When the Judges Ruled: Samson (2)

The son arrived just as the angel had announced, and this was the year the Philistines moved from intruders to usurpers – they claimed the land of Israel and called it Philistia, known today as Palestine. Samson was born the year the Philistines defeated Israel, so Samson grew up under the growing power of the Philistines. However, Jehovah had His man ready at the right time. Samson was moved at the age of twenty (cf. 13:25; 15:20)[1] to begin to realize the bondage of God’s people, and to recognize he should be exercised to do the work God had for him. The Philistines, having dominated Israel for twenty years, were soon to be shown that Israel’s God was a living God. Though God’s power was only partially displayed due to Samson’s failure, Samson was still a testimony of what God could do. Looking at the dates and events below, we see how God might have used Samson.

1195 BC

  • Birth of Samson— 1st battle of Ebenezer (1Sa 4:1-22), no army leader
  • Israel defeated, death of Eli— Phinehas’ wife bears Ichabod (“the Glory has departed”)
  • Israel subject to Philistines— Growing dispossession of Israel

1175 BC

  • Calling of Samson (15:20)— Philistines at the zenith of power
  • Israel refuses to follow Samson—Philistines see divine power in  Samson
  • Samuel’s ministry leads to repentance, restoration and recovery— No one to lead (a Nazarite? Samson?)

1155 BC

  • Death of Samson at forty years old— Destroys temple of Dagon, along with Philistines’ most able leaders
  • 2nd battle of Ebenezer (1Sa 7:1-12)— Samuel had to assume leadership. Philistines defeated. Samuel led and judged until Saul anointed (1Sa 10:1)

The principle upon which Jehovah could use Samson is enshrined in the Law of the Nazarite, expressing absolute devotion to the Lord Jehovah. The servant yields to Jehovah his (a) authority – undivided, in obedience to His Word, and (b) affection – undiluted, in love to His Person.

Service for and separation from are seen in the Vow of the Nazarite. For Samson, this would entail three particular features. Without these features, usefulness will diminish and God will be limited in His use of the servant, as will be seen in Samson’s service.

Feature 1 – Appetite Restricted: Nothing from the vine was to be eaten or drunk or used. The Nazarite must not be dependent on any earthly stimulant – he professed a joy deeper than any earthly stimulant could give! Neither motives, means nor methods should manifest self. Self-will is ruled out, and it is only the Will of God that is done in His service.

Feature 2 – Association Refused: No dead body was to be touched, even that of the nearest and dearest on earth. The claims of earth, however dear, must be ignored. The “crown” (nezer, Lev 21:12) seen on the high priest by the eye of Jehovah (not a literal crown) was that of a separated one – a Nazarite. No earthly tie can be allowed to draw us into touching corruption. The stamp of corruption is upon our death-doomed world – its entertainment (no matter how cultured), its games (no matter how clean) or its citizens (no matter how civilized). On the positive side, the Nazarite at the altar had so much to give in the complete range of offerings – burnt offering, meal offering, peace offering, sin offering and drink offering. The Nazarite gives to Jehovah his all in recognition of a claim higher than the earthly. The place, purpose and practices in my service are all linked with the claim of the Lord God. The Work of God is the result of the Will of God done in the life.

Feature 3 – Appearance Recognized: The hair was not to be cut. This was the identifying mark of a woman, by nature a shame for a man (1Co 11:14). It spoke of natural weakness, and Samson was to accept his own weakness. Witness for God was not to be hindered by the self-sufficiency or self-promotion of the servant. The Nazarite would show in Witness for God that his strength was not the natural physical strength but the Spirit of God. If this was withdrawn, Samson would be useless.

