The God of Second (and Third) Chances -- Lessons from the life of Samson
If you are anything like me, you probably have heard many of the Old Testament stories over and over since you were a child. Most of them were good stories, but I didn’t often relate personally to many of them. This week I was surprised to feel a kinship with an unexpected Old Testament character: Samson!
Why I Started to Relate to Samson
His story is told in the Old Testament book of Judges. There we learn that the Israelites, who were supposed to be God’s people, turned from worshiping him over and over again, failing in their purpose. Over and over God punished them, hoping they would return to him. The book of Judges is full of these stories. But the story of Samson focuses on a plan God had to use one solitary man to accomplish a specific goal.
I have always read this story with a bit of curiosity about why it’s even included in the Bible. The man seems too stupid to be God’s chosen leader, yet God’s spirit continued to “fall on him.” Recently I read an article that offered a totally different slant on the Samson saga, and it got me thinking about the real message of his life.
Samson’s Awesome Beginnings
The Bible tells us Samson was chosen by God for a special purpose even before he was born. His mother was barren, a real shame for a woman of her day. (A wife who could not produce an heir for her husband was often replaced by a younger model who had a better chance of pregnancy.) In this story, the woman is not even named – she is only called “the wife of Manoah,” Samson’s father.
This woman was visited by and angel, who informed her she would bear a son who would become the leader of his people. But, as with most unusual deals, there were conditions that were part of the bargain. The child would be a Nazirite from the womb forward. This basically meant he was to live under 3 basic rules: he should eat/drink no grapes or wine, he should never touch a dead body, and he should never cut his hair.
Samson’s Incredible Weakness
So Samson was born as predicted, and God began stirring his heart. For a time, Samson was obedient and yielded to the Lord’s leading, but soon we see his major weakness come to light: women. He goes to the land of the Philistines, who were Israel’s mortal enemies as well as their overlords, and finds a woman he wants for his wife. As the book of Judges describes of most of the people of his day, Samson “did what was right in his own eyes.” In fact, when he goes home to his parents he demands, “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes." As you continue to read, you will discover it is the theme of his life.
Next comes the part where I started to wonder about the writer of the book. Why include an incident where Samson tears a lion apart with his bare hands (and the Lord’s assistance), then returns later and finds the carcass full of honey???
Beyond strange to my mind, but then I looked at the text more closely. First, he was walking through a vineyard when this happened. Remember, he was supposed to stay away from grapes... Then, a lion comes roaring at him, likely ready to kill him. God preserves Samson by giving him strength to kill the beast. But for some reason Samson later returns to the kill. In this process, he touches a dead body (the lion's) to get some honey, a second transgression. Something I had never considered before, but...
The Story Gets Stranger Yet
Samson continues on to his wedding. He has asked 30 guests to join the wedding feast, and they stay the customary 7 days to help him and his bride celebrate. At the beginning of the celebration, Samson figures he can con his friends out of more gifts by posing a riddle only he could solve, and turning it into a bet.
The challenge revolves around the lion he killed and the honey he ate. No one but Samson and the Lord would know about the incident, so Samson figured no one could solve the riddle and win the bet. The guests had 7 days to figure it out. Samson hadn’t told anyone the story, so he thought he had a pretty safe bet. While Samson was pleased with his cleverness, God was probably thinking more about the fact that Samson had already broken 2 of his Nazarite vows, and now he was gambling.
Now it gets Nasty
The men continued to guess the answer in vain for several days, and became increasingly frustrated that they were going to lose the bet. Finally, they cornered Samson’s new wife and threatened to kill her and her family if she didn’t come up with the right answer. She, of course, complied. Apparently she nagged Samson until his lack of self-control finally showed, and he gave her the answer. She relayed it to the thirty men, and Samson lost the bet.
Unfortunately, he didn’t have the clothing he owed to pay the winners. His solution: go to a nearby town, kill 30 men, take their clothing, and pay the debt. Of course, everyone involved was furious, including Samson. He returned to his father’s house , leaving behind his bride, who was then given to someone else. Again, God had saved Samson from the consequences of his own actions, but...
Samson Didn’t Learn a Thing
The next part of the story really sickens me. When Samson returned to claim his conjugal rights, his father-in-law informed him that the bride Samson had abandoned now belonged to someone else. Samson was once again furious with the Philistines, so he trapped 300 foxes (????), tied them tail-to-tail, and set them on fire. Of course, the crazed animals fled in terror through the fields, burning everything as they went.
The Philistines retaliated by burning Samson’s wife and father-in-law to death. Again, others suffered for Samson’s failings. The violence continued, with Samson being captured and escaping, again and again, through God’s intervention. Finally, Samson’s weakness for women–and his stupidity–surfaced one final time. He fell for another Philistine woman, named Delilah, who apparently had no interest in a relationship with him. However, the Philistines had offered her a huge reward if she could find Samson’s weakness. Three times Samson lied about how he could be captured, and 3 times Delilah used that information to betray him to the Philistines. Each time Samson was tied up and each time he escaped his captors.
Finally, Delilah nagged him so much he told her what he thought was the real source of his strength–his hair–and the enemies captured him. Now, if you were sleeping with someone who used your words against you 3 times, wouldn’t you just leave and forget her? Not Samson. Again, he did what he wanted and now he was going to pay.
We know the real source of Samson’s strength was actually God, not his hair. Over and over God had patiently helped Samson, hoping he would repent and become the man he was created to be. But at this point in the story, when he broke the last Nazarite rule, God removed his spirit from Samson. This time, God didn’t bail him out, and Samson had to suffer the consequences of his foolish choice.
Samson became a prisoner who was blinded, shackled, and forced to grind grain like an animal. Over time, the Philistines celebrated his capture by praising their idol/god. When they decided to make Samson part of the show, God’s chosen one finally wised up and prayed, begging God for strength one last time. In response, God allowed Samson a final demonstration of power, one last chance for redemption. Samson pushed apart the pillars of the temple, destroying the building and killing over 3,000 people – including himself.
So Why Do I Relate to this Story?
While God didn’t make Samson fail over and over to accomplish his will, he did allow Samson to feel the consequences of his actions, while also giving him the opportunity to repent. God used even Samson’s failures to accomplish His purpose. I sure can relate to that!
When I looked past the weird twists and turns in this story, I came away with several conclusions that were easily applied to my own life:
~ God has a purpose for each of us, and he creates us with all we need to fulfill that purpose.
~ God allows us to make our own choices – good and bad. We are not puppets in his hand.
~ We all have areas of weakness, which should lead us to depend on God’s help in our lives.
~ When we try to do “what is right in our eyes,” it never turns out well.
~ God never gives up on us; he is the God of second (and third) chances.