Vengeance Gone Wrong

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Judges 15:1-20 (Samson and the Philistines)

INTRODUCTION: Our sermon series is called Samson: Strong Man Gone Wrong, and we are looking at Samson’s life in the book of Judges to learn how we can better live our lives. Last week we looked at “Marriage Gone Wrong,” and this week we are looking at “Vengeance Gone Wrong.” Now those two are not necessarily connected. Vengeance isn’t supposed to follow marriage, but that’s what we have here so we’ll go with it. We will be covering the whole chapter in the course of the message this morning, but for right now let’s get started by just reading verse three. (Read Judges 15:3 and pray.)

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Vengeance. Revenge. Retribution. Payback. Don’t get mad, get even. Or for some people I guess it’s get mad and get even.

Vengeance is part of our fallen human nature and also seems to be part of our culture. We even have a whole movie genre called the revenge flick – coming soon to a theater near you. One of the most popular movies series of all times is called the Avengers, although the movies really have little to do with revenge.

Or you can go back further in our history and look at feuds like the Hatfields and the McCoys. One of the ironies when you look at long-standing feuds is that the people feuding usually have long forgotten what they’re fighting about. But it’s the sense of vengeance that fuels the feud and keeps it going for years on end.

Today we’re going to look at Samson and how vengeance fueled the feud between Samson and the Philistines. The title of the message is “Vengeance Gone Wrong,” but that’s really redundant, because vengeance is always wrong. There’s no such thing as vengeance gone right.

So, let’s take a look at Samson and the Philistines and learn some principles that will help guard us against the temptation to take vengeance or revenge when we are wronged.

1) Take responsibility for your own actions (1-3)
   – Psalm 51:3-4; Matthew 7:3-5

The first principle is this: take responsibility for your own actions. Look at Judges 15:1-3:

Later on, at the time of wheat harvest, Samson took a young goat and went to visit his wife. He said, “I’m going to my wife’s room.” But her father would not let him go in. “I was so sure you thoroughly hated her,” he said, “that I gave her to your friend. Isn’t her younger sister more attractive? Take her instead.” Samson said to them, “This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines; I will really harm them.” (Judges 15:1-3)

If you remember Samson’s story from last week, this all happened because Samson told a riddle at the wedding, his wife gave the answer to the Philistines, Samson got mad, killed a bunch of Philistines and went home. Apparently, his wife didn’t want to waste the wedding, so she married the best man instead.

Now Samson returns, shows up at the front door with a goat in his hands and wants to sleep with this wife. The only problem is she’s married to someone else. So, Samson says, “This time I have a right to get even.” Which implies he didn’t have the right before. But he really doesn’t have the right even now. Samson refuses to take responsibility for his own actions here. This is Samson’s own fault because he got angry and went home from the wedding without his wife.

If you want to stop this whole vengeance cycle dead in its tracks before it even begins, you’ve got to learn to take responsibility for your own actions. Don’t blame others for your mistakes. When King David committed adultery with Bathseba, he prayed to the Lord: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” (Psalm 51:3-4) At first David tried to hide his sin, but once he was confronted, he took responsibility for his own actions, and he didn’t blame anyone but himself.

Sometimes there’s blame on both sides, but even then the Bible says to look at your own faults first. Jesus said in Matthew 7: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)

That’s the first step to breaking the vengeance cycle. Take responsibility for your own actions.

2) Pour your energy into doing something good (4-5)
   – Proverbs 14:22; Micah 2:1; Galatians 6:9-10

Number two: Pour your energy into doing something good. Let’s see what Samson poured his energy into. Look at Judges 15:4-5:

So he went out and caught three hundred foxes and tied them tail to tail in pairs. He then fastened a torch to every pair of tails, lit the torches and let the foxes loose in the standing grain of the Philistines. He burned up the shocks and standing grain, together with the vineyards and olive groves. (Judges 15:4-5)

This is really a master plot. Can you imagine how much work was involved in catching these foxes and tying their tails and transporting them and then lighting all the torches and setting the foxes loose in the fields?

Revenge takes a lot of work and emotional energy. Plotting takes a lot of energy. The Bible speaks of those who stay up late at night plotting. We read in Micah 2:1: “Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds! At morning’s light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it.” (Micah 2:1) That’s a lot of work! That’s a lot of wasted energy! Imagine if you put all that work into doing something good instead.

