I wrote a sermon a couple of weeks ago that included the line “a tragic mess of a life.” I must say that’s one of the best lines I’ve ever come up with. Perhaps I think it’s such a good line because it could so easily describe my own life. It certainly describes the life of Walter White of Breaking Bad, the AMC series. Certainly, Walt was dealt a crummy hand in life, but his bad decisions lead to his own “tragic mess of a life.”
I can’t think of a “tragic mess of a life” without thinking of Samson, the last in Israel’s line of judges. If you’re like me you remember Samson from Sunday school, and you probably remember him as a hero for killing a lot of Philistines. Samson was held up as a role model for his dedication to God in being willing to follow God all the way to death. As I reflect upon the story of Samson, I’ve come to believe he’s much more a victim of his own decisions than he is a victim of faithful discipleship. There is much about Samson’s story we didn’t hear in Sunday school. His is a tragic story that ends with Samson dealing with the consequences of his own decisions.
Hollywood has nothing on the Bible. In Samson’s story we find supernatural events, intrigue, deception, humor (lots of humor), lust, sex, murder, revenge and obsession, and we find most of it in Samson himself. We read the end of his story and discover he is blind, in prison and being shamed by his captors, the Philistines. In one last heroic act, he cries out to God in prayer to give him strength one more time so he can take revenge on these pagan Philistines. And, God hears his prayer, and amazingly answers him, and Samson, in one final show of strength pushes the pillars of the temple over. The roof falls, crushing everyone in the temple, including Samson, and everyone on the roof of the temple.
Samson’s story begins in Judges 13 with his miraculous birth. His nameless, barren mother is visited by an Angel of the Lord who announced she would have a son (that sounds vaguely familiar), and that he would be dedicated to the Lord as a Nazirite from birth, and he would be the rescuer of Israel from their Philistine oppressors. She named the child Samson which means “sunshine.” If we follow the history of the nation of Israel, we discover the time of the judges are some of the darkest times in its history. God sends “sunshine” in these dark times.
So what is it with this Nazirite vow? Numbers 6 outlines the vows a person had to take to become a Nazirite, and there were three: 1) Drink no wine, nor eat any fruit that grew on a vine, 2) Refrain from touching anything dead, and 3) Never cut your hair for as long as you are under the vow.
Samson grows into a young man, and we are told that “the Lord blessed him as he grew up.” What we hear about in Sunday school is Samson’s strength. We hear about how he slew a lion with his bare hands. What we don’t hear about is that he later returned to the carcass of that lion, and took honey from the bees who had taken residence there, thus breaking one of his Nazirite vows. For some reason, the Sunday school teachers also didn’t tell us that happened while he was in the process of getting married. Nor, do we hear about the woman he jilted and left at the altar after a sumptuous wedding feast, and that feast would include wine, and lots of it. We’re talking gallons here, not bottles. One more time, Samson breaks his vows. And, they neglected to tell us about Samson’s temper that provokes him to kill 30 innocent bystanders at his own wedding so he can settle a gambling debt.
We hear about how he killed 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey, but we don’t hear that he killed the 1,000 after he’d been arrested for hunting down 300 foxes, setting their tails on fire, and turning them loose in the grain fields of the people who had done him wrong. They never told us, either, that he broke his Nazirite vow in the act.
We hear about the vixen Delilah who seduces him into telling her the secret of his strength, and we hear of her cutting his hair off, but we don’t hear of his on-going weakness for immoral women. Yes, we hear how, by brute strength, he ripped out the city gates of the Philistine city of Gaza, and carried all 700 pounds of it nearly forty miles to Hebron, but we don’t hear that he was visiting a prostitute at the time. Even though we don’t hear these stories, they are all in Judges 13 – 16. In total, it covers a 20 year period in Israel’s history. We don’t hear them, I think, because in that 20 year period of time, Samson doesn’t do one thing, not one thing to honor or glorify God. Everything he does, he does for his own glory, for his own satisfaction, for his own desires. And, that’s really tragic.
Samson’s is a cautionary tale for us. We encounter Samson at the end of his life in blindness. But, that’s really how he lived his entire life. He was blind to God’s will for his life. He was blind to his sin. He was blind to his need for repentance. He was blind to the consequences of his decisions. He was blinded by his own arrogance and pride. Former NFL coach Eric Mangini. Mangini said, “With confidence you believe you can overcome your weaknesses, with arrogance you don’t believe you have weaknesses.” Samson was arrogant, and his arrogance defeated him.
It’s also serves to caution us that an outpouring of the Holy Spirit does not automatically make us godly. The Holy Spirit gives us the resources to live godly lives, but He doesn’t “do it to us.” We can be wonderfully gifted by the Holy Spirit and yet spiritually, we remain infants. We still have decisions to make, and every gift we have is in our own hands. It remains for us to have our passions under proper discipline, and the fear of God continually before our eyes. We must not think for one moment that our disobedience, our selfishness, or our sin will derail God’s plan. God used even Samson, in all his “tragic mess of a life,” to drive a wedge between the Israelites and the Philistines. That was necessary. King David would complete what Samson started some 50 years later.
God calls us, and desires for us, to live holy lives. God gives us the power through His Holy Spirit; but power for something far more important than ripping apart lions. The Holy Spirit comes to empower us to live for God as we should. God did use Samson mightily; but God used Samson despite his sin, not because of it. Commentator David Guzik says, “Samson shows the danger of underestimating our own sinfulness. He probably figured he had things under control with his own fleshly lusts, but his desire for love, romance, and sex led directly to his destruction. Samson was the great conqueror who never allowed God to properly conquer him.”
Mine will be a tragic story, too, if the same is said about me as I come to the end of my life. You see, we decide to live in the fullness of God’s promise, or we decide not to. It’s our choice. God lets us make it. If we decide not to live in the fullness of who God calls us to be, we must be prepared to live with the consequences, and some of those consequences have an eternal impact.
One of the most transformative ways we can live for Christ is through accountability. Samson shows us the danger of being a loner. Everything Samson did he did alone. He judged for 20 years and never sought or used help from others. The life of discipleship is not meant to be lived alone, and Christian fellowship is not sitting around a table sharing a meal in the fellowship hall. It is being in a relationship with one another where we do as James instructed us:
“13 Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. 14 Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. 16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” James 5: 13-16 (NLT)
Fellowship is praying together, for one another and with one another. It is prayer, and it is confession. It is getting in the nitty, gritty of everyday life where temptations lie, and giving ourselves to God in the process, so that He might work His grace in us. Without accountability in our lives, each of us stands to have our lives end as tragically as Samson’s. With accountability, we increase exponentially the capacity to live faithful, holy lives.
I pray, by God’s grace, that mine will not end, and others will say his was a “tragic mess of a life.” I pray that don’t say it about you, either.
Until next time, keep looking up…