There are many ways to approach the story of Samson:
- Morality – Lust leads to a downfall
- Ethical – Ends justify the means (Negative approach) since Samson wound up where he did because of sin.
- Allegorical – Samson represents Israel – called by God but rebelled and faces punishment/death
- Type of Christ – Here we see Samson as a foreshadow of Christ, though less than Christ!
However you choose to teach this portion of scripture, may we always look for transformation as more important than just information. Let us come to this passage and ask ourselves, “How does this cause me to follow Christ closer?”. May we consider those who sit in our classes and wonder while we study, “How can this lesson move the listener to a deeper walk with Christ?”
If we choose the moral/ethical approach to this lesson it is easy to see the direction: sex and power. Samson was obsessed with women and it was his fatal flaw (what caused his downfall/death). While this is an easy moral lesson to teach from this passage, be careful. We must ask ourselves, as Samson should have, “How much more could he have done had he stayed right with God?” This is a fair question. Though he killed more Philistines in his death than during his life, how sad of an ending! Our moral choices have their consequences. Thus, if morality is the focus of your lesson we must not allow for the “ends justify the choices” thinking. Our culture always looks for the excuse and rationalization of moral choices. However, morality is obvious in this passage. I can’t help but see it drip from the pages every time I read this story! I find myself speaking to Samson each time to not fall for Delilah, then to not tell her. I KNOW the story, but isn’t it obvious what he should have done?
How often could we say that about our own moral choices? If only Samson could have had someone to drag him away, hold him back, or reason with him. Your class can be that for one another. Instead of looking away and thinking it none of your business, don’t let your church family go the way of Samson. Step in and speak up!
The allegorical approach is a favorite of older generations today. Like Aesop’s fables, we want to find a symbol or representative for everything in the story. While this might seem useful and creative, it really isn’t. Too often, the allegorical approach leads back to a morality lesson rather than a gospel lesson. Or, this approach leads to the heightening of personal opinion rather than letting Scripture speak for itself. When this is used, we get caught up in the story and discussing what everything means. We gain information without transformation. At the end of the allegory we might find good things to draw from it for our lives, but do we find the Gospel?
The typology approach reveals the grander scheme at work in this short story. The other options isolate the story. We cannot forget that this is part of a larger story of redemption. We must view our lessons on 3 levels: God’s story, Israel’s story, Our story. Begin with the current situation, reveal how it fits into God’s overall story and then how that fits into our personal narrative.
With Samson, here is how I would break it down:
Israel’s story: Use the information from your leader guide to teach what us going on in Israel at this time. I would spend about 10 minutes here. This is the 4th lesson in Judges, so the people are aware of the cycle, or should be. It might help to draw it on the board before class to simply refer to it. This will save you time rather than drawing it out during your teaching time. Things unique to Samson are the Nazarite vow, the Philistines, the depravity of the deliverer.
God’s story: Throughout Judges, we see God at work to redeem Israel. Why? Because it was HIS choice to use Israel to be a light to the nations. Their rebellion is causing that light to be hidden and, at times, blown out. God wants to reach the world and will use humanity to do it. This story is just one more revelation of God’s intention, God’s character to the covenant, God’s patient intervention, and man’s rebellion. But, there will come One who will forever change the landscape of the situation. Samson is a foreshadow of Christ. Think of the similarities: Angel announces the birth, betrayed with silver and a kiss, the one delivered many. How do we not see Jesus here? Samson failed, but Jesus will be victorious. I would spend about 10 minutes here as well.
Our Story: Here we get to what many call the application part. My preaching professor called this the “Now what?” portion of a sermon or lesson. If we do not give our people a “Now what?” moment we are not helping transformation. Here are a few points of discussion and meditation for us.
Like Samson, we have a divine purpose. Do you know yours? It is really much simpler than we imagine. Our purpose is to glorify God and share the gospel. HOW we do that is as unique as the members of your class! Those who work will do it through their vocation. Those who stay at home will do it through teaching their children and those connections they have at school and friends. Those who are retired will do it through social functions, hobbies, and extended family. Those who are early in their college or career can do this through social groups and media. The point is that we all have the SAME purpose. It is how we accomplish it that is different, yet all works together in concert.
Like Samson, we make poor choices. We need someone to help us see the better way. We need help. The members of your class need to see that on our own we will choose the wrong. Together we fulfill scripture that 2 are better than 1 and 3 strands are not easily broken. We must push against the notion, like Samson, of isolating.
Like Samson, God stands ready to forgive and help you move forward. Here we see the opportunity to return to our purpose. Too many believe that they are forever ousted from service because of a past they cannot get over but God wants to forgive and release them from. We must help them see the true nature of God as scripture reveals Him.
Like Samson, we have a choice. Will we choose to remain in bondage or pray for strength, peace, and ability to pursue our purpose?