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When I read through the story of Samson recently my first thought was “This guy is a big mess”. He spent most of his life gallivanting about, playing tricks on people and making very poor decisions. Despite all that, he is mentioned in the Hebrews Hall of Faith so perhaps there’s something we can learn from the story of this judge.
Samson led a rather dramatic life. He didn’t do anything in a small way. God’s hand was on him from even before he was born. Samson’s mother was childless, and an angel appeared to her and told her she would have a son. He would be a Nazirite which means that he would be dedicated to the Lord. No razor would touch his head and no wine or unclean food would touch his lips. Even from the time of Samson’s conception there is this expectation around him that he will be set apart for God. The other judges we have read about were all ordinary people. Samson is extra-ordinary. Not only did God miraculously arrange his conception and call him to be a Nazirite, but Samson also possesses superhuman strength. This should have been the turning point in Judges. If anyone could have delivered Israel from oppression, it should have been Samson. But after six weeks reading Judges, we know that the answer to the question, ‘who will deliver us?’ isn’t Samson. God is the answer. God grant we’re coming to know this more and more.
The story of Samson takes up four whole chapters in the book of the judges. They follow his life from birth to death. As a judge his role was to deliver Israel from the oppressive Philistines. Unfortunately, this is not a role he takes to well, even though, humanly speaking, he is more than capable. Rather than use his strength to achieve God’s purposes, he spends his time and energy on chasing foreign women and exacting his own revenge. We’re given some rather scandalous accounts of his exploits.
We read that the Lord blessed him as he grew up but once he hits adulthood, he begins making some very poor decisions. In the passage we just read, a lion comes to attack him while he is near a vineyard. There’s a problem here that someone who isn’t supposed to drink wine is hanging out by a vineyard and you’d also think that a lion coming to attack him might be a sign that he shouldn’t go through with his wedding. He breaks his Nazirite vow again when he touches the dead lion. The picture we get of Samson is of a man who is continuously unfaithful to God and yet God is continuously faithful to him. This is Samson’s story, this is Israel’s story, and it’s our story.
So what does this mess of a man has to teach us about living in God’s grace? And what does he have to teach us about ourselves? Let’s take a look at the lessons we can glean from the life of Samson.
The Faithful Hero
The story of Samson teaches us about faithfulness just as the stories of the other Judges teach us about faithfulness. We see with each Judge that deliverance and faithfulness is not of the deliverer, it is of God. This should cause us to breathe a big sigh of relief as we read Samson’s story. Samson’s greatest flaw seems to be his pride. The beginning of Samson’s story is setting him up to be hero. However, four chapters later, we can’t rightly say that Samson acted redemptively as his actions reflected the villainy of the oppressive culture he was supposed to bring down. He is followed by a trail of destruction and he often makes things worse than they were to begin with. So where do we see faithfulness?
We see it most tangibly in Samson’s mother. We don’t know her name, but we read that she receives a visit from a divine being. She goes to tell her husband and he needs confirmation of this divine visit. Then angel then appears to Samson’s mother again implying that she is the one who is worthy to hear this message of a promised child. Her actions are quite the opposite of her husband. He doesn’t recognize that this is Yahweh talking to them, and when he realizes who it is then he’s terrified they’re going to die. When he asks the messenger for further instruction the messenger tells him to go listen to his wife, she knows. Samson’s mother is resolute. Upon hearing that her son will be a Nazirite, she takes up all the requirements of one who is set apart for God’s service, on herself. She stops drinking wine and eating unclean things to ensure that this child will be holy while still in the womb. If we’re looking for a character to emulate in this story, perhaps we should consider Samson’s mother.
Yet we’re still left in Hebrews with this reference to Samson’s faithfulness:
who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.
Samson’s listed alongside other heroes of the faith like Moses, Abraham and Sarah. If you’re like me, you’re questioning what place Samson has among these faithful leaders. It doesn’t make sense unless we look to God. The God we serve is a God who brings about His plan through the messy lives of his people. Samson’s life was messy but there were two significant instances where he turned to God. In chapter 15:18, he is thirsty after a battle and he calls out to God to provide water. We see this a second time at the end of chapter 16, right before his death when he calls out to God to remember him and to give him strength. In dying, Samson began to the work that God had entrusted to him. But by that point, it was too late for him. When we look at Samson’s life, we see the personification of all the sins of Israel; self-assertion, self-determination, desire to do their own thing, and we get this. When we look at Samson’s death, we’re pointed to the One who is the personification of God.
Human will affecting God’s plan.
It may have been too late for Samson to make the difference he should have made, but it wasn’t too late for God. We can see from reading the Bible that God doesn’t need a Plan B. He doesn’t have a backup in case Plan A doesn’t work out because He will work it out. Of course, how and when it happens may be dependent on our willingness to obey. Again, we’re not told anything about Samson’s intentions or thought process or how he felt about his calling. We’re only told what he did. He spent his time with women he should not have been with. He wasn’t willing to obey God’s instructions, at least not all the time. His resistance led to a lot of hurt and death.
