“It is a riddle wrapped up in a mystery inside an enigma.” In a speech broadcast October 1, 1939 that’s how Sir Winston Churchill described the actions of the Russians in his day. But what he said about Russian actions could be applied to Samson, the last of the judges, for his behavior is “a riddle wrapped up in a mystery inside an enigma.”
Samson was unpredictable and undependable because he was double-minded, and “a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8). It has well been said that “the greatest ability is dependability,” and you could depend on Samson to be undependable.
Bold before men, Samson was weak before women and couldn’t resist telling them his secrets. Empowered by the Spirit of God, he yielded his body to the appetites of the flesh. He was a “he-man with a she-problem.”
Called to declare war on the Philistines, he fraternized with the enemy and even tried to marry a Philistine woman. He fought the Lord’s battles by day and disobeyed the Lord’s commandments by night. Given the name Samson, which means “sunny,” he ended up in the darkness, blinded by the very enemy he was supposed to conquer.
Four chapters in the Book of Judges are devoted to the history of Samson. In Judges 13-14, we’re introduced to “Sunny” and his parents and we see the light flickering as Samson plays with sin. In Judges 15-16, the light goes out and Samson dies a martyr under the ruins of a heathen temple, a sad end to a promising life.
Let’s open Samson’s family album and study three pictures of Samson taken early in his career.
The child with unbelievable promise (Judg. 13:1-23). Consider the great promise that was wrapped up in this person named Samson. He had a nation to protect (v. 1). The Israelites again did evil in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord handed them over to the Philistines for forty years (Judges 13:1).
Judges 3:7 (NIV) The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs.
Judges 3:12 (NIV) Once again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, and because they did this evil the LORD gave Eglon king of Moab power over Israel.
Judges 4:1-2 (NIV) After Ehud died, the Israelites once again did evil in the eyes of the LORD. 2 So the LORD sold them into the hands of Jabin, a king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth Haggoyim.
Judges 6:1 (NIV) Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, and for seven years he gave them into the ands of the Midianites.
Judges 10:6-7 (NIV) Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD. They served the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites and the gods of the Philistines. And because the Israelites forsook the LORD and no longer served him, 7 he became angry with them. He sold them into the hands of the Philistines and the Ammonites,…
Here it appears for the last time. More attention is devoted to Samson than to any other judge in this book. We should also note that Samson is the last of the judges that will be described in the Book of Judges.
It introduces the longest period of oppression that God sent to His people, forty years of Philistine domination.
Samson judged Israel “in the days of the Philistines” (Judg. 15:20), which means that his 20 years in office were during the forty years of Philistine rule.
It’s worth noting that there is no evidence given in the text that Israel cried out to God for deliverance at any time during the forty years of Philistine domination. Considerable time (40 years)…the Israelites have “gotten used to Philistine domination.” (In New Testament times, how many Israelites were crying out to God for deliverance when they were subjected to Roman rule?
Judges 15:9-13 (NIV) The Philistines went up and camped in Judah, spreading out near Lehi. 10 The men of Judah asked, “Why have you come to fight us?” “We have come to take Samson prisoner,” they answered, “to do to him as he did to us.” 11 Then three thousand men from Judah went down to the cave in the rock of Etam and said to Samson, “Don’t you realize that the Philistines are rulers over us? What have you done to us?” He answered, “I merely did to them what they did to me.” 12 They said to him, “We’ve come to tie you up and hand you over to the Philistines.” Samson said, “Swear to me that you won’t kill me yourselves.” 13 “Agreed,” they answered. “We will only tie you up and hand you over to them. We will not kill you.” So they bound him with two new ropes and led him up from the rock.
The Philistines disarmed the Jews (1 Sam. 13:19-23) and therefore had little fear of a rebellion.
Unlike most of the previous judges, Samson didn’t deliver his people from foreign domination, but he began the work of deliverance that others would finish (13:5). As a powerful and unpredictable hero, Samson frightened and troubled the Philistines (16:24) and kept them from devastating Israel as the other invading nations had done.
He had a God to serve – Judges 13:2-5 (NIV) A certain man of Zorah, named Manoah, from the clan of the Danites, had a wife who was sterile and remained childless. 3 The angel of the LORD appeared to her and said, “You are sterile and childless, but you are going to conceive and have a son. 4 Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean, 5 because you will conceive and give birth to a son. No razor may be used on his head, because the boy is to be a Nazirite, set apart to God from birth, and he will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”
When God wants to do something really great in His world, He doesn’t send an army but an angel. The angel often visits a couple and promises to send them a baby. His great plan of salvation got underway when He called Abraham and Sarah and gave them Isaac. When He wanted to deliver Israel from Egyptian bondage, God sent baby Moses to Amram and Jochebed (Ex. 6:20); and when in later years Israel desperately needed revival, God gave baby Samuel to Hannah (1 Sam. 1). When the fullness of time arrived, God gave Baby Jesus to Mary; and that baby grew up to die on the cross for the sins of the world.
Babies are fragile, but God uses the weak things of the world to confound the mighty (1 Cor. 1:26-28). Babies must have time to grow up, but God is patient and is never late in accomplishing His will. Each baby God sends is a gift from God, a new beginning, and carries with it tremendous potential. What a tragedy that we live in a society that sees the unborn baby as a menace instead of a miracle, an intruder instead of an inheritance.
Genesis 22:1-18 (NIV)
1 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. 2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” 3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” 6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” 8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together. 9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. 12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” 13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.” 15 The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”
Genesis 31:11-13 (NIV)
11 The angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob.’ I answered, ‘Here I am.’ 12 And he said, ‘Look up and see that all the male goats mating with the flock are streaked, speckled or spotted, for I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you. 13 I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and where you made a vow to me. Now leave this land at once and go back to your native land.'”
Exodus 3:1-6 (NIV)
1 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight–why the bush does not burn up.” 4 When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” 5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
Judges 6:11-24 (NIV)
11 The angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. 12 When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” 13 “But sir,” Gideon replied, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.” 14 The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” 15 “But Lord,” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” 16 The LORD answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.” 17 Gideon replied, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. 18 Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.” And the LORD said, “I will wait until you return.” 19 Gideon went in, prepared a young goat, and from an ephah of flour he made bread without yeast. Putting the meat in a basket and its broth in a pot, he brought them out and offered them to him under the oak. 20 The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And Gideon did so. 21 With the tip of the staff that was in his hand, the angel of the LORD touched the meat and the unleavened bread. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the LORD disappeared. 22 When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the LORD, he exclaimed, “Ah, Sovereign LORD! I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face!” 23 But the LORD said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.” 24 So Gideon built an altar to the LORD there and called it The LORD is Peace. To this day it stands in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
Like Sarah (Gen. 18:9-15), Hannah (1 Sam. 1), and Elizabeth (Luke 1:5-25), Manoah’s wife was barren and never expected to have a child. Since it would be the mother who would have the greatest influence on the child, both before and after birth, the angel solemnly charged her what to do.
Like John the Baptist, Samson would be a Nazirite from his mother’s womb (Luke 1:13-15). The word Nazirite comes from a Hebrew word that means “to separate, to consecrate.”
The Nazirite Vow
There is really no way to understand the life of Samson without knowing something about the Nazirite vow. The vow and its requirements are set forth in Numbers 6:1-21. Here’s the essence of the teaching of that text:
- The Nazirite vow is a voluntary vow of separation unto God, which can be made by either a man or a woman.
- The Nazirite vow is normally a temporary vow, one made for that period of time which the individual stipulates at the beginning of the vow.
- The person making the vow must abstain not only from wine, but from everything derived from the grape vine. This would include grape juice, grape skins, grape seeds, and raisins.
- The person making the vow must avoid contact with anything dead, even family members.
- If any defilement occurs during the period of the vow, the individual must go through a cleansing process and then begin the vow period all over.
