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.
Samson: childhood Sunday School hero, strongman, womanizer, sleaze ball, Judge of Israel, avenger, warrior, fornicator, Nazarite. The list of descriptors for the man whose story we read about in Judges 13-16 could go on and on. One thing is for sure: Samson was a man whose life was a big hot mess, and almost always not in a good way.
So what do we do with Samson? Many have undertaken the difficult task of attempting to find some kind of redeeming element in the story of Samson, but any way you look at it, the guy's life was a shambles of disobedience, apathy, and selfishness. It's hard to find something redeemable about someone so scummy. Is there anything about this guy that is worthy of admiration or emulation? No. At least not from the account of him that we read about in Judges.
The answer changes, however, when we read Hebrews 11.32-34: "And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets - who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight."
It's interesting: when you read the account of Samson's life in Judges 13-16, the author never commends any of Samson's actions as being faithful. That is, the author never explicitly says that Samson performed any of his mighty deeds because of his faith. In fact, the opposite is true: the overwhelming circumstantial evidence of Samson's actions points us to the conclusion that he instead performed his mighty deeds out of selfish ambition field by sinful desire. The author of Hebrews, however, reveals that Samson's mighty deeds were, in fact, fueled by faith. Although these faith-fueled deeds are not at the exclusion of all of the rotten things he did too.
For instance, of the qualifiers that are listed in Hebrews 11.32-34, Samson fits at least five of them. In Samson's story we read about him 1) stopping the mouth of lions; 2) escaping the edge of the sword; 3) being made strong out of weakness; 4) becoming mighty in war; and 5) putting foreign armies to flight. All of these, the author of Hebrews implies, Samson did with resolute faith in God, albeit with significant personal failings mixed in along the way. Nevertheless, Samson was a man of faith.
It took faith for Samson to believe that God would give him the strength to overpower the lion; it took faith for Samson to believe that God would allow him to escape from the many enemies that wanted to kill him; it took faith for Samson to believe that God would make him strong in spite of his physical weakness; it took faith for Samson to believe that God would make him mighty in war, and faith to believe that God would use him to put the foreign army of the Philistines to flight. Samson knew - at least at some level - that it was God who was empowering him and working through him to achieve God's purposes.
It is also true, however, that nearly all of the great things Samson did and victories he won were born out of the sins of pride and selfishness. As I've stated previously, praise God that he can even work through our impure motives and desires - and even our sin - in order to achieve his purposes. Even Samson's major-league-level bungling of every situation he was in couldn't stop God from achieving his intended ends.
So what do we do with Samson? How does such a rotten guy end up being mentioned in the "Hall of Fame of Faith" (Hebrews 11)? The answer is, as I've said before, there's no such thing as "Bible Heroes." Everyone that we read about in scripture - including those mentioned in Hebrews 11 - were depraved sinners, saved by grace. And if we will see them as such, God's grace in their lives will be all the more magnified.
Moreover, we need to understand that faith is a gift of God and does not come from us, but from him. As such, God can do anything he wants with our faith, regardless of how large or small we might deem it to be. As linear human beings, we have a tendency to gauge or categorize or evaluate the size of "faith" based on some man-centered objective. God's categorization of faith, however, works on a different plane that we will never understand. To us, Samson's faith appears small because he was such a lout during his life. But what did Jesus say? "If you have faith like a grain of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you'" (Matt. 17.20). From our perspective, Samson's faith was small - smaller even than "a grain of mustard seed." From God's perspective, however, Samson's faith was just the right size to accomplish what God wanted to accomplish.
To this extent, we can aspire to have a faith like Samson: that in the day when I am attacked by a lion, I will believe that God will give me the power to stop his mouth. And if and when I am called on to put "foreign armies to flight," I will believe that God will make me "strong out of weakness." This is what Samson believed, and this is what God did.
At the same time, we can and should aspire to avoid the mistakes that Samson made. He serves us as an example of the damage that can be done when we are only looking to fulfill our own desires and serve our sinful passions - even in the midst of actively believing God.
What do we do with Samson? We take the good and leave out the bad; eat the meat and spit out the bones; see the great things that he did in faith, and mourn the incredible damage caused by his sin; aspire to believe God like Samson, and desire to master the sin that he didn't.