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Samson the Strong Man (Judges 13-16)

J Gibson, Derby

Samson's Enemies

As so often in the past, God used Gentiles, this time Philistines, to chastise Israel because of their repeated sins (13.1). Their forty-year oppression began and ended with the battles of Aphek (1 Sam 4.1-11) and Mizpeh (1 Sam 7.7-13) respectively. Samson's twenty-year judgeship was in the second half of this period (15.20) overlapping Jephthah's rule by three years.

Samson's Parents

Samson's parents were no doubt sad because of their barrenness, yet the Lord knew it (13.3) as He does all the heartache of His people. Manoah's believing prayer made it clear that, though distressed, they continued to trust in God (13.8). Their openness with each other, seen in the wife's readiness to report the Angel's appearances to her husband (13.6,10), is certainly necessary for a happy marriage. Both provide an excellent example to follow in their eagerness to bring up Samson in the fear of God (Eph 6.4). His mother became a Nazarite to allow Samson to be such from birth (13.4), teaching that what parents are greatly affects their children. Manoah, equally interested in his upbringing, prayed, "Teach us what we shall do unto the child that shall be born" (13.8). The fact that the Lord blessed his growth (13.24) further underlines the importance God places on child rearing.

They displayed thankfulness and hospitality to their heavenly visitor (13.15), and on realising His divine nature reverently "fell on their faces to the ground" (13.20). Christians should also "In everything give thanks" (1 Thess 5.18), be "given to hospitality" (Rom 12.13), and aim to perfect "holiness in the fear of God" (2 Cor 7.1). As spouses should complement each other, so Manoah's anxious concern - "We shall surely die" (13.22) - was tempered by his wife's rational thinking (13.23).

How they responded to Samson's choice of bride (14.5), though she was not to their liking (14.3), provides weighty guidance to parents. Children can be steered in the right direction, but parents must finally bow to their children's selection of partner, and in so doing much friction can be avoided. Discretion, a rare jewel, was possessed of Samson's parents, for they never divulged his secret (16.5).

Living in Zorah (13.2), a border town between Israel and Philistia, Samson was ideally placed to trouble Philistines for the background of saints is not arbitrary, but carefully planned by God to prepare them for His service.

Samson's Mission

Samson's twofold purpose was so important that the preincarnate Christ as the angel of the Lord appeared to his parents (13.3). Firstly, his long hair signalled consecration to the law of a Nazarite (13.5) involving separation to God (Num 6.2,8) from vine products (Num 6.3,4), razors (Num 6.5), and death (Num 6.6,7). In this he taught Israel the need for separation. Whilst his hair remained long he was invincible, but when shaven he became weak and "like any other man" (16.17). The lesson was simple and needful for Israel who repeatedly "forsook the Lord God of their fathers, which brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods" (2.12). If they separated themselves they would overpower their enemies; if they did not they would fall before them. The Lord Jesus Christ prayed that those who belonged to Him would be sanctified through obedience to the Word (Jn 17.17).

Secondly, his remit was "to begin to deliver Israel" (13.5) rather than completely destroy the nation's oppressors. Before the battle of Mizpeh which ended Philistine rule, they had to be prevented from completely overwhelming Israel because of their military supremacy (1 Sam 13.19-20). Samson achieved this by creating such havoc that their main focus was him rather than Israel in general. The Philistines testified to his success on three occasions:

Sadly, as with many men of God, Israel did not value him (15.11).

Samson's Failings

Samson's main downfall was "the lust of the eyes" (1 Jn 2.16), as the language of Scripture indicates: "saw" (14.1); "seen" (14.2); "right in mine eyes" (14.3)1; "right in the eyes of" (14.7)2; "saw there an harlot" (16.1). Infatuation with outward beauty is a grave danger to which many have succumbed (2 Sam 11.2; Prov 31.3). Young Christian men seeking a wife should be more interested in the question, "Does she love the Lord?" than, "Is she a stunner?".

