This morning I finished up reading my way through Judges. Good grief, that is one of the most epic books in the Bible. The whole thing is about God raising up warriors to judge the pagan nations around Israel AND Israel herself. If you’re reading this and grew up going to Sunday School and VBS, your brain has probably already clicked and said, “Ah, he’s about to talk about Samson.”
Yea…I am. But the story of Samson, as I discovered this morning, is not exactly what I thought it was. Like many other Biblical stories, there’s been something lost in the VBS telling. Agonizingly, that something is often a pretty huge something. Take the story of Noah, for instance. We’ve turned it into a fairy tale for kids because it has a lot of animals in it, and we use it to teach kids the names of animals.
“And so God sent all the animals to Noah in pairs. *flip the page* And what’s this animal [insert toddler name]? …That’s right! *flip the page* …And see the birds there? What kinds of birds are those?”
We just kind of mums the word on the part about the flood being God’s method to kill every human on Earth because they were wicked and sinful.
“…That’s right! They’re doves! *flip the page* Ooo, now look here. See all the dead bodies in the water, bumping against the boat?”
And so the story of Noah becomes a fairy tale about a bunch of animals taking a cruise, and the meaning is lost. People go their entire lives without seeing the truth of God’s holiness – that He cannot and will not tolerate sin; that, being a God of justice, He MUST punish evil. A right understanding of Noah would go a long way in understanding the cross, and WHY Jesus had to die.
Ok, ha…I didn’t mean to talk about Noah. We’re talking about Samson here. So, back to his story. The same sort of misrepresentation that happens with Noah happens with Samson. For me, just hearing his name sets off 2 things in my brain: strong & hair. …And that’s it usually.
I haven’t done the research to prove it, but I’m fairly sure that most church-folk would agree on the idea that Samson’s strength came from his hair. Just like we’ve often boiled the story of Noah down to a name-this-animal contest, we distill the story of Samson into a hair tale. Not so.
Judges 13:7 tells us that Samson was to be a Nazirite (see Num 6 for more about that vow) from the day of his birth. Basically, this was a vow of holiness, an outward symbol that this man was to be set apart from the rest of the nation. One of the main requirements of the Nazirite vow was that one could not cut the hair of the head. So…all Nazirites had long hair like Samson(though generally the vow was not taken for the entire life, like Samson). NOT all Nazirites had super strength like Samson. Moreover, we should notice the frequent repetition of “…and the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him…” before the description of a feat of strength. I think it’s safe to say that the length of Samson’s hair is not what imbued him with great strength – it was the Spirit of God!
But, what about, as you say, the account of how the strength left him? Ah yes, that’s the important part. When Delilah kept pestering him about the nature of his strength, Samson finally told her. And notice what Samson said, but more importantly notice what he didn’t say. Samson said nothing glorifying God. Samson said nothing to give honor to God for his strength. He had begun to believe that his strength came from something in his own power; namely, the fact that he lived in a particular way (without razors or alcohol). He denied that his gift of strength was a gift! Samson was an idolater, worshipping the stuff growing out of his scalp. Notice then what the account says at his capture:
And he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had left him. (Judged 16:20b)
It doesn’t say, “He did not know his head had been shaved.” or “He did not know his hair was no longer long.” It said “the LORD had left him.”! All along it was the LORD’s presence that gave Samson strength, not his hair. I think the Lord left him before his head was shaved – probably at the moment he failed to give glory to God for his strength and gave it to his hair instead.
The proof continues: right after this, we’re told that the hair of his head began to grow in prison (vs 22). Now, if his strength was in his hair alone, he could have yanked up the millstone and killed a thousand more people and simply walked out of there…but he didn’t. I think what the writer of Judges is telling us is that Samson began to remember and renew his vow of holiness; that he turned his heart back to God. When Samson comes out before the court, he calls upon the LORD to give him strength! His hair is long already, but his trust is no longer in his hair. He asks the LORD to strengthen him one last time, and God does so only because Samson recognizes that his strength is from the LORD alone.
So then, friend, let’s apply to ourselves:
- Your hair is not God. Meaning, the gifts which God has given you are not to be worshipped in themselves.
- Whatever you have (gifts, position, authority, skills, etc) is from the Lord.
- It is sinful to give glory to those gifts OR to ourselves in sustaining those gifts rather than glorifying God.
- If we DO find ourselves in a place where we have begun to rely on/appreciate/worship the gifts more than the Giver, God may very well remove those gifts from you to remind you where they came from (and He has every right to do so).
We should fear to live in such ways that the LORD will remove His blessings from us. What way is that? When we reject Him and substitute what He has given us (or methods, or training, or etc) in the place of relying on His indwelling power and presence.
Soli Deo Gloria. Glory to God, who alone gives strength to his people.