An Announcement and an Apology

I’d just like to apologise for not updating the blog recently. However, I have a good reason for this – look what I did on Saturday:

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They say that getting married and moving house are two of the most stressful things you can ever do – my wife Helen and I have done both of those in the space of three weeks, and it’s fair to say that it would have been impossible without the love, support, time, effort and resources of our friends and families.

We had a lot of help, to the extent that the wedding was almost crowd sourced from among the people we know – flowers, catering, photography and logistics were all provided by friends who used their talents and professionalism to make our wedding day something very special.

And to Helen, I just want to say thank you for becoming my wife. I love you so much and I know we’ll be happy together in the years to come. I love you.

And to readers I haven’t just married, there will be forthcoming posts Esther and Jephtath. See you there!

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Samson’s Haircut (Judges 16:22)

(This post was inspired by a recent sermon from Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan. Credit where it’s due!)

I never really got the story of Samson. It seems to break all the rules, and not in a good way – here’s a guy who’s been blessed from birth with supernatural strength, strength that’s supposed to be used in the service of God, in saving the fledgling nation of Israel from its oppressors. And yet he spends most of his life getting into fights over women and screwing up, but there he is, in a list of heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11.

It’s not that I have a problem with a hero having feet of clay, but Samson just doesn’t seem to care that his life’s going off the rails. He’s the nearest thing the Bible has to a superhero, and yet it seems like he hasn’t learned that great spiritual lesson, “With great power comes great responsibility” (I think that one’s from 4th Thessalonians or something).

But here’s the thing – the key to the whole story is in one little verse. After Samson has been captured, blinded and humiliated by the Philistines, Judges 16:22 tells us that “the hair on his head began to grow again after it had been shaved”.

See, Samson’s hair is often seen as his Kryptonite but that’s the comic book slant on things. It’s really part of a wider vow that was made on Samson’s behalf before he was even born – the Nazirite vow outlined in Numbers 6, which basically meant that Samson was meant to stay away from wine and grapes, avoid contact with dead bodies, and not cut his hair.

Throughout his story, told in Judges 13-16, he breaks the first two fairly quickly. All that’s left of his vow in the end is his hair, a tenuous symbol of his relationship with God, a relationship that consistently takes third place to sex and vengeance. Those two finally catch up with him when he meets Delilah – she asks him the secret of his strength so that she can betray him to the Philistines.

And maybe there’s something in his response to this, because he lies to her three times, and each time Philistines come to imprison him, and each time he fights them off. He’s either arrogant, thinking that his strength is his own and that it’ll never really be taken away, or he’s completely self-destructive, continuing in a relationship with someone set on betraying him. Either way, he tells Delilah that his strength will go if his hair is cut, and there it goes, not because it’s a fundamental vulnerability but because it finally breaks the Nazirite vow and God leaves him.

And so his eyes are gouged out and he’s made to grind grain, but while he’s doing this, the writer of Judges goes out of his way to note that Samson’s hair begins to grow back. It’s a tiny detail, and fairly obvious – that’s what hair does after you cut it – but there’s more to it than that. Breaking the Nazirite vow wasn’t a permanent thing – if it was broken, then you could cut your hair and started again from scratch.

Hmm.

Because soon after this, the Philistines are offering a sacrifice to the god Dagon, and as part of this, Samson’s brought out to be humiliated. But Samson seems to now understand what’s been going on. Throughout his story, God has been at work, but it almost seems to be behind the scenes – Samson doesn’t really have a clear understanding or interest in the divine hand behind events; the narrator refers to God but Samson rarely does. Now, with his hair grown back, he seems to have stumbled towards humility and redemption: “O Sovereign Lord, remember me. O God, please strengthen me just once more…”

He’s still motivated by revenge, and that’s never healthy, but there’s humility here, an understanding that God is genuinely behind his great power and that the vow was something that should have been taken seriously. God honours this prayer, even though it’s belated and still somewhat self-serving – Samson’s strength is restored (notice it doesn’t return simply as a result of his hair growing back) and he destroys the temple of Dagon, ending the oppression of Israel. In his moment of self-sacrifice, he finally achieves the role he was meant to play from birth.

So in amongst the sex and violence and inspiration for a Tom Jones song lies a story of grace and redemption. Samson screwed up – he screwed up royally – and yet he was still able to start again with God. In a messy sort of way he returns to God and that’s honoured, and despite the catalogue of mistakes that make up his life story, maybe it’s that moment of redemption that really gets him into Hebrews 11, not because he was a superhero, but because he messed up and still reached out to God, even when it may have seemed too late.

Because it’s never too late to start again.

A Lamp for David (1 Kings 11:29-36)

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So I’m reading about Elisha and yet I somehow stumble over a couple of passages that relate to a post I wrote about Jesus’s family tree. Go figure.

See, the royal line in Israel originally stemmed out from David (at least after Saul screwed up), a member of the Tribe of Judah, and this all relates to the last words of Jacob, way back in Genesis.

However, while David was a godly man who made mistakes, his son Solomon was less righteous – although best known for his wisdom, Solomon actually ended up getting the kingdom split in two thanks to compromises and drifting away from God.

So two kingdoms – Israel in the north, Judah in the south – with two monarchies. Israel’s royal line is messy, disrupted by rebellions and treachery and made up of dynasties from the various tribes. In the south, things are different, the monarchy remaining in the House of David despite the mistakes made by his descendants. Why the difference?

The difference is in a promise made to the House of David in 1 Kings 11:36 (“I will give one tribe to his son so that David my servant may always have a lamp before me in Jerusalem, the city where I chose to put my Name.”.) Thanks to David’s loyalty to God, the Tribe of Judah would remain a royal line centred on Jerusalem – specifically the Temple.

It’s a big deal, placing David at the centre of promises that stretch from Judah to Jesus. “A lamp for David” crops up a couple more times, in Psalm 132 and 2 Kings 8:19. It’s an evocative image, a picture of an eternal flame burning in the midst of turmoil and destruction, of the lights still on at home while a people get dragged off into exile. It’s a picture of hope.

And all this comes about because of the faith of one man.

Interesting, isn’t it?