Whether we like it or not, boundaries are a part of life. We find them wherever we go. We see signs like, No Trespassing, Authorized Personal Only, Employees Only, No Skateboarding. The Ottawa based Canadian rock group The Five Man Electric Band did a sign back in the 70’s that expressed their frustration with signs. You might remember the chorus that said:
Sign, Sign, everywhere a sign,
Blocking out the scenery breaking my mind
Do this! Don’t do that! Can’t you read the sign?
The song seems all about signs, but really it was about frustration with boundaries.
The sixties and seventies were a time when young people were questioning the boundaries set up by the older generation. I was just a child then but as I got older, I found myself getting frustrated with boundaries as well. In public school there were all kinds of rules from no running in the halls to lining up straight when the bell rang to no copying off of Claudia Helbrect’s math test. I couldn’t understand the last one. Claudia was smart and knew all the answers! When I was a teen my parents gave me a curfew. Then I learned about the traffic laws. In Bible College we had all kinds of rules that most post-secondary students didn’t have to worry about. Sign, sign, everywhere a sign! And it hasn’t stopped.
Yet, for all the grousing, rules are generally with some exceptions, are designed to keep us on track and out of trouble. When God wrote the Ten Commandments and laid down the Law of Moses, he just didn’t pick rules out of thin air. He didn’t design them to wreck our fun. At times they may feel restrictive and even unfair yet they are expressions of the love and concern that God has for all of mankind and all the earth.
That’s why God laid out some very specific boundaries for Samson even before he was born.
3 The angel of the LORD appeared to her and said, "You are sterile and childless, but you are going to conceive and have a son. 4 Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean, 5 because you will conceive and give birth to a son. No razor may be used on his head, because the boy is to be a Nazirite, set apart to God from birth, and he will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines." (Judges 13)
In Numbers chapter 6 we see a detailed description of what it mean to be a Nazarite. According to this, we see that in many cases, a person taking a Nazarite vow took it for a period of 30 to 60 days. Most who took a Nazarite vow did so because they had a deeper desire for a more intimate connection with God. However, some people, like the prophet Samuel and Samson were Nazarites for life. During that time someone was under a Nazarite vow, they had to observe some very specific boundaries. Scholars think that these rules were a way of showing the Nazarite’s separation to God in that they lived in such a way to make them distinct from the rest of society. Grapes and wine and their products such as vinegar were part of the everyday diet of the average person. Someone who didn’t use them would stand out something like Vegetarians do today. As they interact in normal social situations they eventually must reveal what they don’t eat. Nazarites would find themselves refraining from something most people legally enjoyed or did. For example people generally were willing to make themselves ceremonially unclean when they mourned their dead and prepared them for burial. A person under a Nazarite vow would have been forbidden to do this. Just like today, cutting hair was part of everyday grooming so someone who didn’t cut their hair would stand out – especially someone like Samson who was a Nazarite from birth. In a way, this long hair would be something like a monks tonsure or a nun’s habit– a visible sign that this person had set him or herself apart for devotion to God.
Another author believes that the rules Nazarites followed were designed to help keep them away from things that were unwise (such as wine and strong drink), unclean (such as dead bodies) and unnecessary (the cutting of hair.) as a sign of devotion and dedication to God.
In any case, a Nazarite vow required great devotion and attention to detail and God was insisting that Samson live under it not for a month or two, but for his entire life.
God was giving Samson both an incredible task – to free the Israelites from the Philistines – and an incredible gift – his superhuman strength. To accomplish his task, he would need to be someone who was confident, gutsy, daring, reckless and carefree. These are the kinds of characteristics that make good military commanders. When we were at Gettysburg, we learned that one of Lincoln problems was that the men he appointed to command the Union Army were often too cautious. However, one of his generals, Ulysses S. Grant wasn’t. Grant, however, had some problems during the war and many people urged Lincoln to remove him from his command. Lincoln’s response was simply, “I can’t spare this man. He fights!” Military commanders need these character qualities to be successful and Samson had them in spades. He also had that gift of Supernatural Strength.
For strength to be its most effective, it needs to be controlled. I suspect that God put Samson under the Nazarite vow as his way of keeping Samson from spinning out of control. He did it for the good of Samson’s mission and for Samson’s own good. The boundaries of the Nazarite vow were designed to help Samson, not to hinder him. Samson, unfortunately, didn’t see it that way. As we will see from Samson’s life, Samson only respected God’s boundaries when it suited him. For the rest of the time he did whatever he wanted. He wasn’t afraid to get into trouble because he was convinced that his great strength would bail him out of any predicament he might get into. After all, it works for James Bond.
