I honestly never gave it a whole lot of thought before this read through and blog series, but Samson always bothered me. I mean, what was the point?
Samson is one of the earliest Bible stories you are taught if you are raised in the church. He’s up there with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. On the one hand, I get it. The story is very dramatic. He’s practically a superhero, so it makes for a good story Bible. But on the other hand, it’s a very… troubling account, quite complicated.
At first, when you’re a kid, the point of the lesson is usually obedience. He was told never to cut his hair, and he disobeyed. As you get a little older, they might throw in the marrying a woman who wasn’t an Israelite. (I did, on occasion, have the touching of dead bodies added to the mix, but he was punished for touching the lion or the jawbone of the donkey, so I’m pretty sure that prohibition is for human bodies and those actions were allowed. Though I will say I’m not sure I’d eat honey that was produced inside a dead animal or appreciate being fed honey from a dead animal without being told about it, and his inclination to keep secrets does not speak well of his attitude…)
This is a fine application. I think it’s a valid application for adults as well as children, but if it is all we ever teach we are neglecting the purpose of the story. What is it’s place in the Bible? Why is it told? Why did it happen? I think we underestimate kids if we don’t believe that elementary schoolers are ready for discussions on the concept of a whole Bible narrative. (Of course, that requires having an understanding of a whole Bible narrative to discuss with them.)
Then, as you get a little older, usually around high school, they start using him to teach sexual purity. His lust got him in trouble when he insisted on marrying a Philistine woman. His lust got him in trouble with Delilah. Lust was his real downfall.
I don’t think that’s accurate. I’m not saying he wasn’t lusty or that his pursuit of these women was acceptable, I’m just saying it’s a poor application. He wasn’t punished for the lust, the marriage, or the relationship with Delilah. At least not directly. He was punished for breaking his vow, which happened as a result of his pride. He honestly didn’t think it would be a problem. He thought his strength was his own and the vow as… a formality?
He showed his disregard for God when he demanded water the way he did. I doubt that when it says he expected to break his bonds as easily as ever it was implying he hadn’t noticed the hair cut. He had never cut his hair, and he was a full grown adult. Do you have any idea how heavy that would have been? How cold his head would have been after being shaved? He knew it was gone and still expected to have the strength.
I am also not saying that the lust and pride are unrelated, just that using Samson to teach only the importance of sexual purity is overreaching. There are plenty of other passages to teach sexual wisdom. The insistence on making everything that even mentions sex all about that sex is pretty damaging and actually contributes to an over-sexualized society. It’s counter-productive.
As adults, the story gets included in “Bad Girls of the Bible” studies/series thanks to Delilah. And it gets included in overview studies that cover the Old Testament, Judges specifically, and the whole Bible. Samson honestly doesn’t seem to get a whole lot of attention from/for adults. Is that because, like me, a lot of people struggle with the point?
I’ve seen books on Christ in the Old Testament. I’ve seen books and series on the Bible as a whole narrative. But I’ll be honest with you, it’s been through my own personal study or my husband’s academic interests. The feeling I have gotten from attending church my entire life, being friends with people who have attended church their entire lives, and just living in a christian church centric culture is that the concept of a whole Bible narrative is woefully under-taught.
There have been courses and small groups focused on the ‘how’ of personal Bible study. Some of them introduce the concept. Some of them cover it pretty well. The best way to understand the Old Testament as you are reading through it is as the groundwork through which we understand the need for and the nature of Christ, to prepare us for his coming both to recognize who he is and why he is. So if a passage is confusing, start by asking how it relates to Christ. I’ve already, in this read through, used this lens to come to a more comfortable understanding of several passages which have troubled me, confused me, or simply been glossed over.
This concept needs to be far more present. Rather than being relegated to a focused course of instruction, it needs to be referenced in typical sermons, foundational education, regular discipleship. It should be part of the general conversation regarding Biblical interpretation. It should be integral. Intentional.
Daily practical application is good, but there is something wrong if a significant proportion, let alone the actual majority, or people actively raised in the church fail to understand how large portions of the Old Testament relate directly to Christ in the New.
Samson is a direct contrast to Christ. His failure is best understood in light of Christ’s success. And this a point that was never presented to me.
Series Disclaimer: throughout this particular series, it is always possible that I simply missed something, or honestly forgot it. I am, however, operating on the assumption that my experience is actually fairly typical despite coming from a comparatively small denomination. I feel justified in this assumption because I have put effort into interacting with and listening to as wide a variety of people as I can, and I put effort into paying attention. My entire life I’ve put effort into paying attention, into understanding. So perhaps I’ve missed something, or forgotten a single lesson, but I am speaking of broad impressions of a large culture. Should your experience differ, I am glad. Should I be wrong, I would be relieved.