. We may learn that eminent service for God is allied to eminent consecration to God. We must become Nazarites in the spiritual sense; and the measure of our usefulness will depend on the measure of our consecration.
IV. We may learn the duty of hopefulness in the midst of all darkness and perplexity (Judges 13:23). The bright hopefulness of Manoah’s wife rested on a solid foundation. But as believers in Christ we have even better grounds for looking with bright hopefulness in reference to every threatening visitation of Divine Providence. God has given to us richer tokens of His love (Romans 8:32). (Thomas Kirk.)
How shall we order the child.
Education of children
The proper idea of educating children is to fit them for the duties of life, and the realities of a fast-coming eternity. To do this they must be trained.
1. Training combines both instruction and government. Its field is both the mind and the body. To train a child requires patience, faith, courage, perseverance, and Divine assistance.
2. To bring up a child in “the nurture and admonition of the Lord,” instruction and example are essential. It is the nature of a child to imitate what is around it. Influences educate the child long before it is large enough to be sent from home to school. Let the home be for amusement, pleasure, knowledge, and religion as attractive as possible.
3. In the bringing up of children prayer, deep, earnest, believing prayer is essential. After all our solicitude and painstaking, and watching, and heart-bleeding, we have to trust them to God. (W. A. Scott, D. D.)
Money bequeathed by parents to their children
It comes out incidentally, but not the less certainly, in the teaching of the Lord, that parents are in some matters naturally capable of making the best choice for their offspring (Luke 11:13). Although they are evil, there are some things in which they can act aright. If the question relate to the kind of food that should be given to his child--whether a piece of bread or a stone, whether a fish or a serpent--the man is capable of judging. When a parent looks forward and attempts to provide for the future of his child, he is more at a loss than in the matter of choosing what food should be given to a hungry infant. It is when a man is called to do for his offspring what the lower creatures cannot do, that he most signally fails. He is insufficient for these things. Of the many influences which bear on the child’s wellbeing, and which the parent may in some measure control, I select only one. I limit the question to one object, and read it, How shall we order the child in regard to money? The estimate, the acquisition, the possession, the use, the loss of money, have a very material influence on the character, and station, and happiness of our children, in youth and onward to age. In these, as in other matters, parents have much in their power. By their method of ordering the child in these things, they may do much good or much evil.
I. In respect of money, how shall we order the child--the little child? How can you lecture an infant either on the proper value of money, or on the preposterous value that is often foolishly attached to it? Everything in its own place and time. Impress thereon a bias against the danger. Begin early to influence the infant mind. Show the child early the use of money--its use in obtaining necessaries, and in promoting works of benevolence. Train the child in the right direction as to the estimate of money, as to its use, and as to the objects on which it should be expended. In after life he will have much to do with it--teach him betimes to handle it aright. The infant is the germ of the man. The infant’s habits, and likings, and actings, are the rivulet, already settling its direction, which will soon swell into the strong stream of life.
II. In respect of money, how shall we order the youth as to the choice and opening up of his path in life? The wary seaman will give an undefined sunken rock a good offing. He will take care to err on the safe side. The general rule is, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added.” If this law were faithfully carried into practice, we would be safe. Deal honestly with yourselves when the prospect of an advantageous settlement appears. Judge righteous judgment, first as to the facts of the case, whether the money interest and the soul’s interest be in opposition. Then, secondly, if so, judge which of the two should be allowed to go to the wall. Does the soul’s safety overrule the prospect of wealth? or does the prospect of wealth silence your anxieties about the soul’s safety? I do not ask any parent to bind his son to a poor trade, if a more profitable one is within his reach; but I demand of every parent, as he owes allegiance to the King of kings, that he have and manifest a supreme concern for the spiritual life of his children, and that, under the guidance of this ruling passion, he frame his plans and make his arrangements for their outset in the world. Under the head of provision made for an outset in life, the subject of matrimonial alliance deserves special notice. To marry for the sake of money is a degradation of the human being, and a prostitution of the good ordinance of God. It is fraught with danger to present peace and future salvation.
III. How shall we order the child in respect to the acquisition and accumulation of money to be bequeathed as his portion? Beware of tacitly, acting on the supposition that the more money you leave to them, the more good you will do to them. We cannot specify a sum, and say it is lawful for a Christian parent to bequeath so much to his child, but unlawful to exceed it. But it does not follow from this that a Christian is at liberty to scrape together as much money as he can during his life, and simply bequeath it to his children when he comes to die. Although no specific rule can be laid down, some useful suggestions may be given. A man of wealth should consider well before he leaves a large fortune to his son. It may in some cases be safely done; but it is not to be done as a thing of course. You would not spread a press of sail on a ship unless you had previously satisfied yourself that it had been rendered steady by a sufficient weight of ballast. So should parents consider the character and capacity of their children, and not be instrumental in causing their shipwreck by giving them more than they can manage. And as to the cruelty of leaving large fortunes to unprotected orphan girls, it is difficult to speak of it with coolness. It is like spreading rank carrion round the defenceless lamb, to attract the vultures to their prey. The example of a judicious but generous expenditure of money by a parent is a more precious legacy to his child than all the accumulations that parsimony and pride could bequeath. Finally, a good rule for Christian parents is to let prayer and pains always go together. In so far as he labours to provide for the education and the comfort of his children, especially those who are not likely to be able to gain their own livelihood, a father is at liberty to ask God’s blessing on his efforts. But when one has already amassed many thousands, and is striving to amass more and more, to be left as a portion to his children, he would do well to add prayer to his pains. Let us remember that we and our children are under law to Christ, and on our way to the judgment. Let us act under the power of a world to come. Regarding money, like other talents, the command of the Lord is, not acquire and bequeath, but occupy. To use his money out well during his own life, is at once the best service to God which a parent can get of money, and the most valuable legacy which he can transmit to his child. (W. Arnot.)
Manoah knew not that he was an angel.--
Ah! how few of us think that the heavens and the earth, the beneficent ministry of the sun, the glory of the moon, the splendour of the stars, the joy of the summer, the storms of the winter, are all angels of the Lord, bringing to us some revelation of Him, some glad tidings of His love for us. How few of us listen when He speaks to us through the common blessings that we receive every day, through our years of health, through all the joys and sunny hopes of youth, through the strength of manhood, the bliss of love or the good gifts of wife or children! How few of us, when sorrow enters our dwelling, or when sickness comes, realise that an angel of the Lord has come to us--a messenger from God with something on his lips which God wishes us to listen to and profit by! Ah, no. Most of us, if not all of us, are in such circumstances like Manoah, I fear. We do not know that it is an angel of the Lord. Their message is not listened to, and we are none the better, none the wiser for our angel visitants. It is, perhaps, however, not quite the same with us, when the messenger comes in the form of a sorrow, a disappointment, some heavy loss or cross, or some sad bereavement. We may say that they readily regard it as an angel of the Lord, but not as an angel of love. They look upon it rather as a messenger of anger, sent to avenge or punish. They ask themselves, “Why, what evil have I done that this should have been laid upon me?” But suffering is not sent in anger, but in mercy. It is often at least sent, not to destroy, but to correct, to awake, perhaps, some Divine energy in our souls. God knows all our shortcomings and all the dangers that threaten us. He knows where our faith is weak, where our love is languishing, or where we may be misplacing it. Is He unkind to us if, in these circumstances, He employs some sufficient means of showing us our mistake--showing us that we have been over-estimating the strength of our faith, the quality of our love, or the measure of our patience? He comes to point out to us a fault that we might correct it--a fault that if we remain unconscious of it will work for us the most disastrous consequences. Could a greater service, then, be done us--a greater or kinder? (Wm. Ewen, B. D.)
We shall surely die, because we have seen God.--
The spirit world
I. The earthly life of man is in close proximity to the spirit world.
1. Locally proximate.
2. Relationally proximate.
3. Sympathetically proximate.
II. From this spirit world men sometimes receive personal communications.
III. The same communications affect different people in different ways. (Homilist.)
I. What peculiar impressions Divine manifestations make upon the mnd. He impresses us with a sense of our danger, that we may flee for refuge; with a sense of our pollution, that we may wash in the fountain which He has provided.
II. The difference there is in the knowledge and experience of the Lord’s people. What opposite conclusions do Manoah and his wife draw from the same event! He infers wrath; she, mercy. The former looks for destruction; the latter for salvation. Thus, there are degrees in grace. There is hope, and the full assurance of hope. Some have little faith; others are “strong in faith,” “rich in faith.” And this difference is not always to be judged of by the order of nature, or external advantages. We find here the weaker vessel the stronger believer.
