Birth, death, weakness and strength

Question: What do you get if you cross Harry Houdini with a less than sagacious Superman? 

Answer: A judge who appears to have no sense of judgment whatsoever!

As we approach Christmas, I couldn’t help thinking about Jesus’ miraculous birth. This, in turn, got me thinking about other births in the Bible.

Isaac, Jacob, Samuel, and John the Baptist were all conceived miraculously (their mothers were all barren), though only Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. All were ordained by God to play a pivotal role in salvation history.

But there’s another child who was also born miraculously: Samson, the twelfth of Israel’s judges.

Like Isaac, Jacob and Samuel, Samson is mentioned in Hebrews 11 as a hero of the faith. But, despite his miraculous birth, Samson is one of the Bible’s most flawed individuals. Scripture depicts him as reckless, wrathful, sensual, and vengeful.

So what, apart from being ‘dedicated to God from the womb’, does Samson have in common with the One whose birth was heralded by angels, announced by shepherds, and worshipped by the Magi?

Both mothers were visited by angels. And while one angel said Samson would “take the lead in delivering Israel from the hands of the Philistines”, Gabriel told Mary that Jesus would “save His people from their sins”. While Samson ate unclean food from a lion’s carcass, Jesus declared all foods clean, having earlier cast some demons into a herd of unclean pigs.

Like Jesus, Samson attended a wedding feast. But while Samson feasted with the pagan Philistines – an event which ended in tears, when Samson’s 30 companions threatened to burn his wife to death unless she explained his obscure riddle – Jesus turned water into wine and revealed His glory.

While Jesus said that “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart”, Samson saw a young Philistine woman and immediately wanted her. The same occurred with a prostitute and – fatally – Delilah.

Indeed, if you were to paraphrase Jesus’ words to the woman at the well, you could say that Samson had already had two women and – assuming he hadn’t married Delilah – the woman he now had wasn’t his wife. Jesus, on the other hand, pardoned the woman caught in adultery, and had mercy on the woman who had lived a sinful life (Luke 7:36-50).

Samson may have carried the city gate to the hill facing Hebron, but Jesus built a church that the gates of Hades wouldn’t overcome (Matthew 16:18). And while Jesus resisted the tempter in the wilderness, Samson gave in to the temptress Delilah, revealing the secret of his strength – having previously made three Houdini-like escapes. Delilah, of course, received about eleven hundred pieces of silver for her betrayal, while Judas was given 30 pieces of silver for his.

Samson, who was captured, blinded, and made to grind grain for setting light to the Philistines’ grain fields (Dagon was the god of the grain harvest), was eventually mocked in Dagon’s temple. Jesus, arrested at Gethsemane, was blindfolded, beaten, ridiculed, and flogged. Samson was then made to perform for the Philistines, while, in Luke 23:8, Herod hoped to see Jesus “perform a sign of some sort”.

But while Jesus was perfect in thought, word and deed, Samson broke every Nazirite vow in the book. So, although God should have thrown the book at Samson for blotting his copybook, and removed him from the Book of Life, He had mercy on His imperfect servant. In prison, Samson’s hair started growing and, in the temple of Dagon, he remembered his God, turning over a new leaf and, in the final chapter of his life, redeeming his people by rescuing them from their oppressors.

Bracing himself against the temple’s two central pillars, Samson ended up in a position similar to that of Jesus who, arms outstretched, hung on the cross between two criminals. But while Samson prayed for revenge on those who had taken his eyes, Jesus asked God to forgive those who had crucified Him. Samson may have pushed against the pillars and brought Dagon’s temple down, killing more than 3,000 Philistines, but Jesus not only cleansed Jerusalem’s temple of the moneychangers, but prophesied that He would destroy the temple of His body, and raise it again in three days.

So, although one brought salvation and the other brought death, both accomplished God’s purposes.

While Samson all too often relied on his strength and poor judgement, let’s seek to ‘be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power’ (Ephesians 6:10), knowing that when we are weak, then we are strong.

As we enter a season where we celebrate the fact that ‘the people living in darkness have seen a great light’, let us allow our light to shine before others, so ‘they may see (our) good deeds and glorify (our) Father in heaven’. 

Written by: Gary Clayton

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