We are probably all familiar with fairytales. They are popular in children’s reading, and many of them have been made into popular, animated movies by the Walt Disney company. So we all know about the common, romantic “fairytale ending.” Usually, the story ends with the hero and heroine getting reunited at last, and we are told that they “got married and lived happily ever after.” That is the way we like our fairytales to end, and maybe the way we like to think it is as children. But I imagine that anyone who has actually gotten married knows that there is a lot of real life that goes on between “getting married” and “living happily ever after.” Things are not at all that simple! The majority of our lives, the majority of our relationships, takes place after that “getting married” and before the “living happily ever after.”

So I wonder if sometimes we view the Christian life the same way as we view a fairytale?  That is, that we focus all our energies on the beginning of the relationship with God, the “getting married,” if you will, and on the end of that relationship, our eternal hope, the “happily ever after” part. Much of theology, much of Christian teaching, and much of our efforts in ministry, are all focused around these two things. We are always concerned with leading those who do not know Christ to Him. We want to bring them happily into relationship with their Lord, and that is good and right. We should be doing that! Then, we promise people their eternal rewards, speaking in glowing terms of the life to come, and telling them that they will live happily ever after. This is good and true, and we should be teaching this as well. But the truth is that the majority of our lives as believers in this world are lived between these two points, between our salvation and our eternal destiny, between “getting married” and “happily ever after.” Yet, this in-between time is often sadly neglected in the efforts and teaching and consideration of many. Yet this time is vital, as it is the time that we as believers today are living in and serving our Lord in right now.

Our whole duty as believers is not just to get people saved so they can live happily ever after. We need to learn how to live in a growing relationship with God. We need to understand what it takes to be a “good Christian” in the true, Biblical sense. We need to figure out what God wants of us at this time, between now and happily ever after.

I am afraid that the reason we often like to focus just on leading people to Christ or just on our eternal life to come is that we stop short of trusting the Lord with our lives. That perspective makes no demands on us, other than the preaching of Christ to others, regarding how we are to live in the here and now. Yet the truth is that it is our duty after salvation is to live in relationship to God.

E.W. Bullinger wrote a pamphlet entitled, “The Christian’s Greatest Need,” wherein he argued that the greatest need a Christian has is to know God. I believe this is true with all my heart. And Paul too seems to have had this inspired attitude, for we read in Philippians 3:7-11:

7. But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 8. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9. and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10. that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11. if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

“That I may know Him,” Paul declares, he is willing to give up all the things that were gain to him. This is his goal, and what he is putting his effort towards. This is what he seeks, and all else pales in comparison to it. And this should be our earnest desire as well. This is what we can and should seek above everything else: to know God.

Many young believers start off their walks with Him with much zeal. They are ready to take on the world for God, and need only to figure out how to do so. What does He really want of them, they wonder? The religious systems of this world are ready with the answer. He wants them to join a church, to sit in a pew, and to put money in the offering plate. He wants them to be water baptized, to be confirmed, and to take the “Lord’s Supper.” He wants them to become religious, to do religious things, and not to cause trouble. That is what the “church” tells these new believers. And so their zeal is quenched, and they are turned into pew-warmers who never discover their potential as believers or the place that God really wanted to take them to in their lives.

Our zeal for God does not have as its object becoming a religious disciple of the world’s church system. Instead, that zeal is given to us by God to inspire us to turn our walks with Him into a life-long relationship. I think it is useful, as I did above, to compare this relationship that the Lord wants to have with us to a marriage relationship. This is what the Holy Spirit through Paul did in Ephesians 5:25, when he stated, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.”

So, using this illustration, in a marriage, would the relationship grow and mature well if only outward things were done? If the husband thought that all that was required of him was to take out the trash, to bring home a paycheck, and maybe to get flowers from time-to-time, and never to talk with his wife or work on their relationship? Or if the wife thought all she had to do was cook meals, or clean the house, or take care of the children, and that she did not have to try to get to know or understand her husband? These things are all good things to do, of course, but if they come at the expense of actually getting to know each other and growing the relationship, then that marriage will not be going very far, and indeed we might say it is in very big trouble.

In the same way, when we think that our walks with the Lord only involve religious, outward things, and neglect building any kind of knowledge of Him or spending any time working on a real relationship with Him, it is no wonder that our walks with Him end up headed nowhere. We must realize that what God wants of us is not a religion, but a relationship. Outward things then become an expression of love based on the inward fellowship with God that one has developed through years of a close relationship. But a purely outward, religious attitude no more grows a walk with the Lord than taking out the trash or cooking a meal grows a relationship with a marriage partner.

