As a boy, I thought of Samson as a Biblical “superhero”. His birth was foretold (Judges 13:5). He single-handedly defeated his enemies by their dozens (Judges 14:19) or sometimes by their thousands (Judges 15:15). He carried away the gates that protected his enemies, even when they seemed to have him cornered (Judges 16:3). Even having been captured, tortured and mocked, I always saw him as a hero who did the will of God, destroying his enemies and delivering his people – even though it meant dying in the process (Judges 16:25-30).

Recently, I read the story of Samson again, and I have to say – as a man, I was shocked at the glaring weakness in Samson that I ignored as a boy. It’s as if I thought Samson was a good man just because he was strong, aggressive, and good with ladies. But now, if a young boy in my church came up and said, “Brother Michael, I want to be a strong man like Samson!” I would want to say, “Oh no! Samson was a weak man! Be a strong man like Christ!”

Weakness Exhibited: Samson Broke Every Vow He Ever Made

 When Samson was born, an angel came to his mother and promised her that she would have a son. But there was a caveat:

Be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, but the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb… (Judg. 13:4-5)

Nazirite means “separated,” and a Nazarite vow was typically taken for a specific time and purpose.[i] Numbers 6 tells the specifics of Nazirites, but in short, they were not permitted to (1) drink wine or eat any fruit of the vine, (2) touch dead bodies, or (3) shave their heads or beards. These three things were forbidden to Samson even before his birth.

From the earliest part of his story, Samson is impulsive (weak-willed) and selfish. The first decision we see him making for himself is to marry a Philistine woman (Judges 14:2) – which of course, is forbidden to the Israelites (Dt. 7:3) – and in doing so, he disregards his parents’ pleas to follow the Lord’s command (Judges 14:3).

Just before the wedding, Samson touches a dead lion carcass (Judges 14:8-9), breaking his Nazarite vow just to get a quick snack. The wedding to the Philistine woman is orchestrated in the Philistine manner rather than the Israelite way. It is called a “feast,” although the Hebrew [מִשְׁתֶּ֔ה] is clearer. The word (misteh) means “an occasion for drinking.” Samson, being forbidden from drinking wine, is breaking his vow again. He later loses a bet, and instead of keeping his word and paying his debt, he kills thirty men and makes them pay it (Judges 14:19). He then accuses his wife of cheating on him when she most needed his help (Judges 14:18) breaking his vow to love and protect her as her husband. He kills a thousand men with the jawbone of a dead animal – breaking his Nazarite vow again (Judges 15:15). He goes after a prostitute (Judges 16:1). It is with her (Delilah) that he breaks the final aspect of his vow, giving her the opportunity to cut his hair (Judges 16:17).

Weakness Inherited: Samson’s Wickedness Pollutes Those Who Mimic Him

Samson was a terrible son, husband, and man. But despite this, he is widely seen as a “flawed” hero because at the end of his life, he prayed, and God granted him one last great act – to destroy his enemies. But why did Samson pray? Look: “O Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes” (Judges 16:28). Samson never cared about anybody but himself. From the beginning of his life to the end, Samson used his strength, sexuality, and favor with God only to satisfy himself.

Unfortunately, Samson did serve as the model for many who followed him. At the beginning of his life, Samson said to his parents of the Philistine woman he wanted despite God’s law, “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes” (Judges 14:3). It is no surprise then that in the next chapter after Samson’s death we find this familiar statement for the very first time, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 17:6) Samson threw off the law of God and did what was “right in his own eyes” from the start – and many followed him as if he were an admirable model. Dangerously many still believe he is a good model to follow today.

Strength Exhibited: Christ Did All Which Samson Failed to Do

As a boy, I thought of Samson as a strong male role model, but he wasn’t. He was a weak man who only took care of himself. There is, however, a real superhero to imitate. His birth was foretold (Is. 7:14; Mt. 1:23). He single-handedly put all His enemies under His feet (1 Cor. 15:25-26). Despite appearing to have been cornered, He said that the gates of His enemies could not stop Him from invading and building His Kingdom (Mt. 16:18). He delivered on His promises by carrying away captivity as His captive (Eph. 4:8) and gloried in His triumph (Col. 2:15). Even having been captured, tortured and mocked, He did the will of God, destroying His enemies and delivering his people – even though it meant dying in the process (Col. 2:13-14). Our perfect superhero is Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God.

Strength Inherited: Christ’s Righteousness Purifies Those Who Mimic Him

We should not look at Samson as a model of strength for men and women alike. His strength and sexuality were worthless because he did only what was right in his own eyes – in other words, he went the way of the fool (Prov. 12:15). He was just like many of us. We should learn from Samson that God can use bad people to accomplish His purposes (Gen. 50:20) and can redeem the very worst of us, regardless of our weakness, by faith (Heb. 11:32, 39-40).[ii]

Is Samson a model for Christians to follow? No. Instead of Samson, we should look to and imitate the person Samson’s faith was in – Jesus Christ, the promised Savior, and Messiah, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8).

If we see the humble strength – both in body and spirit – exemplified by Christ and imitate that, instead of idolizing some Samson-like strength that always conquers, we may realize what Paul meant when he wrote, “He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10).

References

[i] I am indebted to Barry Webb’s The Book of Judges NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012) for this insight.

[ii] In Hebrews 11, all of the Old Testament saints are listed as having been justified by faith. Under the Covenant of Grace even saints in the Old Testament were justified by faith, not by works. That seems to be the overwhelming message of Hebrews 11. The concluding verses (Hebrews 11:39-40) states that they had faith in some thing that they never saw come to fruition. The promise that they never received was the arrival of the Messiah. So, Samson is listed in verse 32 as having faith, and the point of the chapter is to show that the Old Testament saints were justified and redeemed by their faith just like New Testament saints are. Therefore, Samson placed his faith in a promise that he never saw come to fruition, namely, the Messianic arrival of Jesus Christ. And yet, despite his wicked life, God has seen fit to list even Samson alongside Abraham and David as someone who was justified by faith in the coming Messiah.

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