With the jawbone of a donkey I have slain a thousand men” - Judges 15:16b
There are valuable lessons to be learned from the competition of sports. Hard work pays off. Discipline, teamwork, achievement, consistency, and fitness are all valuable ingredients for life. Paul said, “Everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things.” He continued, “Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown” (1 Cor. 9:25). Paul said, “And if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Tim. 2:5). His priorities were right, eternal, holy. There is value in athletic competition, in its place.
Our nation worships at the altar of sports. Congregations meet religiously in stadiums where worshipers number in the thousands; millions annually. We pay exorbitant prices to get seats in these temples. Athlete’s salaries reveal the value we put on sports. We weep when our team loses. We rejoice when they win. Our teams are like our denominations. Our preachers wear uniforms. They train their bodies to compete according to the doctrine of professionalism. They live by a law of meticulous measurement of what goes in out of them. False prophets are athletes who break this code of discipline or neglect their “God-given” ability. Apostasy is not appreciating one’s sporting opportunity. “Sin” is defined in terms of deterring one’s ability to compete. Promiscuity is only “sinful” because it distracts from what is really important, preparing and performing on the field. Our eschatology and hope is linked to sporting prospects. We push our children to excel in sports in elementary school, then through high school, on to college, and finally, hopefully, into professional sports. Statistics show only a very select few make to professional sports. But that doesn’t stop us. We’re distracted by delusions of grandeur. Our prize of upward calling is that BIG contract that will provide worldly luxuries for generations to come. Our Great Commission is making disciples of our teams. It’s our religion.
That meant to be a release valve from the pressures of life has itself become a pressure of life. The world has once again been turned upside down. Entertainment is given eternal worth. We are obsessed with fitness and the way we look. There is a spirit of competition in our marriages and families. Spouses are competitors instead of teammates. Parents push obsessively for children to “win!” We live in a fantasy world of “fantasy leagues.” We are an activity obsessed society. From ballet to baseball games we rush from one activity to another.
What’s wrong with being involved in sports? Isn’t it a good thing to be more active? Doesn’t it promote health? In moderation perhaps, but there is little moderately done when it comes to sporting activity. Our priorities are out of whack. Our service to the Lord has become just another activity to be squeezed into our life. That is, unless it competes with our athletic events. Then we choose sports over church. We prefer the “game” over God. He’s just another common part of our games in life. This is blasphemous. God is Holy. He is anything but common. “’To whom then will you liken Me, or to whom shall I be equal?’ says the Holy One” (Is. 40:25; cf. also Ex. 9:14; Is. 46:9; 48:11). We shower love on our sports idols. We give little love to God who gave His all for us (e.g. Jer. 2:11-13; Rom. 5:8; 1 John 5:21).
Samson approached life like a sport. He saw himself in the Hall of Fame. By God’s grace he made it into His Hall of Faith (Heb. 11:32). But Samson was busy making his legend. He had little time for God or His calling. He prayed only self-centered prayers, if he prayed at all. He saw women as conquests. He was proud of his prowess. Life was his gym and he was its gym rat. He ripped up lions for sport. He was busy playing games. He challenged competition with riddles. When his opponents cheated he killed thirty men (Judges 14). His sport was important to him.
Samson ripped up his enemies’ city gates, posts and all. He lifted them up like a medal. He pranced up a hill like ascending a podium. With the gates, on top of the hill, it was as though he was saying, “Look at me!” “You can’t stop me!” (Judges 16:1ff.). It was always about “me.”
Samson saw his wife as a trophy. When she was given to another he sportingly caught 300 foxes. He tied their tails together. He put a torch between each pair of tail-tied foxes and then let them loose in the fields of the Philistines. Who does that? Who comes up with such a plan? It’s Jokeresque. It’s sinister. It was not something done in the Spirit. It was the crazed impulse of a man bent on revenge. It was second nature to this sporting man who played by his own set of rules (Judges 15:1-7).
Samson didn’t only fight his enemies he, “attacked them hip and thigh.” Maybe Samson was into Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Imagine his charge of the Philistines Monkey rolling them down like pins in a bowling alley. With all his strength and quickness maybe this “Nazirite” went at them like an eight armed octopus of Omoplatas. Imagine a whirling dervish of fists and feet, flying arm bars, triangle chokes, Anacondas, Kimuras, heel hooks and knee bars. Like a Tasmanian devil he broke them up and tapped them out so quick and with such ferocity that those Phillys never knew what hit them. Maybe for a coup de grace, and just for fun, he leveled them with a bunch of Superman punches followed by a series of rear naked chokes and guillotines. It was an epic performance even if it was outside the octagon. Impossible? Ah, but this was Samson.
Samson took a donkey jawbone and beat the tarnation out of those Philistines. Then he made a victory chant. “With the jawbone of a donkey, heaps upon heaps, with the jawbone of a donkey I have slain a thousand men” (Judges 15:16). He was talking trash. He even named the place “Ramoth Lehi,” the hill of the jawbone (Judges 15:8-17). Ali had his Thrilla in Manila. This was Samson’s Pile High at Lehi. It’s in our sporting nature to mark our victories in a memorable way. How else will we be remembered?
This sport run wild tore down character rather than built it up. Samson’s proud sporting nature unleashed a desensitized, dehumanized, and degenerated Samsonite hard view of humanity. “To do evil is sport to a fool” (Prov. 10:23a). To Samson, much like today, the enemy opponent was nothing more than fleshy objects to be reduced to bloody heaps. Jesus said in the End Times the love of many would grow cold (Mat. 24:12). We are there. We have become like Samson. We are Samsonites!
In Hebrews it states, “let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1). Sin entangles like Delilah’s loom weaving Samson’s hair locks (Judges 16:13-14). Samson’s worldview was gaming. He casually toyed with temptation. He had a devil-may-care attitude toward Delilah’s the enticing ways. But life is more than a game. There is a time for seriousness. Not seriousness as in “Will my team win?” Or, “Who will win this fight?” But seriousness as in, “How does this glorify God?” or, “Where will you spend eternity?”
I love sports. I have benefitted from sports. Sports are fun. But there can be a danger in sports, fitness and physical activity. These things can usurp the place of our eternal priority, Jesus. Paul told Timothy, “For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come” (1 Tim. 4:8). Remember that.
Samson was all about self. Our inclination is to feed our flesh. We are prone to preoccupation with outward appearances rather than the condition of our heart. We are forever posing. “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” (Prov. 4:21). The priority needs to be exercising ourselves to be godly (2 Tim. 4:7). “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Is that your priority? Or have you allowed sports to make you a Samsonite?
What is the consequence of the Samsonite nature? Samson was bound, blinded, bloodied and ground-and-pounded (Judges 16). It brought him to the arena of the enemy. And in one final fight, with deep regret and hollow victory, Samson brought the house down on himself and his enemies. Samson finally learned that victory comes through dying to self. He tapped out self.
Should we care about and tend to our physical health? Yes indeed. We are not only to walk as Jesus walked and follow in His steps spiritually (1 Pet. 2:21; 1 John 2:6). It’s good to literally walk like Jesus did. But our priority should always be looking to Jesus. In Hebrews after we are told to set aside the sin that so easily entangles us, it goes on to say, “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Look to Jesus. Tebowing is not a bad thing, if our heart is bowing too. We need spiritual athletes. We need people strong in the Lord. Don’t allow sports to make you a Samsonite. Be one with the Spirit’s might!