Tag Archives: Judges 14

Achilles’ Heel

Achilles' Heel (CaD Jud 14) Wayfarer

Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman. When he returned, he said to his father and mother, “I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.”
Judges 14:1-2 (NIV)

I was recently reading and proofing a business report that was written by a young colleague. One of the things I noted in his writing was the repeated use of a word that, though not incorrect, felt awkward in its use. In looking up the definition and etymology of the word, I discovered that the popularity of its usage in writing peaked a few hundred years ago.

In recent years, I’ve become increasingly fascinated by the origin and history of certain words and phrases. We commonly use terms that are rooted in epic stories from history. Shakespeare may have had more influence on the English language than anyone else. Many phrases we still use today came from Shakespeare’s works including “Break the ice,” “Too much of a good thing,” “Wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve,” “Come what may,” “Fair play,” “Laughingstock,” “In a pickle,” and “Wild goose chase.”

Likewise, the term Achilles’ heel derives from the ancient, historical hero of Troy who lived in the same general era of history as Samson and was made famous by Homer’s Iliad. The seemingly invincible Greek warrior is felled by an arrow through his heel. To this day, we speak of a person’s “fatal flaw” as their “Achilles’ heel.”

Which came to mind as I read today’s chapter. The chapter continues the legendary story of Samson, a similarly legendary hero known for his feats of strength and amazing victories. In today’s chapter, the author of Judges introduces me to three important themes:

First, there is Samson’s amazing strength. This is his divine gift, as the author continually reminds us that each feat is sourced in the Spirit of God coming upon Samson at the moment. In today’s chapter, he tears apart a lion with his bare hands and then single-handedly defeats and plunders 30 Philistine men.

Next, there is the fact that Samson always acts alone. This continues the theme of his birth which made him singularly special and set apart by God for the tasks to which he was called.

Third, there is the introduction of Samson’s fatal flaw. Unlike Achilles, it is not a physical flaw, but a spiritual one. Samson has an uncontrollable appetite for Philistine women, the very people from whom he was born to deliver his nation. In today’s chapter, Samson merely sees a Philistine woman, is infatuated with her and he demands that his parents procure her as her wife. His parents object, but Samson is adamant.

It does not go well, which will be a recurring theme in the continuing story.

In yesterday’s post/podcast, I began to think about my own life as the story it will become after I pass away. When my great-grandchildren are doing their family tree for a school project and ask their parents about great-papa Tom, what will the story be?

In the quiet this morning, I’m taking the question one layer deeper. In the story of great-Papa-Tom, what will be identified as my Achilles’ heel?

“You know son, Papa Tom wrote all the time. God was a big deal to him, and he was a preacher. He owned a research business. He was a good grandpa, but…

What will come after the “but”?

As I meditate on this in the quiet, I’m reminded that every human being, save One, has his/her own human weaknesses, uncontrolled appetites, blind spots, tragic flaws, and what the Great Story refers to as sin. There will be something that comes after the “but…” in my story. I can’t escape it.

Which, according to the Great Story, is the very reason that Jesus came. Jesus even said, “I didn’t come to condemn the world.” Jesus came to make a way so that matter what comes after that “but…” in my earthly story as told by my descendants, in eternity there will be an additional “but…”:

but.. he is loved beyond all measure. He is forgiven. All of those human weaknesses, uncontrolled appetites, blind spots, tragic flaws, and what the Great Story refers to as sin? They’ve been redeemed and made right by what Jesus did for him.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Heroes and Fatal Flaws

But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, because she pleases me.”
Judges 14:3b (NRSV)

Wendy and I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Saturday. As we were driving to the theater we got into a great conversation about the building blocks of story. Stories and myths from ancient Greece to contemporary cinema have overarching themes that authors, playwrights, and movie makers recycle time and time and time again because they resonate with us and our common human experience.

Our heroes have fatal flaws. From ancient myths we learn of Achilles the mighty warrior who had one fatal weakness – his heel. The force was strong with Anakin Skywalker, but he was angry and the dark side fed his anger until he became Darth Vader. One of my favorite moments in the Force Awakens (don’t worry – no spoiler here) came from the writers introducing an interesting twist. The Dark Side fears for one of the evil characters, because this person appears to have a weakness (a fatal flaw in reverse) for the Light.

In God’s Message there is, perhaps, no greater example of a great hero with a fatal flaw than Samson. A handsome, strong, and rugged warrior of miraculous birth, Samson’s fatal flaw was that he was driven by his appetites. Samson sees a pretty Philistine girl (lust of the eyes) and demands that his father arrange a marriage despite the fact that it goes against all religious and cultural rules of the day. Samson is hungry (lust of the flesh) and his appetite drives him to eat honey out of the dead carcass of a lion, despite the fact that it was against God’s rules. When Samson gets humiliated by his bride’s people (pride), he goes into a homicidal rage and breaks troth with the girl he’d been so driven to marry.

This morning I’m reminded that stories of great heroes with fatal flaws resonate with us because we all have blind spots. No matter how heroic I attempt to be in this life, there is always a chink (or in my case, chinks) in my shining armor. Like Samson, I am driven by my appetites. I know the rules. The right thing to do is perfectly clear, but I so often choose to do the very opposite – the things my appetites crave. It reminds me of Paul’s rumination in his letter to Jesus’ followers in Rome:

What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.

But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

In the quiet of this Monday morning, this pitiful hero aware of his fatal flaws is reminded that he needs a savior “who will act to set things right in my life of contradictions.”

And that, is what the Christmas story is all about.