Faith of Awful People
Samson is probably the most colorful character in the Bible (Judges chapters 13-16). He was a judge who you could charitably describe as wayward, and he appears in Judges when the flow of the narrative shifts from chronicling moral failure to chronicling moral farce.
Samson was little better than the people he was sent to judge. In fact, he may have led them to worse behavior. As a young man, Samson demanded that his mother and father get him a Philistine girl that he fancied. When they objected, he said, “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes, (14.3)” a line that foreshadows a repeated refrain that appears only after Samson: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (17.6)”
Samson was a Nazarite from birth, dedicated to the Lord by a specific vow (Num. 6.6-21). He was used by the Lord, but we never see him seek the Lord. When you compare the three main components of the vow (no wine, no corpses, no haircuts) with Samson’s life, the most reasonable conclusion is that he broke every part of the vow. Samson lived like an R-rated Dennis the Menace. He rampaged from woman to woman, brawl to brawl in a one-man guerilla war against the Philistines.
Ultimately Samson was done in by his own lust and arrogance. His eyes were gouged out and he was chained between two pillars of a temple for entertainment at a party in honor of the god Dagon. He asked God for strength and was given it to push down the pillars, bringing the roof of the temple down on his head and the heads of all the Philistines present. Finally, an act of faith, but it bewilders us. Samson wanted to be avenged on the Philistines for the sake of “my two eyes,” not for the sake of his God.
All this begs the question: why is Samson mentioned in Hebrews 11, the hall of faith? In connection with Samson and other judges, Hebrews states that they “were made strong out of weakness.” This was certainly true for Samson, and his final act shows that at last he understood the source of his strength.
Samson’s life and his commendation in Hebrews reminds us how much faith can lack and still be called faith. This troubles us. Is God really so merciful that he looks upon the faith of awful people?