- The person making the Nazirite vow must also abstain from cutting their hair for the period of time the vow is in effect. Once the stipulated period has ended, sacrifices are offered to God, and the hair is cut off and offered up on the sacrificial fire as well.
At this point, it is necessary for us to pause for a moment to make a few observations.
First, note that Samson’s status as a Nazirite was neither voluntary (on his part), nor was it temporary (as it usually was). Samson’s function as a Nazirite was imposed upon him by God.
Second, Mrs. Manoah was required to be a participant in Samson’s practice as a Nazirite. As noted before, this is because Samson was a living human being the entire time he was in her womb, and so the Nazirite restrictions had to apply to her during her pregnancy.
Third, the Angel of the Lord is merely recognized as a “run of the mill” (i.e., ordinary) angel at this point in time. It is later that both Manoah and his wife recognize Who they are dealing with.
Fourth, even though Numbers 6 is emphatic about a Nazirite not having contact with the dead, nothing is said of that in our text.
Fifth, we should note that while nothing is said regarding contact with the dead, something is said about refraining from foods that are ceremonially unclean. Nothing is said about unclean foods in the instructions pertaining to the Nazirite vow in Numbers 6 because all Israelites were to avoid unclean foods. One taking the Nazirite vow was going above and beyond the standards of conduct followed by the average Israelite. Under the Law of Moses, no Israelite was permitted to eat unclean food. Now, unclean foods are specifically prohibited in the case of Mrs. Manoah and Samson. Why would it be necessary to forbid them to eat unclean foods?
I believe it is because of the apostasy and idolatry of the Israelites. Food and drink were an essential part of heathen worship, and thus in order to worship with the Philistines, one would eat their unclean foods. It would appear that the Israelites were regularly eating unclean foods, and so for a Nazirite to be set apart to God, it was necessary to apply this general prohibition to Samson and his mother specifically.
Manoah’s wife had to be careful what she ate and drank because her diet would influence her unborn Nazirite son and could defile him. It’s too bad every expectant mother doesn’t exercise caution; for in recent years, the news media have informed us of the sad consequences babies suffer when their mothers use tobacco, alcohol, and narcotics during a pregnancy.
Ordinarily, a Nazirite vow was for a limited period of time; but in Samson’s case, the vow was to last all his life (Judg. 13:7). This was something Manoah and his wife would have to teach their son, and they would also have to explain why they didn’t cut his hair. The claims of God were upon this child, and it was the obligation of the parents to train him for the work God sent him to do.
He had a home to honor (Judges 13:6-23 (NIV)
6 Then the woman went to her husband and told him, “A man of God came to me. He looked like an angel of God, very awesome. I didn’t ask him where he came from, and he didn’t tell me his name. 7 But he said to me, ‘You will conceive and give birth to a son. Now then, drink no wine or other fermented drink and do not eat anything unclean, because the boy will be a Nazirite of God from birth until the day of his death.'” 8 Then Manoah prayed to the LORD: “O Lord, I beg you, let the man of God you sent to us come again to teach us how to bring up the boy who is to be born.” 9 God heard Manoah, and the angel of God came again to the woman while she was out in the field; but her husband Manoah was not with her. 10 The woman hurried to tell her husband, “He’s here! The man who appeared to me the other day!” 11 Manoah got up and followed his wife. When he came to the man, he said, “Are you the one who talked to my wife?” “I am,” he said. 12 So Manoah asked him, “When your words are fulfilled, what is to be the rule for the boy’s life and work?” 13 The angel of the LORD answered, “Your wife must do all that I have told her. 14 She must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, nor drink any wine or other fermented drink nor eat anything unclean. She must do everything I have commanded her.” 15 Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “We would like you to stay until we prepare a young goat for you.” 16 The angel of the LORD replied, “Even though you detain me, I will not eat any of your food. But if you prepare a burnt offering, offer it to the LORD.” (Manoah did not realize that it was the angel of the LORD.) 17 Then Manoah inquired of the angel of the LORD, “What is your name, so that we may honor you when your word comes true?” 18 He replied, “Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding.” 19 Then Manoah took a young goat, together with the grain offering, and sacrificed it on a rock to the LORD. And the LORD did an amazing thing while Manoah and his wife watched: 20 As the flame blazed up from the altar toward heaven, the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame. Seeing this, Manoah and his wife fell with their faces to the ground. 21 When the angel of the LORD did not show himself again to Manoah and his wife, Manoah realized that it was the angel of the LORD. 22 “We are doomed to die!” he said to his wife. “We have seen God!” 23 But his wife answered, “If the LORD had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and grain offering from our hands, nor shown us all these things or now told us this.”
Manoah’s wife immediately told her husband about the stranger’s visit and message, although neither of them yet knew that the visitor was the Lord (v. 16). Manoah assumed that he was “a man of God,” perhaps a visiting prophet; and he prayed that the Lord would send the man back.
We can’t help but be impressed with the devotion of this husband and wife to each other and to the Lord. The time of the judges was one of apostasy and anarchy, but there were still Jewish homes that were dedicated to the Lord and that believed in prayer; and God was still working through them.
God answered Manoah’s prayer and gave him an opportunity to ask an important question, which the angel of the Lord never answered: “When your words are fulfilled, what is to be the rule for the boy’s life and work?” (v. 12, niv) The Old Testament Law not only gave instructions concerning Nazirites and clean and unclean foods, but also it told parents how to raise their children (Deut. 6).
It wasn’t necessary for the Lord to give Manoah and his wife additional instructions when the Word of God already told them what to do. The messenger simply repeated the warning he had already given to Manoah’s wife.
Wanting to be a good and appreciative host, Manoah asked the guest to wait while he and his wife prepared a meal for him (6:18-19; Gen. 18:1-8). The stranger’s cryptic reply was that he wouldn’t eat their food but would permit them to offer a burnt offering to the Lord. After all, their promised son was a gift from God, and they owed the Lord their worship and thanks.
But Manoah thought to himself, If I can’t honor this man of God now, perhaps I can do it in the future after his words come true and the baby boy has been born. (Note that Manoah believed the announcement and said “when” and not “if.”) Manoah would have to know the man’s name so he could locate him nine months later, but the man wouldn’t tell his name except to say it was “wonderful.” (See Gen. 32:29.)
Ordinarily, Jewish worshipers had to bring their offerings to the tabernacle altar at Shiloh; but since the “man of God” commanded Manoah to offer the burnt offering, it was permissible to do it there, using a rock as the altar. Suddenly, the visitor ascended to heaven in the flame! Only then did Manoah and his wife discover that their visitor was an angel from the Lord. This frightened Manoah, because the Jews believed that nobody could look upon God and live (see 6:19-23).
Using common sense, Manoah’s wife convinced him that they couldn’t die and fulfill God’s promises at the same time.
Every baby born into a godly home carries the responsibility of honoring the family name. Samson’s inconsistent life brought shame to his father’s house just as it brought shame to the name of the Lord. Samson’s relatives had to pull his body out of the wreckage of the Philistine temple and take it home for burial (16:31). In one sense, it was a day of victory over God’s enemies; but it was also a day of defeat for Samson’s family.
2. The champion with undefeatable power (Judges 13:24-25 (NIV)
24 The woman gave birth to a boy and named him Samson. He grew and the LORD blessed him, 25 and the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him while he was in Mahaneh Dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.)
The baby was born and was named Samson, which means “sunny” or “brightness.” Certainly he brought light and joy to Manoah and his wife, who thought they would never have a family; and he also began to bring light to Israel during the dark days of Philistine oppression. While other judges were said to be clothed with God’s Spirit (3:10; 6:34; 11:29), only of Samson is it said “the Lord blessed him” (13:24; see Luke 1:80 and 2:52). The hand of God was on him in a special way.
The secret of Samson’s great strength was his Nazirite vow, symbolized by his unshorn hair (Judg. 16:17); and the source of that strength was the Holy Spirit of God (13:25; 14:6,19; 15:14). We aren’t told that Samson’s physique was especially different from that of other men, although he may have resembled the strong men pictured in Bible storybooks. Perhaps it was as he entered his teen years, when a Jewish boy became a “son of the law,” that he began to demonstrate his amazing ability.
