Great Summer Reads: Samson, God's Superhero?
Randy Peterson gave a great sermon at the Mt. Laurel campus on Sunday on highlights from the life of Samson from Judges 13-16. He did a lot of summarizing, so I reread the chapters today. (I also must confess the slight inclination to revisit my past as a university English major and reread John Milton’s Samson Agonistes, but that’s just showing off my nerdiness.)
Randy pointed out that even in Israel during the time of Judges, where everyone did what was right in their own eyes, Samson was unusual. An angel of the Lord appeared to his parents to announce his birth and tell them Samson must follow the ritual requirements of a Nazirite (Numbers 6), which meant he was specially consecrated to God, so he couldn’t drink wine, cut his hair or touch dead bodies. So, with this setup, you would expect him to be especially devout. He was not. All of his relations with women ended badly, he frequently went on murdering sprees (of Philistines, mostly), and was finally captured by his enemies when he told his lover the secret of his strength.
(Nowhere in Judges does it say that if Samson hair was cut, his strength would leave him. How did Samson know this to be true? Was God finally tired of his exploits? Or was it the last of the three rules to break, i.e., he’d already been drinking and touching the corpses of his victims?)
But, as Randy said, Samson is considered the equivalent of a Biblical superhero. Multiple times in these 4 chapters we are explicitly told, “the spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him” (Judges 14:19). In fact, “Samson judged Israel for twenty years” (Judges 15:20). He is definitely not analogous to the squeaky-clean Captain America. Perhaps, instead, he’s much closer to the problematic Iron Man who creates almost as many messes as he cleans up. Or even Marvel’s Loki who will do the “right thing” as long as it lines up with his personal agenda. Perhaps we don’t have to be perfect for the spirit of the Lord to work powerfully through us.
When I was a child in Sunday school, Bible stories were simple stories about God’s people doing the right things: Moses saved the Israelites from Pharaoh, David slew Goliath, Joshua led Israel to destroy Jericho, etc. Now, as an adult, I have to look at the whole story. Moses was a murderer prone to fits of rage on bad days, but he still followed the Lord. David raped Bathsheeba and had her husband killed so he could marry her because she was pregnant with his child, but he still followed the Lord. Samson was a train wreck, yes, but he protected Israel from her enemies for 20 years and in his death, pulled down a pagan temple on top of many Philistines, in the name and by the power of the Lord.
Perhaps I should stop expecting God’s people to live perfect lives. Only Jesus could do that.
P.S. If you missed the video from Sunday, the story of Samson told in Lego's, it's here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XBvcJO2PqY0