A Sermon by Rev. Grant H. Odhner

Preached in Rochester, Michigan June 7, 1992

Samson – what a puzzling picture he presents! Are we to respect him? Are we to regard him as a good servant of the Lord and of Israel? His behavior, viewed literally, is completely reprehensible by any moral standards we would recognize today. His causes and conquests are all a product of his whims, his folly, or his vengefulness (read Judges 14-16). Yet as a Nazarite, judge and hero, he clearly represents something good. And the Word never says anything that would harm this representation.

Clearly Samson’s good representation does not lie in his sense of judgment, motives or behavior per se. It lies in his special status as a Nazarite, in his role as judge, and (especially) in his role as a great champion of his people. To appreciate this we have to assume the mind-set of the time: the Philistines were the enemy; the more of them dead the better. In this light his conquests picture, symbolically, the triumph of good and truth over evil and falsity. Samson’s great strength and prowess become a symbol of the Lord’s power working for us.

Samson’s power lay in his hair. The Nazarite, one “set apart” to God by a vow, was not allowed to eat or drink anything from the vine, nor cut his hair during the period of his vow. We’re not told anywhere else that Nazarites had strength from their hair as Samson did. Perhaps this was because Samson was a different kind of Nazarite. He didn’t just take a vow for a time; he was a permanent Nazarite, chosen by the Lord and set apart “from [his mother’s] womb to the day of his death.” In any case, Samson’s hair holds the key to his strength and the key to his spiritual meaning.

What does “hair” stand for in the Word? Hair is a relatively external and lifeless part of our body. It is the body’s outermost covering, a covering that presents us to view, protects, insulates, and extends our sense of touch. Hair stands for something in our spirit, something relatively lifeless and external, namely, natural truth. Natural truth is truth in its outermost form, truth as it appears and works outwardly in the world. For instance, hair stands for truth as we read it in the Word, truth as knowledge seen and grasped literally. Hair also stands for that same truth when we let it affect our actions.

Truth as knowledge, and truth as it governs our outer behavior, is in itself a relatively lifeless thing. We don’t have to be a spiritual person to know truth and to act in certain ways. Our outer life has all its spiritual vitality from our inner loves, motives, intentions. On the other hand, what we know and do is the hair that clothes our spiritual lives. Our spirit presents itself to view in our behavior. Our actions are “the bottom line.”

Hair consists of strands or threads. These bring to mind rope that can be used to tie one thing to another. The word “religion” means a binding. We speak of the “bond” of conscience. The spiritual life is a life of living within certain bonds. These bonds contain our outermost life.

If we have spiritual love in our hearts, we restrain our lips and tongue from saying certain things that are unkind, things that are untrue, things that are self-serving. We restrain our eyes from looking at certain things, from wandering where they should not. We turn our ears away from certain kinds of music or conversation. We discipline our hands to tasks that must be done. We force our bodies to go where they ought to goto seek out useful tasks, to seek out people, to go to church. We allow ourselves to be bound by virtues such as promptness, industriousness, temperance.

Our lives become bounded by and bound to certain physical actions. These are what express our spirituality, in the measure that they are from the Word. It is these outer things that are symbolized by hair.

There is tremendous power in the bonds of our outer lives. When we establish good habits of speaking and acting, good routines, we are protected from untold evils!

The story of Samson and Delilah is about bonds or ties. The tension is between Samson’s remaining a Nazarite (retaining his hair) and his giving in to Delilah. Delilah wants to tie him to herself and destroy his power. It is telling that she presses him to find out “what he may be bound with.”

The force behind Delilah is the Philistine lords. In general they picture the power of evil, or what is the same, the power of spirits from hell. The “Delilah” that evil spirits use to seduce us and gain the mastery over us is selfish delight.

