When we consider the great heroes of the Bible, Samson is one of the first that comes to mind. We remember him for his great strength, his courage, his determination, and for his many flaws – his infidelity, his self-aggrandizement, his passion for blood and sordid women. Unlike many figures in Israelites history, Samson’s flaws stand out boldly from his valiant life and accomplishments. Even as children, in Bible classes, we are told that our hero Samson is flawed, that we should not be like him in the mistakes he made. But the difficulty is in relating to him – how can we relate to a man with such legendary physical abilities? Sometimes we consider men like Samson and place them in a separate category from us, as if they are so renowned that their flaws and insecurities must be given a unique treatment. But underneath the power and might, Samson was a man just like us. Though his physical abilities outshine any one of us today, his weaknesses are no different than mine, or yours. The same lust, or greed, or hatred that he felt, we feel!
It is likely that God included Samson’s story in Bible to show us how not to live. He was a man with all the opportunities in the world, with great strength and a personal relationship with the Lord. Perhaps through a study of Samson, we can gain a greater understanding about ourselves, and how we can avoid sharing his end.
Samson was born in Zorah, the son of a man named Manoah whose wife was barren. He holds a special and interesting place in Israelite history in that his mission in life was foretold even before conception (Judges 13:3-5) by an angel who ordered that Samson be raised as a Nazirite, and that he would “begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines.” The Philistines were a pagan people who dwelt mostly in the southwest portion of the land Canaan. They were domineering rulers, with intense and cruel warriors. Their days were numbered, though, as Samson was given the task of beginning the elimination of the Philistines from Canaan. Because of his mission and his close relationship with God, Samson was blessed with great strength, which will be magnificently displayed throughout his lifetime, even up to the moment of his death.
We would assume that a man with so many privileges would grow up in great piety toward God and other people. But Wayne Jackson once wrote, “Given the circumstances of his birth along with the training he received as a boy, one expects the life of this Hebrew leader to shine brilliantly as a thrilling example of fidelity before God. Instead, the student meets with considerable disappointment” (christiancourier.com). In this lesson, I would like to approach the study of Samson by examining a few of his maxims, or the beliefs by which he lived and ordered his life.
She Looks Good To Me
Almost all of Samson’s problems in life came as a result of his weakness for the wrong kind of women, even from the start of his adult life. Consider what happens to him in Judges 14:1-3. Notice how much he relies on his sight to make judgments about people. “I saw a woman in Timnah. . .” and “she looks good to me.” With his fleshly eyes he observed the beauty of a Philistine woman and it enticed him. Without considering the evil of that people, he loudly demands, “Get her for me as a wife.” Our eyes can deceive us sometimes, and what we see is not always what we get, especially in marriage. Before the wedding, we may see the beauty and joy of a man or woman and believe that is what we will always have. Because such a judgment is based on sight alone we will always end up disappointed when the façade is torn down by reality. Samson’s father attempts to instill this wisdom in his son as he pleads, “Is there no woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you go to take a wife from among the uncircumcised Philistines?” (14:3) For the Israelites, it was abominable to choose a wife from among unclean people. From the days of Abraham (Genesis 24:3-4) to Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 28:1-2), and into the account of Ezra (Ezra 10) and Nehemiah (Nehemiah 13), the Israelites have seen marriage to outsiders as dangerous and abhorrent, though there were times when they gave in to temptation. The story of Samson gives us just another glimpse into why it is so important to choose the right mate!
“So he went down and talked to the woman; and she looked good to Samson” (14:7). Again, his judgment is not based on her spiritual character, but on the appearance of her. He sees her appeal and decides that she is an appropriate woman to marry, even though he knows it will likely disappoint his parents and alienate himself from his kinsmen. We must realize that when we choose a mate, it is not just for ourselves, but for our families. Our choice can greatly harm our parents emotionally, which is what happened when Esau chose to marry the wrong women (he was a bigamist, as if one disgraceful wife is not bad enough). In fact, Genesis 26:34-35 says that these wives brought grief to Isaac and Rebekah, and it is written in Genesis 27:46 that Rebekah was tired of living because of her two daughters-in-law.
