By Michael Smith
Reading from Judges, 16:15-31
15 Then she said to him, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me? You have mocked me three times now and have not told me what makes your strength so great.” 16Finally, after she had nagged him with her words day after day, and pestered him, he was tired to death. 17So he told her his whole secret, and said to her, “A razor has never come upon my head; for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If my head were shaved, then my strength would leave me; I would become weak, and be like anyone else.”
18 When Delilah realized that he had told her his whole secret, she sent and called the lords of the Philistines, saying, “This time come up, for he has told his whole secret to me.” Then the lords of the Philistines came up to her, and brought the money in their hands. 19She let him fall asleep on her lap; and she called a man, and had him shave off the seven locks of his head. He began to weaken, and his strength left him. 20Then she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” When he awoke from his sleep, he thought, “I will go out as at other times, and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had left him. 21So the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes. They brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze shackles; and he ground at the mill in the prison. 22But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.
23 Now the lords of the Philistines gathered to offer a great sacrifice to their god Dagon, and to rejoice; for they said, “Our god has given Samson our enemy into our hand.” 24When the people saw him, they praised their god; for they said, “Our god has given our enemy into our hand, the ravager of our country, who has killed many of us.” 25And when their hearts were merry, they said, “Call Samson, and let him entertain us.” So they called Samson out of the prison, and he performed for them. They made him stand between the pillars; 26and Samson said to the attendant who held him by the hand, “Let me feel the pillars on which the house rests, so that I may lean against them.” 27Now the house was full of men and women; all the lords of the Philistines were there, and on the roof there were about three thousand men and women, who looked on while Samson performed.
28 Then Samson called to the Lord and said, “Lord God, remember me and strengthen me only this once, O God, so that with this one act of revenge I may pay back the Philistines for my two eyes.” 29And Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and he leaned his weight against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other. 30Then Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” He strained with all his might; and the house fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So those he killed at his death were more than those he had killed during his life. 31Then his brothers and all his family came down and took him and brought him up and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of his father Manoah. He had judged Israel for twenty years.
Today’s climactic scene in the story of Samson transports me back to the Canadian Theatre at the end of Main Street in my hometown. It must have been there where I first viewed this scene from Cecil B. DeMille’s blockbuster, Samson and Delilah, and it is etched in my memory. The hero Samson is ultimately triumphant over tragedy by destroying the enemies of his people as well as the pagan god, Dagon. One realizes, however, what a sanitized version of the tale the movie presents after reading the actual story in the Bible.
There, not only is Samson a petulant, vindictive murderer and philanderer, but for all his smarts with words and riddles, he is also foolish, naive, and careless. Who among us would fall for Delilah’s deceit not once, or twice, but four times? And he is the heroic judge of Israel! I suppose this should count as some comfort for us less-than-heroic servants of God.
On the other hand, this is Sunday, the day of resurrection when Christians gather, even virtually, to celebrate Christ’s perfect victory over sin and death. Perhaps it is also a good day to recall that good will ultimately overcome evil. God’s saving health will eventually conquer all pandemic. Injustice and false gods will be defeated by God’s justice. However deep the tragedy, there will be triumph. So for us, “triumph over tragedy” is not a bad theme at all. I just might have to pop some corn and stream Samson and Delilah today as part of the celebration…
The Rt. Rev. Michael G. Smith served as Bishop of North Dakota for fifteen years and is Assistant Bishop of Dallas. He is an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. He and his wife, the Rev. Lisa White Smith, are the parents of three and grandparents of nine.
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