Departed.

Christianity, Religion

“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.

Dead.

Christianity, Religion

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,” Ephesians 2:1

Paul wasted no time in getting to his point when writing to the Ephesian church, nor did he pull any punches. After writing several lines of praise to God, Paul immediately launched into a sermon discussing the glorious work accomplished by God through Christ in each believer. However, in order to make sure the Ephesian believers understood how incredible this work was, Paul had to be sure the Ephesians understood how they had been prior to Christ changing them—they had to understand that they had once been dead.

Since Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden, humanity has been fallen. Every person is born spiritually dead and enslaved to sin. We are ruled by the lusts and desires of our flesh, and our only motivation is to satisfy ourselves in any way possible. Though we be physically alive, the shackles of sin keep us bound to the grave and to death. Prior to redemption and regeneration, our spirits are like dead carcasses, and it is in this state that Paul reminds the Ephesians that they had once been.

We too must remember that, before Christ, we were also dead. There was nothing good within us. We were ruled by the “prince of the power of the air,” the accuser—the Satan. He lorded over us and encouraged us to indulge each and every one of our desires, all the while leading us closer and closer to destruction. With each sin we committed in the name of our self-indulgence, we forged another link in the chains which bound us to death. We were so busy worshipping ourselves that we failed to see we were standing in our own graves, and we neglected to see that we were created in the image of the God who could free us and restore us to the dominion for which He made us.

We must remember how lost we once were—how truly dead we were—so that we never grow complacent with how alive Christ has now made us. We must remember the chains that He broke and freed us from as He languished and died on the cross. We were dead, and we should still be dead, but Christ changed everything. He freed us from bondage; He made us alive.

Don’t forget that you were dead, for when you do, you will cease to be in awe of the cross.

Artwork: “Head of a Drowned Man,” Theodore Gericault, c. 1819.

No Shame.

Christianity, Religion

“They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.” ‭‭Genesis ‭3:8‬

“‘Were they ashamed because of the abomination they had done? They certainly were not ashamed, And they did not know how to blush…’ Says the LORD.”‭ ‭Jeremiah ‭8:12‬ ‭

Sin is not a trivial matter; it  is of the utmost seriousness– this is one of the major themes of the Bible. There is no way to honestly and accurately read the Scriptures without understanding the magnitude and gravity of sin. It is what separates us from God; it is what enslaves our souls. Sin is what causes death. To ignore or make little of the seriousness of sin is to overlook one of the fundamental truths of Scripture.

Sin must be taken seriously and confronted, because when it is not—when it is allowed to fester—it grows on us. It consumes us. We become addicted to it, and like with any other addiction, it takes more and more of it to give us the same “fix” we once achieved. Quite soon, we spiral to a point to where we don’t even feel bad about the sins we commit. We feel no shame.

We see this same pattern played out in the Bible. In Genesis, after Adam and Eve sinned and disobeyed God by eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, it says “the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew they were naked,” (Genesis 3:7). They felt shame at being naked and exposed in front of one another; innocence had been lost with the introduction of sin to creation. What Adam and Eve did next was more telling of the shame they felt; when they heard God walking through the garden, they hid from Him. This first “hit” of sin had caused Adam and Eve great shame, so much so that they hid themselves from the very God with whom they had previously enjoyed perfect communion. Before sin, there was no shame, there was no reason to hide. Sin changed everything, and Adam and Eve knew that they had done something wrong. Their sin caused them to feel things—namely shame—which they’d never before felt.

Sin impacts humanity as a whole just as it does us individually; before long we feel no shame from the sins we commit. Several millennia after Adam and Eve, we meet the prophet Jeremiah, who was sent to prophesy in Israel and Judah against their numerous sins. Israel and Judah had wandered far from God, spiraling deep into sin and depravity. These kingdoms worshipped false gods and idols, offered their children as human sacrifices, and sought after every fleshly desire.  God compared both of these kingdoms to harlots because of their behavior, saying “And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also. Because of the lightness of her harlotry, she polluted the land and committed adultery with stones and trees. Yet in spite of all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to Me with all her heart, but rather in deception,” declares the LORD.” (‭‭Jeremiah ‭3:8-10‬)

Jeremiah warned the people of Israel and Judah that God would bring judgment against them because of their sins. He pleaded with the people to repent of their depraved behavior and to turn back to God, but they would not. One of the most tragic and haunting lines in all of the Bible is found in Jeremiah 8:12, when God says of the people “that they do not know how to blush” at their sins. Israel and Judah had become so addicted to their sin that their behavior no longer caused them any shame or heartache; their behavior didn’t even warrant blushing at anymore.  Once there was a time when sin caused Adam and Eve to hide themselves from God, and now Israel and Judah were sinning with their heads held high. Shame and innocence were long gone.

The world we live in today is no different from Israel and Judah of Jeremiah’s day. Sin goes unchecked in nearly every area of society and culture. No longer do we blush at the sins we commit against the Lord. No more do we feel the need to hide ourselves in shame from the Holy God.

Despite this, God—in His infinite mercy—has given us another chance. He sent His son, Jesus, to die to make atonement for our sin, so that we might be forgiven of them. Jesus rose again from the grave to defeat sin’s biggest ally—death. God gives to those who believe and follow Jesus a powerful tool for living, the Holy Spirit. The Spirit enters the believer and allows them to understand the gravity and danger of sin. The Spirit accomplishes this, not through the use of shame, but through conviction. It is the Spirit that moves in us and allows us to feel remorse when we do sin; it is the Spirit which reminds us that we know better when we find ourselves ensnared by sin’s barbs. The Spirit empowers us to live differently and to flee from sin.

Sin is a matter of life and death and should be treated accordingly. Let the Spirit empower you to flee from sin. In the moments when you do sin, remember to blush and be moved by the Spirit’s conviction; repent and ask forgiveness, and seek to sin no more.