And Samson lay till midnight, and arose at midnight, and took the doors of the gate of the city, and the two posts, and went away with them, bar and all, and put them upon his shoulders, and carried them up to the top of an hill that is before Hebron.
At Lehi the place of Samson in Israel was changed. There he became judge over Israel in the full sense of the word. Long before this God had called him, and he had testified to Israel concerning the truth. But the people had not received him. They were content to continue under the dominion of the Philistines; and when Samson began to oppose and offend the Philistines, they saw him only as a troublemaker and a disturber of their peace. Even when the Spirit of the Lord came upon Samson so that he wrought miraculous works of judgment against the Philistines, the Philistines began to fear him greatly, but the Israelites remained unimpressed. When finally the Philistines moved into their territory with a large army, determined to do away with Samson’s interference, the Israelites were ready to help them. With three thousand men they went to the rock Etam, and, taking Samson, delivered him bound into the hands of their oppressors.
It was then that the change took place. While they watched, the Spirit of God came upon Samson and, he broke apart the new ropes that bound him as though they were old and seared by a fire. Seizing the jawbone of an ass that lay at his feet, he charged into the middle of the Philistine army and slew them heap upon heap. That night in the houses of Israel there was much soul-searching that took place. They had seen the Spirit of God working and could no longer look upon it with their former cold contempt. They began to realize that Samson was indeed a deliverer sent to them by God in grace. When after this Samson again walked among the people, he found a new respect which he had never known before. Now when he spoke, the people listened. They came to him to be instructed and judged. The Spirit of God was upon him, and he guided the people in the way they should go. He was judge over Israel in the name of the Lord.
This situation continued much longer than we are apt to realize. For twenty years Samson was the judge of Israel. Of this period we are given no details at all; and we may assume that no outstanding events took place which are important for us to know as those which preceded and followed. Nevertheless, we should not fail to note that there was this period of considerable length. During that, time Samson, was the spiritual leader of the people. More and more they must have begun to assume his attitude over against God and over against their enemies. God was the Lord, whom they should obey and worship, while the Philistines were a wicked people who were not to be followed or endured. Once again within the land of Israel the service of God was to be seen and heard.
Still during this time the, Philistines remained the oppressors of the children of Israel. God did not see fit to work through Samson a complete victory over the enemy as He had through Deborah, Gideon, and Jephthah. Samson was rather preparatory to the work of Eli, Samuel, and the kings. Nonetheless, the oppression of the Philistines was surely restricted by the presence of Samson. At Lehi the Philistines had learned that no matter how great a force they possessed, and even though Samson was bound and in their hands, they were powerless against him. In Samson there was a force which they could not overcome. During all f the years that followed they did not dare, again to move in force against him. His power was too great. He was left free to go where he wanted and to do what he pleased.
Thus it was that during this period, perhaps toward its end, Samson made his way to the city of Gaza. Gaza was one of the chief cities of the Philistines and surely one of its strongest. Time and again it had proved itself to be a Philistine stronghold against invading forces. This was in all likelihood Samson’s reason for coming to Gaza. The Philistines considered themselves to be a noble and courageous people. Continually they acted as though they had a perfect right to rule over the people of Israel because of their superior strength. They boasted continually because of their power. Gaza was the center of this power and a chief symbol of Philistia’s boast. In coming there Samson was revealing the utter contempt which he held for their claim. Alone and unarmed he approached the gate of the city; but defiance was to be seen on his face, Let anyone try to prevent him from entering. But none dared; and he passed through into the city. Back and forth through the streets of the city he wandered. The streets were narrow and winding, with many ideal places for a large crowd to set upon one man without leaving him room for escape. The people knew who Samson was. Since the days of Lehi the reports of Samson had carried far and wide throughout the land, and he had never hesitated to let himself be seen by all as he wandered often through the land of the Philistines. Neither did the defiance in his eyes leave any room for mistake as to the nature of his mission. Knowing eyes followed him into every street and along every step of the way; but none dared as much, as to stop him and ask why he, was there or what he intended to do. Surely no one dared to ask him to leave the city. The men of Tinmath had presumed many years before to give him occasion, and from it Gaza had learned a lesson. Freely he went wherever he chose, and this mightiest city of the Philistines stood paralyzed before him.