Only a few of Samson’s great feats are recorded in the Book of Judges: killing the lion bare-handed (14:5-6); slaying thirty Philistines (v. 19); catching 300 foxes (or jackals) and tying torches to their tails (15:3-5); breaking bonds (15:14; 16:9, 12, 14); slaying 1,000 men with the jawbone of a donkey (15:15); carrying off the Gaza city gate (16:3); and destroying the Philistine building (v. 30).
Judges 16:24 (NIV)
24 When the people saw him, they praised their god, saying, “Our god has delivered our enemy into our hands, the one who laid waste our land and multiplied our slain.” Indicates that he had done many more feats than those listed above, feats that had aggravated the Philistine people.
As you ponder the record of Samson’s life, you get the impression that he was a fun-loving fellow with a good sense of humor; and sometimes he didn’t take his gifts and his work seriously. A sense of humor is a good thing to have, but it must be balanced with serious devotion to the things of the Lord. Samson’s power was a weapon to fight with and a tool to build with, not a toy to play with.
Notice another thing: Samson was a loner; unlike previous judges, he never “rallied the troops” and tried to unite Israel in throwing off the Philistine yoke. For 20 years he played the champion, but he failed to act the leader. Joseph Parker said that Samson was “an elephant in strength [but] a babe in weakness.”
3. The man with unreliable character.
According to Hebrews 11:32, Samson was a man of faith, but he certainly wasn’t a faithful man. He wasn’t faithful to his parents’ teaching, his Nazirite vow, or the laws of the Lord. It didn’t take long for Samson to lose almost everything the Lord had given him, except his great strength; and he finally lost that as well.
He lost his respect for his parents – Judges 14:1-4 (NIV)
1 Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman. 2 When he returned, he said to his father and mother, “I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.” 3 His father and mother replied, “Isn’t there an acceptable woman among your relatives or among all our people? Must you go to the uncircumcised Philistines to get a wife?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me. She’s the right one for me.” 4 (His parents did not know that this was from the LORD, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel.)
The Lord had given Samson a godly heritage, and he had been raised to honor the Lord; but when Samson fell in love, he wouldn’t listen to his parents when they warned him. Samson had wandered four miles into enemy territory where he was captivated by a Philistine woman and decided to marry her. This, of course, was contrary to God’s Law (Ex. 34:12-16; Deut. 7:1-3; and see 2 Cor. 6:14-18).
Samson was living by sight and not by faith. He was controlled by “the lust of the eyes” (1 John 2:16) rather than by the Law of the Lord. The important thing to Samson was not pleasing the Lord, or even pleasing his parents, but pleasing himself (Jud. 14:3, 7, see 2 Cor. 5:14-15).
When God isn’t permitted to rule in our lives, He overrules and works out His will in spite of our decisions. Of course, we’re the losers for rebelling against Him; but God will accomplish His purposes either with us or in spite of us (Est. 4:10-14). Samson should have been going to a war instead of to a wedding, but God used this event to give Samson occasion to attack the enemy. Because of this event, Samson killed thirty men (Judg. 14:19), burned up the enemy crops (15:1-5), slaughtered a great number of Philistines (vv. 7-8), and slew 1,000 men (v. 15). Samson hadn’t planned these things, but God worked them out just the same.
He lost his Nazirite separation (vv. 5-9). Samson went down to Timnah together with his father and mother. As they approached the vineyards of Timnah, suddenly a young lion came roaring toward him. 6 The Spirit of the LORD came upon him in power so that he tore the lion apart with his bare hands as he might have torn a young goat. But he told neither his father nor his mother what he had done. 7 Then he went down and talked with the woman, and he liked her. 8 Some time later, when he went back to marry her, he turned aside to look at the lion’s carcass. In it was a swarm of bees and some honey, 9 which he scooped out with his hands and ate as he went along. When he rejoined his parents, he gave them some, and they too ate it. But he did not tell them that he had taken the honey from the lion’s carcass.
When Samson and his parents went down to Timnah to make arrangements for the marriage, it appears that Samson left the main road (and his parents) and went on a detour into the vineyards; and there a lion attacked him. A vineyard was a dangerous place for a man who was not supposed to have anything to do with grapes (Num. 6:1-4). Did God send the lion as a warning to Samson that he was walking on the wrong path? The Holy Spirit gave Samson power to defeat the enemy, but Samson persisted on his path of disobedience into enemy territory and an unlawful wedding.
Some weeks later, when Samson returned to claim his bride, he once again turned aside into the vineyard, this time to look at his trophy and perhaps gloat over his victory. His sin began with “the lust of the flesh” and “the lust of the eyes,” and now it included “the pride of life” (1 John 2:16). When Samson ate the honey from the lion’s carcass, he was defiled by a dead body; and that part of his Nazirite dedication was destroyed. In fact, two thirds of his vow was now gone; for he had defiled himself by going into the vineyard and by eating food from a dead body.
He lost control of his tongue (vv. 10-18). Now his father went down to see the woman. And Samson made a feast there, as was customary for bridegrooms. 11 When he appeared, he was given thirty companions. 12 “Let me tell you a riddle,” Samson said to them. “If you can give me the answer within the seven days of the feast, I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty sets of clothes. 13 If you can’t tell me the answer, you must give me thirty linen garments and thirty sets of clothes.” “Tell us your riddle,” they said. “Let’s hear it.” 14 He replied, “Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet.” For three days they could not give the answer. 15 On the fourth day, they said to Samson’s wife, “Coax your husband into explaining the riddle for us, or we will burn you and your father’s household to death. Did you invite us here to rob us?” 16 Then Samson’s wife threw herself on him, sobbing, “You hate me! You don’t really love me. You’ve given my people a riddle, but you haven’t told me the answer.” “I haven’t even explained it to my father or mother,” he replied, “so why should I explain it to you?” 17 She cried the whole seven days of the feast. So on the seventh day he finally told her, because she continued to press him. She in turn explained the riddle to her people. 18 Before sunset on the seventh day the men of the town said to him, “What is sweeter than honey? What is stronger than a lion?” Samson said to them, “If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have solved my riddle.”
Since Samson hadn’t brought any men with him to serve as “friends of the bridegroom” (Matt. 9:15, nkjv), the Philistines rounded up thirty men to do the job for him. These men may also have served as guards for the Philistines; for Samson’s reputation had preceded him, and they were never sure what he would do next. Since the atmosphere must have been tense at the beginning of the feast, Samson sought to liven things up by posing a riddle. Sad to say, he constructed the riddle out of the experience of his sin! He didn’t take seriously the fact that he had violated his Nazirite vows. It’s bad enough to disobey God, but when you make a joke out of it, you’ve sunk to new depths of spiritual insensitivity.
It would have been an expensive thing for the thirty guests to supply Samson with sixty garments, so they were desperate to learn the answer to the riddle. Their only recourse was to enlist the help of Samson’s wife. Thus they threatened to kill her and burn down her father’s house if she didn’t supply the answer before the week was up. Samson resolutely refused to tell her; but on the seventh day, he relented. Since the marriage was to be consummated on the seventh day, perhaps that had something to do with it. First the Philistine woman enticed him (Judg. 14:1), then she controlled him (v. 17), and then she betrayed him (v. 17), which is the way the world always treats the compromising believer. Samson could kill lions and break ropes, but he couldn’t overcome the power of a woman’s tears.
We wonder how his wife felt being compared to a heifer? The proverb simply means, “You couldn’t have done what you did if you hadn’t broken the rules,” because heifers weren’t used for plowing. Since the guests had played foul, technically Samson could have refused to pay the prize; but he generously agreed to keep his promise. Perhaps he found out that his wife’s life had been threatened and he didn’t want to put her and her family into jeopardy again.
Those who can’t control their tongue can’t control their bodies (James 3:2); and in Samson’s case, the consequences of this lack of discipline were disastrous.
