Week Six: Don’t Waste God’s Gifts
Light for Living
And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets. Through faith they conquered kingdoms, administered justice, gained what was promised, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength in weakness, became mighty in battle, put foreign armies to flight.
Have you ever known anyone who wasted her life? Someone who began with great potential because of her God-given gifting but never lived up to that promise?
This week we look at Samson, perhaps the most well-known of all of the judges. As we’ve studied this time period, we’ve noted that the judges increasingly became less like God and more like the world around them. By the time we meet Samson, the final judge in this book, there is little to commend. Yet, he is listed along with other judges who preceded him as a man of faith. (See the verses above.) As you read about him, think about how and when he evidenced faith.
Part One Study
Samson’s life is understood in three parts: the birth announcement in Judges 13, his activities as a young adult in and around the town of Timnah in Judges 14-15, and the saga of his demise in Judges 16. Today we’ll read the first section.
Read Judges 13, commenting on these questions:
- Compare this cycle to the general cycle (p.14 or p. 58) and to what you remember in the details of the specific cycles we’ve seen. What does it suggest about the people of Israel and about God?
- What insights do you have from the two appearances of the angel of Yahweh and his interactions with Manoah and his wife? (FYI: The angel may be an appearance of God or not—see the footnote.)1
- What is a Nazirite? It’s not someone related to the town of Nazareth, where Jesus grew up. The noun nazir derives from a root meaning “to dedicate or consecrate oneself.”2 Read Numbers 6:1-8, comparing the Nazirite’s restrictions there to the angel’s instructions to the woman. How might restrictions of this type help a Nazirite fulfill his purpose?
- Read 1 Peter 1:14-16. The words “holy” and “sanctified” mean separated or set apart unto God. Consider ways in which we should live differently as God’s children (Ideas? Try Matt. 5-7.)
If we see clearly through the darkness, we won’t live like those who can’t see, but that shouldn’t cause pride. Too often we believers become self-righteous about what we don’t do, building a judgmental barrier to the rest of the world. We’re not saved because we choose not to participate in certain activities or cease from specific sins in our lives. Those should happen as an outgrowth of our love for Jesus. We are God’s children only because of his mercy and grace.
*** Focus on Manoah’s wife, the unnamed mother in Samson’s story. Compare her spiritual insights with her husband’s, or compare this story with other biblical birth announcements in situations that are hopeless and impossible from a human perspective (Genesis 18:9-15; 1 Samuel 1:3-18; Luke 1:5-25; Luke 1:26-38).
The name Samson means “little sun” and it could refer to his being a light, but the evidence suggests that it is more likely that he was named after the Canaanite sun god Shemesh.3
“. . . how can this barren Israelite couple, who conceive and bear a child with the miraculous aid of the Lord, name their son Shimson, “Little Sun” (“Sunny Boy”!), which if not outrightly pagan is dangerously compromising?”4
Part Two Study
So far the story of Samson seems great with promise. God miraculously opened his mother’s womb and indicated that he would be dedicated to God as his instrument to begin delivering Israel from the Philistines. Now we’ll read the second part of his story which records his activities as a young man near the town of Timnah.
Read Judges 14:1-15:20, journaling your thoughts on these questions:
- In what ways did Samson look just like his enemies? What do these stories reveal about what motivated him?
- What do you learn about Samson’s character and his understanding of his identity as a Nazirite from these stories? (FYI: The Nazirite prohibition against touching a corpse may involve only human corpses.)5
- Considering how God deals with Samson, what do you learn about God from these stories?
- What are your insights about the Israelites’ relationship with God from their response to Samson’s feats against the Philistines?
*** Samson displays many characteristics of the fool described in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Compare what you see in these stories to the descriptions in these verses: Proverbs 10:1, 23; 12:15; 13:20; 14:29; 17:25; 18:6; 26:12; 28:26; 29:11.
Throughout Scripture, God is at work accomplishing his purposes and his plans, as in Samson’s case. And yet Samson seems to be a free agent, doing whatever pleases him without regard to God’s will.6 There’s a tension between God’s sovereignty, his rule over all, and man’s responsibility that the Bible never explains. God uses us to accomplish his purposes and his plans, but we aren’t robots. How does it all fit together? When God doesn’t choose to explain, it’s best to accept that both are true rather than attempt a logical explanation by embracing one over the other. Remember that it’s a paradox, a mystery that we accept by faith.
God can use his people for his purposes even when we don’t seek his will. But he alone knows what could have been.
