Moral Earthquakes & Secret Faults: Aftershocks - Part 2

Judges 16

Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? James 3:11–12

In 1956 Princess Elizabeth, the widow of the beloved King Albert of Belgium, visited Soviet-dominated Warsaw. A chief of protocol was assigned by the government to accompany her to church one Sunday. She asked him, “Are you a Christian?”

“Believing,” replied the bureaucrat, “but not practicing.”

“Oh, of course,” said the princess. “Then you must be a Communist.”

“Practicing, Your Majesty, but not believing,” he responded with a wry smile.

Sadly, that is the kind of irony that haunts many of us today. We claim to believe the gospel, but we don’t act like it. Meanwhile, we disclaim the ways of the world, and we conform ourselves to them. Mere expediency makes a mockery of our confession.

It also paves the way for disaster in the future. Such cracks in our character today are inevitably the precursors of devastating moral earthquakes tomorrow.

As we have seen, the story of Samson is a case in point. Though he was blessed beyond measure, he squandered his great advantages through a series of seemingly insignificant slights and slanders. Secret faults began to develop in Samson’s life. Though they preceded his eventual demise by some 20 years, they were undoubtedly the root cause of his devastating moral earthquake.

Samson went where he was not supposed to go. He did what he was not supposed to do. He associated with those with whom he was not supposed to associate. He flirted with disaster until, at last, disaster struck. Though he seemed to have a supreme knack for escaping the consequences of his sins early on, the aftereffects of his rebellion proved too much for even the great Samson to withstand.

Like the Polish bureaucrat, when it came to matters of faith Samson was believing but not practicing. When it came to matters of the world, he was just the opposite. That is always a prescription for disaster.

Powerful aftereffects

In 1755, the great Portuguese city of Lisbon was struck by a tremendous earthquake. Though powerful, it appeared that the initial damage was minimal. Then, after a few moments of calm, an aftershock hit. It lasted only two minutes but brought with it terrible devastation. Many older buildings broke apart. A number of roads buckled. Several wharves surrounding the busy port collapsed under the turbulent waters. Even so, most citizens breathed a sigh of relief. The worst was over—or so they thought. The land actually stilled only for a moment. Suddenly, another aftershock rocked the city for nearly ten minutes. This time, almost everything in sight was left in a shambles. The once resplendent city was reduced to little more than a heap of ruins.

Yet there was more to come. The survivors had to face fires that had broken out all over the city. The few homes and buildings that remained standing were so unstable that even the slightest breeze threatened to topple them. As if all that were not enough, a succession of great waves caused by the quake began shattering the already decimated shoreline. Fifteen- to fifty-foot-high waves pounded into the rubble of the city three times. Hundreds of panic-stricken people, waiting in the harbor to cross the sole remaining bridge over the Tagus River, were suddenly swept away. Almost two hours after the first tremors began, Lisbon continued to reel from the aftereffects of what at first seemed to be a rather trifling quake. By the end of the harrowing ordeal, an estimated 70,000 of the 275,000 people living in the city had died from the quake and its frightening succession of aftershocks.

As the residents of Lisbon discovered on that calamitous day, even an apparently minor tremor along a fault line can have ongoing, residual effects—one aftershock following another—that can ultimately usher in complete destruction. Moral earthquakes are very similar. They can have devastatingly destructive residual effects. Sometimes those effects are not manifested until sometime much later.

Moral earthquakes are thus not only preceded by secret faults; they are succeeded by sudden aftershocks. Witness again the sad saga of Samson.

The Delilah dilemma

You would think that somewhere along the way, Samson would have learned his lesson. Sadly though, his disappointing experiences with the Philistines only deepened the pattern of rebellion in his life, exacerbating the cracks in his character. He claimed belief in the ways of the Lord, but he didn’t act like it. Meanwhile, he disclaimed the ways of the world but then conformed himself to them at every turn. Mere expediency had already made a mockery of his confession. Before long it also reduced his life to utter ruin.

By the time Samson had his infamous encounter with the temptress Delilah, he had actually reinforced his impassioned rebellious habits for some twenty years. During that time, the character of Samson had become so damaged—so weakened by secret faults and cracks in his character—that he was unable to stop himself. Even in the face of obvious danger, he had become a slave to his passions.

