Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Those words would have made a good motto for Israel during its period of the judges. The seemingly endless cycle in which the Israelites found themselves went like this: The people of Israel would rebel against God, so God would allow their enemies often the Philistines-to mistreat them. After serval decades of oppression, the Israelites would call out to God for help. Then God would send a judge-a military leader-to deliver them from their enemies. One of the last of these judges was Samson.
Like several other men in this book, Samson had an intriguing origin story. His mother, who had been unable to conceive, was visited by an angel of the Lord, who told her she would have a son. The boy would be a Nazirite-one set apart for God’s service and bound by certain vows. He was to abstain from alcohol and unclean food. He was also forbidden to cut his hair. God would give him superhuman strength and bless his efforts to lead the Israelites against the Philistines.
Samson, however, proved to be an unpredictable leader. He was driven more by personal whims and desires than by any sense of God-given-responsibility. Case in point: his decision to marry a Philistine woman. He saw the young woman once and went straight home to demand that his father and mother arrange for him to marry her.
On a whim, he made a bet with the 30 Philistine men in his wedding party that they couldn’t answer a riddle. When they did, he had to give them 30 linen garments and 30 changes of clothes. To pay off the bet, Samson traveled to the Philistine city of Ashkelon, killed 30 men there, stripped off their clothing, and gave them to the winners.
When he returned to claim his bride, he discovered that she’d been given to another man in marriage. Overwhelmed by a desire for vengeance, Samson caught 300 foxes, tied their tails together, put torches between them, and released the creatures into the surrounding grain fields, vineyards, and olive groves.
Samson later killed 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey. He gave credit for his unlikely victory to God. Samson must have recognized that God was working through his spur-of-the-moment passions and fits of rage to accomplish greater purpose for Israel.
Samson’s most notorious passion involved a woman named Delilah. When the leaders of the Philistines got wind of it, they each promised to give her 1,100 pieces of silver if she could get Samson to reveal the source of his strength. Their plan was to use Samson’s passion against him.
Three times Delilah begged him to tell her his secret, and three times Samson lied to her. The Philistine officials grew desperate. Delilah pouted, pleaded, and prodded until Samson finally revealed to her that his strength would leave if ever his hair were shaved.
Delilah sent for the Philistine officials while Samson fell asleep on her lap. When he awoke, his hair was gone, alone with his strength. The Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes, and forced him to grind grain in prison.
Some time later the Philistines were celebrating their victory over their once-fearsome enemy. They demanded that Samson be brought to the temple to entertain them. They wanted to gloat in the presence of the once-mighty warrior brought low by his own uncontrollable passions.
No one seemed to notice that Samson’s hair had grown back or suspect that his God might empower him again.
While thousands of Philistines celebrated around him, Samson prayed. He asked God to give him strength one more time. Then he placed his hands on the pillars that supported the idolatrous temple and pushed with all his might. The temple collapsed, killing him and thousands of his enemies.
A final victory for a mighty warrior or a sad end to a wasted life? Regardless of where you stand on the issue, you must acknowledge that Samson’s story begs the question, what if . . . ?
What if Samson had been better able to control his desires? What if his passions had aligned more closely with God’s will? What might he have accomplished as a focused leader of Israel?
JUDGES 13:5 – “You will conceive and give birth to a son. You must never cut his hair, because the boy will be a Nazirite to God from birth, and he will begin to save Israel from the power of the Philistines.”