Judges 16:23 “Now the rulers of the Philistines assembled to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god and to celebrate, saying, ‘Our god has delivered Samson, our enemy, into our hands.’”
You know the stories of Samson’s great strength, don’t you? He tore an attacking lion apart with his bare hands. He killed a thousand Philistine soldiers with the jawbone of a donkey. When tied with ropes, he broke them like they were threads. He tore the city gates of the city of Gaza right out of the city wall. As a result of his great feats of strength, Samson came to think that he was invincible. He lost sight of the fact that his real strength came from God.
That’s where the story of Samson and Delilah comes in. He let her nag him into revealing the connection between his hair and his strength. After she shaved off all his hair in his sleep, and he woke up to the threat of his Philistine enemies, he thought, “I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.” You see, he thought his ability was all him. He did not realize that the Lord had left him, and with the Lord went his strength. That’s foolish pride. That’s why Samson was now the weak and blind prisoner of his enemies. But the spiritual weakness he displayed was even worse.
Samson’s arrogance hurt more than just himself. God had given him his strength so that he could lead God’s people Israel and protect them. It wasn’t just to serve Samson. It was a gift, so that the man could serve others. It was a gift Samson had squandered in astounding ways, and that put God’s people in danger. Even the Lord’s own reputation took a hit because of Samson’s conceit. To the Philistines, it appeared as if their false god, Dagon, was even greater. “When the people saw him, they praised their god, saying, ‘Our god has delivered our enemy into our hands, the one who laid waste our land and multiplied our slain’” (Judges 16:24).
Your strength may not be raw physical power. It may be outstanding intellectual gifts, social and interpersonal gifts, monetary gifts, artistic gifts and gifts of craftsmanship, musical gifts, or technological gifts, just to name a few. It is good and right that we recognize these things, thank God for them, enjoy them, and put them to good use.
But how easy it is for us to slip from recognition to pride! These have all been given to serve. It’s not all about me. We do more harm than good if we squander our various gifts on self, if we let them fill us with a false sense of superiority, if we develop an empty belief in our own invincibility. God can take them all back in an instant, just like he did with Samson. Prideful and selfish use of our gifts only divides and impoverishes Christians, obscures their witness, strengthens the case of their critics, and damages God’s own reputation. Such pride is death to our own souls, a danger to our Christian brothers and sisters, and a huge obstacle in our attempts to reach the lost. God have mercy on us when we believe his gifts are our creation!
God did have mercy on Samson. He taught him humility. But the lesson required a rather severe mercy. “While they were in high spirits, they shouted, ‘Bring out Samson to entertain us.’ So they called Samson out of the prison, and he performed for them” (Judges 16:25). In his mercy, the Lord stripped Samson of his delusions of independent and irrevocable strength. His eyes had been put out by his captors. He was imprisoned. The man who once killed 1000 men with the jawbone of a donkey was given a donkey’s task of pushing a millstone to grind the Philistines’ flour–walking in endless circles day after day. Samson was forced to become the butt of their jokes, an unwilling court jester, a reluctant performer who could not escape the shame of his fall from power and grace. The Lord was teaching him humility. It was necessary if this weak servant was going to find new strength to serve him.
We rarely think of shame as a good thing. It almost always comes as a result of some great sin or failure on our part. Those who impose shame on others mostly do it with a mean spirit, like the Philistines did. But the shame itself can be a tool God uses to serve us. Like pain, shame forces us to notice that something is horribly wrong, something that must be corrected. It makes us see our sinful weaknesses. It teaches us humility. It prepares us for God’s greater work, the work of showing us his grace and forgiving our sins. Then we are ready to receive his greater gifts, and in the gospel weak servants like you and me find strength to serve him once again.