The last of the Judges to be covered in this work is Samson. In many ways he was one of the most unusual. In our English Bible he is called Samson, but in the Hebrew tongue his name was “Shemshon,” pronounced with a long “e.” His name meant “the bright one,” or “strong man.” In all of recorded history there has never been a man stronger than Samson. He was one of the three men in the Bible predestined before birth to be in God’s service.
The account of Samson begins in Judges 13. The Israelites had again drifted into apostacy, and the Bible tells us: “And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD delivered them into the hand of the Philistines forty years” (Judges 13:1). God raised up Samson for the sole purpose of beginning the deliverance from Philistine oppression. The process was completed under the leadership of Samuel and Saul, but it really began with the tremendous impact Samson had on the Philistines. His accomplishments neutralized the Philistines for many years. During his day national repentance was not yet complete, so Israel was not entirely free from Philistine dominance. Through Samsom, God began this deliverance-by the hand of a single man!
Samson’s mother was barren, but suddenly the Lord appeared to inform her that she would have a son who was to be dedicated to Him from birth (Judges 13). He was to be a Nazarite from the womb. The Levites were selected by God to do His service, but a special provision was made for Israelites other than Levites to serve God. This was done under the provisions of a Nazarite vow. We read of it in Numbers 6.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When either man or woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves unto the LORD: He shall separate himself from wine and strong drink, and shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither shall he drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat moist grapes, or dried. All the days of his separation shall he eat nothing that is made of the vine tree, from the kernels even to the husk. All the days of the vow of his separation there shall no razor come upon his head: until the days be fulfilled, in the which he separateth himself unto the LORD, he shall be holy, and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow (Numbers 6:1-5).
Generally, the service was limited in time, but in Samson’s case God selected him for the duration of his life. The long hair was a symbol of special subjection to God. God instructed Samson’s mother: “For, lo, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and no razor shall come on his head: for the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb: and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines” (Judges 13:5). God began to work with Samson at an early age. “And the woman bare a son, and called his name Samson: and the child grew, and the LORD blessed him. And the Spirit of the LORD began to move him at times in the camp of Dan between Zorah and Eshtaol” (Judges 13:24-25). What was happening is that Samson was being recognized as someone special.
Later in adulthood, Samson was attracted to a young Philistine woman. Who were these Philistines? God forbid His people to marry the indigenous peoples of Canaan. See Deuteronomy, chapter seven. The reason, of course, was due to their pagan religion. God knew this would have a very detrimental effect upon the Israelites. While the Philistines are not mentioned in the proscription in Deuteronomy seven, they were entirely pagan in their worship. Their primary god was Dagon, the fish god. Little is known about the Philistines. What is known is that they migrated to the coastal plain of Palestine after being expelled from Crete by maurading tribes from the north. It is also believed they came to the Levant from Egypt after an unsuccessful attempt to settle there. They appear to be of the same racial stock as the Israelites as the origin of both was the Tigris-Euphrates valley, Abraham coming from there. The Philistines were lost from sight after they were deported by the Babylonians at the same time the Jews were.
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 therefore get her for me to wife. Then his father and his mother said unto him, Is there never a woman among the daughters of thy brethren, or among all my people, that thou goest to take a wife of the uncircumcised Philistines? And Samson said unto his father, Get her for me; for she pleaseth me well. But his father and his mother knew not that it was of the LORD, that he sought an occasion against the Philistines: for at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel (Judges 14:1-4).
God was behind this move on the part of Samson. He was “picking a fight,” so to speak with the Philistines. The Living Bible renders “sought an occasion” as “setting a trap.” God was finding an excuse to begin the deliverance of Israel. While Israel was under the dominance of the Philistines, trade and business dealings were taking place.
When Samson was on his way to visit the girl, an unusual incident took place. “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” (Judges 14:5-6). Other translations render “rent him” as “tore the lion apart.” This was a small sample of his prodigious strength. The significance of this event set the stage for a confrontation between Samson and the Philistines. Samson did not tell his parents of this event. Remember, his name meant “bright one.” He was soon to employ some of this intelligence. Who but a man with a superior mind could put forth an unsolvable riddle? His mind was being used to fulfill God’s intention-seeking an occasion against the Philistines.
And he went down, and talked with the woman; and she pleased Samson well. And after a time he returned to take her, and he turned aside to see the carcase of the lion: and, behold, there was a swarm of bees and honey in the carcase of the lion. And he took thereof in his hands, and went on eating, and came to his father and mother, and he gave them, and they did eat: but he told not them that he had taken the honey out of the carcase of the lion (Judges 14:7-9).
Samson now held a feast to celebrate the marriage. The indication is that his parents were wealthy.
