…you will conceive and give birth to a son. You must never cut his hair, because the boy will be a Nazirite to God from birth, and he will begin to save Israel from the power of the Philistines.
– Judges 13:5 (HCSB)
Then his brothers and his father’s family came down, carried him back, and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of his father Manoah. So he judged Israel 20 years.
– Judges 16:31 (HCSB)
Sandwiched between these two verses is the story of the life of Samson. It began with a promise that God would use him to start to deliver the Israelites from their enemies, and it ended with the destruction of the rulers of the Philistines after having judged Israel for 20 years.
Samson was a miracle child, given to Manoah and his barren wife. He was to be holy, a Nazarite, dedicated to the Lord all the days of his life. His physical strength, supernaturally given to him by the Lord, was tied to one aspect of his dedication: his hair was to remain uncut.
According to Numbers 6:1-21, a Nazarite was someone who made a special promise to the Lord, and lived for a time in a manner that set himself apart to God. He (or she) could not eat or drink anything of the fruit of the grape vine. He could not come near a corpse, and he had to let his hair grow the entire time of his separation. When the term of his vow was complete, he would shave off all the hair of his body, which would then be offered as a burnt offering, symbolizing the giving over of that period of his life to the Lord. If something happened to interrupt the vow, such as inadvertant contact with a dead body, then the Nazarite’s hair would have to be shaved off, a sin offering and burnt offering made, and the time of the vow started over again from scratch. (Think about the Philistines cutting of Samson’s hair in light of this.)
As a Nazarite, Samson was unusual. He was born into the condition involuntarily – he made no vow, and the term of his separation was for his entire life. Considering how he lived, I wonder if he despised being set apart from birth.
Samson was to live in a manner holy to the Lord – his strength depended on it. And yet, in some ways he was worse than the countrymen he was intended to save. He lived for his own pleasure. He ate honey out of a lion’s corpse. He married a Philistine woman against the advice of his parents. He slept with a prostitute. He let another Philistine woman seduce him into compromising the secret of his strength. Samson lived a very unholy life. It appeared that God’s purpose for Samson had been derailed. And yet, in spite of Samson’s failure, God’s purpose was fulfilled – not just at the end, but throughout his whole life.
We are told in Judges 14:4 that it was of God that Samson demanded to have a Philistine woman as wife. God was “seeking an occasion against the Philistines” – to cause them trouble. The honey incident was an integral part of God’s plan, for it formed the basis of the riddle Samson gave to his enemies, eventually leading to his killing 30 Philistine men under the Spirit of the Lord (Judges 14:19), then causing more trouble for them throughout the next chapter.
Most of the things Samson did were very wrong, and yet God still worked through him to accomplish His purposes. More than that, God knew the kind of life Samson would live, and yet He still chose him from the beginning. God used Samson in spite of his weaknesses.
Samson was not unique. What I learn from this story and others is the absolute surity of God fulfilling His purposes, even though He uses the most imperfect people. Just think about the weaknesses of the patriarchs, or even Jonah. Nothing they did thwarted God’s plan to the slightest degree.
Bringing this truth forward to the present, I know that there is nothing I can do to screw up whatever purposes God has planned for me. He always gets His way. I may suffer the consequences of my sins, and others may suffer wrongly for my sins, but no matter what I do, I can’t derail God’s purpose.