Samson lost his temper (vv. 19-20). Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon him in power. He went down to Ashkelon, struck down thirty of their men, stripped them of their belongings and gave their clothes to those who had explained the riddle. Burning with anger, he went up to his father’s house. 20 And Samson’s wife was given to the friend who had attended him at his wedding.
He went twenty miles away to Ashkelon so the news of the slaughter wouldn’t get back to Timnah too soon. His joke about the lion and the honey ceased to be a joke, for it led to the death of thirty men whose garments Samson confiscated. Samson was so angry that he didn’t even consummate the marriage but went back to Zorah and stayed with his parents. While he was away from Timnah, his wife was given to his best man. The Lord used this turn of events to motivate Samson to decide to fight the Philistines instead of entertaining them.
If Samson had won his way and married a Philistine woman, that relationship would have crippled the work God had called him to do. Believers today who enter into unholy alliances are sinning and hindering the work of the Lord too (2 Cor. 6:14-18). If Samson had sought God’s leading, the Lord would have directed him. Instead, Samson went his own way, and the Lord had to overrule his selfish decisions.
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye. Do not be like the horse or like the mule, which have no understanding, which must be harnessed with bit and bridle, else they will not come near you” (Ps. 32:8-9, nkjv). If we’re looking by faith into the face of the Lord, He can guide us with His eye, the way parents guide their children. But if we turn our backs on Him, he has to treat us like animals and harness us. Samson was either impetuously rushing ahead like the horse or stubbornly holding back like the mule, and God had to deal with him.
The life of Samson illustrates the ancient truth that a good beginning doesn’t guarantee a good ending. The American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said, “Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.” That’s why Solomon wrote, “The end of a matter is better than its beginning” (Ecc. 7:8, niv).
At the beginning of his career, Samson served in a blaze of glory, but the light began to flicker as he yielded to his passions. In the closing scenes of his life, we watch Samson’s light finally go out; and the blind champion ends up buried in the rubble of a heathen temple. Granted, he killed more in his martyrdom than he killed during his judgeship; but how different it would have been had he first conquered himself before he sought to conquer the Lord’s enemies. “His whole life,” said Spurgeon, “is a series of miracles and follies.”
Let’s look at the closing scenes in Samson’s life and learn from them why he didn’t end well.
1. Samson avenges himself. (Judg. 15:1-8)
The passion to get even seemed to govern Samson’s life. His motto was, “As they did unto me, so have I done unto them” (15:11). I realize that as the defender of Israel, Samson’s calling was to defeat the enemy; but you long to see him fighting “the. battles of the Lord” and not just his own private wars. When David faced the Philistines, he saw them as the enemies of the Lord and sought to honor the name of the Lord in his victory (1 Sam. 17). Samson’s attitude was different.
As Christians, we need to beware of hiding selfish motives under the cloak of religious zeal and calling it “righteous indignation.” Personal vengeance and private gain rather than the glory of the Lord has motivated more than one “crusader” in the church. What some people think is godly zeal may actually be ungodly anger, fed by pride and motivated by selfishness. There is a godly anger that we should experience when we see wickedness prosper and defenseless people hurt (Eph. 4:26), but there’s a very fine line between righteous indignation and a “religious temper tantrum.”
He avenges his ruined marriage (vv. 1-5). Although he had never consummated the marriage, Samson thought he was legally married to the woman of Timnah. Therefore, he took a gift and went to visit her in her father’s house. How shocked he was to learn that not only was he not married, but also the woman he loved was now married to his best-man! Samson had paid the legal “bride price” for his wife, and now he had neither the money nor the wife.
Samson was angry, and even the offer of a younger and prettier bride didn’t appease him. If anybody should have been punished, it was his father-in-law. He was the real culprit. After all, he took the money and gave the bride away—to the wrong man! But Samson decided to take out his anger on the Philistines by burning up the grain in their fields.
The word translated “foxes” also means “jackals,” and that’s probably the animal that Samson used. Foxes are solitary creatures, but jackals prowl in large packs. Because of this, it would have been much easier for Samson to capture 300 jackals; and no doubt he enlisted the help of others. Had he tied the firebrands to individual animals, they each would have immediately run to their dens. But by putting two animals together and turning them loose, Samson could be fairly sure that their fear of the fire and their inability to maneuver easily would make them panic. Thus they would run around frantically in the fields and ignite the grain. The fire then would spread into the vineyards and olive groves. It was a costly devastation.
Why he chose to destroy the Philistine’s crops in such a strange manner isn’t clear to us. If others were helping him, Samson could attack several fields at the same time; and the Philistines, unable to see the animals on the ground, would be alarmed and confused, wondering what was causing the fires. The jackals would undoubtedly make a racket, especially if caught in the rushing flame or overwhelmed by the smoke. His riddle and his rhyme (15:16) indicate that Samson had a boyish sense of humor, and perhaps this approach to agricultural arson was just another fun time for him. However, we must keep in mind that God was using Samson’s exploits to harass the Philistines and prepare them for the sure defeat that was coming in a few years.
He avenges his wife’s death (vv. 6-8). Violence breeds violence, and the Philistines weren’t about to stand around doing nothing while their food and fortune went up in flames. They figured out that Samson was behind the burning of their crops, and they knew they had to retaliate. Since they couldn’t hope to overcome Samson, they did the next thing and vented their wrath on his wife and father-in-law. In the long run, her betrayal of Samson didn’t save her life after all (14:15).
Samson’s response? “Since you’ve acted like this, I won’t stop until I get my revenge on you” (15:7, niv). We don’t know how many Philistines he killed or what weapons he used, but it was “a great slaughter.” Following the attack, he retreated to a cave in the “rock of Etam.” This is not the Etam mentioned either in 1 Chronicles 4:32 (too far away) or 2 Chronicles 11:6 (hadn’t been built yet). It was some elevated place in Judah, near Lehi, from which Samson could safely and conveniently watch the enemy.
2. Samson defends himself. (Judg. 15:9-20)
If Samson could attack the Philistines, then the Philistines could retaliate and attack Israel; after all, Israel had neither weapons nor an army. The invasion of Judah didn’t help Samson’s popularity with his own people, who sadly were content to submit to their neighbors and make the best of a bad situation. Instead of seeing Samson as their deliverer, the men of Judah considered him a troublemaker.
It’s difficult to be a leader if you have no followers, but part of the fault lay with Samson. He didn’t challenge the people, organize them, and trust God to give them victory. He preferred to work alone, fighting the battles of the Lord as though they were his own private feuds. I realize that Samson’s calling was to begin to deliver the nation (13:5), but it seems to me that he could have made a more forceful beginning. When God’s people get comfortable with the status quo, and their leaders fail to arouse them to action, they are in pretty bad shape.
When the men of Judah learned that the Philistines wanted only to capture and bind Samson, they offered to help. A nation is in a sad state indeed when the citizens cooperate with the enemy and hand over their own God-appointed leader! This is the only time during Samson’s judgeship that the Jews mustered an army, and it was for the purpose of capturing one of their own men! But Samson realized that, if he didn’t give himself up to the enemy, the Philistine army would bring untold suffering to the land; so he willingly surrendered. If he defended himself, he would have had to fight his own people. If he escaped, which he could easily have done, he would have left 3,000 men of Judah easy prey for the Philistine army. There was something heroic about Samson’s decision, but the men of Judah missed it.
By the power of the Holy Spirit, Samson easily broke the bonds the men of Judah had put on his arms, picked up a new jawbone of a donkey (an old one would have been too brittle) and slaughtered a thousand Philistines. We wonder what the men of Judah thought as they watched their prisoner, their own brother, kill the invaders single-handed. Did any of them feel the urge to pick up the weapons of the slain Philistines and join in the battle? Would they have known how to use them?
