Samson was a jerk

Photo by  João Santos

Photo by João Santos

Samson said to them, ‘This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines; I will really harm them.’ So he went out and caught three hundred foxes and tied them tail to tail in pairs. He then fastened a torch to every pair of tails, lit the torches and let the foxes loose in the standing grain of the Philistines. He burned up the shocks and standing grain, together with the vineyards and olive groves.
— Judges 15:3-5

Let me repeat.

Three. Hundred. Foxes.

If you read the rest of the account of Samson, I think you’ll agree with me that he was a pretty nasty guy.

Here’s a brief overview. He makes a riddle-based bet with 30 men, and then when they cheat to find out the answer, he kills 30 other men and gives their clothes to the first set of men to the fulfill the bet (Judges 14:12-19).

His father-in-law gives his wife to someone else, and Samson responds with the fox incident referenced above. Not only is this action vindictive towards the Philistines, but it’s also grossly cruel to the poor foxes.

The Philistines retaliate by killing Samson’s wife, so he, in turn, kills a bunch of their people, including killing 1,000 men all by himself (Judges 15:15). Then he gets whiny, saying to God, “You have given your servant this great victory. Must I now die of thirst?” (Judges 15:18).

He sleeps with women he isn’t married to and seems motivated largely by his own desire to get revenge against anyone who slights him. His final act, destroying a temple and all the people in it, was also done out of revenge since the Philistines had blinded him (Judges 16:28).

Is a guy like that supposed to be emulated and revered by followers of God?

This is the part of the story I find hard to deal with. There are plenty of leaders in Israel who did terrible things, but they were also not following the Lord. Samson, however, was given superhuman strength by God himself and was enabled to single-handedly fight the Philistines.

He was chosen before he was even born. His mother was unable to have children, but an angel of the Lord appeared to her, telling her that she was going to have a son who would “take the lead in delivering Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”

So clearly, despite Samson’s selfish motives, God intended to use him to free the Israelites from their oppressors. Samson is also honoured in Hebrews as someone who lived by faith (Hebrews 11:32-34).

How could a petty, violent, vengeful, sexually immoral guy be recorded as a faithful follower of God?

It’s offensive to me. I want this kind of distinction to be based a little bit on merit. Or at the very least, I want good characters in the Bible to be, well…good.

God, why would you use him? Why would you use his terribly motivated actions for your purposes?

Oh, what a hypocrite I am.

Because the reality is, I am not so far off from Samson. I’ve had resentful, almost vengeful thoughts, I’ve been petty and sexually immoral. I often do good things with bad motives. God, in his mercy, still works through me for his purposes. What’s more, he has dared to bless me and others—even through my worst, least God-honouring decisions.

There is no such thing as a good Christian. Or a good person, for that matter.

Of course, our actions matter and have consequences. Samson lost his strength and became a blind captive because he disobeyed God and gave in to his own desires.

The Lord cares about our motives because he cares about our hearts (2 Peter 1:5-8). However, he cares about us too much to work only through our best actions. We see this in Philippians as well:

“The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” —Philippians 1:17-18

God does not ask for our strength, and shiny, put-together selves. In the Hebrews passage, it says that Samson and the others listed in Hebrews were each deeply flawed, but that their “weakness was turned to strength.”

Our sin cannot stop God’s power from working through us, nor can it be too great for his grace to forgive.

 FURTHER READING:

If you want to dig deeper, here are a few other voices who’ve weighed in on this topic.

A study of Samson: faith and folly

What God values more than heart motives

Ilana Reimer2 Comments