Have you ever wrestled with a story in Scripture, chewing on it, really sinking your teeth into it to try to get all the meaning out of it, only to come up scratching your head?
When I was younger, one of those stories for me was that of Samson and Delilah, in the book of Judges. I just couldn’t understand why this so-called man of God would give away his greatest secret?! Was he really that unintelligent? Could it be his love for the woman Delilah really was “blind”?
The book of Judges covers a period in Israel’s history before the kings, describing a cyclical pattern that may in fact be all too familiar, as the people of God would go through extreme swings of the pendulum from “doing what was right in their own eyes” which results in idolatry/slavery/oppression/destruction, to times of crying out to God for deliverance, when God would, then, in his mercy, raise up a “Judge” to lead the people of Israel out of their bondage; and for a time there would be peace, and the people of God would be faithful. Faithful, that is, until the Judge would die, and the swing from one extreme to the other would begin again. (see summary in Judges 2:11-19)
Samson was one such Judge during this time. His birth was announced to his parents in a miraculous way, and God revealed that Samson would be set apart for God’s service even from his mother’s womb, taking what’s referred to as a “Nazarite vow” (much like John the Baptist who comes on the scene just before Jesus in the New Testament), which included among other things that he would never drink wine nor cut his hair. But as he became a man, Samson also grew to be known for being reckless, and self-indulgent, and lustful; that is, he was hardly the picture of success in faithfulness to God!
Nevertheless, not because Samson was “deserving,” but because God had graciously appointed him for God’s own purposes, time and again, the Spirit of the Lord would come upon Samson, and by virtue of his super-natural strength, he would be awesome and formiddable when encountering the enemies of God and God’speople – such as when he escaped capture by the Philistines, and single-handedly killed 1,000 men with the jawbone of a donkey!
You can read the whole story of Samson in Judges chapters 13-16. Of particular interest to me, here, though, was how he (famously) ends up in relationship with a woman named Delilah, who is conspiring with the Philistines – the enemies of Israel – to find a way to expose Samson’s strength, and put an end to it. Delilah is instructed to seduce Samson, and her methods are anything but subtle. She comes right out and asks Samson to tell her the secret to his great strength, how he could be bound and subdued. And Samson invents a story, if he is bound in thus and such a way, he’ll become weak. After which the Philistines try thus and such a way, and it fails, and Samson breaks free! And this wasn’t just one incident – this happens 2 more times!
…. But this isn’t yet the part that caused me to scratch my head.
Delilah, in now a fourth attempt to get Samson to reveal the secret to his strength, pulls out all the stops, and says to him, “How can you say that you love me when your heart is not with me?!” and she presses and effectively nags him in this same way for days, until “his soul was vexed to death.” So finally Samson caves in and tells her – no razor has ever touched his head; he tells her that he has been a Nazarite to the Lord from his birth, and if his hair is shaved, his strength will leave….
Now, in reflecting on this, I used to get stuck on this fourth and rather shocking scenario! After all, Samson has to know full well that the Philistines are going to do exactly the thing he has told Delilah – that’s how this has played out fully three times before! Why oh why did he tell her the truth? Even if she had worn him down with her nagging, he still had to know that they would attempt whatever it was he would describe!
It wasn’t until the Lord highlighted one verse in this text that I realized how significant Samson’s fall actually was….Yes, they cut his hair just as he’d described; and when Samson tried to defend himself, he found his strength was gone.
But here’s the revelation – the end of Judges 16:20 says, “…BUT HE DID NOT KNOW THAT THE LORD HAD LEFT HIM.”
The secret – that apparently even Samson, himself, didn’t get! was that his “strength” was never in his hair….
Or to put it another way, Samson’s relationship to and power from God wasn’t merely wrapped up in the external trappings of what it meant that he was keeping his Nazarite vow. Samson’s “strength” was in the SPIRIT OF THE LORD who would come upon him and empower him to bring about God’s deliverance for the people of God – as every other “Judge” before him.
Ultimately Samson was technically proved right, and he was captured, became a slave, bound, blind, and grinding a mill in a Philistine prison. That is, until he eventually repents to the Lord! (16:28) and acknowledges, FINALLY!, that his strength only comes from the LORD, thereafter the Lord gives him one last success which by itself was greater than the sum of all his previous successes.
For the people of God, “Believers” on this side of the cross of Jesus Christ, our relationship to God is a “New Covenant” relationship. Our experience of intimacy with God by his Spirit looks a bit different from that of the people of God who lived before the cross, and were looking forward to the coming of that one, final and decisive salvation.
The whole promise of the New Covenant that would be put into effect with Jesus is the giving of his Spirit to abide in the hearts of every one who believes, and he does indeed seal and keep and preserve his own, bringing to completion every good work he has begun (Phil. 1:6).
But could it be that we suffer from the same fixation as did Samson? Could it be that we are more caught up in the external trappings of what it means to “keep our vows” to God, that we may not even notice that we aren’t experiencing the presence of God in our midst anymore? This does not mean that he leaves us, for he has promised he will never leave nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5); but he also says that if we draw near to him, he will draw near to us (James 4:8); and the Apostle Paul thought it important enough to shake the Galations, and make us aware that it was to our great harm if we would again burden ourselves with a yoke of slavery (see Gal. 3:1-6 and 5:1), getting caught up in religious externals, as though that is the sum of our salvation!
Our “secret to success” is the same as Samson’s was….“It is not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit,” says the Lord. (Zech. 4:6)
That is a story worth wrestling for! So draw near to the Lord, and entrust your whole heart to him!