Summary: Samson's is a tragic story of bad decisions and their consequences.
Walter White is the main character in the AMC series Breaking Bad. High school chemistry teacher turned drug king-pin of New Mexico. As the 5-season series begins, we learn that Walter has cancer, no money, not long to live and a pregnant wife. It’s easy to become sympathetic to Walter’s plight. He’s been dealt a rotten hand, and he’s not certain how to deal with it. We’ve all been there, right? Here’s your spoiler alert: By the end of season five, all sympathy for Walter is gone. Breaking Bad lives up to its name, and we discover Walter’s life is really quite a tragedy, not because he’s been dealt a crummy hand, but because of the decisions he makes. All his decisions have consequences, and he finds he must ultimately live with those consequences.
Such is the life of Samson in the Old Testament. We encounter Samson today at the end of his life, and we read of his death. We read that he kills more Philistines by his death than he ever did when he was alive, and he was known for killing Philistines. If you’re like me, and you remember Samson from Sunday school, you probably remember him as a hero for killing all those Philistines. Samson has been held up as a role model for his dedication to God in being willing to follow God all the way to death. As I reflect upon the story of Samson, I’ve come to believe he’s much more a victim of his own decisions than he is a victim of faithful discipleship. There is much about Samson’s story we didn’t hear in Sunday school. His is a tragic story that ends with Samson dealing with the consequences of his own decisions.
Samson’s is a great story, too. I tell you, Hollywood has nothing on the Bible. You want stories with suspense and intrigue? Read the Bible. In Samson’s story we find supernatural events, intrigue, deception, humor (lots of humor), lust, sex, murder, revenge and obsession, and we find most of it in Samson himself. We read the end of his story and we discover he is blind, in prison and being shamed by his captors, the Philistines. In one last heroic act, he cries out to God in prayer to give him strength one more time so he can take revenge on these pagan Philistines. And, God hears his prayer, and amazingly answers him, and Samson, in one final show of strength pushes the pillars of the temple over. The roof falls, crushing everyone in the temple, including Samson, and everyone on the roof of the temple. But, how did he get there?
Samson’s story begins in Judges 13 with his miraculous birth. His nameless, barren mother is visited by an Angel of the Lord who announced she would have a son (boy, that sounds vaguely familiar), and that he would be dedicated to the Lord as a Nazirite from birth, and he would be the rescuer of Israel from their Philistine oppressors. She named the child Samson which means “sunshine.” If we follow the history of the nation of Israel, we discover these are some of the darkest times in its history. God sends “sunshine” in these dark times.
So what is it with this Nazirite vow? Numbers 6 outlines the vows a person had to take to become a Nazirite, and there were three: 1) Drink no wine, nor eat any fruit that grew on a vine, 2) Refrain from touching anything dead, and 3) Never cut your hair for as long as you are under the vow.
Samson grows into a young man, and we are told that “the Lord blessed him as he grew up.” So, here’s a guy whom the Lord blesses, and who is “consecrated” from birth (consecrated is what “Nazirite” means). For some reason, Samson doesn’t quite embrace his consecration. What we hear about in Sunday school is Samson’s strength. We hear about how he slew a lion with his bare hands. What we don’t hear about is that he later returned to the carcass of that lion, and took honey from the bees who had taken residence there, thus breaking one of his Nazirite vows by touching something dead. It’s not that it couldn’t be corrected. He could have gone to the temple priest and gone through the ceremonial cleansing, but that was too inconvenient for Samson. For some reason, the Sunday school teachers also didn’t tell us that happened while he was in the process of getting married. Nor, do we hear about the woman he jilted and left at the altar after a sumptuous wedding feast, and that feast would include wine, and lots of it. Remember Jesus in John 2? He replenished the wine at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. We’re talking gallons here, not bottles. One more time, Samson breaks his vows. And, they neglected to tell us about Samson’s temper that provokes him to kill 30 innocent bystanders at his own wedding so he can settle a gambling debt.