3rd Wednesday in Lent
Scripture Reading: Judges 16:19-31
19 She let him fall asleep on her lap; and she called a man, and had him shave off the seven locks of his head. He began to weaken,[a] and his strength left him. 20 Then she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” When he awoke from his sleep, he thought, “I will go out as at other times, and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had left him. 21 So the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes. They brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze shackles; and he ground at the mill in the prison. 22 But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.
23 Now the lords of the Philistines gathered to offer a great sacrifice to their god Dagon, and to rejoice; for they said, “Our god has given Samson our enemy into our hand.” 24 When the people saw him, they praised their god; for they said, “Our god has given our enemy into our hand, the ravager of our country, who has killed many of us.” 25 And when their hearts were merry, they said, “Call Samson, and let him entertain us.” So they called Samson out of the prison, and he performed for them. They made him stand between the pillars; 26 and Samson said to the attendant who held him by the hand, “Let me feel the pillars on which the house rests, so that I may lean against them.” 27 Now the house was full of men and women; all the lords of the Philistines were there, and on the roof there were about three thousand men and women, who looked on while Samson performed.
28 Then Samson called to the Lord and said, “Lord God, remember me and strengthen me only this once, O God, so that with this one act of revenge I may pay back the Philistines for my two eyes.”[b] 29 And Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and he leaned his weight against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other. 30 Then Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” He strained with all his might; and the house fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So those he killed at his death were more than those he had killed during his life. 31 Then his brothers and all his family came down and took him and brought him up and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of his father Manoah. He had judged Israel twenty years.
- Judges 16:19 Gk: Heb She began to torment him
- Judges 16:28 Or so that I may be avenged upon the Philistines for one of my two eyes
My name is Samson: scourge of the Philistines, lover of women, man
of strength, and man of hair. Let me take you back to the very beginning of
my story. Your English translations gloss over a few things.
An angel of God visited my mother Manoah and told her she’d
conceive and bear a son who was to be a Nazirite from birth. That meant he
would never drink wine or liquor, never eat anything unclean, never touch
a dead body, and never cut his hair.
The angel and my mother then had a close encounter—a remarkably
close encounter, if you catch my meaning—that resulted in my birth.
It was much like what happened in your book of Genesis in the sixth
chapter, where the sons of God got very friendly with the daughters of
humanity, and gave birth to the Nephilim, “warriors of renown.”
That’s what I was, all right. In my day, the Philistines were the
enemies of Israel, as they had been for some time and would be for some
time to come. That didn’t stop me, though, from getting very friendly with
some of them. I visited the Philistine town of Timnah and saw there a
Philistine woman I liked—a lot.
“Get her for me as my wife,” I told my parents. It was unheard of for
someone from Israel to marry one of the Philistines. My folks couldn’t get
me to change my mind, though.
Your Bible says this was part of God’s plans for my acting against the
Philistines. If that was the case, it worked like a charm.
On the way to visit this woman and her family, a young lion attacked
me. I tore him to pieces and went on my way. After the completion of the
wedding arrangements, my parents and I took that same road home.
By then, a swarm of bees had moved into the lion’s body. I stuck my
hands into the rotting corpse, scooping out and eating the honey. I even
shared it with my parents, never telling them where it came from, of
Well, there went that Nazirite vow about not touching anything dead
or eating anything unclean. Another one quickly followed when, at my
wedding, I got drunk with a crowd of Philistines.
I thought I’d have a little fun with them told them a riddle. “Out of
the eater came something to eat. Out of the strong, came something sweet.”
It all went back to that lion and the bees inside it, of course. There
was no way they’d ever figure it out, and I bet them just that.
After four days of guessing, they had nothing. They told my wife
they’d kill her if she didn’t get the answer for them. So, of course, she
began trying to worm it out of me. I gave in after a week and explained the
When men of the town came to me with the answer, I knew how they
got it. I might have lost my temper, at least a little. Going to a neighboring
town, I killed thirty Philistine men and paid off my bet with their
possessions. Then I stormed home to my parents.
My Philistine father-in-law assumed I was gone for good. He had my
wife marry the best man at my wedding. Cheating on a riddle was one
thing. This was another thing entirely. I caught 300 foxes, tied them tail to
tail, and attached a torch to each pair.
Lighting the torches, I turned the foxes loose in the Philistines’ wheat
fields, which were ready for harvest. The fire spread from there to the
Philistines’ vineyards and olive groves.
When the angry owners found out that I’d set the fires, they burned
my father-in-law and wife alive. Well, I couldn’t have that! Your Bible says
I “struck them down hip and thigh with great slaughter.” That’s about
Hard as it is to believe, things just got worse after that. Philistine
raiders started terrorizing Judah. When the Judeans asked why, the
Philistinians said they’d come to do to me as I’d done to them.
Well, when folks explained to me what was going on, I let them tie
me up and take me to the Philistines. Once there, I ripped the ropes
holding me apart, grabbed a donkey’s jawbone, and killed a thousand of
Your Bible next tells the story of my spending the night with a
Philistinian prostitute, escaping those who’d camped out hoping to kill me,
and taking the city gates of Gaza to Hebron.
Then I met Delilah, whose name, translated, means flirtatious. It fit
her to a T, as you would say. The Philistine rulers bribed her , each of them
offering 1,100 pieces of silver if she found out why I was so strong.
As in the past, my love overruled my sense of caution. I told her the
truth. Cutting my hair, I said, would take away my strength. Well, you
know what happened next.
The Philistines got their long-sought revenge. First, they gouged out
my eyes. Then they bound me with bronze shackles and put me to work
grinding grain at a millstone like an animal.
They were so pleased with themselves that they celebrated at the
temple of their god Dagon. They thought it would be hilarious if they
made me entertain them.
I told my handlers I was so weak had to brace myself on the pillars of
the temple. Then I prayed for one last burst of strength. I pulled the whole
works down on me and on them, killing more Philistines in my death than
I ever had while alive.
Let’s do a little recap, shall we? I acted out of rage far more often than
faith. I never led Israel in battle, as past judges had. I married a Philistine
woman, went to drinking parties with my enemies, and spent the night
with a foreign prostitute. So much for those Nazirite vows.
Still, as your pastor said, “Failure isn’t final.”
God used even a louse like me for God’s purposes. More than that,
hard as it might be to believe, your Christian theologians see in my life a
foreshadowing of the life of Jesus.
The extraordinary circumstances surrounding my birth are much like
the story of Jesus in the first chapter of Luke’s gospel—though without the
remarkably close angelic encounter, I would hasten to add.
The Spirit of the Lord often gave me great strength. In the same way,
the Spirit of the Lord strengthened Jesus when he battled temptation in the
My suffering and death point to Jesus, too. My own people betrayed
me, both Judah and the women I loved. The Philistinians beat and tortured
me. Your Christian interpreters see my arms, stretched between two pillars,
as a sign of Jesus’ outstretched arms on the cross.
Just as my death destroyed Israel’s enemy and its god, so, too, Jesus’
death destroyed the powers of the world that resisted God’s will.
I was the most disobedient, weak, and failure-ridden judge of Israel.
Yet, in a strange sort of way, my life is a window into the heart and spirit of
God. In my love for those who hurt and betrayed me you catch a glimpse,
however imperfect, of the love of God.
I say “a” window, of course, because in Jesus that window opens
wide. In him, God’s very self took on our human form and, with it, the
weight of human sin. In Jesus’ death and then his resurrection, God
restores us to full communion with the power, the grace, the love, and the
everlasting life offered to all God’s people.
Remember me, and remember as well that failure isn’t final when we
have the faith and the humility to rely on God’s strength rather than our