I woke to the laughter of my enemies.
Blinking, I looked to my left and to my right. It was dark, with the flickering light of torches in the distance casting mocking shadows on the wall before me. My shoulders hurt from the awkward weight of my position. I pulled my feet underneath me and slowly stood.
I was underground. My hands were bound at the ankle by thick bronze chains leading to the stone behind me. My feet were restricted in similar fashion, the heavy chains made soft noises as they resisted my adjusted stance. I swung my right hand in a quick circle and felt the bronze links in my hand. I did the same with my left.
Rolling my neck and shoulders I pulled myself a shuffling step forward, until the chains binding me went taut. My restraints were about to become my weapons. Their laughter would die with cries of terror and surprise soon enough. Taking a deep breath, I flexed against the chains to pull them free of their stone housings.
Growling, I reset and stepped forward again, losing my balance and jerking myself upright. The muscles in my arms and chest were flexing as I shook my head to feel my hair around me. Something was wrong. I tilted my head to the left and rubbed my ear and scalp on my shoulder. I could feel the rough remaining tufts of stubble on my skin. My hair was gone. The symbol of my vow had been cut away completely. I was betrayed.
Panicked, I pulled at the chains desperately. Wide-eyed and straining I began to tremble in futile effort. It was no use. God had abandoned me. My strength was gone, replaced by cold anger. I didn’t deserve this. I would make them pay.
I would make her pay.
Someone was coming, in fact, many from the sound of it. They rounded the corner of the passage before me and were carrying several items I didn’t recognize. A large metal pot with a heavy handle, glowing with red-hot coals, swung slowly between the two soldiers carrying it. A makeshift table with blocks and straps was being carried as well but it was too tall to be a table, I didn’t know what its purpose would be. A smallish man, carrying a scroll was reading in a monotone, it sounded like he was reading a list of names. I cursed them all soundly.
The soldiers set the coals on the ground to my right. The table carrier brought the apparatus directly in front of me and set it down. I tried to grab him but the heavy chains combined with my exhaustion made me easy to avoid. Even so, it took three of them to manhandle me on top of the table and they began adjusting the straps and blocks to hold my head in place. I was still chained to the wall and I just couldn’t get enough leverage to resist. The small man was still reading names, one after the other.
From the corner of my eye, I saw the lead soldier put a sharpened length of bronze into the coals and over time, it started to glow with the heat from the surrounding material. At some point I realized that the names were names of philistine families.
They were the names of the men I had killed.
It took hours to read them all.
When his voice finally droned away into silence I was in agony. My back was cramping from the unnatural position, my arms and legs were still chained and I couldn’t straighten or move my head at all. The small man handed his scroll to a soldier and picked up the heated bronze. Looking at me intently, he held it in front of my face. Its glow cast an unholy light.
For the first time in my life, I was afraid.
I dislocated my shoulder in a frantic effort that succeeded in pulling me back about an inch. I was quickly repositioned, tightened, and in a single, practiced, terrifying and eternal moment, one half of the world went black. Screaming and unable to move, burning bronze took the rest of my vision away from me forever.
I awoke on the ground with feet still chained and my shoulder throbbing but bound close to me in a makeshift sling. Reaching up, I felt cloth covering my eyes.
The next few months were a cycle of food, sleep, manual labor in the prison mill and a searching of the soul. I revisited every memory and prayed for God to deliver me to death. At some point I came to the conclusion that I deserved everything I had received and the litany of my failures became my morning and evening prayer.
I am Samson. The one who dishonored my mother and father. The one who broke and disdained the vows of the Nazarenes. The one who touched things unclean. I am Samson, the greedy, Samson, the hungry. I am Samson, the violent and ill tempered Judge of Israel. The one who ruled with vengeance and impetuousness instead of wisdom and prayer. I am Samson, whose strength can barely lift a spoon of cold gruel to my lips and whose life is dependent on the mercy and provision of my enemies. I am Samson the selfish, husband of philistines and speaker of lies.
I am Samson the weak, Samson the shorn, Samson the forsworn. I am the blind child of the God I ignored and took for granted. My victories are the bones of a tomb. My memories are the faint heat of stone giving no comfort from sweet summer days. I am Samson, the judge who has been judged and found wanting. I am Samson, the miller of grain. I am the one who is hopeless, the one who waits to die.
For weeks I continued in a place even darker than my blindness could ever know. In the midst of that time God spoke to me gently.
And my hair began to grow.
My spirit was encouraged by the thought that I was just a man, but God was the God of everything. He knew the generations of my ancestors past. He knows the children of Israel’s future. His Hand is not weakened by my failure, or thwarted by the plans of His enemies.
His Hair has not been cut.
In that thought I found hope and in hope I found His Spirit surrounding me and comforting me again. I found a belief that God was still mine and I was still His and in darkness my heart was opened.
Not through strength, for I had none. Not through victory, for I was utterly defeated. Not through power or leadership, or judgment. Not through action, or battle, or any good that I could do. Yet He loved me.
He loved me, just because I was His and not because of what I did or didn’t do.
It wasn’t about what I could do. It was about being the man He called me to be and loving Him with my whole heart: as Judge, as son, as husband, as prisoner.
It was never about muscle and sinew. It was never about revenge or power. It was never about my sense of victory of the things I could achieve. It was about God’s purpose in the earth and my part to play. In many ways I succeeded, my faith and passion were great. In many ways I failed, selfishly focused on the moment.
Humbled, I became stronger than I ever was in health and victory. Blinded, I saw more clearly than I ever thought possible.
My strength was never my own.
My strength is His.
I am empty and I am broken. But I have one last prayer to pray. May God use me up completely and let His will on earth be done.
Then Samson called to the LORD and said, “O Lord GOD, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes.” And Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and he leaned his weight against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other. And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” Then he bowed with all his strength, and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life. (The Book of the Judges, 16)
Devotional Thought for the Day
Samson was blessed mightily by God. But somewhere along the way he began to take God for granted. To forget that God alone was the source of his strength. In the midst of what we may consider a successful ministry, we can lose perspective. We can forget that it isn’t our strength that sustains us, but His. Are you caught up in the frenzy of leading staff, getting ready for the weekend, social media expectations, etc.? Are you taking the time to be with the One who provides it all? The only One worthy of our devotion?