September 18, 2014.
Some time ago, there lived a man who was something of a prodigy. His mother and father feared God and brought him up to know the Lord. You might say that he had a closer connection with God than most of us, at least in appearance, for he had taken a vow and dressed himself as a godly man. He was a strong man who seemed to command respect wherever he went, even if it was out of fear. His actions didn’t always fit the bill, though, as he was acted spoiled as he grew up in his father’s house. He had flaws that plagued him just like any of us, such as his arrogance or stubbornness. His arrogance would get him into trouble, as when he was outsmarted by others, his rage took over, for he had a tempter. However, all in all, he grew to be a spiritual leader and the spirit of the Lord reseted on him.
As with many of us, things started to really take a turn for the worse in this man’s love life. His arrogance led to a bad choice in picking a wife. You know that whole principle of “don’t be unequally yoked”? Well this man didn’t seem to care. His mother and father tried to suggest that he look elsewhere to find a wife, but he wouldn’t have it. They reluctantly gave in, and his first marriage ended in disaster, as could be predicted. It was so bad that she ended up with his best man!
One of this man’s worst qualities was the fact that he didn’t learn lessons very well. Perhaps this came from his arrogance or his strength, for he could typically get what he wanted. After his first marriage ended in tragedy as the woman was murdered by the city after she had been with this best man, he made the same mistake of looking in the wrong places for his second marriage. He found a beautiful girl to wed, but her loyalty never lied with him. She would constantly coerce secrets from him and would turn around and air them to the world.
Now, this man may have had his faults, but he wasn’t stupid. He seemed to have be skeptical of her, at least at first, because the secrets he would tell her would not be true. This should have been a good test for this man, because everything he told her, she would just turn around and tell others. He should have known. He should have learned from his first wife, because she would do the same. However, another character flaw of this man was is inability to withstand pressure from those who had influence over him, namely his wives (both of them, but obviously not at the same time). In the end, when she pressed the issue hard, invoking a guilt trip and claiming that he didn’t love her, he revealed his deepest secret, a weakness of his though it seemed he had no weakness, that would be his ultimate demise. What did his second wife do? Keep his secret? Of course not. She did what she had done time and again, and told it to the world.
Note that throughout this man’s life, he had acquired a lot of enemies. You don’t get the luxury of being strong and arrogant but always getting what you want without making enemies. Now that his weakness had been revealed, his enemies jumped on the chance to take him down; and that’s exactly what they did. They exploited his weakness, removing the thing that kept him close to the Almighty, and humiliated him for everyone to see. This man who was once a powerful leader of his people was now belittled, his strength gone and his connection with God all but utterly separated. Here he was, at what would likely be the end of his life, without friends or family, but even more importantly, without God. He had hit rock bottom.
This man’s story doesn’t have a happy ending. He did in fact die there amidst public humiliation. But there is one caveat that makes this story worthwhile. Whereas he did die, there was hope at the end. When he had reached his lowest point, when he had hit rock bottom and lost his connection with God, he humbled himself before the Almighty as he should have long before, and asked that the spirit of the Lord may come upon him one last time, so that he might defeat these enemies of his, for they were also enemies of the Lord. The spirit of the Lord did come upon him once again, and on that day, this man died, but he died somewhat of a hero of his people, for he had taken with him about 3,000 of his enemies. As to his eternal destiny, I could not tell you, but what I can tell you is that at the end, when he called upon the Lord, the Lord answered. And this man’s legacy lives on today.
Did you recognize the story? I did my best to mask it and put it in the context of a story you might hear today, but I’m sure I didn’t fool most of you, at least not towards the end. This was the story of Samson in the book of Judges. It will be the reading for today, and I would highly encourage you to read it from the bible, especially if you are of the opinion that the Old Testament is nothing but boring stuff. This story is very interesting, and it has a lot of plot twists and, frankly, doesn’t sound like a story that should be in the bible. But it is, and I think because of that, we can learn from it. If Samson had learned from his own mistakes he would have faired much better. There are many lessons that you can take from this story, but I just want to focus on a few that really stand out to me, especially this first one. It is the reason I choose this topic today. If you take nothing else from this besides that the bible does contain interesting stories, take this first point to heart, for I think it will help you down the road.
