Getting too Close to The Razor’s Edge: the Samson I never knew (Judges 13-16)

I have danced this dance so many times… health depleted, screen bathed in red to warn me of exactly how close to death I am, and the incessant pounding of my heartbeat drowning out all other sounds.  Logic would dictate that my next move would be to find the sweet embrace of cover, heal, and live to fight another day.  But I KNOW that my dance partner on the other side of the  battlefield must be equally damaged and taking a respite now would also afford my foe the opportunity to reload and regroup, and in a matter of seconds I must make the decision to risk myself to land the kill shot or allow discretion to be the better part of valor today.  If you have been following along with me to this point you probably already know what’s going to happen next…

Swapping weapons to avoid the downtime associated with a reload I burst out from cover recklessly and defiantly.  Lobbing a grenade beyond my prey as a tactic to drive them towards me I let the bullets fly towards and watch with grim satisfaction as most reach their intended destination.  As they collapse I savor an all too brief moment of relief… which is promptly ended by an unaccounted for enemy off to my left who had been patiently stalking me undetected while I was engrossed in my conflict with their fallen comrade.  With nowhere to hide and no time to even turn and see where my fatal blow would be coming from, I succumb to the inevitable much like the grizzled hunter in the original Jurassic Park who successfully tracked one velociraptor only to realize a second too late that he was the one being hunted all along.  “Clever girl” indeed.

I hope you are less brazen than I am, but whether we are talking video games or real world decisions there are many times that we can allow ourselves to lose sight of the big picture while pursuing a goal and in doing this we can create a very dangerous situation as we tiptoe too close to danger in our search for victory.  While I have discussed Samson in other places briefly, I am going to dive deeper into his stubborn insistence on playing too close to the razors edge, which in his case turns out to be quite literal.  But before we jump to the ending that most of us are familiar with, we need to understand his beginning: his birth and consecration as a Nazririte.

In Judges 13 we find the extraordinary account of Samson’s origin… a literal gift from God to a childless couple who were given the very specific guidelines to raise him as a Nazirite, an exceptionally special distinction reserved for those who were taking a vow of utmost dedication to God.  The full details can be found in Numbers chapter 6, but the essential rules were that someone who had taken this vow could not drink wine or even eat grapes, they could not touch any dead bodies, and they could never cut their hair.  The significance of the wine and the dead bodies clearly refer to refraining from touching what was considered unclean as both fermentation and decomposition are forms of decay.  Combining this with the significant cultural statement of long hair would clearly set an individual apart from all others, even fellow followers of God who were not restricted by these rules.  So let’s see how Samson does with these guidelines…

In chapter 14 we see that we don’t have to wait long to see Samson’s true nature revealed.  Against the commandments of God and the advice of his parents he chooses to pursue and marry a Philistine woman, a culture awash in idol worship and currently in a state of conflict with the nation of Israel.  But if sleeping with the enemy wasn’t enough of a dance with the devil, Samson decides to push his luck.  In a previous trip to see his bride-to-be, Samson was confronted by a lion which he subdued and defeated thanks to the superhuman strength he was gifted with.  But on a followup visit he saw that a swarm of bees had made honey in the dead carcass of the lion.  Ignoring his commitment to avoid dead bodies, he allowed this previous place of victory to become a step towards his eventual fall by scooping up the tempting honey that had been so cleverly placed in an unclean place he had been forbidden to touch.  He was not restricted from honey… but he was absolutely not allowed to interact with a corpse.

This particular story ends with unthinkable tragedy, as this event with the lion becomes the impetus for an il-advised riddle that Samson leverages at his wedding festivities into a gamble with the attendees.  The lion and the honey riddle had multiple unforeseen consequences culminating in the murder by arson of Samson’s espoused wife and her father.  So now let’s unpack this a little bit… long before Samson gave away his secrets to Delilah he revealed a pre-disposition for playing too close to the fire.  By choosing a partner from an idol-worshiping nation and accepting sustenance from a cursed place he developed a false sense of immunity to the dangers around him that would ultimately lead to his dangerous game with Delilah later on down the line.

Much like my ineffective gaming strategy, Samson continually lived on the razor’s edge and became more emboldened with each apparent success.  Failing to recognize that his enemy was luring him ever closer to his final fall, we see the pattern emerge that I know I have seen many times in my own life.  Satan specializes in putting the honey right in the middle of the forbidden, dressing up the one fruit in the garden that we cannot consume to lead us to a fatal mistake.  The presence of an apparent blessing is not necessarily a sign of God’s approval, and can oftentimes be the smokescreen that conceals the hidden danger waiting for us.  I have spent most of my life viewing the story of Samson through the lens of his singular act of folly with Delilah and failed to recognize that his dalliance with the razor began many years prior.

I know I have made the Samson mistake many times in my life, and found that every time I have scooped up a handful of honey out of a forbidden place it has led me down a path of regret and ruinous decisions.  Fortunately, Samson’s story is ultimately one of redemption and I take heart that God both accepted his genuine repentance and restored his destiny by using him to strike a fatal blow to the Philistine infrastructure in his final act of sacrifice.  This cautionary tale of following the specific and oftentimes restrictive path that the Lord has placed us on is for the protection of ourselves, others, and our destiny.  What may be permissible for others may simply not be in your path, and what may not be dangerous for you may prove fatal to me.

As we circle back to my gaming experience that began this story, the truth is in my heart I knew my risky decision to run out of my protective cover for the easy score was an unwise choice.  It rarely works, and yet I was successfully tempted to pursue it because I thought maybe this would be the time that I would get away with it.  I’m sure Samson thought something similar… who would know?  What was the risk?  Nobody was around, the honey was there, he was hungry… but God saw and He knew.  The wages of sin is death regardless of who is present to observe it.  And his life and death is a stark reminder that we cannot achieve God’s plan through any other means than along His chosen path.

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