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). The miraculous birth, exploits, failings, and redemptive death of Samson is covered in the book of Judges from chapters 13 to 16.

The story of Samson 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 ultimately allows the Philistines to bully and harass his people for several years. He then decides to begin to free them from their adversary by sending them a champion named Samson (Judges 13:1, 5).

God sends a champion

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 their son as a Nazarite (Judges 13:3 - 14). This dedicated state of serving God is meant to last until death (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).

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 he offers his guests 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).

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 kill him (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)!

A plan that works

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).

Delilah, as the strong man sleeps, has his hair shaved off. This caused him to break his Nazarite vow and lose 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).

Repentance and punishment

The last act of Samson 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 (Judges 16:26 - 30).

Even as Solomon was blessed to be immensely wealthy unlike any other, Samson was endowed during his life 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).

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