Dumbells on a Black Background

Samson – His Victories and Failures

As a young boy, Samson used to be one of my favourite characters in the Bible. This was just because he was the strongest man who lived. My views have changed since then. Let’s take a look at his life.

Samson – A Brief Summary

Samson's Exploits map
Samson’s Exploits

According to the ESV Global Study Notes: Samson was the twelfth and final judge of Israel. God raised him up to deliver Israel from the Philis­tines. Possessing great strength, he often battled the Philistines single-handedly. Samson was a life-long Nazirite, but he broke every one of his vows. He made particularly bad decisions regarding his relationships with women. This is most evident in his relationship with Delilah, to whom he revealed the secret of his strength. Paid by the Philistines to seduce Samson, Delilah cut off his hair while he slept. He was attacked and blinded by a group of Philistines lying in wait, and taken as their prisoner. His final feat of strength was to bring down a Philistine temple, killing about 3,000 Philistines along with himself. Despite Samson’s sinful life and continued unfaithfulness, God used him to save Israel. (Judges 15:14–17)

The Philistines ruled over Israel during Samson’s lifetime, and Samson was raised up by God to begin to deliver Israel from them. Samson’s marriage to a Philistine woman in Timnah led to a number of encounters with the Philistines, often resulting in their harm at Samson’s hand.

JudgeReferenceTribeOppressorPeriod of OppressionPeriod of RestTotal Length of Time
SamsonJudges 13-16DanPhilistines40 years (Judges 13:1)20 years (Judges 15:20, 16:31)60 years
Timeframe Summary for Samson

Samson’s Ten Feats of Strength and Heroism

Samson’s Ten Feats of Strength and Heroism taken from the ESV Global SB Notes
Samson’s Ten Feats of Strength and Heroism taken from the ESV Global SB Notes

More Details

The cycle of failure for Israel started again

‘And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord , so the Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years. ‘

Judges 13:1

God’s Plan for Deliverance

Samson’s Faithful Parents

The angel of the Lord appeared to Manoah’s wife who was barren. He promised her that she will have a son. It was probably an answer to years of prayer. When she told her husband, Manoah prayed and asked the Lord for guidance regarding the boy. It is great to see in the midst of mass disobedience in Israel, that there are still some who are faithful.

‘Then Manoah prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, please let the man of God whom you sent come again to us and teach us what we are to do with the child who will be born.” ‘

Judges 13:8

Manoah wanted to honour the messenger of the Lord. He didn’t know that he was an angel of even maybe the Lord Himself. Manoah asked for his name. It’s not uncommon to ask for the name. Moses did the same. The angel of the Lord responded by saying it is wonderful or incomprehensible. There is a reference here to our Lord Jesus as the Messiah in Isaiah 9:6.

‘And Manoah said to the angel of the Lord, “What is your name, so that, when your words come true, we may honor you?” And the angel of the Lord said to him, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?” ‘

Judges 13:17-18

Manoah Discovers the Identity of the Messenger

Manoah finally knew that this was no ordinary messenger. He was the angel of the Lord. He had a similar response to Gideon in Judges 6:22 and to Jacob in Gen 32:30. This goes back to what God had told Moses about seeing the face of God in Ex 33:20.

‘The angel of the Lord appeared no more to Manoah and to his wife. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the Lord. And Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.” ‘

Judges 13:21-22

Samson and His Love of Foreign Women

Samson no doubt loved foreign women. This was his downfall which was similar to Solomon’s. The Bible described twice that the first woman he sought from among the Philistines was right in his eyes:

  • “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes.” Judges 14:3
  • and she was right in Samson’s eyes. Judges 14:7

It’s sad to see that the very eyes he used to see these women would be taken away from him at the very end. In fact, Samson’s attitude describes the entire era of the judges, when everyone did what was right in their own eyes (Judges 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25).

Trouble came to Samson very quickly for being unequally yoked with this foreign woman. She nagged him all throughout their wedding ceremony of one week. He finally gave in to her because “she pressed him hard.”

