Moral Earthquakes & Secret Faults: Living on the fault line- Part 1

Judges 13-14

Be sure, your sin will find you out. — Numbers 32:23

Earthquakes don’t just happen. Instead, they are caused by things beyond our sight, well beneath the surface of the ground.

Throughout most of human history, the largely hidden processes of geological activity have been complete mysteries. But now we know that the earth’s crust is composed of a number of separately mobile, ever-shifting plates. When and where these plates come together, there is bound to be a great deal of geological disruption. As they scrape against one another, long lines of disturbances—tremors, shifts, eruptions and cracks--are likely to occur. In fact, they are inevitable.

The seams between the earth’s various plates are called “faults.” Usually, pressure along the fault line remains fairly subtle and stable. But over time, stress builds between the plates. When the tension finally exceeds the breaking strength of rock, a jolting rupture ensues. The earth is literally sundered, and the result can be utterly devastating.

The San Andreas Fault, for example, is the seam between the Pacific and Northern American plates. It runs through California from north to south for 650 miles. Slowly, an inch or two every year, the west side of the fault creeps northward. As long as this creep occurs unimpeded, stresses in the rock do not build up and no earthquakes occur.

However, there are numerous places along the fault line where the facing blocks of rock above the plates become fused together. Pulled by the plates below but unable to move, they gradually twist out of shape and strain builds up in them—often over a period of years or even decades. Eventually though, the rocks break apart—sometimes jumping many feet—to make up for the years when they should have been moving slowly apart. This is exactly what happened in the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and again in the devastating Oakland earthquake in 1989.

Clearly then, earthquakes don’t just happen. They are preceded by a series of smaller seismic events along the fault line—events beyond our sight that may have been quietly occurring beneath the surface for many years.

Moral fault lines

Not surprisingly, moral earthquakes follow the same pattern. They don’t just happen.

We all know men and women whose actions have resulted in what we might call a moral earthquake: prominent pastors who fall into gross immorality, successful businessmen who are caught in illegal dealings, or happy families suddenly destroyed by unforeseen forces. We look at such people and wonder, How could this have possibly happened? Stunned and amazed, we say, “They looked like they were the all-American family.” Or, “He seemed as if he really had it all together.” Or, “She was so wonderful.” Bewildered, we ask, “How can this be? They appeared to have everything going for them. What could have caused this terrible catastrophe to happen?”

Despite all outward appearances, moral earthquakes don’t just happen. Like geological earthquakes, they are preceded by the pressures of long-hidden faults. They erupt when the ordinary pressures of life finally expose the secret cracks in the character of a man or a woman or a family.

For a long, long while, we might think that such fault lines are of no great consequence. We convince ourselves that they don’t really amount to anything, that they’re no big deal. So we let them go. We completely ignore their presence.

Inevitably though, the pressures of life expose the cracks in our characters. They reveal the secret faults that run beneath the surface of our lives. One day, they erupt into a moral earthquake that has devastating results upon all those around us.

From hero to zero

Samson is a striking biblical example of a man who suffered a horrendous moral earthquake. His all-too-familiar story is told in the Book of Judges. He was a man who had it all going for him. He was young, strong, attractive and influential—a natural leader. He came from a good family and enjoyed all the advantages of a solid moral upbringing. Yet in the end, his life was ruined by a moral earthquake.

Of course, it didn’t just happen. In fact, Samson’s moral earthquake was preceded by years of little faults—faults that began so insignificantly that we might be tempted to believe there was hardly anything to them. In fact, they ran their course over a period of two decades, cracking his character beneath the surface until a catastrophic earthquake became inevitable.

So what was it that really caused Samson’s failure? What was his secret fault? Many of us who have a cursory acquaintance with his story might be tempted to blurt out, “Delilah. Samson was undone by that conniving woman, Delilah. He told her his secret, she cut off his hair, he lost his strength, and he was delivered into the hands of his enemies.”

We tend to make a big deal about Delilah. Almost everything written and taught about Samson and his ultimate failure centers on her. We are all too prone to think that she was his greatest fault—the root of his downfall. But in reality, some 20 years before that, a few little secret faults began to run their course through the character of his life, cracking it here and there, finally resulting in a catastrophic moral collapse. Delilah just happened to be there at the end.

