Updated: Jan 3, 2020
Faith is affected by character.
“32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised, who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.” (Hebrews 11:32-34).
Whenever we read, or hear of, the story of Samson we often dwell on his excesses. Rarely do we touch on those flashes of faith that made him God’s chosen instrument during the darkness of the Judges. But somehow, and obviously Samson’s life must have had some significant flashes of the that faith, his name turns up in Hebrews 11 as a star on the list of people of faith.
When Samson appears on the scene in Israel the Philistines are, as they often were, the oppressors of Israel. His story is told to us in Judges 13 through 16.
“Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, so the Lord delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years. A certain man of Zorah, named Manoah, from the clan of the Danites, had a wife who was sterile and remained childless. The angel of the Lord appeared to her and said, ‘You are sterile and childless, but you are going to conceive and have a son. Now see to it that you drink no wine or fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean, because you will conceive and give birth to a son. No razor may be used on his head, because the boy is to be a Nazarite, set apart to God from birth, and he will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines.’”
These instructions were repeated to Manoah in a subsequent appearance of God’s messenger: “Your wife must do all that I have told her. She must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, nor drink any wine or other fermented drink nor eat anything unclean. She must do everything I have commanded her.”
A Nazarite (or Nazirite) was someone, man or woman, who had made a vow “of separation to the Lord” (See Numbers 6:1-21, 1 Samuel 1:11, Amos 2:11, 12, Luke 1:12-17, Acts 18:18, 21:23-26). The hair was particularly critical to the vow. Usually these vows were made for a limited time, but for some, like Samson, it was a lifelong commitment. It was usually voluntary, but in Samson’s case the vow was made by his parents on his behalf. There were three parts to the vow: 1. No wine or other intoxicating drink, or anything from the vine, 2. Cutting of one’s hair for the duration of the vow, 3. Contact with a dead body. Samson broke all three. Even Samson’s mother was to abstain from wine during her pregnancy and not to eat unclean food. All of Israel was prohibited from eating unclean food but the spiritual state of Israel at the time was evident in the fact that they did not follow this prohibition.
This should have been the beginning of an exemplary spiritual life but became rather an example of what NOT to do.
About Samson’s life, K. Lawson Younger Jr. comments in the Zondervan Study Bible: “The final ‘deliverer’ is the literary climax of the cycles section and moral nadir [the lowest point] of the major judges. In many ways, it is a tragedy: a man with a powerful gifting from God does not use it to the Lord’s glory for most of his life. Samson broke his Nazarite vows, had intercourse with non-Israelite women, never associated with other Israelites in his conflicts with the Philistines, and did not deliver the Israelites from the Philistine oppression. After the initial statement in 13:1, Israel does not even cry out to the Lord! So the cycle itself devolves. Samson demonstrates faith, very specifically in the action surrounding his death.”
Benson comments: “Jdg 13:5. The child shall be a Nazarite — Consecrated to God’s service in a peculiar manner. He shall begin to deliver Israel — He did not complete the deliverance of the Israelites from the servile yoke of the Philistines; but the work was carried on and perfected by others, namely, by Eli, Samuel, and Saul, and especially by David. Samson galled them severely, but they still continued to oppress Israel, as they did when he was born, and the oppression continued, more or less, till the memorable victory of Ebenezer, recorded 1 Samuel 7:13, when they were subdued, and their tyranny of forty years ended. Thus God chooses to carry on his work gradually, and by several hands. One lays the foundation of a good work, another builds, and perhaps a third brings forth the top-stone.”
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges comments here as well: “begin to save Israel … the Philistines] In chs. 14–16, however, we find not a work of national deliverance, but intermittent feats of private revenge or daring. The view of Samson’s history indicated by this remark shews that ch. 13 must be somewhat later than 14–16. It is doubtful whether begin implies that Samson was regarded as the forerunner of Samuel and Saul in the struggle against the Philistines (Wellhausen, Composition d. Hex., p. 231; S. A. Cook, Notes on O.T. Hist., p. 34); the word probably means no more than ‘shall be the first to,’ as in Jdg 10:18.”
Samson’s mother is the one who has the stronger faith in the message delivered by the angel, perhaps explaining why the angel appeared to her first and not to Manoah. Oddly enough, as Younger points out, the child is named Samson, a name related to the Hebrew word associated with the Canaanite sun-god.
Chapter 13 signs off with “The woman gave birth to a boy and named him Samson. He grew and the Lord blessed him, and the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him…” (vss. 24, 25). After this we become witnesses to actions on Samson’s part that seem at odds with his role as judge. But God’s sovereignty over the lives of men shows itself even when the choices we make seem to be the wrong ones. We also need to note that though Samson’s life seems so at odds with the promise that it started out with, there is always a way back—even at the end of that life.