The Writings of the New Church observe that delight is something we often don’t notice. Delights tend to “banish reflection” (DP 113). We are “led by delight as something that is borne along by the current of a river” (DP 73:2). It leads us silently and strongly, without our noticing where it’s taking us. As a result, unless we’re trained to know what is good and what is not, and unless we’re aware, we don’t experience evil as something evil but as something delightful, which we don’t analyze as such (see DP 296:9). Delight blinds us to evil. The Writings note that: “People who are immersed in self-love and love of the world are quite incapable of believing that they are under the influence of such filthy and unclean loves as in fact they are. Indeed, a certain pleasure and delight exists which coaxes, encourages, and allures, and causes them to love that life, to prefer it to all other kinds of life, and so to imagine that there is nothing bad about it at all. For whatever encourages anyone’s love and resulting life is considered to be good. For this reason also the rational agrees to it and produces confirmatory falsities, which lead to blindness so great that people see nothing at all of what heavenly love is” (AC 2045).

Samson’s flirting with Delilah led to blindness. Spiritually viewed this is a story about how, when we give in to delights of evil, they can subtly lull our minds to sleep, and take from us an important source of our power and protection, namely our outer life of truth: our good behavior and good routines based on the Word’s truth.

Delilah was attractive. Samson kept going back. Did he know she was dangerous? Did he suppose he could tread the line just “this side” of losing his life and freedom? He thought he could withhold his secret and still sport with her. But we can see that his clues got closer to the mark. The first three times she bound him he did escape, but the escape was only a physical one. Spiritually viewed, those three times she bound him with the bowstrings, the rope, and the loompicture the successive and complete binding of his mind. (“Three” means “complete” and “to the full” in the Word.) Each time he was, inwardly, surrendering more and more. We can see this pictured in the fact that on the third occasion he even alluded to his hair in his false clue. What’s more, for the first time it is mentioned that she “lulled him to sleep.” Here, as in the final incident when Delilah shaved his hair off, Samson’s “sleep” symbolizes our utter surrender to selfish delights and our unconscious slavery to them.

Evil’s delights are what seduce us. We are all vulnerable to them. But, tragically, the delights themselves often aren’t that attractive to usnot at first; they actually “grow” on us. We see evils all around us; they are occasioned in our thoughts from many sources. But these evils don’t stick to us at once. They wheedle their way in. Curiosity gets them started. We wonder about them; we let our thoughts wander; we take an almost indifferent “nibble” to see what they “taste” like. But only by inner consent does our sense of delight begin to grow.

Hell’s delights press for consent and especially action. They can press usas Delilah pressed Samson daily with her words but they cannot compel us to consent. This is important. They beckon to us from our “external person,” that is, from our body and senses and outer mind; they try to allure the inner “us” “to consent and to love” (DP 136:5). But our inner person has the freedom and power to evaluate and choose between the many thoughts and suggestions that are proposed to us. Nothing becomes our own except what becomes part of our will and its love. Hell infuses things into our stream of consciousness all the time, but these things are only in the “outer hallway.” Even when they seem alluring and attractive to us, they are still not ours unless we dwell on them at length and consent to them.

But the real thing that secures hell’s hold on us is when we go beyond consent and act on their suggestion, either outwardly or by deliberate thoughts and fantasies. When we act in these ways, they can inflow with a greater sense of freedom and delight. This kind of inflow creates a bond that isn’t easily broken.

The inner reality here is that by deliberate acts of will we become organically connected with communities of devils from hell. It is from these communities that evils and their delights come. About our spiritual situation we read from the Apocalypse Explained:

“A person’s affections, from which his thoughts spring, have extension into communities in the spiritual world on every side, into more or fewer of them according to the amount and quality of the affection. A person as to his spirit is within these communities and to them he is attached as it were with extended cords. These cords determine the space where he can walk . . . . Through these communities the person, that is, his mind, although bound walks free” (1174:2).

The work Divine Providence (n. 296:3) explains what happens when we become confirmed in evil:

“As [a person] wills and commits evil, he advances into infernal communities more and more interiorly and also more and more deeply. Hence also the delight of evil increases and occupies his thoughts so much that at last he feels nothing more pleasant. He who has advanced more interiorly and deeply into infernal societies becomes as though he were bound with chains. So long as he lives in the world, however, he does not feel his chains, for they are as if made from soft wool or from fine silk threads, and he loves them since they give him pleasure; but after death, instead of being soft they become hard, and instead of being pleasant they become galling.”

