In this study we take up the adventures of Samson. I say “the adventures of Samson,” because his story is like that. It is a series of adventures, all having to do with the Philistines. But Sampson’s story is not like the adventures of Superman. Samson’s adventures are not noble. Indeed he is not a noble character. So studying his life is not an easy business.
The story is told in chapters 13 through 16 in the Book of Judges. I believe two sessions are sufficient to deal with the adventures of Samson; but I want to do it a bit differently. Instead of doing two chapters in each essay, I want to survey all four chapters in this study; and then in the next study I will do an analysis of Samson based on all four chapters.
In 13:1 we once again see typical apostasy by Israel with resulting oppression by a foreign nation. This time the oppressor is Philistia. Then the rest of the chapter tells how the angel of the Lord twice appeared to Samson’s parents before he was born (vv. 2-20), which visits set the course of Samson’s entire life.
In verses 2-7 we learn that Samson’s parents were a childless couple from the tribe of Dan. One day the angel of the Lord appeared to the wife and told her that she would have a son, who would be a Nazirite from his birth. Then she relayed the information to her husband, Manoah. In verses 8-20 Manoah met the angel of the Lord at his second visit; some instructions were repeated; and they made a sacrifice to God. There are two points of discussion here.
The first is the identification of “the angel of the Lord.” The angel of the Lord sometimes is described as the Lord himself (Ex. 2:2-6; Jud. 6:11-18). So some scholars suggest that the angel of the Lord is God himself in physical manifestation. But in other places the angel of the Lord is spoken of as distinct from God (Zech. 1:12). Therefore we can only be sure that this figure acts as God, or on behalf of God, at important moments.
The second point of discussion is the matter of Nazirite vows. Nazirite vows are explained in Num. 6:1-21. If you turn there, you will notice several things. For example, the purpose of Nazirite vows is given. One took the vows in order to separate oneself to the Lord for a certain period of time (vv. 1-2). The word “Nazirite” literally means, “separated one,” or “consecrated one.” Thus the vows were a way provided by the Law to enable a member of God’s covenant people to set aside, ceremonially, a period of time for complete dedication to God’s purposes.
You will notice in addition that the person who took Nazirite vows was forbidden to drink wine or strong drink, or to ingest any product of the vine (vv. 3-4). Further, they had to abstain from cutting their hair while under the vow (v. 5). And in addition to that, they had to avoid contact with corpses (vv. 6-7). If you read on in the chapter, you will find proscribed sacrifices to be made if one accidentally came in contact with something dead, and sacrifices to make when one ended the period of the vow.
Now then, coming back to Judges 13, we find some differences from what we saw in Numbers six. First, notice that Samson was to be a Nazirite from birth (v. 5). The classic Nazirite vows were voluntary. That is, one freely chose to take the vows. But Samson did not have a choice, because the condition existed from his birth. Then second, the classic vows were for a limited period of time. But Samson’s situation was permanent. And third, notice that the angel of the Lord said nothing about avoiding corpses as part of Samson’s condition. As it turned out, that was a good thing, because Samson frequently came in contact with dead bodies. Fourth, the angel of the Lord gave Samson’s mother a reason for his being a Nazirite from birth. He was “to begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines” (v. 5). Notice that word “begin.” Samson never did deliver Israel. That deliverance finally came much later during the days of David the king. Discussion?
Chapter 13 ends with the birth of Samson. Verse 24 tells us, “And the woman bore a son, and called his name Sampson; and the boy grew, and the Lord blessed him.”
In 14:1-9 we see the first recorded incident between Samson and the Philistines. The first thing I want you to take note of here is the interaction between the Israelites and Philistines. We have been told that the Philistines had been oppressing Israel for years. But we see here that there is travel back and forth between the two groups, and even intermarriage is tolerated. Samson’s parents objected to his marrying a Philistine, but not severely enough to put a stop to it. And fathers had that kind of authority in Israel. And it is obvious that the Philistines did not object.
There are two reasons for the story about Samson’s killing the lion in verses 5-9. One is that it demonstrates that Samson’s strength was supernatural. He was able to tear the lion apart barehanded because the Holy Spirit rushed upon him (v. 6). And two, it sets up the next story, which involved a riddle that had to do with the lion.
In verse eight the phrase “after a while,” when Samson returned to marry the Philistine girl, means some time later, because the carcass of the lion had to have time to dry out in the heat in a way that would have made it suitable for bees to make a hive in it. And the reason Samson didn’t tell his parents where the honey came from (v. 9) presumably was because it came from a dead body, and eating it would have made them ceremonially unclean, a matter about which Samson seems to have had no concern whatsoever.
In verses 10-20 we read about Samson’s wedding and riddle. There are three things of importance to observe here. First, the custom of entertaining guests at weddings with riddles was not uncommon. However, second, I suspect that the huge wager that Samson and the Philistines made in connection with it was unusual. “Linen garments” would have been every-day clothing, but the “festal garments,” literally “change of garments” would have been the equivalent of our “Sunday best.” And in that culture, the people would have had only one set each. So this was an expensive wager.
