And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” He strained with all his might, and the temple collapsed on the rulers and all the people who were in it. So it turned out that he killed more people in his death than he did during his life. His brothers and his father’s entire household traveled down, carried him back up, and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of his father Manoah. He had led Israel for twenty years.
(Judges 16:30-31 CEB)
Why yes, I did just give away the ending of the story of Samson.
How many of you knew this is how Samson ends his life, in a final act of martyrdom that gives complete glory to God? I probably did once upon a time, but forgot. To be honest, I thought the Philistines killed him when Delilah cut his hair.
I have always heard the story of Samson as a cautionary tale. Watch out for Philistine/non-Christian/loose/tricky women. Or, don’t break a promise to God, because if you promised to not cut your hair, and you do, God will stop protecting you. Actually, this is an incredible story of faith! Brutal, but incredible.
For the record, I would not have Samson or his father over for dinner or wish to become their friends. They are kind of jerks. God didn’t honour Samson for his kindness, but for his dedication and his faith.
And is it right to consider Samson foolish? God does say this was all part of the plan, because the LORD was “looking for an opening with the Philistines” (14:4). The LORD used Samson’s taste in women to conquer the Philistines. To God, any weakness can become a gift.
In fact, as I read this powerful passage about Samson’s death, it made me wonder, “So, what about the hair?” What if it was really never about the hair.
There are things in the church that we call, “An outward and visible sign of an inward, invisible grace”. They are tangible signs to us of the power and love of God. They are signs because we recognize the Source is never our own action, but God’s creative power. We call these things sacraments.
Could Samson’s hair have been a sort of sacrament? He was commanded by the LORD never to cut it. Sacraments are those things that have been commanded of us; remembrance through the Eucharist, dedication through Baptism. The hair wasn’t the source of his strength. The LORD was. Was the hair a symbol of the strength that the LORD had given to Samson from the very beginning, in order to fulfil the purpose to which he was born? It brought people confidence and courage. And, when the bread, the wine and the water are gone, God is still with us.
Did Samson, in fact, need to lose his hair so that Israel would place their faith in God again?
We should not neglect that Samson destroyed the temple as an act of revenge, a price for his eyes which the Philistines took out of his head. The readings ahead are all in the context of war. There are winners, losers and oh my there is vengeance! Does God’s action in the midst of these wars justify the wars of today? I would say no. Try not to get caught up in the violence of the coming days. The violence is simply part of the context. Pay attention to the people, what they pray, how they are honoured, how they are dishonoured, and how they honour the LORD. In the end, Samson honoured God and began the freedom of Israel from the Philistines. That is the good news of the story of Samson.
Day 26: Judges 13-16
Join the E100 Challenge at www.e100challenge.org.uk