You see, when we allow our secret faults to continue without arrest and unabated over the years, we lose the ability to exercise even the most basic elements of common sense. Have you ever witnessed that phenomenon? It can happen to anyone. Remember when evangelist Jimmy Swaggart suffered his great moral earthquake? At the time he was perhaps the most recognizable man in his hometown, and one of the most recognizable men in the nation. So what on earth possessed him to begin prowling the streets, not far from the headquarters of his international ministry to pick up prostitutes? It simply doesn’t make sense. But the fact is, when secret faults are left without arrest, we tend to lose all sense of propriety. Common sense deserts us altogether. We begin to do things we would never have done before, and the results are disastrous, as they were for Samson:

Afterward it happened that he loved a woman in the Valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. And the lords of the Philistines came up to her, “Entice him, and find out where his great strength lies, and by what means we may overpower him, that we may bind him to afflict him; and every one of us will give you eleven hundred pieces of silver.” (Judg. 16:4–5)

Up to that time, though Samson had allowed secret faults to run all throughout his life, he had been a scourge to the dreaded Philistines. He disrupted their reign of terror among the people of Israel and became a champion of freedom. Now they saw an opportunity to exploit his obvious weakness for beautiful women. They came to his latest object of illicit affection, Delilah, and struck a bargain with her to betray him.

So Delilah came on to Samson and begged, “Please tell me where your great strength lies” (Judg. 16:6). Of course, she didn’t just come right out and brazenly ask him to betray his secret. She enticed him first by inviting him into her lair. She wined and dined him. She utilized all of her provocative allure. She broke down his few remaining defenses, scruples and inhibitions. In that sensual setting, the story unfolded ominously:

Delilah said to Samson, “Please tell me where your great strength lies, and with what you may be bound to afflict you.” And Samson said to her, “If they bind me with seven fresh bowstrings, not yet dried, then I shall become weak, and be like any other man.” (Judg. 16:6–7)

Having weakened his sensibilities with raw physical passion, she plied her question, “What is your secret?” Apparently though, Samson still had some of his wits about him and he lied to her. Delilah, intent on her betrayal, proceeded to bind about him “seven fresh bowstrings” while he slept (Judg. 16:8). Immediately after, she disingenuously cried out, “The Philistines are upon you.” But when his attackers came out of hiding in the bed chamber to pounce on him, Samson surprised them all, sundered the bowstrings “as a thread of tow is broken when it toucheth the hearth fire,” and then furiously smote them (Judg. 16:9, KJV).

Dumb and dumber

Amazingly, Samson failed to learn from this betrayal and narrow escape. He was so smitten by his fleshly attraction to Delilah that he remained captive to her affections. The moral earthquake in his life had finally taken its toll. Now one aftershock followed another, bringing with them increasing ruin. In a very real sense, Samson went from dumb to dumber—just as we do when we become captive to our temptations.

Thus undeterred, Delilah pressed her ploy further:

Then Delilah said to Samson, “Look, you have mocked me and told me lies. Now please tell me what you may be bound with.” So he said to her, “If they bind me securely with new ropes that have never been used, then I will become weak, and be like any other man.” (Judg. 16:10–11)

Again, though Samson was toying with complete disaster, he kept his wits about him and deceived his lover. Once again Delilah called the Philistines out of hiding, and once again, Samson defeated them handily. Nevertheless, he allowed the farce to continue. His expedient accommodation to fleshly desire not only made a mockery of his calling and confession, it completely undermined the foundations of his life. Remember, moral earthquakes are not just preceded by secret faults; they are succeeded by sudden aftershocks:

Delilah said to Samson, “Until now you have mocked me and told me lies. Tell me what you may be bound with.” And he said to her, “If you weave the seven locks of my head into the web of the loom.” (Judg. 16:13)

Do you see what was happening? Samson had weakened. One aftershock after another had left him practically defenseless. He came tantalizingly close to telling her the truth. He had become so overconfident that he thought he could get away with just about anything. That is what habitual sin always does to us. We become so dominated by our worldly desires that we are utterly myopic in our thinking.

So pulling out all the stops, Delilah said to him, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me?” (Judg. 16:15). That line may be the oldest cliché in the book. It has been used in the moral collapse of more men, women, and young people than perhaps any phrase since the Fall. Though it is patently transparent, it is amazingly effective, isn’t it? And thus, like so many before and so many since, Samson fell for it. Delilah pestered him with her cloying affections and maudlin sentiments until, finally, his resistance was completely worn down and he relented:

He told her all his heart, and said to her, “No razor has ever come upon my head, for I have been a Nazarite to God from my mother’s womb. If I am shaven then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.” (Judg. 16:17)

Even in the midst of his collapse, Samson could still articulate the truth. He still understood the essence and significance of his calling. He could still stand at the sacred desk and pronounce the truth in a persuasive manner. Though he played into the hands of his own betrayal, though he left untended secret faults and cracks in his character for all those years, right up until the time of the whole collapse he could still speak the truth. Some people wonder how a man can stand in the pulpit or exercise authority in the home or take a public stand for righteousness when all the while immorality has begun to consume his mind, will, or emotions. Samson exemplified the greatest irony of sin in the life of a believer: he knew full well the difference between right and wrong, but he chose wrong anyway. Of his own volition, he rejected truth for a lie.

