“And he awoke from his sleep and said, ‘I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.’ But he did not know that the LORD had departed from him.” Judges 16:20.
Samson is one of the most tragic figures in all of Scripture. His story is sad, not because he suffers unduly or because he was the victim of some terrible wrong; instead, the tragedy of Samson is entirely self-inflicted. He is the ultimate example of wasted potential. Samson’s greatest enemy was himself, and what he had in physical strength, he lacked in discipline and commitment to God.
In many circles, Samson has been cleaned up into an Old Testament action figure. Attention is focused on his exploits and his accomplishments, while the rest of his story is swept under the rug. Samson was not a hero; he was a scoundrel. He was a man who had the talent and abilities to be one of the greatest judges of Israel, but he did not take his responsibilities and commitment to God seriously. Instead, he forsook his duty to God and pursued every worldly pleasure.
Before Samson was born, the Angel of the Lord told his parents that Samson would be a Nazirite from before the day of his birth (Judges 13:7). This meant that Samson would adhere to the obligations of the Nazirite vow: to abstain from alcohol, to refrain from cutting his hair, and to avoid becoming ritually unclean. Before his birth, Samson had been set apart by God to be different from everyone else.
Very quickly in Samson’s story, we see that this is not a vow he intends to keep. Though he keeps from cutting his hair, Samson’s main passions in life are drinking and killing. Time after time, we see where Samson becomes ritually impure by touching the dead bodies of animals and men, or by pursuing relationships with non-Israelite women. Samson was ruled by his lusts and desires, and he pursued them when he should have been seeking God. His eyes were always looking for his next conquest–whether it be in bed with a woman or in a fight with dozens of men. This man who was called to abstain from drinking and being unclean could not stop drinking or remain clean.
Additionally, Samson continually mocked and provoked those around him; humility was a concept that was foreign to him. Samson conducted himself like a godless heathen when he was supposed to be the moral authority in Israel. Step by step, sin by sin, Samson fell further and further into debauchery and did not turn to the God whom he was supposed to be serving.
Eventually, Samson’s choices–and sins–caught up with him. His enemies found out the great secret of his strength–his hair–, and they used his lover to cut it so that they could capture him. When he was about to be caught, Samson thought that he would escape, just as he had done so many times before. But Judges 16:20 reveals the sad truth of Samson’s state; God had departed from Samson. God would no longer protect this man who mocked and defied Him. Samson had repeatedly demonstrated that God did not matter to him, and he had scorned the mission for which God had created him. When given a choice between sin and God, Samson continuously chose sin. God, therefore, allowed Samson’s sins to consume him, and his enemies to catch him.
Once captured, the Philistines gouged out Samson’s eyes–the very same eyes which had been the root of so many of Samson’s sins. He was paraded around by his captors like an exotic animal, mocked and jeered by the same Philistines that he had so often mocked and ridiculed himself. It was only now, at the end of his story, that Samson realized the folly of his ways; it was only at the end that he turned to God.
Judges 16:22 says, “but the hair on his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.” Though God had removed His spirit from Samson, He would still use Samson to accomplish His will. Samson had been prepared to be a judge of Israel and to free Israel from the yoke of Philistine oppression, and God would still use Samson to do just that. While he was chained between the pillars of a Philistine temple for all to see, Samson prayed to God–for the first and only time in the narrative account of his life. Samson asked for God to give him his strength just once more, and with all of his might, Samson pulled down the pillars to which he was chained. The temple collapsed upon him, killing him and 3,000 Philistines.
Samson, a man who could have been so great, was only exceptional in his death. He squandered his talents and abilities. He wasted what God had given him. He was a man of tremendous physical strength–he pulled a lion apart with his bare hands–but he wasn’t strong enough to withstand the sins and temptations of this world on his own. We are no different; when we attempt to live in our own strength, we fall continuously into sin. We must learn from Samson’s failures. We must readily admit that we are not strong enough to live without God. We must not boast in our sins but must confess them to God. We must seek God’s strength and protection from the devouring beast that is sin as it seeks to consume us, as it did Samson. We must remember that we are more like Samson than we would like to admit; he was no more fallen than we are, and we are no better than him. His mistakes could just as easily be ours.
Seek God and his strength in everything you do; don’t wait until your sins have you chained up with your eyes gouged out to call upon Him.
Artwork: “Samson,” Norman Rockwell, 1948-49.