Bible Focus: Judges 13-16
The Israelites again did what was evil in the LORD’s sight, so the LORD handed them over to the Philistines forty years. There was a certain man from Zorah, from the family of Dan, whose name was Manoah; his wife was unable to conceive and had no children. The angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, “Although you are unable to conceive and have no children, you will conceive and give birth to a son. Now please be careful not to drink wine or beer, or to eat anything unclean; for indeed, you will conceive and give birth to a son. You must never cut his hair, because the boy will be a Nazirite to God from birth, and he will begin to save Israel from the power of the Philistines.”Judges 13:1-5 CSB
I suppose that at some point in our life we probably all dream of being a hero. As kids, we might daydream about rescuing innocents from danger, vanquishing mighty foes, or accomplishing great things that help many people.
As we grow up, we realize that there are relatively few heroes that do such things on a truly grand scale. However, we might keep dreaming of being a hero on a smaller scale. If we can’t be a hero to many, perhaps we can be a hero to a few. If we can’t be a hero to a few, perhaps we can be a hero to at least one.
But here’s the problem: human heroes are still human. We tend to sabotage ourselves. Our own selfishness gets in the way of being the hero we hope to be. If we accomplish good things–even great things–our motives and actions are still tainted. And if we watch our own heroes closely, we’ll see selfishness in them too. None of us really fulfill what a hero is supposed to be.
After the Israelites conquered the promised land of Canaan, they spent hundreds of years repeating a cycle of idolatry, oppression, misery, and deliverance. They turned away from God and followed idols, and so God allowed them to be oppressed (in turn) by the Aramites, the Moabites, the Philistines, the Canaanites, the Midianites, and the Ammonites. As Israel cried out to God in misery each time, God raised up a judge to deliver them. However, the Israelites’ wayward habits remained stubbornly in place.
When the Israelites again turned away from God, he allowed the Philistines to overpower them and rule over them for 40 years. Then one day, an angel appeared to a childless Israelite couple and promised them they would have a son who would rescue Israel from the Philistines. The woman became pregnant and had a boy named Samson.
The angel declared that the boy would be a Nazirite. The Nazarite vow was actually an option for any Israelite man or woman who chose to take it (see Numbers 6). A Nazarite would let their hair grow during their vow and shave their hair off when their vow was completed. But for Samson, being a Nazarite was not a temporary vow; it was a permanent identity. From the moment the angel appeared to his mother, Samson was set apart as a Nazarite for the rest of his life.
Samson grew and became a man, and his strength was so great that no one could defeat him. He killed hundreds of Philistines by himself. He finally killed 1,000 Philistines in a single battle armed with nothing but the jawbone of a donkey. Samson became a judge over Israel, and the Philistines were terrified of him.
Samson kept his hair uncut, true to his Nazirite identity; but he constantly stumbled over his own selfishness. He disregarded God’s commands and lusted after women. When he fell for an unscrupulous woman named Delilah, the Philistine leaders promised her a huge payout if she could somehow find a way to capture him.
So Delilah set about trying to lure Samson into telling her the secret of his strength. After many unsuccessful attempts, Samson gave in and finally told her of the Nazirite identity given to him by God. When Samson fell asleep, Delilah had his head shaved, and his strength left him. The Philistines then captured Samson, put out his eyes, and imprisoned him. Samson’s foolish choices had resulted in his weakness, blindness, and humiliation.
But one day the Philistines had Samson brought from the prison into the middle of the temple of their god Dagon. They wanted to display Samson in front of about three thousand Philistines, including all the Philistine leaders. In that moment, Samson turned once again to the God who had called him from birth:
He called out to the LORD, “Lord GOD, please remember me. Strengthen me, God, just once more. With one act of vengeance, let me pay back the Philistines for my two eyes.” Samson took hold of the two middle pillars supporting the temple and leaned against them, one on his right hand and the other on his left. Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” He pushed with all his might, and the temple fell on the leaders and all the people in it. And those he killed at his death were more than those he had killed in his life.Judges 16:28-30 CSB
Even with all his faults, Samson still had faith in God. The writer of Hebrews wrote: “And what more can I say? Time is too short for me to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets…All these were approved through their faith” (Hebrews 11:32,39 CSB). Even after the greatest mistake of his life, Samson’s faith enabled him to turn back to God and again experience God’s power working through him.
Samson’s story should encourage all of us who have believed in the good news of Jesus. We will make plenty of sinful mistakes, but that doesn’t mean our faith is fake. True faith keeps us turning back to God on the other side of our mistakes.
And here’s the good news. Jesus is the one perfect human hero who never succumbed to sin of any kind. He always obeyed God, even to the point of dying for our sins on the cross. He is willing and able to rescue us from every danger and deliver us safely to God in the end. If we turn to Jesus in faith and ask him to save us, he will not turn us away.
Featured image from Akhil Verma on Unsplash.