Samson Was A 98 Lb. Weakling (Well… he might have been!)
Why such a title? Because chances are, like most people you thought Samson probably looked like a body-builder. But nowhere in the book of Judges is Samson ever described as being well-built. His strength, as we are told in the Scriptures, had nothing to do with his muscle. For all we know, Samson was physically unimpressive – maybe even skinny; and I can just imagine people around him bewildered at how someone like this could be so strong. But his strength wasn’t from pumping iron; and though he was a Nazirite, his long hair wasn’t the source of his power.
From time to time we need the Holy Spirit to recalibrate our thinking. Without even realizing it, our thought processes are subtly shifted, and instead of having the mind of Messiah, we leave God’s purposes out of the equation, and begin thinking about situations and solutions in secular terms. And because our thoughts drive our actions, that recalibration is very important. And that is what the Word of God does for us.
Now let me clarify something; this d’rasha isn’t about Samson. It’s about knowing where authentic power comes from, how we can acquire it, and what we are supposed to do with it once we have it. Consider the word of Adonai to Zerubbabel, found in Zechariah 4:6-7.
Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel saying, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become a plain; and he will bring forth the top stone with shouts of “Grace, grace to it!”’”
Let’s take a moment to consider the context of Zechariah chapter 4. After seventy years of exile in Babylon, the way had been opened for the Jewish people to return to Judea and rebuild the Temple, just as God had foretold through Jeremiah. But as we discover in Ezra-Nehemiah and through the prophet Haggai, the work was met with repeated opposition and internal strife, all of which contributed to a feeling of despondency among the remnant. They began questioning themselves, wondering if it really had been God’s will, and doubting that the building project would ever be completed.
Zechariah chapter four represents God’s assurance to Israel that His house will indeed be completed, and with joyful shouts of “Grace, grace to it!” Zerubbabel will indeed persevere and retain his authority. But these things would not be accomplished by virtue of Israel’s strength. Rather, it would come about through the working of the Holy Spirit, according to God’s will.
Yet by all outward appearances, it must have seemed very unlikely. But that is just like our God – who delights to give victory to the small over the great, the weak over the strong and the humble over the arrogant. Consider too, the many examples we have in Scripture of just such unlikely victories wrought by unlikely people.
I. Foolish and Frightened Judges, Prostitutes, Lepers and Galileans – the Unlikeliest Ones
To say that Jephthah was an unlikely prospect to be a leader in Israel is an understatement. He was the son of a prostitute, hated by his own brothers, and not exactly the brightest light in the harbor. Yet God gave him a resounding victory over the Ammonites.
Nobody would have been more surprised than Gideon to hear the angel of the Lord call him “valiant warrior”. Ater all, there he was, threshing wheat, not up on a hillside, which would have been the normal place, but below ground in a wine press, out of fear of the nearby Midianites. Yet just a short time later, he would lead an Israeli army against them, and his 300 men were able to put the 135,000-man Midianite army to flight, and gain the victory.
When it comes to Israel’s victory over Jericho, we usually think about the wall coming down. But had it not been for a woman living in that city – a woman who was by profession a prostitute, our two spies would not even have made it back to the camp of Israel alive. That woman’s name was Rahab. The inspired writer of the New Covenant Letter to the Messianic Jews saw fit to mention Rahab’s name in chapter 11, ‘The Hall of Faith’ – and for good reason. Her words reflected the fact that she had come to acknowledge the God of Israel, and her actions saved perhaps tens of thousands of lives. Rahab and her family were the only survivors of the downfall of Jericho. She became part of the community ofIsrael. In fact, she married into a prominent Judean family, and would become the great great grandmother of King David. Not bad for someone the world would consider unlikely.
And speaking of David, who would’ve thought that the little pitzkele (Yiddish: small child), tending his father’s sheep, would one day shepherd the nation?
In the ancient world, lepers were hated, distrusted and considered to be under a curse. So who would have imagined that four leprous men would have been the heroes in the time of the siege of Samaria and the famine during the reign of Israel’s wicked King Joram (2 Kings 7)? But it was the courage and the compassion of these lepers, even toward those who hated them, that saved the day. Had they not ventured out to the camp of the Arameans and come back and reported the good news that the enemy had fled and that abundant food was now available, many more would have needlessly died in the city.
Did you ever wonder why God chose shepherds to announce the birth of the Messiah, or, for that matter, why Yeshua chose Galilean fishermen to be His representatives? In the eyes of the ancient world shepherds had zero credibility, and Galileans were considered rednecks and troublemakers. We might think to ourselves, “Wouldn’t it have been better coming from respected scholars or members of the aristocracy?” And yet the Good News has spread to every nation of the earth, and their testimony has been the source of the faith and salvation of countless millions of human beings! It is precisely because our God delights to give victory to the small over the great, the weak over the strong and the humble over the arrogant.
As our dear sister Sally O’Connor put it, God wants improbable people for impossible tasks; because in the victory, God will get the glory.
II. The Principle (seeking God for the strength we need to face trials)
The principle we’re meant to learn through the exploits of these otherwise unlikely men and women is to seek God for the strength we need to face our trials. Victory comes through the work of His hands. And if we would be honest with ourselves, we need His help! We aren’t nearly as self-sufficient as we imagine ourselves, or as others might see us.
