By Ajit John
A 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.” 16 Finally, after she had nagged him with her words day after day and pestered him, he was tired to death. 17 So 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. 19 She 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. 20 Then 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. 21 So 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. 22 But 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.” 24 When 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.” 25 And 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, 26 and 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.” 27 Now 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.” 29 And 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. 30 Then 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. 31 Then his kindred 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 twenty years.
I’ve always been puzzled by God’s choice of Samson as leader. When the angel of the Lord appeared to his childless mother, she was told that he would begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines. But little did she know that he would be as randy and foolish as he was strong.
When he divulged the secret of his strength to Delilah, it wasn’t the first time he had let slip a crucial secret to the woman who shared his bed. It had happened before in the early days of his marriage to a Philistine woman whose relatives accepted the challenge to answer Samson’s riddle, and asked her to extract the answer in the heat of passion. His rage was legendary. In this case, foxes with their tails tied together served as fiery torches that destroyed enemy fields and olive groves.
Now at the end of his life, having divulged the secret of his strength to Delilah, and with his eyes gouged out, Samson is grinding the millstones like a chained animal in the palace workhouse.
But the point of this story in the Book of Judges is clear. God’s power can never be contained nor can it be diverted from its purpose. Samson, in the strength of the Lord, will deliver Israel from the Philistines in a final showdown.
Nobody in the Philistine prison system believed in haircuts. With his hair grown back he takes up his vocation once more, calling on the Lord to remember him before he pulls down the entire palace. For all his shortcomings, Samson knew that the power of God would transcend his own weakness.
This should tell us something about the unrestrainable power of the living God. It goes forward to accomplish its purpose for God’s people, and even the weakness of its leaders cannot hinder it.
The Rev. Ajit John is an associate priest at St. Paul’s L’Amoreaux, a vibrant multi-ethnic parish in Toronto, Canada.
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