Today is day 50 of the lockdown in NSW with no end in sight. Coincidentally I am preparing a series of sermons on the book of Judges and at the moment, working on chapters 13-16, the story of Samson. I needed a haircut before lockdown began, now I am looking like a pre-shaven Samson, and yet there has been no discernible increase in my muscle tone.
Everyone knows about Samson’s strength and his long hair; his is a name that has immediate associations, rather like the Newcastle Rugby League player, Bradman Best or former PM, John Winston Howard, ‘Samson’ is a name expressing a parent’s aspirational hopes.
Samson was a unique judge, as no other judge had a birth narrative, complete with birth from a barren mother, and an angelic announcement that he would be a saviour in Israel. This narrative is also unique in that though the sins of Israel had led to its being oppressed by the Philistines (an ancient version of the Taliban), yet there is no penitence or crying out to God for mercy on their part. In fact, Israel objected to Samson’s disturbing of the status quo and annoying their oppressors.
Samson, though a Nazirite dedicated to God from the womb, insists on marrying a Philistine wife. Even as the Philistines appear to be having the better of him, Samson always prevails. We are told the Spirit of Yahweh was stirring in him, and twice the Spirit, rushed upon him. His victories over the Philistines are attributed to the Lord, who, he says, has brought about this great salvation. In the end the destruction of the elite leadership of the Philistines in the temple of their god Dagon, involving Samson’s own death is due to the strength Yahweh gives him, ‘only this once’ (Judges 16:28).
Samson is stubborn and gullible, but he does recognise his mission is to begin to rescue Israel from its oppressor in the strength of God, so he is named by the book of Hebrews as a hero of faith! (Heb.11:32) The focus of this story, as it always is in historic narrative, is on Yahweh, the gracious rescuer of his people, even when they don’t ask to be rescued. Yahweh is jealous for his reputation and will not be mocked by Dagon followers.
The key verse in the four chapters is 14:4, ‘the Lord was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines’. God takes the oppression of his people in the name of a foreign god personally, for there is solidarity between God and his people, even though those people are indolent and half-hearted, and it is a fearful thing to have God as your enemy ( see Obadiah 4)! God does not work through a committee, but through a non-descript, obscure, headstrong, gullible Danite, in order to glorify himself and rescue his people.
So as your hair grows in lockdown think about Samson and think about the God of grace, the God who is jealous for the honour of his name, his solidarity with you ( Matt. 10:40) and how dreadful it would be to have God as enemy.
Then as we think about a flawed deliverer, who dashed our advent expectations and brought about a rescue that lasted just 20 years, remember we have a Saviour who fulfilled all the expectations of his miraculous birth and who brought about an eternal deliverance, and praise him that you belong to him (1 Cor 12:27).