Listening to the Hard Answers: A Look at the Story of Samson
For those more unfamiliar with the story of Samson, it involves a bit more than the version I learned in Sunday school. What I always remembered was the standard story of God-given strength defeated by that insidious woman, Delilah, and then returned for Samson to be able to incredibly pull down the columns of a building on his enemies. However, a closer reading of the story as it appears in Judges 13-16 reveals a very different––and much more uncomfortable––narrative.
Samson’s story begins much in the way that we would hope for the birth of a great warrior of Israel: His birth is announced to his mother (and then a second time with his father present) by an angel of God, promising the barren woman a child “who shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of [her captors]” (Judg 13:5b). The child, Samson, is born and consecrated to Lord as a Nazirite as the angel had required. As such, Samson is (famously) required to never cut his hair––a custom that was true of any man of God––but also to never drink alcohol (or even eat grapes or vinegar), and to never touch or go near a deceased body. Yet over the course of his life, Samson breaks every single one of these vows.
He meets a Philistine woman (the Philistines were Israel’s captors at the time) after a very serious disagreement with his parents, and marries her––only to essentially abandon her shortly thereafter. When her father (rightly) gives her away to another man, Samson returns, furious that he can no longer have “his wife.” In revenge, he goes out and sets fire to the Philistine’s shock, the standing grain, vineyards, and olive groves, beginning a domino chain of violence. Even before these events, during the wedding itself, Samson bets (a high bet neither he nor his guest can pay) that his wedding guests cannot solve a riddle which he randomly makes up on the spot. When the frustrated guests turn to Samson’s wife, their relative, for the answer to avoid debt, Samson becomes so enraged that he goes to a nearby town and kills thirty men, taking their spoils in order to pay off the bet himself.
Samson drinks wine at feasts, holds his wedding literally inside of a vineyard, not only touches corpses but kills thousands of other men, and––in the infamous episode with Delilah––cuts his hair; Samson breaks every one of the holy Nazirite vows. On top of this, Samson does not even pretend to follow the will of God, instead merely acting and reacting (often violently) to the chains of events set off by his own impulsive choices. His incredible strength is a gift from God yet Samson takes it completely for granted, using it for his own ends and then thoughtlessly relinquishing it to Delilah’s persistence. Samson could in no way be “a man of God” by any stretch of the imagination–– except for the fact that he is.
How is it that a man so violent, so despicable, and so disregarding of God is chosen to be an instrument of His will? Why did God not choose someone else, someone “better”? It feels so unfair that Samson gets away with everything he does and yet is still embraced by God. This is not even a story of grace or forgiveness: Although Samson forsakes God (revealing his secret to Delilah), God likewise forsakes Samson, taking his strength–– something Samson never missed until he did not have it. Even then, God returns this same strength when Samson just prays for it so that he can take revenge. Samson never repents, or recognizes that he has ignored his vows or done anything wrong. There is not an indication either that God is forgiving Samson or showing him grace at any point. Nothing Samson does is devout, or faithful, or righteous. Yet that seems to not matter to God at all, who uses Samson again and again in his plans to begin freeing the Israelites from captivity.
This story seems to be one of those cases where we truly realize we cannot understand the mind of God. A warrior of Israel should be good, not violent and reckless: What does God think He’s doing? Samson is not faithful; he shows no respect for the rule of law or even reason itself. His story throws us a curveball. Israel has been in captivity for years under the Philistines, and God has promised them freedom since they eventually repent and return to Him. Yet God acts through what seems to be the least likely candidate. This time it’s not a weak shepherd boy, or an engaged virgin from nowhere-ville––other unlikely candidates God has chosen––but a maniac seems to be the most illogical choice of all. Every time God acts, He surprises us because we cannot anticipate why He chooses to move in the ways He does. God does not have to use a “logic” we understand. We don’t know why God chose Samson, only that Samson was strong and, whether by his own desire or not, accomplished God’s plans for him.
However, the story of Samson is more than a demonstration of our inability to understand why things happen the way they do. It speaks to the greater promise of God’s plans for each of us – that, regardless of our own rash (or otherwise) decisions, His plans prevail. God had promised to free the Israelites from slavery, and He does. With God at his back and in his strength, Samson cannot be defeated even if the only thing he does is go on rampages of death and revenge. In this way, though Samson only ever acts out of his own self-interest, God is able to fulfill His promise to the Israelites.
It is possible that God chose Samson because a Nazirite who couldn’t keep his vows was the best candidate for His plans, but we will never know. The point is that God’s plans were carried out, even if by a man the Israelites themselves handed over to the Philistines (Judg 15:9-15). Although we cannot understand why God would choose a man like Samson instead of a more ideal warrior–– strong, just, faithful, righteous, we should understand that God stands by our side. When God makes a promise, He will fulfill it–– perhaps not the way we expect (or prefer), but He will fulfill our prayers as long as we are willing to listen to the hard answers.
The Holy Bible (NIV, Quest Study Bible)
This blog is written by me, Katie Buerger (unless noted otherwise) and maintained by UPCaM@Case. I am a current sophomore at CWRU, and have been an UPCaM member since my first year. Because I am Spiritual Potpourri’s exclusive writer, this means the opinions and perspectives given in blog posts are limited to my views. I think myself to be open-minded, but I am human. I do research my topics (all the sources are listed at the bottom of each post), but I ultimately can only write from my perspective as a Christian. I try to write to a general audience (not exclusively to Christians), but I do at times make assumptions about the knowledge of my readers. However, I would like to assert that my views are not representative of UPCaM’s or Christianity’s – they are mine alone.