“A doctrine of sin requires us to acknowledge that our perceptions are faulty—and a doctrine of providence requires us to acknowledge that in the face of sin, God will bring about goods that otherwise never would have existed.”7
Part Three Study
After the occurrences surrounding Samson’s killing 1,000 Philistines with a fresh jawbone, twenty years elapsed before the final events that led not only to his downfall, but also to his greatest victory.
Read Judges 16:1-31, considering these questions:
- Compare the relationships between previous judges and their oppressors with those between Samson and the Philistines.
- What stands out to you about God and Samson in this part of the story?
- Although the Bible never suggests that Samson worshiped the local gods, his words and actions reveal idols in his heart. Considering his entire life, what idols do you see directing his life? (What or who did he prioritize before God or rely on instead of Yahweh?)
- What is God saying to you about your own idols?
*** Record your thoughts about prayer in light of the events and situations in Judges 15:18-19; 16:23-30.
In the great Shakespearean tragedies, there’s always a character defect that leads to an unhappy ending. Samson is a tragic hero as well. Although he fulfilled God’s purpose for his life, he failed to do it God’s way. As a result, he wasted his potential and we’re left to wonder what he could have done if he had sought and followed the Lord rather than having been driven by his own lusts.
Thankfully, Samson’s finest hour shines at his death, which has many similarities to that of Jesus. Keller details the parallels:
First, both Samson and Jesus were betrayed by someone who acted as a friend . . . Both were handed over to Gentile oppressors. Both were tortured and chained, and put on public display to be mocked. Both were asked to perform (though Jesus unlike Samson refused). Both died with arms outstretched. . . . And both appeared completely struck down by their enemies, yet both in their death crushed their enemy—Samson, the Philistines and Dagon; Jesus, the ultimate enemy, Satan. . . . And both were saviors alone. . . . In short, we have in Samson, more than in any of the other judges, the pattern of the ‘victorious defeat.’8
God used Samson despite Samson, but so much was lost. May we, in contrast, stay in touch with God’s larger purpose for our lives so that we live for him and the advancement of his kingdom. May we use our gifts well by living up to the great potential for which God has designed us.
When I left for college, I decided to try out what the world had to offer. I had become disillusioned with my church and consequently decided to put God aside also. I could go out every night of the week if I desired. I went to church once during college but found it boring and awfully early after getting in so late on Saturday night. I took advantage of every party and had a lot of fun.
Several years later I began to feel the emptiness of this life. There was something missing, and I felt a strong desire to get back into church. As I plugged back into a church fellowship and began to get involved in Bible study, I had a deep regret for the years I had spent away from the Lord. I had missed out on years of growing in the Lord. I had a lot of knowledge about the Bible but had never spent time studying God’s Word for myself. I began to realize what a waste those six years had been that I chose to go my own way. My behavior had led to some choices that would have been unthinkable just a few years before.
Now I’m watching my child go through this same rebellion against God. He puts on the Christian act when he’s at church, but his behavior with his friends shows that he’s making the same mistakes I made. He’s tasting what the world has to offer and nothing I can say about my experiences can make him understand the regret he’ll have in the future about the time he wasted in his relationship with God.
1 Conservative scholars are divided as to whether the angel here is the Lord himself or simply a messenger who speaks for him. Younger, Jr. explains: “Since verse 21 informs us that Manoah finally recognized the messenger as the angel of the Lord, it is odd that here he claims to have seen God. This might suggest that the angel and God are to be equated ontologically, but this need not be the case. Having taken so long to recognize the messenger’s true identity, perhaps Manoah compensates for his dullness by going to the opposite extreme” (399).
2 Block, 403.
3 Block, 416-418.
4 Ibid., 419.
5 Some commentators believe that Samson violated his vow by his contact with the lion. Leon Wood takes the opposite view: “The language used in giving the Nazarite prohibition regarding a dead ‘body’ speaks only of a dead ‘person’ (nephesh, meaning ‘soul’ or ‘person’; Num. 6:6) The same language is used, in fact, regarding a similar prohibition for the priest (Lev. 21:11). But priests had to come near dead bodies of animals continually in their activity of sacrifice. Both priests and Nazarites, then, could be near the dead bodies of animals, but not bodies of people.” Leon Wood Distressing Days of the Judges (Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books, 1975), 313.
6 For example in Judges 14:4 “Yahweh’s seeking does not imply that he is inciting Samson’s lustful desire for the Timnite woman. Rather, it suggest that Samson’s sinful actions accord with Yahweh’s will. God uses Samson in spite of his wrong motive and actions (cf. Gen. 50:20).” Younger, Jr., 302.
7 Lauren F. Winner, The Dangers of Christian Practice: On Wayward Gifts, Characteristic Damage, and Sin (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018), 9.
8 Keller, 163-164.
Related Topics: Christian Life