Praying with Samson and Regina Spektor

For the past two or three years, Samson has been my favorite Old Testament character. He has captured my imagination, particularly in my prayer life.  He has come to represent for me all that Paul speaks about in Romans 7, about the struggle that goes on within ourselves that we find ourselves unable to overcome.  And fortunately, now that Regina Spektor has come out with a hauntingly beautiful song about him, I no longer have to gag my way through the Plain White T’s “Hey There Delilah.”

It’s hard to know exactly whom Spektor is alluding to in the song.  She seems to sing about a prior relationship that Samson had, a relationship with a woman who loved him without betrayal, who cut his hair, not out of betrayal, but out of love.  Samson was thus her downfall, since, having taken a Nazirite vow, he could not love her fully and completely.

From a literary standpoint, the plot of Samson in Judges 13-16 is not primarily about Samson vs. the Philistines.  I take it to be about Samson vs. his vow to God.  He is the “round” and full character in the story, while Delilah is a “flat” character, functioning as the seductress who finally defeats him, or rather, presents him the opportunity to finally defeat himself…and then make one final bid for freedom.

The most tragic verse of the entire narrative is Judges 16:20.  Samson awakes, now shorn by Delilah, and tells himself: “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” Yet precisely the seduction of sin is that one day there comes a time when we are no longer free.  It is too late.  If we play with sin long enough, we are eventually enslaved by it, and there is no shaking ourselves free — without grace that is.  I have prayed over that line more times than I can count, reminding myself not to put the grace of God to the test.

Ultimately, Samson has only once choice.  He realizes that he cannot overcome himself.  He is too weak.  He cannot keep his vow in life, so he chooses to keep it in death.  Death becomes for Samson, not escape, but final victory over himself.  He is not alone.  Paul tells us that unless we die to sin we cannot live for God.  Yet let us pray that this death can be experienced in our lifetime.  Samson could not find freedom.  He had to die.  That was his only way out.  Sin was his “sweetest downfall,” and he found freedom in offering his life.

Enjoy the song.  Enjoy all of her music.  Try using it in prayer.  Though I do not often use music to pray, I have found that on occasion it can be a powerful catalyst of a deeply contemplative experience of God.

5 Responses to Praying with Samson and Regina Spektor

  1. bill bannon says:

    Samson for Augustine was a hidden prophecy of Christ. He explains some/ you will find others. You’ll lose track of whether you found it or Augustine but it is the same One who tips off you or Augustine. I’ll start you off. What shape is Samson in… when he pushes away the columns to his right and left? Now in that shape if you can freeze frame him for a moment, go to judges:Jdg 16:30 And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” Then he bowed with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people that were in it. So the dead whom he slew at his death were more than those whom he had slain during his life.”

    Now, hold that thought and travel to these words about Christ said by the blind ( like Samson) Simeon:

    Luk 2:34 and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against…”

    “Fall”….precedes…”rise”…. as in baptism.

    Christ like Samson kills in baptism the old self of many who rise into grace. Thus Christ like Samson kills more in His death than the none in His case whom He killed in His life.

    Samson visits a prostitute where an ambush is laid for him but he escapes and takes the town gates on his shoulders and runs to the top of a ridge over against Hebron….so he becomes a cross figure and a gate to heaven figure simultaneously after visiting a prostitute as Christ descended to His people who were a prostitute in Osee’s symbolism. And Christ escapes that ambush not physically but in the spiritual sense and He is crucified and is the gate to Heaven simultaneously.

    • Yes, that is in Sermon 17. I used it for a paper once. Augustine follows the sorry very literally in order to claim that Samson slept, but never slept with the prostitute. Samson’s house was guarded as the tomb was, he went down to hell, which is the house of the harlot, and then he took the doors of the gate and carried them off, which represents Christ’s destruction of death. Just as Samson rose at midnight, so did Christ. Attention to the literal allowed Augustine to absolve Samson in this case and thereby to see him as a genuine symbol of Christ.

      • bill bannon says:

        Can’t say I admire the absolving. Even in Augustine’s non intercourse scenario, Samson was sinning by placing himself in a near occasion of sin. Better is Aquinas’ view that metaphors etc. in the Bible “need not answer in every respect” to that to which they refer. The bronze serpent in the desert is Christ while the serpent in the garden is Satan….while Christ told us to be “wise as serpents”. Scripture is looser and more relaxed than Augustine who in another area forbade every verbal falsification as lies unlike Jerome who affirmed Jehu’s lies to the Baal adherents as necessary or Judith’s to Holofernes. Christ in the incident with the Canaanite woman announces when some plead on her behalf…” I have been sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel”…yet He helps the non Jewish centurion immediately with a similar case and announces that He has not found such great faith in all Israel. Augustine was too exact in some matters…as though he should have had some wine as Paul urged on Timothy …but not for his stomach’s sake.

  2. Amy Bender says:

    Nathan,

    Thanks for this post. It really touched me deeply. It was something I needed to be reminded of at the moment. Her song is so beautiful. Once you mentioned a long time ago to me the sin of presuming upon God’s mercy and I had honestly never heard that phrase or even the idea but how profound it is and how often I now face it in my preparation for confession. I hope you are doing well.

    Amy Bender

  3. I am doing well, thanks! I’m glad this helped you. I’ll say a prayer for you.

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