How often is this the case in our own lives? We know what God wants of us yet we resist. Or we look for our own way of bringing about God’s plan. A way that seems right in our own eyes. I think we often feel that God’s way is one-direction of a fork in the road. We get anxious when we don’t know which choice to make because we feel a wrong choice will be irreversible, or we become discouraged when we realize we’ve chosen wrongly. But our God is a generous God. He’s not going to abandon us if we mess up. He is walking with us and he’s not going to give up on us if we choose wrongly. This is the amazing part of the story of Samson. He messes up over and over again, yet God uses him over and over again.
This is not to say that we can do whatever we want. I believe that God’s way is the best way and if we choose the way of faith in God, then we choose the way that brings life and love. When we live in the grace of God we are living our most authentic existence. But when we choose wrongly, God is still there, calling us back to him. Wrong choices leave us with consequences, some unfortunately worse than others, but they don’t leave us beyond redemption.
Samson’s redemption comes at the end of his life. After his infamous relationship with Delilah, he is captured, blinded, ridiculed, and made a slave of the Philistines. The Philistines are celebrating the capture of their greatest nuisance and have a party to offer sacrifices of Thanksgiving to their god Dagon. They bring Samson out so everyone can see him. In his last moments, humbled before his enemies, Samson turns to God for help. He prays that God will remember him and restore his strength one last time. “Lord God, remember me,” he prays, “and strengthen me only this once…” God answers his prayer and Samson stretches out his arms against the pillars in the temple, pushes with all his might, and the walls come tumbling down, killing everyone inside including Samson. And we read that Samson kills more people in his death, than he did in his life.
It’s a tragic end to a difficult story. But as we’ve been hearing for the past six weeks, lasting deliverance was never going to come from the judges. Some of them were able to effect peace and it would last 20 years or maybe 40 years. With Samson, there was no peace. The angel who foretold his birth in chapter 13:5 said that he would begin to deliver Israel and he does begin deliverance but couldn’t finish the job. He was the last judge and after his death, things in Israel got much worse. But the hope of Israel was never in Samson. After the period of the Judges, Israel decides that they need a king to reign over them. Just as it went with the Judges, some kings do better at effecting peace than others but it’s never permanent. And it wasn’t meant to be permanent because the judges and kings were all human. If there was any human who had a good chance at deliverance, it was Samson. But the best he could do was to begin this deliverance. What Samson began at his death, this ‘Deliverance-project’, Jesus finished with his death on the cross and resurrection. The cross allows us to live in the will of God despite our humanity and our propensity to sin. The cross makes it possible for us to have God’s Spirit live in us. The Spirit who is the source and enabler of gifts.
If I’m being honest, I can see myself in Samson. A lot of us probably can. His life can be a cautionary tale but it should also be a source of encouragement. When we make poor choices, God is there for us. Just as God gifted Samson, He has gifted each one of us.
Samson gives us a lesson in using our gifts. He was gifted by God with superhuman strength but he used this gift for his own ends. It’s like the movie Bruce Almighty where Jim Carey gets God’s powers temporarily and all he does is use it to fulfill his own selfish desires. He wants more money, a nicer car, to embarrass his work rival and of course he realizes, with a little help from Morgan Freeman, that this is not the purpose of divine power. God does not gift us so that we can bring about self-fulfillment. God gifts us so we can edify or build up the body of Christ and minister to each other. He gives us gifts so we can expand his kingdom.
When I was in Honduras a couple of years ago we attended a church service in a very poor community. The only thing I remember about that service is hearing a young woman sing. She sang a song called Break Every Chain and I had never heard anyone sing like that before. She was anointed by God to minister in this way. After the service we talked to her and thanked her for her music. She told us that at one time in her life she was singing for glory that wasn’t of God. She noticed that she actually began to lose her voice. One day she told God that moving forward, she would sing for him, and she noticed that her voice began to improve again. I’ll do this for as long as he allows me, she told us.
I tell you this because God gives us gifts so that we will use them. Are you using your gifts? I’m not talking about skills, or something you might happen to be good at… I’m talking about God given, Jesus-revealing, Holy Spirit inspired gifts. We all have them.
1 Corinthians 12 reads:
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
I know some Christians who believe that every church, every body of believers has all the gifts of the Spirit among its members. So I ask again, what is your gift? Are you using your gift to edify the church and if not then how can we help you do that? Maybe you have no idea what your gift is and if that’s the case let us help you figure it out. Maybe it’s encouragement or mercy or discernment. I know that Hospitality is a very present gift here at Blythwood. This gift has not only edified our church but the community around us as well. And this is good because it brings God glory. It shows our neighbours and friends what God’s love is and what it means to be a part of the family of God.
Samson was a little short-sighted in his desires. He knew he was gifted, but couldn’t imagine how God could use his gifts to change the course of history. As Christians, we need to be able to use our imagination. We often look at ourselves and see the flaws and imperfections. My prayer for you today is that you will begin to see yourself through the Father’s eyes. That you will see your God-given potential and imagine the dreams and plans that God has for you.
May this be true for us all. Amen.