By Caleb Faires
Samson set out on his adventures equipped with incredible strength, overcoming his enemies. He spent most of his time subduing the worldly Philistines, and while we are told that Samson “judged Israel twenty years” (Judges 15:20), we rarely see him actually serving his own people. And the Israelites didn’t seem to be aware that he was judging them either. “Don’t you realize that the Philistines rule us?” they ask (v.11).
Samson hardly seems like a hero of the faith, yet we find him listed in the “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11. Indeed, we see many moments of what seems like spiritual triumph. “The Spirit of the LORD came powerfully on him” at Lehi, as Samson single-handedly overthrew the Philistines there (Judges 15:14). It is difficult to know how to weigh this gift of the Spirit against the rash blood-feuds and turmoil in which Samson was constantly embroiled.
Not all of Samson’s actions are unjustifiable. In fact, in many ways the book of Judges is a bit ambiguous, leaving lots of room for interpretation. It can seem as if Samson was simultaneously rash and righteously indignant. He took personal vengeance upon the Philistines but also struck a blow against the oppressors of Israel. He based his actions on one of the most fundamental principles of justice: “I have done to them what they did to me” (v.11). Of course, this very principle is also cited by the Philistines: “We have come to tie Samson up and pay him back for what he did to us” (v.10). Human justice falls short, and humanity finds itself in an eternal cycle of revenge.
This cycle of revenge, like the cycle of the judges, is the human story. In some seasons, God sends human deliverers like Samson, imperfect though they may be, who endure affliction and persecution, yet whose weakness is turned to God’s purposes (Hebrews 11:32–34). The cycle is unfulfilling and unending, except for the intrusion of unmerited grace. In Christ, God gives us what we don’t deserve: deliverance. Unlike Samson, Christ is perfect and holy, truly set apart. He took upon Himself the brunt of God’s just wrath. Unlike the temporary rescue of the judges, Christ’s salvation is eternal.
God has heard the cry of His people: “Save us, LORD our God, and gather us from the nations!” (Psalm 106:47). And He has sent His salvation in our just Deliverer, Jesus Christ.