“…the boy is to be a Nazirite, set apart to God from birth…The woman gave birth to a boy and named him Samson”
Understanding the geography and culture of the land of Israel during the time of Samson makes a huge difference in the lessons that we take way from his bible story. Where he lived and the conflict between the two cultures he lived among, the Philistines and the Israelites, played a huge part in the Samson story.
Samson was born in between Zorah and Eshtaol, to a family in the tribe, or camps (Mahaneh) of Dan. The low foothill where he was born, between the coastal plains and the mountains of Israel, was called the Shephelah. These low foothills were where the two opposing cultures met in battle and conflict. The coastal plain of the Mediterranean was home to the Philistines, also called the “Sea People”. They lived in five large city states along the coast, Gaza, Gath, Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Ekron. The Philistines were very advanced culturally and technologically and were superior to the Israelites in many areas. They worshipped the God Dagon and were the enemies of God’s people, the Hebrews. The Hebrews lived in the mountains to the east of the coastal plains. They did not have cities at this time, but lived in nomadic camps, in tents. The Hebrews were living under the thumb of the superior Philistines during this time period in history.
What happened to Samson? Where did he go wrong as the leader and Judge of God’s people? He was under the Nazrite vow, a vow that set him apart from the rest of the Israelites. . The purpose of the vow was to set you apart, to make you different from the rest of the people, so that the world would know and be attracted to your God. But, Samson began to go down to the coastal plain and dabble in the worldly lifestyle of the Philistines. He went down to Timnah and tried to take a Philistine woman for his wife, something the God of the Hebrews had expressly forbidden them to do (Deut 7:1-6). He then slept with a prostitute in Gaza, and fell in love with another Philistine woman, Delilah. He eventually broke all the vows that he had taken as a Nazrite. Although an imposing figure as far as physical stature and prowess, Samson proved very ineffective as a witness for the principles that his God and his vows were supposed to hold him to. He compromised all his values in order to get a taste of the enticing lifestyle of the coastal plain. Samson’s sin was not just sexual in nature; it was that he failed to be a true Nazrite, a person who was totally devoted to God in every part of his life. Because he got in bed with the coastal plain, he lost his witness. He was a compromiser.
As a metaphor, the coastal plain represents the people that don’t have God’s value system. The mountains represent God’s people and His values. The Shephelah, where Samson was born, is a metaphor for where God’s people meet the worldly lifestyle. This is where good and evil meet. So, how is your Shephelah? How are you doing when you come into contact with the coastal plain? When you go down to meet the coastal plain do you stand strong or do you give in a little? Are you influencing it or is it influencing you? Are you committed to the ways of the mountain or are you being influenced by the coastal plain? Are you dabbling in some of the coastal plain stuff or are you standing firm as a mountain person?
God’s people are called to live on the edge of the coastal plain and to be an impact on its pagan lifestyle. We are to live our lives separated to Christ, as a witness, so that the world may know about our God. As Christians, we are to be, in effect, Nazrites. We are to be different, to stand out as a witness to a world that needs to know about what He is like.
Samson, from a Jewish perspective, was a failure. He was put in a position of leadership and lived for forty years in a place where he could have a huge impact on his world. Instead, he was largely ineffective. His life story was one of compromise. He lost his witness because he couldn’t keep himself from being attracted to and influenced by the lifestyle of the coastal plain.
Here is the lesson we should take away from the Samson story. To be an effective Shephelah person, you have to be a Nazrite! If you want to be a standing stone on the crossroads of life, you can’t be half committed to God. The coastal plain will suck you right in, just as quickly as it did Samson. We have to be one hundred per cent committed to God to survive against the enemy’s traps and snares. We can’t have a few pig bones in our closet and be an effective witness in the Shephelah. This is our failure as a Christian community; we look and act just like the people we are trying to influence. What compromises are you making that are keeping you from being an effective witness for God? What changes can you make to be a more effective standing stone for the world around you that so desperately needs God’s principles and lifestyle? Are you committed to being a Nazrite-a standing stone Christian in all that you do? Let’s learn a lesson from Sampson-NO COMPROMISING!! It takes a tremendous commitment, but we are called to be Shephelah people. Jesus said, “Come be like me! ” Can we offer him any less?