A Warning We All Must Take Seriously

We need to learn from the Samson saga:

You all know the story of Samson. He was the reluctant deliverer that God used, despite his many glaring faults. As such, it provides yet another reason why the Bible is more than a bunch of made-up stories. If it were a mere human book, folks would not have included such stories of defeat and sin and rebellion. But the Bible gives us reality, warts and all.

So we have this story of Samson, for good or ill, in the book of Judges (chapters 13-16). Four whole chapters – out of twenty-one – devoted to him and his family, highlighting this very flawed character. Gideon and his family also have four chapters devoted to him, but he is a very different figure. Here I want to look at Samson’s life, but mainly in the light of just one verse.

Judges 16:20 tragically says this about Samson: “But he did not know that the LORD had left him.” It is certainly one of the saddest verses in the Old Testament. Without wanting to see more theological warfare erupt here, I just want to offer some general reflections on this. Those who are chomping at the bits to debate whether a true believer can lose his salvation are advised to hold off. That particular discussion is not my main concern here.

We know that in the end the Lord still used Samson to achieve his purposes. Talk about amazing grace. Many Christians would ask how God could use such a selfish, carnal, rebellious, and immoral guy like this. Well, as I want to show here, the real question to ask is this: ‘How can God use any one of us?’ We are all like Samson in so many ways.

We all disappoint God repeatedly. It is a wonder that he does not just write us off, once and for all. Yet he seems to keep extending grace and mercy. Do we deserve it? No. That is why it is grace – it is fully undeserved. I don’t know about you, but when I read stories of such severely flawed and sinful characters like Samson, or so many others found in Scripture, it gives me hope. If God can use these guys, he can even use me!

Let me mention a few things about the Samson story, and then bring in some commentators. Throughout these four chapters we see that God uses even a selfish and fleshly Samson to achieve his greater purposes. For example, in Judges 14 we read about Samson’s marriage to a Philistine – something his parents rightly pointed out was wrong. Yet verse 4 says this: “His father and mother did not know that it was from the Lord, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines. At that time the Philistines ruled over Israel.”

Throughout this narrative we see Yahweh using the bad choices of Samson to achieve his various purposes. And bad choices seemed to fully characterise Samson. Says Mary Evans, “Samson treats the Philistines as an enemy only when his own personal aims are thwarted; otherwise, he seems happy to live with them in reasonably comfortable coexistence.” And as Kenneth Way comments:

All of Samson’s vices seem to come together in this account. He is lustful (16:1, 4), apathetic (16:17), and foolish (16:20), and right up to the very end he is selfish (16:28) and vengeful (16:28). Amazingly, God uses all these flaws to accomplish his own purposes. However, God’s employment of Samson does not count as an endorsement of his lifestyle, nor does it absolve Samson from the terrible consequences of his poor choices (see 16:20–21, 30).

But let me finish by noting the lesson that we Christians today must take from this – including the warnings this story provides. Dale Ralph Davis says this about the tragic developments in this narrative:

Why tell Israel this story? Why did Israel need to hear this? Why did Israel need to remember both the entertainment and the tragedy of Samson (the tragedy being all the more tragic because of the entertainment that proceeded it)? Because Samson was intended as a mirror for Israel. In Samson Israel was to see herself (just as in Luke 15 Jesus wanted the Pharisees and scribes of v. 2 to see themselves in the older son of vv. 25-32). Samson is a paradigm of Israel: one raised up out of nothing, richly gifted, who panders around with other loves and yet, apparently, always expects to ‘have’ Yahweh. So Israel has received grace on top of grace yet persistently carries her affairs with Baal (see 2:11ff.), utterly ignorant of her true condition (cf. Hos. 7:9), blithely assuming that all is well (Jer. 2:34b-35a) and that Yahweh is always at her disposal (Jer. 2:27b). She is a people who does not know that Yahweh may depart from her—just as a church may believe that God would never write ‘Ichabod’ over its denominational headquarters (cf. 1 Sam. 4:21). How tragic when God’s professing people cannot see that they are ‘wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked’ (Rev. 3:17). Whether to ancient Israel or contemporary church, Samson’s tragedy still speaks: watch out, lest you abandon the divine call, leave your first love, and forfeit the divine presence.

