God Isn’t Done with You Just Because You Made a Mistake

As I think about it, I cannot remember the last time I heard a good sermon on Samson, the heroic judge of Israel. I can certainly remember the Sunday School lessons complete with the depictions of a brutish gym rat with long hair and bulging muscles known for slaughtering lions, walking uphill with city gates on his shoulders, and throwing around pillars like dumbbells.

Samson is one of those Bible heroes we love to tell our children, but maybe it’s time to revisit the story in Judges 13-16 once again. Even the circumstances around the birth of Samson are extraordinary.

The text tells us Samson would be a Nazirite. According to the OT, one could assume a Nazirite vow either temporarily or permanently. Usually, it was assumed temporarily on the voluntary basis of the individual. But the birth of Samson is the first time a Nazirite vow is assigned to someone. It is to signify that Samson (and his mother while he was in utero) was set apart in holy service to the God of Israel.

Samson was chosen and appointed by God for a special purpose—to judge Israel and save them from Philistine oppression. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, the Philistines were the chief enemies of Israel, and time and time again, God would deliver Israel out of their hand by raising up leaders like Samson to do it.

And so, we are told that the Lord blessed Samson as he grew and the Spirit of the Lord began to stir in him. Samson’s heart began to beat with God’s heart, so that the will of God for his people became Samson’s will for the people of Israel. While God called many judges to lead his people, Samson is the only one who is said to have had the Spirit of the Lord stirring within him. What this man would do in God’s strength and power would reflect the heart of God. Remarkable things would be done, but getting from point A to point B would be a trying task altogether.

Samson’s life is hallmarked by some rather magnificent events. From releasing incinerating foxes to slaying 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey, God powerfully used Samson to wreak havoc on the Philistines. Yet Samson’s life was hardly problem-free. He was not only a womanizer, but he took for himself a Philistine wife, Delilah.

Think about it. Samson ultimately sold out the power of God for a night of meaninglessness. As a result, the power and strength of God departed from him, because the Lord will not allow his power to be cheapened or abused for self-seeking gain.

The story of Samson is essentially the story of Israel. Like Samson, God called, chose, and raised up for himself a people who would beat with his heart. Through Israel, God did powerful things, all the while wreaking havoc on the Egyptians and the Canaanites. But Israel, like Samson, went after foreign wives by selling out the power of God in them for idol worship.

They became entangled, ensnared, and weakened. But Israel, like Samson, received God’s reconciliation and restoration. Even though Samson gave away his heart to Delilah, his hair began to grow. Then God’s strength returned to him in his prayer of repentance, and in his death, more than 3,000 Philistines were reportedly killed along with him. Perhaps the reason Samson is one of the heroes of the Bible is because his story mirrors the story of God’s people returning in sync with the heartbeat of God.

The story of Israel is also our story too. God has called, chosen, and set apart a people to serve him and to do powerful things in the world through his strength. But we too have an idolatry problem, whatever our idols may look like. Yet, despite our persistent rebellion and idolatry, God extends his reconciliation and restoration to us when we repent and return to him.

Although we give our hearts away to meaninglessness, our hair begins to grow—the power and strength of God begins to return. Rather than see Samson as a child’s storybook hero for the likes of Sunday School flannel graphs, when we read his story, we should see ourselves. Samson’s story is our story too, and we, like Samson, are called to beat with the very heart of God.

Keith Turner

The Reverend Keith Turner serves as the John Wesley Minister and assistant chaplain, and assistant program director for the Lilly-funded summer youth theology institute, Open Table at the University of Evansville, a United Methodist college in Southern Indiana. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in Bible and Theology from Asbury University and his Master of Divinity degree from Asbury Theological Seminary and is a licensed pastor in the United Methodist Church. He is also a pianist, organist, and church musician.

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