“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
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.