In case you haven’t heard, James Bond isn’t real and real life doesn’t work this way.
I. I’m afraid that there are more Samson’s out there than we think.
I believe that there are many people out there who were raised in Godly homes but have turned their back on it all at least partly because they didn’t think they needed the boundaries anymore or simply go tired of them.
Maybe they went to church every Sunday, attended Sunday School, participated in youth group and maybe even did some ministry. But sometime, maybe in high school, maybe in University, they found that the boundaries started feeling a little restrictive. Maybe they found that it was hard to run with the fun crowd and still keep the 10 Commandments. Maybe they decided that premarital sex was more fun than chastity. So maybe they started to make little compromises. Nothing serious. Just a little fooling around.
That’s how it started with Samson.
Samson didn’t wake up one day and decide to trash his Nazirite vow. Instead, he slipped gradually into a life of disobedience by making a series of small compromises. He was convinced that with his strength he could “handle things.”
And he did, for a while. The point is that strong people tend to disregard boundaries. Strong people tend to think that the rules that govern the universe are for weaker, less intelligent people than themselves. They begin to think that they don’t need to live by the rules. They can “handle it.”
But when we disregard boundaries, what do we risk?
We risk being shackled.
One of the ironies of God’s boundaries is that they lead to freedom. Ignoring them often leads to the very opposite.
Many years ago, advice columnist Ann Landers published a poem by Nancy Curtis called Teenage Lament. Now, it was written in the 1960’s so its language might seem a little archaic to us. The opening line talks about the new morality which from what I understand talked about how sexual morals had changed at that time. Someone once defined the New Morality as simply the Old Immorality. That pretty much sums it up and helps those of us who weren’t teens in the 1960’s understand the poem a bit better.
The new morality--and freedom!
From classes--what a drag!
From Mom and Dad--always arguing.
From homework--senseless hours.
From church--a bore.
From conformity--a hangup.
I'm my own woman now.
Made so by one decision.
One hour of love and pleasure.
Free now to look at my cheerleading sweater hanging in the closet.
My books and basketball schedule resting on the shelf.
My material for a prom formal--never made--as it sits amid the remnants of the fabrics left over from my maternity tops.
My medals from band and choir, forsaken in the clutter of a jewelry box.
My friends passing by my window,
Laughing over the gossip column in the school paper.
And giggling over who will be the next to experience
The new morality--and freedom!
For cleaning--what a drag!
For him--always arguing.
For ironing--senseless hours.
For cooking--a bore.
For sex--a hangup.
Oh, God, if you are there,
Please let someone take this crying baby off my hands.
And let my feet dance once more.
I am so old. And I was never young.
If we think holiness is restrictive, we will find that sin is actually much more restrictive.
At the end of Samson’s life we see him doing hard labor in a Philistine prison. To celebrate their victory the Philistines forced Samson in front of a crowd to entertain them. I assume that they simply laughed at him as blind and exhausted he staggers around bumping into things and causing hysterical laughter. Maybe they pushed him around and beat him up now that he couldn’t see to fight back. Quite simply, he had nobody to blame but himself. He disregarded boundaries, and ends up in shackled and in bondage.
II. Sin also shames.
In the book of Romans, in encouraging people to greater holiness, Paul says this:
Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? (Romans 6)
Some of you here are very blessed. You grew up on Christian homes where you not only knew what the boundaries were, you actually followed them. Some of those boundaries were perhaps ones that didn’t need to be there. Some of you have shared about how your upbringing was overly strict and that there were too many rules. I understand that. But at the same time, you can look back on your life and have very little to be ashamed of.
Some of us can’t say that. Some of us hope that nobody finds out about some of the things we did in the past. If I asked people today to share their most shameful moment I’d have no takers. Maybe if I asked for the most Embarrassing moment I would. These are the kinds of things we laugh about later. Some of us have done things that nobody could possibly laugh about. We transgressed boundaries and paid the price and maybe are still paying the price. Sin brings shame. All through the Bible we see how sin brings shame.
Strong people aren’t immune from that. David was a powerful king. When he sinned with Bathsheba he did everything in his power to cover it up including murdering her husband. But he ended up shamed. God has a way of bringing the secret sins of strong people out into the open. History is littered with examples. Bill Clinton, Jesse Jackson, are Jimmy Swaggart are well known examples. Canadian examples are lesser known but they are certainly out there. Just last week married Conservative MP Bob Dechert’s romantic Emails to a Chinese spy were revealed.
