Over the last several weeks, we???ve read some pretty amazing stories about the power of God and the call of his people. I know that much of what we read tends to stretch the imagination and cause us to ask some really tough questions. I???ve tried to encourage us, though, to be sure we???re asking the right questions; questions that get to the heart of what it is that we are suppose to learn from the scriptures. Remember, the subject of every story, every event, and every account is God. We live in a world today where so many prefer to interpret the scriptures according to their own whims and needs. It???s fitting, then, that we are looking at the story of Samson???a character who existed during a time when ???the people did what was right in their own eyes,??? (Judges 17.6) and not in eyes of God.
So, who is Samson and what is it that we learn about God from his mighty story?
Well, he was a child chosen to be a nazirite leader during the Philistine rule over Israel. Okay, Preacher, what???s a nazirite? Well, according to Numbers 6.2-8, we have the following:
When either men or women make a special vow, the vow of a nazirite, to separate themselves to the LORD, they shall separate themselves from wine and strong drink;… they shall drink no wine vinegar or other vinegar, and shall not drink any grape juice or eat grapes, fresh or dried. All their days as nazirites they shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, not even the seeds or the skins. All the days of their nazirite vow no razor shall come upon the head; until the time is completed for which they separate themselves to the LORD, they shall be holy; they shall let the locks of the head grow long. All the days that they separate themselves to the LORD they shall not go near a corpse. Even if their father or mother, brother or sister, should die, they may not defile themselves; because their consecration to God is upon the head. All their days as nazirites they are holy to the LORD.
In other words, these were SERIOUS PEOPLE, folks focused on God, set aside for God???s special purposes. As a nazirite, Samson was given an opportunity to provide hope for the tribes of Israel by being a mighty warrior. Now, if you read the story of Samson, from Judges 13???17, you see that Samson was a nazirite but he didn???t live anything like one. In fact, up until Samson broke the last stipulation of his vow, he was a Herculean figure, performing great feats of strength and defeating entire armies alone. But Samson fell from grace. Why? What was it that took his strength away, that took the presence of the Lord from him? It was the turning away of his eyes and heart from the Lord and seeking after his own desires. When God saw that Samson was willing to break all 3 stipulations of the vow of a nazirite to simply please his own appetites, he took his presence from him and left him to his own devices, which landed him blind and bound by the Philistines. Samson had a responsibility to lead, but he squandered it to follow after his own passions.
Now, where is or what is the lesson in a man called by God, given great power and responsibility, and yet squanders it all in selfish pursuits? Well, the lesson comes in how Samson actually embodies the entire attitude and posture of Israel and their rebellion against God. You see, in the person of Samson we have more than just a story of a hero-gone-wrong. We have everything that is wrong with Israel, God???s people-gone-wrong. Samson???s life served as an example to the Hebrews who had gone astray from God, doing what was right in their own eyes and not in the eyes or judgment of God. It is through his example that we can actually see the sin that captured the hearts of the people and turned them away from God. In Samson???s failures we have an example of what not to do.
But, here???s the catch. Just as Samson embodies within himself the sin of Israel, it is Jesus who embodies within himself forgiveness for all people. You see, it???s easier for us to understand sinfulness when you can wrap it up in flesh, give it a name and a face, and watch it move and work, as we see in the life of Samson. But forgiveness works the same way. When you wrap it up in flesh, give it a name and a face, and watch it move and work, we see Jesus, coming to live as us, work with us, and die for us. In Samson, we have the representation of everything that is wrong, whereas in Jesus we have a representation of everything that is right.
I???m reminded of the popular Spiderman comics and the movies that came out a few years ago. Spiderman???s uncle tells him, ???With great power comes great responsibility.??? Samson was given great power and this gift begged great responsibility. Biblically, we hear the same thing echoed through Luke 12.48, From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to wh
om much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded. As the people of God, we are held to a high standard because we have been given a high calling. Because we have been forgiven and endowed with the Holy Spirit, we are entrusted to use the Spirit of God wisely and generously for the salvation of the world. We are not perfect, being that many of us have had moments of misuse with our lives as Samson did, but we must remember what Samson forgot: that the power of God within us is from God and not of ourselves. Paul said it best in 2 Corinthians 4.7, ???But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.???
We are fragile vessels, bent towards a fallen life, chasing after the wind, but when we couple our lives with the power of God there is an alignment that brings about everything that we were created to be in God. We find fulfillment, not in ourselves, but in our created intention. Purpose and hope can flow from our lives if we will let the strength of God within us serve God and his purposes and not our own. As the people of God, much is required of us because we have something that the world needs more than anything: the forgiveness of God.
I recently heard Rev. Terry Walton from Gainesville 1st Church say, ???We live in a world that is thirsty for grace.??? The world around us, if given the grace of God that has been made just for them, would be changed if it saw that grace and forgiveness lived out in the people called Christians. But the challenge comes in whether or not we will use the power given to us???the power to heal the broken-hearted, to transform the hard-hearted, and to make whole the half-hearted. We have a responsibility to use the forgiveness we have in Jesus Christ for both our own benefit and for the benefit of others, as they come to know that forgiveness for themselves through our love and example to them.
Like Samson, we too have the strength of a God???the God who has given us his presence, to strengthen us for every good work under heaven. The key for our success as disciples of Christ is remaining in his presence and calling upon his name, remaining faithful to our call to obey his commands and love him as he loves us. It is our relationship that gives us strength.
And so, God has called each of us to do extraordinary things for the fulfillment of his mission and will. Take what God has given you and use it for good. Let the power of God rush upon you and may you be gracious to a world that is thirsty for it. Amen.
Rev. Whit R. Martin
Pastor, New Liberty United Methodist Church
Devotional Blog ??? revwrm.posterous.com