The problem with acting on evil is that our mind enters these communities, and we give them permission to inflow. The result is that once we have indulged some evil delight once or twice, it quickly becomes difficult to stop. This explains the power of habits and addictions. This is why the Writings warn: “Let people beware of actual evils” (SE 4479, emphasis added). All this suggests what was happening, in the spiritual sense, to Samson.

Samson was blinded and imprisoned when they cut his hair off. His ruin began when he flirted with Delilah and then consented to her nagging, and “told her all his heart.” But his ruin was complete when she removed the outward bond of his covenant with the Lord. That’s when “the Lord left him” (v. 19).

We spoke earlier of the outward bonds of our life: our daily routines and rituals, our practical moral standards and boundaries. We barely reflect on these low-level matters; they are habitual. Often we don’t appear to adhere to them from much conviction or from lofty principle. But they are so important. They hold us in good, and they are our last protection against falling to the wiles of evil. It is relatively hard for hell to break these outer bonds.

It is hard for us to be carried away by prolonged fantasies when we are in the habit of daily prayer and reading the Word. It is difficult for this to happen when we stick to routines of usefulness and personal responsibility and hygiene. If married people have good habits of communication and set times for interaction with their spouse, it’s not easy for them to become entangled with lust for other friendships. Our standard of good manners and propriety can protect us from all sorts of dangerous situations.

It’s only when hell removes these outermost bonds and get us to act on their suggestions that we fall into trouble.

Our emphasis in this sermon has been on the interplay between “Delilah” and “Samson’s hair,” that is, between the delights that attract and assail us, and the bonds that natural truth can bring to our life. In these bonds lie our final power of resistance to evil and our final power of dwelling securely and peacefully in a heaven-centered life.

But let it be noted that the story doesn’t end merely with blindness, imprisonment, and the enemies’ derision. There is always a way out of bondage to evil. That path is repentance. Repentance is basically struggling against evil with the Lord’s help, and beginning a new life. This new life is pictured in Samson’s grinding wheat in the prison, and his hair gradually growing back.

A wonderful thing is that through repentance we learn to become wary of delights that allure and attract us. We learn to shun them despite their appeal. Indeed, we are told, “[evils and their delights] are not subdued unless [we come to regard them] as sweet drugs that kill, or as flowers apparently beautiful that carry poison in them” (Charity 2). The encouraging thing is that over time, evil delights do gradually lose their appeal and allure. First they become no longer delightful, then distasteful, and finally we feel an actual loathing and aversion for them (ibid.; see also DP 146; AC 3938:4; TCR 532, 567:6). We can imagine that Samson developed such feelings for Delilah as he ground in the prison day by day.

Samson, after much pain, contempt, and hard work in captivity, regains his power and is liberated to glory. He gains the final mastery over his enemies. So too can we, with effort and prayer and continual looking to our Lord, the source of Samson’s strength. Amen.

Lessons: Judges 16; AC 6203-6206:1

Arcana Coelestia 6203-6206

In regard to the origin of the influx of evil from hell, the case is this. When a person first from consent, then from purpose, and at last from the delight of affection, casts himself into evil, then a hell is opened which is in such evil (for the hells are distinct from one another according to evils and all their varieties), and there afterward takes place an influx from that hell. When a person comes into evil in this way, it clings to him, for the hell in the sphere of which he then is is in its very delight when in its evil; and therefore it does not desist but obstinately presses in and causes the man to think about that evil, at first occasionally, and afterward as often as anything presents itself which is related to it, and at last it becomes with him that which reigns universally. And when this takes place, he then seeks for such things as confirm that it is not an evil, and this until he wholly persuades himself; and then, insofar as he can, he studies to remove external bonds, and makes evils allowable and clever, and at last even becoming and honorable, such as adulteries, thefts effected by art and deceit, various kinds of arrogance and boasting, contempt for others, vituperations, persecutions under an appearance of justice, and the like. The case with these evils is like that with downright thefts, which when committed of set purpose two or three times cannot be desisted from; for they continually cling to the person’s thought.

