So you think you’re better than…Sampson

Sampson in The Bible, History Channel

The History Channel’s portrayal of a notable biblical character, Sampson.

I don’t know about you, but when I read about the saints of old in the Bible I tend to yield to one of two temptations: 1) esteem them more highly than I ought because of their great feats or 2) look down upon them in light of their failures. More times than not, it is to the latter of the two that I fall prey.

It is really easy to point the finger when reading the details of someone else’s life; all their mistakes and shortcomings are just there for the picking. What we tend to forget, though, is that these things were recorded with us in mind.

Romans 15:4 exhorts, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

Admonishing the Corinthian church to flee from idolatry, Paul uses an incident from Israel’s past to warn the congregation and writes, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:11-12).

The life of Sampson is such a one that was written for our instruction. Having judged Israel for 20 years (Judges 15:20), the Bible gives us a detailed look into his individual narrative.

Sampson’s life was marked with greatness even before he was born. The angel of the Lord appeared to Sampson’s parents to inform them that his barren mother would indeed bear a son: “Behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. So then drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death” (Judges 13:7).

While being a Nazirite called one to the highest level of consecration (Numbers 6:1-8), Sampson’s life was one that was plagued by compromise. His many indiscretions eventually landed him in the lap of a prostitute named Delilah, which then led to his imprisonment and death. Though he experienced some great public victories, eventually his private defeats would lead to his public shame.

What could we possibly learn from Sampson? Wasn’t he arrogant? Disobedient? Immoral?

The answer to these questions is “yes,” but we are also all of these things when we do not seek the face of God.

Judges, effectually, is a book that gives a snapshot of what happens when people do not continue to seek the Lord. Samson’s life allows us to reflect on what this looks like in the life of an individual. Prayerlessness, then, emerges as a theme from the life of Sampson, which I believe single-handedly led to his downfall.

While the last statement may seem like a tough sell, I believe that I can make a case for it.

First, the only time we see Sampson praying before being captured by the Philistines was when he was thirsty. After striking 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey, he calls upon the Lord and says, “You have granted this great salvation by the hand of your servant, and shall I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?” (Judges 15:18).

To be sure, God did answer Sampson’s prayer. As James rightly states, “You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives” (James 4:2b-3a).

What motivated Sampson’s request was self-preservation, which is not necessarily a bad thing. David, after all, is one God Himself describes as “a man after my own heart” (Acts 13:22), yet self-preservation is a frequent theme of his prayers to God. Psalm 64:1 is an example of this, proclaiming, “Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; preserve my life from dread of the enemy.”

Answered prayer, though, does not speak as much to our character as it does God’s. James 1:17 offers, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Even in the case of the Israelites, “who did evil in the eyes of the Lord” (Judges 10:6) and were oppressed by the Philistines and the Ammonites, God eventually brought about their deliverance not because of their noble character, but because “He could bear Israel’s misery no longer” (v. 16).

Prayer, however, is not simply about submitting requests, but being near to God. James has this further commentary on prayer:

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

“God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (James 4:4-8)

Question: Besides when in need or in trouble, do we see Sampson praying to God? We only see him praying for provision, not devotionally.

James articulates the Father’s desire not just to give us good gifts, but to draw closer to us. Experiencing God’s closeness, though, requires that we, first, submit to and pursue Him. This kind of prayer is marked by humility, sanctity and wise decision-making (James 1:5-8) – all qualities that Sampson lacked.

When drawing near to God in prayer, we also receive grace to resist the temptations of the enemy. Prayer (or lack thereof) and temptation are closely linked in the Scriptures, as evidenced by the words of our Lord when addressing his disciples, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation” (Luke 22:40) and again “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (v. 46).

Jesus, himself, followed this same formula. Matthew 4:1-2 records, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.”  [In light of the strong relationship between fasting and praying in Scripture (Daniel 9:3; Luke 2:37; 1 Cor. 7:5), we can confidently infer that Jesus was praying during this 40-day period.]

If we are taking our cues from Jesus, I would think that prayer is essential in our battle with temptation. A life devoid of prayer, then, will be highly susceptible to falling to temptation. Suddenly, you can see how someone with Sampson’s spiritual gifting can succumb to the advances of the world; prayerlessness almost gives license to our flesh to submit to its promptings.

Even in the case of the disciples, who fled from Jesus the night of his arrest (Mark 14:50), we see the post-resurrection church characterized by prayer (1:14; 2:42), energizing their witness and propelling the gospel. One might say, though, “I thought the Holy Spirit’s powerful arrival at Pentecost is what led to the advancing of gospel message?”

While I would wholeheartedly affirm that statement, we should consider that the church relied on both the Spirit and prayer. In fact, after the events of Pentecost, we see the Spirit at work in Peter to preach to the elders and scribes in Jerusalem. Having been warned not to speak anymore in Jesus’ name, Peter and John return to their friends with the report and a prayer meeting ensues. Acts 4:29-31 reads:

“And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

The early church understood that prayer and the work of the Spirit operate in tandem. To simply rely on an anointing from the Spirit and not acknowledge the importance of prayer would be to follow in Sampson’s error.

Jesus, the most anointed man to ever live—to the extent that “the Anointed One” (Christ) became his last name—knew how pertinent prayer was. Though he was descended upon by the Spirit (Luke 3:22), full of the Spirit, led by the Spirit (Luke 4:1) and walked in the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:14), he would make time to slip away to a desolate place (Luke 4:42; Mark 1:35) and made a habit of doing so (Luke 5:16).

Even Sampson can attest to the power of prayer. Having been imprisoned and brought out to entertain his Philistine captors, he prays one final time, “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). In this instance, those “killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life” (v. 30).

Who knows how much Sampson could have accomplished in his life time if he had committed himself to prayer? More importantly, though, is how much more he could have known God if he committed himself to prayer.

Those that are truly commended in the Scriptures are the ones that simply “walked with God” (Genesis 5:24). Performance is great, but it should never be at the expense of our ability to simply walk with Him; remember the church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-5)?

Let us glean this costly lesson from the life of Sampson, taking it both as a warning against an idle prayer life and an encouragement to take God up on His divine invitation to draw near.

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~ by christianballenger on January 24, 2014.

2 Responses to “So you think you’re better than…Sampson”

  1. Great post. Prayer is everything.

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