As it turns out, the very same woman who he had married became his betrayer. Read Judges 14:10-18, in which Samson propounds a riddle to thirty Philistines. None of them understand the riddle, so they convince Samson’s wife to entice him and reveal the answer. He does, and they tell Samson the answer, causing him to lose the bet he had placed. Samson was unable to trust even his own wife, all because he had chosen her using only his sight!
Samson’s next romance was with a harlot from Gaza. We read about this event in Judges 16:1-3. Again, it was a poor choice that nearly brought him to his death, because there is no reason to doubt that this harlot may have had something to do with informing the attackers of his whereabouts. Like Samson’s first wife, his decision to pursue the prostitute was based on sight. He saw the woman, desired her greatly, and lacked the self-control that was necessary to avoid her. Thus is the business of harlots! They use their looks to allure customers into the trap – very much like the apparel of Judah’s daughter-in-law in Genesis 38:14-15. Because she simply dressed as a harlot, Judah mistook her for one. The conclusion is that all one has to do is wear a certain style of clothing to attract men.
When we consider the folly of Samson in this manner, it is apparent that he was unaware of the truth behind Proverbs 31:30, “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain.” Or, perhaps, he simply did not want to admit it! Like Samson, it is very tempting to pursue the wrong kind of women – indeed, sexual lust is a powerful motivating factor in the lives of many men. But the problem with all of this is that it reflects only what is skin-deep, and often what is on the skin is only a covering for deception, lies, and rottenness. We must be careful that we do not use our eyes to make judgments, because “we walk by faith, and not be sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
There are two words which seem to appropriately summarize Samson’s life: uninhibited passion. Everything he did, he did it with full strength, at top speed, ignoring all the warnings, and to the most inhuman extremes. When he chose to act, it was always head first and with very little self-control. It is said, “Extreme ability breeds extreme excess.”
He withheld nothing in just about every facet of his life. For example, his gambling in Judges 14:12-14. When he wanted to speak his riddle, he bet that none of the men would be able to answer it – not only did he bet, but he bet with very high stakes. “If you will indeed tell it to me within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty linen wraps and thirty changes of clothes. But if you are unable to tell me, then you shall give me thirty linen wraps and thirty changes of clothes” (14:12-13). “The outward garment of the Orientalist, what was part of the wealth of the rich and great, and was, and is to the present day, one of the most frequent present on all state occasions” (Pulpit Commentary, Vol. III, Hervey, 154). When most of the common people possessed one or two changes of clothes, a set of thirty garments would be a sign of great power – equivalent to designer clothes today, or a sports car, or other symbol of prosperity. When it came to his gambling, he never bet with small chips!
His uninhibited passion worked its way into his fighting, as well. Perhaps Samson is most renowned and remembered for the thousands of Philistines he slaughtered in his lifetime, and also for the ease with which he dispatched great bands. When he wanted to fight somebody or something, he did not hold back. Consider his treatment of the lion in 14:5-6. He did not simply kill the lion, but he tore it apart! As for the Philistines, we must be careful not to express any sympathy to them. Critics will often look at the deaths of these people and judge the Bible to be a book about innocent people being murdered. But the Philistines were not an innocent people. They were godless, depraved, cruel people with an even greater thirst for violence than Samson. For some time, they had maintained military dominance over the Israelites in the southern and western parts of Canaan (The Ancient Near East, Schwantes).
When he lost his bet to the thirty Philistines, he killed thirty citizens of Ashkelon, which was one of the five largest Philistine stronghold, and took their sets of clothes to give to his enemies (14:19). He did not simply steal their clothes, or kill some of them and beat the others. No, he killed all thirty men.
