A recent Sunday School class focused on Samson, the biblical long-haired “strong man” in Judges 13-16. One man in class described Samson as cocky.
I hadn’t really thought of Samson in those terms, so I had to ponder for a while. I suppose you could describe Samson that way. Some of his challenges seemed to be motivated by the fact that he knew he would win. It’s possible to be cocky even while thinking one is doing the Lord’s will. Cockiness seems to come from being self-assured rather than confident in God’s gifting and calling.
The discussion reminded me of something I had recently read in 2 Chronicles 26 about King Uzziah. Verses 4-5 say, “And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper.”
But just a few verses later, we’re told, “And his fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped, till he was strong. But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the Lord his God and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense” (verses 15-16).
Only the priests were supposed to burn incense in the temple. But in Uzziah’s pride, he presumptuously stepped beyond his authority. Then when he was confronted, he became angry. God made him a leper the rest of his life.
“He was marvelously helped, till he was strong. But when he was strong, he grew proud.” That statement stops me in my tracks. It’s possible to seek God and depend on Him for help, and then turn right around and become proud as if we answered our prayer instead of God.
When we fear falling or failing, we usually worry about the areas where we’re weak.
But we should also be concerned about the areas where we’re strong. “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). We can too easily become confident in ourselves instead of leaning on God.
We need to remind ourselves that any strength we have comes from God. We all have besetting sins and tendencies. If we don’t have problems in a given area, it’s not because we’re just that good. And if we have good traits and seem “naturally” strong in some areas, that comes from God, too. Paul reminds us, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).
Pride is one danger of strength. Another is what one of our former pastor used to say, “With every strength is an off-setting weakness.”
Say, for instance, that one had natural leadership skills. Those come in handy when a leader is needed. But they might be resented when the leader oversteps, doesn’t listen to anyone else, and starts taking over decisions and tasks unasked.
Peter was a natural spokesman. He was loyal and ready to jump into the fray. But he sometimes spoke when he should have been silent or acted when he should have been patient.
We love David’s passionate emotion in the psalms because they mirror ours. But that passionate nature got David in trouble in other areas.
Some of us are naturally quiet, which keeps us out of trouble from speaking up at the wrong time. But then we also avoid speaking when we should.
Another potential problem with our strengths is that, like the folks Paul addressed in Romans 14 and 15:1-7, we don’t give due consideration to those who are weaker. Our insistence on our own freedoms can even cause them to sin against their conscience. Then we have the audacity to look down on them. “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself” (15:1-3a).
As long Uzziah sought the Lord, God made him prosper. When Uzziah stopped seeking the Lord and relied on what he thought was best, he fell into pride and error.
In Samson’s final days, he was humbled and sought the Lord. He didn’t depend on his own strength, but he asked God to strengthen him. God restored Samson, and he’s mentioned in the “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11 as one “who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises . . . were made strong out of weakness” (Hebrews 11:33-34).
“Thus says the Lord:
‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom,
let not the mighty man boast in his might,
let not the rich man boast in his riches,
but let him who boasts boast in this,
that he understands and knows me,
that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.
For in these things I delight, declares the Lord’”
May we remember that in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). May we set our hearts to seek Him and rely on Him for wisdom, guidance, and strength.
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