Be strong and courageous.
Do not be afraid;
do not be discouraged,
for the Lord your God will be with you
wherever you go.”
The story of Samson and Delilah is one of the more popular stories from scripture and it usually is told like this: “obedient man filled with the power of God, brought to his demise by a philandering, dishonest shiksa.” As always, there is another side to this story which could read “heroic woman saves her people from an imprudent brute with sociopathic tendencies.” Fascinating how microaggressions weave their way into so many things, adding strength to unsuspecting objects.
Samson’s birth was miraculous as his parents were infertile. One day an angel appeared to Samson’s mother and told her she would have a son, a Nazarite who would deliver Israel from the Philistines. As a Nazarite, he was not to eat or drink anything that grew on a vine, touch anything dead, or cut his hair. Samson grew up to be large and strong and easily enraged. He terrified many but especially the Philistines.
As a young man, Samson demanded his parents to get him a Philistine girl he had seen one day while traveling. They were less than thrilled about this marriage but Samson was so determined to have her that he tears apart a baby lion running near him. On his way to his wedding he comes across the carcass, now swarming with bees and a liquid the book of Judges records as being honey. Honey is not typically produced in dead animals so perhaps that is what Samson assumed it to be based on the presence of bees. Either way, he eats it and serves some to his family.
At his wedding to this Philistine girl, he infuriates her family with a riddle, the answer to which is about him eating honey from a carcass. When they are unable to solve his scientifically impossible riddle, he becomes so angry he kills 30 of his new in-laws and takes everything they have. His wife’s father knows she isn’t safe and so he hides her with a friend. A few months later, Samson decides he wants some time with this wife about whom it appears he had forgotten and when he learns that she has been given to another man, he begins attacking the Philistines. They capture him and tie him up but he is so strong he is able to break through the new ropes with which he was bound. He then picks up the jaw bone of a donkey and uses it to kill 3000 men. It seems like nothing could contain Samson.
Despite his massive power and seemingly endless help from God, there was one thing Samson couldn’t resist and that was the ladies. Skipping past some less appropriate stories, we get to Delilah, a spy for the Philistines. Three times she tries to coax Samson into telling her the secret to his great power and eventually she was able to learn that his power was in his tremendous hair. She lures him to sleep one night and cuts seven thick braids from his head. His strength leaves him and he became a prisoner of the Philistines until his hair begins to grow back.
Was all of Samson’s power really in his braids or was that a story about himself he believed? Hair does feel like it has power but really it says nothing about the person underneath – about their viability, their power or their potential. Oftentimes it is the stories we hear about others and ourselves that grow, braiding themselves into ropes that control, inhibit or assist actions more than we are aware. Cutting away from these can be a terrifying – it is just as scary to realize you are less influential than you thought as to learn you are more capable than you ever imagined. Both required letting go and allowing God to work through us, free of all that has tangled us before.