At last, wearied by the failure of the men of Gaza to meet his challenge, and disappointed, Samson gave in to his besetting weakness. Samson had always had the greatest difficulty coping with his sexual lusts. That was why he had allowed his exploits in Timnath to be marred by his marriage to a daughter of the heathen Philistines. Soon it would bring about his final downfall as he would yield to the seductions of the wicked Delilah. He was not alone in this weakness. We find many other children of God in the Scriptures, heroes of faith, whose lives were marred in a similar way. It is just that in Samson it is so distasteful because he allowed it to combine so closely with his greatest works of faith. The greatest of the children of God have always shown themselves to be far from perfect. Samson in Gaza turned in to the house of a harlot.
Even in this, however, there was a further element of defiance. No where in all of the city would Samson appear to be more defenseless. There in the close confines of a private home, it would appear the easiest thing in the world to take him. They could so easily block the door tight with countless mighty men and leave him no way of escape. Imprisoned like that, they could destroy him at their leisure. But just because it appeared so easy, the Philistines did not trust it. They could only read into Samson’s every action a carefully calculated plot to entice them into battle. The more, foolish Samson’s actions appeared, the more sure they were that he was waiting to rise up against them and work a mass destruction. None dared to move against him. They only waited and watched the door of the harlot’s house to see when Samson would come out and what he would do next.
For hours they waited, until at last the darkness fell and the gates of the city were closed. Only then did the hopes of the Philistines begin to rise. Now they knew that they had him locked within their city until morning. This gave them time to think and lay their plans. They knew better than to mount an open attack against Samson. This had been tried, and he had proved himself more than equal to that. But they did see a possibility in taking him subtly by surprise. For this they had all of the night to get ready. Gathering together the bravest of their men, they put them carefully in hiding before the gate of the city. By morning, they were convinced, he would be off his guard. He would be sure that they had no intentions of meeting his challenge. But when the morning came, they would leave the gates closed and locked. When he approached them, he would find himself closed in; and they would rise and strike him. Until nearly midnight they labored gleefully, saying to themselves, “In the morning, when it is day, we shall kill him.”
It was then, at the midnight hour, that the unexpected happened. Samson came out of the harlot’s house. This the Philistines had never, expected. Surely Samson knew that at this hour the gates of the city were closed and tightly barred. He could not expect to get out at this hour. How foolish could he be? But there was no hesitation in the steps of this Israelite as he moved toward the city gate. His steps were quick and without stopping, as though he knew exactly what he intended. Even when he stood before the very gates themselves, he seemed undisturbed by their locks and heavy bars. Rather he reached out and grasped them with his hands. Then, as those lying in wait looked on, he gave one mighty lunge and tore them loose from the city walls, gates, bars, posts and all. Even more, he hoisted them all to his shoulders and sauntered off into the darkness.
By the light of the morning sun the city stood naked and exposed. This was Gaza, the might and the boast of the Philistine nation. It had stood under the attack of countless invading forces. The strength of the city was its walls; and the strength of the walls was its gates. Many a mighty army had tried to destroy them, and they had stood fast. But now, and there were a goodly number of men who could witness to it, one man had lifted them to his shoulders and carried them off. This was Gaza, standing naked and exposed in the morning sun, without its gates, without its strength, without its boast.
And then, as though to make it more unbelievable still, the report came back, the gates had been found with posts and bars and all. They were not in a nearby field; they were not downward by the sea; they were up on yonder mountain at its very peak. An army could hardly retrieve them; but they had been brought there by one man alone.
Here was a sign to which the Philistines might well listen. The gates represented the strength of their city; and moved by the Spirit of Israel’s God, one man had carried them off alone. It could only mean that with all their armies and fortified town they were helpless before this mighty God. In one moment He could root out their greatest, strength and carry it far away. They would, do well to turn from oppressing His people and repent. But these were the Philistines, and they would not.