Samson is probably the best known of the Judges, and his ability and his failures are both of heroic proportions.
His birth is surrounded by miracle and prophecy; from childhood he’s brought up and set apart for God’s service. Yet it all goes terribly wrong. Even in the prophecy of 13:5 it’s only said that he will begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines. And that’s all he manages.
Samson’s miraculous strength is a great gift from God for the nation’s time of need; but his physical strength is outweighed by his moral and spiritual weakness. He comes across not as a great man of God but as an arrogant bully, who uses his strength not to save his people but to chase Philistine women, show off and wreak personal revenge when he doesn’t get his way. His only references to the LORD are in two prayers – the first (15:18) a prayer of petulant complaint because he’s thirsty after a hard day killing Philistines and the second (16:28) to plead for one last gift of strength so that he can destroy the nobiity of the Philistines. Even then, it’s not so that he can fulfil God’s purpose of freeing Israel, but as one last act of revenge.
Samson gives us some good, colourful stories. In terms of what we can learn, though, the main thing is surely that we must match our God-given gifts and talents with disciplined faith and obedience if they are to achieve what God gave them to us to do. How often do we let our physical appetites and basic instincts take priority over service of God and others? We may not have Samson’s strength, but if we have any of the moral and spiritual strength he so lacked then we will achieve far more good through our modest gifts than Samson did through his muscles.
If we choose instead Samson’s way of self-indulgence and arrogance, we can hardly expect to accomplish with our lives any more than he did. Samson’s story is a tragedy – it would be just as tragic for us to follow in his footsteps.