Image of Judges and Ruth: God in Chaos (Preaching the Word)
Judges and Ruth: God in Chaos (Preaching the Word) by Webb, Barry G. (Author), Hughes, R. Kent (Series Editor) Amazon logo

And Barry Webb makes these helpful comments:

Samson was a holy man; Israel was a holy nation. Samson went after other women; Israel went after other gods. In his extremity Samson called out to God to save him (16:28). In its extremity Israel too cried out to Yahweh, as we have seen again and again in Judges. Samson was finally handed over to his enemies and taken down to exile in Gaza. Israel was handed over to the Babylonians and taken away in exile to Babylon. Both outcomes were tragic, and both could have been avoided if other choices had been made.


Samson’s story is Israel’s story. But it is also our story, and his tragedy may be ours too if we resist God’s call as he did. We too are holy people, or “saints” in the proper Biblical sense of that term (1 Corinthians 1:2; 6:1, 2; 14:33; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:2). In the words of the Apostle Peter we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that [we] may proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Incredible though it may sound, it’s God’s intention to take the fight to the enemy through us, reveal his glory to the world through us, and expose its gods for the hollow shams they are. The question for us is, will we embrace that? Will we run with it and find our whole joy and reason for living in being what God has called us to be? Or will we be reluctant saints, as Samson was, always looking over our shoulder and wishing we could be as other people? Will we, too, be led by our eyes and the covetousness of our hearts? Will we serve God because we must or because we love him? And how will it be ten years from now, or twenty, when we’ve fought many battles and know there are still harder ones ahead? Will we want out, as Samson did? Or will the call of God to be his saints and servants still captivate our hearts, still fill us with a sense of wonder and privilege, and nerve us to continue as his faithful servants to the end?


The fact is, we are called to be saints. That is the word that has been spoken over us. It was settled by God’s own decree, not just before we were born, but in eternity: “he chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy” (Ephesians 1:4). It’s not fundamentally our choice, but God’s. And we’re in this for life. There’s no early discharge. It won’t be over until we cross the finishing line and stand on the victory dais. And we are not in this alone. Many have gone before us, including Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Ruth, Deborah, Mary, Peter, John, Paul, and James, and since then a host of others—Augustine, Luther, Wesley, and the many pioneers and martyrs, both men and women, of the modern missionary movement. And above all, Jesus himself has gone before us…

As mentioned, huge theological debates arise when we ask about the possibility of believers losing their salvation. I have said it before and will say again: we have many beautiful promises about God’s ability to keep us, but we also have many sober warnings about not falling away. The wise believer will cling to the whole revelation of God here, even if it seems we have some paradoxes along the way.

So we must learn from Samson.

Note: In a future article I will explore some important theological themes found in the Samson saga, including how his sinful choices could somehow be used by God for his divine purposes. Stay tuned.

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6 Replies to “A Warning We All Must Take Seriously”

  1. Samson and David are both listed amongst the men of faith in Hebrews 11, and yet both lusted after the flesh and committed adultery as is described in the book of Ezekiel of the nation of Israel itself.
    If God had cast them off it would have sent out a signal to the other nations that God’s covenant promises could not be kept and that He had not the power to save to the uttermost. Instead he showed both men and nation that consequences and curses flow in the form of painful discipline from disobeying his laws and that this is designed not to destroy them but to instil in them and us, time and time again, a holy fear of God and bring us back to God. However, if God’s grace does not put within us this fear and we become hardened to the point of no longer being able to hear His voice, there can only be judgment. As Hebrews 10 says, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God”.

    David Skinner UK

  2. Fantastic, one of your best in a long time. I know this will be used by the many for the many, thank you for the great comparisons.

  3. Joseph and Mary too: “Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it”.

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