Richard aspires to live and love like Christ. Among his varied other writing interests, he aims to create good Christian stories.
Ever found a character in the bible perplexing?
Samson fits that definition for me. In fact, I cannot think of any person in scripture who is presented in such polar opposites as Samson.
Samson, whose name means Distinguished, was a hero of Israel most known for his great physical strength, but also infamously for his moral weaknesses. The last of the Judges mentioned in the Book of Judges, Samson acted as his countries one-man-military for about 20 years. It was during a dark period in Israelite history, after the generation of Joshua died out and the people of Israel had fallen into a lawless and faithless life. Adopting the idolatries of the neighbouring nations, they worshipped cruel gods and self-indulgence. In two places the author of the Book of Judges declares the sad fact of the times when he writes in Judges 17:6; 21:25.
"… Everyone (in Israel) did what was right in his own eyes"
The standard of Gods Word, the Law as handed down by Moses, was ignored. People leaned instead on their own understanding, followed their own hearts, and suffered because of it. Likewise, Samson was very much a product of his time; a self-centred, self-reliant and often sinful man with over interest in the pleasures of this world and not enough in pleasing God.
However, amidst the spiritual quagmire of those times, Samson’s parents retained their faith, and so it is to them that God gives the task of raising the next Judge of Israel.
During a time when the Philistines were oppressing the Israelites (Judges 13:1), the Lord announced to Manoah and his wife that they would bear a son, who would be raised as a Nazarite (Judges 13:5); implying God's desire that Samson be raised as an example to Israel of a servant of God. Through most of his life, however, Samson falls well short of this level of dedication. In fact, often he treated his vowed service with a casual indifference that bordered on contempt.
What was a Nazarite?
According to the sixth chapter of the book of Numbers, any person of either gender could take a vow of consecration to God’s service for a period of time. Although usually voluntarily, in Samson's case his parents dedicated him involuntarily for life (Judges 13:5-7).
Numbers 6:1-21 lays down regulatory laws pertaining to Nazaretism. There were two kinds of Nazarite: the temporary and the perpetual. The first class was much more common than the latter kind. From the Bible, we have knowledge only of Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist as persons who were lifelong Nazarites.
During the time of his vow, a Nazarite was required to abstain from wine and every kind of intoxicating drink. He was also forbidden to cut the hair of his head or to approach a dead body; even that of his nearest relative.
Samson's Flaws & Strengths
If you are like me, on first reading about Samson you are left with a bad taste in the mouth. The man is rude, irreverent, obnoxious, immoral, and, it seems, one prone to solve his problems with violence. Not the sort of person you’d encourage your son or daughter to spend any serious time with.
However, although blemished by serious moral poverty and faults aplenty, Samson was a man of faith. Such that God chose to use him for His purposes, warts and all. The chief way He did this was by endowing Samson with superhuman strength.
Samson's mighty physical feats are well known to many. For example: With his bare hands he killed a young lion that attacked him (Judges 14:5-6).
Then went Samson down, and his father and his mother, to Timnath, and came to the vineyards of Timnath: and, behold, a young lion roared against him. And the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and he rent him as he would have rent a kid, and he had nothing in his hand: but he told not his father or his mother what he had done.
- Man Kills Lion, Hyenas Kill Man
Moses Lekalau, 35, a herdsman, was walking from a neighbouring village in Maralal with his livestock when a lion pounced upon him. He managed to fend off the animal and used his bare hands and a spear to kill him following a half-hour duel.
At another time we are told that Samson gathered 300 jackals (Judges 15:4); a feat in itself, as these solitary animals live either alone or with their mate. Having gathered them, Samson ties them together, sets their tails aflame, then releases them amongst the Philistines grain fields so as to destroy their crops.
On another occasion, he broke the ropes with which he’d been firmly bound by the Israelites so as to be handed over to the Philistines (Judges 15:14). It was at this time he killed a thousand Philistine soldiers with nothing in his hand but the jawbone of a donkey (Judges. 15:15). Then carried away the massive gate of the Philistines city of Gaza, when they thought they had him trapped behind its walls
And Samson lay till midnight, and arose at midnight, and took the doors of the gate of the city, and the two posts, and went away with them, bar and all, and put them upon his shoulders, and carried them up to the top of an hill that is before Hebron. Judges. 16:3
Yet, in spite of his vow and the gift of his great physical strength, Samson was a thoughtless and rash man who frequently took violent vengeance upon those who crossed him.
In chapter 14, angered at having a riddle he'd given solved by devious means, he goes and kills 30 men, simply to take from them their possessions so as to pay those that guessed the riddle.
And the Spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon, and slew thirty men of them, and took their spoil, and gave change of garments unto them which expounded the riddle. And his anger was kindled, and he went up to his father's house.
— Judges 14:19
This type of reaction was typical in Samson’s life. When deceived by his enemies, his only thought was for revenge. As when his father-in-law gave away his wife to another man (Judges 15:6-7). He was not a man who took seriously God declaration, "Vengeance is mine" (Deut. 32:35).
Then again, maybe Samson was Gods vengeance.
We know that God was using Samson; revealing that, though not approving of such character flaws in people, God can still use human flaws to accomplish his will.
