So far we have read about Abraham, Jacob, Moses and the birth of the Israelite nation. Then yesterday we read about Joshua who led the people into the land that God promised to Jacob’s descendants and a prayer that caused the sun to stand still.
After Joshua dies Israel is led by a series of Judges. They are not kings or queens, or rulers in that sense, they were more of a guide to remind the people of what God had done for them and how they should live in response to that.
Samson was one of these Judges
Samson was born to a lady who was thought to be unable to have children. His birth was foretold by an angel of the Lord who after chatting with Samson’s parents, ascended to heaven in the flames of a burnt offering.
From birth he was set apart as someone dedicated to God.
He didn’t drink alcohol, didn’t cut his hair and didn’t let anything spiritually unclean come near him.
He fell in love with a Philistine woman. It was against the Israelite law for Israelites to marry those from other nations and cultures. But Philistines were particularly disagreeable to Israelites.
It was all in God’s plan though.
On his way to arrange the marriage, a lion came at Samson and he killed it with his bare hands. Then didn’t tell anyone (and it appears, no one noticed! He wasn’t scratched!)
When he returns for the wedding, bees had taken over the lions skeleton and begun to produce honey. So Samson eats some, potentially breaking his religious vow to never touch a dead body. Samson used this image as a riddle to some of the Philistines that attended his stag night. He promised his fellow stags new garments if they could guess his riddle. Of course, they couldn’t but his fiancé pressed him and whined and nagged and tried every trick in the book until Samson finally, a week later, gave in and told her the answer. She went and told her community who of course told Samson.
Samson was furious, he’d been deceived by his wife, the woman he loved. So, in anger, he went and killed 30 Philistines, took their clothing and gave their clothes to his ex-fiancé’s friends. Needless to say, he went home without his wife.
When he calms down, he returns to collect his wife only to find that she has been given to one of the other men that had attended the wedding.
Angry again, Samson catches 300 foxes, ties pairs of their tails together with a lit fire between them and sets them loose in the corn fields of the Philistines.
So in revenge the Philistines kill not only Samson’s ex-wife but her her father too, while Samson goes off to live in a cave.
Then 3,000 Philistines head off to Israel to capture Samson. They want retribution for their fields.
So the Israelites tie up Samson and take him back to meet the Philistines. When Samson sees the Philistines though, the power of God comes upon him, he breaks the ropes that he is tied with as if they are nothing, picks up donkey jawbone that was lying about and uses it to kill 1,000 of the Philistines, a third of the Philistine party.
Another time, Samson happens to be walking in one of the Philistine’s major cities when he sees a prostitute, and spends the evening with her. The Philistines hear of this and lie in wait to capture him in the morning. But Samson slips out at midnight, tearing the heavy city gates from the walls and carries them up the hill opposite.
Samson’s strength is astounding.
Some time later again, Samson meets and falls in love with Delilah. We don’t know who Delilah is, but believe that she lived not far from Samson’s home. She may or may not have been a Philistine.
Either way she liked money. When the leaders of the Philistines came to her and offered her a lot of money to find out how to subdue Samson, she agreed. There is some back and forth with Samson telling Delilah lies about how to subdue him, her trying to subdue him and Samson breaking free. Eventually though, following some more persuasion and possibly whining on Delilah’s part, Samson tells Delilah the truth. Samson’s hair is cut and as his vow is broken, so the Spirit of God leaves him too and the Philistines are finally able to overpower him.
The Philistines blind Samson, shackle him and set him to grinding corn, a degrading and humiliating punishment, usually the work of slaves and women - ironic perhaps after the devastation he caused to the Philistines corn fields some 20 years earlier. As Samson grinds corn, his hair begins to grow again, his strength begins to return and the Spirit of God grows in him once more.
The Philistines though, gather for a big party in honour of their half man, half fish god Dagon. A bit tipsy they call for Samson to dance for them while they jeer at him. The rich and well-to-do are gathered inside the open-fronted temple while the commoners are gathered on the roof watching Samson dance below. They honour Dagon as the god that overcame the strength of Samson, that is mightier than the Lord God, the God of the Israelites.
Tired, Samson leans against the two pillars at the front of the entrance to the temple. He prays a short prayer.
‘Sovereign Lord, remember me. Please, God, strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.’
Then Samson pushed on both pillars until they fell, bringing down the roof of the temple, killing both the rich and powerful Philistines inside the temple and the ordinary people on the roof.
While I do not endorse praying for revenge, after all, Jesus said to love our neighbours and to pray for those that persecute us. Samson’s prayer is a heartfelt cry.
Samson is clearly a passionate man. He falls in love hard. He burns with anger. Here he has been betrayed by someone he trusted and loved, again, humiliated by people he hates and worst of all, the God that he has dedicated his life to has left him. Such grief!
Despite this, Samson recognises that God is sovereign and ruler over all things.
“Remember me” he dares to ask.
Samson doesn’t appear to have got much right in his life, trusting the wrong people, giving in to anger, slaughtering men for their clothes, extreme acts of vandalism and sleeping around. Even his last breath is about personal revenge rather than revenge for God’s name that is being blasphemed by the Philistines in favour of their god Dagon.
Despite this, God hears Samson’s prayer and fills him with strength once more.
This gives me hope. That when I feel far from God, God is still nearby. He still hears my prayers. He still answers my prayers, in spite of my sinful behaviour. He still uses me for His purposes, not because of me but because of His gracious nature.
This doesn’t mean I can carry on behaving badly in the knowledge that God will continue to hear my prayers. Quite the opposite.
God’s faithfulness to me and His goodness in spite of my badness makes me want to do and be better.
Tomorrow is a personal reflection day but we will be back on Monday where we will be looking at the prayer of Hannah, the mother of Samuel the prophet.