Up until Samson begins to respond to God’s call on his life to rescue the nation from the Philistines, we are told that God blessed him—and that’s all we are told. We don’t know what that blessing looked like. Out of that blessing came the urging of God’s Spirit to get out and begin to fulfill his divine destiny as God’s hand against Israel’s oppressors.
Under ordinary circumstances how Samson launches his “ministry” is totally at odds with what was required by God’s law.
“Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman. When he returned, he said to his father and mother, ‘I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.’”
Intermarriage was prohibited. In fact, one of the reasons Israel was under judgement from God was for breaking this regulation, one that more often than not led Israel down the path to idol-worship and to breaking other prohibitions. This has led many commentators to look at Samson’s actions with a jaundiced eye.
Matthew Henry describes it this way: “14:1-4 As far as Samson's marriage was a common case, it was weak and foolish of him to set his affections upon a daughter of the Philistines. Shall one, not only an Israelite, but a Nazarite, devoted to the Lord, covet to become one with a worshipper of Dagon? It does not appear that he had any reason to think her wise or virtuous, or any way likely to be a help meet for him; but he saw something in her agreeable to his fancy. He that, in the choice of a wife, is only guided by his eye, and governed by his fancy, must afterwards thank himself if he find a Philistine in his arms. Yet it was well done not to proceed till Samson had made his parents acquainted with the matter. Children ought not to marry, nor to move towards it, without the advice and consent of their parents. Samson's parents did well to dissuade him from yoking himself unequally with unbelievers. It seems that it pleased God to leave Samson to follow his own inclinations, intending to bring out good from his conduct; and his parents consented, because he was bent upon it. However, his example is not recorded for us to do likewise.”
Samson parents were less than impressed, but Samson insisted and the Biblical commentary tells us that this was part of God’s plan to bring judgment on the Philistines despite the prohibition against it: “His parents did not know that this was from the Lord, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel.” Whether Samson was aware of God’s will here or was simply following his baser instincts, we are not told. Out of this marriage came two opportunities for Samson to punish the Philistines (See 14:12-20, 15:6-8).
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary says: “Samson said … Get her for me; for she pleaseth me well—literally, "she is right in mine eyes"; not by her beautiful countenance or handsome figure, but right or fit for his purpose. And this throws light on the historian's remark in reference to the resistance of his parents: they "knew not that it was of the Lord, that he sought an occasion against the Philistines"—rather, "from the Philistines"—originating on their side. The Lord, by a course of retributive proceedings, was about to destroy the Philistine power, and the means which He meant to employ was not the forces of a numerous army, as in the case of the preceding judges, but the miraculous prowess of the single-handed champion of Israel. In these circumstances, the provocation to hostilities could only spring out of a private quarrel, and this marriage scheme was doubtless suggested by the secret influence of the Spirit as the best way of accomplishing the intended result.”
Younger remarks that Samson spent most of his time seeking revenge against those who offended him rather than acting in the name of the Lord for offenses committed against the Lord. He also notes that Samson’s life was dominated by his own appetites.
Samson’s experience with women is not meant to be an example for others to follow. We have plenty of examples in Scripture that teach us that what Samson did is not to be the norm.
This was an era where everyone did what they wanted to do to satisfy their own desires. Today we would call this hedonism: “Hedonism is a school of thought that argues that the pursuit of pleasure and intrinsic goods are the primary or most important goals of human life…Ethical hedonism is the idea that all people have the right to do everything in their power to achieve the greatest amount of pleasure possible to them. It is also the idea that every person’s pleasure should far surpass their amount of pain.”
Samson’s life demonstrates what was true of the society around him—and what is true today. It is not meant as permission for us, but as a warning. That God uses our sometimes fatal flaws for His purposes is not meant to create in us an “oh well, God will straighten everything out anyway no matter what I do” attitude.
In Judges 14 this careless attitude toward the vows Samson has taken is again demonstrated. In the two incidents where Samson has the opportunity to bring a measure of God’s justice down upon Israel’s enemies he continues to break the regulations. For example, he kills the lion and instead of going through the eight-day cleansing ritual required after having touch a dead body, he doesn’t tell his parents (who might have insisted he do so) and then he causes them to become defiled when he feeds them the honey from the carcass without telling them where it came from.
Samson’s marriage and the mess that results from it increases the conflict between Samson and the Philistines. When we get to Judges 15, Samson seeks revenge on the Philistines for the affront of having lost his wife to another. He breaks an ancient law handed down from Moses’ time to do it by burning the fields and ends up causing the death of the wife he wanted so badly.
