Samson — A Bootleg Bible Version

This is not the Samson we want in our memories.  Sitting on the dank floor of a Philistine prison.  His head shorn and eyes gouged out.  Busted up like an old piece of farm machinery that no one has any use for.  The Samson we choose to remember springs from the pages of comic books.  The hulk of Hebrew legends.  Fierce and powerful, lighter on his feet than should be legal for a man his size.  Spouting riddles and laughing like a man drunk on joy.  His jet black mane whipping in the wind as he comes long-striding across the desert.

So you can’t blame us for wanting to look away when we get toward the end of the story.  We just don’t want to see a washed out bum sleeping on a dumpster of regret.  Springsteen didn’t write “The Wrestler” for Samson.  But he could have.

“Have you ever seen a scarecrow filled with nothing but dust and weeds?
If you’ve ever seen that scarecrow then you’ve seen me.
Have you ever seen a one-legged dog making its way down the street?
If you’ve ever seen a one-legged dog then you’ve seen me.”

He was supposed to deliver Israel from the hand of their oppressors.  He was supposed to be special… and not just because he hit the genetic lottery.  Because of the Nazirite vow.  But Mr. Strong cared more about victories than vows.  The victories that built his legend with beautiful Philistine companions.

But the days of killing 1000 enemies with a donkey’s jawbone were long gone.  The hapless hero had nothing left but regret — the kind of regret we all know.  For the failures and mistakes, the selfish stumbles into stupidity.  Samson also knew the other kind of regret, worse than any other.  The regret, not for what you’ve done, but for what you’ve failed to do.  Samson failed to lead Israel.  He had every gift imaginable, and one by one, he threw the promises away.

We tend to direct blame toward Delilah, the Philistine temptress who slithered in like Eden’s serpent.  With her bronze skin and honey voice, she coaxed from Samson the secret of his strength.  Of course, we know the barber didn’t take Samson’s power.  That was just the last domino to fall.  Samson had thrown away his sacred vow years ago.  And that’s how he ended up broken and burdened, a pauper of unfulfilled potential.

Then… there’s this line in the text. “But the hair on Samson’s head began to grow again.”

It’s not much of a line — more of a hiccup, really.  A clumsy plot device to move the story along.  But it is something.  It’s something we call hope.  Not an overwhelming miracle; no parting of the sea.  Just a sliver of hope, so small it is measured in the follicles on a human scalp.  Hope that just might stand a chance of pushing through the hard floor of regret.

God seems to specialize in this particular brand of hope.  Read through any handful of Bible stories, and you’re bound to find a similar episode.  You can laugh in the face of God, like Abraham and Sarah.  You can demand the Almighty to jump through endless hoops, like Gideon.  You can raise serious questions about the divine will, like Mary, and Moses before her.  You can deny the greatest love you’ve ever known, like Peter.  You can venture off into the far country and squander your inheritance, like every prodigal who has ever lived.  You can make such a mess of the promises that you end up curled on the floor of a Philistine prison.  Still, hope is resilient.  Hope will not be crushed.  It might be ignored.  Taken for granted.  Sold and traded as a worthless trinket.  But the hair on Samson’s head began to grow again.

The once mighty champion had one last display of strength left in his body.  It did not erase the wrong in his life; it didn’t make for some happy conclusion.  Samson’s story is still a tragedy.  But within the tragedy lives a hiccup.  One with deep, deep roots.