The tired warrior held the child’s hand loosely in his own, allowing himself to be led. He understood that they were going into the temple again. His great shoulders sagged, his thick legs faltered. The long, hot, ugly days of pushing the millstone in laps around the pit had taken their toll upon his body. His might, such as remained, no longer moved him with confidence. Months and seasons of constant abuse and exertion had broken his muscles down. Strength was still present with him, but there was no longer any power in it. The boy took him across the threshold of the temple.
His ears picked up the noise of feasting and base revelry. Samson turned his head left and right, trying to get his bearings. He could only imagine the sources of the sounds that came to him. Since the day of his failure and downfall, his sight had been darkened. The roar of the crowd overwhelmed and disoriented him. The child tugged him forward, but Samson resisted. He knew what awaited him. The hand that he held finally gave up and slipped away, just as he realized that he desperately wanted to keep it.
“Dance! Dance!” The crowd suddenly called and jeered at him. Reluctantly, Samson began to move about in short, awkward steps. He swung his arms and shook his head back and forth. Thousands of people howled in laughter. Samson knew how foolish he looked and would have wept if he still had eyes. The temple quieted for a moment and Samson tensed for a blow. The noise of the crowd surged back in full as someone shoved him from behind. Samson stumbled forward into the unknown dark, arms outstretched and seeking. An uneven tile caught his foot and he fell to the ground.
As he hurried to rise again, his assailant commanded him to sing. Samson stood up straight and fumbled with his fingers in front of his chest. He couldn’t think of any songs. An open palm stuck him in the face and Samson began to shout out the only thing in his mind. It was a rhyme from his boyhood, simple and childish. His Philistine captors heard this and went wild with raucous laughter. He finished the song and only waited an instant before launching into another. Just as he started the third, a fist drove itself into his gut. The air whooshed out of Samson’s lungs with a grunt and he sunk to his knees.
Someone else kicked Samson in the back and he curled forward. He pulled his legs up in front of his stomach and buried his face behind his forearms. The beatings always went easier that way. He took the punches and kicks because he had no choice. He heard the mocking and he felt the spit hit the back of his neck. In the midst of pain and humiliation, Samson thought of the things he had lost, the things that he had given away. Glory, power, freedom, it pricked his heart to consider his old life. His very darkest thoughts centered on his God, the God who left him in his sin. The day that he allowed his head to be shaved, he had broken his vows. The Spirit that drove him, overshadowed, and overwhelmed him was gone. The power of his arms had failed him and Samson had learned defeat for the first time in his life.
Even as the blows upon his body diminished, Samson’s heart boiled over with shame and regret. He was no longer a weapon in the hand of his Lord, he was a joke in the house of his enemy. Samson got to his feet thinking that they were finally done with him. But a strong hand gripped the stubble that had grown on the top of his head. Mocking laughter rang out as spit splattered on his face and the hand yanked him back down to his knees. Samson’s hands went out to steady himself, and the small, familiar hand of the boy suddenly caught him again.
The boy took him away. His body ached all over, but it was his heart and his hair that truly burned. These were the center of his former power, his final downfall, and his present shame. The pain in his head sparked a new thought. His hair. His hair had grown back. Was it possible? Could he return to his God again as well? Would God return to him? He bent down to the boy and whispered in his ear, “Take me to the center pillars of the temple so that I may lean against them.”
The boy took him to the great stone pillars that held up the roof and left him there. Samson rested against them, feeling the rough surface of the two close-set columns against his skin. They were solid, immovable. The Philistines ignored him, listening instead to the shrill voice of the temple priest delivering a message. So many of them were here, sitting safety and in confidence. These men and women were Samson’s enemies and the oppressors of his people. He had fought them so fiercely and killed so many. He’d had the potential of freeing his people completely. Now he stood as a captive, blind and powerless among those whom he once towered over in victory. If only God would hear him again. Under his breath and in his heart, Samson talked to God for the first time since long before the Philistines put out his eyes.
“Oh my Lord, remember me again! Hear me, and give me strength to do to the Philistines as they have done to me. Let me have revenge for my eyes!”
Samson placed his palms on the two pillars and leaned his weight against them. He hung his head down between his rounded shoulders. The sinews and tendons of his arms stood out, his tired legs pressed forward. Deep in his chest, Samson’s voice rumbled quietly. The pillars did not move. At last, Samson felt the familiar presence of his God come over him again. The wholesome joy of his youth returned to him. Samson’s heart leaped within him as he realized that God forgave and accepted him. The guilt and sorrow that bore him down as he had pushed the millstone around the press like an animal fled from his mind at the entrance of God’s grace.
A shiver of cold and the heat of fire poured out on Samson. It started between his hunched shoulders, shot along his arms, and raced down his legs. The pillars suddenly cracked like thunder under Samson’s hands. A cry of panic went up from the crowd. Samson’s lungs were ablaze and his stomach boiled like water. He opened his mouth and the power within him leaped up from his throat. Samson’s voice lifted above the screams and could be heard clearly over the noise of the terrified crowd.
“NOW LET ME DIE WITH THE PHILISTINES!”
Samson stepped up and pushed once more. His hands passed through the mighty columns as a man would pass his hand through a blade of grass. The pillars crumbled from the bottom up and poured down like liquid. The roof tumbled down onto the screaming crowd. Walls toppled inward with a roar outmatched only by the victory cry that bellowed from Samson’s throat. In a matter of moments, the great temple of the Philistines was reduced to a pile of stones and long beams of wood. Dust swirled into the air and the last block fell into place. All was silent.
Samson’s life was over, snatched at the last second from the jaws of futility. His potential was never realized, but neither was it cast aside completely. After all the privilege and favor he threw away, after all the trouble he brought upon himself, God showed him grace in the end. Samson killed more of his enemies in his death than he did in his life, and God displayed the truth that it is never too late.