Rather than a battle between armies, Samson’s story becomes a kind of guerrilla warfare waged by one man against an entire nation.
After the death of his first wife, the consequences of Samson’s actions so disturbed his own people that they turned him over to the Philistines with some unexpected results. We see that the Lord continues to come upon Samson to fulfill His purposes for the Philistines despite Samson’s unorthodox way of going about his mission. Josue 15:13-15 describes the events:
“…So they bound him with two new ropes and let him up from the rock. As he approached Lehi, the Philistines came toward him shouting. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power. The ropes on his arms became like charred flax, and the binding dropped from his hands. Finding a fresh jawbone of a donkey, he grabbed it and struck down a thousand men.”
Again, though we might wonder at the circumstances, the Scriptures say that “The Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power.”
Matthew Henry writes: “To take the bone of an ass for this, was to do wonders by the foolish things of the world, that the excellency of the power might be of God, not of man. This victory was not in the weapon, was not in the arm; but it was in the Spirit of God, which moved the weapon by the arm. We can do all things through Him that strengtheneth us.”
Once again, Samson breaks the Nazarite vows and the law. The ass is an unclean animal as well as now, a dead one.
Though Henry spiritualizes the jawbone of the ass, Paul attests to the truth of the idea in 1 Corinthians 1:26-2:5 that God’s does work through the least expected people and by the least expected means.
“Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify that things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
The instrument that God uses is not always the one on which we would place the highest value. Even Samson’s first recorded prayer in Judges 15:18 is selfish and self-serving but God uses him and meets his needs despite the “cracks in his pot.”
Samson headed to Gaza, one of the towns that was not destroyed in Joshua’s time and that now would become a snare for Samson. It is here he met the prostitute who almost costs him his life. After this episode we come to the critical point, the ultimate betrayal of those Nazarite vows that will humble him, but also bring Samson to the place where God can use him to defeat Israel’s enemies. It is here that Samson’s selfishness becomes selflessness, here where faith truly shows its face.
Judges 16 describes Samson’s encounter and folly with Delilah. This time there is no indication that the Lord sanctioned this union with Delilah in order to further His purposes, though He certainly used the consequences of Samson’s folly to punish the Philistines. According to Judges 3:3, there were five lords of the Philistines with whom Delilah dealt in her betrayal of Samson. She sold him to the Philistines for what would amount to about $6,200.00 at today’s price for silver. The one Nazarite vow that Samson does not appear to have broken until he met Delilah was the one regarding cutting his hair. But according to Judges 16:17-20, this broken vow is the last one.
Finally, after being endlessly pestered by Delilah to reveal the secret of his strength, Samson tells the truth to his mistress.
“So he told her everything. ‘No razor has ever been used on my head,’ he said, ‘because I have been a Nazarite set apart to God since birth. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.’ When Delilah saw that he had told her everything, she sent word to the rulers of the Philistines, ‘Come back once morel he has told me everything.’ So the rulers of the Philistines returned with the silver in their hands. Having put him to sleep on her lap, she called a man to shave off the seven braids of his hair, and so began to subdue him. And his strength left him. Then she called, ‘Samson, the Philistines are upon you!’ He awoke from his sleep and thought, ‘I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.’ But he did not know that the Lord had left him.”
One of the saddest statements in Scripture is this one: “But he did not know that the Lord had left him?”
The Spirit of God came upon Samson on several occasions as part of God’s plan in rescuing His people from oppression. These anointings gave Samson strength to do acts requiring physical strength. Despite the fact that Samson had broken his vows as a Nazarite prior to this, God had continued to be with him. This was the last vow, and with its breaking, the Spirit abandoned him. The strength was not in his hair, or even in the keeping of the vows of a Nazarite, but in the Lord. With the final act of disobedience came the judgment on the messenger. And though God wasn’t done with Samson yet, his story begs the question: Was there a better way, a more righteous way, a more godly way, to defeat the Philistines than the way Samson chose? Could there have been another way to finish off the Philistines that would have ended our story with Samson dying of old age, in his bed, surrounded by his grandchildren? There had to be. But consistently refusing to be obedient to God’s voice has consequences.
1 Thessalonians 5:19 warns believers: “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.”
Psalm 119, the longest psalm in the Bible, is made up of verse after verse of accolades directed at embracing the Word of God as life and breath is embraced. The psalm begins with “Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord. Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart. They do nothing wrong; they walk in his ways. You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed. Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees! Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands.”
