During his Senate confirmation hearing, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch said that he asks his ethics class students to write their own obituaries. And when his students share what they’ve written, he notices that “people want to be remembered for the kindnesses they showed other people, by and large.”
Have you ever written your own obituary? One day it will be printed in the paper, and your life will be summed up in a paragraph or two in a bulletin for your memorial service. No one will care about how much money you made, about how much stuff you owned, or about how high you climbed in your profession. What they will talk about is what kind of a person you were – about what kind of son or daughter or husband or wife or mom or dad you were. They also will talk about your faith.
The Bible says that “finishing is better than starting” (Ecclesiastes 7:8 NLT). And the great American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, “Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.”
That was not the case with Samson, someone we read about in the Old Testament book of Judges. If we were to write Samson’s obituary, we could say that his life had a great beginning. Physically, there was no one stronger. He was a one-man army. On one occasion he killed 30 Philistines, the enemies of the Israelites, to settle a bet. On another occasion he killed 1,000 Philistine warriors on the battlefield with a bone he picked up off the ground. He once took a lion and ripped it apart with his bare hands. He had superhuman qualities, but he wasn’t a fictitious superhero like we see in movies or read about in comic books. Samson was more powerful than the Hulk. He was smarter than Dr. Strange. And he was the real deal.
God’s Spirit came upon Samson so he would make a stand in a very dark time in the history of Israel. Everyone was doing what was right in their own eyes, but Samson was dedicated to the Lord, and God wanted him to take the vow of a Nazirite. Among other things, this meant that he would not drink alcohol or cut his hair.
Sometimes we think Samson’s strength came from his hair. But that isn’t where Samson’s strength came from. His strength came from his commitment to God, symbolized by his hair. Samson had great beginning. His birth was announced by the Lord or, at the very least, by an angel of the Lord (see Judges 13). He was dedicated to God.
But no sooner had Samson started than he began doing the wrong things. He blatantly disobeyed God and married a Philistine woman, which caused a lot of problems. After that, he got involved with a prostitute who lived in Gaza. The devil threw out the bait, and Samson took it, hook, line, and sinker.
Samson’s problem was that he had power without purity. He had strength without self-control. And he took for granted the supernatural strength God gave him, thinking it would always be there. For 20 years he experienced the thrill of victory, even when he was compromising. Even when he sinned, God still gave him the strength to do amazing things.
But suddenly one day, his strength was gone. The devil sized him up, found his area of vulnerability and came up with a hack. He designed a special instrument to bring down Samson. Her name was Delilah, a name, by the way, that means “delicate.” And she proved to be that strong man’s undoing.
Moral compromise always makes us vulnerable. If Samson had not been in a sinful relationship with Delilah, he wouldn’t have found himself in the mess he was in. Delilah wouldn’t give up. She nagged him and tormented him, and then she went in for the kill, saying, “How can you tell me, ‘I love you,’ when you don’t share your secrets with me? You’ve made fun of me three times now, and you still haven’t told me what makes you so strong!” (Judges 16:15 NLT)
Finally, Samson gave in. He told her his hair had never been cut and confessed that he had been dedicated to God as a Nazirite from birth. And while he was asleep, Delilah called in someone to cut off his hair. When Samson woke up, the Bible says that “he didn’t realize the Lord had left him” (verse 20 NLT).
The Philistines took Samson, gouged out his eyes, bound him with bronze chains and forced him to grind grain in prison. What a sad story. If Samson had been running a race, he would have fallen – and fallen hard – with no sign of getting up again.
That is what sin does. It blinds us. I’ve heard of men walking away from families who love them to go have some stupid fling. And I’ve heard of women abandoning their families to go “find themselves.” Sin blinds us to the truth. It seems so appealing at first, but then you find yourself trapped.
Sin also finds us. The Bible tells us, “You may be sure that your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23 NLT). You may be getting away with something right now, but it will catch up with you sooner or later. The Bible speaks of the pleasures of sin for a season – for a season, for a time.
Then sin grinds us. The repercussions hit like a ton of bricks suddenly crashing down. That’s what we don’t think about. There are broken families … betrayed trust … damaged reputations … devastated children with deep wounds they may carry for the rest of their lives. That’s what sin can do.
Yet God gave Samson a second chance. His hair began to grow again. And one day as the Philistines were having a drunken celebration to worship a false god, they decided to bring in Samson for a little entertainment.
But Samson asked the servant boy who was leading him to place his hands on the temple’s pillars so he could rest. Then he prayed, “Sovereign Lord, remember me again. O God, please strengthen me just one more time. With one blow let me pay back the Philistines for the loss of my two eyes” (verse 28 NLT).
Then Samson pushed on the pillars, and the resulting collapse killed more Philistines than he ever had before. But sadly, Samson died with them. He had a great beginning, but not a great ending.
Let’s learn the lesson of Samson. It is not enough just to know what is right or even to be used by God for a time. We need to finish the race.