Poor Samson, he always seems to make the list of bad role models in the Bible. He's put out there as the ripped hippie who whacked Philistines, chased skirts, got his head shaved, and eventually got himself killed. For generations, Sunday School kids (including me) have been warned, “Samson was immoral. He didn’t take God’s rules seriously enough. If he had obeyed God, he could have done so much more good. Boys and girls, don't be like Samson. Vow that you will follow God’s laws so he can use you to do great things for him.”
Ok, I’ll be blunt: such moral-centered Sunday School lessons are theological BS. But that’s not their only problem; they also assume the story is all about Samson. It's not. It's about the loving work of God in Samson's life. He's neither a bad role model nor a good one. He's a child of our Father whom Christ shaped by a cross of suffering and grace. And, most importantly, Samson's little different from you.
Our Kinship with Samson
Most people picture Samson as an OT version of the bulked up body builder, but you may be surprised to hear that his size is never mentioned. Minus the long hair, he might have looked like the average Joe Israelite. Yes, of course, he's very strong but that strength is from the Spirit not his biceps. He's an ordinary man with extraordinary strength--that's all. In fact, he might have looked just like your brother or your son. Or you.
He certainly was like us in one respect: he knew what he wanted when he saw it. He saw a Philistine girl who looked good to him, so he told his parents he wanted her for a bride. Later, when his enemies deceived him, burned his wife and father-in-law to death, and had his own countrymen running scared, he saw red and let loose a bloodbath against his foes. He saw a prostitute he wanted, so he paid for her services. And finally he saw a woman he actually loved, Delilah, who wound up rewarding his love by accepting a cash reward from the Philistines to sell his secret. Samson knew what he wanted when he saw it, and most of the time, living by sight, he walked like a blind man straight into an ambush.
To live by faith is to pluck out your eyeballs and stick them in your ears.
That’s why I feel such a kinship with biblical (anti-)heroes like Samson. I know what I want when I see it. Like Eve, who saw that the tree was a “delight to the eyes,” I’ve sunk my teeth into forbidden fruit that poisons my soul. \Like Abraham, who saw that his wife was beautiful so he lied about her to the Egyptians to protect himself, I’ve lived a lie to save my own neck. Like Joseph’s brothers, who saw that their kid brother was their father’s pet so they hated him for it, I’ve let jealousy and self-love wreck relationships. Like Samson and David and Judah and the sons of Eli, I’ve seen women who whet my sexual appetite, so I’ve let their beds become the coffin of my mortally wounded soul. I’ve lived by sight, and those two ocular liars sunk into my face have beckoned me into a thousand and one ambushes.
Pluck Out Your Eyes and Stick Them in Your Ears
To live by sight is not to live by faith, for faith is the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” (Heb 11:1). In other words, faith is a different kind of vision. It is seeing through your ears—ears that are hearing God’s voice in his word. To live by faith is to pluck out your eyeballs and stick them in your ears. It is to see what God speaks, to see as he sees, to view things as they really are, not as we perceive them to be. Faith sees beauty where sight sees ugliness. Faith sees life where sight sees death. Faith sees God doing beautiful, saving work on a cross where sight sees suffering and loss and defeat.
Sight and faith view Samson’s ultimate demise in entirely different ways. When Delilah finally nags Samson to death to discover the secret to his strength, she pockets the cash, has his head shaved, and his foes pin him down him and gouge out his eyes. There stands great Samson—defeated, blind, enslaved, a warrior reduced to a court jester for the Philistines. He lost everything: his wife, his power, his eyes, his dignity, his freedom. Samson had become a nobody, a non persona. Delilah’s razor had shaved away more than his hair; she had shorn him of everything by which he had defined his existence.
That’s what sight sees, but faith sees something radically different. Yes, there stands a blind, enslaved, weak and taunted Samson, but rather than viewing this as Samson’s ultimate demise, faith sees this moment as God’s ultimate victory in his child’s life. It was only when Samson was reduced to nothing that God was ready to make him everything he wanted him to be.
This is how the Lord, who is himself the theologian of the cross, works. “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that he might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God,” (1 Cor 1:27-29). As a man who had nothing and was nothing, Samson was in the perfect position for God to be at work in his life. Thus, when Samson cried out to God to remember him and restore his strength, he did. Samson pushed against the pillars of the Philistine temple and down it fell. He himself perished a martyr amidst the wreckage, but in that sacrificial death this warrior had his greatest victory: “the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he killed in his life,” (Judges 16:30).
Our crosses are the mask behind which God works to draw us onto the cross of his Son.
Delilah’s razor, which she intended for evil, God intended for good. Little did this woman realize it, but her razor carved for Samson a blessed cross. This is what faith sees. Samson suffered greatly, especially in the violent removal of his eyes. But in his blindness, Samson came to see. In his enslavement, he became a free man. While being mocked, Samson came to glory. And in his sacrificial death, he brought life and liberation to the Israelites as he overthrew the enemies who oppressed them.
We Are Samson
We are Samson, in one way or another. The problems in which we become entangled; the betrayals we suffer from those we love and trust; the losses and grief and sicknesses and pains of life in this world--in all these things God is at work. He doesn’t cast us aside. He doesn’t throw us away as garbage. Rather, he unites us with himself. Our crosses are the mask behind which God works to draw us onto the cross of his Son.
There we who are nothing are made everything God wants us to be. In the crucified Christ we partake of the glory of his beloved children. On the cross, we are bound to Jesus and find liberation from all our enemies. We see things as they really are. We see ourselves as God sees us: forgiven, purified, loved, embraced, healed, free.
In Samson’s story is our own story: the story of children who stray, but whom the Father pursues down mile after mile of grace, to finally bring them home. We live by faith in that Father, who gives us eyes to see ourselves and others as we truly are, as the chosen brothers and sisters of Christ.