The Expository Files


The Samson Puzzle

Judges 13-16

The personality of the judge Samson is quite a puzzle indeed. We can read much about him that seems rather contradictory, but if we attempt to sort through Samson's puzzle we can learn much from this example of faith.

Regarding Samson it is written in Judges 13:3:

And the angel of the LORD appeared unto the woman, and said unto her, "Behold now, thou art barren, and bearest not; but thou shalt conceive, and bear a son."

Whose births, in the Bible, are presaged in similar ways?

1. Isaac (Genesis 18:1-10)
2. Samuel (1 Samuel 1:9-20)
3. John the Baptist (Luke 1:5-17)
4. Jesus of Nazareth (Luke 1:28-34)

We also can read of some of Samson's exploits in Judges 14:5-6:

Then went Samson down, and his father and his mother, to Timnah, and came to the vineyards of Timnah: 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.

Who else in the Bible engages in such an exploit? We read of David doing a similar thing in 1 Samuel 17:34-36:

And David said unto Saul, "Thy servant was keeping his father's sheep; and when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock, I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth; and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him. Thy servant smote both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God."

Furthermore we have the example of Samson's parents, Manoah and his wife. In Judges 13 their story is told, how the wife saw the angel of the LORD and told her husband about it. Manoah did not doubt her but petitioned the LORD to send the "man back again to inform them what the child would be. There is not the same doubt and constant faithlessness seen otherwise in the book of Judges; they show the proper hospitality in offering to kill a young goat so as to have a feast, offer it to the LORD, and prostrate themselves when they see that they had seen the angel of God. Likweise, in Judges 14 they appeal to Samson for him to marry an Israelite woman and not to go after a Philistine woman. These people are probably the best examples of faith that we can find in Judges.

Returning to Samson, moreover, we read in Judges 13:25:

And the Spirit of the LORD began to move him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.

While we do see the Spirit of the LORD on other judges (particularly Othniel, Judges 3:10, Gideon, Judges 6:34, and Jephthah, Judges 11:25), we see it more consistently on Samson (Judges 13:25, along with 14:6, 14:19, and 15:14). Furthermore, we know that Samson was under a Nazirite vow from birth, separating him from the people (Judges 13:7).

Another particularly interesting matter with Samson may be found in Judges 14:1-4:

And Samson went down to Timnah, and saw a woman in Timnah 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 Timnah 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; for He sought an occasion against the Philistines. Now at that time the Philistines had rule over Israel.

This is rather interesting. While God never wholesale commands Israelites to never intermarry, and there are examples of faith from non-Israelites (particularly Jael the Kenite and Ruth the Moabitess, Judges 4-5, Ruth), by far the majority of the discussion of intermarriage is negative. The incident of Baal-peor, where Israelites married Moabite women and worshipped idols, was legendary (Numbers 25:1-9, Deuteronomy 4:3). The same is true of Solomon and his wives (1 Kings 11:1-10), and also at the time of Ezra (Ezra 9). Yet here God is directing Samson, against the pleas of his parents who want him to do the thing that ordinarily you would think God would want of him, to marry a Philistine woman!

These matters are all brought up because of the singularly contradictory character of Samson. We can read of Samson in Hebrews 11:32:

And what shall I more say? for the time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah; of David and Samuel and the prophets.

We see, then, that Samson is included in the "hall of fame" of faith, and yet we read of his exploits. His anger is legendary (Judges 14:20-15:6), he fornicated with harlots (Judges 16:1), and his overweening pride got the better of him (Judges 16:20). Of all the judges he was the least successful, since even though he killed thousands of Philistines, the Philistines oppressed Israel long after his death! On the other hand, his birth was presaged in the same way as notable men of faith, his parents are the best examples of faith in the entire book of Judges, his exploits parallel that of Israel's greatest king, and he is listed in the "hall of fame" of the men of faith.

What, then, shall we say in regards to these matters? God uses Samson for His own purpose. Even though Samson did certainly err in many ways, God found a use for Samson. Through Samson's death many more Philistines met their end, and perhaps some refreshment was found for Israel. Samson paved the way for the eventual successes of David over the Philistines. Later on, Samson is considered an example of the faith-- not, of course, because everything he did was holy and pious, but because he was, for the greater part of his life, consecrated to God in His service. It may not have always made the most sense in how God used Samson, but His ends were achieved. Despite his imperfections, he sacrificed himself for the greater good of Israel.

Lord willing, we will meet Samson in Heaven and have the opportunity to ask him about his life. Let us learn from his example while we are here on earth, and strive to allow ourselves to be workers in God's service.

By Ethan R. Longhenry
From Expository Files 14.1; January 2007