And the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol. (Shoftim / Judges 13:25; ESV)
This week's Haftarah tells the story of the birth of Samson. Samson is a most difficult Bible character, due to the fact that his behavior doesn't seem to always be in line with the divine inspiration under which he apparently operated. His life is an example of a biblical interpretive principle referred to as "descriptive, not prescriptive", meaning that just because something is mentioned in the Scriptures doesn't mean that it is to be taken as an example for us to follow. Samson's foibles are confusing to the reader, but at the same time it reminds us that the reality of God in a person's life doesn't justify their bad behavior. I am mentioning this because I wanted to discuss an aspect of God's reality in Samson's life without justifying everything he did.
God had definite plans for Samson and his role among his people for deliverance from their enemies. God gifted Samson with extraordinary strength and the courage to take on the enemy in great numbers. This week's portion concludes with the statement that at a certain time God's Spirit began to "stir him."
Samson was born with a calling, but there was a point in his life where God began to prod him to begin to do that for which he was called. At times in the Bible we read of people to whom God spoke, giving them specific direction as to a certain course of action. But this is not always the case, as we see here with Samson. Something was going on in his heart that urged him to do something about the dire circumstances of his day. This perhaps is similar to David when he heard Goliath's challenge to Israel and saw the fear prevalent among his own people. Without a specific directive from God, as far as we know, something happened inside of David that motivated him to take on the challenge.
Have you ever been stirred? You were living your normal life and something began to brew inside you? It might have been an all-of-a-sudden thing or it grew over a period of time. But the sense of stirring got to the point that you could in no way ignore it. You knew you had to do something - exactly what it was may not have been clear - but you had to do something. Whatever it was most likely had to do with change - changing the way things were to the way things should be. The thought of things continuing as they were was unbearable.
Of course not all stirrings we experience are of God. We can be stirred by anything from human pity to evil passions. Advertising, for example, depends on our being stirred to action, usually by making a purchase.
How then do we know when it is God who is stirring us? That's a question not always easy to answer. In Samson's case, he was called by God to "save Israel from the hand of the Philistines" (Shoftim / Judges 13:5; ESV). So when God began to prod him to fight against the Philistines, he knew it was in keeping with God's plan. You and I may not have received such a clear blueprint for our lives as did Samson, but the Scriptures are a general blueprint for our lives. As God prods us to confront the sub-standard situations in which we find ourselves, in order to subject them to his rule, we would be well-advised to heed that prodding. As to the exact course of action, we should seek God for wisdom and direction before doing anything. But as God gives that wisdom, we need to begin to act upon his stirrings.