Week of August 7
Rev. Herchel Sheets
Lesson Scripture: Judges 12:1-8, 24-25
In his book, “Autobiography of God,” Presbyterian minister Lloyd John Ogilvie suggests that many of us are not "squanderers with problems, but just wanderers from our potential." But I wonder if you couldn't say that Samson, the Bible's strong man, was both. He certainly had plenty of problems, most of which he created himself. He also had marvelous potential, but he made a mess with a lot of that.
When his coming birth was announced to his mother, it sounded as if he was to be a "child of promise." He was to be a Nazarite (see Numbers 6) which meant that he was to belong especially to God. That certainly signified that he was to have great potential. He could accomplish marvelous things for his people, because he would be God's servant.
Shouldn't we think of every child being born as having that potential? It's true that we don't know what good or evil a child may do during his or lifetime. But surely in the beginning we should believe that this child will help to right some wrong, defeat some enemy of the common good, achieve some victory for humankind.
A child of promise
But still we know that such cannot be guaranteed. There is no warranty that a child will grow up to realize potential and have an influence for good in the world. So we can understand Manoah's anxiety when his wife told him that a heavenly messenger had told her they were to become parents. Apparently they were well along in years and still had not been able to have children, but now this messenger had said that they would have a child. When Manoah heard that, he was moved to prayer. He said, "O Lord, I pray, let the man of God whom you sent come to us again and teach us what we are to do concerning the boy who will be born."
Maybe some prospective parent has full confidence and knows just exactly what to do with the child to be born. But I suspect the more common feeling is that of Manoah. And then when that tiny bundle of human flesh is placed in one's arms, one wonders what in the world to do with it, and Manoah's prayer seems so natural and so appropriate: "Lord, teach us what we are to do with this child."
A man of wonder
After Samson had become a young man, he was a man of wonder. His parents raised him, as instructed by the heavenly messenger, as a Nazarite. So he drank no wine (though he sometimes gave parties where there, no doubt, was plenty of drinking). Especially important was the fact that his hair, which was the source of his amazing strength, was never cut. It was that strength that astounded everyone.
He was supposed to be a deliverer, and he did, spasmodically, bring some relief to his people, but still the biblical writer pictures him as a tempestuous, undisciplined, selfish playboy. Early on he saw a young Philistine woman who attracted him, and he said to his parents, "Get her for me" (Judges 14:2). They objected, but did what he asked. This led to all kinds of problems, as he married into the very people whose oppression he was supposed to shake off. He left his new wife in her father's home while he traveled about wherever he wished. Consequently her father gave her to another man!
It was another Philistine woman, Delilah, who finally learned the secret of his strength and cut off his hair while he was sleeping with his head in her lap. Previously he had been able to repel any attackers, but now with his hair gone, he was no match for his enemies. The biblical writer says that until then "he did not know that the Lord had left him" (Judges 16:20). He had been on the way down spiritually for a long time, but he became aware of it only when a crisis arose and he needed his strength. All too often, that's the way spiritual erosion or bankruptcy happens today, too!
A weak man
Samson the strong man had now become Samson the weak man. He had once been feared; now he was ridiculed. Previously he got what he wanted; now he did what others told him to do. In his heyday his eyes frequently saw persons or things that he wanted and he got them; now his eyes had been put out and he could not see at all. With no choice about what to do, under command he spent his time grinding at a mill like an ox, and people looked upon him as a curiosity and an amusement.
At the very end of his life, because his hair had grown back and his strength had returned, he was able to pull down the pillars of a Philistine temple, killing great numbers of people – and himself! He had had the promise of being a great deliverer of his people, but who would say that he was the man he could have been?
Samson was supposed to be God's man, but he chose to be his own man. There are only two recorded instances of his praying: Once in anger because he was thirsty (Judges 15:18-20), and once in vengeance when he wanted to end his life while murdering his enemies (Judge 16:28). Not exactly what one of God's servants ought to be, do you think?
The Rev. Herchel Sheets is an author and retired pastor. E-mail him at HHSheets@aol.com