- A Synopsis of the Life of Samson
- Samson's Birth
- Samson Finds A Wife
- Honey in a Lion's Carcass
- 1st Conflict with the Philistines
- 2nd Conflict with the Philistines
- 3rd Conflict with the Philistines
- Weapon: Donkey's Jawbone
- The Final Conflict
- The Quest for Love
- References and Footnotes
- Other Pages to View
Samson was an interesting figure. The Bible clearly explains his weaknesses and through him we see how it's possible to wander our way through God's purpose for us. Samson's purpose was to defeat the Philistines, but unlike the other judges discussed in Judges, Samson never forms an army or mounts a campaign against the Philistines. Instead, God uses Samson's weakness to capture his attention and motivate him to carry out his duty. It goes to show that when God wants us to move, we will move. It also raises the question of how we handle our weaknesses, something I will discuss later in the post.
A Synopsis of the Life of Samson
Samson lived during the same time as Jephthah. While Jephthah was purging Israel of the Ammonites, Samson was raised up to deliver them from the Philistines. The Philistines had been reigning in Israel for 40 years when God brought news of Samson's birth to Samson's parents. His parents were from the tribe of Dan and lived in Zorah. Samson’s reign lasts for 20 years.
Like many of God's chosen people, Samson is born to a woman who was considered barren. An angel visits Samson's mother to inform her of her special pregnancy and confirm that Samson will be a Nazarite (see Numbers 6 for information on The Nazarite Vow). She was to abstain from the fruit of the vine and unclean foods just like the Nazarites to ensure that Samson was a Nazarite from the womb. His vow was to be life long. When Samson's father, Manoah, asked to meet the angel for more information, it is interesting to note that even though God sent the angel again, he still appeared to the woman when Manoah was absent. When she retrieves her husband to meet the angel, the angel says the woman knows everything there is to know already. God doesn't give us half a message and expect us to figure it out; He made sure Samson's mother knew all of the pertinent information up front so that she could carry out the task. All that was required of her was belief and follow through.
Samson Finds A Wife
When Samson is grown, the first we learn of him is that a Philistine woman has caught his eye and he wishes to marry the woman. Samson urges his parents to get the woman for him as a wife, though they protest. The Israelites were not to marry pagans, per God's commands. The contrast of Samson, purified in a holy vow, wanting to break God's commandments to marry a pagan is quite vivid. What makes it interesting is that God was determined to use this to encourage Samson to mount a campaign against the Philistines. It was part of His plan. Sometimes, our weaknesses are useful to God's purpose. It reminds me of the famous interview question "what is your biggest weakness?" in which you're supposed to present a fault and turn it into a positive. God knows what he's doing when He creates us; He knows our weaknesses, and as long as we stick with Him, He will make sure that despite those weaknesses, our actions testify to His Will.
Honey in a Lion's Carcass
When Samson takes his parents to meet the woman, he somehow ends up separated from them and in a vineyard—an odd place for a Nazarite who is forbidden to eat from the vine—where he is attacked by a lion cub. When the cub attacks him, the Spirit of God comes over Samson, giving him great strength that allows him to rip or split the lion. Samson does not tell his parents of this encounter, however. Later, when he is venturing upon the same path to see the woman, he sees that bees have taken up in the lion's carcass and produced honey. Despite the Israelites being forbidden from touching dead things, especially a Nazarite, Samson reaches into the lion and takes the honey to eat. What's more, he takes the honey back to his parents and feeds it to them without declaring its origins!
An important note should be made here about the meaning of the word "carcass" in Judges 14:8-9. When discussing this passage with my dad, the first thing he asked was about the weirdness of bees taking up in a dead lion. I don't know much about bees, in fact the only bees I've really been around are wood bees, so I had no answer for why the bees did this. The only thing I could think of was that it was some kind of test or anomaly set forth by God. After all, it wouldn't be the only out of the ordinary part of the Bible (talking donkey, people raised from the dead, etc.). After searching more, however I have found that the word carcass probably means skeleton in this context. Israelite engagements lasted for a year, and since the verse tells us he was returning to retrieve his bride, the event probably took place roughly a year after he killed the lion. At this point the lion would have decomposed and only the bones would have been left behind. It is more plausible that the bees had taken up nesting in the bones.
