As you read through the book of Judges, one of the most enigmatic characters is a guy named Samson. Samson is an Israelite with super-human strength—he single-handedly takes out a thousand Philistines and ends his own life by toppling huge pillars with his bare hands.
But Samson is anything but a model of character. His life is filled with egotism, recklessness, lust, and murder. He is completely out of control, never demonstrating integrity or a godly life. But strangely, the Bible says he was “dedicated to God” (Judges 15:6). This doesn’t seem to square with anything else we know about being consecrated. Samson is a walking contradiction—selfish to the core, killing people right and left—and yet designated as a tool for God. How can this be? Fred Smith comments: “It turned out there was little that could govern or rule Samson except his own unpredictable nature and ego. There was nothing else of value he accomplished in his life. He was a weapon—not a leader. He never led the people to battle or to victory. He betrayed himself and everyone around him. But he accomplished his mission. For me this is the crux of the story. He didn’t achieve his purpose with an army like Gideon or Joshua or personal heroism like David, but with one self-destructive act he took down the whole government and leadership of Israel’s enemies. The end of Samson’s life was the fulfillment of his creation.”
Samson self-destructs because he is self-possessed. He flexes his own muscles rather than relying on God’s strength. He fails to recognize that his accomplishments are possible only because of God’s power. His life is in microcosm a description of the entire history of the book of Judges: “each man did what was right in his own eyes.” When self becomes the measure of right and wrong, cultures and civilizations crumble. This screams to us the importance of using God’s will as the consistent yardstick in our moral and ethical decisions.
Still, we are left with that nagging question—how is it that Scripture can have anything positive to say about this really bad man? Hebrews 11 says that Samson was commended for his faith. This seems completely incongruous with what we know about God. We’re left scratching our heads and wondering, what redeeming quality existed in Samson that would prompt Scripture to endorse him? In the end, the answer may be that God has the ability to work redemptively through even the most flawed individuals. God’s transcendent power has the capacity to achieve good in spite of our messy lives and our conspicuous failures.
Listen again to Fred Smith: “It is not our merits, character or achievements that make us consecrated, it is that God has set us apart for a purpose, and his power working through us—no matter our flaws—will accomplish that purpose.”