Each Monday I try to maintain a series on this blog called "Digging Deeper." The purpose of these posts will be to "dig deeper" into the text that I preached the previous Sunday. It is almost always the case that there is more that could be said on every text that I preach at Riverview, and sometimes time constraints don't allow me to say everything that could be said about a particular text we are studying together. Invariably, some things get left on the cutting room floor. For this reason I thought it might be helpful to pick up some of those scraps on Monday and try to learn from them.
The story of Samson is tragic. As we've gone through his story, recorded in Judges 13-16, we've seen that he has done things according to his own desires, or, as Samson says what "is right in my eyes." Needless death, revenge, womanizing, betrayal, and more are all part of Samson's story. But perhaps the most tragic and telling verse of Samson's story is Judges 15.20: "And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years."
Samson never knew a single day of his life apart from Philistine oppression. The Philistines had occupied Israelite land before Samson's birth, and their occupation continued even after his death. Samson is the only leader of Israel in the book of Judges who did not release his people from the oppression of their enemies. Even louts like Barak, Gideon, and even Jephthah (!) took up arms to follow God's lead and bring their people out from under the oppression of their enemies. Samson, however, was too busy serving his own desires to be bothered to organize his people under the banner of God. Never had a man with more God-given potential achieved so little.
In spite of Samson's disregard for God's program, God still used him to strike several blows against the Philistines' oppression and occupation of Israel (see, for example, 14.19, 15.4, 8, 15, etc.). But the sad reality is that God worked in spite of Samson, rather than through his willing obedience. At the end of Samson's brief life, Israel was still in the same predicament as when it began.
This is not to say that Samson's life was meaningless, and that God couldn't work through him. Before Samson was born, God told his parents that he would use Samson to "begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines" (Judges 13.5, emphasis mine). Israel wouldn't be free from Philistine influence until the time of king David. Indeed, however, God did use Samson to begin to free his people from the Philistines. But imagine what Samson could have done if he hadn't wasted his time pursuing his own desires! Imagine what Samson could have done if he had dedicated himself to holiness and obedience instead of doing what was right in his own eyes. Instead of investing his time and efforts into God's overarching purpose for his life, Samson invested his time and efforts into his own purpose for his life.
I cringe when I think about how much time I spend on frivolous pursuits that pique my interest: things that are not essential to my well-being; things that are not eternal or meaningful (Facebook, anyone?); things that are here today and gone tomorrow; things that seem enjoyable in the moment; things that I wish I hadn't done; things that are innocuous and only serve to fill/waste time. If you do the math, you spend about 1/3 of your life sleeping. I wonder how much of my life is spent doing pointless or even sinful things. I shudder to think.
There's a cliche story about how, after your death, your tombstone will record the date of your birth and the date of your death. And in between those two dates there is a dash - a mark that symbolizes everything that happened between those two dates. That dash symbol is the story of your life. Everything you've ever done will be characterized by that dash. The dash that characterizes Samson's life does indeed include a few instances where God used him to help his people. But the list could have been longer. When people saw the date of Samson's death on his tombstone, they no doubt compared it to the date of the end of the Philistine oppression and remembered, sadly, that Samson's death came long before. Samson wasted his time. Even though he was set apart for the service of the Lord before he was even born (Judges 13.5), he never saw even a fraction of the potential of his special status as a Nazirite.
When we read that Samson "judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years," it's a warning to us to get busy while the getting is good. When we read Samson's story, it's an encouragement to us to not waste the time that we have here on frivolous and selfish pursuits; it's an encouragement to us to use the things that God has given to us for his plans and purposes in this world; it's an encouragement to us not to take the gifts and talents God has given to us for granted.
God has a purpose that he is working out in this world - a grand, universe-sized plan that is constantly unfolding, second by second. It is the high calling and privilege of every Christian to be a part of what God is doing in the world. God will still use us for his purposes even if we aren't willing, and even if we're too self-absorbed to get with his program, but I certainly don't want that to be the story of my "dash." To an extent, Samson's legacy is as a man whom God gifted greatly, but who squandered those gifts on temporal - and even sinful - pleasures and pursuits. I want my legacy to be the opposite: that I used everything that God has given me for his glory; that I partnered with God in what he is doing in the world so that his name might be known throughout the ends of the earth; that I used my very brief time on earth well; that I used the gifts God had given me to the utmost.