A Consecrated Fool
Growing up in church as a scrawny kid I was captured by stories of David slaying Goliath, Gideon defeating the Midianites, and especially Samson taking out 1,000 Philistines practically bare handed. While I loved the daring of those figures, I was also taught to be careful about the temptations of great champions: David’s moral failure and desperate attempts to cover it up, Gideon’s late-in-life slip into creating an idol and snare for his family, and the far more dramatic and colorful life of Samson and his sensational self-destruction. All of these stories served as lessons to us that great strength demands responsibility, and there is danger of misusing those gifts. The consecrated life demands constant self-examination and moral integrity.
So, when I reread the account of Samson last week I was looking for that lesson I had been taught as a young man. But it wasn’t there. Instead, what I discovered was a new way of looking at what it might mean to live a consecrated – but empty life.
Can a fool with no redeeming qualities still be consecrated? That is the question I asked myself this week, and the conclusion surprised me. Yes, I think they can if we consider the definition of consecrated to mean “designed and set apart for a purpose.”
Samson was a miracle child announced by the angel to his mother and father. It’s easy to expect great things from the beginning, like Samuel, John the Baptist or Jesus. Why else would there be so much preparation for his arrival? Anxious to believe he would be the one to deliver the people from their oppression and rebellion against God, we soon realize not every miracle has a happy ending. In fact, the whole story of Samson forces us outside our categories about how God operates. There is nothing godly in the life of Samson. He is consecrated and without character.
From the start he is impulsive, spoiled, demanding, arrogant and lacking judgment. He shows no hint of kindness or love or what we would call the evidence of a life stirred by the Spirit. He is cruel and vindictive. Incapable of discernment and immune to advice, he twice marries into the families of the very people – the Philistines – who are the enemies of Israel. Disregarding every warning and all counsel he creates conflicts of interest that prove to be fatal.
His own people don’t know what to do with him and the chaos he has created. He is a rogue killing machine yet no one can touch him. His anger and pride control and isolate him from everyone around him. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “His whole life is a scene of miracles and follies.”
Samson may be our first total narcissist in Scripture. He exhibits all the characteristics. Narcissists misjudge their own importance and consider themselves to be indispensable and worthy of special rights and privileges. When opposed, they are furious and blame everyone around them. They infuriate other people and excessive pride in their own accomplishments causes others to work even harder – just to cut them down and see them humiliated. While thinking themselves sophisticated and shrewd, they are actually more gullible than the average person. They are betrayed by the very people they think they can trust. Finally, they believe they are destined for greatness and when crossed they react with revenge and violence – even at the risk of their own lives.
Samson was a guided missile with one purpose – to defeat an enemy and bring down an entire government. His epitaph reads, “He killed many more when he died than while he lived.” Isn’t that, perhaps, what he was set apart to do? I wonder if that is why the angel had no answer to his parents’ question, “What is to be the rule that governs the boy’s life and work?” To have told them what would become of their only son would have crushed them.
It turned out there was little that could govern or rule Samson except his own unpredictable nature and ego. There was nothing else of value he accomplished in his life. He was a weapon – not a leader. He never led the people to battle or to victory. He betrayed himself and everyone around him. But, he accomplished his mission. Not with an army like Gideon or Joshua or personal heroism like David, but with one self-destructive act he took down the whole government and leadership of the enemy.
Samson was no hero or model for young people. The writer of Judges doesn’t hide any of that or even attempt to justify or condemn his behavior. It is not a tale with a moral. It is not a warning. It is simply a puzzling illustration of how God’s ways are not ours.