“When he [Samson] came to Lehi, the Philistines came shouting against him. Then the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him; and the ropes that were on his arms became like flax that is burned with fire, and his bonds broke loose from his hands. He found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, reached out his hand and took it, and killed a thousand men with it” (Judges 15:14-15, suggested reading: all of chapter 15).
Discipline and deliverance are thematic in the book of Judges. By allowing godless nations to oppress them, God repeatedly disciplined His people and then repeatedly delivered them through the judges He called.
During that era, the nation of Israel was in danger of being assimilated by other nations. Israel, however, needed to be preserved from assimilation for the promise of the Messiah to be fulfilled. Samson was God’s champion, chosen to serve as a one-man army to deliver Israel and preserve its distinctiveness.
Evidently, the Israelites didn’t always appreciate Samson’s God-given role. In Judges 15, the Israelites were the very ones who tied the ropes that bound Samson when the Philistines went against him! Nevertheless, the Spirit of the Lord enabled him to break his bonds and kill a thousand of Israel’s enemies. God’s champion saved them even though they were uncooperative, short-sighted, and seemingly comfortable in their slavery.
Centuries later, God sent another Champion—the promised Messiah—to save His people from the curse of sin and the bondage of death. His people, however, were uncooperative and even complicit in Jesus’ crucifixion by the Romans. Yet, Jesus remained steadfast in His task to deliver them, notwithstanding their efforts to destroy Him. In fact, He saved them through being arrested, condemned, scourged, and crucified. He could have demonstrated great strength in Gethsemane by heaping up bodies as Samson did, but He showed far greater strength by praying from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). The Champion went on to win the battle for people who didn’t realize or appreciate what He was doing for them. Fifty days later, many who had cried “Crucify Him!” were baptized for the remission of their sins. The prayer of their Champion was answered.
Old Testament champions, like Samson and David, often won victories by leaving dead bodies in their wake. That was fitting then, but our Champion, Jesus Christ, has a different strategy for us today. His kingdom is not of this world. Christians do not win victories by destroying their enemies; they win by saving them. Through living and preaching the Gospel of Christ, His people seek not to kill but to bring life.
By the grace of God the Holy Spirit works in and through the Gospel to make allies of those who were once enemies. Saul became the Apostle Paul and “. . . a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7). Isn’t it amazing that many who were once enemies of Christ became His Church—and that this list includes you and me?
Despite Samson’s moral weakness and lack of spiritual maturity, God chose him to judge Israel. In time, Samson grew increasingly humble, and that made him even stronger before the Lord. In Hebrews 11:32-33, Samson’s name is included among those “. . . who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises . . . .”
God still uses flawed people—people who confess they have no virtue or strength of their own but confess their sins and trust in Jesus—in the ongoing work to deliver sinners today. When the enemies of Christ are converted and become His friends, it is through the Gospel of love and forgiveness shared by His people. These victories are far greater than those ever won with a jawbone.
Delwyn Maas is pastor of Gift of God Lutheran Church in Mapleton, North Dakota.