“Into the Promised Land”: Samson
I recently drove from Nashville to Kansas City, about an eight-hour drive. Nine if you count stopping for food and gas. It’s not a terrible drive, but it’s no Pacific Coast Highway either. The highlight by far, however, was when I passed through St. Louis and saw the Gateway Arch. I have seen the Arch from the air one time when I was flying into St. Louis, but this was the first time I saw it from the ground. And it was amazing, even only being able to catch quick glimpses of it as I drove. That Arch added some joy to a journey that was pretty vanilla.
I don’t know about you, but I am guilty of approaching life through a utilitarian lens far too often. I am so focused on the destination—the goal—that I can fail to appreciate the journey—the process. Often though, it’s not just about the destination, but how we get there too. This is a lesson we can actually learn from a guy named Samson.
Let’s jump to the end of the story and begin there. Samson defeated the Philistines! He gave God’s people a big victory over their oppressors—all the leaders of the Philistines were there when their temple crashed down on them (Judges 16:27). And providing such a victory was his job as a judge wasn’t it? So based solely on the end result, we would have to classify Samson as an overwhelming success. Carve his face on the Mt. Rushmore of the Book of Judges, right? Well, he would surely like that, wouldn’t he? And that’s the problem, isn’t it?
If you are familiar with Samson’s story (and if you aren’t, pause here and go read it before finishing this post), you know that what I just said is ludicrous. Yes, Samson won a victory, but he was far from a hero. The only Mt. Rushmore his face should be carved on would be one featuring the biggest mess-ups of the Bible. He was selfish and impulsive. He failed to follow God’s commands. And even his final victory was far from noble as he seemed to be more concerned with his own vengeance than God’s glory.
Samson is Exhibit A that when it comes to the gospel, we cannot be utilitarian. The ends aren’t all that matters, and they certainly don’t justify the means. Samson’s victory for God was not because of himself, but despite himself: the exact opposite of Christ Jesus.
Samson’s story surprisingly sounds much like Jesus’ story—at least the broad brush strokes. Like Samson, Jesus sacrificed His life to defeat His people’s enemies: sin and death. There are other details that overlap as well, such as the gist of their births being prophesied. I said that Samson’s story sounding like Jesus’ story is surprising because of all that happens in the middle of each. This is where the stories cannot be more different.
Samson was a man all about himself; Jesus was the God-man all about His Father. Samson was consumed with self-gratification; Jesus was consumed with self-sacrifice. Samson seemed to care very little for obeying God’s law; Jesus obeyed God’s law to the very letter.
In short, we find very little to celebrate about Samson’s life and we find everything to celebrate, and emulate, in Jesus’. In this way, Samson and Jesus are polar opposites. The destinations may have been quite similar, but the journeys were so far apart. And it is in this that we see God’s heart for us. It’s not just about what we do, but why we do it and how we do it as well.
For those of us in Christ Jesus, our destination is sure. We know that we are more than conquerors. We know that what awaits us is God’s eternal, perfect kingdom. We know that in Christ we are fully accepted—forgiven and righteous. Our destination is fixed. But what about our journey there?
This is one way we can really find meaningful application from Samson’s story. What do our lives look like? Unlike Samson, we are called to live differently—that’s what being holy, or set-apart, means. But this different way of living (a lifestyle Samson did not follow) comes only by way of a different heart—one given to us anew at salvation and continually saturated with the gospel. Our lives—our journey—matters, as does our hearts—our motivation—behind every step of that journey. How we live matters for us—when we follow God in loving obedience, we benefit in that we experience the fullness of life God intends and we are used by Him—but it also matters for others—as those around us can see the beauty and reality of the gospel performed before them in our daily living.
This is what eluded Samson. Let it not elude us.
Let us no longer live in this world as we have been; in fact, let us no longer live to ourselves but let Christ live in us. When he has been restored to the honor of the head, the house of the devil will fall, and all our enemies will die with our sins in eternal destruction.” – Caesarius of Arles (c. 470-543) 
Preschool Tip: The ending of Samson’s story can be a little challenging for preschoolers. There is no need to get into all the details—it is enough for preschoolers to know that Samson did not make right choices but God still used him to rescue his people and that in a greater way, Jesus always made right choices and God used Him to rescue us from sin.
Kids Tip: The story of Samson provides a wonderful opportunity for you to help your kids explode the Christian hero myth. Some of your kids might think that everyone in the Bible is a hero—perhaps even a superhero. (Of course, not counting the obvious “bad guys.”) Don’t hesitate to talk about Samson’s flaws. There are a lot of them! Because in his flaws we see that God can and will use whomever he pleases and our kids can find encouragement that God never uses perfect people, apart from one: Jesus Christ.
 Caesarius of Arles, Sermon 119.3, quoted in Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1–2 Samuel, ed. John R. Franke, vol. IV in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2005), 167.