III. The profit that is to be derived from a pious companion. Man is formed for society, and religion indulges and sanctifies the social principle. And if a man be concerned for his spiritual welfare, he will be glad to meet with those who are travelling the same road, and are partakers of the same hopes and fears: he will be thankful to have one near him who will watch over him, and admonish him; who by seasonable counsel will fix him when wavering, embolden him when timid, and comfort him when cast down. And it is to be observed, that in spiritual distress we are often suspicious of our own reasonings and conclusions: we know the deceitfulness of our own hearts, and are afraid lest while they encourage they should ensnare. We can depend with more confidence upon the declarations of our fellow Christians.
IV. How much there is in the Lord’s dealings with His people to encourage them at all times, if they have skill enough to discern it. How well did this woman reason! How naturally, yet how forcibly! “Nay--let us not turn that against us, which is really for us. Surely the tokens of His favour are not the pledges of His wrath.” Her conclusion is drawn from two things. First, the acceptance of their sacrifice. It is not His manner to accept the offering, and reject the person. Secondly, the secrets with which He had favoured them. This regards the birth of their son, his education, his deliverance of their country--if the accomplishment of this be certain, our destruction is impossible. Let us leave Manoah and his wife, and think of ourselves. It is a dreadful thing for God to kill us. What is the loss of property, of health, or even of life, to the loss of the soul? Hence it becomes unspeakably important to know how He means to deal with us. And there are satisfactory evidences that He is not our enemy, but our friend, and concerned for our welfare. Surely, He does not excite expectations to disappoint us; or desires, to torment us. Surely, He does not produce a new taste, a new appetite, without meaning to indulge, to relieve it. What He begins, He is able to finish; and when He begins, He designs to finish. (W. Jay.)
Manoah and his wife
I. observe the husband as representing human nature troubled with a sense of guilt. You say you walk about among God’s works, and wonder at their magnificence and beauty--why should you be afraid of Him? Why should a child be afraid of his father? Ah! why, indeed? Yet I believe you are afraid of God, and I would have you acknowledge it. God’s works are indeed very beautiful. He did paint those flowers which you admire, and clothe those fruit trees with their spring blossoms. But it is God, not as the painter of flowers, nor the giver of fruits, but as the avenger of sin, with whom you have to do. There is one place where you do expect you will meet with God, one place certainly. How dreadful is that place! You turn away from it. At all costs you would avoid it: I refer to the place of death. You will meet God there; and you feel the presentiment in the terrible thoughts of your heart.
II. The woman representing human nature when cheered with a sign of mercy. She correctly interpreted the signs of God’s propitiation, and received the consolatory assurance of deliverance from death. Comforted herself, she could comfort her husband with the assurances of mercy, and refer him for satisfaction and a good hope to the auspicious sign of reconciliation. Yet her signs of peace were not like yours, and her words but a poor interpretation of the gospel of your reconciliation. An angel in the flame ascending to heaven!--You see Christ in your own nature ascending to His Father. A kid for a burnt-offering!--You have a brother giving himself for you, a sacrifice and an offering of a sweet-smelling savour to God. Manoah chose the kid from his own flock. God found, not a lamb of His own fold, but the Son of His own bosom, and freely gave Him up for us all. With every qualification this sacrifice was endowed--“a Lamb without spot or blemish”--“the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.” (R. Halley, D. D.)
Manoah’s wife and her excellent argument
1. Oftentimes we pray for blessings which will make us tremble when we receive them. Often the blessing which we used so eagerly to implore is the occasion of the suffering which we deplore.
2. Very frequently deep prostration of spirit is the forerunner of some remarkable blessing. Take it as a general rule that dull skies foretell a shower of mercy. Expect sweet favour when you experience sharp affliction. Blessed be God for rough winds. They have blown home many a barque which else had sailed to destruction. Blessed be our Master for the fire: it has burnt away the dross. Blessed be our Master for the file: it has taken off the rust.
3. Great faith is in many instances subject to fits. Do not judge a man by any solitary word or act, for if you do you will surely mistake him. Trembling Manoah was so outspoken, honest, and sincere that he expressed his feelings, which a more politic person might have concealed.
4. It is a great mercy to have a Christian companion to go to for counsel and comfort whenever your soul is depressed. Manoah had married a capital wife. She was the better one of the two in sound judgment. She had three strings to her bow, good woman. One was--The Lord does not mean to kill us, because He has accepted our sacrifices. The second was--He does not mean to kill us, or else He would not have shown us all these things. And the third was--He will not kill us, or else He would not, as at this time, have told us such things as these. So the three strings to her bow were accepted sacrifices, gracious revelations, and precious promises. Let us dwell upon each of them.
I. Accepted sacrifices. This being interpreted into the gospel is just this--Have we not seen the Lord Jesus Christ fastened to the Cross? Because the fire of Jehovah’s wrath has spent itself on Him we shall not die. He has died instead of us. But, if you notice, in the case of Manoah, they had offered a burnt-sacrifice and a meat-offering too. Well, now, in addition to the great sacrifice of Christ, which is our trust, we have offered other sacrifices to God, and in consequence of His acceptance of such sacrifices we cannot imagine that He intends to destroy us. First, let me conduct your thoughts back to the offering of prayer which you have presented. I will speak for myself. I am as sure that my requests have been heard as ever Manoah could have been sure that his sacrifice was consumed upon the rock. May I not infer from this that the Lord does not mean to destroy me? Again, you brought to Him, years ago, not only your prayers but yourself. You gave yourself over to Christ, “Lord, I am not my own, but I am bought with a price.” You have at this very moment a lively recollection of the sweet sense of acceptance you had at that time. Now, would the Lord have accepted the offering of yourself to Him if He meant to destroy you? That cannot be. Some of us can recollect how, growing out of this last sacrifice, there have been others. The Lord has accepted our offerings at other times, too, for our works, faith, and labours of love have been owned of His Spirit. “Therefore He does not mean to kill us.” “Who said He did?” says somebody. Well, the devil has said that numbers of times. He is a liar from the beginning, and he does not improve a bit. Reply to him, if he is worth replying to at all, in the language of our text.
II. Gracious revelations.
1. First, the Lord has shown you--your sin. A deep sense of sin will not save you, but it is a pledge that there is something begun in your soul which may lead to salvation; for that deep sense of sin does as good as say, “The Lord is laying bare the disease that He may cure it. He is letting you see the foulness of that underground cellar of your corruption, because He means to cleanse it for you.”
2. But He has shown us more than this, for He has made us see the hollowness and emptiness of the world. Do you think that, if the Lord had meant to kill us, He would have taught us this? Why, no; He would have said, “Let them alone, they are given unto idols. They are only going to have one world in which they can rejoice; let them enjoy it.”
3. But He has taught us something better than this--namely, the preciousness of Christ. Unless we are awfully deceived we have known what it is to lose the burden of our sin at the foot of the Cross. We have known what it is to see the suitability and all-sufficiency of the merit of our dear Redeemer, and we have rejoiced in Him with joy unspeakable and full of glory. If He had meant to destroy us He would not have shown us Christ.
4. Sometimes also we have strong desires after God! What pinings after communion with Him have we felt! What longings to be delivered from sin! Now these longings, cravings, do you think the Lord would have put them into our hearts if He had meant to destroy us?
III. Many precious promises. “Nor would He have told us such things as these.” “If the Lord had meant to kill us He would not have made us such a promise as this.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The spectacle of life and the opposite conclusions drawn from it
We, too, draw just such opposite conclusions from the same admitted phenomena. The facts of life are the same. We admit into the great problem of existence the presence of the powers of this life and of the life to come. There is the world of regret and sorrow, and the world of cheerfulness and hope; there is the secret of the angel’s name, and there is religion, with its rocky altar of sacrifice; there is the fire of man’s communion with God ascending to heaven, and there is an admitted power in our lives “doing wondrously.” And yet, as in this grouping of the forces and interests of life around Manoah’s altar, men draw diametrically opposite conclusions. Let us look at three of the common facts of life concerning which we may draw right or wrong conclusions, according as we look at them through desperation or through hopefulness.
I. Take, first, the thought of character. This includes the entire world of conduct and action--the question of law and authority, the right or wrong quality of a man’s motives and his deeds. How are we to regard all this? Is there such a thing as absolute right and truth? Would it exist anywhere if man did not exist? Is it from a God, a Being whose lines have gone out into all the world? Is this power which makes for righteousness, as Matthew Arnold calls it, a motion, an impulse from a seat and source of law, or is it only like some wild, driving gale whose conflicting winds have no definite whence and are seeking no final whither? The Manoah type of mind declares, here are glimpses of some power “working wondrously” in the midst of life; but we can make nothing out of them. We have seen strange sights in the history of humanity and in the experience of our own souls; but we can see nothing but despair and death before us. The other, the religious type of mind, pleads with the wiser wife and mother, would we have all these visions and intimations if there was not a reason for them? Would the Lord have received our offerings, and have told us all these things if He were only pleased to kill us?
