Samson. A legendary leader known for his strength and might. Was there more to him than that? Is he someone we want to be?
Much like our culture, Samson’s was rife with hedonism – a mindset in which the highest purpose is the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. A mindset not in line with what God asks of His people – as believers, and Samson’s, our highest value should be the glorification and honor of God, even (especially!) in the midst of a hedonistic society.
From birth, Samson was intended to be different than the culture around him. Samson’s story is another part of the familiar cycle of Judges and Kings: rebellion, retribution, repentance, and rescue. A cycle that looks a lot like The Big Gospel Story: God’s creation, man’s fall (rebellion), man’s repentance, and God’s redemption and restoration (rescue) through Christ.
The people of Israel were supposed to be a light to the Gentiles, pointing them to Yahweh God. And sometimes they were. But they found themselves in a cycle of shifting their focus from God to the culture around them, pursuing things the culture offered, things that were not of God. That’s how they consistently found themselves in rebellion, then facing retribution, and finally repentant as they realized their need for God’s rescue.
The Israelites again find themselves oppressed. This time by the Philistines. But it’s not the harsh, violent oppression they had faced under other regimes. The Philistines were happy to have the Israelites prosper and profit – they recognized the value the Israelites could bring to their economy and wanted to capitalize on it. The Israelites could have been peacefully absorbed into the Philistine culture, with virtually no pain or heartache. But that wasn’t what God wanted for His people. God intended for the Israelites to be set apart, different, a light to the gentiles.
It’s at this point that Samson appears on the scene. Before the people are even crying out to God rescue them from the oppression, Samson’s birth is announced by an angel. This announcement of a barren woman carrying a child becomes a foreshadowing of an announcement we’ll later see in the New Testament, the announcement of Christ’s birth. This angel, which many scholars believe is Christ Himself, announces that this baby boy will be a Nazarite from birth and will save his people from their oppression. Samson was born to be a deliverer, the leader of the nation and a judge who will throw off the oppression of the Philistines. Even though Israel wasn’t trying very hard to be delivered from this oppression.
It wasn’t common to be a Nazarite from birth. The Nazarite vow was something people would keep for up to 40 days at a time in order to be set apart and closer to God. But Samson was to keep this vow from birth. He wouldn’t cut his hair. He would face increased dietary restrictions including the avoidance of strong drink. And he would never touch a dead body. If you’re Jesus, fully God, this might seem easy. But if you’re merely a man who is a foreshadowing of Christ, living in a hedonistic culture, this is a tall order. And one Samson didn’t keep.
Samson engages in a series of rebellious behaviors, taking advantage of his tremendous strength provided by the Spirit of the Lord, but neglecting almost all of the instruction the Spirit provided. In all of this, though, he never did cut his hair. He honored that part of the vow.
His disobedient actions put his people in great danger, to the point that the Philistines set out to go to war with Judah, the men Samson was born to protect and deliver. They caused the people to rise up in rebellion against him, and to deliver Samson to the Philistines to save themselves. Just as Christ’s own people turned him over to be crucified.
But Samson wasn’t killed. His strength allowed him to rescue himself, which startled the Philistines, causing them to leave the people of Israel alone and ushering in an era of 20 years of peace. In that time, the Philistines never stopped hoping for an opportunity to take down Samson and rule over the Israelites. And after 20 years, Samson’s sinful and self-absorbed choices lead him to Delilah, who leads to his demise.
Samson’s strength came from the Spirit of the Lord, which had come upon him at birth. He was aware of his strength and utilized it at every turn, but he was reluctant to credit its source – the God he was born to glorify. At this point in his life, after breaking other parts of the vow with regularity, it’s likely Samson’s pride caused him to doubt the importance of his hair or his vow. So when Delilah asked him the source of his strength in an effort to help the Philistines overcome it, Samson probably didn’t think to tell her was a risk. He likely believed the strength was an intrinsic part of him, not beholden to God or vows. He didn’t think he was endangering himself by telling Delilah it came from his hair, the one part of the vow he had kept.
But Samson didn’t realize the Spirit of the Lord had departed him. Samson had gotten so accustomed to doing things his own way, with no regard for the direction of God, that he didn’t notice the absence of God’s spirit. That is, until it was also the absence of Samson’s legendary strength, allowing the Philistines to easily subdue him.
The Philistines were able to gouge out his eyes and blind him, they were able to bind him, and they left him imprisoned, grinding at the mill.
Sin will always take you further than you want to go and keep you longer than you want to stay. Sin cost Sampson his strength, his sight, his freedom, and his integrity. That’s the story of Samson. It’s a harsh story. But it’s one that plays out regularly in our world. Sin causes us to lose everything that matters to us when we allow it in our lives. It binds us, it blinds us, and it grinds us. It makes us lose sight of our highest purpose: living our faith and glorifying God. Instead, we’re focused only on our pleasure, a focus our culture readily affirms. As believers, our focus must remain on Christ.
Samson failed to honor his commitment to God. And he failed to guard his heart and mind. He was relentless in his pursuit of pleasure, which caused him to waste his capacity. These are all things we’re susceptible to as well. These are all traps which will ensnare us if we let them. Samson didn’t set out to fall as he did. If we want to avoid the same struggles, we must set our eyes on Christ, actively working to keep our commitment to God, to guard our heart, to pursue the things of God rather than pleasure, and to use our strength and capacity for things that glorify God and point others to Him.
The good news for Samson, and for us, is that even after falling so far, redemption is available.
The story doesn’t end with Samson at the mill. The Philistines took him to their pagan temple, where they expected Samson to entertain them as they celebrated their victory and his defeat – a victory they attributed to their pagan god. They placed Samson between the pillars of their temple. After a while, Samson asked if he could be allowed to touch the pillars, to lean on them for support. And as he stretched his arms, from one pillar to the other, Samson began to pray, offering a prayer or repentance, and begging God for strength. God granted that strength, and it was enough to allow Samson to break the pillars, causing the collapse of the temple and the death of everyone inside, including all of the leaders of the Philistines and Samson himself. With his final breath, he prayed. And with his final act, he rescued his people by destroying their oppressor with his outstretched arms.
Interesting, isn’t it, that just as Christ was delivered to his enemies, who bound him and mocked him, so was Samson… And just as Samson delivered his people in his death, so did Christ.