It’s like when you’re mad at someone and you can’t wait to tell them off. You plan out your words in advance. You rehearse them over and over again. You picture the scene in your mind, and you can’t wait to see them so you can unleash your avalanche of words against them. Well, that’s a lot of negative energy! Wouldn’t you do better taking that energy and putting it towards something good?

Galatians 6 says: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Galatians 6:9-10) Proverbs 14:22 says: “Do not those who plot evil go astray? But those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness.” (Proverbs 14:22) So, that’s our second principle when it comes to vengeance and revenge. Pour your energy into doing something good instead.

3) Don’t let things escalate (6-8)
   – Proverbs 15:1; Romans 12:17-18

Number three: Don’t let things escalate. Look at Judges 15:6-8:

When the Philistines asked, “Who did this?” they were told, “Samson, the Timnite’s son-in-law, because his wife was given to his friend.” So the Philistines went up and burned her and her father to death. Samson said to them, “Since you’ve acted like this, I won’t stop until I get my revenge on you.” He attacked them viciously and slaughtered many of them. Then he went down and stayed in a cave in the rock of Etam. (Judges 15:6-8)

Remember this all started with a riddle. Then it escalated to Samson’s initial confrontation with the Philistines, then to his wife being given away, then to the destruction of property, and now Samson’s wife and her father are needlessly burned to death followed by the slaughter of even more Philistines. Do you see how things are getting out of hand? It all just started with a riddle. But both Samson and the Philistines let things escalate.

Don’t let things escalate in your life. Be a peacemaker instead. Romans 12 says: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:17-18)

In chemistry and physics, we learn that every action has an opposite and equal reaction. But it’s different with relationships. In relationships, the reactions are either going to get bigger or they will get smaller. It’s your choice. For example, we read in Proverbs 15:1: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1) In any situation you can choose to escalate things or de-escalate. It’s up to you. There’s enough hurt and pain in this world already. You and I don’t need to add to it.

You know what we need to be? We need to be shock absorbers. When someone offends you, instead of getting all tight and angry and bouncing the evil back into the world, you need to relax in the Spirit, absorb the offense through Jesus, and then let it stop with you. When you fight fire with fire, you only spread more fire. You only cause more damage. So, that’s our third principle. Don’t let things escalate.

4) Realize that your actions affect other people (9-13)
   – Joshua 7:1-5; Matthew 7:12; Romans 14:13,19

Number four: Realize that your actions affect other people. Look at Judges 15:9-13:

The Philistines went up and camped in Judah, spreading out near Lehi. The men of Judah asked, “Why have you come to fight us?” “We have come to take Samson prisoner,” they answered, “to do to him as he did to us.” Then three thousand men from Judah went down to the cave in the rock of Etam and said to Samson, “Don’t you realize that the Philistines are rulers over us? What have you done to us?” He answered, “I merely did to them what they did to me.” They said to him, “We’ve come to tie you up and hand you over to the Philistines.” Samson said, “Swear to me that you won’t kill me yourselves.” “Agreed,” they answered. “We will only tie you up and hand you over to them. We will not kill you.” So they bound him with two new ropes and led him up from the rock. (Judges 15:9-13)

Samson’s actions are beginning to affect other people. He already got his wife and her father killed. Now the people of Judah are drawn into the conflict. I love the dialogues that take place here. The Philistines tell the men of Judah, “We’ve come here to do to Samson what he did to us.” So, the men of Judah go and talk with Samson, and he says, “I just did to them what they did to me.” Talk about being caught in the middle!

Samson and the Philistines are practicing what we might call the anti-Golden Rule. You know the Golden Rule, right? “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” (Matthew 7:12) Samson and the Philistines are doing the opposite! It reminds me of when my mother caught me pushing a kid in the sandbox when I was young. Now he’d pushed me first, and when my mother reprimanded me, I remembered what I learned in Sunday School and told her, “I’m just doing unto others as they did unto me!”

We never sin in a vacuum. Sin always affects other people. We read in Joshua 7 how a man named Achan sinned and the whole nation of Israel suffered as a result. The Bible says in Romans 14: “Make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way…. [Instead] make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” (Romans 14:13,19) Your actions affect other people for good or for ill.

