We come to the last of the Judges mentioned in the book of Judges. Samson is probably the best known for his acts of supernatural strength. His life and character is unfortunately defined for many of us by his physical power and his relationship with women.
The question we need to ask, however, is why did God inspire the writer to include him. Not only include, but conclude the section on the judges with him, and in so much detail. Four chapters in total is devoted to him (Judges 13-16).
This question is further highlighted when we remember that Judges was written with the two primary purposes:
- To show the depravity caused by the fall of man
- To create a longing or hope for deliverance from this corruptness.
The image we have of Samson does not really help us in understanding his role as Judge. We will therefore take a broad view of this man and his role and hopefully come to a better understanding of the real Samson.
In order to do this, I want us to look at four stages of his life. They progress through the chapters, so you will be able to reflect a bit deeper when you make time on your own with this section.
Chapter 13 is all about the the birth of Samson. In an interesting to an fro between the “Angel of the Lord”, Samson’s mother and his father, we are presented with a very detailed announcement of Samson’s birth.
It is clear from this encounter they met the Lord himself. We read that in both Manuah and his wife’s reactions, as well as in the way the messenger presented Himself.
What is important about this record is that the Lord explained what Samson’s life purpose would be. In Judges 13:3-5 we read:
Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.
He shall begin to save Israel from the Philistines!
This is followed in verses 24-25:
And the woman bore a son and called his name Samson. And the young man grew, and the LORD blessed him. And the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him …
This is indeed a profound announcement and it should define our thoughts about Samson. He was not some sort of power-house freak that caused destruction wherever he went. From before his birth, he was set apart by God to begin His people’s deliverance from there oppressors.
One cannot help but find some parallels to the announcement of Jesus’ birth. Once again an angel appeared to announce the impossible (Mary was not married and was still a virgin and Samson’s mother was barren) and said to Mary:
Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:30-32)
And to Joseph:
Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)
And after Jesus’ birth, Simeon declared:
Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)
And Anna gave thanks and spoke to all “who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem”. (Luke 2:38)
And we also read in Luke 2:40:
And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.
For the Jew reading about Samson’s birth, it must have been something huge, but from a New Testament perspective it makes it even more profound as the parallels in birth, development and purpose make it impossible to deny the importance of Samson. To be clear, he was not the Messiah, but his birth was a purposeful and powerful foreshadowing of the real Deliverer that would come and bring salvation not only for Israel, but the world; not only from the oppressor, but from sin itself. Judges puts Samson forth as a promise of one who would be able to deliver from the corrupting power of sin.
Moving on, we see the purpose of deliverance not only announced, but, once it was set in motion, also on display. Many things have been said about Samson’s extraordinary strength. For many it is a clear indication that this is “only a story”.
The fact of the matter is Samson performed these powerful acts in the power of the Spirit of God. Chapter 13 ended off by telling us the Spirit began to stir him. In Judges 14:6 we read:
Then the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him, and although he had nothing in his hand, he tore the lion in pieces as one tears a young goat.
In 14:19 we are told:
And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon and struck down thirty men of the town and took their spoil and gave the garments to those who had told the riddle.
And in 15:14-15:
Then the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him, and the ropes that were on his arms became as flax that has caught fire, and his bonds melted off his hands. And he found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, and put out his hand and took it, and with it he struck 1,000 men.
And then 15:18-19:
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.
It is clear from the text that every time he did something supernatural, he was moved by the Spirit of God. And each of these signs were signposts pointing to the deliverance the will receive. It was never about the act or the man, but the purpose to which he was called, i.e. to begin their deliverance from their enemy.
Even his choice of bride in chapter 14 was to this purpose:
His father and mother did not know that it was from the LORD, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines. (14:4)
God used signs and wonders in very specific times in Scripture. We think about Moses performing all sorts of signs that pointed towards the salvation of Israel from Egypt. Then after a long silence the next phase on such a grand scale was with Christ and the Apostles. Only on rare occasions do we read about individuals doing this. Samson was one, as were Elijah and Elisha. All of these pointed towards deliverance or salvation.
God put Samson on display as a sign of approval and a confirmation of deliverance.
Unfortunately, Samson fell to a woman. Chapter 16 starts by telling us of his sexual flaws. First he visited a prostitute in Gaza and in this instance put his own strength on display (16:1-3).
Then he met Delilah and became tired of her nagging, but relying on his own strength. After giving up the reason for his strength to a heathen woman, he was caught, his eyes gouged out and was handed over like a common criminal. (16:21)
This was a dark day for Samson and the people of Israel. The hope they had of deliverance was taken away. Their deliverance was jeopardized.
But God does not slumber and go back on His purposes. He allowed this in Samson’s life in order to humble Samson and bring to fulfilment what He Himself promised when He announced Samson’s birth.
The turning point was the ceremony the Philistines planned in their temple. All the top people were there, bringing sacrifices to Dagon because in their minds Samson’s captivity was through him.
Our god has given our enemy into our hand, the ravager of our country, who has killed many of us. (16:24)
Samson was brought in to perform his strength for them – now subdued by and in service to their god Dagon. At least in their minds. Samson took hold of the temple’s pillars and performed one last sign of God’s salvation, this time again in God’s power:
Then he bowed with all his strength, and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life. (16:30)
We must understand this from the perspective of the ancient people. The Philistines saw Samson’s captivity as Dagon beating the God of Samson and of Israel. This was not purely a man being caught because he created chaos. The was a battle of the gods and their God, Dagon, had conquered Jahwe.
Samson knew better. He knew this was a battle of the gods, but he knew the Jahwe is always in control. He knew He is always the Almighty, the Creator of heavens and earth, and that no other god can stand before Him. He knew salvation belongs to God and to Him alone!
The temple came down crushing Dagon and his followers and in that moment God declared with a mighty act of deliverance that the war against the actual oppressor, the false god of the world, is won.
This is what Christ declared in those final moments on the cross when He called out “It is finished!” In that moment He crushed the head of the enemy, the Satan, while being bitten at the heel. Something Satan never expected!
What then is the significance of Samson for us modern-day Christians? It is definitely not that he was strong as so many will tell you as their first impression. His role was also not to highlight some moral high ground. The following stand out from his life:
- God is faithful to His plan of redemption and He employs people as road marks on that path – in spite of their sins and weaknesses.
- In His time the fullness of salvation is achieved.
- Salvation is a war for the soul of man and this war is first and foremost between God and Satan.
- Samson was God’s instrument pointing forward to the ultimate Strong Man who would finally crush the one who through lies and deceit introduced sin and corruption.