Monday, March 19, 2018

Hebrews 11 is the grand chapter listing the faithful in the Old Testament.  It begins with Abel (v.4) and ends with “the prophets” (v.32).  Notice God’s statement about these individuals:

“Who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies . . .  the world was not worthy of them. … These were all commended for their faith(Hebrews 11:33-34, 38-39 NIV, Emphasis mine, RH).

Included and named are four judges, Gideon, Jephthah, Samson, and Samuel, as well as Barak, a commander of the army under Deborah, and David.  None are perfect.  Each had his shortcomings.  Perhaps Samuel would stand taller than the other five.  David would be next, closely followed by Gideon, Jephthah, Barak, and tagging along from behind would be Samson!  Samson’s story doesn’t usually fit our definition of faithfulness!

The life of Samson is given in Judges 13 through 16.  In Judges 13:24 he is born and blessed by God.  At least he begins on a positive note!  It doesn’t take scripture long to reveal the beginning of his downward spiral!  In 14:3 he desires to wed a Philistine woman which upsets his father.  A Hebrew woman isn’t good enough for him!  Today he might be charged with racism against Jewish women!  The girl’s father isn’t impressed with Samson.  This rejection is followed by Samson starting several fires that would drive the modern PETA organization into a nervous breakdown (15:4).

Samson is captured and bound by three thousand of his own people and turned over to the Philistines (15:18). Surprisingly the Spirit of the Lord comes upon him.  No, he is not inspired to teach them the word of the Lord through that arrival!  He breaks the ropes and kills one thousand Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey (15:14).  When finished he gives credit of that victory to “I” (15:16).  If he had done that today, the news media would accuse him of narcissism.  He complains of thirst and prays (15:14-18).  The chapter ends by informing us that Samson was a judge in Israel for twenty years (15:20; Also cf. 16:31).  Those years are not revealed in detail concerning Samson’s month to month nor year to year activities.

After the death of the one thousand, Samson rewards himself by visiting a prostitute (16:1).  Afterwards he meets another Philistine woman that attracts his attention, introducing us to Delilah (16:4).  The rest of the divine story relates her attempts to discover the source of his strength.  It ends with a haircut, imprisonment, blinding by the Philistines, and then parading him before others to show how their gods have defeated Samson!  He is tied between two foundational pillars and performs for the crowd by pulling the house down on their head.  The roof of that building becomes Samson’s suicide vest!  The inspired epitaph written concerning his demise is, “Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived(Judges 16:30 NIV).  If that inscription was on our grave marker, what would people think?  In our society they might believe we were a very successful serial killer rather than a faithful servant of God!

Have we missed something between Samson’s inclusion in the book of Judges and the statement of difference in Hebrews 11:33-39?  Samson is listed by the Hebrew writer side by side with men like Gideon, Samuel, David, and the prophets.  Yes, David had Uriah killed to cover up his sin with Bathsheba, but he repented (2 Samuel 12:7-14; Psalm 51).  In fact, inspiration states concerning David,

Because David did that which was right in the eyes of the LORD, and turned not aside from any thing that he commanded him all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite(1 Kings 15:5 KJV).

Nothing like that is said about Samson in the Old Testament.  Perhaps, as close as Samson came to the word “repent” without mentioning it, is in his prayer to Yahweh just before he brings the house down.

Then Samson prayed to the LORD, “O Sovereign LORD, remember me. O God, please strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes (Judges 16:28 NIV).

Only two prayers are mentioned during his twenty years as a judge.  In neither is the word “repentance” found!  When Googling this question, I found contradictory articles.  Some see this prayer as one of repentance.  Others do not.  It seems to be more of a blind man’s prayer seeking God’s help in taking revenge upon the Philistines for removing his eyes.  His “judgeship” of twenty years seems to be centered in killing his enemies out of personal revenge rather than performing acts of faithfulness!  Perhaps those act are considered “faithful,” in spite of his motives!

Since the inspired Hebrew writer lists him amid those whose lives were lived serving the Lord, one might wonder if inspiration has given us the complete story?  There is a noticeable difference between the Samson described in Judges and the one revealed in Hebrews 11.   How do you compare the faithfulness of Samuel, Gideon, David, or the prophets with Samson’s escapades?  We may make excuses for Samson, but does he?  The gap between Judges and Hebrews is too wide to accept without wondering why Samson is included in the Hebrews list?

Was Samson’s slaughter of several thousand Philistines God’s standard of faithfulness despite his motives for doing so?  Did God consider Samson’s disobedience to his father, his marriage to two idolatrous women, and his rendezvous with a prostitute to be unimportant when compared to his slaughter of a few thousand idolaters?  Did God ignore his use of miraculous strength to exact personal revenge due to that same faithfulness?  His personal use of that power seems to be Samson’s legacy.  Either the Hebrew writer views such as faithfulness, equal to that which is found in the others mentioned, or his unknown faithfulness during his twenty years as a judge is what the Hebrew writer is referring to!  If the reference is to faithful acts during that twenty years, what were they?  Can one accept a standard that is not mentioned?

What faithfulness did Samson have that required the Hebrew writer to include him with those five and the prophets – “These were all commended for their faith.”?