Samson Judges 16:28

Remember me . . . and strengthen me . . . only this once. —Judges 16:28.

There is a game we used to play when I was about your age—do you play at it still? I wonder. We used to ask each other questions such as—“Who was the meekest man in the Bible?”—“Moses.” “Who was the oldest man?”—“Methuselah.” And we went on to ask questions which had a pun in the answer, such as—“Who was the most timid man?” “Rabshakeh.” Or, “Who was the smallest man?”—to which question some people answered, “Bildad the Shuhite”; while others preferred, “The man who slept in his watch.” But the easiest question, and the one which even the youngest of us never made a mistake with, was—“Who was the strongest man?” We all knew the answer to that.
Yes, Samson was the strongest man in the Bible—in some ways. He was also the weakest—in other ways.

Can’t you imagine him as a boy performing wonderful feats of strength while all his boy friends stood round in an admiring circle? You boys enjoy admiring a fine athlete. Samson’s boy friends must have admired him.

But Samson knew that he had not been given his strength for mere show. He had only to toss back his magnificent locks and he was reminded that God had given him his marvelous power for a purpose. For his long hair meant that he was a Nazirite. A Nazirite was one set apart for God’s service, and among certain rules which he had to keep were two—he must never drink wine and he must never cut his hair. These were the outward signs of his relation to God. Samson’s mother must often have told him how, before he was born, an angel had foretold his birth, had commanded that he should be brought up as a Nazirite, and had promised that he should “begin to save Israel” out of the hand of
their enemies the Philistines.

For you must understand that at this time the Israelites had two great enemies—the Ammonites and the Philistines. The Philistines had grown so powerful that they had practically conquered the part of Canaan which belonged to the tribe of Dan—Samson’s tribe. Worse still, they had conquered the spirit of the people as well. The Israelites had no heart to fight their oppressors. They just allowed themselves to be oppressed.

But this great jovial happy Samson, whose name just means “Sunny” or “Sun-man,” had no intention of sitting down under the oppressors. He felt that God had given him his giant’s strength for fighting. So alone, unbacked even by his own countrymen, he warred against the Philistines. He gave them no peace. He tormented them one way, he tormented them another. He played what looked like huge practical jokes on them. He caught three hundred foxes, tied torches to their tails, and sent them among the Philistines’ corn. He let the enemy take him and bind him with new ropes. Then, with one mighty pull he broke the bonds, leapt free, and, grabbed the jaw-bone of a donkey, with that strange weapon slew a thousand Philistines. They thought they had got him safely shut up in the town of Gaza, and they planned to trap him at the gates in the morning; but he rose in the middle of the night and carried those same gates —posts and all—up to the top of a neighboring hill.

For twenty years he ruled as judge in Israel and fought God’s battles with God’s enemies. And he might have reigned other twenty, but, alas! he began to forget that God had set him apart for a divine purpose. He forgot so badly that he even made friends with some of the Philistines themselves. And that was the cause of his death. For although he feared no man, Samson feared one thing—a woman’s tongue—and a Philistine woman wheedled out of him the secret of his mighty power. He confessed to her in a weak moment that if his hair were cut his strength would disappear.

You know the rest of the story—how the woman sold the secret to her Philistine friends; how, while poor foolish Samson lay asleep, they cut his seven splendid locks; and how, when he wakened with the cry that the Philistines were “upon him,” he found his strength gone.

You remember how they put out his eyes, bound him with fetters of brass, and set him to a task fit only for the lowest slaves — grinding corn in his prison- house.

Poor blind Samson! Can’t you see him working there day after day, chafing against the misery of it all, yet powerless to rebel? Don’t you see the Philistines going often to gaze at him and gloat over his helplessness?

But they did not notice one important thing. Samson’s hair was growing.

There came a day when these same Philistines made a feast in honor of their god, the fish-god Dagon. They held the feast in Dagon’s temple, and in the midst of the merry-making some of the crowd suggested that Samson should be brought in to amuse the company. It would be such rare sport, said they, to bait the fettered giant. So they led Samson into the court of the temple and they set him between the two great main pillars of the building, and they mocked him and made fun of him to their hearts’ content. But they forgot that Samson’s hair had grown.

So it fell that as the poor tortured giant heard the shouts of the people triumphing over him and exalting their false god over his God, the one true God, a rush of feeling swept over him. All in a moment he remembered what he might have done for God had he been true to his best self, and a passionate longing seized him that he might be avenged and that he might prove once, only once more, that Jehovah was the God of gods. And with the rush of feeling there came also the knowledge that his strength had come hack as his locks had grown. So, speaking quietly to the young man who led him, he said, “Guide my hands to the pillars of the temple that I may lean on them.” And the boy did so. Then he sent up the prayer which is today’s text: “O Lord God, remember me . . . and strengthen me . . . only this once.” Thereupon he thrust at the pillars with all his might, and the temple of Dagon, with its crowd of worshippers, fell in one awful heap. God had heard His servant’s prayer in that last hour of anguish.

There was once a dear little Highland girl, the daughter of a minister in one of the Western Islands. She noticed that her father always came home tired from the church meetings. “Why is father so unhappy when he has been at a church meeting?” she asked her mother one night. Rather unwisely, her mother answered, “Mr. Macleod is not always kind to father; he says things that pain him.” What do you think that little girl did? She went and prayed with all her might that Mr. Macleod would die. Day after day she sent up the petition, “Oh God hear me, just this once!”

God did not answer her prayer by killing Mr. Macleod, but I’m sure He answered it in some better way. The story does not tell, but I shouldn’t wonder if the end of it were that Mr. Macleod became quite kind and gentle. For though God does not answer the foolish prayers we make in ways as foolish as the prayers themselves, He always answers somehow.

There is one prayer He answers very directly and very speedily, and that is a prayer like Samson’s for strength to overcome God’s enemies.

Who are God’s enemies? They are not any one nation or any one people. They are just the enemies who make their home in your heart and mine, and their names are anger, hatred, jealousy, greed, evil-speaking. Against these God will ever lend us His aid. He will help us to crush them more truly than Samson crushed the Philistines in that temple of Dagon long ago.