God’s Mercy Comes in Unexpected Ways
One of my favorite stories from the Old Testament is the story of Samson. He was one of my favorite characters from my own times of learning about him through Vacation Bible School and Sunday mornings. The lesson I remember from then was to never trust a woman. (Or something like that, my memory is hazy when it comes to elementary school.) But later in high school, reading through the entire Bible, I remember being fascinated by the whole story of Samson, particularly the parts that tend to be left out of the VBS versions. I distinctly remember wondering why he was so arrogant. He was strong, but didn’t he recognize that his strength was from God? Did he really think it was inherent to himself? But then I reflect on all of the things in my life that I take for granted, and I can see that anyone of us make the same mistake Samson makes all the time. When I was the junior high pastor years later, I preached through the story of Samson, and this time, I saw the mercy of God reach out from the scriptures and poke my eyes. It was that clear to me.
 When Delilah saw that he had told her all his heart, she sent and called the lords of the Philistines, saying, “Come up again, for he has told me all his heart.” Then the lords of the Philistines came up to her and brought the money in their hands.  She made him sleep on her knees. And she called a man and had him shave off the seven locks of his head. Then she began to torment him, and his strength left him.  And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the LORD had left him.  And the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes and brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze shackles. And he ground at the mill in the prison.  But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.
I always thought that this was the lowest point of Samson’s story. But it’s not. Not when you read his story in context. You see, Samson wasn’t a great judge. He was insanely strong, but he wasn’t faithful to his Nazirite vow. He didn’t honor or obey his parents. He was selfish and petulant. Chapter 15 paints a pretty awful picture of Samson; so does 16. He does what he wants when he wants. He’s a utilitarian; he just happens to be an Israelite empowered by the Holy Spirit with superhuman strength. So his victories are personal achievements, not necessarily to save Israel from the Philistines. But God has a plan for Samson. And in God’s great mercy, Samson is blinded.
Throughout Samson’s story, he does what is right in his own eyes. He sees what he likes and then gets it for himself. Whether it be forbidden women or forbidden food, he’s a man driven by the lust of his eyes. So when his eyes are gouged out by the Philistines that capture him in his weakened state, it’s a painful part of the story, but it’s also the turning point. By being physically blind, Samson was finally free to have clear, spiritual eyes. He was humbled. He didn’t take his strength for granted, he understood that it was clearly a gift from God. He has renewed purpose and begins to understand the will of God for his life. And in the clearest foreshadowing of Jesus Christ in the book of Judges, he stretches his arms out and gives his life for the freedom of his people.
God’s mercy shows itself in the case of Samson through an extremely painful, shameful moment. This points to what God prioritizes in our life. Sometimes suffering is a mercy of God. It’s the red lights flashing, the bells ringing and the black and white bar coming down to stop us from being run over by a train. God will take friends away from us through dramatic means. He will remove us from circumstances that we love, but are ultimately harmful to us. He will cause us to be injured to rest and refocus on him. God’s mercy is sometimes found through loneliness, pain, and suffering. When we come to the end of ourselves, we look up and see Jesus, clearer than ever, more glorious and beautiful than we could have imagined.