Blind, bound and belittled

That night, Samson’s ruin was assured. Delilah cut away his long Nazarite braids—the final remnant of his righteous commitment was shorn from his life:

She said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” So he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as before, at other times, and shake myself free!” (Judg. 16:20)

Alas, his demise was now complete. His moral faults had remained unexamined for so long that he was unaware of the full extent of the damages. His moral earthquake had wreaked havoc on the foundations of his life, and he didn’t even know it. This final aftershock collapsed the tottering remains of his pride:

Then the Philistines took him and put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza. They bound him with bronze fetters, and he became a grinder in the prison. (Judg. 16:21)

At long last the consequences of his profligate life were made evident. The great champion, Samson, was left to grope in a shattered darkness, bound in chains, sentenced to grind the meal of his enemies, like some lowly ox. For years, he had flaunted his dominion over his enemies while at the mercy of his base animal instincts. Now his enemies flaunted their dominion over him while he was forced to live out his final days as an animal. His humiliation was complete.

Samson was blind, bound and belittled. For their parties the Philistines would bring him out to mock him and to mock God. That is just what sin ultimately does to all of us if we persist in it. It blinds us, it binds us and it belittles us. It makes a mockery of us, and it makes a mockery of our God as well.

Samson lost his strength. He lost his sight. He lost his freedom. He lost his usefulness. He lost his testimony. He lost his reputation. He lost everything. But it didn’t just happen. His great moral earthquake was preceded by secret faults. It was then succeeded by a whole host of sudden aftershocks. Anywhere along the way, he could have arrested the process.

Behind the business desks and the church desks all across this nation are men and women who for years have said, “I love the Lord Jesus Christ.” Yet underneath their facade is unseen secret faults—cracks in character that one day will bring about a moral earthquake for all to see. The results will be no less catastrophic than they were in the life of great Samson.

Better late than never

The Philistines had a great feast:

So it happened when their hearts were merry, that they said, “Call for Samson, that he may perform for us.” So they called for Samson from the prison, and he performed for them. And they stationed him between the pillars. (Judg. 16:25)

Can’t you see it? They had the man of God. They wanted him to perform for them. Blind, bound and belittled, Samson was little more than a humorous sidelight—a grotesque freak show.

The sad irony is impossible to miss. Once the most powerful man of his day, Samson was reduced to practical irrelevance by his own foolish adherence to the ways of the flesh. This is what even the most trivial of sins can do to us. We think such things are really no big deal, but we are so wrong—as Samson would quickly attest:

Then Samson called to the Lord saying, “O Lord God, remember me, I pray! Strengthen me, I pray, just this once, O God, that I may take vengeance on the Philistines for my two eyes. And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars which supported the temple, and he braced himself against them, one on his right and the other on his left. Then Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” And he pushed with all his might, and the temple fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So the dead that he killed at his death were more than he had killed in his life. (Judg. 16:28–30).

This ought to be a warning to us all. The end of Samson’s life is a solemn reminder that there are consequences to sin. For 20 years, Samson assumed he could ignore all of the secret faults that lay beneath the surface of his life, but he was wrong. He thought he could get away with a few minor indiscretions from time to time, but he couldn’t.

We all tend to believe at one time or another that we can ignore our sins. But the fact remains, our sins will not ignore us.

With his last burst of energy, Samson took hold of the pillars on either side of him. He was blind, but he had actually begun to see better than he had in more than 20 years. He heard the Philistines mocking God, so he prayed: “Oh Lord God, remember me and strengthen me just one more time.” At long last, he realized that the strength he once possessed was not his, but God’s. So he pleaded, “Let me die right here.” With all of his great advantages thoroughly squandered, Samson finally began to understand: he surrendered his life completely to the will and purposes of Almighty God.

Better late than never.

Moral soundings

  • Do you claim to believe in the ways of the Lord but fail to act like it?
  • Do you disclaim the ways of the world but then conform yourself to them at every turn?
  • Has mere expediency made a mockery of your calling and confession?
  • Are you feeling aftershocks from what appeared to be a minor moral tremor some time ago?
  • Have you ignored the shaky foundations of your life for far too long?
  • Who--or what--is your "Delilah dilemma"?
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