II. Look at the fact of life, with all its laws, physical, mental, and social. Look at this wondrous organism of ours, with its complex and far-reaching functions. We move through the world as the planets whirl on through space, each soul being a world of its own, with its own laws, and tendencies, and orbit. Is it any wonder that philosophers are forever investigating its meaning and giving us new views of the relationship between the working principle in life and the working principle in death? One side declares we have seen all these wonders, therefore we, too, must die; life is only the bubbling up of a few moments’ consciousness, like the evanescent spray in the leap of Niagara’s plunge, and then all is deep and quiet again. The other class says, No; this existence is not a mere guess; there is law, and Providence, and love in it; if the Lord were pleased to kill us He would not have told us such things as these.
III. There is the question of the future. It is very strange to think how theological theories and opinions go in sets and groups. It is impossible to have them separated or to hold them singly. One view leads on to another and draws it after it by a logical necessity. If you deny a personal immortality, you will find that locked up with this negation is your disbelief in a God; or, if you deny a God, you will find that immortality goes with this fundamental denial. Grant the premises of hope or of despair, and the conclusions will haunt you just as your shadow plays round your hurrying form under the successive street lights of a city in the darkness of night. At one moment it follows, at another it precedes your step, but it is always about you, because a shadow, after all, is only the deprivation of light due to a body. And so, with reference to the future, there is no standing-ground between the creed of despair and the creed of hope; between a blind force working in the smoke of our best sacrifices, and a messenger from God working wondrously, as the flame of our truest love ascends and is accepted. And thus we should value the revelation Christ has made, when once we feel from what that Saviour rescues us! (W. W. Newton.)
Cheer for the faint-hearted
Faith is not only the door by which we enter into the way of salvation, as it is written “He hath opened the door of faith unto the gentiles “; but it likewise describes the entire path of Christian pilgrimage, “that we also walk in the steps of that faith.” “The just shall live by faith.” Happy is that man who, steadfast, upright, cheerful, goes from strength to strength, believing his God! Trusting in his God, he knows no care; resting in his God, he knows no impossibility.
1. But, it seems from our text, that the strongest faith has its seasons of wavering. Most of those eminent saints, who are mentioned in Scripture as exhibiting faith in its greatness, appear to have sometimes showed the white flag of unbelief. Good Lord! of what small account are the best of men apart from Thee! How high they go when Thou liftest them up! How low they fall if Thou withdraw Thine hand!
2. Some of these greatest aberrations of faith have occurred just after the brightest seasons of enjoyment. Some of us have learned to be afraid of joy. Sadness is often the herald of satisfaction; but bliss is ofttimes the harbinger of pain.
3. It is a very happy thing if, when one believer’s down, there is another near to lift him up. In this case Manoah found in his wife a help-meet. If wife and husband had both been down at one time, they might have been long in getting up. But seeing that when he fell she was there strong in faith to give him a helping hand, it was but a slight fall, and they went on their way rejoicing. If thou art strong, help thy weak brother. If thou seest any bowed down, take them on thy shoulders, help to carry them.
4. The text suggests certain consolations which ought to be laid hold of by believers in Christ in their time of sore trouble. You are chastened every morning, and you are troubled all day long, and Satan whispered to you last Saturday night, when you were putting up the shutters as tired as you could be, “It is no use going to the house of God to-morrow. There is nothing there for you. God has forsaken you, and your enemies are persecuting you on every side.” Well, now, it would be a very curious thing if it were true; but it is not true, for the reasons which Manoah’s wife gave. Recollect, first, the Lord has in your case accepted a burnt-offering and a meat-offering at your hand. Would He have accepted your faith and saved you in Christ, if He had meant to destroy you? What! can you trust Him with your soul, and not trust Him with your shop? Can you leave eternity with Him, and not leave time? What! trust the immortal spirit, and not this poor decaying, mouldering, flesh and blood? Man, shame on thee! But, you say, He will forsake you in this trouble. Remember what things He has shown to you. Why, what has your past life been? Has not it been a wonder? You have been in as bad a plight as you are in to-night scores of times, and you have got out of it. Besides this, Manoah’s wife gave a third reason, “Nor would He at this time have told us such things as these.” She meant that He would not have given them such prophecies of the future as He had done, if He meant to kill them. It stood to reason, she seemed to say, “If I am to bear a son, we are not going to die.” And so, remember, God has made one or two promises which are true, and if they be true, it stands to reason He won’t leave you. Let us have one of them. “No good thing will I withhold from them that walk uprightly.” But suppose, next, that you are in some spiritual trouble. “Oh,” say you, “this is worse than temporal trial,” and indeed it is. Touch a man in his house, and he can bear it: but touch him in his soul, and in his faith, and then it is hard to lay hold on God, and trust Him still. The enemy had thrust sore at Manoah to vex him and make him fret. There may be some here whose spiritual enemy has set upon them dreadfully of late, and he has been howling in your ears, “It’s all over with you; you are cast off, God has rejected you.” I tell thee, soul, if the Lord had ever meant to destroy thee, He would never have permitted thee to know a precious Christ, or to put thy trust in Him. Besides, fallen though you now are, through sore and travail, yet was there not a time when you saw the beauty of God in His temple? To conclude the argument of Manoah’s wife, what promises God has made even to you! What has He said of His people? “I will surely bring them in.” “I give unto My sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of My hand.” And what does Christ say again?--“Father, I will that they also whom Thou hast given Me be with Me where I am.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Here is the head of the house in gloom. Is he not always more or less in gloom, this same head of the house all the world over? Who ever knew a head of the house that was not more or less low-spirited, worried by a hundred anxieties, tormented by sudden fear? Perhaps naturally so: after all he is the head of the house; and probably the lightning conductor, being higher than any other part of the building, may have experience of thunder-storms and lightning discharges that lower parts of the structure know nothing about. Here we have a wife comforting her husband. Like a true woman, she let Manoah have his groan out. There is a beautiful cunning in love. It lets the groan get right out, and then it offers its gentle consolation. If we had heard Manoah alone, we should have said, A terrible thunder-storm has burst upon this house, and God has come down upon it with awful vengeance; and not until we heard his wife’s statement of the case should we have any clear idea of the reality of the circumstances. The husband does not know all the case. Perhaps the wife would read the case a little too hopefully. You must hear both the statements, put them both together, and draw your con clusions from the twofold statement. People are the complement of each other. Woe to that man who thinks he combines all populations and all personalities in himself. Here we have a husband and wife talking over a difficult case. Is not that a rare thing in these days of rush and tumult and noise, when a man never sees his little children, his very little ones, except in bed? He leaves home so early in the morning, and gets back so late at night, that he never sees his little ones but in slumber. Is it not now a rare thing for a husband and wife to sit down and talk a difficulty over in all its bearings? If we lived in more domestic confidence our houses would be homes, our homes would be churches, and those churches would be in the very vicinity of heaven. Let us now look at the incident as showing some methods of reading Divine Providence. There we have the timid and distrustful method. Manoah looks at the case, reads it, spells where he cannot read plainly, and then, looking up from his book, he says to his wife, “There is bad news for you; God is about to destroy us.” It is possible so to read God’s ways among men as to bring upon ourselves great distress. Is a man, therefore, to exclaim, “This is a punishment sent from heaven for some inscrutable reason, and I must endure it as well as I can; I shall never see the sky when not a cloud bedims its dome”? No, you are to struggle against this, you are to believe other people; that is to say, you are to live in other people’s lives, to get out of other people the piece that is wanting in your life. This is the inductive and hopeful method of reading Divine Providence. I think that Manoah’s wife was in very deed learned in what we called the inductive method of reasoning, for she stated her case with wonderful simplicity and clearness. “If the Lord were pleased to kill us, He would not have received a burnt-offering and a meat-offering at our hands,” etc. That is logic! That is the inductive method!