by Gary D. Robinson
If you’re familiar with Superman lore, you know the Man of Steel derives his great powers from Earth’s yellow sun. That’s what intrigues me about the “superman” in the Bible. His parents named him Samson—Sun Boy (in the Hebrew language literally, “like the sun”). It’s a name full of hope and glory, the sunrise of a day of deliverance for God’s people. But if the saga of Samson teaches us anything it’s that God is the hero!
The story begins under a dark cloud of oppression. “Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, so the LORD delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years” (Judges 13:1). The irony here is that Israel supplied her oppressors with the very chains that bound her.
You remember how, under Joshua, the Israelites marched into Canaan. They were to take the land from its inhabitants. The Canaanites were depraved. Their religion was basically a nature cult in which prostitutes engaged in sex to keep the rain falling, the sun shining, and the crops growing. That’s why Moses and Joshua commanded that these people be exterminated or driven out. They knew what would happen to Israel if the Canaanites were allowed to remain. Her faith would be compromised and diluted. Eventually, it would disappear and Israel with it.
But the Israelites didn’t do their job. They were content to settle among the Canaanites. They married them. They accepted their religion—at least enough of it to keep peace in the family. They lowered their sights and their standards. By the time the Philistines moved in, Israel had more or less given up faith in Yahweh. She had so accommodated the Philistine culture that they took over without firing a shot. Israel was like a frog in a beaker. The heat of the Bunsen burner had been turned up a degree at a time. All but cooked, she neither knew nor cared.
The book of Judges shows a sad cycle of sin, subjugation, supplication, and salvation repeated over and over. In the past, the people had prayed for God to save them. By this time, however, they were neither hoping nor praying for rescue. When Samson showed up, they didn’t see a hero but a headache. They got upset with him for upsetting the apple cart.
Young and Irresponsible
Not that Samson was any great prize! At times, he seemed less a hero and more a juvenile delinquent. He grew up with a will as strong as his arms. Maybe his parents were afraid of him. No doubt he was a bitter disappointment to them. He had been set apart from birth to be a Nazarite, separated to the service of God. He should have been a cut above his countrymen, a spiritual leader. Instead, he ran with the herd.
He wanted a Philistine woman—in spite of the fact that Israel’s law forbade intermarriage. His parents were mystified: “Isn’t there an acceptable woman among your relatives or among all our people? Must you go to the uncircumcised Philistines to get a wife?” (14:3).
“You heard me. Get ‘er for me.”
Judges 14 portrays a comedy of errors. Having secretly torn apart a lion with his bare hands, Samson later ate honey from its carcass. At his wedding feast, full of wine and good cheer, he put forth a riddle. Samson bet his friends 30 sets of clothes they couldn’t answer it: “Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet” (v. 14).
“Whatever can go wrong will go wrong.” “One thing leads to another.” Read Chapter 14 and see how these old adages came horribly true. Reflect on the irony: Jesus attended a wedding feast and changed water into wine. Samson went to his own wedding feast and turned wine into blood. The episode ends with the air full of smoke and the night alight with the fire of Samson’s vengeance.
At this point, it’s helpful to remember two vital truths from the Scriptures: the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man.
Though seemingly contradictory ideas, they’re vital to understanding the role of Samson in Israel’s deliverance from the Philistines. Samson was a poor leader. Emotions, not principles, drove him. He is not a hero to emulate here but an immature young man who acted irresponsibly. There were consequences to his actions, consequences that would ultimately lead Samson to a bad place.
But God used Samson nonetheless. See his sovereign power at work: “This was from the LORD, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines” (14:4). Just as God would use an adulterous king as a slab in the road to Christ (see Matthew 1:6), he used the impetuous Sun Boy to help save Israel from assimilation into the surrounding culture.
His Finest Hour
Still, Samson had his moments. The 15th chapter of Judges gives us Sun Boy at his brightest. His countrymen, so cowed by the Philistines they don’t even know it, demand that Samson give himself up. Three thousand come to get him. Sounds like more than enough to challenge the Philistines, doesn’t it? With Samson leading them, they would have been unstoppable. Instead, like the cowardly citizens in High Noon, they surrender their manhood for an uneasy peace with the devil.
Yet, instead of turning in disgust from the men of Judah, Samson allows himself to be bound and delivered to his enemies. Here, he is not only courageous but Christlike. Speaking of Jesus, John writes, “he came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (John 1:11). In both cases, Israel’s savior was rejected, led off to die. Though Samson was super strong, he wasn’t invulnerable. One good spear thrust would have killed him. But, whereas Jesus let evil men do their worst in order to win our victory, Samson had no such intention—as the Philistines, to their horror, soon discovered.
The analogies between Christ’s suffering and Samson’s continue. Both were betrayed by their own people. Both suffered physical exhaustion. Both cried out their thirst (Judges 15:18, John 19:28). Both departed a deadly arena—”Jawbone Hill” (Judges 15:17) and “the place of the skull” (John 19:17)—having vanquished a terrible enemy.
