Introduction: Aren’t you glad that the Bible does not deceive us with rose-colored pictures of human character? Even its heroes contain many flaws, as we saw last week in Samson’s questionable exploits and disappointing vengefulness. The judgments he wrought more often than not sought to “settle the score” against the Philistines – not for God’s glory, but for personal satisfaction. Yet, at the end of his life “his weakness was turned to strength” (Heb. 11:34) “by faith” (Heb. 11:32), as his name is included alongside those other great heroes of faith, Gideon, David and Samuel, to name just a few. This must mean that God was very busy in the latter days of Samson’s life, producing a great harvest of faith and repentance after years of selfish living. Such a great work in Samson’s life deserves one more week of Bible notes, since this earth-shaking work of producing repentance and faith – even after years of willful unbelief – is exactly what we pray to see in so many we care for and love. May God sharpen our spiritual eyesight to appreciate the work of the Spirit of God in “working faith in us” just as He opened Samson’s eyes of faith after he had lost his vision of this world.
Monday/Tuesday: read Judges 16:21-25, 28, Matthew 5:29-30 and Hebrews 11:39-40. By the time blinded Samson cried out to the Lord “remember me” in verse 28, God had already remembered Samson by giving him sufficient chastisement at the hands of the Philistines to bring him back to prayer and faith. God removed the eyes which had caused Samson to sin (Matthew 5:29); replaced his lustful appetites with menial labor to satisfy the appetites of others (grinding grain in prison in Judges 16:21) and humbled him before the Philistines until the only place he could appeal was the very throne of God in heaven. And what should we note about that appeal? When he cries out “O Sovereign Lord” in verse 28, these words amount to a confession of faith, for that name literally means “The Lord, the Possessor (Hebrew: “Adonai”) of all the earth. Abraham used this name when he cried out in his want and woe in Genesis 15:2: “Oh Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless…?” Though overwhelmed with unanswered prayer when it came to the promises of God, Abraham took God at His word, as if to say: “If indeed you are my Sovereign Lord and Great Reward as you say in Gen. 15:1, then give me the promised salvation to come through the seed of the woman Sarah! After 20 years I have nothing as long as your promise remains unfulfilled! Give me living proof through the birth of the child you promised!” In this way, Abraham appeals to God as the “Sovereign Lord,” the great Possessor of all things, to give living proof of the reality of the promise.
In the same way, Samson’s faith rises up at the moment of his greatest weakness, when all his strength, fame, self-confidence, wealth and self-directed life were gone, when humanly speaking he should have been overwhelmed with loss – at that very moment the faith of Samson holds onto the promise of God, believing that he would receive, “along with us” (Heb. 11:40), what had been promised. He thereby is able to die with the strength from God which signals that God has not abandoned him!
Meditate and Pray: Thank God for the Divinely-inspired, saving power of faith, which enables it to hold onto God in situations when human ability and even virtue are lacking. While agreeing with Prof. Ed Clowney’s assessment of Samson’s death (“The narrative does nothing to make a saint of Samson. He died seeking vengeance, and the bitterness of his final words seems a bit much even for the translators…”), let us nevertheless celebrate the supernaturally-bestowed virtue and power of Samson’s faith. It is almost as if faith acts in spite of Samson! But why should that surprise us? Faith is of God – not of man, so that none can boast!
Wednesday/Thursday: read Hebrews 11:1-2 and 11:32-34. We ended yesterday with a bold assertion that faith appears to act in spite of Samson, and that we should not be surprised by this, since faith is of God, not a human attribute for which man can take credit. Well, this statement deserves further development. We begin with the fact that it is always the Spirit of God who works faith in Samson or in us. As our Westminster Shorter Catechism says:
Q. 29. How are we made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ?
A. We are made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ, by the effectual application of it to us by his Holy Spirit.
Q. 30. How doth the Spirit apply to us the redemption purchased by Christ?
A. The Spirit applieth to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling.
Do you see the important lesson here? The reason why faith is able to work so mightily in such weak, undeserving sinners like Samson and ourselves, to accomplish great feats according to God’s calling and will, is because it is authored by the Spirit of God and applied to Samson and us by that Spirit who seeks out and finds those whose redemption has been purchased by Jesus Christ. Though weak in ourselves, and worth little in the world’s estimation in terms of human ability or potential, we find strength along with Samson to accomplish all that God’s will has mightily proposed for our lives.