1st Conflict with the Philistines
When Samson gets to the house of his bride, there is a feast and Samson is given 30 companions with which to enjoy the feast. Samson poses a riddle to the men suggesting that if they can guess the answer he will give them each a sheet and a garment, but if they cannot, they will each give him a sheet and garment (for a total of 30). The answer to the riddle is the honey found in the lion's carcass, which would be impossible to guess without knowledge of the event. The men who have agreed to this challenge of Samson's become frustrated when they cannot determine the answer and threaten Samson's new bride. Their threat to burn down her father's house actually comes to fruition later in the book.
Samson's bride weeps before him for 7 days seeking the answer to the riddle. Arguing that he hasn't even told his parents, Samson refuses the answer until the seventh day. Naturally, she relays the information to her people who give the answer to Samson before his deadline. The timing of this deadline is interesting because Samson says that there are 7 days in the feast and the deadline is at the end of the feast, but it is the 7th day that they approach Samson's wife to blackmail her. Thus it must be 14 days later when she receives the answer. It is obvious that when Samson poses the riddle, the feast has not yet begun. Likely the pre-wedding festivities were occurring when he proposed the riddle and the 7 days the wife wept were the feast days.
When Samson hears the answer from the men, he knows that his wife has given them the answer and that they cheated. This incites Samson's anger to the point that he calls his wife a heifer! Perhaps this was the first time "heifer" was used as an insult against a woman. He doesn't stop with name calling, however, he goes on to the city of Ashkelon and kills 30 men to reap the spoils of the bet. This action is aided by the Spirit of the Lord who is using Samson's anger to fulfill his purpose of defeating the Philistines.
2nd Conflict with the Philistines
When Samson returns, his wife has been given to one of the 30 companions he'd been given. Needless to say this infuriates him even more. Samson's father-in-law claims that he thought Samson despised his wife. After calling her an heifer, I can see how Samson's father-in-law would get that message, however, by Israelite law, once they were married only adultery or death could break that vow. This showed the contrast of culture, and the fact that Israelites were not necessarily following God's law.
Samson's father-in-law offers his younger daughter, suggesting that she is even prettier. While Samson's weakness seems to be women, we see here that he was not simply a womanizer, because he violently rejects this offer. Samson was loyal to his wife; he wanted that woman, and though he may have been angry about her spilling the beans of his secret, he expected to carry on his life with her as vowed the way a Godly man would.
This time, Samson's temper has him catch 300 foxes, light their tails on fire, and release them in the Philistines’ cornfields. I couldn't help but think "poor foxes" as I read this. While I think that God was likely pleased that Samson was finally waking up to his purpose of defeating the Philistines, I'm not sure God approved of his method. In Numbers, the Angel of the Lord chastises Balaam for striking his donkey, which hints that God doesn't want us abusing animals.
3rd Conflict with the Philistines
In response, the Philistines play tit for tat. Now, it seems logical that the man who had taken Samson's wife would simply deliver her back to Samson, but instead, the men burn Samson's wife along with her father and his house, just as they had threatened during the feast. If simply giving her away made him mad enough to light their cornfields on fire, they should have known killing her would make him angrier, and it did. Samson violently kills those who had killed his wife as revenge.
Weapon: Donkey's Jawbone
16 And Samson said, With the jawbone of an ass, heaps upon heaps, with the jaw of an ass have I slain a thousand men. 17 And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking, that he cast away the jawbone out of his hand, and called that place Ramathlehi.
Around this time, the Philistines move to occupy Judah. You would think the Judahites and Samson would team up, create an army, and go forth to defeat the Philistines but what actually happened is that the Judahites tried to bind Samson to hand him over to the Philistines! In this confrontation, Samson grabs a jawbone from a donkey to use for a weapon. He slays 1,000 men with this bone, then brags about it.
Weak from battle, Samson cries out to God for water. Interestingly, God provides water through the jawbone. This is interesting as they were not to touch dead things. It is also possible that the donkey was living when Samson took the bone; of course it would have been defiled with the blood of his attackers. Scholars agree that the "hollow place that was in the jaw" mentioned in Judges 15:19 actually refers to the place (Lehi) not the bone. This makes much more sense as Samson had just named the place after the jawbone and drinking from the bone would go against everything God taught.