In choosing a Philistine from Timnath (14.1) his vision blinded him to God's law regarding marriage with Canaanites (Deut 7.3,4) and his parents' wishes (14.3). Christians should not marry unbelievers (2 Cor 6.14) but should listen carefully to invaluable parental advice; even unbelieving parents can be astute regarding a suitable life-partner. Samson's choice was wrong, but, as He so often does, God graciously overruled for good (14.4). The marriage arrangements were according to cultural standards (14.10) teaching that when local marriage customs do not contradict Scripture, we should conform to them. Through continued weeping the Timnite made Samson disclose his riddle (14.17), just as Delilah "pressed him daily with her words, and urged him, so that his soul was vexed unto death" (16.16). Christian women should be careful not to distress their husbands through continued nagging, remembering that "the contentions of a wife are a continual dropping" (Prov 19.13).

Samson's "anger" caused him to leave his wife (14.19), something he should never have done. Marriage involves commitment to regular physical intimacy and to separate because of bickering is plainly a form of theft. "Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer" (1 Cor 7.5). Samson naively thought the broken relationship could be healed with "a kid" (15.1), not appreciating that damaged relationships take more than little presents to bring restoration.

His night with the harlot of Gaza teaches the brevity of sinful pleasures, this lasting only "till midnight" (16.3; Heb 11.25), and that wilful sin puts us into the enemies' hands (16.2). Finally, he succumbed to the greedy (16.5), determined (16.16), intuitive (16.18), and cruel (16.19) Delilah. Young men should beware of selfish women who are only interested in what they can get out of a relationship.

Sadly, when his head was shaven Samson "wist not that the Lord was departed from him" (16.20). The Philistines bound him and blinded his roving eyes (16.21). Ironically, the blind and imprisoned Samson was freer than he had been for years, no longer enslaved to Delilah. He who had attacked the Philistine economy through burning their wheat (15.4,5) was now, because of personal sin, reduced to grinding it for them (16.21). Samson's sin gave the ungodly occasion to blaspheme, boasting that Dagon had delivered him into their hand (16.24), just as David's later failure also allowed "the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme" (2 Sam 12.14).

Samson's Qualities

From birth Samson was supernaturally strong, but on special occasions the Spirit gave him extra strength (13.25; 14.6,19; 15.14). Christians, in contrast to Old Testament saints from whom the Holy Spirit could be taken (Ps 51.11), enjoy His permanent indwelling (1 Cor 6.19). Samson's repeated and escalating attacks on the Philistines displayed immense courage and faith (Heb 11.32). He initially "slew thirty men" to supply the garments for his "companions" (14.19). Next, he "burnt up also the shocks, and also the standing corn, with the vineyards and olives" (15.5) when his father-in-law refused him his wife. In not simply slaying his father-in-law and snatching his wife (15.3) he showed tremendous self-restraint. He went on to smite "them hip and thigh with a great slaughter" following which he wisely did not return home, an action which would have put his parents in danger (15.8).

Further, before slaying "a thousand men" at Ramath-lehi (15.16) he resisted the temptation to kill the men of Judah who delivered him over (15.13). An important lesson for us is that, although misunderstood by Israel, Samson never attacked his brethren, and neither should we. Following his victory he modestly confessed to God, "Thou hast given this great deliverance" (15.18). Humility is truly essential for continuance in the Christian life (1 Cor 10.12) and for the preservation of unity amongst believers (Phil 2.3,4). Despite having been strengthened by the Spirit he "was sore athirst" (15.18) because, although God equips for service, we still have to put in great effort. His use of the jawbone of an unclean animal teaches that despised things are mighty in God's hands (1 Cor 1.27-29).

Samson not only displayed intelligence by his insoluble riddle (14.14), but also through cleverly playing on the Hebrew word hamor which can be translated "donkey" or "heap" (15.16). Thus his words of triumph may read, "With the jaw-bone of an ass I have flayed them like asses" (NEB).

His final prayer of faith, "Remember me" (16.28), preceded ultimate victory over the Philistines when "the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life" (16.30). Whether in life or death may we be men and women of faith.Concluded.

1 Newberry margin
2 Newberry margin


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