Be it known further that the evil which enters into the thought does no harm to the person, because evil is continually infused by spirits from hell, and is continually repelled by angels. But when evil enters into the will, then it does harm, for then it also goes forth into act whenever external bonds do not restrain. Evil enters into the will by being kept in the thought, by consent, especially by act and the consequent delight.

I have often noticed that evil spirits put on especially a person’s persuasions and cupidities, and that when they put them on, they rule the person despotically; for he who introduces himself into a person’s cupidities and into his persuasions subjects the person to himself and makes him his servant. Whereas influx through angels takes place in accordance with a person’s affections, which they gently lead and bend to good, and do not break, the very influx being tacit and scarcely perceptible, for it flows into the interiors and continually acts by means of freedom.

Be it further known that all evil flows in from hell, and all good through heaven from the Lord. But the reason why evil is appropriated to a person is that he believes and persuades himself that he thinks and does it from himself, and in this way makes it his own. If he believed as is really the case, then evil would not be appropriated to him, but good from the Lord would be appropriated to him; for the moment that evil flowed in, he would reflect that it was from the evil spirits with him, and as soon as he thought this, the angels would avert and reject it. For the influx of the angels is into what a person knows and believes, but not into what a person does not know and does not believe; for their influx is not fixed anywhere except where there is something pertaining to the person.


A Sermon by Rt. Rev. Louis B. King
Preached in Bryn Athyn on November 16, 1986

“Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness” (Judges 14:14).

Samson’s riddle which he put forth to his Philistine companions on the eve of his marriage to the Philistine woman of Timnath contains in summary the whole spiritual meaning of his dramatic life as it relates to a person’s regeneration. Interiorly it illustrates how the ferocious attacks of evil and falsity can be met and rent asunder by the power of Divine truth entrusted by the Lord to our care and for our regeneration. A transformation is effected. In place of temptation there comes perception, or meat for the soul, and from the very strength of evil that would have destroyed us there is charity or sweetness of life anew.

In general Samson represents the letter of the Word and its supreme power over evil and falsity. He takes on this representation because of his long, uncut hair. Hair is the last and ultimate outgrowth of the external skin, and as such it is the final termination of the life of the body. Similarly, the letter of the Word is the ultimate or outmost termination of all degrees of revealed truth. The Word exists, and has from the beginning, because the Lord wills that men be saved. Salvation, because it is an eternal reception of the Lord’s love, is possible only where a state of conjunction exists; and conjunction is possible because the Lord has accommodated His infinite love and wisdom so that they may be received by finite man as if his own. In the Word, which is the only medium of conjunction between God and man, we actually find the whole of the Divine so accommodated that it may be received by finite minds (see AE 918:11; AC 1461, 1489, 1496, 1542, 1661).

There are many degrees whereby truth is accommodated, as many as there are planes of human life. The celestial angels receive the Lord’s revelation in its highest form — in celestial or inmost appearances of truth. To the spiritual angels these forms of truth are further accommodated by grosser forms and thus adapted to their spiritual state. Again, natural angels receive a further adaptation of the truth. The form of their revelation consists of appearances of truth adapted to their natural state. Yet within these natural appearances dwells the spiritual sense; and within this is the celestial, and inmostly is the Divine of the Lord, which is the very essence of the Word itself.

As Divine truth descends through the heavens, it is successively clothed with forms which adapt or accommodate it for reception by angels and men, so that all may be conjoined to the Lord by an eternal reception of His Divine love.

The final resting place or outmost termination of the Word is in the literal statements of the three testaments, particularly the Old and New Testaments, wherein Divine truth is accommodated for reception by natural and sensual men on earth. In the literal sense of the Word, Divine truth is in its fullness and power not because of the literal form itself, but because into it are gathered all degrees of revelation. Power is in the ultimate but not from it. When a little child reads the Word with affection, the whole of the heavens benefit — each angel receives and delights in the particular sense directed to his state. Yet the child knows nothing of this. He is unaware that myriads of angels worship the Lord when he reads the Word, communicating to him as much of their affection as he can receive.