1. Even when we hit rock bottom, God is still ready to lift us up.
Perhaps the story of Sampson isn’t the most inspiring biblical story. Sampson has a lot of flaws, most of which he is not able to overcome. Sampson makes poor decisions throughout his life, and in the end he dies. Where’s the inspiration in that? Maybe it isn’t supposed to be inspirational, but I do find a lot of hope in the end.
Sampson was under a nazarite vow, which was a voluntary vow that the children of Israel could take to be consecrated, or set apart, for the Lord. I suppose you could argue whether Sampson took the vow voluntarily or not, but the point is that he was, and that makes the afore mention argument mute. Specifically for our story, the most important aspect of this vow was that Sampson was not supposed to let a razor come across his head, for cutting the hair signified the ending of the vow. This was the secret that he revealed to his second wife, Delilah, who in turn told her people (the enemies of Sampson and the children of Israel) and which was exploited. His hair was cut, and the spirit of the Lord left him.
But even when he hit rock bottom, being separated from God, he cried out and the Lord heard him, so that in one final effort of might, the Lord’s spirit would return once more. This is the hope I see. I don’t think any of us has been in Sampson’s position literally, but I do think most, if not all, of us have experienced very low points in our faith, just like Sampson. What’s the good news? The Lord is still there to hear, and he will listen to his children, even in their despair. He is waiting for us to take that first step back. Waiting with open arms. A parallel story where a young man hit rock bottom and decided to come back to the Father is told in Luke 15, known as the prodigal son.
“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.”
This is the only place in the bible that depicts God as getting in a hurry. He runs to the son who was lost, but has now been found.
There is hope, even when it seems all hope is lost.
2. Learn from your mistakes, and the mistakes of others.
Every time I read this story, I am honestly perplexed with Sampson. Why? Why did he make the same mistakes over and over? You would think that he would learn his lesson! Was he just that thick? But then I look back on my life and I see the same mistakes being made time and again, even when I say things like “I’ll never do that again!” I’m sure you could say the same. Why do we do this to ourselves?
I think there is an important concept here. We really do need to learn from our mistakes, and the mistakes of others. There is a saying that goes along the lines of “those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it.” How true, but even for those who do study history! We need to remember that no matter how good something seems in the present, if it was bad in the past, it will likely be bad again. The pseudo-einsteinian definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. It simply doesn’t work (in a general sense at least).
3. God will take bad things and make them work out for His will.
Sampson’s story is not one that screams “godly” or “pure and holy” to me. Yet there is a very curious verse that is early on in the story that I think is often overlooked.
“His father and mother did not know that it was from the Lord, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines. At that time the Philistines ruled over Israel.”
Sampson’s father and mother in this context were trying to convince Sampson not to take a wife of the Philistines, for they were the enemies of the children of Israel. They were a pagan nation who did not worship the Lord Almighty. They knew it wasn’t a good idea for Sampson to marry into their people. But Sampson took what he wanted, and he wanted this Philistine woman. In reality, this was a very bad decision on Sampson’s part, and not something that I think would be advised by God. Yet God had a plan, and He was going to use Sampson’s love of foreign women, so to speak, for His ultimate will. Because of Sampson’s close interactions with the Philistines and the spirit of the Lord that rested upon him throughout most of his life, Sampson was able to defeat over 4,000 of the Philistines. That’s quite a feat for one man, though it was God who worked through him.
God will use our choices, good or bad, to work His ultimate will. We need to be sure of that. There are many evil people in the bible that God used to His will. Pharaoh, Balaam, Jehu, Pilate- the list could go on I believe. But it always works out for His will. Even the death of Christ was in accordance to His will, that death and sin might be overcome and that man might be reconciled to God!
“Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.”
(I Corinthians 2:6-2)
God’s will will be done. Our choices do not effect His will, but they do effect if we are on the victorious side in the end. If we love the Lord, He will work all things out for good towards us (ref. Rom. 8:28), whether that be in this life or the life beyond.
I hope these lessons will help you in some way in your walk. It is sometimes refreshing to hear a bible story in present day terms. I hope this has prompted you to read the word with enthusiasm and strengthened your relationship with God. We are here but for a little while. Let us labor for the Lord until He come.
Suggested Daily Reading: Judges 13-16.
Grace and peace.