Sunday, June 8, 2014

God's Purpose for Wild Samson

Romans 8:28 and Genesis 50:20 clearly maintain that God is able to take evil occurrences and use them for a good conclusion. Although much of God’s purposes in our lives remains veiled to us, the divine perspective can be trusted. Like having a bird’s eye view of a complex maze, we can trust God to know the best route for our life. 

This principle can be seen undergirding the tumultuous life of Samson (Judges 13-16). From all outward appearances, Samson was a wild man, intent on meeting his own desires. The Scripture text indicates that he knew about his Nazirite status (Judges 16:17), which means he knew that God had called him to something special. Perhaps he even understood his role as a “judge” (see their description in Judges 2:16-18), since he performed the role for twenty years (Judges 15:20).

Samson was a peculiar judge, at least in the way that the author of the Book of Judges describes his life. The author seems to focus primarily on his personal exploits and rash behavior rather than his role as a judge (read through chapters 14-16 and see how much space is devoted to Samson’s personal life), since any mention of his militaristic judging is nominal (13:5; 15:14-15, 20; 16:31). This is contrasted with all the other judges, whose stories were told with a chiefly military focus. Additionally, the story of Samson is the longest section in the Book of Judges, which, coupled with the focus on him as a person, essentially makes his story a Biblical version of a gripping novella while simultaneously giving the other judges’ accounts the appeal of a colorless textbook.

God’s hand in Samson’s life is thus overshadowed by the personal exploits of the main character. This does mean, though, that God was not involved. There is a single verse that could describe the entire account of Samson. In Judges 13:5, the Angel of the Lord tells Samson’s mother that Samson will “begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” The Hebrew in this verse clearly says that Samson will only begin to save Israel. The text never says that Samson will eradicate the Philistines and their oppression on God’s people. He was never meant to be a savior. Samson didn’t fail, like many believe; he did exactly what God had intended him to do.

What was it that God wanted him to do, exactly? What was his “divine calling”?

Part of why people have a problem with Samson is that his divine calling is one large grey area. Was he to be a Nazirite, a judge or a mixture of the two? Even the Angel of the Lord was mysterious about Samson’s divine purpose when Samson’s father inquired about it (13:12-14). If one takes the entire account as a whole, though, and sees it as a preliminary foundation for the account of Samuel, Saul and David, then Samson’s purpose can be ascertained. 

The problem with Israel during this period was their complacency with the Philistine rulership. This complacency is implied in two respects: the first is the ease with which Samson can seep into the Philistine culture (14:1-4, 10-14) and the second is the willingness of the men of Judah to turn Samson over to their “overlords,” the Philistines (15:9-11), which directly contradicted the attitude that Israel maintained at the nascence of their Canaanite conquest (Judges 1:1-26). 

God wanted to break the spell of complacency that had been draped over Israel. What better method of doing so than dropping a boat-rocking, vengeful, tumultuous wild man with superhuman strength into the mix?

Samson’s personal exploits were far more than rash behavior. They were part of a divine plan. Samson was only meant to begin to save Israel, and he did so by acting the way he did--with whimsical outbursts of revenge, feats of valor and the womanizing of foreign women. God riled up the Philistines to fight against Israel (who should have been fighting anyway). Due to this newfound contention between them and the Philistines, the roles of Eli, Samuel, Saul and David could be actualized in God’s plan. 

It was all because to Samson. Without him, Israel would have never had Saul, David and Solomon on the throne to usher in Israel’s Golden Age. Samson may have been messy, but his role was fulfilled. With Samson’s mess, God built a kingdom.

It’s easy to hold ourselves in contempt in regards to the failures of our past. We are ashamed of our messes. Instead of focusing on our own shortcomings, I think it would be wise to look beyond ourselves. We can trust that God knows what he’s doing, no matter how much the present “life hurdle” or past stumbling blocks beg us to doubt his goodness. We would be better off trusting his eyes than our own finite ones that are so prone to misperception. 

Samson may not have known his role in Israel’s story, so why must we insist on knowing ours? Why can’t we simply be ourselves and walk with God, trusting that our roles will be fulfilled? If we make an effort to seek his will in all life decisions, he will lead. The beauty of God’s plan for us is that it’s beyond us. It’s something that invites us--not something that we muster on our own. We can have peace that our lives are not messes if God can craft a kingdom out of the messes of Samson. If God can use Samson, he can use anyone.

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