So his father went down unto the woman: and Samson made there a feast; for so used the young men to do. And it came to pass, when they saw him, that they brought thirty companions to be with him. And Samson said unto them, I will now put forth a riddle unto you: if ye can certainly declare it me within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty sheets and thirty change of garments: But if ye cannot declare it me, then shall ye give me thirty sheets and thirty change of garments. And they said unto him, Put forth thy riddle, that we may hear it. And he said unto them, Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness. And they could not in three days expound the riddle (Judges 14:10-14).
Who could possibly solve this riddle? The Philistines knew they could not solve it without prying the secret out of his wife.
. . . They said unto Samson’s wife, Entice thy husband, that he may declare unto us the riddle, lest we burn thee and thy father’s house with fire: have ye called us to take that we have? is it not so? And Samson’s wife wept before him, and said, Thou dost but hate me, and lovest me not: thou hast put forth a riddle unto the children of my people, and hast not told it me. And he said unto her, Behold, I have not told it my father nor my mother, and shall I tell it thee? (Judges 14:15-16).
What is clear is that Samson’s mind was at work at the time he killed the lion. The honey in the carcass gave him the key to the riddle. When Samson gave the riddle he full well knew it was unsolvable. But it had ruined the wedding feast. His wife was miserable, and plagued him incessantly for the answer. “And she wept before him the seven days, while their feast lasted: and it came to pass on the seventh day, that he told her, because she lay sore upon him: and she told the riddle to the children of her people” (Judges 14:17). The showdown was now at hand.
And the men of the city said unto him on the seventh day before the sun went down, What is sweeter than honey? and what is stronger than a lion? And he said unto them, If ye had not plowed with my heifer, ye had not found out my 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. But Samson’s wife was given to his companion, whom he had used as his friend (Judges 14: 18-20).
After Samson found out his wife had been given to another man, he made this personal wrong into a national vendetta against the Philistine people. He said: ” . . . Now shall I be more blameless than the Philistines, though I do them a displeasure. And Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took firebrands, and turned tail to tail, and put a firebrand in the midst between two tails. And when he had set the brands on fire, he let them go into the standing corn of the Philistines, and burnt up both the shocks, and also the standing corn, with the vineyards and olives” (Judges 15:3-5). The destruction was far and wide. Who else could have thought of such an effective method of destruction? This was a massive loss of crops for the Philistines.
The Philistines retaliated. “Then the Philistines said, Who hath done this? And they answered, Samson, the son in law of the Timnite, because he had taken his wife, and given her to his companion. And the Philistines came up, and burnt her and her father with fire” (Judges 15:6). Samson now set out to deal with this murder. “And Samson said unto them, Though ye have done this, yet will I be avenged of you, and after that I will cease. And he smote them hip and thigh with a great slaughter: and he went down and dwelt in the top of the rock Etam” (Judges 15:7-8). Samson knew this would lead to serious repercussions, so he found protection in a secure place.
The stronghold was in the territory of Judah, and it immediately created a problem for them.
Then the Philistines went up, and pitched in Judah, and spread themselves in Lehi. And the men of Judah said, Why are ye come up against us? And they answered, To bind Samson are we come up, to do to him as he hath done to us. Then three thousand men of Judah went to the top of the rock Etam, and said to Samson, Knowest thou not that the Philistines are rulers over us? what is this that thou hast done unto us? And he said unto them, As they did unto me, so have I done unto them. And they said unto him, We are come down to bind thee, that we may deliver thee into the hand of the Philistines. And Samson said unto them, Swear unto me, that ye will not fall upon me yourselves (Judges 15:9-12).
The men of Judah gave their solemn promise they would not harm Samson in any way, so he acquiesced. ” . . . And they bound him with two new cords, and brought him up from the rock” (Judges 15:13).
And when he came unto Lehi, the Philistines shouted against him: and the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and the cords that were upon his arms became as flax that was burnt with fire, and his bands loosed from off his hands. And he found a new jawbone of an ass, and put forth his hand, and took it, and slew a thousand men therewith (Judges 15:14-15).
God was now delivering His people from the hands of the Philistines by the mighty power He had given to Samson. Samson was indeed fulfilling God’s purpose. He commented: ” . . . With the jawbone of an ass, heaps upon heaps, with the jaw of an ass have I slain a thousand men” (Judges 15:16). The Moffatt Translation renders this: “With the jawbone of an ass I have piled them in a mass! With the jawbone of an ass I have assailed assainlants!” As a result of this exertion, Samson was extremely thirsty.
And he was sore athirst, and called on the LORD, and said, Thou hast given this great deliverance into the hand of thy servant: and now shall I die for thirst, and fall into the hand of the uncircumcised? But God clave an hollow place that was in the jaw, and there came water thereout; and when he had drunk, his spirit came again, and he revived: wherefore he called the name thereof Enhakkore, which is in Lehi unto this day (Judges 15:18-19).