Some people think that what they need to do to build their relationships with God is to pray more. Prayer, they seem to think, will build the kind of walk with God that they need. Yet how well, I wonder, would a marriage relationship go, if one partner was convinced it was his right to do all the talking, and none of the listening? What a one-sided relationship that would be! In the same way, just talking to God is not enough. We need to be willing to listen to what He has to say. And, in our day, the only way we can learn what He has for us to know is through the reading of His Word.

Many have suggested, if not coming right out and saying so, that telling believers that they need to develop a habit of daily reading the Bible is something that is “legalistic.” Well, I suppose it could be that way, if the reading was done as a religious observance, and not out of any desire to know God and to learn what He has to say. And yet, going back to our marriage illustration, I wonder what kind of husband would say something like, “You mean you think I should actually listen to what my wife has to say everyday? Why, that is just plain legalistic! Our relationship is based on love, not on some legalistic rule like I actually have to listen to what she has to say to me!” I suppose we would wonder if a husband actually loved his wife at all if he made such a statement. So why, then, do we think it is okay to act like loving God is enough, and actually wanting to know what He has to say is legalistic? I wonder if those who say things like this really get what it means to love God at all. If we love God, we will want to know what He has to say, not look at it like a chore. So reading the Bible often is what someone truly in love with God would want to do, not just a legalistic rule.

Yet many seem to have the attitude that it is just not their job to get to know God or to learn what He has to say. That is for the pastor or the minister to do, they might say. That is what you do in Bible college or seminary. That is what missionaries and Bible scholars spend their time doing. That is for the “experts,” not for us laypeople to get involved in. And yet, going back to the marriage illustration, what would we say to a woman who said, “I don’t have to learn how to be a good wife to my husband. That is for the experts to do. Dear Abby and Dr. Laura and people like them have to get to know their husbands, but I don’t. I’m just a common person. It is only the experts who need to actually work on a relationship and getting to know their husbands.” Well, again, I think we would believe that a woman who made such a statement probably didn’t care about her husband much at all. And so how can we say that we care about God, and yet it is only up to the experts to pay any attention to what He has to say? This is just not a right attitude.

I would like to look an example in the Bible of a man who, though he truly had a special relationship to God, put it on the back burner and decided that other things in his life were more important. The example I would like to look at is that of the man Samson. Let us examine his life and actions in the book of Judges, starting in chapter 13.

In this chapter, we learn that the Israelites were slaves to their enemies, the Philistines. We find out why in verse 1.

1. Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, so the LORD delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years.

All throughout the book of Judges, we see the Israelites acting in ways that they shouldn’t have, in ways that did not please the LORD. Then, in response to their disobedience, the LORD would deliver them into the hands of their enemies. When the oppression of their enemies caused them to repent and turn back to the LORD Who could help them, He would raise up a judge to deliver them from their enemies. The judge would rule over them until his death, at which point the whole pattern would start over again. Here again in chapter 13 we see the same pattern emerging. We learn of those from whom the Lord is going to raise the next deliverer in verse 2.

2. A certain man of Zorah, named Manoah, from the clan of the Danites, had a wife who was sterile and remained childless.

In this verse, we learn of a man named Manoah from the clan of the Danites. Seldom do we read much good about this tribe. They were the first of the tribes of Israel to fall into idolatry, as we learn elsewhere in the book of Judges (chapter 18.) Other than this, they seldom do anything good or noteworthy that we read about in the Scriptures. Yet in this case, this chosen man Manoah is from this tribe. He and his wife have a difficulty, and that is that they are childless. In their culture, where family was extremely important, this was considered a disaster, and even a sign of the LORD’s disfavor.

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.”

Now the LORD steps in. He sends His angel to promise her that she is going to conceive and have a son. Remember that the word “angel” simply means “messenger,” and when “the” messenger of the LORD is mentioned, it is not speaking merely of a heavenly being, but of the greatest Messenger of the LORD, the One Who is very God in human form, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

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.”

