My Dad is one of the strongest men I know.
Like most young boys, I'd watch my Dad in his workshop, or hunting, or digging our car out of a mud-hole, and I'd stand astounded at his strength. In my eyes, my Dad could lift the world onto his shoulders. I can remember testing my strength against some box of odds-and-ends in the shed, marvelling at its weight, then standing back in awe as my Dad seemed to whisper it off the ground onto some high shelf without thought.
I'm not sure when I first noticed, but at some point, I realised that my Dad was strong in ways not easily measured. I've seen him show a depth of character rarely seen under criticism. I've seen him honour God through deep disappointment. I've seen him faithfully cherish my mother for almost half a century in a world of disposable relationships.
My Dad is one of the strongest men I know.
And now I have my own children who test their strength against mine, who ask me to flex my muscles, or open a lid stuck tight. I see the same look in their eyes that my father must have seen in mine. And I pray that they too will one day see a strength in me that isn't isolated to my ability to pick up heavy things.
What's the secret to a man's true strength?
Reading through that awesome, yet imposing, chapter on faith in Hebrews, I almost skipped over this little phrase: "who... were made strong out of weakness," You can find it in verse 34, though it would be better if you read it within it's immediate context of Hebrews 11:32-38.
Strength Out Of Weakness
While an entirely foreign concept in our modern world, 'strength out of weakness' is an idea you'll find scattered right through the entire Bible - it's God's secret way.
The writer to the Hebrews it seems has much more that could be said on this subject of faith, yet he seems to want to draw quickly to his main point (which, by the way, can be seen in summary in verses 39-40), and so quickly gives a rapid-fire list of men of faith, with a corresponding summary of what they achieved. In particular, one of those achievements stands out among the rest, "who... were made strong out of weakness," - and among the names given, one stands out as being a likely candidate for this lesson.
If my Dad had been my boyhood hero, Samson was my biblical hero. What young boy doesn't want to be like Samson? His story is filled with adventure and action, mystery and intrigue. Samson stands as a giant among biblical heroes, holding off the enemy single-handedly with nothing but the jawbone of a donkey. Samson rips doors from hinges, harrases the enemy and does what he wants when he wants.
Samson is a man's man!
But Samson had to learn something, something significant.
As mighty as Samson was, he had not discovered true strength. It was a lesson he had to learn through weakness, and it's a lesson that landed him in a list among great men of faith in Hebrews 11. It may be true that the secret of Samson's might lay in his unshaven head, but Samson was about to discover the true secret of strength.
Judges 16:18-31 records the final season of Samson's life. Samson's self-assured strength was gone, blind and humiliated he lives out his final days as nothing more than cheap labour, and cheap entertainment. But it was here, in darkness and among the mocking jeers of his captors, that Samson discovered his true strength.
Samson found strength on his knees. Samson learnt strength through weakness. When he came to the end of himself, and finally lifted his blind eyes to the heavens, Samson discovered true strength.
Judges 16:28-30 are astounding!
Then Samson called to the LORD and said, “O Lord GOD, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes.” And Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and he leaned his weight against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other. And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” Then he bowed with all his strength, and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life.
Samson finally acknowledged that his strength came from God, not his own might. Samson finally saw God's agenda as greater than his own. From his position of weakness, in one act of selfless sacrifice, Samson accomplished more than he had ever achieved in his life.
Yet far greater than Samson, we see Jesus himself, in his final act of sacrifice, accomplish the greatest act of strength through which we find our eternal victory. What the world sees at weak and pitiful, God used to purchase for himself a people called by his own name.
Strength is found through weakness.
My Dad is still the strongest man I know, though these days I could beat him in an arm-wrestle (admit it, Dad, you know I could!). His strength has been learnt through weakness. My strength must be learnt through weakness.
And so must yours.
The secret of a man's (or woman's) strength is found in weakness.
Samson points to it. Christ fulfils it.