--the method, namely, of putting things together and drawing a conclusion from the aggregate. Thank God if you have a wife who can talk like that. Manoah’s wife was of a hopeful turn of mind. She had the eye which sees flecks of blue in the darkest skies. She had the ear which hears the softest goings of the Eternal. She was an interpreter of the Divine thought. Oh, to have such an interpreter in every house, to have such an interpreter in every pulpit in England, to have such a companion on the highway of venture and enterprise! This is the eye that sees further than the dull eye of criticism can ever see, that sees God’s heart, that reads meanings that seem to be written afar. Have we this method of reading Divine Providence? I call it the appreciative and thankful method. Put together your mercies, look at them as a whole and say, Can this mean death, or does it mean life? and I know what the glad answer will be. There are some sources of consolation amid the distractions and mysteries of the present world. Every life has some blessings. Men eagerly count up their misfortunes and trials, but how few remember their mercies! Every life has some blessing, and we must find what that blessing or those blessings are. We must put them together, and reason from the goodness towards the glory of God. Amid these blessings religious privileges are sure signs of the Divine favour. We have religious privileges: we can go into the sanctuary; we can take counsel toether; we can kneel side by side in prayer; we can go to the very best sources for religious instruction and religious comfort. Does God mean to kill when He has given us such proofs of favour as these? Let us learn from this family scene that great joys often succeed great fears. Manoah said, The Lord intends to kill us: his wife said, Not so, or He would not have received a burnt-offering at our hands. And behold Samson was born, a judge of Israel, an avenger of mighty wrongs. Is it ever so dark as just before the dawn? Are you not witnesses that a great darkness always precedes a great light--that some peculiar misery comes to prepare the way for some unusual joy? Let us read the goodness of God in others. Many a time I have been recovered from practical atheism by reading other people’s experience. When things seem to have been going wrong with myself, I have looked over into my neighbour’s garden and seen his flowers, and my heart has been cheered by the vision. Oh, woman, talk of your mission! Here is your mission described and exemplified in the case of the wife of Manoah. Here is your field of operation. Cheer those who are dispirited; read the Word of God in its spirit to those who can only read its cold, meagre letter, and the strongest of us will bless you for your gentle ministry. Who was it in the days of Scottish persecution? Was it not Helen Stirk--a braver Helen than the fiend Macgregor--who said to her husband as they were carried forth both to be executed, “Husband, rejoice, for we have lived together many joyful days; but this day wherein we die together ought to be most joyful to us both, because we must have joy forever; therefore I will not bid you good-night, for we shall suddenly meet within the kingdom of heaven“? Who was it when Whitefield was mobbed and threatened, and when even he was about to give way--who was it but his wife who took hold of his robe and said, “George, play the man for your God”? Oh, woman, talk of your rights, and your sphere, and your having nothing to do! Have a sphere of labour at home, go into sick chambers and speak as only a woman can speak. Counsel your sons as if you were not dictating to them. Read Providence to your husband in an incidental manner, as if you were not reproaching him for his dulness, but simply hinting that you had seen unexpected light. Women have always said the finest things that have ever been said in the Bible. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Past tokens of Divine favour an encouragement against fears
I. What are those tokens of favour which have been shown every true believer?
1. Is it no token of God’s favour that you have been kept alive to your calling? that you were not suffered to drop into hell before you had any knowledge of the way to heaven?
2. It is a token of distinguishing favour that thou hast not received the gospel of “the grace of God in vain” (2 Corinthians 6:1). The gospel has been welcomed not only to thy house, but to thine heart.
3. It is a token of distinguishing favour that thou hast at any time seen the truth of thy own grace. As thy God hath His hiding times, so there are also times of finding (Psalms 32:6). Many a prayer begun in distress has ended in delight. Thy God has raised thee out of thy depths, and set thee on thy high places.
4. It is a token of distinguishing, favour that thou hast been kept from falling by temptations, or that thou hast been recovered when fallen. Afflictions have purged thy dross, and brightened thy gold. Unruly thoughts have been often quieted by Divine consolations.
5. It is a token of distinguishing favour that thou hast been kept close to the appointed ways and means of comfort, under all thy complaints for want of comfort. To be out of the way of duty is to be out of the way of comfort. It is a mark of distinguishing mercy to be kept in the way of comfort.
II. What are those things which God is even now showing the Christian under all his darkness and fears?
1. Believers see a loveliness in Christ’s person, when they cannot discern interest in His love.
2. Believers have strong desires after the truth of grace when they most complain under the want of it. Sorrow and godly mourning flow from love, as well as joy and praise.
3. When believers cannot find sin mortified, it is their desire and prayer that it may be rooted out. It is more on account of indwelling sin, than any worldly affliction and sorrow, that you hear the Christian crying with David (Psalms 55:6). It is by flight doves secure themselves, not by fright. A believer’s aim is levelled at the root of sin.
4. Weak as his hope is, a believer dare not cast it away in its darkest seasons. It is the language of his heart, “Yea, though He slay me, yet I will trust in Him.” If he cannot go to the throne as sanctified in Christ and called, he will fall down at the footstool as a perishing sinner.
III. Why such who have been, and are, blessed with such tokens of god’s favour shall never die under his wrath.
1. This would argue God to be wavering and imperfect like ourselves. The great God may alter His way, but He never changes His heart.
2. Were God to accept thy offering, and destroy thy person, what becomes of His faithfulness to Christ the Mediator? Christ purchased, and He intercedes for the weakest grace.
3. Should God kill us, after such grace shown us, one in whom the Spirit inhabits would be lost.
4. God would lose the triumphs of His own grace: “Grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life.” Grace in us is a creature, but it is kept alive by the grace in God’s heart, which is infinite and everlasting.
Use 1. See what use you are to make of past experiences. Carry them about with you by faith, that you may turn to them in time of need.
Use 2. Be humbled for the weakness of faith, in so great a multitude of experiences.
Use 3. Labour to encourage sinners by your taste and experiences of mercy. You were not rejected in your suit for mercy; why then should they doubt in their desires for the same blessing? “With the Lord there is plenteous redemption.”
Use 4. Bless God for Christ, all your offerings go up with acceptance on this altar (Hebrews 13:15). (John Jamieson, M. A.)
Some lessons of catastrophes
It seems inevitable that some persons will continue to regard all disastrous occurrences as marks of God’s displeasure with His human creatures. The pietist reads of a terrible fire in some city particularly noted for the irreligion of its masses of people, and he believes it to be the judgment of God upon the sinful ones. Morbid Christians too are ever disposed to regard the mischances of their own temporal experience as the punishment God is laying upon them for their sins; and sometimes they are fain to cry out, as in indignation, “What have I done so wickedly as to deserve such retribution as this?” Our Lord neither suffers us thus to assign His judgments to particular instances of offending, nor yet to assume that we ourselves do not deserve quite as much as we ever hear of others bearing (Luke 13:1-5).
I. It is true that the most of appalling disasters fall impartially upon the God-fearing and impious alike.
II. Men who dwell much upon the disasters which assail in so many directions our social life grow superstitious about them. Every supernatural manifestation, or what seems to be supernatural, inspires fear. No doubt this is because of the consciousness of sin in our lives.
III. God has willed to be a fear-inspiring God to his sinful creatures because there is no better way than this whereby to impress upon them His supremacy, the absolute authority and right which He has over them. We do not like to think of our humanity as degraded, yet all sound philosophy insists upon this. Then God interferes with His awe-inspiring visitations, compelling us to remember that there is a greater existence outside the realm of familiar nature, and a Ruler of the universe whom one cannot disobey with impunity.
IV. Notwithstanding this truth, There are questions which arise, which must arise, in men’s minds concerning the tremendous disasters so often experienced in life. Granting that no one is free from sin, that no one deserves favour or blessing at God’s hands, nevertheless there are many who are loyal at heart and are striving to be good disciples of the gentle Christ. Why does He, who is so good, allow these to be subjected to such terrifying possibilities as Nature’s catastrophes so frequently suggest?
1. It may be that He displays His mighty judgments, menacing to the faithful as well as to the irreligious, in order to keep us ever mindful of our unpreparedness for His coming to call us to account. Who is there that is ready at this moment to die?
2. There is nothing which is so well calculated to make us realise the evanescent character of the circumstances which now surround us, as the irresistible breaking in upon the harmony of these circumstances by startling catastrophes and terror-inspiring disasters. Such things awe wise-hearted men, and set them to thinking; and when they think seriously they are sure the invisible and eternal things are more worthy to be considered than the visible and transitory things.
V. At this point the question suggests itself, Why in declaring his supernatural rule over our affairs by means of tremendous disturbances of our ordinary course of life does God cause the innocent to suffer with the guilty, or rather, in view of what I have just said, those who are trying to do His will and to use profitably the lessons He would teach them, as well as the hardened and the despisers of His judgments.
1. As to that let it be noted that while we naturally look upon death as almost the gravest of disasters the individual can experience, from the Christian point of view it cannot be in the least a disaster for him who is prepared to meet his God. The blow of death falls upon those who are left behind, the mourners, the relations and friends of the departed; but for him, if he be Christ’s, the passing of the soul is its entrance into the land of life where no further temptation can try it, nor any power of the Evil One cause it to fall from God. “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord: even so saith the Spirit; for they rest from their labours.”
