The Weakness of the World’s Strongest Man

When the writer of Hebrews listed the Old Testament heroes of faith, he included Samson (Hebrews 11:32). Really? Samson’s story, recorded in Judges 13–16, reads like a narcissistic super hero’s whose Kryptonite weakness does him in in the end.

But God wanted Samson included in the list because there are crucial things about faith that God wants us to understand from him. To explore these, let’s imagine two of Samson’s brothers on their way to collect Samson’s body in Gaza (Judges 16:31) reflecting on all that went wrong (I’ve given them the fictitious names, Abijah and Nadir).

The two brothers said nothing for a long time after the ruins of Dagon’s temple came into view. It lay on the ground like a torn carcass. The living were crawling through the debris extracting the dead.

They had come to retrieve their oldest brother, Samson, who’s broken body still lay somewhere in the rubble. No Philistine had dared touch the cursed corpse of the man who with the strength of a god had brought the temple crashing down, taking more than a thousand of his mockers with him into the dark land.

When the brothers neared the ruins, they stopped to rest, and to muster some courage. Removing the body would be risking violent retribution from grieving Philistines.

Why Mighty Samson’s Life Ended in a Collapse

Nadir, the younger of the two, broke the silence. “Did you ever think it would end like this?”

Abijah, seven years older, gulped down some water and handed the skin to Nadir. He answered, “I used to think he was invincible. I can still see him describing how he killed the lion barehanded. I was fifteen and almost worshiped him. So strong, so fearless. And God was with him. This would have been inconceivable,” nodding toward wreckage, “Samson dying blind in the house of Dagon.”

“Why did God let this happen?”

“I’m sure the Almighty has reasons that I’ll never know,” Abijah replied. “But I think we need to be careful where we lay the blame. It wasn’t God who was unfaithful.”

“But I don’t get it,” Nadir said. “How can an angel foretell his birth and God use him so powerfully, just to have it all collapse in the end?”

Abijah squinted toward the ruins. “It’s probably too early to call this the ‘end.’ God will use this more than we think. But our brother’s life collapsed under the weight of his pride. God gave him an amazing gift, but he let that gift go to his head. I think he saw it as God’s personal endorsement of him. He assumed God would keep blessing him even though one by one he broke every Nazirite vow (Judges 13:7).” Looking back at Nadir, he said, “God may be slow to anger (Exodus 34:6), but it’s a dangerous thing to mistake God’s patience with sin for license to sin.”

Why God Can Look Like He’s Blessing Unfaithful Leaders

“But why did God keep blessing him when Samson was faithless?” asked Nadir.

“I wouldn’t say that he faithless.” Abijah responded. “You can exercise faith while being unfaithful. Samson knew his strength came from God. He believed the angel’s prophecy and he believed that God would bless his gift of strength when Samson needed it. In that sense, every mighty act our brother ever did was by faith. And God used him.”

“So by unfaithful, you mean what?” asked Nadir.

“I mean that Samson believed God would be faithful to his word, but Samson didn’t believe he needed to be faithful to God’s word. He trusted God to empower his gifting, but he didn’t trust God to satisfy his appetites. So he disobeyed God and indulged sin. He was already blind when the Philistines finally got to him.”

“I still don’t understand why God kept blessing him when he was sinning,” persisted Nadir.

Abijah answered, “If by blessing you mean Samson’s strength, it was because God was being faithful to his word. He promised he would use Samson to deliver Israel from the Philistines (Judges 13:5) and he faithfully kept that promise, even when Samson disobeyed him. And God was amazingly patient with him. He gave him so many chances, but Samson ignored them. When he finally broke the last vow, God’s patience was over.

“The tragedy of our brother’s life is that he ended up thinking more highly of himself than of God.” Abijah looked back toward temple remains. “To me that shattered temple is a monument to where a gift from God can lead if we’re unfaithful.”

What We Can Learn from Samson’s Faith

Samson is an unnerving hero of faith. He did exercise faith. But he was unfaithful in the most important thing: the love for God that’s revealed in obedience (John 14:15). If we have great faith, but not love, we are nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2).

God gives each of us gifts “according to the grace given to us” (Romans 12:6). They are grace gifts (undeserved) and they are for the “common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). They are about God’s greatness, not ours. They should actually keep us humble (Romans 12:4), especially when we remember that some will stand before Jesus having done “mighty works” and he’ll say, “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23).

So let Samson’s faith soberly remind us that our spiritual or talent gifts are not God’s endorsement of us, that faithful obedience is better than impressive giftedness, and that faith must work through love (Galatians 5:6).