Samson had a way with words. At his wedding feast, he devised a clever riddle (14:14); and after this great victory, he wrote a poem. It’s based on the similarity between the sounds of the Hebrew words hamor (“donkey”) and homer (“heap”). James Moffatt renders it: “With the jawbone of an ass I have piled them in a mass. With the jawbone of an ass I have assailed assailants.”
But his victory celebration didn’t last very long, for God reminded him that he was only a man and had to have water to stay alive. So often in Scripture, testing follows triumph. No sooner had the Israelites crossed the Red Sea than they became thirsty (Ex. 15:22-27) and hungry (Ex. 16). Elijah’s victory on Mount Carmel was followed by his humiliating flight to Mount Horeb (1 Kings 18-19). If triumphs aren’t balanced with trials, there’s a danger that we’ll become proud and self-confident.
If Samson had only heeded this warning and asked God not only for water but for guidance! “Lead us not into temptation” would have been the perfect prayer for that hour. How quick we are to cry out for help for the body when perhaps our greatest needs are in the inner person. It’s when we’re weak that we’re strong (2 Cor. 12:10); and when we’re totally dependent on the Lord, we’re the safest.
Samson’s prayer indicates that he considered himself God’s servant and that he didn’t want to end his life falling into the hands of the godless Philistines. Unfortunately, that’s just what happened. But God was merciful and performed a miracle by opening up a spring of water in a hollow place. Samson quenched his thirst and then gave the place the name “Caller’s Spring.” The place where Samson slaughtered the Philistines received the name “Jawbone Hill.” Some translations give the impression that the water came from the jawbone because the name of the place in Hebrew is Lehi, which means “jawbone.” In the nkjv, Judges 15:19 reads, “So God split the hollow place that is in Lehi”; and the nasb and niv are substantially the same.
3. Samson tempts himself. (Judg. 16:1-3)
Gaza was an important seaport town located about forty miles from Samson’s hometown of Zorah. We aren’t told why Samson went there, but it’s not likely he was looking for sensual pleasure. There were plenty of prostitutes available in Israel even though the Law condemned this practice (Lev. 19:29; Deut. 22:21). It was after he arrived in Gaza that Samson saw a prostitute and decided to visit her. Once again the lust of the eyes and the lust of the flesh combined to grip Samson and make him a slave to his passions.
It seems incredible to us that a servant of God (Judg. 15:18), who did great works in the power of the Spirit, would visit a prostitute, but the record is here for all to read. The Lord certainly didn’t approve of such behavior, especially on the part of a Nazirite; and the experience was for Samson one more step down into darkness and destruction. In recent years, there have been enough ministerial scandals in the United States alone to put all of us on guard. “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12, nkjv).
We can’t help it when Satan and his demons tempt us; but when we tempt ourselves, we become our own enemy. God doesn’t tempt us (James 1:12-15). When we pray, “Lead us not into temptation” (Matt. 6:13), we’re asking that we not tempt ourselves or put ourselves into such a position that we tempt God. We tempt Him either by forcing Him to intervene and rescue us or by daring Him to stop us. It’s possible for people’s character to deteriorate so much that they don’t have to be tempted in order to sin. All they need is the opportunity to sin, and they’ll tempt themselves. Illicit sexual experience may begin as sweet as honey, but it ends up as bitter as wormwood (Prov. 5:1-14). Samson the man had become Samson the animal as the prostitute led him to the slaughter (Prov. 7:6-23).
Word that their enemy Samson was in town spread to the people of Gaza, and they posted a guard at the city gate to capture him and kill him in the morning. But Samson decided to leave town at midnight, while the guards were asleep. The fact that the city gates were barred didn’t alarm him. He picked up the doors, posts, and bars and carried them off! Whether he carried them all the way to Hebron, a distance of about forty miles, or only to a hill that faced Hebron, depends on how you translate Judges 16:3. Both interpretations are possible.
The city gate was not only a protection for the city, but also the place where the officials met to transact business (Deut. 25:7; Ruth 4:1-2). To “possess the gate of his enemies” was a metaphor meaning “to defeat your enemies” (Gen. 22:17; 24:60). When Jesus spoke about the gates of hell (hades) not prevailing against the church (Matt. 16:18), He was picturing the victory of the church over the forces of Satan and evil. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus Christ has “stormed the gates of hell” and carried them off in victory!
4. Samson betrays himself. (Judg. 16:4-22)
The Valley of Sorek lay between Zorah and Timnah on the border of Judah and Philistia. The city of Beth-shemesh was located there. Whenever Samson went into enemy territory, he “went down” both geographically and spiritually (14:1, 5, 7, 10). This time he found a woman in the valley, not too far from home; and he fell in love with her. It’s a dangerous thing to linger at the enemy’s border; you might get caught.
Along with David and Bathsheba, Samson and Delilah have captured the imagination of scores of writers, artists, composers, and dramatists. Handel included Delilah in his oratorio “Samson,” and Saint-Saens wrote an opera on “Samson and Delilah.” (The “Bacchanale” from that work is still a popular concert piece.) When Samson consorted with Delilah in the Valley of Sorek, he never dreamed that what they did together would be made into a Hollywood movie and projected in color on huge screens.
Scholars disagree on the meaning of Delilah’s name. Some think it means “devotee,” suggesting that she may have been a temple prostitute. But Delilah isn’t called a prostitute as is the woman in Gaza, although that’s probably what she was. For that matter, Delilah isn’t even identified as a Philistine. However, from her dealings with the Philistine leaders, she appears to be one. Other students believe that the basis for her name is the Hebrew word dalal, which means “to weaken, to impoverish.” Whether or not this is the correct derivation, she certainly weakened and impoverished Samson!
Each of the Philistine leaders offered to pay Delilah a considerable sum of money if she would entice Samson and learn the source of his great strength. They didn’t want to kill Samson. They wanted to neutralize his power, capture him, torture him, and then use him for their own purposes. Being able to exhibit and control the great champion of Israel would give the Philistines both security and stature among the nations and would certainly satisfy their egos as they humiliated the Jews.
When Delilah began to probe for the secret of his strength, Samson should have been aware of his danger and, like Joseph (Gen. 39:12; 2 Tim. 2:22), fled as fast as possible. But passion had gripped him, sin had anesthetized him, and he was unable to act rationally. Anybody could have told him that Delilah was making a fool out of him, but Samson would have believed no one.
It’s unlikely that the Philistines who hid in her chamber revealed themselves each time Samson escaped his bonds, because then he would have known that Delilah had set a trap for him. Her cry “The Philistines are upon you!” was the signal for the spies to be alert; but when they saw that Samson was free, they remained in hiding. Each of Samson’s lies involved Delilah using some kind of bonds on him, but the Philistines should have known that he could not be bound (Judg. 15:13).
Delilah had to keep working on Samson or she would have lost the money and perhaps her life. After all, look at what the Philistines did to Samson’s first wife! If Samson had stopped visiting Delilah, he would have kept his hair and his power, but he kept going back, and each time she implored him to reveal his secret. Samson didn’t know his own heart. He thought he possessed enough moral strength to say no to the temptress, but he was wrong.
Being wise in the ways of sin (Luke 16:8; Prov. 7:21), during the fourth visit, Delilah knew that he had finally told her the truth. Since the Philistine “hit squad” had quit coming after the third fiasco, Delilah summoned them quickly, and they once again hid in her chamber.
When Delilah’s shout awakened Samson, he thought it was another one of her tricks and that he could handle the situation as before. But he was wrong. When he lost his long hair, the Lord left him; and he was as weak as other men. His power was from the Lord, not from his hair; but the hair was the sign of his Nazirite vow. The Spirit who had come upon him with such power had now departed from him.
Numbers 6:7 reads literally “because the consecration (nezer) of his God is upon his head.” The basic meaning of the word nezer is “separation” or “consecration”; but it is also used of a royal crown (2 Sam. 1:10; Zech. 9:16; Ps. 89:39). Samson’s long hair was his “royal crown” and he lost it because of his sin. “Behold, I come quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown” (Rev. 3:11, nkjv). Since Samson didn’t discipline his body, he lost both his crown and his prize (1 Cor. 9:24-27).
