What gifts has God given you? Sometimes we call them spiritual gifts. Or it could be our personal abilities. Our aptitudes. Things we are good at. Could be working with our hands. Thinking. Art. Communication. Leading. There are many such gifts. Have you ever wondered if you’re using those gifts the way God wants?
Or maybe you are concerned you’re not using those gifts how God wants. Maybe you’re wondering if you’ve messed up in life and God has passed you over. In our quiet moments we can wrestle with those kinds of thoughts, can’t we? I know I do. When Michelle and I came home from one year as missionaries in Jamaica, I wondered if we had just ruined something. I knew intellectually or theologically that God isn’t like that, but the thoughts were there for sure. The dark thoughts. The fears that we had squandered something. Maybe you’ve wrestled with those thoughts too. In this week’s series of posts, I believe you’ll find some hope.
A few weeks ago we started a series titled Characters. It is about people in ancient Israel that are generally considered to be heroes, but when we read their stories closely we find them to be broken or flawed people who really struggled. And yet God still uses them. There is hope for us in that.
So far we have met Jacob, and his son, Joseph, two of the patriarchs of the nation of Israel. Their family moved from Canaan (which is modern-day Israel) to Egypt. Eventually their family grew into the nation of Israel, still living within Egypt.
The new King of Egypt, the Pharaoh, feared their growth and enslaved the Israelites, resulting in a slavery that lasted 400+ years. But God raised up a deliverer, Moses, who led the nation in an exodus from Egypt, headed back to their ancestor’s original home in Canaan, which they called the Promised Land. When Moses died, Joshua became the leader of the nation. Under Joshua’s leadership, the nation fought the conquest of Canaan and eventually settled in the Promised Land. Moses and Joshua were strong leaders who kept the nation faithful to God, but after Joshua passed away, the nation struggled.
We pick up the story in Judges 2. In this chapter the writer describes a cycle of sin the nation of Israel went through. Verses 16-19 give us a summary of the whole book of Judges: sin, punishment, God’s redemption through a leader/judge, and freedom…until the people start sinning again. The cycle would happen all over. Imagine how God must have felt watching his people turn their backs on him. Yet he is a faithful God, raising up judges to rescue them. Again, do you see the hope for the flawed?
This week, we’re going to meet one of those judges: Samson. Turn to Judges chapter 13. By chapter 13, there have been numerous judges, as Israel has gone through many of these cycles of sin, punishment, judge, and salvation. We don’t know how many years have gone by since the days of Joshua, but it could be hundreds of years. What has happened in those years is a gradual spiritual decline in the nation. A nation that has moved farther and farther from God. Sound familiar to your nation?
In chapter 13 we are at the beginning of another cycle of sin. Verse 1 tells us that the people did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and he delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years! Who are the Philistines? They are a pagan people, living mostly along the Mediterranean Sea, and one of the arch-enemies of the nation of Israel.
Into this national situation, Judges 13 tells the fascinating story of the birth of the next judge, Samson. The basic details are in verses 1-5.
Already in these opening verses, we see God entering the story to be the faithful, redeeming God that he is. How do we see this?
First, he is going to give a childless couple a baby. That happens a lot in the Bible, right? So often, in fact, that should tell us something about the kind of God he is. He brings hope!
Second, if you read the whole chapter you’ll find that Samson’s parents are decent people. His dad Manoah seems a bit comical, bumbling. His mom seems a lot more stable and possibly even more faithful than his dad. But these aren’t paragons of godliness. God is gracious.
Third, an angel shows up. When angels show up, we should take notice. How many times did angels show up to announce the birth of the previous judges? I’ll let you research that on your own.
Fourth, there are special vows that God declares must happen in this pregnancy and baby. Samson’s mom needs to take uncommon measures during her pregnancy: no alcohol, no unclean food. And what’s more, her son will be a Nazarite for life.
“Nazarite” is from the Hebrew word that means “separated” or “dedicated,” as the angel indicates about the child in verse 4. It was a vow that people could choose to take. But God wanted this child to be born as a Nazarite, and to live that way his whole life. As a result there are some specific rules the child will live by: no alcohol, no touching dead bodies, and his hair is never to be cut.
Fifth, look at verses 24-25. The chapter concludes with the birth of the child, whom they name Samson, and we learn that the Lord blessed him and the Spirit of the Lord began to stir in him. That phrase alone is a very rare description for people in the Old Testament. The Spirit of the Lord only came upon a few people. Samson was one of them.
The account of Samson’s birth sets the stage for Samson to grow up to be a mighty man of God. Think about what we have seen. His parents were decent people, perhaps especially his mom. God miraculously gives Samson to them. Samson is set apart from birth in this special role called a Nazarite. And the Spirit of God is on him. Add that all up, and you have all the raw material for Samson to be a dynamic man of God.
In fact, it almost gives us the idea that he could be the one to bring the nation back to the place where Moses and Joshua had taken it. We even get a hint of that from the angel’s words that Samson would begin to deliver the nation from the hands of the Philistines.
Everything surrounding Samson’s birth and early years is amazing. This is a reminder that God is a bringer of hope. If it seems like your life is too far gone, too messed up, know that when it comes to God, there is always hope.