Last week, while in Branson, we took in a theatre production at Sight and Sound Theatre. The shows are impeccably produced with special effects and talent that is off the charts. This show was about Samson….you know….the Samson of Samson and Delilah…the Samson with the long locks that gave him superhero strength. But, the story of Samson is so much more than that little biblical snippet.
The story of Samson doesn’t get much press in Sunday School. And when it does, his Herculean strength is what is highlighted. He’s not one the bible’s greatest hits like Abraham, Moses or David. Even though David’s life was full of screw ups, he is revered as a Jewish and Christian patriarch. Samson…..well, he could be the poster child for under achievement and a total lack of self-discipline. But his story is filled with redemption and grace even though there’s no happily-ever-after ending.
Born into slavery, Samson is a Hebrew living under Philistines control. The cultures were at odds with the Israelites trying to live to honor God and the Philistines living to worship pagan idols and indulge in anything that strikes their fancy. And, on top of that, God tells Samson’s mom before he’s born that he must follow the Nazarite Vow, which further separates him because he is not allowed to cut his hair, eat grapes, drink wine or touch a dead body. This makes him the object of much ridicule among the Philistines. Oh, and one more thing, God tells mom Samson is going to free the Hebrews from slavery from the Philistines. In return, God blesses him with strength beyond measure.
Samson doesn’t handle any of this very well. He’s called a girl because of his long hair. That is, until a display of super-human strength causes their jaws to drop to the floor. And, from that point on, the Philistine rulers plot everything from murder to turning him into their greatest weapon of mass destruction.
Samson never seems to embrace his calling…only wanting to live under the radar and do the bare minimum to get by. And he has quite the eye for the ladies….specifically beautiful ladies outside of his faith. Despite superhuman, physical strength, Samson battles temptations and enemies both inside and outside his body. By the time he is middle age, even though he is honored as an Israelite judge and rules for 20 years, he is considered uncontrollable and possibly beyond redemption. Hardly the ideal role model.
Enter Delilah, from the valley of Sorek, which in Hebrew means vineyard valley. Perfect. As a woman without a husband or tribe, she is on her own…making her receptive to opportunities for economic freedom. When approached by the Philistine rulers, she agrees to find out the source of Samson’s superpower strength….in return for monetary compensation, of course.
As every good Sunday Schooler knows, Delilah succeeds and Samson’s hair is cut, his his strength leaves, and he is finally captured by the Philistines. His head is shaved and, just for good measure, his captors gouge out his eyes, compounding his vulnerability by making him blind. He’s chained and forced to push a grain grinder in a circle all day, every until……
The Philistine rulers organize a huge celebration to honor their god of fertility, Dagon. And, as with any good party, the adult beverages flow freely. Three thousand Philistines party and praise their gods for delivering their enemy, Samson, to them. And soon Samson is summoned into the temple for their amusement.
Enter Samson. He’s placed between two main pillars of the temple. He’s blind…but no longer bald. As he takes his place between the pillars, he cries out for God’s mercy to restore his strength one last time. Knowing he will die when he brings down the house, he accepts his destiny and embraces his sacrifice with humility. God complies. Prophesy fulfilled.
Points to ponder with this story:
• God is using each of us in ways that may not be obvious to ourselves or others. Samson’s destiny was to free the Israelites from the Philistines. While I’m sure everyone thought this would be accomplished differently, God’s plan served more than one purpose. The consequences of Samson’s bad decisions placed him in the temple at the perfect time. If he had not been vanquished and captured, the Philistine rulers would not have been destroyed.
• Like with the Nazarite Vow, those who follow God are called to live within their culture, but to live lives separate from things at odds with what God deems as good. Samson didn’t do this well…and, if we’re being honest, neither do we. Our lives are contradictions between how we’re suppose to live and how we actually live.
• Samson’s disobedience resulted in him trudging in circles, pushing a heavy burden. Much like how giving in to temptations can take over, and our lives become a vicious circle of bad decisions.
• Similarly, we can become blind to our sin in today’s anything-goes culture. Many decisions in Samson’s life were made by what his eyes saw at that moment, overpowering better judgement. In the end, although Samson was blind, he could clearly see what he needed to do.
• Samson’s story explains the phenomena of God’s decisions to use tragically flawed people in powerful ways. Despite his anger issues, selfishness, carnal weakness for women, and out-and-out defiance to observe his Nazarite Vow, God did not abandon him. Instead, God came to him when he was the weakest and, in grace, strengthened him to accomplish what God had intended all along.
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.
~2 Corinthians 12:9