The Law of the Nazarite provided a man who obeyed and loved Jehovah alone. What a privilege and what potential Samson had as a Nazarite in the service of God. Examine the record of his service in the following three stages:

Stage 1 – First Steps in his Service (14:1-20)

Giving Samson credit for his exercise to begin to deliver his brethren from Philistine bondage, he travels ten miles to the village of Timnath. A good-looking Philistine girl catches his eye and he thinks it might be a chance to stir up trouble. The trouble is that obedience to the Law and love for the girl are totally opposed to each other, and as the story unfolds, it becomes a story of self-pleasing (“she pleaseth me well”[2]) and self-will (“get her for me to wife”). To get this Philistine girl, Samson was ready to disobey the Word of God, defy the warning from God (meeting the young lion in the vineyard), disregard his parents and disparage his brethren. Perhaps the key is the fact that he was in the vineyard where no Nazarite should have been. Samson seems to linger both going and coming. Samson has failed.  He accepted stimulants other than the Will of God.

Stage 2 – Further Steps in his Service (15:1-13)

As Samson moves in service, concern for his brethren should have been a motive, but instead he indulges his own animosity against his father-in-law and acts out of vengeful hatred (by means of unclean foxes), bringing the weight of Philistine anger against his own brethren. He does nothing to stir or strengthen his brethren. There is that which is unclean in the service that Samson would have called the work of God. He did what he chose, where he chose and how he chose; self-pleasing lies at the root of his service.Samson has failed. The work is his own, not the Work of God.

Stage 3 – Final Scenes in his Service (16:1-30)

This is the time for which Jehovah was preparing Samson. His people were in repentance and recovery through Samuel. There was the need for a leader marked out by Jehovah; they waited for the man with the long hair. Samson has shown strength beyond the physical. But Samson’s weakness is coming to the fore, and as the razor removes the last sign of the Nazarite, it introduces the final scene. Where he should have brought triumph, he instead brings tears.

In this final stage, Samson the mighty escapes the Philistines by carrying the gates of Gaza to the top of “the hill that is before Hebron.” This was a defiant display of self-pleasing, self-indulgence and self-will. The Nazarite vow was designed to prevent any such display of the flesh. The final perfidy of the Philistines is seen in the actions of Delilah – Philistine immorality and idolatry. It would be no surprise to find Delilah at the festive gathering at Gaza at the top table in the temple of Dagon.

As children, we held our breath as Delilah, herself pressed by her Philistine masters, pushed Samson closer and closer to the secret of his power. When at the fourth attempt she got it, some of us literally trembled, and I personally recall a tear, unbidden, slip down the cheek. Did Samson not know what would happen? But it did. The seven locks of his hair fell to the floor – the final repudiation of the Nazarite vow. The shout of alarm brought Samson out of his sleep, ready to deal with the Philistines as he had done so many times before. However, it was different this time: “He wist [knew] not that the Lord was departed from him” (16:20).

The brass shackles and the hot poker gouging out his eyes make the heart tremble as we see the binding, blinding and the insult in the grinding (the work of women), until the final scene where the champion of Jehovah becomes the clown of Philistine entertainment. We have seen the crowd gather into the temple of Dagon on this festive occasion. The elite of the Philistine world are here, and the great banquet floor is crowded to overflowing as libations are poured to the mighty Dagon who has defeated the champion of Jehovah.

That champion has just prayed to the same Jehovah in simple words, “O Lord God, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once” (16:28). Samson, placed by his jailer between two great pillars, structural pillars that upheld the festive hall where over three thousand Philistines were feasting, reaches out and takes hold of the one on his right hand and then grasps the other on his left. We weep for a man who, in the Purpose of God, was meant to use the Power of God to deliver the People of God from Philistine domination.

Samson failed his God and failed his people. However, Samson realized his failure, and with that realization came repentance, as shown by God’s granting him his last request. God permits us to listen to his last words: “Let me die with the Philistines” (16:30). Graciously, God allowed it, in his final Witness for God.

The reason God allowed his death is seen in the divine assessment of the life of this young man of forty years: “So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life” (16:30). In divine sovereignty, God had a purpose in the call of Samson. God was to get more out of His servant at this stage by his dying rather than by his living. Divine sovereignty allows God to achieve what Samson failed to do – and God gets the glory.

The question I must face now as I close this writing, pondering my service for the Lord who saved me, is this: “Would I bring more glory to Him in my dying than in my continuing to live?” Solemn! Searching! Sobering!


[1] In this article, when the reference quoted is from the book of Judges, the book will be omitted.

[2] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV.