It was the perfect place to endlessly recycle every failure that had brought him there.
The grinding mill in a prison.
A recurring nightmare from which he could not wake up. A gruesome ground-hog day where his failure replayed in a slow motion endless loop.
As he walked in the ruts he was creating with every trip around that never-ending circle of meaningless movement, his blind eyes allowed the light of reality to seep into his soul. All he saw was loss, failure and ruin.
He replayed the choices he had made with “if only” stamped across them.
- If only he had looked the other way instead of ogling the Philistine woman at Timnah (Judges 14:2)
- If only he hadn’t riddled while his home burned (Judges 14:12).
- If only he hadn’t given in to manipulation or acted out of anger (Judges 14:16).
- If only he hadn’t tied tails, torched fields and taken batting practice with a donkey’s bone (Judges 15:1-17).
- If only he hadn’t misused his power on lions and rocks or wasted his energy on a prostitute (Judges 15:18ff).
- If only he hadn’t let Delilah steal his power, kill his commitment and destroy his future (Judges 16:1-20).
In this circle of despair, Samson was learning the hard lesson of disobedience and compromise…a lesson I wish I could sit and discuss with him at length.
There are no do-overs in life. It moves in only one direction—forward.
The “if” factor is only for the pains of yesterday not the possibilities of tomorrow. So he ground on. Circling around the mill-wheel and cycling around his litany of losses.
How vividly he relived those moments after Delilah seduced the truth from him and God sapped the strength from him. What agony pierced him as he stood to shake himself loose from the ropes as he had done so many times only to realize this time the only thing breaking was his hope.
With every trip around the wheel, Samson remembered the men who once trembled before him now towering over him with hatred in their hearts and revenge on their minds.
Beaten for the first time. Blinded for the last.
Everything changed because Samson had believed a lie—that what he wanted was better than what God willed. That lie had led to this life: grinding out his days as he ground the grain in the mill with no vision and no hope.
One of my favorite things in Bible stories like this is the amazingly well placed little word that serves as massive hinge-pin on which the epic story turns. “Yet.” “Then.” “But.” We see it over and over in the real-life tragedies and triumphs of the people of the Word.
“But his hair, though cut off, began to grow again.” (Judges 16:22, MSG)
You see, the grind of the mill was causing the growth of the man. With every energy-sapping lap in the meaningless cycle of shame, something was happening in Samson. He was remembering.
- Before the blindness, there was light.
- Before the guilt, there was hope.
- Before the failure, there was God.
In the dark moments of this humiliating nightmare, a dream began to emerge.
As it always does, failure decided to mock him again. The enemy always tries to use the failures in our history to taunt us about the loss of our destiny. But this time, Samson’s enemies made a crucial mistake.
They underestimated the power of brokenness to restore faith in the soul of a man.
They didn’t realize that while the grind was breaking his body, the Lord was healing his heart.
“So they called for Samson from the prison, and he performed for them. And they stationed him between the pillars. Then Samson said to the lad who held him by the hand, “Let me feel the pillars which support the temple, so that I can lean on them.” Now the temple was full…All the lords of the Philistines were there…while Samson performed (Judges 16:25-27, NKJV).
Samson’s dream: “Let me feel the pillars”—put me up against the power structures of the darkness that brought me down. Samson’s last stand was based on a vision to do more damage to the kingdom of darkness after his failure than he had ever done before it.
So Samson prayed, “O Lord God, remember me…Strengthen me, just this once, that I may with one blow take vengeance on the Philistines for my two eyes!” And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars which supported the temple, and he braced himself against them, one on his right and the other on his left. Then Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” And he pushed with all his might, and the temple fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So the dead that he killed at his death were more than he had killed in his life (Judges 16:28-30, NKJV).
There is so much hope in this story for those of us who daily face the shame of living in the shadow of our defeat.
Hair grows back. Hearts grow up. Hope grows strong.
And in the end, God demonstrates that our failures are nothing more than His opportunities to turn the enemy’s kingdom on its head and reclaim our destiny from the ashes of our destruction.
My heart’s cry is: “Let me feel the pillars”—just once, let my life create chaos in the kingdom that did its best to strap me to the past and end my days in the grind.