So three thousand men of Judah went down to get Samson at the cave in the rock of Etam. They said to Samson, "Don’t you realize the Philistines rule over us? What are you doing to us?" – Judges 15:11 NLT
What a fascinating story. No other judge receives the attention given to Samson in the chronicles of the judges. His story lasts several chapters and is filled with intriguing and somewhat confusing dichotomies. On the one hand, Samson is set apart by God, his very birth miraculous – the result of the intervention of God. Yet his life is marked by repeated violations of his Nazarite vow and more of a devotion to his own passions and physical appetites than to the will of God. In so many ways, Samson is a reflection of the people of God. They too had been set apart by God. They had been chosen by Him and set apart for a special purpose. Yet their entire history up to this point had been marked by the breaking of their covenant with God and a love affair with the things of this world. Samson's attraction to the Philistine woman is purely physical. He is driven by his passions. As were the Israelites. His eating of the honey he found in the lion's carcass was a direct violation of his Nazarite vow, but once again, he let his appetite overshadow his calling and commitment to God. He even gave some of the honey to his parents, so that they unknowingly defile themselves by eating food that had been contaminated by a dead body.
The interesting thing is how often Samson was used by God in spite of his impetuousness and impertinence. Several times we read that he was filled with the Spirit of God. It seems that God was going to use this rash young man to accomplish His will regardless of Samson's willingness to live a life set apart to God. But God had been using rebellious Israel to accomplish His will as well. He would even use this stubborn, rebellious people to bring about the birth of the Messiah. You see throughout the story of Samson the providence of God, but it is clouded by the sad state of the people of Israel and the disappointing actions of the man, Samson. Any victories Samson has over the Philistines have less to do with his obedience to the will of God than his sinful reactions to wrongs done against him. And every battle he fights is alone. He never leads the people of God in battle against the enemy. In fact, you see the people of God cowering under the oppressive hand of the Philistines. They even refer to the Philistines as their rulers (Judges 15:11). These are sad days for Israel. And Samson does little to bring light into the darkness. Without the power and providence of God there would be nothing of redeeming value in these chapters.
Samson is a picture of so many of us today as believers. We are set apart by God. We are even filled with the Spirit of God. We have been given a task by God. Yet we live much of our lives controlled by our passions and driven by our appetites. We are controlled more by our own desires than the will of God for our lives. We demand of God what we think we need to have to make us happy. We are impetuous. We are impulsive. We break our commitments to God on a regular basis. And yet God still seems to use us. In spite of us.
Chapter 15 ends with the statement that Samson had judged Israel for 20 years. During that time he was used by God to destroy many of the Philistines. But in doing so he also violated his Nazarite vow, compromised his own parents' moral integrity, continually allowed his appetites to determine his actions, attempted to accomplish God's will using less-than-godly means, etc. His use of the jawbone of a donkey to slay the Philistines is an example of this last one. In picking up the jawbone of the dead animal, he violated his vow and made himself impure. And when he was done he gave the jawbone more credit than God Himself. He treated God as his own servant instead of the other way around. When he had killed 1,000 Philistines, he became thirsty and demanded that God give him something to drink. And God graciously did. The grace of God flows throughout this entire story. He is gracious with Samson and He is continually gracious with the people of Israel. Samson was not unlike us. Yes, he had supernatural power at his disposal, but so do we. His birth was miraculous and God-ordained, but so was our new birth. He was called by God to serve Him and accomplish great tasks for Him, but so are we. As we read his life, may we catch a glimpse of our own. May we see his weaknesses and God's strength. May we learn from his failures and recognize that any of his success, like ours, are the result of God's gracious intervening power.
"The pressures which Samson faced make him a contemporary figure. Twentieth-century Christians face the danger of assimilation, of being slowly and imperceptibly squeezed into the mold of the world around us. Therefore, what God did with and through Samson has a special meaning for our times." – Gary Enrig, Hearts of Iron. Feet of Clay.
Father, I am a modern-day Samson, squandering my calling and using my God-given power in ways that are so far beneath Your expectations. I have compromised my calling and my status as one of Your called out ones. Yet You continue to use me – in spite of me. Thank You for Your grace and mercy. Show me how to live as I've been called, fully controlled by Your Spirit instead of my own selfish desires and passions. Amen