The LORD promises that this boy will begin Israel’s deliverance from the Philistines. How far he will go with this beginning, or how much deliverance he will bring about, the LORD does not say. Yet He does reveal that His will for this boy whom they are going to conceive is that he be a Nazirite from birth. The Nazirite vow was a vow men could take. We see the details of it in Numbers chapter 6. There, we read,

1. The LORD said to Moses, 2. “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of separation to the LORD as a Nazirite,

Probably when most people think of Nazirites, they think of those whom the LORD proclaimed as Nazirites from birth, like Samson. Yet this was not the way this vow was originally intended, but only one way that God would use it. The Nazirite vow was originally a vow men or women could take. It could either be to do something else, like, “I vow to do this, and until I do, I will be a Nazirite,” or it could be simply as a gesture of worship, as in, “As I serve the LORD, I will devote the next three years of my life to Him as a Nazirite.” Either way, this was a vow instituted by the LORD, and so it was a very serious thing indeed to make it! Anyone who made such a vow and did not keep it was responsible to the LORD Himself for his failure.

Now, we read the rules of a Nazirite. Most people, I think, only know or remember the part of the vow that had to do with hair. The rest of the vow, I think, will be informative to many. We can see that there was far more involved with this vow than hair.

1. (verse 3) he must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or from other fermented drink.

This part of the vow eliminated the use of all alcoholic drinks, or vinegars made from such drinks.

2. (verse 3) He must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins. (verse 4) As long as he is a Nazirite, he must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, not even the seeds or skins.

This part of the vow eliminated his consumption of anything at all having to do with grapes.
3. (verse 5) During the entire period of his vow of separation no razor may be used on his head. He must be holy until the period of his separation to the LORD is over; he must let the hair of his head grow long.

This part of the vow forbade the Nazirite from cutting his hair as long as he was under the vow. This is the part of the vow that most people today are familiar with, but it is only one part of many.

4. (verse 6) Throughout the period of his separation to the LORD he must not go near a dead body. (verse 7) Even if his own father or mother or brother or sister dies, he must not make himself ceremonially unclean on account of them, because the symbol of his separation to God is on his head. (verse 8) Throughout the period of his separation he is consecrated to the LORD.

This part of the vow forbade him from going near a dead body. This would include both human and animal bodies. He cannot even break this for the death of a close relative. In fact, the next few verses explain that if someone dies in his presence suddenly, he has to shave his head and start his vow over! That would be frustrating if you were near the end of a years-long vow.

Let us return to the story of Samson, for the remaining parts of the law of the Nazirite do not concern us, since they have to do with how such a vow was to be ended, and in the case of Samson this vow was not supposed to end, but he was to be a Nazirite for life. Let us return to the story at Judges 13:24, which records the birth of Samson.

24. The woman gave birth to a boy and named him Samson. He grew and the LORD blessed him, 25. and the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him while he was in Mahaneh Dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.

So we have a promising beginning for this God-given child Samson. He is blessed by the LORD, and the Spirit of the LORD begins to stir him up to do the things that God desires him to do. Yet somewhere here things seem to go wrong. And the problem rests entirely with the attitude of Samson, as we see in the verses following.

1. Now Samson went down to Timnah, and saw a woman in Timnah of the daughters of the Philistines. 2. 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.”

Here at the beginning of chapter 14, Samson goes to the land of the Philistines, Israel’s enemies, and sees there a young Philistine woman whom he falls for and wants to marry. He returns home and demands of his parents that they get this woman for him as his wife. It seems that Samson expects his parents to get him whatever he wants. Perhaps they had rather spoiled this blessing child that the LORD had given them. If so, this clearly hadn’t done Samson any good.

3. 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.”
4. But his father and mother did not know that it was of the LORD—that He was seeking an occasion to move against the Philistines. For at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel.

His father and mother try to argue with him against the wisdom of marrying one of the ungodly Philistines, but Samson does not listen to them. Such lack of respect does not develop overnight. Many parents who have not made their children listen to them regarding little things growing up find that, when they seek to convince their children regarding important matters later on, their children refuse to listen to them then either. It is far better to “bring up a child in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6) from the very start! Then, he will be ready to hear when the time comes when a parent’s counsel is most important.

Yet, though this marriage idea of Samson’s seems like a disaster on the surface, we see that the LORD is working through all this. For the LORD is using Samson’s wayward affections and his stubbornness to accomplish His will in this situation. Alas, that Samson did not have better qualities that He might have used instead!

5. So Samson went down to Timnah with his father and mother, and came to the vineyards of Timnah. Now to his surprise, a young lion came roaring against him. 6. 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. 7. Then he went down and talked with the woman; and she pleased Samson well.

Here, we see Samson commit a great act of strength through the help of the Spirit of the LORD, killing a lion with his bare hands. Yet this event becomes more significant for the follow-up to it that we read in the next few verses.

