by Werner Mischke
(Editor’s note: This is the 7th post in a series through Hebrews 11 called “In the Shadow of the Cloud.” We will be exploring what we can learn from those mentioned in this clouds of witnesses section.)
The Philistines wanted to kill Samson (16:2). But Samson destroyed the gates of the city (16:3) with his brute strength.
In retaliation, the Philistines bribed Samson’s Philistine lover, Delilah, to seduce Samson to unmask the source of his strength (vv. 3–20). Her first three attempts failed. But on her fourth attempt, Samson “told her all his heart” (v. 17). While he was sleeping, he allowed his head to be shaved, dishonoring God’s command (v. 5). Samson’s strength departed.
The Philistines seized Samson. They gouged out his eyes and he was bound with “bronze shackles.” He became a slave, grinding grain “in the mill of the prison” (v. 21).
Israel’s champion Samson was now a blind slave. The Philistines even called Samson to entertain them (v. 25). There were “about 3,000 men and women” being entertained by Samson (v. 27). Oh, the mockery! Samson was humiliated.
And then, revenge: “… Samson called to the LORD and said, ‘O Lord GOD, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes’” (v. 28).
His hair had grown back, his strength returned (v. 22), and his prayer was answered:
And Samson said, ‘Let me die with the Philistines.’ Then he bowed with all his strength, and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life. (Jud 16:30)
Samson’s death resulted in a defeat for Israel’s enemy the Philistines. It is considered honorable by the writer of Judges. It is one of the few bright spots in the otherwise dark book of Judges.
Yes, Samson had violated his Nazirite vows and dishonored God. But by God’s enablement he turned the humiliation of his blindness and captivity into an honorific victory over the idol-worshiping Philistines. From shame to honor!
Samson is famous for this dramatic, self-sacrificing, vindicating, shame-to-honor reversal. I call this honor-status reversal; it is a motif of scripture from Genesis to Revelation.
Is honor-status reversal a part of the gospel?
We turn now from the honor-status reversal of Samson to the honor-status reversal of Jesus Christ, portrayed in Philippians 2:5–11:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:5–11)
These verses reveal the preincarnate deity of Christ … Christ emptying himself of deity to live a fully human earthly life as the humiliation of Christ … followed by greater shame through death … not just any death, but the grossly shameful, public Roman crucifixion.
However, this was followed by Christ’s resurrection … his being “highly exalted” and given a “name that is above every name” … “to the glory of God the Father!”
The link between Samson and the gospel is this: honor-status reversal
The story of Samson is not unique in the Bible with its honor-reversal drama. You can read the whole Bible with an alertness to the dynamics of shame and honor and discover just how widespread it really is.
Consider the stories of Job, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Ruth, David, Hannah, Mephibosheth, Daniel, Elizabeth, and Paul—to name a few. What about the many accounts in the Gospels? Jesus restores the honor of the shamed. Jesus makes clean the unclean. Jesus includes the excluded in his mission. They are stories of honor-status reversal.
And all of these stories can be told as echoes of the greatest honor-status reversal of all—the one that reverberates through the universe—the story and good news of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Werner Mischke (@WernerMischke) is director of training ministries for Mission ONE. He is passionate about equipping the Church for fruitful cross-cultural partnerships and helping believers know and share the gospel of Jesus Christ in the “language of honor and shame.” Werner is author of The Global Gospel. Learn more: http://wernermischke.org