Samson’s hot temper was used to discipline the Philistines, who were themselves a cruel, bloodthirsty people. Bringing truth to the proverb that, those that live by the sword shall die by the sword. And sometimes God will choose which sword will accomplish that.
God used Samson’s hot temper as a sword to protect His people, Israel, by focusing the Philistines attention and military might on a solitary man.
So, in a sense, Samson was God’s vengeance.
Samson's life was further marred by his weakness for pagan women. We read that as soon as he became of age, he fell in love with one of the daughters of the Philistines and insisted on marrying her, in spite of his parents' objection. In fact, we see Samson’s brusque and disrespectful manner come to the fore in Judges 14:1-4.
And Samson went down to Timnath, and saw a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines. And he came up, and told his father and his mother, and said, I have seen a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines: now go and get her for me to be my wife. Then his father and his mother said to him, is there never a woman among the daughters of Israel, or among all my people, that you have to go and take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines? And Samson said unto his father, Get her for me; for she pleases me.
His parents tried gently reminding Samson that what he wanted was against God's law; which forbade intermarriage of the Israelites among the women of Canaan. Samson ignored them.
To emphasize his weakness in this regard: On another occasion, Samson -this chosen vessel of God- was almost captured by the Philistines while visiting a prostitute in the city of Gaza.
No, Samson cannot be cited as an example of godly virtue. Lustful vice definitely.
Samson & Delilah
Probably the most famous event in Samson’s life also involved a pagan woman from the Valley of Sorek (Judges 16:4). Delilah would prove to be Samson's undoing.
The Philistines, knowing that Samson favored her, and spent much time in her company, tempted her with a considerable sum of money to find out the key to Samson’s strength. Accepting their bribe, she pestered Samson daily until he finally revealed that the secret was his uncut hair, allowed to grow long in accord with the Nazirite law.
While Samson slept, she called the Philistines to cut his hair and turned him over to his enemies; her love of the money they offered far outweighing any care she pretended to Samson.
Samson became weak, not only because his hair had been cut but we are told in Judges 16:20, because the one behind his strength, the Lord, had departed from him.
After his enslavement by the Philistines, Samson was blinded -having his eyes 'bored out'- then forced to work like a donkey, grinding grain harnessed to a millstone.
Such was the humbling of mighty Samson.
So happy are the Philistines at finally overcoming this painful thorn in their side, that they hold a great banquet, and praise their god (Dagon: a half-man, half-fish deity) for delivering Samson to them;
Then the lords of the Philistines gathered them together for to offer a great sacrifice unto Dagon their god, and to rejoice: for they said, Our god hath delivered Samson our enemy into our hand. And when the people saw him, they praised their god: for they said, Our god hath delivered into our hands our enemy, and the destroyer of our country, which slew many of us. Judges 16:23-24
In their merriment and gloating, they call for Samson to be bought before them.
Now other than telling us that he was a man of faith, the bible doesn't reveal to us the heart of Samson. According to Judges 16:28, his last act of life was also an act fueled more by personal hurt over the loss of his two eyes than any righteous indignation at the false worship of the Philistines. We read that he calls on God to help him take vengeance for himself rather than as honour to God.
That said, it was still an act of faith, whatever it's motive.
After a prayer to God for strength, he kills thousands of the enemy by pushing down the pillars of the temple of Dagon (Judges. 16:28-31). That one act cost Samson his life, but it won for him a place among the heroes of faith;
And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. (Hebrews 11:32)
What can we learn from the Story of Samson?
Samson was a person with great potential, who fell short because of his sin and disobedience. Mighty in physical strength, he was weak in resisting temptation. His life is a clear warning against the dangers of self-indulgence and lack of discipline.
- We may take pride in something that we excel in, but of all the great strengths we may have, ultimately sorrow, pain and trouble will come upon us if we do not make it our most important priority to trust and obey God.
Throughout the story of Samson, we see exhibited the long-suffering of God in allowing His people to continue in their homeland in spite of their lack of spirituality and dedication to Him. Yet not without the constant reminder of oppression, which was the result of their ungodly actions.
- We too, as individuals and as a church, must realise that God disciplines those whom He loves (Heb 12). Many things we suffer as Christians should be considered in that context.
- Though true that, like Job, we don’t always suffer as discipline for our faults, suffering can very well be God trying to tell us something, as He was the Israelites. In hard times we need to examine our lives to ensure that we are not putting ourselves outside Gods blessings due to sin.
- Samson could have saved himself much pain and difficulty if he’d shown more respect for Gods ways.
Although used by God for carrying out His purposes, Samson’s life and manner should never be presented as a character to emulate. Rather his life should be seen as an example of the grief people can bring upon themselves when they chose to believe but not devote themselves to God.
- Likewise, we can have faith, but miss out on the abundant life that Christ wants us to enjoy because of self-will.
Samson was allowed to aggravate and disrupt the Philistines just enough to prevent the complete subjugation of Israel. Revealing that God can use anyone, good or evil, to bring about His purposes. He can do this without precluding, that is compromising, man’s free choice. Knowing the nature and characteristics of every individual, God knows beforehand what that person will choose to do and can use that action without interfering with that person’s choice and still bring about God’s eternal purpose.
© 2020 Richard Parr