When we hear Samson’s name, we think of strength – and of his reputation as the Bible’s strongest man. There are stories of him getting hold of an attacking lion and ripping it apart. Once he was bound with ropes and snapped them like cotton. He tied 300 foxes together, attaching a torch to their tails. They ran through the Philistines’ corn fields, causing great destruction. Catching foxes is not easy! I grew up in a country area where we had foxes. I don’t know of anyone who ever caught one by natural means.
With a donkey’s jawbone, he struck down 1000 men in battle. Once when he came to the Philistine city of Gaza, the gates were closed. So, he pulled them off their hinges – picking up the gate posts and carrying them up the hill. However, his strength was not natural. It was derived from a particular relationship he had with God as a Nazirite. A key, as a symbol of that consecration, was that Samson never cut his hair. Before I mention my key verse regarding Samson, I want to mention a verse in the New Testament – Galatians 5:16-17. “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.” (NIV).
Those who know Jesus Christ know about that internal ‘war’ within our own soul. The ‘self’ and the ‘spirit’ are in a relentless, never-ending battle. With that Scripture in mind, look at or key verse – Judges 16:20. “…she called, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” He awoke from his sleep and thought, “I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had left him.” (NIV).
Wow. He didn’t know the Lord had left him, and that he was on his own – powerless, bankrupt and, with all the resources he’d taken for granted, gone. Samson was a judge in Israel – judges in this period were the civic and military leaders of the nation. Before Israel was a monarchy it was a theocracy. This means God ruled. How? He’d put His Spirit on individual men or women, anoint them and work through them. The people would recognise that they were anointed and followed them as a leader.
Whatever you see as the ‘secret’ of why you are in a relationship with God, that ‘secret’ of our strength will, at times, be undermined – little by little.
If you like, Samson was born with a spiritual silver spoon in his mouth, with his parents knowing this baby boy had been set apart by God to rule the nation. As an outward sign of his inward consecration to God, no razor would be used on his head and he was to not drink any strong drink or touch any dead body.
He was to be dependent upon the Spirit of God. Judges 13 gives us Samson’s job description, given before his birth. “…he will take the lead in delivering Israel from the hands of the Philistines.” – Judges 13:5b (NIV). The Philistines had the upper hand over Israel at this stage – in fact, Judges 14:4b tells us “…they (the Philistines) were ruling over Israel.” (NIV). Yet, with the Philistines dominating, Samson was set apart – with all the resources made available by the Spirit of God to deliver Israel from them. Something he never did.
He should have done, for “…the woman gave birth to a boy and named him Samson. He grew and the Lord blessed him, and the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him…” – Judges 13:24-25 (NIV). I love the picture of God ‘stirring’ Samson, as a young man, with the awareness He had a task for him. In Judges 14:6, Samson was attacked by a lion and we’re told, “…The Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him…” (NIV). The same phrase is in Judges 14:19 and 15:14 – two occasions when Samson was attacked by the Philistines.
During his 20 years as a judge, there were a steady stream of occasions when the Spirit of the Lord came upon Samson – he was empowered to do things not possible with normal physical strength and resources. That’s one of the ‘streams’ in Samson’s story – a stream of God-empowered living and actions. Another stream is a phrase Paul mentioned in the above passage from Galatians – “…live by the Spirit…”
Samson knew something about that – and as you continually do, you will not gratify the sinful nature’s desires. But, we do see Samson gratifying his selfish nature. Judges chapters 13-16 tell us one of his problems was women and sex. He once went down to Philistine territory to scout out the enemy to see how he could defeat them. Lo and behold, when he got there, he found one of them very attractive. On his return home, he said to his father and mother, “I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.” His father and mother replied, “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?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me. She’s the right one for me.” – Judges 14:2-3 (NIV).
Judges’ writer says in parentheses here, “…actually, there was a divine hand in this – Samson could infiltrate the Philistines by marrying one of them…” But it all went wrong. The wedding was a fiasco – his wife ended up married to Samson’s best man. He went back down to Philistine territory and met another Philistine girl who he fell in love with – Delilah – and he married her. Rather than living in the Spirit, Samson is now living in the realm of his sinful, fleshly nature – and he needn’t and shouldn’t have been.