The Philistines easily overpowered Samson and finally had their way with him. They put out his eyes, bound him, and took him to Gaza where he toiled at the grinding mill, doing work usually assigned to slaves, women, or donkeys. Someone has said that Judges 16:21 reminds us of the blinding, binding, and grinding results of sin.
Samson is one of three men in Scripture who are especially identified with the darkness. The other two are King Saul, who went out in the darkness to get last-minute help from a witch (1 Sam. 28), and Judas, who “went immediately out: and it was night” (John 13:30). Saul lived for the world, Samson yielded to the flesh, and Judas gave himself to the devil (John 13:2, 27); and all three ended up taking their own lives.
But there was one ray of light in the darkness: Samson’s hair began to grow again. His power was not in his hair but in what his hair symbolized—his dedication to God. If Samson renewed that dedication, God might restore his power. I believe Samson talked to the Lord as he turned the millstone, confessing his sins and asking God for one last opportunity to defeat the enemy and glorify His name.
5. Samson destroys himself. (Judg. 16:23-31)
It was tragic that a servant of the Lord, raised in a godly home, was now the humiliated slave of the enemy. But even worse, the Philistines gave glory to their god Dagon for helping them capture their great enemy. Instead of bringing glory to the God of Israel, Samson gave the enemy opportunity to honor their false gods. Dagon was the god of grain, and certainly the Philistines remembered what Samson had done to their fields (15:1-5).
The people at the religious festival called for Samson to be brought to entertain them. They were in high spirits because their enemy was now in their control and Dagon had triumphed over Jehovah. They thought that Samson’s blindness rendered him harmless. They didn’t know that God had deigned to forgive him and restore his strength.
In the kjv, two different words are translated “make sport” in 16:25 (“entertain” and “perform” in the niv). The first means to celebrate, frolic, joke, and entertain; and the second means to perform, make sport, and laugh. We aren’t told exactly how Samson entertained the huge crowd in Dagon’s temple, but one thing is sure: He gave them every reason to believe he was harmless and under their control. He was even in the hands of a boy who was leading the blind man from place to place. We’ve seen previous indications that Samson was a clever fellow with a sense of humor. Thus no doubt he gave the audience just what it wanted.
In previous visits to Gaza, Samson had undoubtedly seen this temple and noted its construction. After all, it housed over 3,000 people, and it would be difficult for him not to notice it. During a break in the day’s entertainment, Samson asked his attendant to lead him over to the pillars; and there he uttered his last prayer. The fact that God answered suggests that all was right between him and his Lord (Ps. 66:18-19).
It’s likely that his parents were dead by now, but his relatives on his father’s side came and recovered the body and buried it. The word “brethren” in Judges 16:31 in the Hebrew carries a broad meaning of “relatives.” As far as we know, Samson was an only child. The phrase “between Zorah and Eshtaol” in verse 31 reminds us of 13:25. Samson is back where he started, only now he’s dead. The light has failed.
How do you assess the life and ministry of a man like Samson? I think Alexander Maclaren says it well: “Instead of trying to make a lofty hero out of him, it is far better to recognize frankly the limitations of his character and the imperfections of his religion…. If the merely human passion of vengeance throbbed fiercely in Samson’s prayer, he had never heard ‘Love your enemies’; and, for his epoch, the destruction of the enemies of God and of Israel was duty.”
His decline began when he disagreed with his parents about marrying a Philistine girl. Then he disdained his Nazirite vow and defiled himself. He disregarded the warnings of God, disobeyed the Word of God, and was defeated by the enemies of God. He probably thought that he had the privilege of indulging in sin since he wore the badge of a Nazirite and won so many victories for the Lord, but he was wrong.
Hebrews 11:32-34 (NIV)
32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.
Points to Ponder
There are many points of interest in our text, but some seem to be more important than others. Taken together, these observations from our text will help point us to the message of our text. So allow me a couple of moments of your time to call some things to your attention from our text.
First, we should note that we have seen Timnah before in the Bible in the Book of Genesis:
12 Now after a considerable time Shua’s daughter, the wife of Judah, died; and when the time of mourning was ended, Judah went up to his sheepshearers at Timnah, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. 13 It was told to Tamar, “Behold, your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep.” 14 So she removed her widow’s garments and covered herself with a veil, and wrapped herself, and sat in the gateway of Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah; for she saw that Shelah had grown up, and she had not been given to him as a wife (Genesis 38:12-14).
If Samson had known his Bible history, he would have recognized that the last Israelite to go to Timnah to find a wife didn’t fare so well for having done so. Judah formed an unhealthy friendship with Hirah, and then married a Canaanite woman who bore him three sons for whom Judah sought Canaanite wives. On this occasion Tamar, a Gentile, proved to be more pious than Judah.
Second, Samson took the wrong path willfully, for the wrong path was well marked by the Scriptures (the Pentateuch) and by the teaching of his parents. Samson knew what it meant to be a Nazirite, and yet this did not impact his search for a wife. While the Philistines were not technically Canaanites, his parents wisely warned him against marrying an “uncircumcised Philistine.” And yet Samson disregarded their warnings. While Proverbs was not yet written, Samson will prove to be an excellent example of many of the warnings found in this book. God’s will was clear to Samson; he just didn’t want to follow this path.
Third, I cannot help but read about Samson’s encounter with the lion without thinking about the warnings in the Bible regarding the “lion in the road.” There are two proverbs which speak of a lion in the road:
The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside! I will be killed in the middle of the streets!” (Proverbs 22:13)
The sluggard says, “There is a lion in the road! A lion in the streets!” (Proverbs 26:13)
The sluggard worked hard at finding excuses to avoid hard work. One of these was the “lion in the road.” Who would possibly walk out the door if there actually was a lion outside? No one would do so because it would be suicide. While the sluggard only imagined a lion in the road, we read a real life account of one in 1 Kings 13:23-32. Shouldn’t Samson have recognized this rushing lion as a divine warning? And yet Samson simply sees the lion only as a good source for honey and good material for a riddle.
Fourth, Samson seems to speak when he shouldn’t and to be silent when he should speak. The Hebrew word often translated “tell” (nagad) is found 14 times in chapter 14. It is sad to see how Samson “tells” his secrets to those who will use them to bring him harm, while he withholds information from his parents. He did not tell them about being attacked by the lion or about how he killed it. He did not tell his parents that the honey he was offering them (which they ate) came from within the carcass of a dead animal, and thus he was bringing defilement upon them without their knowledge.
Fifth, unlike Israel’s earlier judges, Samson always seems to operate in solo mode. Samson always works alone. He does not ask or inspire others to join with him in battle with the Philistines. Samson always goes it alone. Indeed, Samson is a “loner.” He is not close to his parents, nor does he have any close friends. (At the wedding celebration, he is provided with 30 friends who were probably paid to fulfill their role.) Samson did not enjoy intimacy with parents, friends, or women.
Sixth, while Samson’s parents did not know it, God purposed to used Samson’s foolish choices and actions to further His purposes.
4 Now his father and mother did not realize this was the Lord’s doing, because he was looking for an opportunity to stir up trouble with the Philistines (for at that time the Philistines were ruling Israel). (Judges 14:4)
Think of the anguish Manoah and his wife experienced as they observed Samson’s disdain for his calling as a Nazirite. How many sleepless nights were there for these godly parents when they realized that in spite of their desire to raise Samson to be a godly young man, he had every intention of going his own way?
While some might argue that they did not do enough to stop him from marrying a Philistine wife, they did clearly express their displeasure and sought to persuade him to marry an Israelite woman. In spite of their efforts, Samson was intent on going his own foolish way, more interested in satisfying his fleshly desires than in fulfilling his spiritual calling.