Anytime you get into a cycle of revenge, there is going to be collateral damage. Other people who have nothing to do with the conflict are going to get hurt. When you’re married, it’s often the kids who get hurt. They didn’t do anything wrong, and they are going to suffer the consequences of your actions. When you are tempted to seek revenge, stop and ask yourself, “How might this affect my family – my spouse, my children, my parents? How might this affect my church and my friends?”

By the way, throughout this series we have been seeing various ways that Samson foreshadows Christ, and there is another foreshadowing of Christ here as the people of Israel take the one God has set apart to be their savior, and they deliver him over to their enemies. You’re not supposed to help the enemy! In giving their judge and deliverer over to the Philistines, this foreshadows Christ who was given over to the enemy for our sakes.

So, that’s the fourth principle when it comes to the temptation to take vengeance or revenge. Realize that your actions affect other people.

5) Vengeance will take you farther than you imagined (14-17)
   – Proverbs 4:14-15, 5:11-14, 14:12

Number five: Know that vengeance will take you farther than you ever imagined. Look at Judges 15:14-17:

As he approached Lehi, the Philistines came toward him shouting. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power. The ropes on his arms became like charred flax, and the bindings dropped from his hands. Finding a fresh jawbone of a donkey, he grabbed it and struck down a thousand men. Then Samson said, “With a donkey’s jawbone I have made donkeys of them. With a donkey’s jawbone I have killed a thousand men.” When he finished speaking, he threw away the jawbone; and the place was called Ramath Lehi. (Judges 15:14-17)

There are a number of things to note here. First of all, note God’s sovereignty in all this. We have noted this a number of times – that even though Samson does everything wrong, God still uses him to fight the Philistines. God raised Samson up to deliver Israel from the Philistines, and God will fulfill his purposes through Samson despite Samson. But it would have been so much easier if Samson had only obeyed God instead.

Secondly, notice that Samson just broke his Nazirite vow again. Remember, he’s not supposed to go near or touch a dead body. And what does he grab? The jawbone of a dead donkey. If Samson’s life was a movie, this is the big fight scene. Empowered by the Spirit of God, Samson strikes down a thousand men in hand to hand combat using nothing but the donkey’s jawbone.

But when it’s all over, instead of giving God the credit, he boasts about his own accomplishment instead. He taunts anyone who may be listening: “With a donkey’s jawbone I have made donkeys of them. With a donkey’s jawbone I have killed a thousand men.” He dramatically throws the jawbone aside, and the place was called Ramath Lehi, which means “Jawbone Hill.” Sounds like a Western movie.

And so here is Samson standing atop Jawbone Hill, surrounded by a thousand dead Philistine bodies, screaming his boasts into the air. And it all started with a riddle. Do you think when Samson told the riddle back at the wedding feast, he ever imagined he would end up on Jawbone Hill?

We read in Proverbs 4:14-15: “Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evil men. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way.” (Proverbs 4:14-15) Proverbs 14:12 says: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” (Proverbs 14:12) In other words, don’t even get started down that path. You never know where it is going to lead you, but if you avoid the beginning, you will also avoid the end.

Proverbs 5 speaks about the person who chooses to indulge in sin in their younger years: “At the end of your life you will groan, when your flesh and body are spent. You will say, ‘How I hated discipline! How my heart spurned correction! I would not obey my teachers or listen to my instructors. I have come to the brink of utter ruin in the midst of the whole assembly.” (Proverbs 5:11-15)

Sometimes you get to Jawbone Hill in your life, and you look around at all the pain and destruction, and you ask yourself, “How did I get here?” And the answer is, “One step at a time.” Nobody sets out to ruin their own life. But we make a series of choices that lead us either towards God or away from God, and we reap what we sow.

There’s an old saying: “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.” That’s our fifth principle about vengeance and revenge this morning: Vengeance will take you farther than you imagined, so don’t go there. Don’t even set foot on the path.