2. So far as the unrighteous are concerned, the sinful, the careless, the impenitent, who have never feared God nor troubled themselves to do His will, we may be sure of this, the bolt of the Divine wrath does not strike them until they have made it abundantly clear to the heavenly eyes that they will never repent, never choose the right.
VI. After all, then, in spite of the appalling catastrophes life is so abundantly chequered with, it is certain that God’s pity ever sways His wrath, so long as pity can avail. From Manoah’s word of terror we turn to the wiser saying of his wife. We are to find the assurance of the mercifulness of our Heavenly Father in the good things provided for us in our religion, which are not to be accounted for at all except on the hypothesis of His kindness towards the children of men.
1. “Would He, if He were pleased to kill us, have received a burnt-offering and a meat-offering at our hands?” Aye, would He, for this is plainly the meaning of that long-ago sacrifice of the pious parents of Samson, have sent His only-begotten Son into the world to die for us the shameful death of the Cross?
2. “Neither,” continues Manoah’s wife, “would He have showed us all these things.” Would God, indeed, if He were hard and relentless in His dealings with mankind have caused to be written for our learning and unceasing consolation the exquisite story of the gospel--all the pathetic details of the human life of the Lord Christ?
3. Once more the spiritually minded woman cries: “Nor would He at this time have told us such things as these.” Ask yourself, Christian soul, what are you living for--what is your hope? Is it merely that you may escape eternal fire, or is it rather, and much more a great deal, that you may come to the unspeakable joys? Would God, if He did not love us supremely, have revealed to us all those glorious things of which St. John writes in the Apocalypse--the story of the land full of beauty, of all-satisfying delights? (Arthur Ritchie.)
Mysteries of providence
Manoah feared that he and his wife were going to be destroyed, because they had been visited by an angel of God. Our text is his wife’s reply to him. We often need to apply a similar train of reasoning to the mysteries of Providence. God’s angels come to us in fearful forms--the angels of disease, desolation, and death. At such times the murmuring heart will say in distrust, “Why hast Thou done thus?” The one calamitous event often stands out by itself. Nothing has gone before it to interpret it, or to lighten its severity; nothing has accompanied it for our special relief or solace; and nothing has as yet followed it in the world without, or in our own experience, to justify the ways of God, and to sustain submission by reason. Under these mysterious visitations of Providence we are driven, or rather we gladly have recourse, to reasoning like that in our text. We appeal to other and more frequent experiences, in which the Divine mercy has been manifest,--to sorrows which have been sanctified to our growth in grace, and to our long seasons of unmingled and unclouded happiness. If by the present sorrow God meant to crush us to the earth, if it came even on an errand of doubtful mercy, the past could not have been what it has been. Divine love could not thus have followed us step by step, and hour by hour, only to prepare for us a severer fall and a deeper gloom. In tracing out this thought let us follow the order suggested by our text.
1. “If the Lord were pleased to kill us, He would not have received a burnt-offering at our hands.” Have not burnt-offerings from our households gone up to God,--lambs without fault or stain, not indeed selected by ourselves, but chosen by the Most High,--taken wholly from us, consumed, lost to the outward sight,--their unseen spirits mounting to the upper heaven, as the smoke from the ancient altars rose to the sky? These bereavements have left blessings in their train. When met and borne in faith they have given us new experience of spiritual joy. They have opened new fountains of inward life. They have bound us by new and stronger ties to the unseen world. Our sorrows have cut short our sins, nurtured our faith, given vividness to our hope, and made our love more and more like that of the Universal Father. In new sorrows, then, from which we have not had time to gather in and count the happy fruits, we will hear from like scenes that are past the call to trust and gratitude. Did it please God to destroy us, He would not have accepted our burnt-offerings.
2. Nor yet our meat-offerings. Have those alms gone forth which may sanctify all the rest? If offered God has accepted and blessed them. And whether we have rendered or withholden them, how many are the favours, the deliverances, the peculiar mercies of our homes, to which we should look back, when in any hour of doubt or sorrow a murmuring spirit would arraign the Divine goodness!
3. To pursue the order of the text--“If the Lord were pleased to kill us, neither would He have showed us all these things.” What has He showed us? What is He daily showing us? How much is there in every scene and form of outward nature to rebuke distrust, to quell fear, and to make us feel that the world we live in is indeed our Father’s! From the first song of the birds to the last ray of mellow twilight, whether in sunshine, beneath sheltering clouds, or fresh from the baptism of the midday shower, the whole scene is full of the present and the loving God. He sustains the wayfaring sparrow. He gives the raven his food. He clothes the frail field-flower with beauty. In our seasons of doubt, darkness, and sorrow have not these miracles of Divine care and love a message from God for us?
4. Manoah’s wife added, “If the Lord were pleased to kill us, he would not have told us such things as these.” She referred to promised temporal mercies in her own household. God has told us yet more, infinitely more. In the revelation by Jesus Christ He has revealed to us truths and given us promises which, received in faith, must put to flight all hopeless despondency and gloom. In His teachings and in the record of His pilgrimage we learn all that we can need to know of the mysterious dealings of Providence. To interpret them fully we cannot expect or hope. But we do learn, and are left without a remaining doubt, that, when the most severe, they are sent in love--are hidden mercies, designed to discipline our faith, to spiritualise our affections, and to draw us into closer fellowship with our Saviour’s sufferings, that we may afterwards become partakers of His glory. (A. P. Peabody.)
God’s past mercies a ground of hope for the future
It is a safe method for us to follow--to plead God’s past mercies as a ground of hope for the future. His rule is grace upon grace, he that has receives more. It is not irreverent to say that He who gave His Son for us, will with Him give us all things. Is it, then, reasonable to fear that He who has preserved us for forty years will fail us for the next twenty, if our pilgrimage should continue so long? He who made you, aged friend, and gave His Son to redeem you, will not suffer you to perish for the want of meaner things. And the feeling of your need of His grace is a proof that He is waiting to be gracious. Even the anxious inquiry after salvation proves that the work is already begun. Penitential pangs are not natural but gracious, and argue that God has laid His hand upon us. All His works are perfect. He will not leave His work of grace half finished. Nor would He have told us such things of His love and grace if He did not offer pardon and eternal life to us in perfect good faith on the terms propounded in the gospel. And surely the argument from past experience should be a satisfactory one. Experience worketh hope, and hope maketh not ashamed (Romans 5:4-5). Is it not an impeachment of the Divine sincerity to fear that if God begins a good work, He will not complete it? It cannot be that supreme benevolence tantalises us. If so, why has He ever opened our hearts to our need of salvation? Why do we feel our guilt, and desire to escape from the wrath to come? Surely He would not have announced to us the glad tidings of the gospel--would not have made to us such full and free offers of mercy, if He were not pleased to accept us. Surely there is honesty in the declaration: “It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners“--even the chief of sinners. God’s acceptance of the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, is a positive proof that His merits and mediation are available for us. (W. A. Scott, D. D.)
The history of Samson is surprising even in an extraordinary age. In several particulars he was the most distinguished of the Hebrew judges. And though never at the head of an army, nor on a throne, nor prime minister to any earthly potentate, it were difficult, perhaps impossible, to name another Hebrew that loved his country with more fervid devotion, or served it with a more hearty good will, or who was a greater terror to its enemies. I know not that there is any biography so completely characteristic or more tragical than his. It is full of stirring incidents and most marvellous achievements. He seems to us like a volcano, continually struggling for an eruption. In him we have all the elements of an epic: love, adventure, heroism, tragedy. Nor am I aware that any Bible character has lent to modern literature a greater amount of metaphor and comparison than the story of Samson. The “Samson Agonistes” of Milton has been pronounced by the highest authority to be “one of the noblest dramas in the English language.” It reminds us of the mystic touches and shadowy grandeur of Rembrandt, while Rembrandt himself and Rubens, Guido, David, and Martin are indebted to this heroic judge for several of their immortal pieces. I am aware that some look upon Samson merely as a strong man. They do not consider that the moving of the Spirit of Jehovah gave extraordinary strength to Samson for special purposes. His peculiarities are not remarkable, because of anything that we perceive foreign to fallen humanity in the kind or composition of his passions and besetting sins, but in the fierceness and greatness of their strength. Ordinary men now have the same besetting sins--passions of the same character, but they are diminutive in comparison with him, and are without his supernatural strength. It must be confessed in the outset that Samson’s spiritual history is very skeleton-like. We have only a few time-worn fragments out of which to construct his inner man. Now and then, and sometimes after long and dreary intervals, and from out of heavy clouds and thick darkness, we catch a few rays of hope, and rejoice in some signs of a reviving conscience and of the presence of God’s Spirit. “His character is indeed dark and almost inexplicable. By none of the judges of Israel did God work so many miracles, and yet by none were so many faults committed.” As an old writer has said, he must be looked upon as “rather a rough believer.” I like not to dwell on Samson as a type of Christ. We must at least guard against removing him so far from us by reason of his uniqueness of character as to forget that he was a man of like passions with ourselves. We must carefully discriminate in his life between what God moved him to do and what his sinful passions moved him to. The Lord raised up this heroic Israelite for us. He threw into him a miraculous composition of strength and energy of passion, and called them forth in such a way as to make him our teacher. And besides being a hero, he was a believer. God raised him up for our learning, and made him, as it were, “a mirror or molten looking-glass,” in which we may see some of our own leading features truthfully portrayed, only on an enlarged scale. (W. A. Scott, D. D.)