Look at the overarching plan of God, one that reaches far beyond the time of Samson. See it as a shadow in one ironically named after the sun. Behold, in type and in shadow, the salvation of God for all mankind won by Christ. No story is wasted but all are drawn into the cosmic drama. God is indeed the hero!
Pride and Humility
Nowhere in Samson’s story is this truth more apparent than in Judges 16. The rickety house Samson has built will be tested in fire at great cost. Sun Boy’s last adventure begins in the dead of night. He lies with a prostitute. His enemies lie in wait. Imagine their nervous chatter: “He’ll have to wait till dawn to come out, won’t he? The gate’s locked, right? I mean, what’s he gonna do—take hold of the doors and tear ‘em loose?”
That’s exactly what he did—a feat analogous to crawling on your belly underneath a pickup truck, getting up with it on your back, and then carrying it up a hill!
But, whereas Samson’s earlier feats had been accompanied by a sudden rush of holy power, there’s no mention of God’s Spirit here. I get the feeling that if Samson had ever seen himself as God’s agent, if he’d ever been conscious of his mission, the untended fire had gone out. The guy’s alone now. He’s on his own.
Watch out, believer! If we stray from camp, our fire dies. Stay alert! We can coast on a bike just so far before it wobbles . . . and falls.
The web is spun for the unwary fly. Enter the black widow, Delilah. Now begins the last game Samson will ever play. Deluded by his power, intoxicated by a new romance, he thinks it’s funny:
“Bow strings didn’t work? Huh. I thought . . . no, no, it’s ropes! Ropes’ll do the trick!
“Aw, Honey, calm down. It’s, uh, weave my hair into a loom (snort)!”
As her lust for Philistine silver grew, Delilah’s nagging increased and Samson’s good humor evaporated. So he told her everything. He thrust a lock of his hair in her face: “This is where the power comes from! Cut it off, I’m weak. Satisfied?” Oh, yes. She was.
“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). Samson’s basic sin, which led to this fatal mistake, was his overweening pride. The power of God burned in him like the sun. The light blinded him to the true source of his strength. The moon began to confuse itself with the sun. When, bursting with pride, it turned its face from the light, everything went dark.
One last time she calls out, “The Philistines are upon you!” One last time he charges into action. Out go the lights, up come the chains, down goes Samson. Round and round goes Samson, grinding grain. Woman’s work. He would have laughed at the irony—God’s gift to women—if he weren’t in such pain.
But God can turn burning shame into a holy flame. “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).
Strength in Weakness
When Samson got hurt, Samson got real. A.W. Tozer said, “Before God can use a man greatly, he first must hurt him deeply.” According to Steve Brown, “Authenticity is possible only in the context of public shame, forced honesty, or Christian experience.” Shame forced Samson into honesty and back into the arms of the God he’d spurned. In his pain, he became the authentic Samson, the genuine article. And now, God help his enemies!
The Philistines threw a party. They brought out their dancing bear, their circus strongman to have a little fun with. This was going to be quite a show! And, of course, as you know, Samson brought down the house.
What will bring down the strongholds of our culture and topple the false gods of our time? What is real power?
David Ring was born with cerebral palsy. His speech impediment is so severe it’s a struggle to understand him. But he holds audiences spellbound: “They said I’d never ride a bike, but I did. They said I’d never get married, but I did—I’ve got five kids to prove I did okay. They said I’d never preach but I’ve preached 265 times this year. And I have cerebral palsy. What’s your problem?”
Our problem might be that we expect advantage without adversity, power without pain, wisdom without weakness. Yet the apostle Paul wrote that God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He also wrote, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
What Paul, David Ring, and Samson learned, we all must learn. Do we want to gain some advantage? We can, but not without adversity. Do we want to be somebody? There’s nothing wrong with that. But we should remember this: God delights in making somebodies into nobodies so he can make the nobodies into the somebodies he had in mind! Do we want a crown? The crown is ours—but not without a cross.
So, as he has done through the centuries, mighty Samson opens his broad hand to give us great gifts of knowledge and insight:
• The danger of pride
• The power of humility
• The overruling purpose of God
• The grace of God that can take a mess and make him a legend.
He is the Wild and Untamed One. He is the King! He is the Hero of the ages!
Gary D. Robinson is a Christian writer living in Xenia, OH. He blogs at www.garydrobinson.com.
When You Mess Up as a Leader
As we know and have read again, Samson was not a perfect leader. And we all have fallen short in some area when we have been in charge.
• Think of a time when you allowed your pride to rule in your leadership experiences.
• Consider a time when you were a distracted leader, forgetting your purpose and losing your focus on God.
• Now remember this: God gives us all grace, even when you’ve made glaring errors as a leader. If you haven’t already, talk about your leadership mistakes with God—ask his forgiveness for any sin that caused you to stumble; seek his wisdom as you move forward.