The Life of Samson

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Samson is mentioned, by name, at least thirty-eight times in the King James Old Testament. His life is also referenced once in the New Testament (Hebrews 11). His name comes from the Hebrew Shimshon (Strong's Concordance #H8123) and means "like the sun" (Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Definitions). His miraculous birth, exploits, failings, and life-ending redemption is covered in the book of Judges from chapters 13 to 16.

The story of Samson and his unique life begins with the Philistines harassing those who lived in the southern part of ancient Israel. The Philistines were a warlike people, some of which were tall and strong (e.g. Goliath), who dwelled on land that belonged to the tribe of Judah (Joshua 13:2 - 3, 15:47). They were allowed to dominate part of God's people as punishment for their sins (Judges 13:1). The Eternal, after allowing his people to be bullied for several years, decides to send them a champion named Samson to begin freeing his people from their grip (Judges 13:1, 5).

God sends the Angel of the Lord to a Danite woman to announce she will be healed of her barrenness. She and her husband Manoah are instructed to raise Samson as a Nazarite (Judges 13:3 - 14). This dedicated state of serving God is meant to last his entire life (verse 7). The Lord, as the child grows up, not only blesses him but also begins to stir within him, through the Holy Spirit, the desire to fulfill his will (verses 24 - 25).

Who is the Angel of the Lord?
Map of Old Testament Events
Did David fight Goliath AND his brothers?
The Life of King David

Major Events and Exploits

Samson greatly desired to marry a Philistine woman of Timnath (Judges 14:1 - 4). A young lion attacks him as he travels to the city to take her for a wife. In his first notable act of strength he, with his bare hands, quickly tears up and kills the hungry lion (Judges 14:6).

During his wedding celebration guests are offered a valuable prize if they answer a riddle (Judges 14:10 - 14). Stumped, the guests resort to having his new wife ply the answer from him (verses 15 - 17). Samson, enraged after discovering he had been tricked into divulging the riddle's answer, kills thirty Philistines in order to provide the promised prize (verses 18 - 19).

Samson and the Philistines by Bloch
Samson (in prison) and the Philistines
Carl Heinrich Bloch (1863)

Three thousand men of Judah decide to turn Samson over to the Philistines in order to avoid retribution upon their tribe for his deeds. He seizes on the opportunity, however, to get close to Israel's enemy. Once he is turned over to them, he finds the jawbone of a newly dead ass and uses it to slay 1,000 men (Judges 15:9 - 15).

The people of Gaza discover that Samson is in the city utilizing the services of a prostitute (Judges 16:1). They quickly decide to secretly surround him and wait until morning in order to take his life (verse 2). He decides, however, to leave the city at midnight with a spectacular show of strength. While exiting Gaza he tears loose the city's gate, along with its posts and bar, and deposits them at the top of a hill outside the city (verse 3)!

Desperate to stop Samson, five Philistine leaders decide to employ the services of a harlot named Delilah to discover how to render him powerless (Judges 16:4 - 5). His lust and weakness for women, coupled with her persistence, pays off. She learns from him that the source of his power is his dedicated service to God symbolized by his unshaved head (verse 17). As he sleeps, she has his hair shaved off and, with his Nazarite vow now broken, he loses his superhuman strength. The brutal Philistines take him prisoner, gouge out his eyes, bind him and force him to grind in prison (verses 18 - 21).

The last act of Samson's life is to call upon God to strengthen him, one last time, so that the Philistines may be judged for what they have done to him. Standing with outstretched arms against the main supporting pillars of a pagan temple dedicated to Dagon, he pushes with all his might and causes the entire building to collapse! Not only does he kill himself, but also at least 3,000 Philistines AND their leaders who lose their lives in this climatic final miracle (Judges 16:26 - 30).

Even as Solomon was blessed to be immensely wealthy unlike any other, Samson was endowed with miraculous physical strength unlike any before or since. He served as a Judge of the Southern and Western part of Israel for twenty years (Judges 15:20). In spite of his failings, the apostle Paul lists him as a person whose faith in God was noteworthy (Hebrews 11:32 - 33).

Interesting Facts

The mother of Samson is the fourth woman in Scripture mentioned as being initially barren. The first three were Sarah (Abraham's wife), Rebekah (Isaac's wife) and Rachel (Jacob's wife). After each of these four females was healed they gave birth to male children.

Although those taking the vow of a Nazarite existed from the time of Moses (Numbers 6:1 - 21), Samson is the first individual so labeled in Scripture (Judges 13:7). He is also the first person designated as being a Nazarite even before he was conceived (Judges 13:3 - 5).

Samson harassed and fought against the Philistines without ANY help from those in his tribe or from other fellow Israelites. The Bible does not record a single instance where anyone in Israel aided him against this common enemy.

How many Philistines did Samson singlehandedly kill during his life? Scripture states he once killed thirty men (Judges 14:19), then later slew an unknown number (15:7 - 8). He also used the jawbone of an ass to kill 1,000 men of war (verses 15 - 16). In his final act on earth, however, he kills more people (3,000 PLUS all the Philistine leaders, see Judges 16:27 - 30) than he did in all his previous exploits combined!

Additional Study Materials
Does Goliath's sword still exist?
Who is in the Book of Life?
When was Samson Israel's Judge?
Lives of other
Biblical Characters
AbrahamElishaJoseph
AdamEzekielKing Ahab
Apostle PaulGideonMoses
DanielIsaiahNoah
DavidJephthahTimothy
ElijahJeremiahTwelve Apostles
John the Baptist

Primary Sources
A Dictionary of the Holy Bible
Complete Book of Who's Who in the Bible
Willmington's Complete Guide to Bible Knowledge


The Life of Samson

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