I don’t like Samson. I never have. And I can’t say I’ve ever felt confident in my understanding of his purpose.
Before I get into that, though, his parents get to watch the Angel of the Lord ride off on the smoke of their sacrifice. I mean, come on! That is truly awesome. And they seem to do their best. They don’t seem to be particularly well educated on the nature of God or how to serve him, but seem inclined to learn.
Another side note, I was taught that touching the dead lion and later the jawbone of the donkey were violation of the Nazaritic vow. I don’t see how they can be, since neither action resulted in the loss of his strength. I suspect, supported by the FaithLife Study Bible, that the vow refers to human dead bodies. Otherwise you wouldn’t be able to eat meat, would you?
Anyway. This guy is so full of himself. I mean, so full of himself. He seems to think that he’s actually doing God a favor, the way he complains about being thirsty. He just… eugh. And I know I’m getting ahead of myself here, but I’ve always struggled with why the idiot would ever tell Delilah the true secret, but you know what? I bet it’s because he didn’t actually believe it. Like, he kept the vow because he’d been raised to keep it. I bet he was even vane about that uncut hair, seriously, but I doubt, after the way he spoke to God about a drink here, that he ever connected his strength to his vow. He probably believed he actually was that strong.
So why? Why any of it? Why tell us all this? Why use Samson at all? That’s where I’m at as I’m writing. Sometimes I set out to write about a passage, start with some questions, answer the questions, and then go back and delete the questions. Not this time. I want it to be clear that as I’m writing this: I just don’t get it.
So let’s wrestle with it a little. Let’s conjecture. My first impulse to fall back on the idea that God uses our weakness, works through our failures. But Samson doesn’t actually seem to achieve that much. There’s no “and they lived in peace” for any number of years after his, and I hesitate to use the word, heroics. Maybe it’s just an illustration of how our savior could never have been a man? That a human born as a superhero would not live as a superhero? But that doesn’t fit. We have too many actual human heroes to look at. Yeah, they’re flawed, but there are some real heroes of the faith. So what is Samson’s point? Be right back, I’m going to ask Google.
Okay, so Christianity.com agrees with my first inclination and fleshes it out a little in ways I was leaning toward. It helped draw them all together and reaffirm them. Samson was another miraculous birth, always significant and immediately connected to Christ, but Samson was basically the opposite of Christ: arrogant and ineffectual. While his life does end in personal sacrifice, and one that is recognized as being righteous (it is empowered, after all) and significant, it doesn’t actually achieve a lasting impact, and he certainly doesn’t conquer his own death, much less everyone else’s.
An article by Brooks Waldron for The Gospel Coalition discusses some very interesting themes and is worth reading, but Waldron makes a particular point that I want to respond to. Waldron draws on the verse “His father and mother did not know that it was from the Lord” to say that “Samson’s sinful pursuit was ultimately from God.”
Now, while the Angel of Lord does say only that Samson will begin to save the people from the Philistines, I still hesitate to truly invest belief in any of the statements that God caused something bad to happen, that God is actively behind sinful choices. I’m far more inclined to consider this authorial commentary, poetic interpretation of how it eventually plays out. God does in fact use these choices, but to say that he causes them?
I’ll grant you that this wording is a bit more difficult to argue with than most. It reads pretty stark and straight forward. But consider that God chose him because he knew the decisions he was likely to make. I don’t know. Maybe God did send Samson after that particular woman, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of Samson’s poor choices were also from God. Perhaps there would have been some other way that the marriage would have set events in motion.
I’m starting to feel like this particular article drew me further into confusion rather than helped clear any of it up. But I want to share this, because this is Bible study. I pray over this. I pray through this. I read the Scripture. I read the commentary. I look up further, deeper considerations of the passages that perplex me. I accept confusion. I admit errors and embrace correction as well as redirection.
Now, at the end of an exceptionally long entry, I have new questions that had not occurred to me during the first reading, but I also have confidence that I do actually understand the purpose of the account. It had always bothered me, but I had never stopped to really consider it. When I did, I had a vague notion. With a little help from other writers, that notion has solidified. Samson is a contrast to Jesus.
More than just that, though, I have another message that I feel needs to be communicated. I have another topic for my Bible vs Sunday School series. On the current schedule, it should end up on the blog July 19. (Or, if you just can’t wait, I suppose you could ask.)