Football is over; baseball has not yet started. That means it is basketball season – and March Madness is coming! I like basketball – it’s five teammates against five teammates. It’s simple and to the point… most of the time.
There are a few rules.
You have to stay in bounds. You can’t travel (walk with the ball without dribbling). You have a specific amount of time to shoot the ball. You can’t harm another player.
For the most part, everything else is in bounds.
It’s just that simple.
Samson’s life is like that. Follow these rules and everything will be okay, even good and enjoyable. Don’t follow the rules and …
A bit of backstory on our Biblical Colossus, our Herculean judge. Like Gideon, Samson is brought into a world where the people of God are under attack. They are beaten and battered by their enemies, and when they cry out to God, God raises up a leader to restore the people… before they fall into sin again.
In Judges 13, the people of God are being faithful and crying out for salvation. So God appears to a childless woman and tells her that she will have a baby who will be used by God to deliver the people from the evil Philistines.
All the boy will need to do is not cut his hair.
Very quickly, we move into the life of Samson. We know that he’s grown and that the Spirit of the Lord is upon him. He’s blessed.
And then we experience the complexity of Samson’s life – the way that while he is blessed and set apart, his life is complex and full of conflict.
First, Samson fixates on a young Philistine woman, and tells his parents he’ll marry her. His parents try to persuade him to marry one of his own, because they didn’t know that God was using Samson’s interest to confront the Philistines.
In his journey to acquire this woman, he is attacked by a lion, which he rips apart with his bare hands. Returning home, he discovered that bees were making honey in the lion’s carcass. He later uses this riddle to torment the Philistines at his wedding feast, daring them to solve it or owe him thirty outfits:
“Out of the eater, something to eat;
out of the strong, something sweet.” (Judges 13:14)
For seven days, Samson’s wife tried to convince him to reveal the answer, and finally, on the seventh day, he told her. After she revealed the answer to everyone, it says that the Spirit of the Lord came upon him. He traveled to a different Philistine town, killed thirty Philistines and took their outfits, and gave to those who had tricked him out of the outfits. Needless to say, Samson’s wedding was not off on the right foot. It was further incensed when Samson caught three hundred foxes, tied them together by tail in pairs, and attached a lit torch to each pair. Setting them loose in the Philistines’ fields, he burned their grain and their vineyards. When the Philistines retaliated, Samson responded with more violence, and the Philistines sought to capture him. Samson allowed the Philistines to take him captive until the Spirit of the Lord descended on him – and he slaughtered one thousand Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey. God followed this feat up by creating a wellspring out of nothing to restore Samson from his effort and fight.
And for twenty years, it says that Samson led the people of God.
For twenty years, he followed the rules. He stayed in bounds, he didn’t travel, he didn’t “foul”.
Samson met his kryptonite. He fell in love with another Philistine woman. His love was so obvious, his obsession so deep, that the Philistine leaders approached her and paid her to find out what made Samson so strong.
Three times, Delilah asked Samson what was the source of his strength and three times he made something up. But it says that he grew tired of her badgering and finally told him that it was because he’d been dedicated to God – and told to never shave his head.
Delilah capitalizes on his admission – and the Philistines blind, bind, and imprison him. The one secret Samson was supposed to keep – the one thing he was supposed to not do – Samson broke the rules and paid mightily for it.
If I’m honest, I’ll admit that Samson’s story is one of the most depressing I’ve ever read in the Bible. He is called, empowered, and established, but in one very weak moment, he fails at his calling and his mission. In this moment, Samson loses nearly everything – and becomes the whipping boy for all of the Philistines’ aggravation.
But the story doesn’t end there which is so typical of God. God doesn’t give up, let go, or throw away anything … or anyone. God’s providence and grace shows us that where we write “the end” on something, considering it case closed or cause lost, God sees something else.
God sees semi-colons where we see periods.
God sees the next chapter where we see the end of the book.
God sees resurrection where we see death.
Because God believes in our redemption before we have even come around to repentance.
So, here’s Samson, dragged in from his prison and manual labor to stand before the Philistine leadership. They want to ridicule and taunt him, but they are also taking the opportunity to shout how mighty their god has defeated Yahweh God’s judge.
The Philistines made a few mistakes, right? Taunting God. Keeping Samson alive. Letting his hair grow back…
And forgetting that sometimes, it’s not our ability to see that shows our most powerful vision. Sometimes, it’s the blind who can truly see.
Here’s Samson, blinded and shackled, imprisoned and deemed weak and worthless.
But Samson has had time to think about this. Samson has reflected on his pride, his foolishness, his sin.
And Samson prays.
“Sovereign Lord, remember me. Please, God, strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.”
In this moment, Samson repents. In today’s church, we see the love of God presented through Jesus, the hope of resurrection provided by our understanding of God’s grace. But in Samson’s day, the issue was more black and white – God’s people versus all others.
And still repentance looks the same.
When we fail to be who we are supposed to be, when we fail to follow God’s commands, there are consequences and moments where we recognize that we’ve wandered off the past. We’re lost, and we need to turn.
But even in the darkest woods, even when we think we’re so far gone that a government-operated GPS couldn’t get us back, God shows up and says, “I forgive you.”
We don’t have to know where we’re going – in Samson’s case, he couldn’t even see – for God’s grace and forgiveness to be sufficient. We just have to repent of our sin and turn to God to be made right. We don’t have to complete the redemptive arc, we don’t have to get back to where we should be on our own because God forgives us when we repent and helps us move forward.
Paul wrote in Romans 10:9-11: “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”
Friends, it’s that simple. You must believe that God loves you, that God’s ways are best for you, and that you’re forgiven – and then you live into it.
Samson’s life ended soon after he prayed that prayer of repentance, putting himself back in God’s graces and plan. But in that moment, it didn’t matter how far he’d wandered off, only that when it mattered, he was right there … in the presence of God’s grace and power.
What do you need to pray? What do you need to repent of this Lent? I know that I can’t save myself – do you? I know that there are aspects of my life that I’ve “worked on,” wrestled with, cried over – and nothing changes until I admit that I can’t overcome or settle them on my own. I know I need God.
That’s what repentance is – recognizing that you can’t do it on your own, that God’s way is better, and that God’s love is enough.
Regardless of which rules you’ve broken or which ones you struggle to understand, I pray today that you’ll appeal to God’s grace to put you right where you need to be.
It’s just that simple.