Verse of the Day

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sermon Series: Men Who Died With A Smile On Their Face! Part One

Samson – Judges 13-16
Subtitle: One Tug From Glory!


You may be familiar with one of my favorite movies: Paul Newman in “Cool Hand Luke” – the incarcerated war hero turned unwilling inspirational anti-hero.

In this movie George Kennedy plays the part of “Dragline”:

“Dragline: He's a natural born world-shaker.

Dragline: He was smiling... That's right. You know, that, that Luke smile of his. He had it on his face right to the very end. Hell, if they didn't know it 'fore, they could tell right then that they weren't a-gonna beat him. That old Luke smile. Oh, Luke. He was some boy. Cool Hand Luke. Hell, he's a natural-born world-shaker.

Dragline: That's my darling Luke. He grins like a baby but bites like a gator.”
[footnote 1]

Modern fiction especially as enshrined in comic books is filled with flawed superheroes, e.g. Superman, Spiderman, etc. - heroes with a weakness, flaw, or character defect, etc.
[footnote 2]

There are Biblical characters who fit this mold. They are not fictional however, and some of them may be considered as candidates for our subject due to their dying with smiles on their faces!

1. Job – why? Cp. 42:12-17 – cp. Isaac & David – What a ride!
2. Isaac – why? Cp. Gen. – cp. Job & David
3. Gen. 45:10
4. Jacob – Gen. 48-49
5. Samson – last prayer answered – Judges 13-16; Heb. 11:32
6. David – 1 Chr. 29:28 – cp. Job & Isaac
7. Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego – why? Cp. Lazarus
8. Simeon
9. Beggar (Lazarus?) – Luke 16 – why? Where he was headed had to better than what he experienced in his life.
10. Lazarus – why? Cp. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego – Been there, done that!
11. Stephen – last prayer answered – Point man of the martys of the Church
12. The Thief on the Cross – last prayer answered – If I had it to do all over again...

Consider the manner of death of the faithful believers in Heb. 11:13, 32-40.

There are Biblical characters who may not be considered as dying with smiles on their faces!

Enoch – did not die
Elijah – did not die

Drama in classical literature is usually divided into comedy and tragedy depicted by two masks - one with a smile, and the other with a frown, or a happy mask and a sad mask. You will often see depictions of them in theaters. This characterization is very ancient, and usually is understood simplistically as revolving around the issue of whether the protagonist or hero lives or dies at the end, although there is much more than that at stake in distinguishing classical comedy and tragedy. Nevertheless, we will consider the Biblical account of Samson as a legitimate tragedy in the classical sense of the term.
[footnote 3]

I. The Tragedy of Samson

The five elements of a classical tragedy are present in the Biblical account concerning Samson: hamartia (tragic error), hubris (violent transgression), peripateia (plot reversal), nemesis (retribution, and anagnorisis (tragic recognition or insight).

1. Samson’s Hamartia ("tragic error") – Judg. 14:1-3; 16:1, 4

In classical tragedies hamartia is a fatal error or simple mistake on the part of the protagonist that eventually leads to the final catastrophe. A metaphor from archery, hamartia literally refers to a shot that misses the bullseye. Hence it need not be an egregious "fatal flaw" (as the term hamartia has traditionally been glossed). Instead, it can be something as basic and inescapable as a simple miscalculation or slip-up.

Judges 14:1-3 – [1] And Samson went down to Timnath, and saw a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines. [2] And he came up, and told his father and his mother, and said, I have seen a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines: now therefore get her for me to wife. [3] Then his father and his mother said unto him, Is there never a woman among the daughters of thy brethren, or among all my people, that thou goest to take a wife of the uncircumcised Philistines? And Samson said unto his father, Get her for me; for she pleaseth me well.

Judges 16:1 - Then went Samson to Gaza, and saw there an harlot, and went in unto her.

Judges 16:4 - And it came to pass afterward, that he loved a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah.

