Next week I plan to start study in I Thessalonians. But for this week, let us take a brief detour and look at the life of Samson. The choices he made, the man he was, and the man he could have been.
We will be spending most of our time in Judges chapters 13 – 16. Here is a synopsis of his life as recorded in the Bible:
Samson was born in a time when Israel was not obedient to God and because of this, God put them under control of the Philistines for forty years. Samson’s birth is heralded by the Angel of the Lord and his mother is told that he would begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines. Samson was to be a Nazirite. Can anyone tell me what it means to have been a Nazirite in the Old Testament? In Numbers 6:1-21 the Nazarite vow is explained. A Nazirite was one that dedicated himself to God. He was consecrated, set aside for service to God. Among other things, a Nazirite was to abstain from drinking wine and to not cut his hair. There was also a series of sacrifices he was to make.This was to be Samson’s purpose.
A sacrifice is made to God on behalf of the unborn boy and the Angel of the Lord ascends to heaven in the flame of the altar – this is quite an auspicious beginning for Samson.
Samson is born and raised and we see him first in action heading to Timnah where he sees a Philistine daughter that he desires for himself as a wife. Timnah was a Philistine city. Samson’s father implores him to marry an Israelite but Samson is set on this particular woman because she pleases him. The text tells us that this is part of God’s plan for Israel to rise against the Philistines. In traveling again to Timnah, Samson encounters and manhandles a lion, killing it. He keeps this a secret from his parents and his new wife. On his way back home, he passes by the lion again and finds honey inside of it and eats it. He tells no one of this either.
At the bridal party for this ill-fated marriage, Samson addresses his 30 wedding companions with a riddle, the answer to which is the lion he killed: “Out of the eater came something to eat, and out of the strong came something sweet.” Of course his 30 wedding companions cannot answer this because no one knows about the lion he killed whose carcass contained the honeycomb.
Samson’s 30 companions implore Samson’s wife to get him to tell her the answer so that she can tell them and they can guess right. There were 30 sets of new clothes riding on the outcome of this riddle. If they could get it right, Samson would have to get them each a new set of clothes. If they could not guess the riddle, they would have to get Samson 30 sets of new clothes. The unnamed wife gets the answer out of Samson and she tells the companions. They tell Samson the answer and he is angry that they have guessed it. He then kills 30 Philistines and gives his companions their clothes. Think about that for a minute. What should have been gifts associated with a wedding feast are clothes from corpses.
Samson knows that his wife told them the answer and he leaves his wife with her family. When he does this, his wife is given to his best man.
After a time, Samson returns to his wife’s father’s house to retrieve her and he is denied. Instead the father offers Samson one of his other daughters. Samson then, quite angry, catches 300 foxes and uses them to burn the Philistine’s fields, vineyards and olive groves. The Philistines come after him but he slaughters them and goes into hiding.
The Philistines do come to find him and his own people in Judah have to intervene so that they can deliver him to the Philistines. He is bound in new ropes and given to the Philistines. When they ultimately begin to threaten Samson, the spirit of the Lord comes upon Samson and he kills a thousand of them with the jawbone of a donkey. He then asks God for help and God gives him water to drink.
Later, Samson goes to Gaza, also in Philistia, meets with a harlot, and news of his presence causes many men to lie in wait for him to kill him. Shrewd as he appears to be, Samson leaves the place at midnight, takes the city gates with him and leaves them at the top of a hill.
Samson then meets Delilah. She will ultimately be his downfall as she gradually coaxes information from him on how to reduce his great strength. When he tells her that he is a Nazirite and that his strength will leave if his hair is shaved, she lulls him to sleep and has a man cut off his hair. Thus is he caught by the Philistines in concert with Delilah. He is blinded and sent to prison to grind grain.
One day the lords of the Philistines are sacrificing to a false god and they call for Samson to come to the temple to have him perform. We could suppose that this “performance” would involve some feats of strength. Instead of a performance, he gives them a demonstration as he pushes on the main pillars supporting the temple and he and about three thousand Philistine men and women die. He is buried by his brothers in his father’s tomb. He had judged Israel twenty years.
One thing, could you imagine being the guy whose idea it was to bring Samson into the temple so that he could “perform” for them? Wow.
Now a couple of questions:
- Would you follow Samson? Why or why not?
- Why do we get the feeling that Samson could have been a good leader?
Samson and women
Both of the women in Samson’s life got what they wanted out of him by accusing him of not loving them. Now, we could focus on the women here and get into that, but that is not the focus. The focus is Samson and his failures to lead. He had many opportunities to do the right thing and make a difference, but time and again, bad decisions that sprout from flaws in his character are to blame.
It works out much, much better for Samson in the long run if he tells neither of these secrets to his first wife or to Delilah. Deep down, he must have known this because he resisted telling both women the information they were seeking. But in both cases, he relents when they accuse him of not loving them. I think they knew where he was weakest and he let himself give in. He lacked the confidence to let their accusations fade.
If Samson had been of stronger character, perhaps more secure in his love for these women, or less dependent on their emotional security, he could have said that he doesn’t need to tell them that information to prove his love. And that would have been that. Instead, Samson made a decision that was based on his emotions, and you rarely see good or great leaders doing that. Sure, emotion can play a part in a leader’s choices and actions, but wise judgment and deep consideration need to be the prime components to decision-making for a leader.
Samson’s lost potential
Samson had it all, but he his choices put him in a weak position. Although his physical strength was very great, his will was weak.
You could easily and safely say that Samson was not a leader. He did not make good choices and he was not always righteous.
- Did Samson fear God?
- But did God use Samson?
- What does this say about us?
I fear God and you fear God. We may not all be natural leaders, but only if we make good choices, any of us could become good leaders. Samson might not have been a “natural” leader, but he had other qualities that drew others to him and that could have inspired others to follow him had he only been living righteously. It is the same with us. Not all of us are a Teddy Roosevelt or an Oprah Winfrey, but simply by living for God without fear we become leaders in our own way. Within this framework, we can all be leaders.