Judges 15:1–17:13; Philippians 4:2–9; Psalm 69:18–70:5
The story of Sampson is a sad story. While God used him to bring down the Philistines, it was not with much obvious obedience on Sampson’s part. He married a Philistine woman, did some foolishness and lost her, set the Philistine fields on fire, and for that his ex-wife was killed. Then he was drawn to a prostitute and finally Delilah who ultimately was his complete downfall.
When Delilah saw that he had told her all his heart, she sent and called the lords of the Philistines, saying, “Come up again, for he has told me all his heart.” Then the lords of the Philistines came up to her and brought the money in their hands. She made him sleep on her knees. And she called a man and had him shave off the seven locks of his head. Then she began to torment him, and his strength left him. And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had left him. And the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes and brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze shackles. And he ground at the mill in the prison. But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved. (Judges 16:18–22)
Sampson wound up ‘entertaining’ his enemies, and in the process of this humiliation, his strength returned long enough for him to pull down the supporting pillars of the place they were gathered. He killing thousands, but died in the process.
I have trouble imagining him as a “judge in Israel” for twenty years, but again, he is mentioned in the NT as a hero of the faith. He did believe God. And even though his life was filled with much folly, God used even his mistakes for His purposes. Sadly, after his death came these words, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 17:6) They are repeated several times in the book of Judges. It was a low time in the lives of God’s people.
In the NT reading, it seemed a low time for Paul. He was in prison but writes a joy-filled letter to the church at Philippi. He knows the Lord is in control of everything, even his incarceration. He tells them not to worry. Instead, he says, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:5–7)
His encouragement to them remains valid. Yesterday, I awoke feeling empty, unable to think straight, and without any hope for the day, but this angst did not relate to anything that had changed since the day before when I was joyful. This clued me in to the power of the liar, Satan. He was suggesting things to me that are not true. In the name of Jesus Christ, I rebuked him and told him to get lost. Then I prayed with thanksgiving about things that are true, and after that prayed the usual daily petitions and praises. God never fails. When I pray as Paul said, God’s peace overwhelms me and guards me. It is a peace that surpasses understanding as I’ve had it even when life was totally awful. Yesterday, I was deeply joyful the remainder of the day, clear-headed and able to function. Praise God.
This morning I wonder what changes a prayer like that might have made in the short and sad life of Sampson. Even though God used him, this man was angry all the time. In contrast, David (who came later in Israel’s history) knew about prayer. He was also challenged by enemies who wanted to kill him. He prayed about his situation with words that often are a mirror of mine when I am in distress. He knew the answer would come even before he prayed because he said, “For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners.” (Psalm 69:33) Then he praised God and said....
Make haste, O God, to deliver me! O Lord, make haste to help me! Let them be put to shame and confusion who seek my life! Let them be turned back and brought to dishonor who delight in my hurt! Let them turn back because of their shame who say, “Aha, Aha!” May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you! May those who love your salvation say evermore, “God is great!” But I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O Lord, do not delay! (Psalm 70:1–5)
God did deliver David. Like Sampson, and like me, his prayer wasn’t about his performance, but about the grace and goodness of God. For that reason, I cannot fault poor Sampson too much because God doesn’t determine our worth before blessing us. Instead, He blesses us because He is a loving and merciful God. For that, I am eternally grateful!