The Original "Hulk"
So a friend of mine brought up a good question while we were discussing theology yesterday. Mind you, this friend is an atheist (I wonder, sometimes, if I have any other variety), so the typical atheist "But What Abouts" came up.
But What Abouts (BWA) is my shorthand for any of the typical "But what about God telling you it's OK to kill a slave" or "But what about God allowing for rape so long as you pay the virgin's father a few shekels" arguments that arise when folks try to change a faithful person's belief in the truth of the Bible.
Anyway, the BWA that came up yesterday revolved around good old Samson. Many non-Christians are familiar with his story because he's typically portrayed as a Conan-like warrior with long, flowing locks that magically give him power to topple entire buildings with the flex of his biceps. The implication was that Christians believe in magic hair.
Unfortunately, what's typically left out of these childhood stories of Samson is anything of substance.
Samson wasn't just some Hulk-figure who had "magic hair." He was one of the Judges of the Old Testament.
Judges were God's answer to the constant failings of the Israelites during their 40 year punishment outside of the Promised Land. In the 40 year time span between Israel coming upon the Promised Land and finally inhabiting it, the Israelites went through a well documented cycle of:
"Hey, everyone, let's sin - it's fun!"
"Uh oh - now that we've sinned, we're being punished with the effects of our sin!"
"Aw, man! God, we're really sorry for disobeying Your Law again, can you please help us out by sending someone who will lead us to justice?"
God sends someone termed a "judge" to restore balance to the Israelites.
Everyone says, "Yay, God! Thanks for being awesome and saving us! We'll abide by Your Convenant forever."
A few years pass and then sin starts looking super fun again.
Repeat. A lot.
Samson was one of these judges that God raised up from amongst the Israelites to restore balance and justice to His people.
Not many people realize this, but Samson had an annunciation similar to John the Baptist. An angel appeared to his parents, too, and affirmed that, though they were barren, they'd bear a son who would save Israel from the Philistines. As such, the angel instructed his parents to raise him as a nazirite.
Now, what the heck is a nazirite?
Well, since the tribes forked over their right to perform priestly duties at both the Golden Calf incident and then again at the 1st attempt to enter Canaan, the Levites became the new priests of Israel. However, there were some "layfolk" who were permitted to help with priestly duties if they took special vows that set them apart from the general population. These were the nazirites.
One of the vows a nazirite took was the refusal to cut one's hair. Sound familiar?
Samson never cut his hair because he made a special vow to the Lord never to do so. It was this unwavering faith in God that gave Samson his strength. His hair was simply the symbol of his personal covenant with God. Samson handed over his life in service of the Lord, and in return, the Lord protected him and granted him the grace to deliver justice to the Israelites.
So to answer my friend's question regarding the "magic" of Samson's hair, I responded that no, Samson's hair wasn't magic. It was the symbol of his adherence to God's Will. It was only after Samson turned away from God's Will that his hair ended up being cut (the symbolic severance of their covenant) .
You see, Samson went and married a Philistine - TWICE - after God had specifically told the Israelites not to intermarry with them. Samson, unfortunately, allowed his personal desires to trump his duty as servant of the Lord. So he took two Philistine wives (Delilah came after his first wife was killed by her Philistine kin). In both instances, he chose to trust his wife before trusting the Will of God. Because of this disordered hierarchy of trust, Samson lost his first wife. For failing to learn this lesson the first time, Samson lost his eyes as well as his life the second time.
Hippie Justice League!
So no - Samson's hair did not hold any magical powers. His hair was a sign, however, of his adherence to God's Will. As soon as he turned away from God's Will by placing his desires above God's, he suffered the consequences.
Having his hair shorn was simply the physical desecration of the spiritual desecration that had already taken place the moment Samson committed mortal sin.
Good thing, too. Can you imagine the Hulk-smashing that would've occurred in the 60's had magic hair been the source of Samson's strength?! Yipes!
In the end, as Samson spent many sleepless, pain-filled nights begging the forgiveness of God, he made reparation for his sins. Each day of reparation drew him closer to the eventual destruction of the temple that would garner justice for himself and Israel. He spent many, many nights in atonement for his sin, so when he was finally brought to the temple as "entertainment" for the Philistines, his hair had grown back in. Again, this isn't pointing to Samson having magic hair... it's highlighting that Samson had spent time reflecting on and atoning for his sins against God. God then gifted Mercy to Samson through blessing him with the strength to dole out justice to the Philistines.
His hair was simply a symbolic manifestation of the blessing God bestowed in return for Samson's faithful service.
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