The account of Samson in the book of Judges is an excellent example of how one story in a scriptural text can be a microcosm for the entire book. The story of Samson is also an illustration of how the Lord allows us to make decisions for ourselves – our story is not predetermined by God. If this were the case, then Samson would have fulfilled his foreordained mission to “begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.” (Judges 13:5) Instead Samson chose to fulfill his personal lust and desire for immediate gratification. It has been said that Samson was more Philistine than the Philistines!
In class we looked at Samson’s life through the lens of a teenager. What decisions did Samson make that put him on the path to ruining his life? By analyzing the decisions Samson made we then likened his life experiences and opportunities to those of the youth in the seminary classroom.
Ways to lose friends and negatively influence people
1. Date all the wrong people.
In Judges 14:1-4 we read that Samson disappointed his parents by desiring a Philistine woman for a wife. Verse 4 seems to indicate that this was okay because “he sought an occasion against the Philistines” – as if by marrying out of the covenant Samson would have an advantage over the enemies of Israel. I do not agree with this assessment for a couple of reasons.
First, there is the warning the Israelites were given by the prophet Joshua prior to entering into the land of Canaan. In Joshua 23:11-14 we read that by marrying outside of the faith Israel would have “thorns in their eyes” and that this intermarriage would be “snares and traps” unto Israel. The Lord warned them that by disobeying this counsel they would incur both blindness and captivity. This will prove true in the case of Samson later on in the story.
Second, modern apostles have spoken about Samson’s choice in a wife. Speaking to Samson’s marriage decision Elder George Q. Cannon said: “And in every instance that is on record in the Bible where the children of Israel disobeyed this command of God, judgment and calamity always followed. It was so in the case of Samson. You remember Samson, a mighty man in some respects, a man whom God raised up to redeem His people, but he married strange women. He married a woman of the Philistines, and the result was that it brought about his destruction.” (Elder George Q. Cannon, The Law of Marriage in Ancient Israel, JD 25:364)
We discussed accounts in the lives of youth when someone they knew chose to date and marry the wrong person. Some of the questions I asked in class were “how can you tell if you are dating the right person?” “How do dating behaviors and patterns influence later decisions?” “Why is it important to marry the right person by the right authority?”
By examining these and other related questions we attempted to look at the dating and marriage decision from the perspective of the students. By seeing how it is to their advantage to choose wisely in this arena of their lives, the lessons of Samson are not lost. I emphasized this point again at the end of the lesson and could see in the eyes of the students that this truth made sense to them.
2. Expect something for nothing. Think that you can get along on talent alone.
Samson’s bet with the Philistines in Judges 14:8-14 illustrate his attitude that people owe him something for nothing. Samson had an attitude that reflected his confidence. There are many illustrations of this in the lives of our students. From the macro examples of nations that want something for nothing and the turmoil that brings to the examples from the lives of individuals who want much but are unwilling to work for what they desire, this idea is worth looking into in the classroom.
Prophets have been outspoken against this behavior when it comes to gambling, and so this is another illustration of this type of attitude. It is his attitude that really gets Samson in hot water. Judging him on his ability alone we could agree that he had all the tools to effectively lead his peers, but his attitude was way out of line. For President Hinckley’s talk on gambling see: http://bit.ly/zK80um
3. Surround yourself with people you can’t trust.
Judges 14:15-17 show what happens in a society where people can’t be trusted. This is classic mafia-style behavior- what Hugh Nibley calls the Mahan principle. “The ‘Mahan principle’ is a frank recognition that the world’s economy is based on the exchange of life for property.” (“The Law of Consecration,” CWHN 9:436). Exchanging human lives for material wealth is what Cain teaches us in the scriptures (see Moses 5:31). In this story we have the Philistines not trusting Samson, and Samson’s wife looking out for herself while she betrays Samson’s secret. Everyone is in the wrong in this story, and everyone loses.
4. Return evil for evil and make decisions in anger.
Judges 14:19-20, 15 – In this story Samson decides to up the ante – he makes a decision in his anger to get revenge, after which the Philistines take their anger out on his family. He follows this retaliatory attack with more violence on the Philistines and their property. This is an arms race with no winners. As the violence increases, the reader is left to see the madness on both sides of the conflict.
We talked in class about the importance of not making decisions when in a state of anger. Take time out to think through your options and resolve to calm down before speaking. I cannot think of a time when I have spoken in anger and later said, “I’m glad I said that.” Usually we look back at words spoken in anger only to regret them.
When asked why he made his decisions Samson replied, “as they did unto me, so have I done unto them.” How mature. We spent some time in class having students share when they were in a similar circumstance – tempted to retaliate to negative emotions or actions. Some great examples were shared of times when they both failed and passed this test.
5. Choose to be immoral.
Samson continues down the path of destruction by again choosing an unworthy companion. The text calls Delilah “an harlot” (Judges 16:1), and without getting into her profession in class, one thing was very clear from the text: she does not have Samson’s best interest in mind.
I love the following quote by Elder Richard G. Scott: “When you are alone with your friends, talk about doing good and being good. The feelings you will have, the promptings that will come to you, will powerfully motivate you for good. Those who do wrong and scheme to get away with it will never know such feelings. If you don’t feel comfortable with the thought of discussing good with your friends, they are not your friends. Change them.” (Elder Richard G. Scott, Trust in the Lord, Ensign May 1989)
The consequence of immorality is a theme frequently visited by the authors of the Old Testament. It is always a good idea to stress the principles in the order and with the weight that the scriptures place them. Since morality is brought up frequently in the beginning of the Old Testament, it is good to remind the youth of the importance of staying morally clean.
Speaking about pornography President Gordon B. Hinckley stated:
Now, my brethren, I do not wish to be negative. I am by nature optimistic. But in such matters as this I am a realist. If we are involved in such behavior, now is the time to change. Let this be our hour of resolution. Let us turn about to a better way. Said the Lord: “Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.” (President Gordon B. Hinckley, A Tragic Evil Among us, Ensign, November 2004 see: http://bit.ly/zGy1jD )
6. Keep coming back for more temptation.
Samson did not realize that even the strongest can be made weak. Even the strongest individual can succumb to temptation if they continually put themselves in an environment where they are faced with the appeal of sin.
The story ends with the Philistines putting out Samson’s eyes and binding him in chains (see Judges 16:21). This is where I had the students mark their scriptures to indicate the promise given in Joshua 23:11-14 – where marrying outside the covenant would blind and captivate the children of Israel. Samson’s life is a literal fulfillment of a prophetic promise. The relevance of the scriptures to the immediate situations the youth of the church find themselves in is incredible. And it all began with the dating decision.