For the last few days I have been reading the book of Judges, and I have particularly been thinking about the life of Samson. Although Samson often stirs up images that are more like the cover of a romance novel than a Bible character, it is the tragedy of a life thrown away that draws me in.
Even before his birth, expectations were high for Samson. His mother and father were visited by the angel of the Lord and told that their son would be used by God, but that they needed to raise him as one under the vows of a Nazirite. Normally, a person took on this vow for short while, but Manoah and his wife were told that this would be a lifelong commitment that he would need to make. No eating of any products derived from grapes—wine, juice, raisins, or even the grape itself. Along with this, Samson was not to cut his hair- ever. All of these things, in addition to the normal restrictions placed upon the Jewish people, were meant to demonstrate that Samson was set apart for a special purpose by God. Samson would be a sort of redeemer for his people, helping to free them from the oppression of their enemies the Philistines.
The problem was that Samson himself was not free. He may have had supernatural strength, but he was enslaved to his lusts. He may have been able to overpower a gang of men, but he couldn’t win victory over himself. He was his own worst enemy. Following the short life of this man, it quickly becomes apparent that when Samson sees something he wants, he will do whatever it takes to get it. He repeats a refrain that is seen often throughout the book of Judges, and he personalizes it-every man did that which was right in his own eyes.
It was not simply the cutting of his hair that caused this mighty warrior to fall. It was his lust for women, his raging anger, his disdain for purity-both ritual and spiritual, and his selfish drive to please himself. All of these came crashing down upon him like the building that took his life. Even Samson’s final (and only) prayer to God was laced with astonishing selfishness. This is the tragic result for not only Samson but for any of us that choose the foolish path of “following our heart.” Don’t do it. To follow your own heart is like cutting off the rudder on a ship and allowing the wind to blow the sails in whatever direction it gusts. A sailor that follows that practice will end up shipwrecked or lost at sea.
I’m not writing as one who has never followed his own heart. On the contrary, I have all too much experience in living the same way that Samson lived. I seek my counsel, and I go my own way. But it doesn’t take long before the initial satisfaction of my selfishness wears off and my foolishness reveals painful consequences. The only comfort and solution that I have found for avoiding this is to sail by a north star that is not within my own heart. The Bible gives me the wisdom and counsel that I need, not what I want. It speaks truth to my stubborn and deceptive heart. It points out the painful consequences and it shows me the true joy that can come if I will only trust the One who loves me more than I even love myself.
Samson’s life ended in tragedy, but my life won’t. My compass is set by Jesus Christ, and He will bring me home. I may put aside the compass now and then in my foolishness, but in the end, Christ will bring me into my heavenly port.
If you’d like to read about Samson for yourself, his story can be read in Judges chapters 13-16.