I thought I knew Samson when I began studying for this week's lesson! Little did I know the story I thought I knew--about a man who was a hero, a man who avenged the Israelites at the hands of their oppressors, a man who gave his life for his people, pre-figuring Jesus--was about to be turned inside out!
If you closely read the story about Samson in Judges 13-16 several surprising things come to light. For example, one quarter of the story (ch 13) is taken up entirely by a "birth narrative." Reminiscent of other great heroes (Isaac, Samuel, etc.), Samson's story begins when his parents are visited by an angel who tells them about the great hero they will give birth to. Their child is to be set apart for God under a nazirite vow (see Numbers 6) of consecration.
Sadly, this is the highlight of Samson's story. Over the next three chapters, not only does he disregard his vow at every opportunity, but he lives selfishly, to satisfy his own urges and desires, and only calls on God in moments of his need when he desires to exact revenge. In fact, he does not even deliver Israel from their oppressors like previous judges did. Even his great hero's death, when he collapses the pagan temple in on himself and kills hundreds, if not thousands, of Philistines, is begun as a revenge quest (16:28).
So what can we learn from Samson? I'm starting to see Samson as a tragic hero. He's the imperfect savior. Not because he saved people despite his flaws but because he didn't save them at all. He took what could have been a great opportunity, not just once, but several times during his life, and blew it.
What opportunities do we have in our lives to serve God, to be his agent of deliverance for someone else, only for us to miss that opportunity because of our own selfish needs?
Samson is a wake up call to listen to God and keep our eyes on our perfect savior, Jesus, who lived unselfishly for us and delivered God's people through a selfless sacrifice.