If I asked you right now who your favorite judge is from the Bible, who would you answer with? Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Samuel? Though some of you may answer with some of these names or others, I bet the majority of you would answer with Samson. But why?
Samson seems to be the most popular judge of the Bible, being the current star on stage for Branson’s Sight & Sound Theatre and having his own movie which came out earlier this year. Though Samson did some pretty awesome and miraculous deeds, such as slaying 1,000 Philistines with only a jawbone of a donkey (Judges 15), Samson really wasn’t a great role model, which is often overlooked or downplayed. Pureflix‘s portrayal of the judge in their recent film, Samson, is an example of this. The movie having Samson tricked to drink wine at his wedding by a Philistine, and being tricked by an innkeeper to enter her brothel, with the misconception that it’s a place of rest and prayer. The movie portrays Samson to be a much more spiritual man than who the Bible describes him to be, as the YouTuber Kevin points out in his review of the film on his channel, Say Goodnight Kevin. Yes, Samson was a judge of Israel and he was used by God, but that doesn’t mean that Samson was morally sound.
First off, Samson was named after a sun god. Though the name is not his fault, it reveals in what state Israel’s heart was during his time, a people whoring after other gods instead of serving Yahweh.
Secondly, before Samson was even born, God had commanded his parents that Samson would be a Nazirite, and that in order to fulfill this vow, Samson would need to follow three special rules on top of the commands given by the Pentateuch: 1. he could not drink or eat any wine or strong drink or any grape product, 2. he could not touch his hair with a razor, and 3. he could not make himself unclean by eating or touching anything unclean (such as eating bacon, or touching a dead body, or having relations outside of marriage or with foreign women) (Numbers 6:1-21). Yet, Samson broke these rules before the Philistines shaved off his hair (Judges 16:19). He ate honey from a lion’s carcass in a vineyard (Judges 14:8-9), he touched the jawbone of a donkey (Judges 15:15), he had sex with a prostitute (Judges 16:1) (after trying to marry a foreign woman in chapter 14), and he married Delilah, a Philistine (Judges 16). Samson had broken his vow and had made himself unclean long before he had his hair cut off. This judge was not as innocent as his Pureflix counterpart. His last prayer before he dies doesn’t even give glory to God, praying, “O Lord GOD, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes” (Judges 16:28). Samson asks God to renew his strength, not to glorify Him, but to kill the Philistines out of revenge for them gouging out his eyes–those who dared to damage both his body and his pride.
Many like Samson because he’s a man of strength. Like Hercules, Thor, Beowulf, and many other heroes, Samson is idolized because of his great deeds. More attention being given to him because of his strength than because of his heart. But just as God had told Samuel when he had asked if Eliab should be the next king of Israel, so too should we remember: “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Christians, and others, have fallen into the trap of our flesh and have thought of Samson as an awesome man. Not because of his heart, but because of his strength, missing entirely the point the book of Judges is trying to make. Pureflix‘s portrayal of Samson proves that there is a struggle with Samson’s character. We’d like to believe that this judge was a better character than the promiscuous, violent, arrogant man that we get in the Bible.
The book of Judges tells the tragic story of how the nation of Israel became more and more like the nations of the Canaanites. Through a downward cycle, they became more like their neighbors instead of being a light to them, which can be seen both by their actions and by the character of their leaders. The first judges of the book are good, then the next are okay, then bad, with Samson being the worst of them. Yes, God used Gideon and 300 men to defeat the Midians (Judges 7), but before Gideon dies he makes an idol that ensnares his family and Israel (Judges 8:22-28). God used Jephtah to deliver His people from the Ammonites (Judges 11), yet Jephtah sacrificed his own daughter to Yahweh as if He was Ba’al. And God used Samson to plague the Philistines.
Samson won many victories, but he did so by sacrificing his integrity. He was also a man of lust who chased after many women. Yet, though Samson is not a role model for morality, God still used him. In the book of Judges, God’s Spirit empowers some screwed up people, but that doesn’t mean that He endorses all or any of their decisions, as the Bible Project points out. But God used corrupt leaders to save His people; God can use anyone. Don’t believe me? Look, really look at the people in the Bible who God uses. Many times we are guilty of idolizing these men and women of the Bible and think of them of saints, while in reality, God used prostitutes and foreign kings, outcasts and adulterers, murders, thieves–flawed people.
Samson was flawed, but so are we. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” We don’t have to be perfect to enter a church building; in fact, we can’t. Without God, we cannot be perfect on our own. We cannot earn grace–only through Christ can we be made holy. Therefore, we must recognize that we are flawed.
Who are we to look down on those who get drunk every night, or who give us the finger in traffic, or who are in prison for their crimes? As Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5). And as quoted by Abigal Van Buren, “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.”
Should we ignore sin? No. But we as Christians must recognize that we are no better than those around us. And we need to be careful how we think of the men and women whose stories we read of in the Bible. Yes, God used them to perform some miraculous deeds, yet they were just as flawed and sinful as you and me. God can use anyone, even a man as immoral as Samson. Samson did some cool stuff, but the only perfect saint that we have portrayed in the Bible, is the man known as Jesus.