Since 1977, athletes from around the world have gathered for a series of contests. The contestants face grueling events that challenge their minds and bodies-torturous events like the giant log lift, the carry and drag, the air plane pull, the pillars of Hercules, and the atlas stones.
Why would men endure such events? There is reason enough in the title the winner claims: World’s Strongest Man.
When you think of a strong man, does your mind race back to the story of Samson you heard as a child? Perhaps you recall the image of Victor Mature, who portrayed Samson in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1949 classic movie Samson and Delilah. In the movie’s dramatic climax, the blind Samson prayed for God’s strength, and when God granted his request, Samson demolished the pagan temple. Has it ever occurred to you that God’s great strong man, Samson, was a sinner like you and me?
Samson, the Sinner
Samson’s larger-than-life actions may cause us to admire his physical prowess so much that we overlook the real hero in Samson’s story. We can recall learning about Samson’s effortless victories: how he tore apart a young lion (Judges 14:6); single-handedly killed thirty Philistines (14:19); caught and tied together one hundred and fifty pairs of foxes (15:4-5); slaughtered a thousand men with the jawbone of a donkey (15:15); and, in a final act of triumph, toppled the temple of Dagon, killing three thousand people (15:29-30). How easily we forget that the Bible has only one hero: God! The anonymous writer of Judges doesn’t overlook that fact. His book puts God where He belongs-at the forefront of Samson’s exploits.
Samson was a sinner? What were Samson’s sins? Let’s examine God’s Word. In Judges 14:1-3, we learn of Samson’s desire to marry a Philistine woman against the desire of his parents. Later, the writer of Judges writes that Samson touches the carcass of the dead lion to remove honey from it Judges 14:8-9). If we read the story of Samson too quickly, we miss the reason God had this incident recorded. Samson is a Nazirite (Judges 13:7). Jewish law forbade Nazirites from touching anything dead (Numbers 6:7-8). Sam son has sinned, and he sins again when he fails to tell his parents the origin of the honey. In order to remove the clothing from the thirty Philistines he has killed, Samson touches dead bodies Judges 14:19), and he does so again when he kills a thousand Philistines using the “fresh jawbone of a donkey” (15:15).
Archaeologists have discovered that the ancient Philistines consumed vast quantities of beer, making it likely that Samson violated his Nazirite vow by consuming fermented drink during his own wedding feast (Judges 14:10; Numbers 6:3-4). It seems that of the three items of the Nazirite vow, Samson has violated two. The only portion of the Nazirite vow Samson did not violate was that of cutting his hair, and he violated that indirectly when he revealed the source of his strength to Delilah. Although Samson tells Delilah that he has “been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb” (Judges 16:17), it is clear that Samson has not honored that vow.
Simply put, Samson is a sinner. The only true hero found in the Bible is God. However, in spite of his sins, God used Samson to accomplish what He wanted accomplished. Through Samson, God provided a savior to rescue His people. God showed His power through Samson as Samson judged God’s people for twenty years Judges 16:31). The true hero of Samson’s story is not Samson, but God. Samson was weak (so are you and I), and God is strong. God’s power was made perfect in Samson’s weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
We Fail to Keep Our Vows. God Keeps His.
Before we dismiss Samson out-of-hand, let’s take a moment to examine ourselves in the mirror of God’s Law. Do we make vows and fail to keep them? Do we come before God and vow to love our spouses until “death do us part”? Do we also swear a vow to God at Baptism? Do we vow to raise our children “in the true knowledge and worship of God”? Do we become members of a congregation with little intention of receiving the spiritual food God offers through His Word every week? We are as guilty as Samson. His sins of commission and omission are ours as well. Our sins deserve death just like Samson’s did (Romans 6:23a).
Yet, how blest we are, because God does not give us sinners what we deserve! By the blood of Jesus, the death sentence we have earned is fully pardoned. Instead, because of Jesus, we are given eternal life. The apostle Paul put it this way: “The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23b). We rejoice, knowing that the mercy of God is meant for us even though we are sinners: God has forgiven us for Christ’s sake. We thank God for Samson, one of the world’s strongest men, and for all the other men and women He has used to bless His people. Our chief praise, however, we reserve for Christ, the true World’s Strongest Man, who displayed His strength for us in love through His weakness upon the cross. Amen!
Excerpted from Lifelight — Judges Study Guide, pgs 18-20 © 2017 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.