‘She wept before him the seven days that their feast lasted, and on the seventh day he told her, because she pressed him hard. Then she told the riddle to her people. ‘

Judges 14:17

Samson Prays

This is the first time we see Samson praying. He called upon the Lord to help him. I can’t help but think of how his parents probably taught him the ways of the Lord from early on in his childhood. They probably told him that he would be a Nazirite to the Lord. We see that in his discussion with Dalilah later. These seeds that were planted early on would definitely take root later. It’s just interesting to see that despite his bad decisions, he still looked to God for help.

‘And he was very thirsty, and he called upon the Lord and said, “You have granted this great salvation by the hand of your servant, and shall I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?” And God split open the hollow place that is at Lehi, and water came out from it. And when he drank, his spirit returned, and he revived. Therefore the name of it was called En-hakkore; it is at Lehi to this day.’

Judges 15:18-19

Samson, the prostitute, and Gaza’s City Gate

City Gates in Ancient Times

According to the ESV Global SB Notes; City gates in Bible times were often very elaborate. Many of them were two stories high or even higher. The actual opening would be narrow, with guardrooms on each side. The gateposts were anchored deep in the ground to support the doors. City gates would often have multiple doors and entrances as well as sharp turns. These were designed to slow down enemies if they tried to get through the gate. They were also the place where business transactions and judicial decisions were made.

‘But Samson lay till midnight, and at midnight he arose and took hold of the doors of the gate of the city and the two posts, and pulled them up, bar and all, and put them on his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that is in front of Hebron.’

Judges 16:3

More to the Story of Samson and the Prostitute

I read an interesting article by Miles Van Pelt regarding the story of Samson, the prostitute, and Gaza’s city gate. Miles draws our attention that Samson staying at a prostitute’s house could be more than just a fling. He draws some parallels with the two spies that Joshua sent to spy out Jericho. The two spies stayed at Rahab’s house who was also a prostitute. The men of the city sought to capture the spies and also tried to do the same with Samson. Samson escaped and took off the gate as a symbol of the city’s destruction that would come later. Miles also shows some parallels of Samson with John the baptist.

In fact, you may be surprised to learn that Samson is styled as David’s John the Baptist. There are a number of features that connect Samson and John the Baptist. Both are born to older, barren parents (significant birth narratives), both are Nazirites for life (the only two in the Bible), and both are betrayed unto death by less-than-virtuous women. Most importantly, however, both men prepare for the arrival of a great king. Samson begins the final battle with the Philistines, but it is David in 1 Samuel 17 who slays their champion and finally eliminates the threat of the Philistines from the land.

Miles Van Pelt

Samson and Delilah

The Bible mentioned that Samson loved this woman called Delilah. For some reason, Samson just didn’t show interest in the women of Israel.

‘After this he loved a woman in the Valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. ‘

Judges 16:4

Delilah did precisely what Samson’s wife had done earlier and that is nagging him and pressing him hard (Judges 14:17). Samson’s weak character shows through again. He did not learn from his previous mistake but revealed the information in both cases.

‘And when she pressed him hard with her words day after day, and urged him, his soul was vexed to death. ‘

Judges 16:16

Final Observations from the ESV Global SB Notes

Samson then broke the final Nazirite stipulation with the cutting of his hair. The power the Lord had given him was now gone and the Philistines captured him.

However, Samson’s hair began to grow again. There was no magical power in Samson’s hair, for his strength came only from the Lord (Judges 14:6, 19; 15:14; 16:20). But the growth of his hair indicates that God was renewing his previous power (compare with Judges 16:17, 16:19–20). Samson may also have begun to renew his faith (see Judges 16:28).

In Judges 16:28–30 Samson demonstrated faith by calling upon God and believing that God would help him (see Heb. 11:32–34). A Philistine temple discovered from the period of the judges had two central pillars to support the roof of the entire structure. Canaanite and Israelite temples did not use that design.

Closing Thoughts

Although Samson was the strongest man to ever live, we see many weaknesses in his character. However, God still used him inspite of these weaknesses. There is a trend in the Bible that God usually does not choose the most qualified person for the job. He chose a bunch of fishermen to bring His gospel to the world. The Lord chose Moses who wasn’t eloquent in speech to talk to Pharoah to release Israel. There are many other stories to mention here. In short, if God chooses broken people to show His grace, he can surely choose anyone of us. Praise be to Him!

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