Take the three “heroes” cited from the Book of Judges in Hebrews 11:32: Barak, Gideon and Samson. Samson’s weaknesses we know. But what about Barak? Well, he was so cowardly that Deborah the prophetess had to rebuke and then accompany him into battle, with no resulting credit to Barak at all – see Judges 4:9. And Gideon? Scripture condemns him for taking the booty of war and making an ephod out of it, which became an idolatrous “snare” for him, his family and all Israel – see Judges 8:27! In this way, the Bible makes clear that these men in their sinful weakness and compromise stood in need of pardoning grace and mercy just like us. Well, ask yourselves: if these men needed just as much grace, forgiveness and patience on God’s part as we do, and yet accomplished much by faith for the Kingdom of God… and if the same Spirit who dwelt in them dwells in us… may our faith not also be effectual as theirs was? We have just as many qualifications to be used mightily by God as they did and were! None! It all comes from the Spirit of God… who can and will make us mighty for God, and in the end, holy as well.
Meditate and Pray: “Lord, as you came upon Barak, Gideon and Samson of old, clothing them with your strength, warming their cold spiritual limbs and souls for the tasks you had for them to do, so clothe us with your power that we might persevere in the works which you have ordained for us to do. Amen.” As hymn # 335 by Thomas Lynch puts it:
Mighty Spirit, dwell with me!
I myself would mighty be;
Mighty so as to prevail,
Where unaided man must fail;
Ever, by a mighty hope,
Pressing on and bearing up.
Holy Spirit, dwell with me!
I myself would holy be;
Separate from sin, I would
Choose and cherish all things good,
And whatever I can be
Give to Him Who gave me Thee!
Fri/Sat/Sun: read Judges 13:5 and Hebrews 11:32-33. From birth Samson was set apart by God to be a Judge in Israel. This was the calling on his life, which God would impress upon him by parental instruction (i.e., wouldn’t his mother tell him of the words of the angel that Samson would “begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines,” Judges 13:5?), and by the stirrings of the Spirit (Judges 13:25). But most amazing of all is the level of accomplishment which the writer to the Hebrews attributes to Samson’s faith (i.e., the accolade of “gaining what was promised” in Heb. 11:33 is not just attributed to the spiritual giants of verse 32 like David and Samuel, but even to Samson himself), as if Samson in his faith and its effectiveness is someone we should emulate! So, don’t let the unsavory aspects of Samson’s character put you off from learning to imitate his faith! To paraphrase John Owen’s comments on Hebrews 11:32-33, the work which Samson was given to do was the work of God! He was to begin that great work of delivering the church from trouble and oppression. That work Samson would have surely committed to God by prayer – perhaps years before his last prayer recorded in Judges 16:28. And, most important, Samson’s faith was effective. He gained the strength which he sought, and died fulfilling his calling to bring down the Philistines – by surprise, at the very moment of the Philistines’ greatest triumph!
And may we not say in closing: Are not all these events in Samson’s life the exact fulfillment of the prophecy of Jacob, speaking of Samson in Genesis 49:17? “Like a serpent on the path… Samson rose up and struck the Philistines at the most unexpected of moments!” And was not justice served by Samson, as Genesis 49:16 predicts? Had not the Philistines in their forty years (Jdg. 13:1) of oppression of God’s people made themselves ripe for judgment under Samson… and later on under Samuel and David? Had not the Philistines ignored their own wise men in attacking a nation whom they knew belonged to a God who had humbled mighty Egypt? Had not the Philistines, along with all the Canaanite nations “heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea… when they came out of Egypt” and would they not confess with Rahab that the “Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below” (Joshua 2:10-11)? Samson brought God’s judgment down on a nation ripe for Divine punishment, used mightily as he was by God.
Meditate and Pray: “Oh Sovereign Lord, make us courageous like Samson to face the world in its unbelief, and where necessary, to stand against it as he did. Give us faith to cry out like he did, in our times of greatest weakness. Thank you for the repentance and faith in Samson as he prayed by faith to the Lord at the end of his life – just as momentous as when the thief on the Cross prayed “remember me” in Luke 23:42, after a lifetime of crime. Help us to die in faith as Samson, ‘forgetting what lies behind and striving on to the goal of our heavenly calling’ (Phil. 3:12-14). Amen.”