The people God chooses to use for his glory is amazing. There will always be tension…the story of Samson is in Judges 13-16. Bedtime stories. “A man for our times” one person called him. The tension he brings. If a man like Samson wanted to be baptized, I might wonder if it would be proper. I don’t know as I’d really know what to do with Samson.
Samson was one of my early heroes. I used to watch Professional Wrestling, before they sensationalized it so much -- I saw Samson as kind of a charismatic Gene Kaninski (sp?). My first teacher was my mother. She taught the small children for 50 years! Samson and his long hair. Samson swinging away the jawbone of an ass. (The joke: Who was the first comedian of the Bible? Samson, he brought down the house). What a great man, a hero of faith. As a child I knew Samson had his flaws, but if you put his heroics on a scale with his faults, as a child I saw the heroics as far outweighing the faults, it was not that much of a stretch to put Samson alongside a Superman comic — he was revengeful when he set fire to the wheat fields by putting a torch in the tails of 150 pairs of foxes, he was angry when he killed 30 men to pay off a gambling debt. His tragic, heroic death when he destroyed the Philistine temple by pushing apart the pillars.
As I grew older with all the sophistication of a teenager, Samson became more of a confusing man – a hero of faith, yet the unbelievable flaws: a weakness for women. He could never say no to a good-looking woman, a fact that repeatedly got him into trouble and eventually cost him his life. The woman who took him down—Delilah—has become a symbol for the seductive female.
The truth is that what we see in Samson is a confusing mix of contradictions, tension. Here is one person’s list:
-- He was a man of faith with a weakness for women.
—He was a man of prayer given to uncontrollable fits of anger.
—He was a leader of Israel who lusted after Philistine women.
—He was a man of God who lacked common sense.
Maybe the reason Samson is in the Bible is because he makes most of us look pretty good! The contradictions, the tension… the imperfections. What I see in Samson is that when he is strong, everything is bungled up, but when he is physically weak, when he has no control, that’s when God reaches him. The apostle Paul writes in 2 Cor. 12:10: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” I like to imagine that when Paul penned those words, in the back of his mind he had a picture of Samson. A man of contradictions. Tension. It gives me hope. An amazing bottom line is found in Hebrews 11:32-34. The captions of Samson’s life, like the epitaph on a headstone: Hebrews 11 is a role call of some of the great heroes of faith God used to accomplish his purposes: And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah…who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength... When I am weak.// Samson is listed in Hebrews 11 as a man of faith, yet he slept with a prostitute. How do you explain it?
If God can use us in our weakness, perhaps we should make weakness a goal… absurd! The goal is faithfulness, the goal is openness to the work of the spirit. Weakness is not a goal, purposefully going contrary to God. Weakness is simply a fact of who we are in our human nature! The way to grow in our faith is to recognize our weaknesses and allow the spirit to use us through the fact of our weakness. Without God we are incomplete, with God we have everything we need.
The story of Samson is so fascinating because Samson is born with everything going for him. Judges 13 portrays the story of a boy that did not have to struggle. This may be a major contributing factor to his downfall. Samson did not have to work for a thing…
In the adult Sunday School class, I’ve heard Bill Kamphouse express the belief that if a person is to become wealthy, they need to do it one step at a time, if any of the rungs are skipped, it is almost impossible to handle your money well. Suddenly winning the lottery is the downfall of many people for a reason. Struggling builds character. This is something Samson never knew. Samson did not struggle. If you hand everything to a small child, you create a spoiled child. But the child that has to work, to struggle, to go without, character is built, strength is created… incredible survivors in this town who have very little…Lord, build character in my weakness…I am weak but you are strong.
A quick explanation of judges…”in those days there was no king in Israel”…the mantra of the book. Before the first King Saul, after Israel is settled in the Promised land. Dependent entirely on God. Centuries are covered in the book of Judges. A discernable pattern, every 40 – 80 years the Israelites begin to take God for granted, slipping into patterns of negligence. When that happens, foreigners slowly take over, a crisis occurs, and God raised up a judge, a leader, to defeat the enemy.
At the time of Samson, the arch-enemy was the Philistines…(Judges 13:1) This is the setting for Samson, set apart before his birth to lead the people of Israel out of the crushing rule of the Philistines. Here are Samson’s privileges from this chapter:
1. His birth was announced by an angel of the Lord who turns out to be God himself.
2. He was set apart to God as a Nazirite from birth. All the stuff about not cutting hair, not drinking wine, etc. A special order ordained for holiness, greatness.
3. His mission in life was chosen by God—to begin to deliver his people (Judges 13:5).
4. He was raised in a godly home by godly parents who wanted to cooperate with God. Notice in Judges 13:6-7 how Samson’s mother did not question the angel, but simply believed. The entire chapter is a testimony to the faithfulness of Samson’s parents.
5. He was blessed by God as a young child (Judges 13:24).
6. He was empowered by the Spirit of God (Judges 13:25). Clearly a charismatic man that naturally drew people….
Samson was born with incredible privilege. Maybe he had it too easy. Struggling isn’t all bad. Just as not skipping any rungs on the ladder to gaining wealth is important, it is the same with faith. God builds us up through our weakness. When we TRY to be faithful through our own strength, we fail. But God uses us in our weakness.
You learn more about your character when you are weak, when you are broken, when you are hurting and struggling… I see in the enigma of Samson a man that struggled with his own strength… Samson is at his best is in his weakness, totally dependent on God… He is at his worst when he let’s his own strength take over. The tension. God will use you when you are finally broken, at your “wits end” it says in the Psalm 107:27, describing sailors in a storm that finally lost all control, ran out of wisdom to guide the boat becoming fully dependent on God.
What we learn in Judges 13 impresses upon us the fact that here is a man completely prepared to do great things for God. If ever a man should have succeeded, it was Samson. If ever a man had it all, it was Samson. If ever a man had all the advantages life can offer, it was Samson. Samson had it all! Yet God did not use Samson’s strength to his glory, God used Samson’s weakness.
Following God in this world brings tension. If God uses our weakness to his glory, then anybody can be transformed. Give your weakness to the Lord. Let him use you to his glory, in his service, in his way. Samson had everything handed to him, but not until he is broken does God use him. “Whose weakness is turned to strength” it says of Samson in Hebrews 11. That’s the key of Samson’s life: not his long hair, not his physical strength, but empowered by God through his weakness. Struggling is not all bad. That’s the irony of living by faith. God uses us in our weakness. We look for confident people to serve God that have it all together. God looks for willing people that have nothing to offer by this world’s standards. Depending on God to overcome our weakness is the example of Samson.
Struggling is not all bad. There will always be tension, because God is in the habit of using struggling people in his service, people like Samson that in my wisdom I might hesitate to welcome into the church, people that don’t fit the mold of what a Christian is supposed to look like. Struggling is not all bad because it builds character. Struggling is not all bad because it is an opportunity for the Lord to overcome our weakness and turn our weakness into strength. God not only loves broken people, but God uses broken people to his glory. Amen.