One Way Or The Other

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The story of Samson is one of the most mysterious, inexplicable tales of God’s actions in the lives of men found in the Scriptures.

It doesn’t take long before we understand that none of those in and through whom God chose to work, was perfect. And oftentimes we forget that the stories we ready of His actions are as much about those upon whom God’s judgment was to fall as they are about the instruments God used to deliver that judgment.

Samson, who had been dedicated to the service of the Lord before his birth (Judges 13:7, 14), was God’s man to punish the Philistines for their acts of oppression against Israel: “The woman gave birth to a boy and named him Samson. He grew and the Lord blessed him, and the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him while he was in Mahaneh Dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol” (13:24, 25).

We are hard put to understand some of the seemingly wrong things that Samson did. He was arrogant and disobedient. But the Lord did not leave him until the vow made to God from his birth was broken, and Delilah managed to cut off the hair that was part of the distinguishing features of a Nazarite, one dedicated to God (16:13, 14). But this too, was part of God’s plan to bring judgment on the Philistines—and Samson acknowledges that when, at last, the Spirit of God returned to give him strength for his final act in Judges 16:28: “Then Samson prayed to the Lord, ‘Sovereign Lord, remember me. Please, God, strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.’” If we were being really nitpicky we would remind Samson that this isn’t about his eyes, it’s about God’s glory among the nations.

But perhaps the statement that reaches out to me is this phrase: “But he did not know that the Lord had left him” (16:20). I’ve commented on this verse before and it’s not that the rest of the passage doesn’t have lessons to teach. But this phrase always pulls me back into a mode of personal reflection. We know that God is everywhere and that no matter what we can’t escape His presence (Psalm 139:7-12). We know, that as believers in Jesus, we are sealed by the Spirit of God and that He indwells us permanently from the moment we come to faith. But we also know that we can grieve, or offend that Spirit (Ephesians 4:30).

In the Old Testament record we are told that the Spirit of God came and went as needed. But after Pentecost the Spirit of God became a permanent resident in the believer. So does this verse from Judges no longer apply on this side of the cross? Since the Spirit doesn’t leave the believer, can the believer nullify the influence of the Spirit?

Since we know our sinful natures only too well, we’d have to admit that we don’t listen well, or obey perfectly. We constantly offend the One who makes His dwelling in our hearts. Though we cannot physically remove Him, we mentally, emotionally, spiritually, “leave” Him by willful, sinful acts, attitudes, and thoughts. I guess it might be splitting a few hairs to try to sort out whether we "leave" him or He steps back from us. Ether way, things are not as they should be.

The inexplicable is that God remains sovereign. Even in Samson’s darkest moments God worked His plans. Even after He had left Samson God worked His plans. That in itself, is of great encouragement. God works His plan in me even in my darkest moments, even when I have “left” His Spirit by offending Him through my actions and attitudes. He is sovereign.

There is little value in speculating how God would have worked out His plan if Samson had been a little more “perfect” than he was. But He would have worked out that plan either way. It would have been nice to read a story about a man who had made wise use of his physical strength, who had made wise decisions about his personal relationships, who had lived to a ripe old age with his eyes intact, to see his grandchildren living in a land free from the influence of the Philistines. That’s not how the story reads. But the real story is a reminder that God will work out His plan. It is our choice as to whether that plan has to be worked out the hard way, or an easier way.

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