Samson seemed to have been unaware of these things. Samson didn’t seem to have too many qualms about trashing his Nazarite vow. I haven’t gotten too far into his life to show you how but at one point he broke it when he ate honey from a beehive that bees had established in the carcass of a dead lion so he certainly was in contact with something dead. Secondly, although Scripture doesn’t make it clear, it appears that Samson drank wine and strong drink. The only part of his vow that he seemed remotely interested in was not cutting his hair and he even let that happen. And then, of course, Samson had no use for sexual purity. Samson is hardly a hero I’d tell people to imitate. Samson, like many strong people, thought boundaries were for other people and that he could safely ignore them. He ended up shackled and shamed.
Where am I going with this? Why did I preach it? I’m not going to hide that I believe that the story of Samson has much to say to young people. In my experience, young people admire strength. I still do. Strength is great. Strength is wonderful to have. I look at Chris Gray’s arms and wish I had pumped some iron. Power is something that I hope everyone here experiences in some way or another. Don’t let any kind of strength you have – physical, mental or spiritual – let you think that you can get away with violating God’s boundaries. I know that holiness doesn’t often look exciting. One Saturday night I went down to the local convenience store in Kenora and began talking to the clerk there. I got to know the clerk quite well. Whenever I would get a craving for chocolate I usually ended up talking to him. So you can guess that I got to know him well. I have a craving for chocolate a lot. I think my kids were 6 years old before they realized that Easter Bunnies are supposed to have ears. Anyway, as I was visiting with the clerk, a couple of strong, handsome young men came into the store and bought a four litre jug of orange juice. I thought it kind of strange. I said to my friend, “I guess those guys want to be prepared for breakfast tomorrow. The clerk answered, “Those guys are hopeless alcoholics.” Then it dawned on me. They wanted the orange juice for a drinking party. They wanted it to go with their vodka. They felt excited at the prospect of a night of drinking. I felt sad for them. These guys actually looked like they had promising futures ahead of them but they were risking being shackled and shamed by ignoring God’s boundaries.
But maybe some of you sitting here today have done a pretty good job keeping within boundaries. We have some very godly people here at Grace Bible Chapel. You seek and value holiness. But the Bible still calls you to be diligent. In recounting some things that happened in the Old Testament, Paul writes:
11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (1 Corinthians 10)
So everyone needs boundaries. If you’ve been listening and saying to yourself, “I don’t need this,” you are precisely the person who needs to heed the story of Samson.
There is a third reason to preach this. That is that everyone, at one time or another has ignored the boundaries. Some have been shackled and shamed. Others may have avoided that. But if we have ignored the boundaries, what then? Well, aren’t you glad we have a merciful and forgiving God? God specializes in giving us second chances. God even answered Samson’s last, desperate and imperfect prayer and saw to it that he is mentioned in the Hebrews 11 hall of faith. The promise of Scripture is that God, like the prodigal son’s father, is full of mercy and grace and stands ready to welcome us home when we come in genuine repentance.
8 ¶ If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
But there is one last thing I need to say. God doesn’t expect us to keep within His boundaries in our own strength.
He gives us the desire. As a young Christian, there were times when I didn’t WANT to stay in the boundaries. I knew that I should, but it felt more like a restriction to do so. I read such verses as Psalm 119:9:
Ps 119:9 How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word.
I wasn’t sure I wanted too. I felt like St. Augustine who, in his earlier life prayed, “Lord, make pure, make me pure! But not yet!”
Yet I have seen more than one person experience this change of heart through the work of God’s Holy Spirit. I believe that this is one key to the success of Teen Challenge in dealing with drug addiction – they rely on God’s Spirit to change the heart.
Secondly, God gives us the Power to keep within the boundaries. I remember that when I was a young child I did not like to colour. The worst give you could give me was a coloring book. The reason was that I simply couldn’t stay within the lines. I didn’t have the motor skills to do it. If you’ve seen my handwriting you know that I still don’t. But for most people, that ability comes with maturity. It is the same with keeping God’s boundaries. As we mature in Christ and get to know him better, and as we open ourselves up to the influence of the Holy Spirit, we experience more and more power over sin.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
We could say, “Against such things, there are no signs!” In the end, we can see that these boundaries give us freedom.
Ps 119:45 I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.
Friends, seek out his precepts, God’s boundaries, and experience His freedom.
C. 2011 by Rev. Steven Brown. You are free to use portions of this message but please do not pass this off as your own.