This week we’ve been looking at two well-known Old Testament figures, and considering how the Lord used each of them to accomplish His will. In Gideon’s story, the Lord magnified His own power against the backdrop of Gideon’s fear and cowardice.
Samson had the opposite problem—blessed with supernatural strength, he was arrogant and overconfident in himself, letting his lust and violent temper run wild. His pride led him into the humiliating captivity of his enemies. But as we’ll see today, that’s right where the Lord wanted him.
Bringing Down the House
Samson, so long blinded by might, arrogance, and lust, was now blinded by his captors, who gouged out his eyes and put him to work as a grinder in the prison at Gaza (Judges 16:21). The strongman who had triumphantly carried off the city gates was now utterly humiliated, a prisoner grinding grain with a hand mill in a dungeon. In this, the time of his most desperate weakness, the stage was set for the expression of his greatest strength and the most deadly act of his amazing life.
The Philistines gave the credit for Samson’s defeat to their god, Dagon, for whom they held a great celebration in their temple. As the festivities escalated and the madness increased, they demanded to have the defeated strongman come and entertain them (Judges 16:25). Utterly debased, Samson was led into the temple, where he became the butt of coarse jokes and taunts by the crowd as he stumbled blindly to their scornful jests. He asked what seemed like a small courtesy to such a wretched figure—to be led between the central pillars so that he could steady himself by leaning on them.
Archaeological evidence from this time period indicates that Philistine temples had roofs supported by wooden columns planted on short cylindrical foundation stones. The central columns were set close together as the main support for the ceiling. From an engineering perspective, the weight of the perimeter would be drawn to these center pillars and down to the foundation. These columns were so critical that without them the roof would collapse under its own weight.
Samson, without seeing anything, knew he was right where he needed to be. In one final prayer, he asked the Lord to give him back his strength for a climactic, self-sacrificing, heroic act. According to Judges 16:27–28,
Now the house was full of men and women, and all the lords of the Philistines were there. And about 3,000 men and women were on the roof looking on while Samson was amusing them. Then Samson called to the Lord and said, “O Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me just this time, O God, that I may at once be avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.”
While personal vengeance was on his mind, and that is not heroic (Romans 12:17–20), Samson had been for many years a judge in Israel, seeking to protect and preserve God’s covenant people from the terrorizing Philistines. Beyond his desire for retaliation, the blinded prisoner exhibited a willingness to give his life to protect his people from their deadly enemies. At one time, he had been enamored with Philistine women and they brought him nothing but tragedy. Now he was prepared to kill all of them in that place.
In a miraculous flash of divine energy, supernatural strength poured into his body. The disgraced prisoner offered his last battle cry: “Let me die with the Philistines!” With one hand on each column, Samson began to push, perhaps testing to see if his prayer had been answered. As those immovable monolithic beams began to shift, he knew God had heard and empowered him.
With a surge of incomprehensible power, Samson dislodged the columns so that with a catastrophic crash, the entire wood, stone, and plaster structure collapsed, crushing everyone. The Philistine rulers who had orchestrated his capture were all killed in the destruction, along with three thousand of their celebrating countrymen. Samson had slain hundreds of Philistines during his lifetime, but he had never done anything like this. As Judges 16:30 records, “So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he killed in his life.”
Samson died for the cause of his country and his God. As a divinely appointed deliverer in Israel, he was acting as the Lord’s instrument of judgment on His enemies. To be sure, Samson’s motives were not entirely pure; his faith was mixed with an unrighteous attitude of personal revenge. Yet as with Rahab and her lie (in Joshua 2:4–5), God honored Samson’s faith in spite of his sin.
In terms of brute strength, Samson was the greatest champion in all of Israel’s history. Yet he was also a man with horrendous faults. Even so, he is included—along with Gideon—in the list of those who walked by faith (Hebrews 11:32). His final act of valor shows that, in the humiliation and brokenness of his last days, he had come to truly depend on the Lord. He became a hero of faith by trusting God to use him in death and bring him into His presence.
Physical Brokenness and Spiritual Victory
Gideon and Samson represent opposite extremes. Yet both their stories teach the same basic lesson—God’s mighty power can override human weakness to accomplish His sovereign purposes. Gideon was a faint-hearted coward who, through the Lord’s strength, delivered Israel by conquering the Midianites. Samson was an audacious strongman who, along with his superhuman strength, exhibited super-sinful weakness. Yet the Lord graciously crushed and humbled him so he could be the divine weapon to accomplish victory for the Israelites over the Philistines.
Both these men are presented as examples of faith in the New Testament. Their legacies might best be summarized by the phrase in Hebrews 11:34, “from weakness [they] were made strong.” It was in their moments of greatest frailty, when they were most dependent on the Lord through faith, that they were the strongest because that was when God’s power was displayed through them. Their heroism in the redemptive purposes of God was inseparably tied to their humiliation.
So it is with us. As Paul told the Corinthians, the church does not consist of particularly wise, noble, or mighty people (1 Corinthians 1:26). Left to ourselves, we are foolish, base, and weak. But in Christ, we who are inherently worthless and sinful are transformed into vessels of honor, fit for the Master’s use. We are thus enabled to serve Him in the strength that He supplies, by His grace and for His glory.
Spiritual victory and usefulness begin with genuine humility, brokenness, and self-distrust—turning to God as the only true power. In the words of the apostle Paul, speaking from the experience of his own suffering and weakness:
Concerning this [hardship] I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)