Tag Archives: Samson

You’re Right, You’re Right…

After this he fell in love with a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah.
Judges 16:4 (NRSV)

There’s a great running gag in the classic romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally. Sally’s friend, played by Carrie Fisher [Star Wars tie in!], is in a long term affair with a married man. She continues to complain that he’s never going to leave his wife for her. Her friends always roll their eyes and agree. She always ends with, “You’re right. You’re right. I know you’re right.” It’s one of those lines that is regularly used in our house when addressing patterns of behavior that don’t change.

By the time we get to today’s chapter, Samson should recognize that his lust for women has been nothing but trouble. His first engagement ended in bloodshed and his fiance getting burned alive with her father. Sleeping with a prostitute ended up almost getting him killed in ambush. Now Delilah is clearly conniving the big man, and he doesn’t seem to see it. Samson! Dude! Your choice in chicks always ends badly.

You’re right. You’re right. I know you’re right,” he says as he walks into the brothel.

Today I’m thinking about those patterns of behavior that always seem to end up with me in a bad place. It could be in a bad life situation, an emotionally bad place, a physically unhealthy place, or a relationally sticky place. Those patterns in which my conscience, Holy Spirit, or a combination of both whisper to my spirit, “Dude, something’s got to change.”

I can either mutter, “You’re right. You’re right, I know you’re right” before continuing in old patterns, or I can choose to address those problem areas and break the cycle.

It’s almost New Year’s. I’m just sayin’.

Samson’s Ends and Means

Samson said to them, “This time, when I do mischief to the Philistines, I will be without blame.”
Judges 15:3 (NRSV)

So… I get that Samson was an ancient John Rambo with his long hair and lethal jawbone. But, I couldn’t help noticing this morning the pattern of events that lead to his most famous homicidal slaughter…

  • Samson chooses to betroth a Philistine girl, then threatens to impoverish and humiliate his fiance’s with a silly riddle which causes…
  • The Philistines to threaten the fiance with bodily harm if she doesn’t worm the answer out of Samson which causes…
  • Samson to go on a homicidal rampage, killing his bride’s own people and rejecting her which causes…
  • Samson’s father to give his betrothed to the best man as a wife, which causes…
  • Samson to take his anger out on the Philistines (not his father, or best man) by torching their fields which would take food away from their families and ruin their livelihood, which causes…
  • The Philistines to burn Samson’s betrothed and her father alive, which causes…
  • Samson to swear revenge on the Philistines for burning the bride that he rejected and left standing at the altar, which causes…
  • The Philistines to muster an army and march on Judah, which causes…
  • The men of Judah to hand him over to the Philistines, which causes…
  • Samson to go off on an even bigger homicidal rage with a jawbone.

We often hold Samson up to our children as a hero for his strength and violent victory. The story is actually a bit more messy than that. In fact, I find it quite tragic. The truth is that Samson started and exacerbated the chain of events that led to unnecessary human carnage, and the ends do not justify the means.

This morning I am reminded that God uses people despite their foolishness, but I don’t believe that this excuses the foolishness of those who God uses.

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Heroes and Fatal Flaws

But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, because she pleases me.”
Judges 14:3b (NRSV)

Wendy and I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Saturday. As we were driving to the theater we got into a great conversation about the building blocks of story. Stories and myths from ancient Greece to contemporary cinema have overarching themes that authors, playwrights, and movie makers recycle time and time and time again because they resonate with us and our common human experience.

Our heroes have fatal flaws. From ancient myths we learn of Achilles the mighty warrior who had one fatal weakness – his heel. The force was strong with Anakin Skywalker, but he was angry and the dark side fed his anger until he became Darth Vader. One of my favorite moments in the Force Awakens (don’t worry – no spoiler here) came from the writers introducing an interesting twist. The Dark Side fears for one of the evil characters, because this person appears to have a weakness (a fatal flaw in reverse) for the Light.

In God’s Message there is, perhaps, no greater example of a great hero with a fatal flaw than Samson. A handsome, strong, and rugged warrior of miraculous birth, Samson’s fatal flaw was that he was driven by his appetites. Samson sees a pretty Philistine girl (lust of the eyes) and demands that his father arrange a marriage despite the fact that it goes against all religious and cultural rules of the day. Samson is hungry (lust of the flesh) and his appetite drives him to eat honey out of the dead carcass of a lion, despite the fact that it was against God’s rules. When Samson gets humiliated by his bride’s people (pride), he goes into a homicidal rage and breaks troth with the girl he’d been so driven to marry.

