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Looking for God When Life is Messy

July 19, 2014
“For if Yahweh’s help were given only when we prayed for it, only when we asked for it, only when we had sense enough to seek it, what paupers and orphans we would be.” – Dale Ralph Davis

In my study of Judges this summer, I got stuck in the story of Samson. The story I remember from vacation Bible school is quite different than the Biblical account in Judges 13-16. The story I recollect is about an Israelite man who has an unusual amount of God-given strength that was to be used to deliver God’s people from the Philistines. Samson fell for a Philistine woman named Delilah who schemed to find out the secret of his immense strength so that she could sell this information to her people. He eventually tells her that his strength is from his long hair. While he sleeps, she cuts off his hair and his power is gone. In my memory, the hero and the victim are Samson and Delilah is the traitor.

While components of the story I learned as a child are true, it’s much more complicated and messier than I remember. In order to accurately interpret this portion of scripture, I had to slow down and spend time looking up the meaning of various Hebrew words, consult several commentaries, and outline the chapters in order to find patterns that would help me understand what lessons are being taught. The story of Samson is told in four chapters of the Bible. That’s a lot of space to be devoted to one man’s story which indicates that it’s a story worth studying.

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After Joshua led the twelve tribes of Israel into the promise land, they vowed to remember how God had delivered them from their enemies and how He provided what they needed while they wandered in the wilderness. They promised they would be completely devoted to Him and would not worship any other gods. However, a destructive pattern began to emerge. The tribes of Israel would begin to marry individuals who were not from Israel and did not worship the God of Isaac, Jacob, and Abraham. Instead, they worshiped Baal and other false gods. This led the people of Israel to break their covenant with God by worshiping these other gods. Over time, God would bring discipline to them by allowing other nations to conquer and oppress them. After a time, the Israelites would cry out to God asking Him to deliver them. He would hear their cry and would raise up a judge who would organize a rebellion against their oppressors, which would lead them back into a period of time of peace and prosperity. When the judge died, however, the people would turn back and follow other gods and the pattern would repeat.

We see the same pattern emerging in Samson’s story.

Now the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, so that the LORD gave them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years.” Judges 13:1 (NASB)

The difference in the story of Samson is that the Israelites did not cry out for God to rescue them. They had become accustomed to living under the oppression of the Philistines. They had accepted their position as serving their oppressors and in fact, were contented in their situation. They were even surprised that anyone would want to change the status quo. (Judges 15:11)

This brings me to the first lesson I’ve learned in studying the story Samson. When studying scripture we need to first ask ourselves what is God doing in the story.

  • How is He moving?
  • Who is He working through?
  • What actions is He taking in order to equip someone to be able to accomplish His plan?
  • Why is His intervention necessary?
  • Where has He chosen to take this action and why there?
  • What events has preceded His intervention?
  • How do these events fit into the greater story of redemption?

Too often we first focus on the actions of the characters in a biblical story. We see their triumphs, their courage, their mistakes, and their failures. We try to determine if their actions line up with our understanding of God’s desires or will. I believe that we are also trying to measure our lives against theirs.

We certainly can learn from the characters in the Bible, but before we get too deep into asking why Samson would do things so contrary to God’s plan for his life, we need to look to see what God is doing in the story. The Israelites were living in bondage and oppression and had become accustomed to it. Although they weren’t asking God to rescue thembecause of the long-suffering nature of God, in His grace, He decided to intervene on their behalf anyway.

According to Daniel Block,  “God would seek and create an occasion to disturb the relationship between oppressor and oppressed.”*

Dale Ralph Davis beautifully describes the situation:

Once you see this Israel you marvel at this Israel’s God. What does He do when He has a people who refuse to forsake Baal and have no desire to forsake Philistia? A people grown so used to bondage they don’t even have a sense to call out for relief? At least here the very God who judges them (v. 1b) begins to work their deliverance — anyway (vv 2-5). That is grace – grace greater than all our sin, than all our stupidity, than all our density…. For if Yahweh’s help were given only when we prayed for it, only when we asked for it, only when we had sense enough to seek it, what paupers and orphans we would be.”**

How moved we are when we ask for God’s grace and it’s provided. But time after time God is providing His grace when we didn’t ask for nor realize it had been given.

Like Samson and his fellow countrymen:

  • I’ve lusted after something I didn’t have
  • I’ve used my power to seek revenge
  • I’ve intervened in a situation without first asking what would God have me do
  • I’ve demanded my own way
  • I’ve worshiped something other than Yahweh
  • I‘ve selfishly sought what was in my best interest at the expense of others
  • I’ve thought I was smart enough, or clever enough to solve a problem that was way over my head

The good news is that even when I was in the midst of selfishly pursuing my own way, God’s grace was freely given. Regardless of whether I asked for it or deserved it. This doesn’t mean that He didn’t bring discipline into my life to bring me back into obedience to Him, but I certainly didn’t get what I deserved. Discipline, yes, but utter destruction, no.

The secret to studying any story in the Bible, especially the messy ones, is to focus on God’s actions and His purposes. That’s where you’ll find the gems that are worth treasuring.


*Block, Daniel, The American Commentary - Judges and Ruth, Vol. 6., Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 1999, Print  (Page 392)
**Davis, Dale Ralph, Judges; Such a Great Salvation, Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications Ltd., 2000. Print (Page 158)

 

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