No big deal

Many of us are involved in things—sinful habits, moral compromises, ethical lapses, or spiritual accommodations—that we rationalize away as petty, trivial or unimportant. Though we know better, we dabble in these things because we think they are too insignificant to worry about. We think that they’re really no big deal—just small moral faults. Later we discover—often when it is too late—that living out our lives on such fault lines ultimately results in incomprehensible damage to ourselves and to those around us. For all too many of us, our character is cracked under the surface. Our secret faults undermine the foundations of our lives, and, sadly, we set ourselves up for a devastating earthquake sometime in the future.

We let down a few standards here, or a few scruples there, and we say, “Oh, it isn’t that big of a deal.” Yet, that is precisely the way Samson began. Moral earthquakes do not just happen. A man doesn’t just leave his family. A woman doesn’t just fall into immorality. A family doesn’t just disintegrate overnight. A businessman doesn’t just plunge into unethical behavior in a single moment of weakness.

A kind of unavoidable domino effect somehow magnifies and multiplies the import of even the most insignificant spiritual breaches. Sin has consequences, and those consequences simply cannot be swept under the rug. Cracks in our character—regardless of how imperceptible they may be at first—inevitably cause incalculable damage.

Moral earthquakes are always preceded by secret faults.

Predicting disaster

The sciences of plate tectonics and seismology have advanced to such an astonishing degree in recent years that earthquakes are now somewhat predictable. Although unable to pinpoint exact times or locations, scientists can accurately identify general at-risk periods and regions. In 1975 for instance, seismologists forecast a major earthquake in the Liaoning province of Manchuria. More than two million people were evacuated from their homes in the industrial city of Yingkou. A little over four hours later a massive earthquake struck. Instead of tens of thousands of deaths, there were less than 300. In California, scientists also watch key indicators very carefully. As a result, even the smallest tremors are rarely a complete surprise.

The same is true with moral earthquakes. If we allow secret faults to remain in our lives, cracking our character, we may not be able to precisely say when a moral earthquake will happen, but we can be certain that it will happen. Next week, next month, next year, or even—as it was for Samson—20 years hence, an earthquake is inevitable. Faults create innately unstable foundations.

The apostle Paul warned us, “Do not be deceived. God is not mocked: for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Gal. 6:7). When we violate God’s standards, we can be sure that we are not going to get away with it in the end. When we break God’s laws—whether they are physical laws or spiritual laws—we will eventually have to pay the consequences.

For instance, if we try to defy the law of gravity, we will get hurt. If we climb up on a building and jump off, we are certain to come crashing down. If we plunge our hand into a fire, we are most assuredly going to get burned. There are physical laws woven into the fabric of God’s creation. We can’t break them and expect to get away with it.

Similarly, God’s moral laws are not to be trifled with. Break them, and they will most assuredly break us. Thus, the Bible asserts, “Be sure your sin will find you out” (Num. 32:23). We can’t violate God’s spiritual laws and get away with it. We can’t live in fornication, adultery, greed, bitterness, anger or rebellion without ultimately suffering the consequences of those grave breaches.

Moral earthquakes are thus, all too predictable.

A terrible demise

Again, Samson is a case in point. His story is one of the saddest in the Bible—because he began so well, only to squander every advantage and every opportunity:

Again the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord delivered them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years. Now there was a certain man from Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren and had no children. And the Angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said, “Indeed now you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Now therefore, please be careful not to drink wine or similar drink, and not to eat anything unclean. For behold, you shall conceive and bear a son, and no razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazarite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines. (Judg. 13:1–5)

There was a cyclical pattern in the history of Israel during the tumultuous days of the judges. The people would indulge in sin and rebellion for a period. As a result, they would fall into the hands of evil oppressors. Then in the midst of their servitude, they would cry out to the Lord in repentance. God would mercifully deliver them by raising up a champion—a judge. But alas, their newfound freedom would lull them into complacency once again, and the cycle would repeat itself.

