The leftover evidence of campfires and picnic meals are a sure sign that the caves overlooking the Sorek Valley still make for great campsites.
Samson knew those caves, for it was in the region of Zorah and Eshtaol that he lived out one of the wildest stories in the Bible.
As part of the Tribe of Dan, Samson and his parents were midway between the Judean Mountains and the plains of the Philistines. Samson had been dedicated to the Lord as an infant miraculously born, but as he grew up, he had been anything but a godly man.
You might say the place where he lived was a perfect reflection of the life he lived.
He was always half-way.
If the Judean Mountains – future home of Jerusalem and the Temple – represented a relationship with God, then the Philistine territory represented an opposite way of life. Samson lived a life half-way between God’s way and the way of the world.
Chaos resulted. He flirted with the Philistine women, fought with their men, and eventually incurred the wrath of his own people.
He was hiding in one of the campsites overlooking the Sorek Valley, in the “rock of Etam,” when his own people found him. There were 3,000 of them, and they were all unhappy.
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?” – Judges 15:11
By the end of that conversation, his own people asked permission to tie him up and hand him over to the enemy! It wasn’t a pretty scene. Samson waited until the perfect moment, broke free of the restraints, and killed a thousand Philistines.
But he was still living a “half-way” lifestyle. He knew the occasional blessing of the “Spirit of the Lord,” but he couldn’t resist the delightful temptations of all that was off limits.
You probably know the rest of the story. He met a woman, he had a haircut, and in the end, he ended his life in a heroic slaughter of even more Philistines.
It’s a tragic story on so many accounts. It was a bad example of community, a bad example of moral values, and a bad haircut to boot.
And it keeps playing out in new generations.
Men and women who can’t quite figure out where to live. They know of God, and of God’s rules. But they also know of another way, and the temptations keep taking them to more and more disastrous places.
The lesson from the Cave of Etam actually ties in with another cave, not very far away from Samson’s cave. We’ll get there soon, and look at David’s story. In the cave, Samson was met by his community. Three thousand of his own people.
And they rejected him.
They tied him up – with his permission, of course – and handed him over to the enemy. What if the battle against terrorism could be solved if only our government would tie you up, and give you over to be tortured and killed?
Community means support. Community is security. Community does not hand its own over to the enemy!
But Samson had not invested in his people, and they had no investment in them. It’s little wonder he goes down as one of the most disappointing leaders in Israel’s history. He had a few moments of success, but his potential was wasted.
You are community to someone who needs you. Someone else is community to you, and admit it or not, you need them.
Invest in one another.
Reach your potential.
Avoid bad haircuts.