“And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years” (Judges 15:20). Samuel was more than a deliverer. He held the top judicial position in the nation for many years. His feats were so awesome the Philistines were driven back into their strongholds and did not trouble Israel all the days of Samson.
The next incident we read of is Samson’s visit to the Philistine city of Gaza. Why did he go? The Bible does not say. We can only surmise. Was it because he was restless? Was he trying to provoke another fight with the Philistines? Was he simply reminding them to keep their ground? Or was he demonstrating his fearlessness? Whatever was the reason, when in Gaza he encountered a harlot. “Then went Samson to Gaza, and saw there an harlot, and went in unto her” (Judges 16:1). The only accommodations for visitors in alien cities were various inns. These inns always housed harlots. Some commentaries interpret the word used for “harlot” as “innkeeper.” Whatever the case, the Philistines were informed that Samson was at an inn.
And it was told the Gazites, saying, Samson is come hither. And they compassed him in, and laid wait for him all night in the gate of the city, and were quiet all the night, saying, In the morning, when it is day, we shall kill him. 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 16:2-3).
Most people who read the Bible fail to comprehend the scope of this feat. Samson did not bother to break down the city gate. He simply ripped the entire structure from the ground and carried it away! These city gates were designed for siege warfare, so it must have weighed some tons. Commentators vary on their view as to how far Samson carried the gate. Whatever the distance, to carry it as far as he did and then to place it on a hilltop was an awesome deed. You can be sure the Philistines were duly impressed. If they were entertaining any thoughts of troubling Israel, this surely would have discouraged them.
Toward the end of the 20-year period as Judge, Samson became involved with another Philistine woman. Her greed and mercenary spirit eventually led to Samson’s death.
Here is how it happened:
And it came to pass afterward, that he loved a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. And the lords of the Philistines came up unto her, and said unto her, Entice him, and see wherein his great strength lieth, and by what means we may prevail against him, that we may bind him to afflict him: and we will give thee every one of us eleven hundred pieces of silver (Judges 16:4-5).
This sum amounted to a fortune. Delilah seized the opportunity. She set out to discover the secret of Samson’s great strength.
And it came to pass, when she pressed him daily with her words, and urged him, so that his soul was vexed unto death; That he told her all his heart, and said unto her, There hath not come a razor upon mine head; for I have been a Nazarite unto God from my mother’s womb: if I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man (Judges 16:16-17).
The hair did not give Samson his strength. It was the Nazaritic vow. The hair length was the symbol of that consecration. If the hair were cut the vow would be broken, and Samson could now longer receive God’s intervention.
Delilah had no intention of passing up the fortune offered her.
And she made him sleep upon her knees; and she called for a man, and she caused him to shave off the seven locks of his head; and she began to afflict him, and his strength went from him. And she said, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he awoke out of his sleep, and said, I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself. And he wist not that the LORD was departed from him. But the Philistines took him, and put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with fetters of brass; and he did grind in the prison house (Judges 16:19-21).
The Philistines were not aware of the significance of the hair. They did not bother to keep it trimmed, as they saw he was no further threat. “Howbeit the hair of his head began to grow again after he was shaven” (Judges 16:22). They now chose to make public example of him. “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” (Judges 16:23). They placed Samson in their public arena. A huge crowd was present. Samson asked the lad who led him onto the floor to place his hands on the two pillars that supported the arena.
And Samson said unto the lad that held him by the hand, Suffer me that I may feel the pillars whereupon the house standeth, that I may lean upon them. Now the house was full of men and women; and all the lords of the Philistines were there; and there were upon the roof about three thousand men and women, that beheld while Samson made sport. And Samson called unto the LORD, and said, O Lord GOD, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes. And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left. And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life (Judges 16:26-30).
This event was a national catastrophe for the Philistines. A large number of the leaders and intelligensia were killed in the destruction, and the political infrastructure of the nation was destroyed at this time. These deaths hindered the Philistines from organizing and oppressing Israel for many years after. In his death Samson accomplished more against the Philistines than he had done during his life. The Philistines did not even attempt to prevent Samson’s relatives from taking his body back home for burial. Samson was so fearsome to the Philistines that during his lifetime they avoided all incursions into the territory of Israel. Samson did indeed begin the deliverance of God’s people from the hand of the Philistines.
Before his birth, God set Samson apart for service to Him. During his lifetime he was dedicated to the purpose God had set him aside for-delivering Israel from the hand of the Philistines. Many Bible students fail to realize that his accomplishments did just that. While he died an untimely death, his greatest feat set the Philistines back again for a number of years. Not until Samuel was fully established as a prophet and judge did the Philistines invade Israel again. But at this time God intervened and the Philistines were defeated and driven back. Samson set the stage for both Saul and David to bring about permanent deliverance from the Philistines. In Hebrews 11: 32, Samson is included in Gods’ faith hall of fame. He was truly a great man.