This morning I’m reminded that stories of great heroes with fatal flaws resonate with us because we all have blind spots. No matter how heroic I attempt to be in this life, there is always a chink (or in my case, chinks) in my shining armor. Like Samson, I am driven by my appetites. I know the rules. The right thing to do is perfectly clear, but I so often choose to do the very opposite – the things my appetites crave. It reminds me of Paul’s rumination in his letter to Jesus’ followers in Rome:

What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.

But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

In the quiet of this Monday morning, this pitiful hero aware of his fatal flaws is reminded that he needs a savior “who will act to set things right in my life of contradictions.”

And that, is what the Christmas story is all about.

Chapter-a-Day Judges 16

Love is revealed in deed and truth. She said, "How can you say 'I love you' when you won't even trust me? Three times now you've toyed with me, like a cat with a mouse, refusing to tell me the secret of your great strength." She kept at it day after day, nagging and tormenting him. Finally, he was fed up—he couldn't take another minute of it. He spilled it. Judges 16:15-16 (MSG)

The use of 'love' as a means to selfish ends is as old as mankind. Looking back, I can recall being on both ends of this manipulative tactic. I can't point my finger without three fingers pointing back at me. Still, I like to think I've learned my lesson. 

I am always wary of phrases that begin: "If you love me, you will…?" or "How can you say you love me when you…?" For the true object of the question is usually the person asking, and the motivation is typically self-centered.

As I read the account of Samson and Delilah it struck me that, while they spoke of 'loving' each other, I found nothing in the text that illustrated love as God's message describes it:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. I Cor 13:4-7

Red flags always go up whenever I hear a person using love as a bargaining chip.

Chapter-a-Day Judges 15

Sibling squabble. Three companies of men from Judah went down to the cave at Etam Rock and said to Samson, "Don't you realize that the Philistines already bully and lord it over us? So what's going on with you, making things even worse?" He said, "It was tit for tat. I only did to them what they did to me." Judges 15:11 (MSG)

As a child, there were plenty of conflicts between me and my siblings. My sister was my closest sibling and, therefore, the one with whom I fought most of the time. We would cycle into periods of conflict when all we did was fight with each other. There was always a past hurt or misdeed she or I could point to justify our current attack. "She did that to me," I would argue, "so I don't feel the least bit guilty about doing this to her." And so, the pattern of perpetual conflict continued. Fortunately, our sibling grudges faded with time and maturity.

Nevertheless, I have seen the same patterns of conflict between married couples, friends, neighbors, and nations. There is no end to conflict when each party perpetuates and justifies it by pointing to a host of past wrongs. We see the same cycle at work in Samson's continuous acts of violence and retaliation.

Today, I'm thinking about conflicts in my own life and contemplating the ways I may be contributing its' ongoing cycle. The holidays are approaching and I'm mindful that God chose not to hold my sins against me, but to sacrificially reconcile me to himself. I think it's my job to be engaged in the act of sacrifice and reconciliation rather than perpetuating conflict.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and KenWilcox

Chapter-a-Day Judges 14

We each have an Achille's heel. Samson went down to Timnah. There in Timnah a woman caught his eye, a Philistine girl. He came back and told his father and mother, "I saw a woman in Timnah, a Philistine girl; get her for me as my wife." Judges 14:1

The study of Samson is a study in human nature. He was a Nazarite from his birth, meaning that he was set apart by special acts of purity. No hair on his body had been cut and he'd never touched a drop of alcohol. Yet, we find in Samson an important historical lesson. Extreme human efforts at purity can't and don't blot out the darkness of sin that weeds it's way into our hearts. Sin finds a way to reveal itself in the behavioral patterns of our lives. Samson's calamitous life is a prime example.

Samson had a weakness. Like another strong man of antiquity, Achilles, Samson was all brawny hero with a tiny tragic flaw. Achilles flaw was his heel. Samson's flaw was his lust. Samson's tragic dalliance with Delilah was not the exception for Samson, it was the rule. Samson had a weakness for women. It wasn't just a fatal attraction for the opposite sex, it was a bad boy lust for the forbidden females of the Philistines. Today's chapter is an appetizer of the tragic events to come.

Samson's story is my story. It's humanity's story. It's a microcosm of the cycle of sin revealed in the theme of the book of Judges. Desiring to be good and striving for purity can't blot out my tragic weakness. Look at the patterns of my behavior and you'll see the inheritance of Adam at work cycling me back into the familiar struggle with sin and pointing to the Truth that I need a savior.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Frank Boyd