Why, why, why, Delilah?
In his encounter with Delilah (told in Judges 16), Samson provides us with a picture and metaphor of the dangers of entanglement with the world. This is a strangely abusive and controlling relationship in which Samson declares his love for Delilah while she declares her determination to torment him. As is so often the way with abusive relationships Samson seems incapable of seeing what is really going on and escaping it. The irony in this case is that it is not the woman who is being controlled and abused but the strongest man in the world.
Samson submits himself to Delilah in a sequence of steps that inevitably lead to his downfall. At first she ties him with bowstrings. Then she ties him with ropes. Then she ties him into the fabric on a loom. Finally she shaves his head and – in what is perhaps the saddest verse in all scripture – “he did not know that the Lord had left him.”
As I’ve reflected on this sorry tale each of these stages has become axiomatic. ‘Bowstrings’ are things that are not good or helpful but easily snapped – a flex of the chest and they are broken off. This means ‘bowstrings’ can feel insignificant and that no harm is done by getting tied by them. But being tied by bowstrings leads to being tied by ropes which leads to being tied into the loom which leads to being shorn of power.
It is a metaphor for what has happened to the church in the West: a gradual surrender to the flow of culture until power is shorn, the buildings are emptied, and all is death. It’s also a metaphor for what can so easily happen to us individually: I let myself get tied in a few bowstrings – no problem – but then I get increasingly tangled until the Lord has left me and I don’t even realise it. If, by the grace of God, this isn’t your story, you’ve seen it in others. Tragic.
Samson, the mightiest man of them all, ends up grinding corn in a dungeon, his eyes gouged out and his dignity gone. That sounds a lot like so much of the church in the West today. If we are to see a reversal of this tragedy we need – personally and corporately – not only ‘the hair on our head to begin to grow again’ but to not get tied in bowstrings in the first place. Make that an axiom, and live by it.