In Psalm 1:2, 3, the psalmist writes: “…his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by the streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not whither. Whatever he does prospers.”
Like Samson, we often choose poor substitutes for the Lord and many times we don’t even notice the thirst and the hunger the absence of His blessing in our lives leaves in its wake. That is a terrible place to be. There are times when we, like David, find ourselves in that wilderness where there is no water. We hopefully notice what is seems Samson didn’t, and long for, and look for, something better.
Samson learned the lesson, but at great cost. Judges 16:22-31 describes Samson’s act of repentance and faith. Here we find Samson a prisoner of the Philistines, back again in Gaza, blind, being treated like a beast of burden, shackled and grinding grain in the prison yard. He is the object of ridicule, but the worst, and the best, is yet to come.
“Now the rulers of the Philistines assembled to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god and to celebrate, saying, ‘Our god has delivered Samson, our enemy, into our hands.’ When the people saw him, they praised their god…While they were in high spirits, they shouted, ‘Bring out Samson to entertain us.’ So they called Samson out of the prison, and he performed for them.”
What did Samson have to do to “perform” for the Philistines? On top of everything he was now the trained bear at the circus. This would have to have been the most humiliating experience for one who had terrorized the Philistines with his incredible acts.
But Samson’s hair had also begun to grow back while he was in prison.
“When they stood him among the pillars, Samson said to the servant who held his hand. ‘Put me where I can feel the pillars that support the temple, so that I might lean against them.’ Now the temple was crowded with men and women; all the rulers of the Philistines were there, and on the roof were about three thousand men and women watching Samson perform. Then Samson prayed to the Lord, ‘O Sovereign Lord, remember me. O God, please strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.’ Then Samson reached towards the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other, Samson said, ‘Let me die with the Philistines!’ Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived.”
There was redemption in the end. And there was a final, great act of faith as Samson does not presume but calls out to God to do what only God can do.
Benson comments: “Jdg 16:23. To offer a great sacrifice — They assembled to render honour to their idol, for their triumph over a man who as much detested their idolatry as he did their barbarous oppression of his countrymen. Unto Dagon their god — Whose image is supposed to have been, in the upper part, of the human form, and in the lower part like a fish; probably one of the sea-gods of the heathen. The Philistines foolishly attributed to this idol what had come to pass by the will of the God of Israel, to punish Samson for his sins.”
Matthew Poole writes: “This prayer was not an act of malice and revenge, but of faith and zeal for God, who was there publicly dishonoured; and justice, in punishing their insolences, and vindicating the whole commonwealth of Israel, which was his duty, as he was judge, to do. And this is manifest from hence, because God, who heareth not sinners, and would never use his omnipotency to gratify any man’s impotent malice, did manifest by the effect that he accepted and owned his prayer, as the dictate of his own Spirit. And that in this prayer he mentions only his personal injury, the loss of his eyes, and not their indignities to God and his people, must be ascribed to that prudent care which he had, and declared upon former occasions, of deriving the rage and hatred of the Philistines upon himself alone, and diverting it from the people. For which end I conceive this prayer was made with an audible voice, though he knew they would entertain it only with scorn and laughter, which also he knew would quickly be turned into mourning.”
There is so much we would like to know that would fill in the gaps in Samson’s story. What failed in his upbringing that he should have rebelled so badly? Why did he do what he did, apparently in total disregard for everything that was foundational to his mission? Why would God not set him aside and find a more fitting judge to act on His behalf and in His name?
And once more we are left to understand that the sovereign God Samson called upon in those final moments of his life, chooses who He wills to do what He wills in the way that He wills it to be done.
CONVERSATIONS AND CONSIDERATIONS
1. If nothing else the story the Samson teaches us that God is the God of second chances and even third and fourth chances. In what ways can you relate to that?
2. Some might use the example of Samson as a reason to live to please themselves with the expectation that they can be “redeemed” at the end of their lives. How would you respond to that?
3. It seems apparent that Samson’s parents did everything they could in bringing up their son according to God’s instructions. Do their “not-so-favourable-results” with their son provide you with any insights on parenting and expectations?
4. We are all familiar with the phrase, “the end justifies the means.” Comment on whether or not you believe that to be true in Samson’s story.
5. Can you think of a time in your life when the Spirit of God was distant in your life and you were not aware of it until later?
6. Report on how you are doing in strengthening your relationship with God as a vital part of your faith journey.
 Judges 13:1-6
 Judges 13:13, 14
 Judges 14:1, 2
 Deuteronomy 7:1-6
 Judges 14:4
 Exodus 22:6
 Judges 15:1-8
 Judges 16:1-3