Here’s the beautiful thing: Samson’s sin would neither hinder nor thwart God’s purposes. Samson would be a deliverer, or, in the words of the Angel of the Lord, he would “begin” to deliver Israel from the Philistines. God’s purposes are vastly greater than anything we can imagine. What Samson’s parents could not see at the moment was that God would use Samson as an unwilling instrument, and thus He would accomplish everything that He had purposed.
In times like ours, things certainly look bleak, spiritually speaking. Our nation has forgotten and forsaken its spiritual roots. Christians are no longer respected as they once were, and there are indications that greater persecution is coming for those who trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation and believe that the Bible is His inspired, inerrant, and authoritative Word. We see Congress out of control, proposing legislation that would have seemed preposterous only a few years ago. Are we as Christians wringing our hands, as though God’s promises and purposes are at risk? Unlike Samson’s parents, we have been told what God is going to do in the future, and we have also been assured that no power on earth can thwart His plans and purposes. The very things over which we may be agonizing may be what God is using to accomplish His sovereign will.
Seventh, in spite of his intensive efforts to indulge his flesh, Samson found very little gratification. In the dark reaches of my memory, a song title came to mind: “I Just Can’t Get No Satisfaction.” Think about it. Samson was strongly attracted to a Philistine woman. Much time and effort went into acquiring her as his wife. His wedding party was a disaster. His riddle was solved by men who forced his wife to betray his confidence, and thus he was required to provide 30 outfits to his groomsmen. His wife cried for much of the week of “celebration.” And in the end Samson never consummated this marriage. His wife was given to another (his best man), and then she and her father were burned to death by her own people. For all of his efforts, Samson certainly “got no satisfaction.”
Eighth, rather than support Samson by joining him is his battle with the Philistines, the men of Judah rebuked him for causing trouble, and then handed him over to the Philistines so that they could kill him.
We need to remind ourselves of the way the Book of Judges began:
1 After Joshua died, the Israelites asked the Lord, “Who should lead the invasion against the Canaanites and launch the attack?” 2 The Lord said, “The men of Judah should take the lead. Be sure of this! I am handing the land over to them.” 3 The men of Judah said to their relatives, the men of Simeon, “Invade our allotted land with us and help us attack the Canaanites. Then we will go with you into your allotted land.” So the men of Simeon went with them. . . . 18 The men of Judah captured Gaza, Ashkelon, Ekron, and the territory surrounding each of these cities (Judges 1:1-3, 18).
The men of Judah dominate the first two chapters of the Book of Judges as those who led their fellow Israelites into battle with the Canaanites and the Philistines. Here in chapters 13-15 we see a completely reversed situation. The Philistines rule over Israel, and yet not so much as a cry for help is heard from the Israelites. Indeed, the men of Israel have willingly accepted Philistine rule; consequently, they are very upset with Samson for jeopardizing their relationship with their captors.
When the Philistines congregate in Judah’s territory, the men of Judah make every effort to appease them in order to avoid hostilities and reprisal. Samson, the “Lone Ranger” in waging war with the Philistines, is viewed as the enemy, not the Philistines. Rather than stand with Samson, they hand him over to the Philistines. How can this be? What has happened to Samson and to the men of Judah?
Ninth, Israel (the men of Judah) and Samson are alike in that they are both looking to the Philistines for what God has promised to provide. For both Samson and the men of Judah, the Philistines are not the enemy; the Philistines are the providers of something that is deemed desirable. Samson does not just want this Philistine woman as his wife; every woman to whom Samson turns is a Philistine: his “wife” in chapter 14; the harlot at Gaza (16:1-3); and finally Delilah (16:4-22). Samson did not look to God to provide him a wife from within his own tribe, or at least from within Israel. He saw Philistine women as superior to Israelite women.
And the men of Judah somehow saw Philistine rule superior to being ruled by a judge whom God raised up. They resisted and rejected Samson’s leadership. They did not join with him when he fought the Philistines. Instead, they took him into custody, bound him, and handed him over to the Philistines to be put to death. Why? Because they saw Philistine rule to be superior to the rule which God would provide. They saw surrender to their enemies as being better than surrendering to God. The men of Judah, like Samson, looked to the Philistines for what only God can provide, and in the process, they both rejected God.
Sharpening the Point of this Passage
All of this prompts me to look for the point – the underlying message – of our text. What is God trying to teach Israel and us by this account of Samson in chapters 14 and 15? What is the point we are supposed to get, to reflect upon, and then to apply?
I am reminded of one of my favorite movies, “What About Bob?” Bob Wiley is totally consumed with his own needs. At one point in the film, Bob manages to make his way to the lake where Dr. Leo Marvin (his recently acquired psychiatrist) is on vacation with his family. Trying to persuade Dr. Marvin to spend time with him, Bob cries out, “I need! I need! I need!”
I believe that Samson (individually) and the men of Judah (corporately) were in trouble spiritually because they were driven by illegitimate needs, needs which they so intensely pursued that they were willing to sacrifice their relationship with God to meet them.
It may be best to put this matter into a much broader biblical perspective, so let’s begin at the very beginning. When God created Adam and Eve, He made provision for their every need. They were placed in a garden which they were to cultivate. In that garden were trees producing all kinds of fruit. They were permitted to eat freely of every tree of the garden except for one – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Satan approached Eve, needless as she was, and convinced her that she really did have an important need, a need for which God had apparently made no provision. She was deceived into believing that she needed that forbidden fruit, even at the price of disobeying God. As you know, the consequences of their decision to eat the fruit of that forbidden tree were severe – death – and a whole lot more.
From this point on, we see God’s plan for saving men from the consequences of the fall (and from their own personal sins). God promised Eve that He would provide a Deliverer from her own offspring (Genesis 3:15). Moses, Joshua, and the judges foreshadowed (to some degree) the Great Deliverer, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who would come and save people from their sins.
But there is a very important lesson that God has been teaching men in the meantime: Man has but one great and all-consuming need – God. God worked in Abraham’s life to show him that He was his great need. Abraham did not need to lie (about his wife Sarah), but to trust God. Abraham did not “need” his only (at that time) son, Isaac; he needed God. And so Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac if that was God’s command.
Later, God demonstrated His power over Pharaoh, the great nation of Egypt and their gods, and the forces of nature when He delivered the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. For 40 years, God led the Israelites in the wilderness, and the goal was to teach them to trust in Him, rather than in the gods of the heathen:
1 You must keep carefully all these commandments I am giving you today so that you may live, increase in number, and go in and occupy the land that the Lord promised to your ancestors. 2 Remember the whole way by which he has brought you these forty years through the desert so that he might, by humbling you, test you to see if you have it within you to keep his commandments or not. 3 So he humbled you by making you hungry and then feeding you with unfamiliar manna. He did this to teach you that humankind cannot live by bread alone, but also by everything that comes from the Lord’s mouth (Deuteronomy 8:1-3, emphasis mine).
Israel’s “wilderness wanderings” were for a purpose. On the one hand they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years so that the first generation (who doubted and disobeyed God) could die off. But on the other hand, God led His people in the desert to demonstrate to them that they could trust God to meet their every need. Yes, they needed bread, and shoes, and God provided for these needs. But most of all they needed to trust God to provide their every need. What they needed most was the Word of God, by which they were to live.
This passage in Deuteronomy 11 explains why God led His people to the “Promised Land,” rather than giving them possession of Egypt: 8 Now pay attention to all the commandments I am giving you today, so that you may be strong enough to enter and possess the land where you are headed, 9 and that you may enjoy long life in the land the Lord promised to give to your ancestors and their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 For the land where you are headed is not like the land of Egypt from which you came, a land where you planted seed and which you irrigated by hand like a vegetable garden. 11 Instead, the land you are crossing the Jordan to occupy is one of hills and valleys, a land that drinks in water from the rains, 12 a land the Lord your God looks after. He is constantly attentive to it from the beginning to the end of the year (Deuteronomy 11:8-12).
