Recently I have been rereading the story of Samson in Judges 13-16. One thing that has always intrigued and bothered me about Samson is why in the world he would ever tell Delilah the secret of his strength. Each of the first three times when Samson misleads her about the source of his strength, she puts that knowledge to use to try to subdue him. Why would he then tell her the truth, knowing she would use it against him and he would lose his strength?
As I have meditated on this question, I have come to the conclusion that it does not have a simple answer, for Samson is really quite a complex character and his story has many layers. From a literary perspective, it is quite a masterful narrative. On the surface, the account of the interaction between Samson and Delilah tells us that Delilah’s constant nagging and pestering led Samson to tell her his secret. She pressed him until “his soul was vexed to death” (Judges 16:16). In an intriguing bit of foreshadowing, Samson’s response to his vexation did lead to his death!
Probing deeper, however, we note that Samson has shown a tendency to enjoy dangerous games of matching his wits against his enemies. Here he is drawn to the danger and excitement of trying to outwit Delilah. He trusts in his own cleverness and strength, failing to acknowledge the fact that they are a gift from God. Samson was called by God for a purpose: to deliver God’s people from the oppression of the Philistines.
Samson was gifted by God to deliver His people but he chose instead to live his life putting his own interests above those of God and God’s people.
So Samson told Delilah the truth: “He told her all his heart” (Judges 16:17). And she had someone shave off his hair while he slept on her lap and his strength left him. When he awoke to Delilah’s cry that the Philistines were upon him, Samson thought that he would be able to free himself. But “he did not know that the Lord had turned aside from him.”
Wow…that is a devastating statement.
Samson had turned aside from the Lord and his calling on Samson’s life time after time. And now the Lord had turned aside from him. And, saddest of all, Samson did not even know it.
The Philistines gouge out Samson’s eyes, bind him, and imprison him. Then, one day, the Philistines are having a celebration of praise to their god, Dagon, for delivering them from Samson and decide to call Samson to entertain them. Samson sees a chance for revenge and prays to God: “O Lord God, please remember me and make me strong this once, God, and let me avenge myself with one act of vengeance on the Philistines for my two eyes.” The Lord answered his prayer and he was able to knock down the two pillars supporting the roof of the house. The house fell down, killing all three thousand people in it.
Samson selfishly wanted personal revenge on the Philistines. He seems to be using God to accomplish his own personal goal. Samson had great potential, yet of all the judges he accomplished the least with respect to his God-given purpose of delivering the people of God from oppression. His self-interest and ambition came before any concern for God’s interests and the interests of the people he had been called to lead. He sought personal revenge rather than the accomplishment of God’s purposes. Samson squandered his gifts; he sacrificed relationship with God to satisfy his own desires. Though he ended up being used by God to demonstrate the superiority of God over Dagon and gaining a temporary reprieve for Israel from the tyranny of the Philistines, to Samson that was a mere byproduct of gaining personal vengeance.
Samson is an extreme example of an ambitious leader who, whether consciously or unconsciously, tends to believe he is the primary agent of his success.
But it is not that difficult for most of us to forget that our purpose is not to bring glory to ourselves, but to bring glory to God. We can fall into self-absorption and self-importance, thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought. We begin to rely on our abilities and cleverness, and forget that they are gifts from God.
Then one day we wake up and find that God has turned aside from us and we didn’t even realize it. I can think of few things more tragic. May God remind us daily to be absorbed in him, to live in humility and gratitude and utter dependence on him, to rely on his wisdom, and to submit to his purposes!
Questions for Reflection:
- As a leader, have you ever fallen into the trap of self-absorption and self-importance?
- Is there any sense in which you are following God to satisfy your own desires and ambitions?
- Is there any sense in which you are relying on your own strengths and abilities rather than the strength of God?