Samson Versus Paul.
Judges 15-16, Acts 25
But he did not know that the Lord had left him. – Judges 16:20 ESV
Samson and Paul were both men who had been hand-picked by God to serve on His behalf. Samson was to act as a judge of the people of Israel, rescuing them from the persecution of the Philistines who surrounded them. Paul was to be God’s witness to the Gentiles, introducing them to the Good News regarding Jesus Christ, and providing them with a means of experiencing freedom from slavery to sin and the condemnation of death for their rebellion against God. These men were both servants of God, and eventually they both found themselves imprisoned. But that is where the similarity ends. Samson was an impetuous, impertinent servant of God, who was driven by his passions and controlled by his lusts. He comes across like a ill-tempered child who was constantly demanding his own way. He never seemed to take his role as a judge of the people of Israel seriously. It all appeared as a game to him. Rather than see his superhuman strength as a gift from God, he used it to his own advantage. Instead of taking his Nazarite vow seriously, and understanding that it was a symbol of his separation to God; he treated it flippantly, regularly violating his commitment to God. On the other hand, Paul was a faithful servant of God, who took his role seriously and served his God obediently. And while both men ended up as prisoners, the circumstances that led to their imprisonment could not have been any more different. Samson had repeatedly chosen to align himself with the enemies of Israel, seeking sexual relationships with three different Philistine women. He seemed to view his supernatural strength as a toy to be played with, rather than a Spirit-endowed gift to be stewarded and used with care. And yet, in spite of Samson’s flaws and faithlessness, God continued to use him. Samson’s unworthiness did not prevent God from accomplishing His divine plan concerning Samson. He would serve as judge of Israel for 20 years. He would destroy many Philistines during that time. But unlike Paul, Samson’s life and ministry would be marked by unfaithfulness and a disregard for the holiness of God and the integrity of his own calling.
What does this passage reveal about God?
Over and over again, we see how Samson’s lack of spiritual integrity got him into trouble. His moral compass seemed to be broken, causing him to make poor choices and leaving him in less-than-perfect circumstances. And yet we read, “Then the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him” (Judges 15:14 ESV). In spite of him, God still used him, because God had something He wanted to accomplish through him. God’s plan was greater than Samson. God’s righteous agenda was not tied to or limited by Samson’s unrighteous character. It is interesting to note that Samson’s darkest moments are marked by an absence of the presence of God. But his greatest accomplishments are the direct result of God’s divine empowerment. It seems that when Samson found himself blind, shorn of his hair, and devoid of his strength, he finally realized that God was the sole source of his significance. As he stood before his captors, forced to entertain them as they attributed his defeat to their pagan god, Samson called out to God for the first time in his life. “Oh 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 ESV). He realized that without God, he was nothing. His strength had been from God. His victories had all been God’s doing. And now, at his darkest hour, he called out to God. But even as he cried out, his motivation remained selfish and self-centered. He wanted to avenge himself, not God. He wanted to repay his enemies for his lost eyesight, not for their mocking of his God. And yet, God still answered him. One last time, Samson received divine enablement to inflict punishment on the enemies of Israel. “So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life” (Judges 16:30 ESV).
What does this passage reveal about man?
We have a mistaken perspective that allows us to believe that somehow God is restricted to only using those who are useful. We somehow think that God is relegated to accomplishing His divine will through those who prove themselves worthy. But the Scriptures paint a different picture. God is not limited by the availability and worthiness of men. He is fully capable of accomplishing His will with us or without us. And even when God used men who appeared to be worthy, He did so in ways that to us seemed unexpected and unnecessary. That Paul had to be persecuted by the Jews and arrested by the Romans seems so counter-productive. Wouldn’t it have made more sense for him to remain free and continue this work on behalf of the Gospel? But God, in His divine wisdom, chose to allow Paul to be arrested and taken before Festus and even King Agrippa, and eventually imprisoned in Rome. This was all part of His plan. We could easily tend to see Paul’s imprisonments as setbacks and road blocks to the Kingdom’s cause. But had not Paul been imprisoned, most of the letters he wrote that comprise our New Testament would never have seen the light of day. Had not God forced Paul to take time off the road from his travels, he would have never put in writing the great theological truths found in Romans. We would not have his Spirit-inspired insights into the body of Christ found in Ephesians. We would be without a clear understanding of the role of the Spirit found in the book of Galatians. God had a purpose in his plan for Paul’s life. God’s ways are not our ways. God used Paul, not because he was worthy, but because God chose to use him. God used Samson, not because Samson deserved to be used, but because God chose to use him. God’s divine plan is not restricted to or limited by our usefulness.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
God is going to accomplish His will in the world. And He will use whomever He chooses to use to accomplish it. My goal should not be to try and make myself useable by or useful to God, but to understand that God will use me in spite of me, not because of me. My objective should be to remain faithful to Him, not so I can be used by Him, but simply because He has been faithful to me. Had Samson simply looked back on his life, he would have seen that his many exploits had been the work of God, not himself. His victories had been God’s doing, not the result of his superhuman strength. Paul had the capacity to see everything in his life as the result of the work of God. That is why he could say, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13 ESV). Paul knew the source of his strength. He knew that God was capable of using any and all circumstances to accomplish His will in and through his life. My greatest value to God comes in recognizing that I really offer nothing of value to God. He doesn’t need me, but He still uses me. Samson presents the sad picture of a man who gave his life to accomplish God’s will, but he did so selfishly focused on his own agenda and his own selfish desires. It was all about him all the way to the end. Paul portrays the life of an individual who willing to suffer insult, imprisonment, indignity and injustice – all so that God’s will might be accomplished and the Gospel be spread. That is the man I want to be. That is the life I want to live.
Father, give me the heart of Paul. Forgive me for the many times I act like Samson, childish, self-centered and stubbornly focused on my own desires. Help me to increasingly understand that Your will is greater than my own. Let me continue to learn that Your way is the only way. You don’t need me, but You use me. Don’t let me get distracted by my own usefulness or useability, but on Your sovereignty. You are in control. Help me to see that You are at work behind the scenes in my life. Help me to accept Your will regarding my life and rejoice in Your use of me, no matter what it may look like or how it may appear. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men