Knowing that Samson had a weakness for women, the Philistines ask a woman named Delilah, whom he has fallen in love with, to entertain him and learn the source of his strength. The Philistine men each offer to give Delilah 1100 pieces of silver if she can bring them this information. If the silver pieces only weighed a gram, that would be $693 dollars per man—that's a good bit of money! This is precisely the type of temptation we should be wary of; most of us can always use a little more money and the devil knows what price to offer. We have to remember the right thing (which does not include presenting yourself falsely to spy on someone) is more important than money. Of course, we know that Delilah took the men up on their offer. She would eventually be the undoing of both the Samson and the Philistines.
When Delilah inquires of Samson about the source of his strength, he lies. Using this lie, the men set an ambush to capture him. Of course, when the Philistines attack, Samson breaks through the restraints Delilah has "bound" him with easily. Delilah does not give up, however, and asks again. In total, Samson lies to her 3 times about the source of his strength. One thing I find interesting is that they knew there was a "source." There were probably many Nazarites, none of which bore the strength that Samson did, so they knew something had to be different. My question is how they knew it would be something physical that they could control?
Eventually, Samson confesses that his strength comes from his hair. While we see Samson defile himself (eating the honey out of the lion's carcass) and may question why he was in a vineyard (did he break his Nazarite vow and partake in it's harvest?), the rule about not cutting his hair is one thing he had never strayed from. With this knowledge, Delilah shaves Samson's head while he is asleep. At this instant, God and all His strength depart from Samson. This allows the Philistines to take him hostage. In the process, the Philistines gouge out Samson's eyes.
The Final Conflict
I often wonder, however, if the strength really came from his hair. Throughout the narrative, we see that God was steering Samson's path to accomplish His Will. During Samson's captivity by Philistine's, he comes to terms with his purpose from God and ends up destroying more Philistine men that he had in his previous conflicts combined. It seems odd that of all the rules of his Nazarite Vow only his hair gave him strength. Especially the notion that if someone else shaved his head without his permission, something over which he had only minimal control, he would suddenly lose his strength.
Samson's strength was a gift from God, so even though it departed from him when Delilah shaved his head, it wasn't completely gone. The source of the strength was God. The hair was merely a symbol of Samson's obedience. By the time his hair began to grow back, his faith had likely matured, and he wanted revenge on the Philistines for blinding him. Samson, being used as a servant by the Philistines, wishes to be done with them for good. God grants him strength once again, allowing Samson to push the pillars of the building such that the roof collapsed on the Philistines inside. Samson dies in the process.
The Quest for Love
Samson's biggest weakness was love, though it may seem like lust when you take in to account the harlot he sleeps with. Notice that when Samson's father-in-law gives away his wife and offers Samson the woman's "prettier" sister, Samson refuses. He was not simply lusting after the woman, he actually loved her. The same was likely true of Delilah. He loved these women and trusted them, but both women betrayed him.
This is not an indictment on women in general, but a warning for who we allow ourselves to fall in love with. God specified that the Israelites were not to marry the pagans of Canaan and Paul reminds us in the New Testament not to be "unequally yoked". We are to intertwine ourselves with fellow believers to avoid such betrayals and preserve our spirit. If two people share the same beliefs and morals, there is less likely a chance for such a betrayal. Delilah saw no problem selling Samson's secret to the Philistines and his wife saw no problem giving away the riddle. The issue could have been cultural; both women saw their loyalties with the Philistines over Samson, despite the fact that the moment she married Samson, his wife's loyalties should have been with Samson. However, more than likely, it was that the women never loved Samson the way he loved them. Samson fell for these women and gave them his heart, but they never loved him in return. A woman who loved him back would have confronted him about her troubles. His wife would have said to him, "they threatened my family for the answer to your riddle" and allowed Samson to deal with the matter if she truly trusted and loved Samson. Delilah would have walked away from the money if she loved Samson. It's not like he couldn't protect them!
Samson's story echoes the phrase "don't go looking for love." We have to be careful that when we find love it really is God's definition of love, romantic and otherwise. As believers, we should love naturally, but we have to be careful that our loving nature does not cloud our judgment.
References and Footnotes
- "Judges 14:8 Commentary". Bible Hub. 2016
- "Judges 15:19 KJV". Bible Hub. 2016
- "Silver Prices". Apmex. September 3, 2016