Samson’s story is one of my favorites in scripture. I remember, in youth group, going around the circle saying our favorite Bible character. When I gave mine, someone joked with “Maybe it’s because of his long hair”. I was shy and quiet so I didn’t reply, and I don’t know why they said that. I do like longer hair, like a few inches, but not super long hair. However, my interest with Samson goes deeper than appearances. I see him as misunderstood by the populous based on different sermons and movies I’ve heard and seen. I would like to take the time to explain how I see Samson and why his life fascinates me.
Samson’s story begins in Judges 13. An angel comes with a message to an Israelite woman, saying she will bear a son. This is one of the few times in scripture a birth is foretold. Samson’s birth is special because 1) he is to be a Nazirite and 2) “he will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines” (Judges 13:5). I see people and pastors place emphasis on his Nazirite lifestyle, which is important. It’s the breaking of this vow, the turning away from his devotion to God, that causes his strength to leave him. But at this point, I want to emphasize the second thing.
The angel prophecies what Samson will do. I see how some people consider Samson to be an example of failed potential. God gave him divine strength and he used it for selfish purposes. He is held as an example of what not to do. I don’t necessarily disagree, but I believe this view to be incomplete. Look closely at what the angel said, “He will begin the deliverance…”. God knew before Samson was born that he would not drive out the Philistines out of the land, instead he would begin the process. And as we look ahead a little, Judges 14:4 says “His parents did not know that this was from the Lord, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel.” The Israelites were complacent with the Philistines ruling over them. Not willing to lead or join a rebellion. Perhaps only one man could light the fires and cause a spirit of war and separation between these two peoples.
The Philistines were finally defeated by David years later, but it started with Samson. That was his purpose. The angel knew that. Maybe we shouldn’t discount him simply for starting a fight and not finishing it. God knew Samson’s purpose: to begin Israel’s deliverance.
We don’t have the privilege of knowing what our future will be. Samson had the angel’s words about his life and purpose. We don’t know what God’s purpose for us is. Samson’s parents, who heard the prophecy, didn’t completely understand it. I don’t know if Samson understood it either, but he didn’t have to. God’s plan does not depend on our understanding. It never does. We just have to follow him (or in some cases, God’s plan can be fulfilled without our obedience).
I think Samson believed in God, his existence, but I don’t see evidence of a personal relationship with Him. Look at Samson’s prayer in 15:18 “Because he was very thirsty, he cried out to the Lord, ‘You have given your servant this great victory. Must I now the die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised'”. Samson does not address God by any name, simply as “You”. Someone who is close to God would address him either as Lord or some other name deserving of respect.
Now look at Samson’s other prayer in 16:28 “Then Samson prayed to the Lord, ‘O Sovereign Lord, remember me, O God, please strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.'” Here, after his humiliation, he develops a more personal relationship with his Lord. The beginning of Samson’s life is one of turning away from God, but in the end, Samson’s heart is humble and gives God the respect he deserves.
We don’t have to have it all figured out. Our hearts don’t have to be right with God for Him to use us. It helps though. If we follow Him, our life has more peace and joy. But Samson’s story can encourage us that no matter where our heart is with God, he can still use us. If we find ourselves struggling with sin, if we are pursuing a life of devotion, if we are confused, He can still use us.
Throughout Samson’s life, he is alone. Even in a crowd, he was alone.
Notice in how Samson tells his parents about the woman in Timnah, how he fought a lion and did not tell his parents, how he ate honey from the lion’s carcass and gave some to his parents without them knowing where it came from, and he received thirty companions whom he probably did not even know for his wedding. I could go on. He had no close friends, and while his parents are the people he is probably closest to, he keeps secrets from them and they are not present in the later part of his story.
Also notice his interactions with his people. He killed a bunch of the Philistines and then hides in a cave. The Israelites come to Samson to hand him over. From the text, I can’t tell if he loved or hated his people, but I believe he didn’t see eye to eye with them. Both for his determination for revenge and their willingness to comply with the Philistines commands. He didn’t identify with them. Alone in a crowd. Different. He knew he was different.
When he meets Delilah, he falls in love. No where else does it say he loves someone. Only Delilah. For someone who feels lonely, no true companionship in his life, what would he be willing to give up for someone he loves? He first teases her by lying three times about the source of his strength. Perhaps he found it amusing or funny. In ch 14, he gives a riddle for his wedding guests to solve. I think he likes having fun, sometimes at others expense. But Samson’s behavior changed at Delilah’s fourth try. In the three previous attempts, she points to her humiliation. He doesn’t care about that. But when she starts to question his love for her over and over again, he snaps. How dare she accuse him of not loving her.
I would always imagine verse 17 as a gentle confession to Delilah. In the NIV translation, it says, “he told her everything”. Another way to translate it is to say “he told her with all his heart”. Conveying a heartfelt plea, “I love you. Now love me.” Loving her so fully to let her in, telling her his secret, and wanting to be loved fully in return. Maybe he couldn’t imagine her betraying him and his trust.
Perhaps he was lead to prison, carrying a broken heart. And God is near to the broken hearted. That is where God found him. For we are told “the hair on his head began to grow”. That tells me he began to believe in God, became close to Him. God had remained with him all the way up to the cutting of his hair. But as it began to grow, Samson’s faith grew with it.
I really would like to hear what the writer of Hebrews would have said about Samson if he had time. What did he see in Samson that gave him faith? Perhaps his “weakness turned into strength” or “chained and put into prison”. Samson could also be described as one wandering “in deserts… and caves” without a home. I would like to believe that as we watch Samson, though he has supernatural strength, display weakness in his faith and the choices in who he loves. In the final act, his weakness changes. He chooses the right person to love, the Lord, and that becomes the source of his victory in his death.
There is an interesting parallel between Samson and Jesus. Samson lived his life killing, but in his death, he killed more than when he lived. Jesus preached life during his life, but in his death, his sacrificial death, he saved more than when he lived on earth. For both these men, they accomplished more in their deaths than in their lives. There are differences. Jesus was raised back to life. Samson’s death is an Old Testament foreshadowing of the victory of Christ.
Foreshadowing is showing something that will parallel what will happen in the future. It’s not prophecy nor a prediction. Foreshadowing is similar to Jonah spending three days in the fish and Jesus spending three days in the grave or how Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, Isaac, and God sacrificed his only son, Jesus. Common experiences that is noticed by those who know the whole story.
What I love, despite all of Samson’s faults, is his story is not about him. His life points to another, one whose life is far greater than Samson could possibly dream of. Even though Samson lead his life for his own purpose, God had a bigger plan in mind. The end of Samson’s life sets up God’s story for Jesus’ arrival and death and, ultimately, His victory, which He gives to us who believe in him. I don’t see Samson’s final hours as a tragedy but as a way to show us Christ and point us to him. And that always makes me smile.