The place of Samson in Jewish history
1. Two things stand out in the narrative of Samson’s career, as compared with the history of at least the majority of the other judges.
2. How, humanly speaking, was Samson prepared for his work?
Two things were needful for him:
To hold his own amid the abject depression of the people round about him it was essential that he should be possessed of exuberant mirth and jollity. It is the men that do the most serious and earnest work that can play and romp and laugh with their children. That is not the noisy laughter of the fool.
Samson: inferior influences over large minds
1. The Book of Judges is full of expressions of singular beauty. The springs of human action are bared and revealed to view with wonderful power.
2. Samson was inspired and sent forth with a heavenly mission. Yet second motive was the frequent spring of his actions.
3. There is a vigour, width, and absence of detail or accurate plan about his proceedings which stamp him still more as a man of genius and bold conception.
4. But there is a further remarkable feature in Samson’s case. He became the slave of his wife. The same mind around which a mother wound the soft coils of maternal and home influences a wife bound round with the adamantine chains of female plot and management.
5. But we have to account for this and see its force.
6. We are often startled by inconsistencies in Samson’s history. They may be accounted for by the same reason--genius. The man of genius is not therefore of necessity a man of personal holiness. The glass tube may be the medium of streams of water, yet not one drop will imbue the substance forming the channel that conveys the fertilising drops from one spot to another. The eternal truth which a man speaks, the holiness he may bear witness to, the warnings he may proclaim, may all be declared with the utmost efficiency, and yet not influence him who is the medium. (E. Monro, M. A.)
The Spirit of the Lord began to move him at times.
Man under the influence of the Divine Spirit
Our knowledge of that mysterious power called the Spirit has been assisted by the well-known comparison of it with the wind, whose effects we may see, but whose rise and courses we cannot trace. “The wind bloweth where it listeth,” etc. There will, therefore, be in human life occurrences that we can only refer to this source, which will defy scientific rules and be beyond calculation. But though we may not search out the way of the Spirit, we may inquire when His motions are most generally first felt. Is there any limit of age at which His visits begin or end? Are we to wait till riper years, when knowledge is matured and the passions subdued to reason, before we can entertain them, or may we expect this power of God to approach us early, and move us almost as soon as the age of consciousness begins? So much more receptive is the earlier part of a man’s life that I have heard experienced preachers allege that no conversions take place after twenty-five; but while objecting to such a limit, or indeed any limit, I would maintain that in the young rather than in the old there is the best hope of feeling this power and becoming obedient to it. We may take Samson’s life as evidence of what a man can dare and do under the influence of the Spirit. His strength was not his own, it was “hung in his hair,” in the seven mysterious locks in his head, which would be to him of sacramental character, outward signs of an invisible gift. The Spirit really in him accomplished his feats. When the lion roared against him, it was “the Spirit of the Lord” that came mightily upon him; when he finds himself among his enemies bound with two new cords, at their shout “the Spirit of the Lord” again came mightily upon him, and he burst the cords which became as “flax which was burnt in the fire,” and on this occasion he slew a thousand men. The view I take, then, of Samson’s life is, that it was a witness to God’s Spirit from the beginning to the end. We should lose much of the teaching of it if we believed that such a career is altogether out of date. I do not mean, of course, that the same feats of strength will be witnessed again, but I assert that heroic feats of physical courage will be done, greater feats, too, of moral courage; and some such it will be good to put before you for imitation. In every generation they are to be found, and in our own not less than others. And for such an illustration in our own day one naturally turns to our latest modern hero, Gordon, whose life is almost as strange and eventful as that of any of the heroes of Hebrew history, and none the less inspired. He himself traced his superhuman faith and energy to this source, to God working in him, enabling him to attempt any venture in His service and cheerfully to die for Him. What a victory is scored to faith, for however eccentric his conduct may be thought, plainly he has demonstrated that there are unseen powers that sway a man’s heart much more forcibly than any motives of the world. Such men almost equal Samson in the apparent inadequacy of their equipment and neglect of means. But no doubt they fortify themselves with the argument that God loves to use trivial means to effect great ends--a small pebble in David’s hand to bring down a giant, an ox-goad in Shamgar’s hand to work a national deliverance, a stone, rough from the mountains, to overthrow Nebuchadnezzar’s Colossus; and, thus encouraged, without scientific weapons, such as our theological armouries supply, they have gone forth strong in faith alone. I am led on to commend as a priceless possession the gift of an independent spirit in thinking and acting, such as the Judge in Israel always displayed among his fellow-men. For this is a servile age in which we live--albeit declared to be one of liberty and progress. Yet tending, as everything does, to democracy and equality, few men have the courage of their opinions, few that are not ready to make a surrender of their intelligence and conscience at the bidding of others. Where are the strong men who will act independently according to really patriotic or godly motives, and not put up their principles to a bidding? Who now in England is “valiant for the truth”? Who is upholding it before the people? Hitherto the grander part of Samson’s character has occupied us, but there was a weak side when the strong man was brought low through a temptation that has cast down many strong men. The prison house, with the fallen hero, deprived of sight, shorn of his noble locks, grinding as a slave, the scoff of the enemies of God, is an obvious allegory that hardly needs an interpretation, for it is alas! a picture of every day’s experience when a spiritual man yields to those lusts which war within him, and enslave him if they prevail against him. (C. E. Searle, M. A.)
Samson, the Judge
It was a dark time with Israel when the boon of the future Danite judge was vouchsafed to the prayers of the long barren mother. It seems not unlikely that this may have been a part of that evil time when the ark of God itself fell into the hands of the hosts of Philistia. But there was a dawning of the coming day, and from this utter subjection God was about ere long to deliver His people. Samson was to be a first instrument in this work--he was to “begin to deliver Israel out of the hands of the Philistines” (Judges 13:5). To enable him to fulfil this peculiar ministry, the possession of extraordinary physical strength, accompanied by an unequalled daring, were the special gifts bestowed upon him. These began early to manifest themselves. From the first they are traced back in the sacred record to the working of that exceptional influence which rested upon him as a “Nazarite unto God.” In spite of actions which seem at a first glance to us Christians irreconcilable with such a spiritual relation, the occurrence of his name under the dictation of the Spirit in the catalogue of worthies “who through faith subdued kingdoms, stopped the mouths of lions, escaped the edge of the sword, waxed valiant in fight, and turned to flight the armies of aliens” (Hebrews 11:32-34), establishes beyond a doubt the fact that he was essentially a faithful man. As we look closer, we may see that passing signs of such an inward vitality break forth from time to time along the ruder outlines of his half-barbarous course. Surely there is written large upon the grave of the Nazarite judge, “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God.” There are those in whom, in spite of remaining infirmities, there is a manifest indwelling and inworking of God the Holy Ghost--men whose lives are rich with the golden fruit of His inward life. Their life, without a word spoken, has an untold influence upon others. Be they young or old, they are God’s witnesses, God’s workmen. Far outside these is another circle. These are men of whom it is not possible to doubt that the Spirit of God “has begun to move them at times.” There are plain marks of a hard struggle going on within them; more or less they are conscious of it themselves. The good they would they do not, the evil they would not that they too often do. Perhaps their youth is stained with something of the waywardness, the sensuality, and disorder which marked that of the Nazarite Samson; and yet there is another Spirit striving within them. What a strife it is! with what risks, with what issues! The master temptation of one may be to yield the Nazarite locks of the purity of a Christian soul to the Philistine razor of sensual appetite; to another it may be to surrender to the fair speeches, or perhaps the taunts, of some intellectual Delilah, the faith which grew up early in his heart; his simple trust in God’s Word, in creeds, in prayers, in Christ Incarnate. “Trust to me,” the tempter whispers, “this secret of thy strength, and I will let thee rest at peace and enjoy thy life in victorious possession of all that thy mind lusteth after.” It is the old promise, broken as of old. Beyond that yielding what is there for him but mockery and chains, eyelessness and death? And yet, once again, another class is visible. There are those who, though the Nazarite life is theirs, show to the keenest searching of the longing eye no token of any moving by the blessed Spirit. In some it is as if there had never been so much as a first awakening of the Spirit’s life. In others there is that which we can scarcely doubt is indeed present, active, conscious resistance to the Holy One. This is the darkest, dreariest, most terrible apparition which this world can show. Here, then, are our conclusions.
