Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Shear Seduction

Then she called, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” He awoke from his sleep and thought, “I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the LORD had left him.

                        Judges 16.20

Playing Games

If Samson were a star in Hollywood’s golden era, he’d have been called a “hot-blooded male”—more of a sinewy, quick-witted Burt Lancaster sort than the heavy-lidded, he-man Victor Mature played in Samson and Delilah. Lancaster’s athleticism made the world easily negotiable for his characters. Although men liked him for his unprepossessing superiority, intimidation also tinged their respect. (Get this guy mad and he’ll put a real hurt on you.) But men weren’t Lancaster’s problem. He made a career of sexy, smart guys who fell for the wrong types: sly minxes, frustrated wives, and bitter spinsters. Often at his enemies’ instigation, they viewed him as a mountain. Realizing they’d never conquer him, they toppled him. Many a picture ended with Lancaster crushed to bits. This is Samson’s story.

Samson is a Nazrite, part of a sect that practices sexual and alcoholic abstinence and bans haircuts. By his teens, he’s exceedingly bright and strong. He kills a lion bare-handedly. He ties torches to 300 foxes and sets them loose to burn up enemy fields. He wields a donkey’s jawbone to destroy 1,000 men. When a prostitute catches his eye, her city locks him outside its gates; he rips them off their hinges. But Samson’s wit and prowess also foster weakness for playing games. He taunts adversaries with clever riddles about his strength. His fondness for the ladies puts him at a disadvantage. His enemies send them to tease the answers out of Samson. The first time, his parents save him by annulling his marriage to a Philistine. The next time, he’s not so lucky. When Delilah shows up, he meets his match.

Playing to Win

Delilah’s perfect for Samson. She likes games, too. The couple’s pillow talk revolves around Delilah using her wiles to trick Samson into disclosing the source of his strength. He parlays her curiosity into a series of kinky games. He’s too caught up in naughty pursuits to perceive Delilah’s playing a different game. And she’s playing to win fabulous prize money the Philistines offer for Samson’s secret. After he says he’ll be weak as water if Delilah ties him up with seven bowstrings, she hides his enemies in their room, trusses him up, and, pretending to play his game, yells, “Look out, Samson! Here come the Philistines!” He snaps the bowstrings like twine. Delilah pouts. “You lied to me!” she says. “Now, tell me your secret for real.” Samson suggests another tie-me-up scenario. The same thing happens; she pouts some more.

At this point, Samson’s really into these mild S&M games. He dreams up a third scene edging uncomfortably close to his true secret. If Delilah weaves his hair into unfinished fabric on a loom, he’ll be powerless. She follows his directions while he sleeps and startles him awake. No luck. So Delilah pulls out the stops. “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when you won’t trust me?” she whines. Her nagging wears Samson down. He tells her everything: “If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.” (Judges 16.17) Sure she’s got the truth, she invites the Philistines back after she shaves Samson’s head. When she wakes him, he doesn’t realize his hair’s been cut. As verse 20 explains, losing his hair causes him to lose God's power: "He did not know that the LORD had left him." His foes seize him, gouge out his eyes, and yoke him to a gristmill. He trudges in blind circles the rest of his life.

Nothing to Play With

Samson’s story illustrates how easily we slip into an inflated sense of self by taking our talents and gifts for granted. Since he’s always been smart and strong, Samson presumes he’ll always be smart and strong. Instead of honoring his vows to live apart from the world, Samson believes he’s immune to the world’s ways. He puts trust in his hair, not the obedience it signifies. Before his enemies take his sight, Samson’s self-regard blinds him to his sacred obligations. He distances himself from God’s ways and people to play games with an unwholesome, envious crowd that fears him. They’re happy to play along, savvy enough to see Samson will stay in the game until he loses everything.

“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall,” Proverbs 16.18 reads. The moment we mistake God’s power for our strength, His wisdom for our intelligence, we request a rude awakening. People who mean us no good and enticements to show off are nothing to play with. Winning arguments and eluding temptation on our own never pleases God or honors us. 1 Corinthians 15.57 assures us staying true to Christ is how we win: “Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The longer we’re exposed to harmful influences, the less we respect the Source of our strength. In other words, we eventually tell those who fear our confidence and ability how to destroy us. They shear off our strength, steal our vision, and lock us into a grind of going in circles.

Samson’s hair grows back while he mills around in misery. The Philistines throw a victory party and string him up to jeer at his sorry condition. He prays for new strength. With just enough to bring the place down, he crushes his enemies in one fell blow. Tragically, he dies as well, lost in the ruins of an arena where he sought his own glory, one of many who never live to tell of his mightiest exploit. Playing games sounds fun. Experiments in pleasure are tempting. But they significantly increase our odds of going too far. We can get so comfortable with harmful people and places we don’t find out we’ve lost what we treasure most until it’s too late. Succumbing to shear seduction always ends in sheer defeat.

Ask Samson. Ask Britney. Excessive pride and self-confidence lead to losing sense and strength… and often looking strange.

(Tomorrow: Conscience Cleanser)

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