One of the better-known judges of Israel was Samson, whose mighty strength led God's people against the Philistines at a critical time in their journey. The Philistines had been a bane in Israel's side for quite awhile, and they would continue to be, but Samson would declare a powerful, though temporary, victory over them.
There are really three big scenes that we remember when it comes to Samson. We remember how his wife, Delilah, deceived him and cut off his braids. We remember how he, as a blind jester, pushed down the columns of the Philistine theater and killed thousands with his own death. And we remember, at least vaguely, that time he slayed the enemy with the jawbone of an ass.
It is this third story to which we turn today.
Because it's not like Samson particularly trained to use the jawbone of an ass as a weapon. Given his choice, it probably wasn't his first pick, but it was there, and it was strong, and he used it to the glory of God. And then, when the battle was over, he did something unexpected: he simply discarded it.
This was an Israel with a powerful enemy, an Israel who didn't want to find herself without a weapon to fight with. And Samson was still firmly in Philistine territory. It would have made sense for him to harness this jawbone on his hip until and unless he found something better with which to defend himself. But he didn't.
And Israel was known for her trophies, as well. Later, when David slays Goliath, they take Goliath's sword and put it into a holy place as a relic. We know this because when David later finds himself in need of a sword, he is offered Goliath's sword by the holy man. So there's that. Samson could have taken the jawbone as a token of victory and enshrined it. But he didn't.
As I was reading this passage earlier this year, the note that I wrote about this passage was simply this: Samson discarded the jawbone because he no longer needed a weapon and he didn't need a trophy.
Oh, how far this seems from our own experience.
We are a people who won't give up our weapons, who always feel the need to have something with us to defend ourselves. Whether it be our words or something stronger, we're always right on the edge of fighting for ourselves. We feel like we have to. We feel the pressures of the world pressing in on us. We feel the weight of brokenness creeping in. Around every corner lurks a shadow, and most of us are unwilling to walk in this world without a weapon of some sort. We can't imagine being a people who fight only when God tells us to fight, who could actually claim a victory; we have to fight all the time, don't we?
And when we do have victory, we want a trophy. We want some remembrance of what we've been through, of what we've accomplished. In the best cases, of what God has done for us. We are a people who build altars and enshrine tokens as reminders of our best days. It's why we buy the T-shirts and the commemorative DVDs and carry small crosses in our pockets. We can't seem to help ourselves. Our lives, and our homes, are full of our trophies. Most of us would have that jawbone on our mantels. Guests would come over and say, "What's that?" and we would tell them the story of how we conquered the Philistines.
But Samson didn't need either, and if we're being honest, neither do we.
The truth is that weapons keep us on constant guard for the future and trophies keep us mired in the past, despite the fact that our lives are lived only in the present. The jawbone was useful only in the battle. Before hand, it wouldn't have crossed Samson's mind to consider it for the future; he wasn't packing a jawbone "just in case." Afterward, it didn't matter; the battle was over, fought and won. It was only valuable in the present, and the present was now something new entirely.
It's something that's just far too easy for us to forget, for us to not even consider. We live so much in the past and in the future that we miss the present entirely, until we realize it's too late. And then we try to live it again, but we can't. All of a sudden, we find ourselves with a faith that trusts God for tomorrow and tries to cling to Him yesterday but doesn't remember what's going on right now, where He is with us right now. But our faith is a faith that can only be faith in the present. Right now.
And with a right now kind of faith, so often it is the case that we no longer need weapons and we don't need trophies.
It's time to lay our jawbones down.