Third, an insoluble chronological problem is created by the phrase “on the seventh day” in verse 15, unless something is changed. The Hebrew of verse 15 does read, “On the seventh day;” but that is impossible in the context. It probably originally read “On the fourth day,” as the Greek Syriac version reads. If you have a New Revised Standard Version, it uses the Greek Syriac reading so that the paragraph will make sense.
As the seven days of the wedding feast passed, the Philistines began to feel the pressure of not being able to solve the riddle. They did not want to pay off the wager, so they harassed Samson’s fiancé to get him to reveal the secret to her so she could tell them. And finally on the last day she succeeded.
Then in verse 19 we see another incident of the Spirit of the Lord coming on Samson. This time Samson went to the city of Ashkelon on the coast of the Mediterranean; and in the supernatural power of the Spirit, he killed 30 Philistines and took their clothing to pay his debt from the riddle. In addition, instead of going back to his bride to claim her, he and went home in a huff. And his wife’s father gave her to Sampson’s best man. As we shall see in the next essay, this kind usage of the power of the Hoy Spirit indicates that Samson wasted his gifts.
In chapter 15 we see further acts of Samson. In verses 1-3 we see that some time after the incidents just related, during the wheat harvest, Samson went back to Timnah with the intention of consummating his marriage. He had not done that at the time of the wedding feast because of the fiasco over the riddle. But when he arrived, he learned that the girl’s father had given her to his “companion,” is the way the NRSV translates it. It is a reference to Samson’s best man at the wedding.
Samson was enraged, and he decided to take revenge, not just against his father-in-law, but in a much more general way. And so as you read on down the chapter you see what he did. He captured 300 foxes. Actually I believe “jackals” would be a better translation. Jackals are relatives of the fox; and they sometimes are confused with the fox; but they run in packs, rather than alone, and they are easier to capture. In any case, with an act of terrible animal cruelty, he tied the tails of the foxes together in pairs, with a torch tied in with the tails. He then set the torches on fire and set the jackals loose in the fields of the Philistines, destroying their grain, vineyards and groves (vv. 4-5).
Of course that angered the Philistines. They apparently didn’t think they could take revenge on Samson, so they took it out on his father in law and her daughter, by burning them to death (v. 6). Of course Samson took offense at that and slaughtered more Philistines, though it doesn’t say how many (vv. 7-8). There is no doubt that if this were made into a movie today, it would have to have an R-rating for violence.
Most of the remainder of the chapter is devoted to another violent story of how Samson permitted himself to be captured by the Philistines and then killed a thousand of them with the fresh jawbone of an ass (vv. 9-17). Near the end of the chapter the Lord performed a miracle for Samson in order to provide water for him (vv. 18-19); and then it ends with the statement, “And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years.”
At the beginning of chapter 16, we find another bizarre adventure of Samson. He went to the city of Gaza to visit a prostitute. And then in the middle of the night, he tore the city gates from their place and carried them away (vv. 1-3). Then comes the famous story of Samson and Delilah (vv. 4-22), which is followed by an account of Samson’s final revenge on the Philistines and his death (vv. 23-31).
You are familiar with the account of Samson and Delilah. Once more his love life did him in. After Samson fell in love with Delilah and established a relationship with her (v. 4), the Philistines bribed Delilah to discover the secret of Samson’s great strength (v. 5). Samson took the whole matter as a kind of game; and three times he lied about it. He told her that if he was bound with fresh bowstrings it would weaken him, but of course that didn’t work (vv. 6-9). So then he told her new ropes would do it; but that didn’t work either (vv. 10-12). Then he suggested that she weave his hair into the cloth on a loom in some fashion; and of course, that also didn’t do the trick (vv. 13-14). But then finally, Samson foolishly told her the truth; and while he slept, Delilah had a man cut off Samson’s hair.
The key sentence in these verses is the last one in verse 20: “But he did not know that the Lord had left him.” Samson’s strength did not reside in his hair. Rather it was due to the presence of the Lord. The Holy Spirit gave Samson his physical power. And the condition for maintaining the presence of the Lord, laid down before Samson’s birth, was his condition as a Nazirite. The removal of Samson’s hair broke his status as a Nazirite and the Holy Spirit left him. That enabled the Philistines to capture Samson. And they quickly tortured him by gouging out his eyes and putting him to the task of grinding grain at the prison mill. But we are told in verse 22 that his hair grew back.
In verses 23-31 we see Sampson’s dramatic death. The account speaks for itself. The re-growth of Samson’s hair re-established him as a Nazirite, and the Hoy Spirit returned to him. Then Sampson won a kind of final victory over the Philistines in his death. As verse 30 says, “those he killed at his death were more than he had killed during his life.”
Well, that is the basic content of the adventures of Samson. In the next essay we will attempt to deal with his character and what meaning his life had as a rather unique judge in Israel’s history.