2. Samson’s Hubris ("violent transgression") – Judg. 16:17

Hubris is the sin par excellence of the tragic or over-aspiring hero. Though it is usually translated as pride, hubris is probably better understood as a sort of insolent daring, a haughty overstepping of cultural codes or ethical boundaries.

Judges 16:17 - That he told her all his heart, and said unto her. There hath not come a razor upon mine head; for I have been a Nazarite unto God from my mother's womb: if I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.

3. Samson’s Peripateia ("plot reversal") – Judg. 16:18-20

In the literature of tragedy peripateia is a pivotal or crucial action on the part of the protagonist that changes his situation from seemingly secure to vulnerable.

Judges 16:18-20 – [18] And when Delilah saw that he had told her all his heart, she sent and called for the lords of the Philistines, saying, Come up this once, for he hath shewed me all his heart. Then the lords of the Philistines came up unto her, and brought money in their hand. [19] And she made him sleep upon her knees; and she called for a man, and she caused him to shave off the seven locks of his head; and she began to afflict him, and his strength went from him. [20] And she said, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he awoke out of his sleep, and said, I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself. And he wist not that the Lord was departed from him.

4. Samson’s Nemesis ("retribution") – Judg. 16:21

Nemesis is the inevitable punishment or cosmic payback for acts of hubris.

Judges 16:21 - But the Philistines took him, and put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with fetters of brass; and he did grind in the prison house.

5. Samson’s Anagnorisis ("tragic recognition or insight") – Judg. 16:28-30

According to Aristotle, anagnorisis is a moment of clairvoyant insight or understanding in the mind of the tragic hero as he suddenly comprehends the web of fate that he has entangled himself in.

Judges 16:28-30 – [28] And Samson called unto the Lord, and said, O Lord God, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes. [29] And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left. [30] And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.

II. The Questions about Samson

1. Why are these four chapters in the Bible?

Larger issue = why is the book of Judges in the Bible?

2. Was Samson wrong in what he did at the end of his life?

1) “Vindictive” final prayer?

Consider what J. Barton Payne has written on this prayer!

“Under the judges of the consolation period, there confessedly took place a general spiritual retrogression; and those, indeed , who were, filled with God’s Spirit sometimes exhibited morals of a low order, even in their triumphs. Well-known is the case of the vindicativeness of Samson at his death, who prayed, “Oh God, that I may be avenged!” (Judg. 13:28) With his words, however, should be compared under similar circumstances, our Savior’s prayer for the forgiveness of his persecutors (Luke 23:34). Such lapses as Samson’s perhaps contribute to the explanation of the very periodic nature of their spiritual infilling (Judg. 13:25).”
[footnote 4]

Then consider Rev. 6:9-11!

[9] And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: [10] And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? [11] And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.

The essence of Samson’s final prayer:

Psalm 31:10 - For my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing: my strength faileth because of mine iniquity, and my bones are consumed.

Psalm 39:13 - O spare me, that I may recover strength, before I go hence, and be no more.

2) Ethical issue of Samson’s suicide

Common picture of Samson “chained” to the pillars in error?

One of three examples in Scripture including Saul (1 Sam. 31),
and Judas (Mt. 27:5; Acts 1:18)

Two others of those who sought euthanasia - Abimelech, Judg. 9:50-57;
and Saul, 1 Sam. 31

3. What may we learn of Christ here?

1) Alone against the enemy

2) Seemingly conquered and humiliated by the enemy

3) Victorious in death

4) Delilah as a Judas figure

“Compare Calvin’s argument in his letter “To all lovers of Jesus Christ” (fol. aa2v; CO 9.813), in which he depicts Christ as the beloved Isaac, the vigilant Jacob, the kindly Joseph, the “bishop” Melchizedek, the lawgiver Moses, the faithful Joshua, the mighty David, the prudent Solomon, and the victorious Samson.”
[footnote 5]

