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.