It isn’t a bad thing to acknowledge your weakness. Frankly, God is far more likely to grant help and victory to those who admit they need Him and ask for it, than to those who think “I can do all things through my own strength.” Pride is spiritually deadly, and He loves us too much to let us succeed if the outcome is going to be a puffed up ego.
Rabbi Paul recounted to the believers in Corinth how God had allowed him to endure some form of chronic physical hardship. Many New Testament scholars believe that it was most likely an eye ailment that impeded his vision. The great Emissary to the Gentiles saw it as God’s means of keeping him humble, since he had received such great revelation and authority. Three times he asked the Lord to remove this malady, and God said, “No”.
Here’s what Paul wrote: And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness”. Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Messiah may dwell in me (2 Cor. 12:9).
Paul didn’t say it begrudgingly. There isn’t a hint of resentment in his words. He practically basks in admitting his weakness, knowing that God draws near to the humble.
Have you ever experienced that sense of God’s nearness to you in a time where you were weak? There is joy in it! But it has always been this way. God’s grace has always been sufficient, and He has always shown special regard for the humble. He has never been impressed by human strength and in fact disdains human beings who boast of their own strength or riches or achievements.
Psalm 147:10-11 says, His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of a man; the Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love.
How many of you are hippophiles – lovers of horses? When God says He takes no pleasure in the strength of the horse, please don’t misunderstand. Horses are wonderful animals, but in the ancient world, the horse was a creature of war. In this case we’re looking at tandem symbols. The strength of the horse and the legs of a man represent human pride and boasting in conquest and the exploits of war, and the Lord looks dimly on all such boasting.
Now on the contrary, Adonai takes special delight in people who are humble; who are content to remain out of the spotlight; who would much rather give the place of honor to another. And we have many such people here at Shema. I won’t name names, because they’re the kind of people who would be horrified, and besides… I don’t want to rob them of their reward in Heaven.
The prophet Jeremiah wrote, This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord (Jeremiah 9:23-24).
There is nothing wrong with being wise. In fact, the book of Proverbs urges us to be wise. There is nothing wrong with being a person of great strength. There is nothing inherently immoral about having wealth. But if you happen to be exceptionally wise or unusually strong or immensely wealthy, you don’t want to be bragging about it. What you have, you have from the hand of the Lord. In fact, if you’re going to brag, brag on how just and gracious and righteous God is; how wonderful and powerful and wise our Messiah is; brag about the amazing things God has done and continues to do. Tell people how much joy there is when we come together to worship and learn.
There is a singular delight in humbling yourself and leaning squarely on the Most High to find your strength. And it comes with benefits.
III. The Benefits (shalom, success, and a testimony)
When we sincerely seek the presence of Adonai, especially in our time of weakness, He draws near to us. That in itself is wonderful – just to sense His presence. But with humility and honesty towards Him come many benefits. When the Lord offered Solomon in his dream anything he wanted, what did the young king ask for? He didn’t ask for riches, or power, or victory over his enemies. Solomon asked for what he knew he needed most: wisdom. He expressed his honest concern that the responsibility of shepherding the people ofIsrael demanded more astuteness than he had in himself.
God was so pleased with Solomon’s thoughtful and unselfish request, that He not only gave him what he asked for, He gave him all the things he didn’t ask for, too. And God, being generous as He is, gave him wisdom to such an extent that Solomon’s breadth of knowledge and insight was unparalleled in all of human history.
When we look to the Holy One of Israel for our strength, we will find that He adds a lot of perks. We will experience more shalom, because when we entrust our situations into His hands, we have the assurance that they are in the wisest and most powerful and gracious hands. Again and again the Scriptures describe God as our refuge, our fortress, our protection.
When we look to Messiah Yeshua for our strength, we will experience more success, because He understands what makes for success. “Success” if you will, isn’t at all about what we have, but what we become. Once we are joined by faith to Messiah Yeshua, the next step is becoming conformed to His image – to have our thoughts align with His, our priorities align with His, our values align with His. He is Adonai Tzidkaynu, The Lord Our Righteousness, and righteousness is what He is developing in us. Success in the eyes of Heaven is to be more like Yeshua, and each time we look to Him and rely on Him for what we need, we become a little more like Him.
And I would remind us of Yeshua’s breathtaking claim: “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who remains in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing”(John 15:5). Truly, if we hope to succeed in our endeavors, they must be committed to Him, and we must remain close to Him. That isn’t a given. It doesn’t necessarily happen at all times. You need to be intentional. Commit your plans to the Lord and they will succeed – because the inverse is also true: I can do everything through Him who gives me strength! (Philippians 4:13).
And when we look to the God of Israel for our strength, and we experience more shalom and more success, we also gain a testimony. When our friends and neighbors and family see grace and calm and composure and kindness increasing in our lives, we are given an opportunity to point them to the Source. Don’t you just love it when He does something wonderful in your life, and you get to tell about it?
And that is what we’re supposed to do with that power. We have been infilled by the Spirit for the purpose of proclamation – telling people around us about Messiah Yeshua, and how their sins may be forgiven! Just as Yeshua was sent, now He sends us, and we have the power to do the job!
So, listen, maybe Samson was a big, buff, Superman type. But he may just as easily have been a 98-pound weakling. And so let me conclude this morning by returning to the words of the prophet Zechariah, ‘Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts.
Because strength and shalom and success and a testimony – these are priceless gifts from the hands of the All-Powerful God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So regularly check in with Him. Seek Adonai and His strength; ask Him to recalibrate your thinking… about a lot of things.