God told the Israelites that He took them out of Egypt, where farming was done by means of irrigation (from the Nile River), to a land where “dry farming” was practiced. In Egypt, there was little question year by year as to whether or not there would be water for their crops. And so God led His people to a land where farming was dependent upon the rains. No rain – no crops. God did this because He wanted His people to understand that every part of their lives was bound up in their need for Him. It was God to whom they were to look for the rains and for their crops. Ultimately, their only real need was for Him. Trusting in Him was the key to meeting every legitimate need.
The nations around them put their trust in idols – their gods. Idols were (and continue to be) a means whereby men think they can manipulate their no-gods and have their “needs” met. No wonder these idols pertain to sexual virility and reproduction. No wonder they are alleged to give victory in battle or success in one’s endeavors. Idols are the means by which men believe they can manipulate their “gods” and meet their needs, based upon their performance.
God led the Israelites into the Promised Land where giants awaited them, along with great armies and huge, highly fortified cities. God did so because He was sufficient to meet their needs in conquering the land He had promised to give them. He did not quickly or easily drive out the Canaanites because He wanted His people to learn that they could trust in Him to give them the victory over their enemies.
As we read the Book of Joshua, we see how God greatly blessed His people with victory over their enemies when they trusted in Him and obeyed His Word. Judges starts out reasonably well, with Judah leading the way to military victory, trusting God to go before them as they engaged the Canaanites. But all too soon the Israelites began to settle for something less than victory, to settle for dwelling among the Canaanites rather than driving them out of the land. And thus they began to think and to act like the Canaanites among whom they lived. This led to the worship of their gods and to pagan practices that were an abomination to God. Once they embraced Canaanite values and practices, it was not so bad living under Canaanite (or Philistine) domination. When a fellow like Samson came along, he threatened the arrangement the men of Judah had come to accept, even enjoy. They wrongly supposed that Israel’s great need was not God, but peace, safety, and the enjoyment of life’s pleasures. It was now Samson who would have to go, not the Philistines.
In time (after the period of the judges passed), God would give Israel a king. It was easy for Israel to place their faith in these Israelite kings, rather than in God. Their leaders thus became their idols. But it did not take long at all to see that their leaders were mere men, with their own needs and weaknesses. Consequently, David “needed” some rest and relaxation, and then he needed another man’s wife, and finally he needed a man killed to cover up his sin. Solomon, too, had his needs, and as wise as he was, he needed too many wives and worshipped too many gods in his old age.
Speaking of kings, God’s instructions to Israel in the Book of Deuteronomy made it clear that kings were to need Him and to trust in Him only, rather than in wives (and the political alliances they brought), money, horses and chariots. The king did need to constantly read God’s Word: 14 When you come to the land the Lord your God is giving you and take it over and live in it and then say, “I will select a king like all the nations surrounding me,” 15 you must select without fail a king whom the Lord your God chooses. From among your fellow citizens you must appoint a king – you may not designate a foreigner who is not one of your fellow Israelites. 16 Moreover, he must not accumulate horses for himself or allow the people to return to Egypt to do so, for the Lord has said you must never again return that way. 17 Furthermore, he must not marry many wives lest his affections turn aside, and he must not accumulate much silver and gold. 18 When he sits on his royal throne he must make a copy of this law on a scroll given to him by the Levitical priests. 19 It must be with him constantly and he must read it as long as he lives, so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and observe all the words of this law and these statutes and carry them out. 20 Then he will not exalt himself above his fellow citizens or turn from the commandments to the right or left, and he and his descendants will enjoy many years ruling over his kingdom in Israel (Deuteronomy 17:14-20).
Skipping over time, we come to the days when our Lord Jesus presented Himself as the Promised Messiah. The Israelites were at that time governed by Rome. They were looking for a Savior who would deliver them from Rome’s domination. Jesus looked like the solution to their needs. At His triumphal entry, Jesus was welcomed as Israel’s king. But during the course of His final week in Jerusalem, it became evident that His kingdom wasn’t what they expected and hoped for. And so when Jesus was arrested and tried before the Jewish and Roman authorities and refused to forcefully resist, the crowds suddenly changed their opinion of Jesus. Even the disciples fled, perplexed by what they saw and heard. While the crowds had once hoped Jesus would overthrow Rome and establish His rule in Jerusalem, they now cried out, “We have no king but Caesar.” And when it became evident that Jesus was not the revolutionary they wanted, they called for Pilate to release Barabbas and to crucify Jesus. Just as Israel rejected Samson as their deliverer in Judges, choosing instead to submit to the Philistines, so Israel rejected Jesus in New Testament times, choosing instead Barabbas and Caesar.
Samson failed to live up to the standard set for a Nazirite. Likewise, all of Israel’s leaders fell short of the standards God had set for Israel’s leaders, and especially their Great Deliverer, the Messiah. In every case, these leaders in Israel were so flawed by their own desires and needs that they could not adequately deliver or judge Israel. God’s Deliverer must be, and do, far better than they if he was to deliver men from the penalty and power of their sins.
One of the great contrasts between Israel’s leaders and the Messiah is that they all had needs (legitimate or not), needs which they sought to meet independently of God; Jesus was the perfect God/man, free from any and all defects, and free from any need other than to fulfill His mission and thus glorify His Father.
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it, who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives life and breath and everything to everyone” (Acts 17:24-25, emphasis mine).
When Jesus came to this earth, it was not to gain something that He needed, to fulfill some unmet need that made Him less than He should be. It was quite the opposite. The Bible speaks of what our Lord laid aside to come to this earth, not what He needed to gain. He did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as the payment for our sins.20
At His temptation, Satan tried his time-proven tactic of creating some felt need that could only be met by disobeying God. Satan sought to convince our Lord that His interests would best be served by acting independently of the Father. Our Lord’s answers to Satan came from the Book of Deuteronomy. In essence, Jesus responded that He had but one need, the need to trust and obey the Father by keeping His Word. Satan’s offers had no attraction because Jesus was the only person on earth that had no unmet needs.
We do not have a needy God, or a needy Savior. Unfortunately, some represent Him as being in need. They portray God as lonely, and needing our fellowship, or our worship. As Paul made clear in Acts 17:24-25, our Lord does not need anything. We desperately need Him; He does not desperately need us. And being free of need, our Lord is free to act in such a way as to achieve every one of His purposes. How I love to trust, to serve, and yes, to need, a God who has no needs.
But there’s more (as the television commercials say); the God who has no needs has all power. He does not lack anything, including absolute power and absolute control of His creation.
16 for all things in heaven and on earth were created by him – all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers – all things were created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things and all things are held together in him. 18 He is the head of the body, the church, as well as the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead, so that he himself may become first in all things.
19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in the Son 20 and through him to reconcile all things to himself by making peace through the blood of his cross – through him, whether things on earth or things in heaven (Colossians 1:16-20).
Now, let’s call to mind how all this fits with our text in Judges 14 and 15. The Lord raised up Samson as a judge who would begin to deliver Israel from the power of the Philistines. He did that, in spite of his flaws and failures – his sins. Samson failed to live up to his calling because he was more intent on fulfilling his felt needs than he was on fulfilling his calling as a Nazirite. Indeed, Samson was willing to sacrifice his calling as a Nazirite in order to fulfill his fleshly needs and desires.
The men of Judah should have stood with Samson when he fought the Philistines. They had become so comfortable dwelling with the Canaanites and Philistines that they did not want to risk losing the peace and safety of being under Philistine control. Somehow their real need, the need to worship God alone and to obey Him, was something they were willing to sacrifice for the momentary benefits of the time. They believed they needed the Philistines and what they provided more than they needed God and all of what He promised to provide.
Samson and the men of Judah sought satisfaction in something other than God, and this always leads to disaster. Israel did need a king, but it would not be a king like Saul, or even David. God’s provision for our needs came in the person of Jesus Christ. He alone can deliver us from the power and the penalty of sin. He alone can meet our true and deepest needs. Trusting in anyone or anything else will never satisfy. Trusting in Him alone brings the forgiveness of sins, the assurance of eternal life, and fullness of joy.