This conjunction with the Lord through the heavens not only applies to little children but to all men on earth who will read the Word with affection and humility. The Word of God has power in man’s life not because of its literal form, but because of the angels who depend on man’s reading of it for their perception, and who share with man the power of their love to the Lord.

The communion of angels and men is a very real thing. All our loves and affections come from the spiritual world, either through heaven or hell, depending upon the thoughts we entertain and rationally confirm. Thought brings presence or association, and continued association communicates affection, which in time conjoins or makes one. To entertain selfish and worldly thoughts is to associate with evil spirits who love such things and who desire nothing more than to share and thus insinuate with us their love of evil. Continued association with such spirits will bring about an eternal communion or sharing of their love, which will result in our damnation.

But the Word of God is given so that man may enter into a communion with angels and thereby, that is, through the heavens, be conjoined to the Lord. When we read the Word in a state of holiness, and our thoughts and rational judgments are guided by its truth, then we summon the inhabitants of heaven, and according to our state, receive the power of their affection by which we are conjoined to the Lord.

Samson, judge and mightiest hero of Israel, pictures most powerfully the office of Divine truth in man’s life. In the spiritual sense Samson can be likened to the Word in one whom the Lord is regenerating, his abundant hair and source of strength likened to the growing concept of truth in the natural mind. The Philistines are his enemies. They represent the power of faith alone — truths loved for the sake of self and the world rather than for the sake of good. They would make Samson their servant — they would induce the man who is being regenerated to delight merely in knowledges of truth, rejecting all applications to life. Philistines in the New Church are those who indeed possess the Writings but who remain in the seductive loves of the proprium. Their faith becomes an intellectual pastime. Serviceable though it may be for a time, such a spirit of historic or persuasive faith eventually must be destroyed by man, he himself taking the initiative.

Thus Samson, early in life, went down to Philistia and fell in love with a daughter of that land, symbolizing the conjunction of truth with an external affection in the natural mind — an affection which, because of its proprial nature, obscures truth rather than enlightening it (see AC 4855). Any truth learned that does not look to good is in danger of being perverted and becoming falsity. Nevertheless, this first affection with which truth can be conjoined in the natural mind is indeed of an external and somewhat selfish quality, but without it — without an affection of learning for the sake of one’s own honor, reputation and gain — man would never acquire the doctrines that he will one day love for their own sake — that is, for the sake of the good of life. So the first good produced by truth is called mediate good.

When Samson first entered the land of the Philistines to covenant with them for the bride he was to take, a young lion attacked him. So when Divine truth first enters the natural mind, the power of evil and falsity is aroused. Like a mighty lion they roar their hatred and contempt against the Divine. The power of truth when separated from good is thus turned against the Lord. Recall the Lord’s temptations in the wilderness, how the devil quoted Scripture to induce the Lord to obey him. With patience and strength, however, the Lord Himself used the letter of the Word to devastate and to make impotent the devil’s attack; so Samson rent the lion as if it were a lamb, demonstrating the power of truth rightly used, and its effortless destruction of evil wherever and if there is genuine faith in the Lord.

In time a swarm of bees built their nest in the carcass of the lion and filled it with wild honey. Discovering this, on a subsequent journey to Timnath to celebrate the nuptials of his forthcoming wedding, Samson tasted its sweetness and was refreshed. At the wedding feast he posed a riddle to his Philistine companions concerning this unusual condition of which he alone knew. “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness” (Judges 14:14). The dead lion no longer possessed its terrible power. The devourer or destroyer of spiritual life, the eater representing evil and falsity in the natural mind, was put to death. This is accomplished in man by the shunning of evils as sins; for when man compels himself to shun evils because they are sins against the Lord, a miraculous change takes place called regeneration. The influx of hell is exchanged for the influx of heaven. The quality of one’s mental strength is changed from the ravenous to the peaceful, which is meat for the soul. The power of the mind is also redirected from selfishness to charity. When good affections express themselves in external act, the strength of man’s character becomes sweet and spiritually palatable. Honey, therefore, represents a new state of charity or mutual love (see AE 611:18). “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness” (Judges 14:14).