8. After some time, when he 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. 9. He took some of it in his hands and went along, eating. When he came to his father and mother, he gave some to them, and they also ate. But he did not tell them that he had taken the honey out of the carcass of the lion.

Later, Samson returns to the carcass of the lion, and finds that some bees have built a hive there. Now remember, Samson as a Nazirite was not to touch or even be near a dead body. Though this did not necessarily include a beast or person that he personally killed in battle, he should not have gone back to such a body after it was dead. Yet it seemed that gloating over his feat once more was important to Samson, and so he encounters this beehive. He was probably hungry, and the temptation of the honey was more than he could resist. Yet consider what an attitude he had! For this matter of not touching a dead body was part of his vow, and part of the promise the LORD had given regarding him and part of the will He had revealed for him. For Samson to ignore this and to break part of the important vow the LORD had placed upon him was for him to show complete lack of regard for what the LORD had given him. Moreover, even if he had not been under a Nazirite vow, Israelites in general were commanded certain things to do to cleanse themselves when coming in contact with a dead body, and thus becoming unclean. Samson’s parents should have done these things, and probably would have if they had known. Yet Samson pulls them into his sinful actions here, and feeds them the unclean honey without telling them where it comes from. Even today it is often the case that those who do wrong seek to pull others into their wrong to make themselves feel better about it.

10. So his father went down to the woman. And Samson gave a feast there, for young men used to do so. 11. And it happened, when they saw him, that they brought thirty companions to be with him.

The wedding proceeds according to the customs of the day. Custom had a wedding lasting one week, and Samson is given what we would call thirty groomsmen.

12. Then Samson said to them, “Let me pose a riddle to you. If you can correctly solve and explain it to me within the seven days of the feast, then I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothing. 13. But if you cannot explain it to me, then you shall give me thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothing.”
And they said to him, “Pose your riddle, that we may hear it.”

Samson proposes a wager, and the groomsmen are eager to participate.
14. So he said to them: “Out of the eater came something to eat, And out of the strong came something sweet.”
Now for three days they could not explain the riddle.

We see that Samson gets his riddle from the incident of the lion. It was a strange thing that had happened, and we cannot really blame the groomsmen from being stumped.

15. But it came to pass on the seventh day that they said to Samson’s wife, “Entice your husband, that he may explain the riddle to us, or else we will burn you and your father’s house with fire. Have you invited us in order to take what is ours? Is that not so?”

After four days of no luck figuring out the riddle, the groomsmen decide to cheat. Should Samson have been surprised at this, since these were ungodly men?

16. Then Samson’s wife wept on him, and said, “You only hate me! You do not love me! You have posed a riddle to the sons of my people, but you have not explained it to me.”
And he said to her, “Look, I have not explained it to my father or my mother; so should I explain it to you?”

Samson’s wife resorts to weeping and pouting and nagging to try to trick Samson into telling her the answer to his riddle. Knowing what we know about Samson’s great strength, we know that if she had confided in him instead, he certainly would have been able to protect her and her family. Yet again how much faith in Samson or in his God could we expect from a Godless Philistine? Could we really expect anything different from her?

17. Now she had wept on him the seven days while their feast lasted. And it happened on the seventh day that he told her, because she pressed him so much. Then she explained the riddle to the sons of her people. 18. So the men of the city said to him on the seventh day before the sun went down: “What is sweeter than honey? And what is stronger than a lion?”
And he said to them: “If you had not plowed with my heifer, You would not have solved my riddle!”

Samson gives in to her wiles, and she immediately reports what she learned to the groomsmen. When they answer Samson correctly, of course, he immediately knows how they found the answer out, for his wife was the only one he had told the answer to. He responds with a witty comment, however, comparing her to a heifer. Hardly a pleasant comparison, but he could not be expected to be very happy with her at this point.

19. Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily, and he went down to Ashkelon and killed thirty of their men, took their apparel, and gave the changes of clothing to those who had explained the riddle. So his anger was aroused, and he went back up to his father’s house.

Samson is angered by the knowledge that his groomsmen had cheated him. Of course, it was really his own fault, first of all for marrying a Philistine woman who would betray him this way, and secondly for telling her the answer. But he is angry, and so he kills thirty Philistines and takes their apparel to fulfill his part of the wager. Then, he goes home in a huff.

20. And Samson’s wife was given to his companion, who had been his best man.

It seems that when the marriage week is over and the groom is not there to take his bride, the Philistines decide to give her to the best man instead. This will touch off a war of petty vengeance between Samson and the Philistines, as we will see in chapter 15.