The story of Samson is set against this backdrop. Once again the people of Israel find themselves under the fierce tyranny of the Philistines. Samson’s birth is an answer to the fervent prayers of his godly parents. In addition, an angel of the Lord announces that he will one day be a champion to deliver his people from their despicable bondage.

Notice the great advantages that Samson had. He was dedicated from birth. He was a true gift of God to a sweet, godly couple. He was given a special calling. Indeed, he proved to be strong, clever and winsome—the sort of young man destined for success in life. Nevertheless, though he started out on a godly track, he ended his life picking up the pieces of broken dreams—devastated by a catastrophic moral earthquake.

Have you known anyone like Samson? Someone who had a good beginning? Someone who was God-anointed, God-appointed, and had every possible advantage in life, yet succumbed to the shock of a moral earthquake?

Samson’s experience confirms the lamentable fact that even a godly home is no absolute guarantee of a godly life. Sometimes our best-intended spiritual influences are rejected by our children. Some of us are eerily like Samson: we have been brought up in godly homes by parents who prayed for us, dedicated us and sacrificed for us through the years; yet, we choose to live our lives along the dangerous fault lines of sin and rebellion.

Outward evidences

Samson was particularly advantaged spiritually. In fact, we are told that he was a “Nazarite” from his mother’s womb. A Nazarite was someone peculiarly set apart for the work of God. He was distinguished in holiness by three vows he was to keep forever. First, he vowed to never drink wine or even to go near a vineyard where grapes or raisins were grown. Second, he vowed to never touch a dead animal because he was to live a separated, holy life unsullied by the curse of death. Third, he vowed to never cut his hair (Num. 6:2–8).

Each of these vows outwardly represented an inward commitment to holiness and righteousness. They were intended to be the external symbols of an internal reality in his heart and life. When men and women saw a Nazarite walking down the street, they immediately recognized him as a man of commitment, a man of holy resolve. Sadly, Samson trivialized his status as a Nazarite early in his life:

Now Samson went down to Timnah as a young man and saw a woman of Timnah, of the daughters of the Philistines. (Judg. 14:1)

The Philistines were pagans. They were the very oppressors God had raised Samson up to defeat. Yet there he was. Samson knew better, but still he went. That was his first mistake. According to the story, he “saw” one of the daughters of the Philistines. Right then and there he was smitten. He made his decision to abandon his high calling and to reject his righteous upbringing—entirely on the basis of his senses. It seems that he was completely dominated by the desires of his flesh. Notice: He had never had a conversation with her. He had never even met her. Certainly, he had never gone into her home. He knew nothing about her except what she looked like.

This was not agape love—there was no common faith here. This was not even phileo love—there was no brotherly fondness or affection. Samson had never met the girl. This was sheer, stark eros love—it was base, fleshly, physical attraction.

One thing leads to another

Samson was where he should not have been—down there at Timnah, down there with the godless people, down there among the Philistines—and that led to his second big mistake:

So he went up and told his father and mother, saying, “I have seen a woman in Timnah of the daughters of the Philistines; now therefore, get her for me as a wife.” (Judg. 14:2)

He went back home and said, “Mom, I’ve found the one. Dad, go down there and get her for me.” He was ready for his parents to begin arranging for a wedding—and he had yet to even meet his prospective bride. He was obviously moved by nothing more than sheer physical attraction.

Thus began the small cracks in his character—the little secret faults—that would one day erupt into a full-force moral earthquake. Of course Samson knew better: he was a Nazarite, but he persisted in his obstinate commitment to fleshly desires:

Then his father and mother said to him, “Is there no woman among the daughters of your brethren, or among all my people, that you must go and get a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” And Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, for she pleases me well.” (Judg. 14:3)

His dad said, “Look, this isn’t how you’ve been brought up. This isn’t what we taught you. This isn’t the law we’ve lived by. Couldn’t you find a believer? Couldn’t you find someone who loves the Lord? Couldn’t you find someone of common faith that would be able to worship with you and help raise your children as you were raised?” He reminded his beloved son, “Don’t be unequally yoked.” But Samson would hear none of that. He was resolute in his worldly passion, “Get her for me. I know what I’m doing. I can handle this.”