“21. It is not unlikely that Mark intends to correlate Jesus with Samson here. Jesus is identified as the “Nazarene” and “the Holy One of God” as is Samson in Judg 16:17 (LXX), who in the A text is called naziraios theou and in the B text hagios theou. Judg 16:17B is the only other place in the Bible where an individual is called hagios theou (albeit without the article). Jesus thus appears to be recognized by the demoniac as one like Samson, powerful and set apart, “who plunders the house of the strong man” (Mark 3:27). See Schweizer, “Er wird Nazoräer heissen,” Neotestamentica 51-55.”
[footnote 6]

Mark 1:21–28 establishes Jesus’ exousia over Satan in the exorcism of the man with an unclean spirit. The language recalls the mighty Samson, the only other individual called “holy one of God” in the Bible, thus establishing the same motif of Mark’s first and pithiest parable (3:27), which is set within the Beelzebul controversy (3:20–30).”
[footnote 7]

III. The Lessons from Samson

1. What may we learn of ourselves here?

1) Samson was used by God.

Even in our weakness and sin God can use us. He does not need our perfection as a prerequisite before He can use us to accomplish His purposes. He calls the lowly, and the weak, and the despised of this world to show His power, and to display His might.

2) Samson’s faith (Heb. 11:32) was exercised in a day of great compromise.

This episode is centered in a historical period that has been described as the Canaanization of Israel. The parallel to compromise in Christianity in our own day would be the “worldification” or “secularization” of the Church. Do you think that there are parallels to our day?

Hebrews 11:32 - And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:

3) Samson’s faith (Heb. 11:32) was exercised in a day of great fear.

God’s people were afraid of their enemies. They were pessimistic, and lacking in hope. Their faith was weak, or non-existent. And in that day God raised up a warrior, a mighty hero, against His enemies.

Hebrews 11:32 - And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:

4) Samson stood alone.

Can you stand alone while others fear, and in the worst of times, when the horizon is dark, and you are surrounded by weakness? Can you count on and expect God to show Himself strong in spite of all of that? Can you see beyond present circumstances to the Sovereign over all circumstances, events and history?

2. Will you have a smile on your face when you die?

[Sermon preached by Pastor John T. "Jack" Jeffery at Wayside Gospel Chapel, Greentown, PA on February 10, 2008.]


1. IMDB at See also: Prison Flicks at, Film Site at, and Wikipedia at All of the above accessed 7 FEB 08.

2. NPR interview with Stan Lee at; Interview with Stan Lee at; Press Conference Interview with Stan Lee at; and the BBC's online encyclopedia h2g2 article on superheroes at All of the above accessed 7 FEB 08.

3. “Greek Drama”, by Richard Hooker, Washington State University, Pullman, WA; c. 1996, at [accessed 7 FEB 08]. “Comedy and Tragedy”, by David L. Simpson, The School for New Learning, DePaul University, Chicago, IL, c. 1998, at [accessed 7 FEB 08]. “English 366: Studies in Shakespeare, Introduction to English 366”, a lecture prepared for “English 366: Studies in Shakespeare”, by Ian Johnston of Malaspina University College, Nanaimo, BC. This text is in the public domain, released June 1999. It was last revised August 1, 2000 and again in December 2000, at [accessed 7 FEB 08]. “Some Distinctions Between Classical Tragedy and Comedy”, by Dr. L. Kip Wheeler, Carson-Newman College, Jefferson City, TN, c. 1998-2008, at [accessed 7 FEB 08].

4. Theology of the Older Testament (Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1962), pg. 421.

5. Westminster Theological Journal. electronic edition. Philadelphia : Westminster Theological Seminary, 1998; “An Early Reformed Document on the Mission to the Jews”, by Robert White, WTJ 53:1 (Spring 1991), pg. 98, note 15; full article = pp. 93-108.

6. The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. electronic edition. Garland, TX : Galaxie Software, 1998; “The Authority Of Jesus In The Gospel Of Mark”, by James R. Edwards, JETS (June 1994), pg. 221; full article = pp. 217-233.

7. The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. electronic edition. Garland, TX : Galaxie Software, 1998; “The Authority Of Jesus In The Gospel Of Mark”, by James R. Edwards, JETS (June 1994), pg. 230; full article = pp. 217-233.

No comments: