Monday, September 27, 2010

A Terrible Role Model

Next up, Judges 13: The Birth of Samson

Ahh, Samson. How I don't love thee.

God's Promise: Judges 13:1-5
After a succession of relatively brief leaders, God loses patience with his people again, and delivers them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years. This marks the longest period of punishment yet in the chronicles of the judges.

God has apparently just taken Israel out of the equation as far as the repentance bit, because here we don’t even see them asking for help or relief from their oppression. Maybe after forty years there isn’t anyone left who even remembers life without oppression from the giants. Maybe God, being the ultimate Know-It-All, realizes there won’t be anyone calling out to him and he even has to do that part this time. What better way to underscore the fact that we are truly nothing without him?

So God goes down to chat face-to-face with an ordinary Israelite woman... well scratch that. According to the culture of the time, she’s actually a bit of a broken useless woman, because she has not given her husband any children.

Anyway, there she is, doing whatever she does all day that every other woman wishes she could be doing but can’t because of all her bratty kids hanging on her apron, sticking their fingers in the stew pot, eating the laundry soap, and so on. And God himself appears to her in Awesome form and says:
Look, I know you’re a bit of a broken, useless woman (we won’t go into the fact that I had a little something to do with that). But it’s for a greater purpose. You are going to have a child, and he is going to be Extra Special.

So, start treating yourself Extra Special. Observe my rules for food and don’t drink any alcohol (someday everyone is going to figure out my rules make sure you stay healthy before anyone else knows how to keep food healthy). Once your baby is born, don’t ever cut his hair, which will mark him as Extra Special from birth.

I am going to use him to rescue you dumb, faithless people from the Philistines. (Even though ya’ll are so messed up nobody’s even asking me to help. At least I remember that I promised to watch out for you.)

II. Manoah’s Prayer, Judges 13:6-8
Amazed wifey goes to her husband and tells him what just happened, more or less verbatim. And what does husband do? He looks for an action plan! He prays for the Lord to send his messenger back (not realizing it was God himself) with more information.

Amazingly, the Lord returns. Manoah quizzes the angel:

What is to be the rule for the boy’s life and work?

I think I would be looking for the same kind of information here. If I am about to get an Extra Special child, I want to make really sure not to mess it up!

And the angel simply repeats the previous exchange:

Your wife must do all that I have told her.

That's it?

Now if I were ever to second guess the wisdom of the Lord, I might be tempted right here. Because I know what comes later, and it’s just not pretty, and I have to wonder, how did it go so wrong from this point? Manoah has begged for more information, more instruction, and the Lord evidently feels he already has what he needs.

God’s leadership training is simple: Do what I command.

Not a lot of difficult instructions, just the same set of rules already outlined in the scriptures. A couple simple special qualifications, that’s it. Maybe we have a tendency to screw up God's rules because we are over complicating them. After all, he only gave his people ten basic rules to live by.

III. The Boy Samson, Judges 13:24-25
Despite my knowledge of the terrible path about to be trod, all still shines bright with promise here at the beginning. Manoah’s wife gets her son, whom she names Samson, and together they do their best to raise the child in the ways of the Lord.

How could they raise him perfectly, though? They live in an era when few worship the true God. His upbringing likely includes a deeply flawed foundation of tribal history and local pagan influence.

Manoah, of the tribe of Dan, raises his family in the land given to Dan as a tribal inheritance. Except that Dan never ran off the people already living there, so the tribe still lives like nomads. Nomads probably don’t do much farming; they probably tend more toward raising livestock and a fair share of raiding established villages for grown food & supplies. Safe to guess that Danites were scrappy bruisers.

The Lord blesses the boy Samson while he grows, and begins to stir his heart with longing for change. We find out later that Samson possesses unusual strength, and evidently quite a strong personality. These qualities lead him headlong into confrontations with the Philistines so intense they begin to crumble the domination under which Israel suffers.

The next three chapters describe a young man so obsessed with gratifying his every whim, that his Extra Special qualities all but disappear. He breaks every rule for his Nazirite life, from touching a dead body, to getting drunk, to eating unclean food. In the end, he even reveals the wrong thing to the wrong woman, who breaks the final rule by cutting his hair. He is a womanizer, a gambler, prone to fits of anger. I am so not attracted to this man as a role model.

And yet... God still used him in exactly the way he had intended. His life began with purpose, and ended in fulfillment of that purpose. He is mentioned in the list of Hebrews 11, those faithful who were promised rich rewards in God’s kingdom and died without seeing fulfillment of that promise.

God can use anyone. God can make the best of any situation. And God will get his way.

This is the one I follow: Not the womanizer. Not the out-of-control personality. Rather, the one who raised him up and accomplished his purpose through him. The one who remains faithful to the faithless, and who can use broken, foolish people to shame the wisdom of this world.


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