Samson lived during a time in Israel’s history known as “the judges.” Judges in Israel were not like the court room judges of today. They were defenders of Israel against its enemies. In Samson’s day that enemy was a people known as the Philistines, and Samson made a point of being a thorn in the Philistine’s side throughout his time as a judge of Israel. He was a classic hero all the way down to his tragic flaw.
Samson was the “miracle baby” of Manoah and his wife. They could not have children. Then one day “the angel of the LORD appeared unto the woman” and announced: “thou shalt conceive, and bear a son” (Judges 13:3). Because this child would be special, she was given strict instructions:
(4) Now therefore beware, I pray thee, and drink not wine nor strong drink, and eat not any unclean thing:
(5) For, lo, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and no razor shall come on his head: for the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb: and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.
Being a Nazarite did not mean Samson was from Nazareth, it meant he had a special vow upon his life: the Nazarite vow. Anyone could take this vow upon them whether they were a man or a woman. As per the instructions given to Samson’s mother, a Nazarite could not consume alcohol, had to abide by strict dietary rules and could not cut their hair. Under normal circumstances, this was a public but temporary vow. In Samson’s case, it was to be his way of life.
Like most believers who make vows, Samson was pretty loose with his. Still, God gave him grace to do great things in His name, and that was his undoing. When you hear the name “Samson” it is inextricably tied to another name: Delilah. They were the ultimate star-crossed power couple, and most people say that Delilah was Samson’s tragic flaw. She was just a symptom. The great tragedy of Samson’s life was not Delilah, but that he always assumed he would have God’s grace. Samson regularly broke his vows and mistook God’s patience with him, for God’s approval.
His relationship with Delilah didn’t do him in. It just brought out what was there all the time. For days Delilah wore Samson down, urging him to tell her the secret of his strength and for days Samson gave her lies until finally, he told her what he believed was the source of his power:
“…There hath not come a razor upon mine head; for I have been a Nazarite unto God from my mother’s womb: if I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man” (Judges 16:17).
I say that Samson told her what he belived was the source of his strength because his strength was not in his hair. It was in his God. Did Samson’s strength disappear when his hair was cut? Yes, but because God took that strength from him. “Samson [knew] not that the LORD was departed from him” when the Philistines came for him the final time (Judges 16:20). But why did God wait until this moment? Why not when Samson played loose with his other vows? Because the uncut hair was the most public of Samson’s vows and therefore the most public symbol of his separation unto God. He flouted that vow like he had done all the others, and God finally said: “Enough is enough. You want to take your dedication to Me lightly? Then you’ll have to suffer the consequences of that as well.”
It is not until the end of Samson’s life that we hear his only recorded prayer. It was at a great gathering of the Philistines where Samson, who’d been enslaved and blinded by them, was the center attraction. As his enemies partied and made fun of him, Samson prayed: “O Lord GOD, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes” (Judges 16:28). As Bible prayers go, it will not enter the Prayer Hall of Fame. Honestly, it was as shallow as Samson was throughout his life, but it was humble and in it he fully acknowledged God as the true source of his power and God blessed him for it. God gave Samson the strength to knock down the pillars that supported the gathering place and he killed more of Israel’s enemies in that one act than he had done his whole life. (See Judges 16:29-31.) For a warrior-judge, that was a great accomplishment.
But what are the takeaways of Samson’s example?
- God often gives us grace despite ourselves because He is a faithful God.
- That does not mean we should presume upon God’s grace.
- God gives grace to the humble (even after we’ve messed up).
Why am I calling Samson a “bad” example of God’s grace? Because while you can argue that Samson’s life ended well, the great tragedy is that it should have been lived well.
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