One of the most memorable occasions is found in the text of Judges 15. After spending some time away from his Philistine wife, Samson decides to return to her and rekindle his relationship. “I will go into my wife in her room” (15:1). He did not ask to see her, he just said he would see her. In Samson’s mind, he does need permission to visit the woman whom he had rightfully married. When he finds out, though, that the woman’s father had given her away to another man – evidence of the morally-deprived nature of the Philistines – he says, “This time I shall be blameless in regard to the Philistines when I do them harm” (15:3). It is as if he is trying to find some way of justifying the things he is about to undertake. Basically, he is saying, “All right, you asked for it!” With that, he proceeded to catch three hundred foxes, tie them tail-to-tail, and insert a flaming torch in between each of them. Having set up this masterpiece, he then released the foxes into the fields of the Philistines, destroying “both the shocks and the standing grain, along with the vineyards and groves” (15:4-5). This plot may seem far-fetched to critics, but consider the following: Foxes, or likely jackals, though they are both common in Palestine, are attracted to vineyards and move in packs, so an avid sportsmen would have no trouble catching large groups of these animals with a net or trap. With fire tied to the tails, and flaming fields behind them, the coupled foxes would naturally run forward, away from the flames, thus spreading them. There is the possibility, added to this, that several other Hebrews may have helped Samson in, at least, the releasing of these animals at various parts around the city. With no army, no swords, no arrows, no horses or chariots, Samson is able to, in one fell swoop, destroy the entire food supply of this part of the Philistine kingdom. Again, it is clear that when Samson decides to do something, he does not hold back! He is not content with destroying a few fields; he wants to destroy them all!
When the Philistines see the devastation, they look for someone to blame. It becomes clear that it was Samson behind the plot, and the angry mob takes out their anger on Samson’s Philistine wife, as well as her father (15:6). Samson’s response? “And he struck them ruthlessly with a great slaughter; and he went down and lived in the cleft of the rock of Etam” (15:8).
After spending time living in the rock, the people of Israel come to him and tie him in new ropes, hoping to give him up to the Philistines to appease their anger (15:11-13). But when he arrives at the camp of the Philistine army, his ropes fall apart because of his great strength and he kills a thousand of them with the jawbone of a donkey (15:15-17). In all of these instances, we see Samson taking his anger to the most extreme level. And perhaps that is why God chose Samson for this job – He may have known that Samson would be a powerfully uncontrollable man with his passions, and thus would make the perfect tool to destroy Philistines.
Vengeance Is Mine, Saith Samson
Much of Samson’s life was dominated by vengeance and anger. He saw it as his own personal mission to take revenge on anybody who wronged him, and he felt justified in the death and destruction he brought upon the evil Philistines. And indeed he was justified; for years of cruelty and idolatry, God was ready to punish these godless people, and Samson was His chosen vessel to begin the process. The problem on Samson’s end, though, was his constant reliance on himself, and his fierce determination to justify himself rather than God. Every time he uses his great strength it is to make himself feel better, it is to get even for wrongs done to him, and it is enough of a slaughter to satisfy his need for blood.
What he did in his lifetime to the Philistines was not wrong, because God commissioned Samson for that very purpose. It was why he did it that makes him a self-centered man. When he ravaged towns and slaughtered thousands at a time, it was not because of their sins against God, it was not because they worshipped idols or sacrificed their children, it was not for their blasphemies against God or His people – no, he did all of his deeds because of actions done to him. It is all summed in a few verses, starting with Judges 15:7, “Since you have acted like this, I will surely take revenge on you, but after that I will quit.” Do we ever know when to quit? When do we reach a point when enough is enough? That is the problem with human revenge: we are not mentally or spiritually capable of exacting a fair revenge. We most often take our revenge just a step too far, if not ten steps too far. Samson finally concludes, “As they have done to me, so I have done to them” (15:11). This goes every idea of Godly revenge! It is even stated in Leviticus 19:18 that Israelites were not supposed to take their own revenge. Also see Proverbs 24:29. In the end, God knows what needs to be done, and there is a difference between fighting evil people in the name of God, and fighting evil people in your own name. “Vengeance is Mine, saith the Lord” (Romans 12:19).
