May 27

Samson: The Lord, the Man, and the Myth

Judges 13:4-5 [God to Samson’s mother] “Now therefore, please be careful not to drink wine or similar drink, and not to eat anything unclean. For behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. And no razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.”

Judges 16:17 [Samson to Delilah] “No razor has ever come upon my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If I am shaven, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.”

Judges 16:19-20 Then [Delilah] lulled [Samson] to sleep on her knees, and called for a man and had him shave off the seven locks of his head. Then she began to torment him, and his strength left him. And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” So he awoke from his sleep, and said, “I will go out as before, at other times, and shake myself free!” But he did not know that the LORD had departed from him.

The story of Samson has somehow slipped from out of the Bible and into legend. Samson has become a kind of ancient Greek or Roman god, who has super-human strength and abilities, and gets defeated by his own hubris. Part of the “myth” of Samson (as opposed to the Bible story about him] is that his strength was in his hair. If we believe that, we’re making the same mistake Delilah and the Philistines made.

Numbers 6:1-20 tells about the Nazirite vow. In brief, it says no wine, no cutting of hair, no contamination through contact with dead things, and a call to holy living. If we read Samson’s story in Judges 13-16, we see that Samson did the opposite of all these things, breaking every last condition of the vow and more.

Yet as with most stories about Bible characters, the story is really more about the Lord. First, it was the Lord’s strength and the Lord’s presence with Samson that accounted for his strength, not something as random as the follicles on his head. Notice Judges 16:20, when Delilah cut his hair and the Philistines captured him: “But he did not know that the Lord had departed from him.” How regrettable for Samson that he didn’t realize this, and how foolish for us not to see that the arm of the Lord is greater than any aspect of a person’s physical body.

Secondly, a wrong understanding of where Samson’s strength came from can make God seem arbitrary, or the story like a fairy tale. Let’s not be confused. God didn’t invest Samson’s hair with anything. The Lord “left him” when he broke the last condition of his vow. God still gave Samson strength when he drank, caroused with prostitutes, and touched dead things, contaminating himself spiritually. No, the Lord waited until every condition was broken before taking His strength away. And then we see how gracious the Lord is to restore His strength when nature simply took its course, and Samson’s life began to reverse the pattern of his sin.

How patient God is! How slow to anger! How gracious He is to keep working with us, demonstrating His faithfulness to us by His mercies toward Samson. Let’s leave the myth of Samson behind, and embrace the story of God’s great faithfulness, patience and love that we find there.

Prayer: You were so patient with Samson, not bringing any kind of judgment against him until he violated the last part of the covenant. Help me to be encouraged to keep loyal to my covenant with You, thanking you with my obedience to Your word.

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