A few of my deeply faithful friends are struggling with their children.
My friends feel like failures. They wonder what they’ve done wrong. How could children who started off well become so rebellious?
These parents are praying for their sons and daughters. Exhorting them. Holding them accountable. Teaching them the Bible. Trying to get to their hearts.
But nothing seems to be working.
Their children appear determined to choose destructive and defiant paths, completely ignoring what they’ve been taught. Their actions can be impulsive and self-centered, without regard to other people involved. It’s discouraging and at times heartbreaking.
Samson’s parents must have felt discouraged and even heartbroken at times. The angel of the Lord appeared to Samson’s childless mother and announced she was going to have a son. The angel said, “the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines” (Judges 13:5).
A child who was dedicated to God from the womb would be special. A child whose birth was foretold by an angel. A child whom God would use to save Israel. What a staggering calling.
When Samson’s mother told her husband Manoah what the angel had said, he prayed: “O Lord, please let the man of God whom you sent come again to us and teach us what we are to do with the child who will be born” (Judges 13:8).
Teach us what we are to do with the child who will be born. Isn’t that what all of us want God to do?
Just as we would, Samson’s parents wanted to make sure they brought him up well. They wanted to know exactly how to train him. They asked the angel, “Now when your words come true, what is to be the child’s manner of life, and what is his mission?” (Judges 13:12). With such a great calling from God, they may have naturally assumed their son would be delightful and obedient.
God blessed Samson (Judges 13:24) and God used him to save the Israelites, but Samson was far from a delightful, obedient son. In fact, he was reckless, impulsive, and selfish. Almost everything that Scripture records about him shows his lack of care for anyone but himself.
Samson wanted a wife from the Philistines and his parents wanted him to marry a nice Jewish girl. But Samson insisted on taking a Philistine wife saying, “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes” (Judges 14:3). This certainly wasn’t the plan they would’ve had for their son. It surely seemed unthinkable to choose a wife from the “uncircumcised Philistines.” They may have wondered where they went wrong that their son didn’t even want to marry a woman from their own community.
Samson’s parents did not know that this desire was ultimately from the Lord (Judges 14:4). From their viewpoint, Samson married this Philistine woman solely because “she was right in [his] eyes” (Judges 14:7). That was the hallmark of not only Samson’s life but the entire period of the Judges, everyone doing what was right in their own eyes. And it may be the hallmark of all the rebellious.
When we only do what is right in our own eyes, without inviting counsel or considering the consequences of our actions, we are usually headed for disaster.
Marrying a Philistine woman because she was right in his eyes was just the beginning of Samson’s impulsive choices. He tore a lion to pieces with his bare hands and later ate honey from its carcass, a violation of his Nazirite vow (Judges 14:6, Judges 14:8-9). He murdered 30 people in hot anger because the Philistines answered his riddle (Judges 14:19) and later murdered a thousand with the jawbone of a donkey (Judges 15:15). Because of his destructive behavior, the Philistines burned his wife and her father (Judges 15:6). Even his own people felt he was a troublemaker, as they tried to hand him over to the Philistines (Judges 15:10-13). Being close to Samson was a liability.
I wonder how Samson’s parents felt. Samson was their only child and he was born with such promise. They were told that God was going to use him, and they desperately wanted to raise him well. Yet watching Samson’s actions, they may have been filled with disappointment and even shame. They may have wondered what they had done wrong.
Yet God used Samson.
Hebrews helps us see Samson from a completely different perspective. From the Judges account, it’s hard to find redeeming qualities about Samson. Even before his death, when he triumphed over the Philistines, he did it to avenge himself.
But Samson is listed in the Hebrews 11 Hall of Faith. He judged Israel for 20 years. And we know that he called upon the Lord and the Lord answered him (Judges 15:18).
Often God uses humble and devout followers to accomplish his work. People who exemplify the fruit of the Spirit, overflowing with Christlike qualities. They are faithful and loving servants.
But sometimes God uses weak and troubled people to fulfill his purposes. Impulsive people who consistently make poor choices. Samson’s life didn’t look cleaned up and respectable and yet we know God used him. Numerous times, the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him (Judges 14:6; Judges 14:19, Judges 15:14).
Our righteousness is not what pleases God; our faith is what pleases him. God uses all of us when we are weak and sinful and fallen. Even when we fail miserably. Samson believed God would use him despite his failure. And Hebrews 11 is not an account of those who led sinless lives but rather those who believed God by faith.
Samson’s life is not one we would want to imitate. But his life does show us that God uses those who believe in him by faith. So if your child is difficult and impulsive and is doing what is right in his own eyes, don’t despair. God isn’t done with him yet. And God may use the character qualities that seem impossible to deal with right now to accomplish his purposes.
If you are struggling with your child, don’t lose heart. Don’t judge yourself by what you see in your children. Don’t assume that their impulsivity and lack of self-control is rooted in your parenting. Continue to discipline them as God exhorts us to (Hebrews 12:5-11), but also encourage them to trust God and call out to him. Remind them that their failures don’t nullify God’s faithfulness.
Above all, entrust your children to God. The Lord is not finished with them yet. They may yet be listed in the eternal Hall of Faith.