Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 25. God and the mixed up
Heb 11:32,33 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised;
I have to confess that Samson is not my favourite individual in the Bible and yet he appears here in this list of heroes of faith. How can that be? What does that say to us? Let’s see how it begins before his birth: “The angel of the LORD appeared to her and said, “You are sterile and childless, but you are going to conceive and have a son…. the boy is to be a Nazirite, set apart to God from birth, and he will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines.” (Jud 13:3-5) Another of these cases of a barren woman enabled to conceive by God, but surely God would have known what this boy would be like? Let’s follow the story, or at least key parts of it.
“The woman gave birth to a boy and named him Samson. He grew and the LORD blessed him, and the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him.” (Jud 13:24,25). Samson arrives and from the outset the Holy Spirit stirs him. Now watch. “Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman. When he returned, he said to his father and mother, “I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.” (Jud 14:1,2) Young, presumably teenage, Samson, has a taste for women, any women, but he is a Hebrew and his parents try to dissuade him (v.3) “But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me. She’s the right one for me.” (His parents did not know that this was from the LORD, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel.)” (v.3b,4) Now merely because the Holy Spirit stirs a person that does not mean He stirs the desires of that person, yet God clearly knew that this is what Samson would be like and so used this particular propensity to get him in a position to rise against the Philistines who were oppressing Israel. There follows an incident where Samson kills a lion with his bare hands (v.5,6) showing his immense strength.
To cut a long story short, Samson plans to marry the girl and at the wedding feast teases her male friends with a riddle which they cannot solve. The girl pleads with Samson to tell her the answer and when he eventually gives way she passes it on to her thirty male friends. Samson is so annoyed he kills all thirty of them, Philistines you may remember, (see 14:8-20) specifically we are told under the power of the Spirit (v.19).
As the couple are no longer living together Samson goes to visit his wife only to find she has been given to another. This so annoys him that he burns their crops to the ground as well as their vineyards (see 15:1-6). They respond by killing his wife and her father and Samson in return killed many of them (15:6-8) The stories of his killing the Philistines (who the Hebrews now seem to be tolerating) continue and he kills another thousand of them (see 15:9-16). The Lord is clearly with him for when he needs water the Lord provides it miraculously (see 15:18,19) and we are told he then led Israel for the next twenty years (v.20).
Now to save space we will not detail the famous story of Samson and Delilah and how he ended up killing both him and a whole palace full of Philistines (see it in Judg 16:1-31); we have said enough already to show the sort of man that Samson was.
First we have to acknowledge that he was a man who responded to the Holy Spirit and rose up in the power of the Spirit to defeat the Philistine oppressors and deliver Israel. That has to be the faith side of Samson, and we have to credit him with that and recognize that God was able to use him accordingly to defeat the Philistines. But then, putting the Spirit side of his life into the shade, if we may put it like that, there is what some might describe as the carnal side of his life that, bluntly, liked sex and didn’t care about the fact that he was a Nazarite, set apart to God and supposed to be holy. He also disregarded his parents counsel. One way and other he was all out for Samson.
So here we have this sobering picture of a man who God uses but a man who is also utterly all out for himself. In fact it would be fair to suggest that the Lord used his unrestrained desires to stir up strife between him and the Philistines. Putting it another way, God used his wrong attitudes to achieve His will – the deliverance of His people. Now I used the word ‘sobering’ just now because this story destroys any idea that those of us who might describe ourselves as charismatics or pentecostals might think we are holy because we exercise gifts of the Holy Spirit. Samson was, as I have once heard him described, a carnal charismatic. That is the scary thing. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are just that – gifts; they are not earned and they are not given to ‘special’ people, and in fact the people who exercise them can have just as many problems (if not more) than anyone else in the church!
If this upsets your ideas about who God can or might use, bear in mind the whole history of the book of Judges, where again and again, as in today’s story, God used the unholy neighbours of Israel to discipline them. Later he would use an unholy despot by the name of Nebuchadnezzar to bring about the Exile. Oh yes, God uses the unholy world for His purposes. In the context of this series, the lesson is short and sharp – faith does not necessarily mean holiness. The encouraging side of that is that God can use you before you are perfect; in fact if He waits until you are perfect He will have to wait until you get to heaven and He doesn’t want to do that! This is not an excuse for unholy lives but it does put faith in perspective.