He did God’s work. But that didn’t make him a role model.
Samson is one of the first people of the Old Testament that kids hear about. As such, he is the only Old Testament judge that most people can name. And why? Because he has that flashy super-strength that makes for such great stories.
“Samson kills 1,000 Philistine attackers with his sword” makes a good headline, right? What about “Samson kills 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey” …Now that’s a story!
But Sampson’s role in history is no kid’s story. To start with, the ‘good guys’–the Israelites, God’s chosen people–have not been so good.
Again the Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord handed them over to the Philistines, who oppressed them for forty years.Judges 13:1 NLT
They were in the midst of some well-deserved punishment for doing evil. God used the Philistines as a paddle with which to deliver a 40-year spanking to his people’s collective backside.
But God loves his people, so he also raised up a judge to lead them and begin to rescue them their oppressors. (This sequence is repeated throughout the entire book of Judges.) This time, the Judge was Samson.
Like John the Baptist, Samson’s mother was unable to get pregnant, so she prayed earnestly for a child. God sent an angel to Samson’s parents to instruct them on how to have a child dedicated to God as a Nazirite: don’t drink wine, always eat kosher, and never cut his hair! Samson’s parents obeyed, and God was with him.
And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him while he lived in Mahaneh-dan, which is located between the towns of Zorah and Eshtaol.Judges 13:25 NLT
Yet still, Samson was no Goody-Two-Shoes. To start with, he was quick to disregard his parents’ advice about who to marry.
His father and mother objected. “Isn’t there even one woman in our tribe or among all the Israelites you could marry?” they asked. “Why must you go to the pagan Philistines to find a wife?” But Samson told his father, “Get her for me! She looks good to me.”Judges 14:3 NLT
On the other hand, God was at work in his decision.
His father and mother didn’t realize the Lord was at work in this, creating an opportunity to work against the Philistines, who ruled over Israel at that time.Judges 14:4 NLT
Secondly, Samson was…how shall we say…prone to vengeful fits of violence.
“Because you did this,” Samson vowed, “I won’t rest until I take my revenge on you!” So he attacked the Philistines with great fury and killed many of them.Judges 15:7-8a NLT
In all, Samson’s story is quite ‘colorful’ (that’s a euphemism). As a movie, it would get no less than a PG-13 rating. And at times during the show you might wonder, “Who is the good guy in this picture?”
That’s because the good guy is God, not Samson. God is always good. And even if he uses flawed people (like you and me?) to do his work, he always does it for a good purpose.
So if you only remember the Second Grade Sunday School version of Samson, read Judges 13-16 to see a real man who did God’s work.
Questions for Group Discussion
- How is Samson not a storybook hero? Is he different from other Bible personalities this way? How does this affect the Bible’s credibility in your eyes?
- If Samson is not a role model, why is he in the Bible? If we are not to imitate Samson, should we take his story as how not to be?
- Who is the story of Samson (Judges 13-16) about? What if it’s not about Samson at all? Could it be about God and how he loves his people?
- Who is the whole Bible about? What if it’s not about the people in its pages at all? Could it be about God and how he loves his people?
Challenge: Who’s the Hero?
Sometimes, you don’t really understand the movie until you’ve read the book. That’s what we’re doing here.
Have you ever read the book of Judges? (Relax–that’s not what we’re challenging you to do. Although if you get the notion and want to read the whole thing, be our guest!) If you have not, you don’t know that it can be shocking in places.
Likewise, if you have never read Judges 13-16, you won’t know that Samson’s story is not for toddlers. Nor is it about how great Samson is.
- Read Judges 13-16.
- Write an answer for each of these questions:
- What is the source of Samson’s strength? Is it his hair? Or is it the Spirit of God?
- How many times can you count the Spirit of the Lord coming upon Samson?
- Catalog the morally questionable (or just plain wrong) things Samson does. Is there any talk of God punishing these or otherwise holding these things against him?
- Why do you think Samson was so lousy at keeping secrets?
- If God was with Samson–and used him to accomplish his purposes–what does that say about the people God uses today?
- Consider a final question: How does this change the way you think about church leaders involved in scandals?