The source of Samson’s strength

This old comic traded on the image of Samson as muscle-bound behemoth.

Back in the ’80s, some of my high school classmates wore T-shirts that parodied popular products and logos, but with a Christian spin. The letters for Corona beer, for example, were transformed into 1 Corinthians—with a verse warning against drunkenness. You get the idea. It was more than a little, um, preachy.

Still, I remember one for Gold’s Gym… Oh, I’m sorry, God’s Gym. It depicted Samson, this Sunday’s “Sunday school hero,” as a muscle-bound behemoth, breaking the two stone pillars of the temple with his final burst of brute strength.

I’ll be honest: As silly as that depiction of Samson was, it is the image that’s stuck with me. When I think of Samson, I think of Arnold Schwarzenegger in his iron-pumping prime. But I’m starting to reconsider, thanks in part to Lawson Younger Jr.’s words from the NIV Application Commentary.

Samson is most commonly pictured as a hulk, a mammoth of incredible size and strength. While there is obviously in the biblical text a satirical characterization of the Philistines as ignorant, culturally challenged morons, they cannot be so stupid as to not recognize the obvious. If Samson were a Goliath-type behemoth, then obviously the “secret to his strength would be in the size of his muscles! So the Philistines would be foolish to keep trying to overcome him (cf. the experience at Lehi). The Philistine rulers would be even dumber to pay such a price for the obvious and Delilah would be the mother of all dummies if Samson were a man with fifty-inch biceps.

But Samson must have been a relatively ordinary-looking man in size and weight. His strength is not even in his long, seven-braided hair. Therefore his strength is not in the obvious; it is in Yahweh, who is working through his special Yahweh-called, Nazirite status.[1]

So maybe we’re not so different from Samson, at least in the sense that his source of strength is the same as ours—even if our strength doesn’t manifest itself in the ability to push down large pillars. It’s not a source of strength that will necessarily be obvious to others, but it’s real nonetheless.

1. K. Lawson Younger Jr., The NIV Application Commentary: Judges/Ruth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 316-7.

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