1. Let us use, simply and earnestly, our present opportunities, such as daily prayer. Let us regularly practise it, in spite of any difficulties. Let us watch over ourselves in little things even more carefully than in those which seem great.
2. Let us guard against all that grieves Him.
3. Let us each one seek from Him a thorough conversion. In this thoroughness is everything--is the giving the heart up to God, is the subduing the life to His law, is all the peace of regulated passions, all the brightness of a purified imagination. (Bp. S. Wilberforce.)
Of Samson it may be said that he stands alone in the whole round of Scripture characters. The gift of supernatural bodily strength was bestowed on no other of God’s servants. In this respect he is interesting, as furnishing one of the many varieties of form in which God, who spoke to the fathers at sundry times and in divers manners, sought to impress upon them the great lessons of His will. Like Jonah, Samson was a sign to Israel. His life was a sort of parable, exhibiting in a strange but striking form what would have been their experience if they had been faithful. Like the nation of Israel, Samson was consecrated to God. The remarkable thing in his experience was, that while he continued faithful to his consecration he enjoyed such wonderful bodily strength, but the moment that the Nazarite law was broken, he became weak as other men. The nation was taught, symbolically, what wonderful strength would be theirs if they should be faithful to their covenant. On the other hand, the life of Samson set forth with equal clearness, what would be the consequences to Israel of their neglecting their consecration or treating lightly its marks and tokens. There was, however, a third point in which Samson was a type for Israel. Great though the judgment was that punished his neglect, he was not quite abandoned in his captivity. The hair of his head began to grow. The outward tokens of his consecration began to reappear. It was thus indicated to Israel that if, in the midst of judgment and tribulation, they should bethink them of the covenant God and seek to return to Him, He would in mercy return to them, and grant them some tokens of His former blessing. In these respects the career of Samson was peculiar. In addition to this, we are perhaps to view him, in common with the other judges, as typically setting forth the great Deliverer--the Lion of the tribe of Judah. In one respect Samson was quite specially a type of Christ. He was the first of the Hebrew worthies who deliberately gave his life for his country. Many risked their lives, but he actually, and on purpose, gave his, that his country might reap the benefit. Only here, too, we must remark an obvious difference. Both achieved salvation by dying, but in very different ways. Samson saved in spite of his death, Jesus by His death. Let us now glance at the salient points of his career. In his early training he presented a great contrast to Jephthah. In a very special sense he was a gift of God to his family and his nation; and the gift was made in a very solemn manner, and under the express condition that he was to be trained to live not for himself or for his family, but for God, to whom he was consecrated from his mother’s womb. And no doubt he was brought up with the strictest regard to the rules of the Nazarites. Yet we may see, what was probably very common in these cases, that while he was rigidly attentive to the external rules, he failed to carry out, in some very essential respects, the spirit of the transaction. In heart he was not so consecrated as in outward habit. The self-pleasing spirit, against which the vow of the Nazarite was designed to bear, appeared very conspicuously in his choice of a wife. “Get her for me,” he said to his father, “for she pleaseth me.” The thought of her nation, of her connections, of her religion, was overborne by the one consideration, “she pleaseth me.” This does not look like one trained in all things to follow the will of God, and to keep the sensual part of his nature in strictest subjection to the spiritual. True, it is said, “the thing was of the Lord “; but this does not imply that it carried His approval. It entered as an element into God’s providential plans, and was “of the Lord” only in the sense in which God makes the devices of men to work out the counsel of His sovereign will. Yielding at the outset of his life, and in a most vital manner, to an impulse which should have met with firm resistance, Samson became the husband of this Philistine stranger. But it was not long ere he found out his lamentable error. The shallow qualities that had taken his fancy only covered a faithless heart; she abused his confidence and proved a traitor. And after he had had experience of her treachery he did not cast her off but after a time sought her company, and it was only when he learned that she had been given to another, that he dashed into a wild scheme of revenge--catching the two hundred foxes, and setting fire to the growing corn. Whatever we may say of this proceeding, it showed unmistakably a very fearless spirit. The neighbouring tribe of Judah was horrified at the thought of the exasperation the Philistines would feel and the retribution they would inflict, and meanly sought to surrender Samson into their hands. Then came Samson’s greatest achievement, well fitted to cow the Philistines if they should be thinking of reprisals--the slaughter of the thousand men with the jaw-bone of an ass. Like one inspired, Samson moved alone against a whole nation, strong in the conviction that God was with him, and that in serving Him there could be no ground for fear. But the old weakness returned again. The lust of the flesh was the unguarded avenue to Samson’s heart, and despite previous warnings, the foe once more found entrance here. It is a lust that when it has gained force has a peculiar tendency to blind and fascinate, and urge a man onwards, though ruin stares him in the face. Other lusts, as covetousness or ambition, or the thirst of gold, are for the most part susceptible of control; but let a sensual lust once prevail, control by human means becomes impossible. It dashes on like a scared horse, and neither bridle, nor cries, nor efforts of any kind, can avail to arrest its course. So it proved in the case of Samson. He seemed to rush into the very jaws of destruction. How sad to see a grand nature drawn to destruction by so coarse a bait!--to see a wonderful Divine gift fallen into the hands of the enemy, only to be made their sport. Sad and lamentable fall it was! Not merely a great hero reduced to a slave, not merely one who had rejoiced in his strength afflicted by blindness, the very symbol of weakness, but the champion of his nation prostrate, the champion of his nation’s faith in the dust! It would seem that his affliction was useful to Samson in the highest sense. With the growth of his hair, the higher principles that came from above grew and strengthened in him too. He remembered the destiny for which he had been designed, but which appeared to have been defeated. He was humbled at the thought of the triumph of the uncircumcised, a triumph in which the honour of God was concerned, for the Philistines were praising their god and saying, “Our god hath delivered our enemy into our hands.” Oh, if he could yet but fulfil his destiny! It was to vindicate the God of his fathers, to save the honour of his people, and to secure to coming generations the freedom and happiness which he himself could never know, that he laid himself on the altar and died a miserable death. Thus it appears that Samson was worthy of place among those who, forgetful of self, gave themselves for the deliverance of their country. Let the young be induced to aim at steady, uniform, consistent service. It is awful work when the servants of God get entangled in the toils of the tempter. It is humbling to have but a blotted and mutilated service to render to God. Happy they who are enabled to present the offering of a pure life, a childhood succeeded by a noble youth, and youth by a consistent manhood, and manhood by a mellow and fragrant old age. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth.
“Root, and stem, and blossom undefiled.”
Samson shows us with painful clearness what havoc and misery may flow from a single form of sinful indulgence, from one root of bitterness left in the soil. (W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)
I. Here was a man of surpassing physical strength. His distinction was, that in splendour of muscle and sinew none could approach him, and hence his popularity and the high position he acquired. In a later age and a more advanced state of society it would not have enthroned him thus. But these are the earliest masters, these are the primitive heroes, the men who can do great things with their limbs. Afterwards, the dominion is taken from them and given to the largest brains. Now, Samson was simply mighty in muscle and sinew. Unlike most of the other judges he does not appear to have possessed the slightest military genius or enterprise, nor any power of combining his countrymen in opposition to their enemies, or inspiring them with spirit and desire to fight for liberty. There was no generalship in him, and no gift for leading. He had but massive, magnificent limbs, and went in, straightway, for applying them to the help of Israel without caring or aiming to be more and other than heaven had qualified him to be. Is it not a grand thing always to perceive the line along which we can minister, and to be willing to pursue it, and able to keep to it, however narrow or relatively inferior it may be. Not a few would be more successful and more useful than they are were they but more bravely content to be themselves--did they but accept more unreservedly the talent committed to them, and study more simply and independently to be faithful to it. Samson’s gift was not much, was not of the highest kind. It was far below that of other judges in Israel, nor did it produce any great results. Is it not possible that the reported mighty deeds of the redoubtable Nazarite of Dan had something to do in moving Hannah to set apart her boy, the boy for whom she had prayed, to be a Nazarite from his birth? Samson may have contributed to give to Israel the greater Samuel. “I, too,” he had stirred the woman in Mount Ephraim to say to herself--“I too, would fain have a son devoted to work wonders in the cause of God’s people; let me make sacred for the purpose this new-born babe of mine!” and out of that came, not a mere repetition of the same wonder-working strength, but something infinitely superior--even the wisest, noblest, and most powerful judge the land had ever seen. And so, often, they who are doing faithfully, in quite a small way, on quite a small scale, may be secretly conducive to the awakening and inspiring of grander actors than themselves. There are those who, with their rough and crude performances, with their honest yet blundering attempts, with their dim guesses and half-discoveries, do prepare the way, and furnish the clue for subsequent splendid successes on the part of some who come after them.
