Judges is one of those books of the Bible that we tend to read at a distance. We don’t want to identify too closely with the people of God of old who “did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 17:6). Nor do we feel very comfortable seeing the church underage looking more like Sodom and Gomorrah than God’s representatives on earth (Judges 19). So perhaps, like some I know, you like to give the book a bit of a wide berth, even as you revere it as God’s inspired word. Few, I find, are like me and consider it to be one of their most favored books of the Bible. (I recognize my unique tastes, with Ecclesiastes ranking at the very top!)
And yet it provides some exquisite comfort to sinners like you and me (not to mention, some equally exquisite conviction to boot). Perhaps one of the clearest encouragements is the conflicted character of Samson. We meet this troubled judge and deliverer in Judges 13 through 16 and are immediately struck by what we are to make of him.
Prophetically, he’s obviously a type of Christ in his miraculous birth (Judges 13) and in his sacrificial, delivering death (16:30). And yet, while he is supposed to be delivering the people of God from the world, he’s simultaneously intermarrying with them! (Judges 14) Not to mention what appears to be his continual squandering divine gifting while fraternizing with deeply questionable women (Judges 16). It is no wonder some have come to question Samson’s eternal standing before the Lord.
We need not speculate, however, because the Scriptures provide precise clarity on what we are to conclude about the Bible’s strongest man. Hebrews 11:32-34, nestled in that great section referred to as the Hall of Faith, describes Samson as one who:
through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.
Surely this description applies to David, Samuel, Gideon and others mentioned of similar ilk—but it at least applies to Samson as well. And by referencing Samson’s harrowing bare-handed defeat of the lion by the Spirit of the Lord, the author of Hebrews is providing an inspired understanding that Samson was indeed acting with saving faith at one of the earliest points in his biblical biography (Judges 14:5-6). Therefore, whatever follows in Samson’s life, ought be read through the lens that he is an Old Testament believer, who had faith in the then-coming future Messiah. This means the Bible records the life of a faith-filled man who was a very far cry away from spotless. He was a man who willfully married an unbeliever, volitionally broke all of his vows to the Lord, conscionably visited women of the night, exploded in murderous vengeful rage, squandered precious promises of the Lord, and as a result reaped a rather gruesome and bleak end to his life in the Lord.
The preceding description may not be very flattering of our forefather in the faith. However, it is how the word of God presents this regenerate man in all his sinfulness. Now you and I could take this narrative in moralistic and largely unhelpful ways. We could say: “well, at least I’m better than Samson”, and though there is a modicum of encouragement in a notion of one such as Samson making it into the Hall of Faith and therefore Glory itself, there is certainly a better approach.
An equally unhelpful moralization of the Text would caution: “don’t be a Samson-Christian”, someone who squanders their gifts from the Lord. While once again there may be a nugget of helpfulness embedded in such a warning, this is not how the divine Author intends us to find consolation from Samson’s life. Or worse still, may the Lord forbid we use Samson’s sin to justify and placate our own!
No, instead, here is the unique comfort of Samson, and likely the chief reason he makes his way into Holy Writ:
God is pleased to use ones such as Samson.
In his infinite wisdom, and in a way that defies human intellect, the Lord sees fit to redeem wretches like you and me. He is pleased to take us from darkness and bring us into the kingdom of his beloved Son. The Omnipotent One overcomes our sinfulness, both past and ongoing odiousness, and uses us for his purposes. The fact that the Lord can bring something glorious from sinners like us, is beyond amazing, and certainly worthy of all our praise.
We may look upon the conflicting tale of Samson’s life and wonder what to make of it. That’s okay, so did Samson’s parents (Judges 14:4). But God didn’t wonder. God knew exactly what he was doing in using someone like Samson as his judge and his redeemer of Israel. He knew exactly how he purposed the life of this man of faith, no matter how stained and tarnished by sin he remained this side of heaven. And friends, that’s the unique comfort we draw from Judges 13-16 in our lives as well. The Author of our salvation has seen fit to call people as tarnished and stained as us, and write something glorious with our lives. Rejoice that you serve the God of Samson—for he sees fit to accomplish greatness, even when we offer him such little to work with!