Recently, we were studying the account of Samson in Judges 13-16. When we came to chapter 15 I said, “At this point in the book of Judges I can’t help but wonder what it was about Samson that permitted him to be mentioned as an example of faith in Hebrews 11:32.” I know that we call Hebrews 11:4-38, “Faith’s Hall of Fame.” I do not know where the designation originated, nor when I first heard it, but it has been around a while. If we do not employ this title, we will often refer to the ones here mentioned as being “heroes” of the faith. The writer of the book of Hebrews concludes his analysis of the men and women of faith by saying that they were ones “of whom the world was not worthy” (Vs. 38). These individuals, in one way or another, exemplified faith in their lives. The writer said that “all these” (not just some of them) were commended through their faith (Vs. 39).
Your eyes must squint when you read the list of names that characterized the extremely chaotic period of the judges: Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah (Vs. 32). As we scan this short list there are few heroic qualities that stand out in their lives. They were examples of faith with feet of clay. Wouldn’t that be true of each one of us?
Maybe it’s just me, but I wonder if we have not done an injustice by designating Hebrews 11:4-38 as “Faith’s Hall of Fame.” A hall of fame is a recognition of people who excelled in whatever it was that put them in that place of honor. Whether it is the Country Music Hall of Fame, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, or any of the various sports halls of fame, it memorializes people who were the best at what they did. Their talents were exceptional, and history has taken note of them as being among the best at what they did, or do.
By the time I got to Judges 15 I had failed to see anything exceptional in the life of Samson. In fact, I didn’t see anything even remotely positive about him. I am the first to admit that I may have been looking at his life in the wrong way. Samson had his faults, and it is a mistake to measure any person’s life by a handful of their worst days over a lifetime. Samson certainly suffered the consequences of his foolish decisions, but he did not blame God for his problems. Samson risked his life many times as he fought the enemies of Israel; he was deeply conscious of God’s work in his life, and his own place as God’s instrument against the enemy (Judg. 14:4).
We somehow imagine that the persons mentioned in Hebrews 11 are grand examples of spirituality. With that thought in the back of our minds, we come to the book of Judges and we try to read that element into the life of Samson. We somehow equate faith with a God-like spirituality, but that element is starkly absent from his life. He was Rambo-like, but try as I did, I could not find the Godly qualities I so much wanted to see in Israel’s judge. And, it may be that what we have in Judges 13-16 is really only his life in a nutshell. I am sure that is the case. Perhaps it is unfair and disjointed to judge him based on such a limited criterion, but that is all we have to go by.
At the conclusion of my study of Samson’s life I said: “We find little about Samson to compliment. At least we can say this: (1) He knew the enemy. (2) He did not feel comfortable in the warmth of the status quo, as the men of Judah did in Judges 15:11. (3) We will never quite get over our amazement at the kind of servant God delights to use – I wonder if that might include us.”
We must remember that the inspired writer to the Hebrews was not making evaluative statements of the people mentioned, except to say that they were examples of faith. That is all. He was not giving any assessment of their spirituality, moral character, sensitivity to people’s needs, or lack thereof. The writer of Hebrews did not equate Samson with Able, Noah, Abraham, Moses, or any of the others. The point is not that these individuals are in a hall of fame level of piety, but that they demonstrated faith in some way. The lesson from all of this is quite simple. It is good that the examples of faith contained in Hebrews 11 are of God’s choice, and not mine. Yet, more importantly, this teaches me that God can and will use flawed people to accomplish his ends. That may very well include me!