“So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life” (Judges 16:30b).
The book of Judges is ultimately a book about failures. First, the Israelites themselves failed to obey God. Within a generation after Joshua, the entire populace had descended into idolatry. God delivered them into the hands of their enemies for their disobedience, and whenever they repented and cried out to Him for help, He rescued them. The cycle continued again and again, with a new judge arising every few decades. But not even these were perfect. Samson is an excellent example of a judge who failed spectacularly at his mission.
Even before his birth, Samson was special. His parents had been childless, presumably for quite some time, but the angel of the LORD appeared to them one day and told them they would have a son. He would be a Nazirite from the womb, set apart to God all the days of his life. As Samson grew, however, he apparently didn’t take kindly to this special status. He deliberately broke the Nazirite rules multiple times, such as when he scraped honey from the carcass of a lion. But more than that, he had little interest in fulfilling his task of driving out the oppressing Philistines. To the contrary, he went so far as to marry one of them. He eventually killed 1,000 Philistines out of anger, but he was still far from the judge he had been called to be.
Eventually, he fell in love with Delilah, which proved to be his downfall. This wily woman overpowered the strongest man on earth by her incessant whining, goading him into disclosing the secret of his strength. His hair was cut as he slept, breaking once again the Nazirite vow. This time, his divinely-given strength left him, and he had no power to defeat the Philistines who rushed upon him. They blinded him and put him to work at a mill. It seemed he had failed.
But despite all this, God had not forgotten him. There came a time when the lords of the Philistines were gathered together, and they had Samson brought out to them for entertainment. He recognized his chance to finally do what he had been born for, and he seized it. With a final, desperate plea for God’s help, he pushed against the pillars supporting the Philistines’ house. The house collapsed, killing Samson—but also killing every single person inside. At his death, Samson finally fulfilled his mission.
Samson’s life is one of colossal failure. He did everything wrong until the very end of his life. Yet God still used him. God’s power was not hindered by Samson’s willful disobedience. He used Samson’s anger to destroy 1,000 Philistines. He used his humiliating slavery to kill the Philistine lords. In the end, Samson wasn’t a failure. He had finally given himself up to God, and God used that one moment of surrender to accomplish something incredible. It didn’t matter what Samson had done up to that point: his willingness now was all God needed. There is no such thing as a failure when God is in control.