Samson decided that he knew what was best for him—and thus, he rejected the clear mandates of God’s law and the wise inclinations of his parents’ counsel. Thus, the fault lines began to spread even further:

“So Samson went down to Timnah with his father and mother, and came to the vineyards of Timnah.” (Judg. 14:5)

Where did he go? The vineyards of Timnah! Almost without warning, the secret faults in Samson’s life lead him to violate one of the basic vows of his Nazarite commitment. He was not to go anywhere near a vineyard. He was not even allowed to touch as much as a single raisin. Yet there he was, walking through the vineyard, flagrantly doing the very thing he had vowed he would never do.

The fact is, when we say no to God in one area of our lives, when we let a little fault begin to spread, we are well on our way toward a moral earthquake. One thing leads to another, and we find ourselves irretrievably on the downgrade. Thus, complications began to mount almost immediately for Samson:

Now to his surprise, a young lion came roaring against him. (Judg. 14:5)

When we step out of God’s will for our lives, we shouldn’t be terribly surprised when we are confronted with obstacles. Samson thought he could avert disaster, but he actually only made things worse:

And the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him, and he tore the lion apart as one would have torn apart a young goat, though he had nothing in his hand. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done. Then he went down and talked with the woman, and she pleased Samson well. (Judg. 14:6–7)

Sin has consequences. We may be ingenious in our efforts to avoid those consequences—as Samson was when he faced the lion in the vineyard. But ultimately, even our best efforts at ingenuity are to no avail.

One sin leads to another. One compromise leads to the next. Samson very nearly met with disaster because he was where he never should have been, doing what he never should have been doing, with someone he never should have been with. Yet, lo and behold, at the very next opportunity he returned for more. It was almost as if he were winking at sin. He apparently thought he could get away with anything. Whenever we give in to sin, we pick up next time where we left off:

After some time, when he had returned to get her, he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion. And behold a swarm of bees and honey were in the carcass of the lion. He took some of it with his hands and went along, eating. (Judg. 14:8–9)

So, Samson returned to the vineyard. When he did, he turned aside to revisit his narrow escape; there he violated the second of his Nazarite vows—that he would not touch a dead body. Not only does Samson touch the carcass of the lion he had slain, he actually eats from it.

A prescription for disaster

As shocking as Samson’s blatant and flagrant indiscretions might seem, we really shouldn’t be surprised. After all, we’ve witnessed similar patterns in our own lives. According to Solomon, “When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of people are filled with schemes to do wrong” (Eccl. 8:11, NIV).

Now remember, all these events occurred some 20 years before Samson ever met Delilah. It appears that he thought he could get away with violating his Nazarite vows without diminishing his effectiveness. So, he went on his way eating his illicit and defiled honey.

Samson was exactly like so many of us today. Carried along by the passions of the moment, he somehow forgot that actions always have consequences. Those consequences may not be immediate, but they are sure and certain nonetheless. It would be 20 years before Samson was entirely undone, but the stage was set in those vineyards of Timnah. The cracks in his character made the foundations of his life less secure. His secret faults—well hidden beneath the surface—made what seemed to be unimaginable, all too inevitable.

Twenty years later, Samson met Delilah. Then came the earthquake—and thus, his life ended in ruin. Earthquakes don’t just happen. They are always preceded by secret faults.

So it is with all of us. A marriage doesn’t just fall apart. It is slowly and imperceptibly undermined over a long span of time by small infidelities, by little accommodations to dishonesty and by seemingly harmless flirtations. These tiny fissures eventually become gaping chasms. These little cracks in the integrity of the relationship finally erupt into a catastrophic quake—bringing with it monumental destruction.

Similarly, ethical violations in the workplace, the fierce bondage of habitual immorality, and the sad descent into addictive behaviors all begin with small indiscretions but end in great devastation. At the end of his sadly squandered life, Samson knew that only too well

Moral soundings

  • Can you detect some of the secret faults that may lie below the surface of your life?
  • Have you deliberately ignored wise counsel to venture time after time into the vicinity of sin?
  • Have you found yourself making decisions based entirely upon sensual pleasure?
  • Have you allowed seemingly innocent little cracks in your character to remain without arrest?
  • Have you ignored all the predictors of a moral earthquake in your life?
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