When We See Samson And Lose Sight Of The Lord

Hebrews 11:32 includes Samson in the “Hall of Faith,” implying that we can look to him as an example worth following. If you’ve read the history of Samson in Judges 13-16, you may feel somewhat puzzled by this apparent tribute to him. Throughout his adult life, this man repeatedly ignored the Lord’s claim on him (Judges 13:7, 13-14), by defiling himself with heathen women (Judges 14:1-3, 16:1, 4) and engaging in ceremonially unclean practices, (Judges 14:6-9, 15:15). The Lord used Samson’s rebellious behavior to accomplish His purpose of conquering the Philistines, certainly, but it remains that Samson was a disgusting man.

If you’re like me, you probably dislike Samson and scratch your head at his commendation in Hebrews 11:32. Furthermore, you wish you could just skip Judges 13-16 altogether. Many of the people in the book of Judges are distasteful, to be sure, but there’s something particularly annoying about Samson. As we read about his actions, our stomach turns in revulsion, Why did the Holy Spirit devote four chapters of His Holy Word to someone so despicable, and then centuries later inspire a New Testament writer to list him among the heroes of the faith?

As I came to this portion of God’s Word this past Saturday, I prayed that God would help me see Him in the passage. Maybe that sounds like a strange prayer, but I’m becoming increasingly convinced that it’s a necessary one.

It’s easy, especially in the Old Testament history books, to focus on the people so intently that the Lord sort of fades into the background. Often, this focus leads us to insert ourselves into the narrative, like the infamous idea that you are a David and your problem is a Goliath, or leads us to interpret the stories as isolated morality lessons. God is there, yes, but He seems almost like an auxiliary character. Evangelicals have lost sight of the truth that Scripture’s purpose is to reveal the Lord.

It astonished me to see how quickly the Lord answered my prayer Saturday. Even before Samson was conceived, God had determined that he would be His instrument in bringing judgment on the Philistines.

There was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren and had borne no childrenThen the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and give birth to a son. Now therefore, be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing. For behold, you shall conceive and give birth to a son, and no razor shall come upon his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines.” ~~Judges 13:2-5 (NASB95)

As I continued reading, I saw a few instances of the Lord working — even through Samson’s lust and rebellion — to accomplish His purpose of conquering the Philistines. I can’t bring you through every instance (most of which are implicit rather than clearly stated), but the first instance is quite explicit and therefore sets the stage for the remainder of Samson’s victories.

Then Samson went down to Timnah and saw a woman in Timnah, one of the daughters of the Philistines. So he came back and told his father and mother, “I saw a woman in Timnah, one of the daughters of the Philistines; now therefore, get her for me as a wife.” Then his father and his mother said to him, “Is there no woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, for she looks good to me.” However, his father and mother did not know that it was of the Lord, for He was seeking an occasion against the Philistines. Now at that time the Philistines were ruling over Israel. ~~Judges 14:1-4 (NASB95)

Of course Samson sinned by lusting after a Philistine woman (see Deuteronomy 7:3-4). Yet the Lord orchestrated the marriage (which Judges 14:20 and 15:1-2 indicate never was consummated) in order to position Samson to begin destroying the Philistines. If you’ll continue reading through the familiar story of Deliliah betraying him into the hands of the Philistines only for God to use him to kill 3000 Philistines in his death (Judges 16:28-30), you’ll discover God’s faithfulness in giving the land back to Israel.

The real gem in Judges 13-16 is found in God’s faithfulness to His people, even through a scoundrel like Samson. Certainly we should be sickened by Samson’s incorrigible sexual immorality and his violent temper, neither of which exhibited a godly character. But the account of Samson should ultimately draw our attention to the Lord Himself.

I know it’s easy to read the Bible and get lost in the human stories. Samson’s history is only one example of how a human story can distract us from seeing God’s nature and activity. But Samson’s story, for all its disgusting elements, actually reveals a faithful and mighty God Who fights for His people, even when He uses a selfish and rebellious person in the process.

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