We must be curious, then, why God chose to use Samson, if, indeed, Samson was such a selfish individual. Throughout history, God has often used unrighteous individuals or nations to fulfill His will – He used Pharaoh, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians – because God knows best how to accomplish His ends. Perhaps God knew that Samson would be a man of this nature, and He knew He wanted the Philistines destroyed. Samson, then, with all his faults, was simply the best way to ensure the God’s will would be accomplished. There is truth to the statement in Judges 14:4, “However, his father and mother did not know that it was of the Lord, for He was seeking an occasion against the Philistines.”
The end of Samson’s life is a tragic one, but it provides us with a glimmer hope that he may have redeemed himself and found humility in the deep recesses of that cruel Philistine prison. Sometimes the most proud, arrogant, and self-willed individuals must see what life is like at the bottom to fully appreciate God. Samson lived an existence of wanton pleasure, violence, selfish revenge, and lust, and pays for it dearly after making the last mistake of his life: Delilah. Read Judges 16:4-5. Once again, Samson is enticed by physical beauty and not moral character. She tries to deceive him three times, but after each time Samson seems to ignore the fact that armed Philistines keep barging into his home. After the second or third time, most people would realize that there is something wrong with Delilah! But the woman pleads incessantly in 16:15-17, and he reveals the source of his great strength. In his sleep, Samson’s hair is removed by Delilah and his strength disappears, so much so that Delilah was able to torment him. There is a fascinating statement in 16:20, “And he awoke from his sleep and said, ‘I will shake myself free as at the other times.’ But he did not know that the Lord had departed from him.” What a surprise it must have been for the self-reliant, arrogant Samson to find that he was incapacitated without God! It turns out that this whole time, through all the battles, it was God providing all of the strength. Let us fear, friends, lest we find ourselves subdued by our enemies with no strength, all because we did not give credit to God! Even worse, how will it feel if any of us choose to never obey the Gospel and feel only dread on the great and terrible day of judgment?! “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:26-27). God will not hold out his hand forever, just as God would not put up with the haughtiness of Samson forever.
With little warning, the Philistines arrive and arrest him, gouge out his eyes in prison, and force him to push a grinder (16:21). Again, some of us must see the bottom of the barrel before we know what it means to appreciate God.
16:28-31 – In the end, God sees the humility of Samson, as he pleads to the Lord for one last infusion of strength in the words, “O Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me just this time, O God” (16:28). However, there is still the hint of pride in his voice when he closes his prayer thus, “That I may at once be avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.” With that, God gives him the strength to pull down the two most load-bearing pillars of the temple of Dagon, killing around 3,000 Philistines in the process. Ruins of Philistine temples in southwestern Palestine have been found, and true to the story of Samson, they were designed to be supported by primary beams near the center of the structure.
Who but God knows whether or not Samson will stand justified on the day of judgment. Perhaps his spirit was so jaded by hatred and vengeance that, even in death, all he could think about was revenge. On the other hand, he may have changed greatly while in prison, and finally learned to trust in the Lord with all his strength – a phrase which holds great meaning when we consider Samson.
The lessons for us today are simple but immensely valuable. Samson was a man with a nature like ours. Today, we experience all of the same temptations, fears, and weaknesses as him. He handled his temptations poorly, giving in to his immoral desires and allowing pride to blacken his spirit. But God uses unrighteous men, too, to fulfill and complete His will in this world. Samson may not have been much of a role model, but he certainly did his job well. But here is a thought: if Samson accomplished such amazing feats, even while embroiled in sins, just imagine what he could have done if he had placed more trust in God and lived a more faithful life!
Our righteousness is not based on the strength of our abilities and our potential, but how we use our abilities to glorify God!