Regeneration does not destroy man’s natural mind, nor does it deprive him of anything that causes him to be a man. It merely takes away evil by changing or bending the quality of his affections from evil to good. “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings before My eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well” (Isaiah 1:16, 19).

When we are engaged in the battles of temptation, it seems to us that if we give up our natural desires we will lose everything that makes life worthwhile. But when we lay down our evil tendencies we find that we have not really lost anything. Our affections remain, but they have been cleansed, purified, sweetened, by the heavenly spirit of charity. Our natural affections, which prior to regeneration were strong against our salvation, when purified, become the new sweetness of regenerate life. But this sweetness cannot be ours until we allow the Samson of Divine truth to enter into us and slay the lion of proprial passion. Temptations are attacks upon our good loves by forces of evil. The Lord permits evils — softens conceit, provides an optional route to happiness.

Samson’s relationship with the Philistines became a series of contests, successively severe. With each encounter his great strength proved victorious, that is, until he fell in love with the Philistine woman Delilah, who represents the subtlest of our affections of truth, which in fact is an evil affection — to use truth to confirm the opposite, that we can save ourselves. It utilizes our inmost inclinations to justify selfishness and obstruct the process of self examination. That man is the unknowing victim of these cupidities is seen in the fact that Delilah and her Philistine cohorts attacked Samson and cut his hair while he slept. Then his strength departed and his eyes were bored out and he was imprisoned and made to grind corn.

So it is with man in his last and inmost temptations of regenerate life. It appears to him that truth has been taken away and with it the very power to do good. He despairs of his state; his doubts overwhelm him; his spiritual eyes are blind to perceptions he once enjoyed; he feels himself to be the servant of sin. The Lord, he believes, has abandoned him. All purpose has gone out of his life.

In his deep despair, when forces of evil are confident of their victory and would sport with their victim, the man of the church begins to feel, once again, the near presence of the Lord. The strength of truth slowly returns as be gropes in his blindness for the way that leads to its right application. A little child leads him — remains of innocence implanted long ago direct the regenerating man to the very house of his enemies — to the temple of Dagon, hypocrisy and conceit. There in the midst of his unseen foes he receives the full force of their mockery and contempt for truth. His hands, still guided by the innocence of remains, take hold of the two central supports of evil — the loves of self and the world (hatred of others and the desire to possess all means of domination, persuasion that he lives from self and controls his destiny). Lifting his head in prayerful acknowledgment of the Lord as the source of all good and truth, he bows himself with all the might that God effects through the as-of-self. “O Lord God, strengthen me just this once.”

With the destruction of the temple, the “persuasive of self-life” is broken. Samson and the lords of the Philistines lie buried beneath the rubble. Indeed, “the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life” (Judges 16:30). But the angels know not what we mean by death and burial. When such is mentioned in the Word, they think of resurrection — of the beginning of life eternal. To lay down one’s natural life while destroying his spiritual enemies is really to take up eternal life in the service of the Lord. “Whosoever shall lose his life for My sake shall find it.” May it be said of all those who seek the overthrow of the proprium through the medium of the Lord’s Word, “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness.”

Lessons: Judges chapters 13-16 (portions), AE 1086

Apocalypse Explained 1086:6

The power of the Word in the sense of its letter is the power itself of opening heaven, by virtue whereof communication and conjunction with the Lord is effected and also the power of fighting against falsities and thus overcoming the hells. A man who is in genuine truths from the literal sense of the Word can cast down and dissipate all the diabolical crew and all of their arts in which they place their power and these are innumerable. Man can do this in a moment by only a look and effort of the will. In brief, the spiritual world is the world in which there is power, and there is nothing, nothing that can resist the power of genuine truth when it is confirmed from the literal sense of the Word.