6) Seek the Lord and his mercy (18-20)
   – Isaiah 55:6-7; John 7:37-38

Principle number six: Seek the Lord and his mercy. Look at Judges 15:18-19:

Because he was very thirsty, he cried out to the Lord, “You have given your servant this great victory. Must I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?” Then God opened up the hollow place in Lehi, and water came out of it. When Samson drank, his strength returned and he revived. So the spring was called En Hakkore, and it is still there in Lehi. (Judges 15:18-19)

Samson was busy boasting in his accomplishments, taking all the credit for himself, so God humbled him with thirst. Samson finally acknowledges God’s role in the victory, and he cries out to the Lord for help.

This is the first time we see Samson pray in the book of Judges. We won’t see him pray again until just before his death in chapter 16. Samson seems only to pray when he’s in trouble. Do you ever do that? Do you only pray when you need help? It’s a bad strategy. God wants you to pray, and if you only pray when you’re in trouble, guess what? God will have to keep sending you trouble just so you will pray!

Samson is thirsty, and so he cries out to the Lord for help. And God helps him. because that’s who God is. God is a God of love and mercy. God makes water flow from the rock for Samson just like he did for Israel in the wilderness. God has been helping Samson all along. God helped him with the lion. He helped him with the thirty Philistines earlier. He helped him with breaking the ropes when he was tied up. He helped him with the thousand Philistines. And now he helps him by providing water when he is thirsty.

The spring that God opens up there receives a name – En Hakkore, which means, “The Spring of Him Who Calls.” Now that’s a much better name than Jawbone Hill. Jawbone Hill spoke of pride and self-sufficiency. “The Spring of Him Who Calls” reminds us that God provides what we need, and he answers when we call.

Isaiah 55 says: “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” (Isaiah 55:6-7)

It’s never too late to turn to God, until it’s too late. Don’t hang out on Jawbone Hill boasting of your accomplishments. Seek the Lord while he may be found. Seek the Lord and his mercy, and God will strengthen and renew you for your tasks.

The last verse of chapter 15 tells us:

Samson led Israel for twenty years in the days of the Philistines. (Judges 15:20)

The judges before Samson delivered Israel from their enemies and led the nation in freedom. But remember, Israel is in a downward spiral, and things get worse and worse with each new judge. Samson is the final judge, and under Samson’s leadership they are not free but still under the rule of the Philistines.

7) Instead of vengeance:

So, if vengeance and revenge and getting even are all the wrong way to do things, what should you do? Here are three principles from the New Testament on how we are to act instead.

   – Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44)

Number one: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44) This was Jesus’ instruction to his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount. Don’t get mad. Don’t get even. Love your enemies and pray for them.

   – Walk the extra mile; turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:38-42)

Number two: Walk the extra mile; turn the other cheek. This also comes from Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount. We read in Matthew 5: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:38-42)

   – Leave it up to God to handle (Romans 12:19,21)

And then finally, number three: Leave it up to God to handle. The Bible tells us in Romans 12: “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord…. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:19,21)

When you take things into your own hands, you are acting as the judge. You are passing sentence on the offender. But there’s a real problem with that. You’re not the judge. God is. Vengeance doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to the Lord. Only God can judge rightly because only God is all-knowing and perfectly just in all that he says and does. And so, the Bible says don’t take revenge. Leave it in God’s hands. God can take care of it so much better than you or I can.

What should we do instead of taking revenge? 1) Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. 2) Walk the extra mile and turn the other cheek. 3) Leave it up to God to handle. That’s the way Jesus did it, and that’s the way we need to do it as well.

CONCLUSION: You might say, “I can’t do that. That’s impossible!” Of course you can’t. That’s why you need Jesus! No one can be like Jesus without Jesus.

Jesus was the ultimate shock absorber. He took all our sins on himself and bore them in his own body on the tree. Just like Samson was bound and handed over to his enemies, Jesus was bound and delivered over to death for our sins. Just as Samson snapped the ropes that held him as though they were nothing, so Jesus broke the bonds of death and rose victorious from the grave. And just as God opened up the spring for Samson when he was thirsty, Jesus said: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (John 7:37-38)

God forgave us our sins so that we could forgive others. God doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve, so we don’t need to get even with others. But first you need Jesus. You need to come down from Jawbone Hill, that place of pride and self-sufficiency. You need to come down from Jawbone Hill to a much better hill, to the hill of Calvary where Jesus died on the cross to forgive you of all your sins. Don’t take vengeance into your own hands. Leave it up to God to handle.

© Ray Fowler

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