Java with the Judges: Samson, the Nazirite

This week in our Bible study we discussed Samson. Oh … Samson. If you’re following along in the workbook, this is Week 5. In your Bibles, it is Judges 13–16.

Samson had issues. He probably had some mommy issues. He definitely had some anger management issues. He had issues with women, with trusting others (usually the wrong ones), with arrogance and an inflated sense of self. He had entitlement issues. The man had ISSUES.

In spite of all of this – perhaps because of all of this – God used him.

The interesting thing about Samson is that all his issues stem from relationships – his relationship with his parents, his relationship with God, his relationship with his wife and then his lover. He was the strongest man known to history, yet he fostered some major weaknesses: lust, pride, faith in self rather than God.

The right kryptonite can bring any Superman to his demise.

I want to talk about Samson’s women, but that’s a whole post by itself. I’ll put those thoughts up here tomorrow. For now, let’s start his vow.

Samson the Nazirite

  • Numbers 6:1—21
  • Judges 13:4-5

First, this is not to be confused with Nazarite, as in someone from Nazareth. This is Nazirite with an ‘I’: someone made a commitment to be separated (nazir) and holy unto God.

Nazirite vows were quite strict. We learn from Numbers 6 that specific stipulations applied: no fermented drinks, nothing from grapes or grapevines, no proximity to dead bodies, no cutting your hair. There were also a host of sacrifices and rituals required upon the completion of the vow. We can deduce from the extensive requirements – male and female yearlings, grain offerings, bread offerings, oil, etc. – that only wealthy persons could truly participate in such sacrifice. This was an expensive commitment!

Typically these vows were made by devout choice and for a specified period of time. Samson, however, had neither choice nor end. He was consecrated before his conception and for all the days of his life.

  • How do you think he felt about this?
  • How do you think it affected his relationship with his parents?

Samson clearly didn’t stick to his predestined vows. Perhaps this was in rebellion to his parents’ unceasing pressure or nagging reminders of his purpose. Maybe it was because he, like everyone else of his time, did what was right in his own eyes. Regardless of his motivation, he broke the rules. Not only did he intermarry with the enemy, he hung out in vineyards, he murdered people, stole their clothes, burned his relatives’ crops, murdered some more people, slept with prostitutes … He was not only near dead bodies, he piled them high and even ate honey from the carcass of a lion! If it was bad to be near a dead body, how much worse to ingest something growing within a dead body? Pretty bad. Samson may have appeared to have been set apart — he had the long hair to show everyone — but he definitely did not revere the vows. He looked the part, but didn’t play it.

So here’s my question:

  • Why did the Spirit of God stay with Samson through all of his disobedience, only to leave when he fell victim to a bad haircut?

Some commentators suggest that never cutting his hair was the only important, binding part of Samson’s vow. I don’t believe that. If it was only about his hair, then why did the angel of the LORD give Samson’s mother instructions for the duration of her pregnancy? Was there danger of an in-utero haircut? I don’t think so. Sam was supposed to keep all the laws for all the days of his life.

He didn’t. He pursued what was “right in his own eyes.”

“Even our flaws can’t thwart God’s purposes.”Glahn, 114

The glory of all this is that God’s empowerment bows to His will and not ours. In other words, His presence, blessing and grace are not affected by our choices or the extent of our faithfulness. These things are determined by God and His will. That’s really, really good news!

Even better news: He promises that He will never leave us nor forsake us, that His strength exceeds our needs, that His love for us will never end.

“Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O LORD.”

– Psalm 145:13—14

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