II. But observe what Samson’s countrymen thought of his amazing physical strength, and how it impressed and affected them. They ascribed it to the Spirit of the Lord: “The Spirit of the Lord came upon him.” That was how they looked at it. Their mountains were to them more than mountains, they were the mountains of the Lord, and the might of their mighty men was the might of the Lord. It is worth cherishing, this old Hebrew sense of the sacredness of things; it helps to make the world a grander place, and to enhance and elevate one’s enjoyment of all skills and powers displayed by men. Samson’s chief value lay, perhaps, after all, in the one inspiring thought which his prowess awakened--the thought that God was there; for it is a blessed thing to be the means of starting in any sluggish, despondent, or earth-bound human breast some inspiring thought. Good work it is, and great, to be the instrument of putting another, for a while, into a better and holier frame, of leading him to be more tender, more patient, more finely sympathetic, or more believing in the Divine government of things, and in the reality of the kingdom of God. (S. A. Tipple.)
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. Especially God teaches us by recording lives of men and women like ourselves, and leaving them there with their lessons staring us in the face.
I. Consider, then, how low God’s people had fallen through their unfaithfulness to Him, and their many departures, though they had only been a short time ago brought into a land flowing with milk and honey. Ammon, Midian, and Moab had all conquered them in turn. Now it was the Philistines, with a little country bordering on the sea coast, and with five chief cities, and yet they oppressed God’s people! They would not let them have any weapons, and their very ploughs had to be sharpened at a Philistine forge. They constantly made raids upon them. It was a sore humiliation when Germany marched right up to Paris, dictated terms to the conquered in their own great Palace at Versailles, and made them pay heavily before they would go home. But suppose it had been Belgium! And yet Philistia answered somewhat to that: so low and weak do men become when they depart from the living God. But then it was that the Lord in wrath remembered mercy, and sent them Samson, a mighty deliverer. Deborah and Barak had delivered them before. Gideon and Jephthah had kept up the bright succession, and now Samson entered into it, and for a long time made the Philistines tremble. Never were such wonders known as he wrought, and the oppressions of the Philistines soon came to an end. O sunny, strong, stout-hearted Samson, how much good you might have done if you could have ruled yourself as well as conquering your foes! But there he failed, and so all was a failure. He was a Nazarite, and so never took any wine, according to the Nazarite vow, and yet he was completely overcome by the lusts of the flesh. It was not in vain that the net had been spread in the sight of the bird. He had seen the wicked Delilah and the savage Philistines spreading it together, and had been taken in it just the same. The same razor that cut his hair, the sign of his strength, could have cut his throat at any time. But for a few months he lingered on in penitence and prayer, whilst his hair grew once more--the sign, though not the source, of his strength. And then came a great day in Gaza, when they gathered to glorify their god Dagon in thousands. So with one tremendous effort of his new-found strength down came the columns, and down came the temple, and down came the people, and “the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.” So when they thought themselves most secure their sport was turned to woe, and in an hour when they looked not for it their destruction came,
II. But now let us look at some of the lessons which this remarkable story is designed to teach.
1. And the obvious one on the face of the whole narrative is the poor figure that mere physical strength cuts. There are three sorts of strength--physical, intellectual, and spiritual--and the greatest of these is spiritual. If this be lacking, the other two are of little use. Later on, Solomon was an example of how mental power is of little worth without true godliness. Samson is an example of great strength of body, but he becomes the fool and the plaything of wicked women. There is a great deal of attention paid to physical strength to-day, but it is a poor thing at the best. “Bodily exercise profiteth little, but godliness is profitable unto all things.” We may have very strong muscles and very weak resolutions, and when the greatest strength is secured it is very inferior to that of the gorilla. God only “began” to deliver Israel in Samson’s day, it is significantly said. The real and effective deliverance came later on, when Samuel, the wise and the good, judged Israel for a long time, and David carried on his moral and spiritual reformation.
2. But, further, let us never rely on certain moralities if we are failing in obedience to God. Samson was not devoid of all spiritual strength. He was a Nazarite from his birth, and the vow of the Nazarite, of which he is the first example, included abstinence from wine and all similar drinks. There is a false sympathy as well as a true, and its influence is to misinterpret and condone evil. So we are perpetually told by a certain class of writers that Charles I. may have been a great public sinner, but he had excellent private virtues. He may have been, as declared in his sentence, “a tyrant, a traitor, a murderer, and a public enemy,” but he was a good husband and a good father. He broke his coronation oath a hundred times, but then he always kept his marriage vow. He was an awful tyrant, but he took his little son on his knee and kissed him. He was a dreadful liar, but he went to the prayers in his chapel sometimes at six in the morning. So, well may Lord Macaulay exclaim, “If in the most important things we find him to have been selfish, cruel, and deceitful, we will take the liberty to call him a bad man, in spite of all his temperance at table and all his regularity at chapel.”
3. Let us remember that the badge of our consecration is largely the pledge of our strength.
4. Yea, let the very Dagon worshippers teach us some such lesson. When Samson was caught, like some wild beast, they all gathered together to do honour to their fish-god Dagon. It was nothing to do with Dagon, but instead of honouring Delilah and the lords of the Philistines who had enticed her, they had a great assembly to do honour to their god. They said, when they saw Samson, “Our god hath delivered into our hands our enemy, and the destroyer of our country, which slew many of us.” There was not quite enough of this in Samson, even when he had his strength. When he slew his thousand Philistines it was, “I have done it.” Yes, we may often learn from those that have not our light. The Mohammedans believe many a lie and strong delusion, but this is what Mr. Wilson says of them in “Uganda and the Egyptian Soudan”: “These Arabs are most regular in performing their devotions, even on the march. I noticed frequently sand on their foreheads, chins, and noses, from their prostrations during prayers. The sand is never wiped off, as it is considered a mark of honour on a believer’s face.” Oh, let us keep before us the true mercies and blessings of the true God, and pay our vows unto the Most High! (W. J. Heaton.)
From weakness to strength
That child was a dedicated child. Could any parent have a child, and not dedicate it? Could that parent be a Christian? Deal with that little child not as a plaything, but as a holy thing given you of God, and which you have given back to Him. Remember it, my children! You are God’s child. Your body, your mind, and your soul belong to God. Remember it in your play, in your studies, when you get up in the morning. This “child” was still a growing child, when “the Spirit of the Lord began to move him at times.” God takes the initiative with us in everything; and there is no age so tender, and no thought or feeling so simple, but the Holy Spirit may be there. Is there a boy or a girl who could not say that they have thoughts, whispers, little inward voices, drawings of heart, which they have felt and knew to be of God? You will observe that “the moving of the Spirit“ is placed immediately after “and the Lord blessed him.” The “moving” is the “blessing.” We should do well if we always looked at a good thought when it comes and say, “This is God blessing me. This thought is a benediction.” You may notice that “the moving“ was not only dated as to time, but dated as respects the exact place. So important a “moving” is, in God’s sight. “The Spirit of the Lord began to move him at times in the camp of Dan between Zorah and Eshtaol.” How precise! If we could see that register in heaven, we should find them all there in distinct order--the exact when, and the exact where, the Holy Spirit comes to us. It would be a solemn thing to confront that register. Have you kept any account? We often try; but the number wilt outstretch all our arithmetic! Doubtless it was “strength” which the “moving of the Spirit” gave to the young Samson. Strength is a special gift of the Holy Ghost. His operations are always strengthening. It is what we all, in our great weakness, particularly want; and therefore He particularly supplies. For we have to deal with very strong things--a strong will; a strong besetting sin; a strong tide of evil in us and about us; a strong invisible foe! We have to be very thankful that He who said, “Be strong!” has placed it among the offices of the Holy Ghost to “stablish, strengthen, settle” us. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
──《The Biblical Illustrator》