Philistine leaders came to Delilah saying, “…you’ve married! Get him to reveal the secret of his strength…. we’ll pay you to find out.” So, Delilah got the Philistines to hide in she and Samson’s house, asking him multiple times about the secret to his strength. On his instructions, she tied him up with fresh string, new ropes and took seven braids of his head and plated them together on a loom.
Each time, she told him the Philistines were upon him, and he rose up strong and overcame them. She persisted to know his secret, and – finally relenting – he told her everything.
“No razor has ever been used on my head,” he said, “because I have been a Nazirite dedicated to God from my mother’s womb. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.” – Judges 16:17 (NIV).
As he slept this time, she cut off his hair. Now, as Samson went to defend himself as he’d done before, he found his strength was gone and was completely weak. “He awoke from his sleep and thought, “I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had left him.” – Judges 16:20 (NIV).
Powerless, the Philistines gouged out his eyes, bound him with shackles and set him to hard labour grinding grain like an ox. Samson never intended to end up in that position – or to fail so completely like that. If you’d asked him early in his life if he was going to finish defeated and humiliated, he would say, ‘Of course not’. That was not his expectation and never his intention.
But, little by little, as we see in elements of his story, Samson moved away from what God had ordained for him in his consecration as a Nazarite. He played fast and loose and gave away the symbol of his strength. Few of us intend to lose contact with God either – but it happens. What do you think is the secret of your strength? What lies at the very heart of your relationship with God? Is it that you know you’re loved by God? As Romans 5:5 says, “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit…” (NIV). Or is the secret of your strength your dependence on Jesus Christ? Is it your abiding relationship with the Holy Spirit? Is it feeding on His Word? Is it fellowship, serving or ministering?
Whatever you see as the ‘secret’ of why you are in a relationship with God, that ‘secret’ of our strength will, at times, be undermined – little by little. For some, a source of our strength has been the fellowship of the Church, meeting with other believers and growing in discipleship.
Ultimately, the source of our strength is the indwelling presence of Christ Himself. If anything replaces Him we are found, in our most vulnerable moments, to be powerless. We need to go back again to find our strength in Him. Samson battled, in particular, with his sexual appetite and ill-discipline, his strong leadership skills which tempted him to self-sufficiency and with the pride that comes from that. He gave in to temptations until, excusing them and justifying them, he did not know the Lord had left him. That is until he found himself barren and bankrupt – disqualified for his task.
The Bible tells us the truth about its heroes – and Samson is one of the saddest. But there is a message of hope for each of us too. “…the hair on his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.” – Judges 16:22 (NIV). He’s now in prison, blinded and humiliated, but his hair – the symbol of his strength – begins to grow again.
One day, he’s taken to the temple of Dagon to entertain the crowd with shows of strength. As he is stood between two pillars, Samson says in Judges 16:28, “…Sovereign Lord, remember me. Please, God, strengthen me just once more.” (NIV). And God did. Samson pushed against the pillars and the temple collapsed. Samson himself is killed in the process, but so were many others, for scripture tells us he killed more in his death than he did in his life.
Samson remarkably appears again in Scripture in the Hebrews 11 list of men and women of the Old Testament who lived by faith, and who had seen God work. Samson appears there, but with a wasted life behind him. Someone I knew years ago used to say, “…you can have a saved soul, but a wasted life…”. So it was with Samson. At the beginning, he was set apart by God, at the end he was calling out to God – but in the middle, he lived a sorrowful, wasted life.
I don’t know where you are at in your relationship with God. If you sense you are distant, I don’t know specifically where or how you need to get back on track. But, I know in reading this passage, and letting it speak deeply into my own heart, that it’s possible to become distant from God.
It’s possible to start well and to drift away, to become preoccupied with our own agendas and selfish interests, rather than with the mind and will of God – and then to suddenly realise we are powerless. How did a man like Samson not know that the Lord had left him? What is pulling me apart in my own life? The message of Samson is that, once again, will we call out to God to strengthen us – as in Samson’s case – even just one more time? God is never hesitant to respond to the cry of a human heart. In terms of our salvation, He never leaves us, but, in terms of His power and presence, we can become distant. His Spirit can be quenched and grieved. But, failure is never final. We can come home to God again. And I trust that you will.