Judges 16 ~ Samson and Delilah
The Old Testament story of Samson and Delilah is one of a miracle, faith, and strength; but also lust, greed, and betrayal.
Samson led Israel for twenty years when they were living under Philistine rulers. He was a Nazarite (an Israelite who was consecrated to the service of God, under vows to abstain from alcohol and never to cut his hair). He was, as Isaac was, a miracle baby given by God to a barren woman; it was prophesied by an angel that Samson would begin to lead the Israelites to freedom from the Philistines.
Brought up under the strict rules of Judah, he was the strongest man in the bible. Whilst he was extremely courageous and won many battles against the Philistines and demonstrated incredible strength when doing so. He was also emotionally and spiritually weak and made many enemies amongst the ruling class, but had a weakness for their women, which was his ultimate downfall.
He fell in love with Delilah, a Philistine who the lords of the Philistines bribed with 1,100 silver coins from each of them to discover the secret of Samson’s strength so that they could capture him. Samson refused to reveal the secret and teased her, telling her three different ways in which he could lose his strength but proving all of them wrong.
Delilah persisted, and Samson finally told her that God supplies his power because of his consecration as a Nazarite, symbolized by the fact that a razor has never touched his head and that if his hair was cut he would lose his strength. She then let him fall asleep on her lap and called for a servant to cut his hair.
Samson lost the protection of God and his strength and was captured by the Philistines, who blinded him by gouging out both of his eyes. They then took him to Gaza, imprisoned him, and put him to work turning a large millstone and grinding grain.
One day, the lords of the Philistines assembled in a temple for a religious sacrifice to Dagon, one of their most important deities, to give thanks for delivering their enemy Samson into their hands. They summoned Samson so that people could watch him performing for them.
The temple was so crowded that people even climbed onto the roof to watch. All the rulers of Philistia had gathered there, and there were some 3,000 Philistines in total.
Whilst in prison, Samson’s hair had grown back again, and he was led into the temple for people to make fun of and enjoy their victory over him. He asked his captors to allow him to lean against the temple’s support pillars to rest.
He prayed for strength, and then God gave him the power to push the pillars apart, causing the temple to collapse, killing him and the people inside.
What does this story tell us today?
Although Samson was a miracle provided by God to his barren mother, he was like us all, plagued with weaknesses. He could be both petulant and courageous. Devout in his faith but also blind in his faith. Headstrong but ultimately focused on his intended mission.
When the angel appeared to his mother, telling her that she would give birth to a son, she was told that the boy would ‘begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines’.
The act of revenge by Samson in destroying the Philistine’s temple ultimately led the Israelites to be freed from their rule and live under the law of the first Jewish king, Saul.
God must have forgiven Samson for his weaknesses and allowed him to complete the mission he was born for because Samson had a final burst of strength, enough to destroy the temple.
We can learn from this story that God would rather forgive than make a judgment and that he will forgive us and make use of us, too, despite our many weaknesses.
In his letter to the Hebrews, St Paul said, Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen, he goes on to list many acts of blind faith performed in the Old Testament Hebrews 11. Samson is listed there as one who demonstrated faith in action. We know he was not perfect, but neither were any of the others named. The important thing is that they all allowed themselves to be used by God when the time was right. So too God will meet us where we are today and take us to where he wants us to be – if we will just let him.
Samson had a supernatural beginning and was given a blessed life. He was endowed with great strength, power, and position, but he threw it all away. God still forgave him when he turned back to him and returned his strength sufficient to raze the Philistine’s temple. This was a significant step towards freeing the Israelites from foreign rulers.
God was waiting for him, as he waits for us too; no matter what foolish errors we have made in our lives, God is waiting to make good the plan he has intended for us since the beginning of time.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.
Psalm 139:16 NRSV
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