We all know about Samson. He messed up his life, embarrassed his parents, and caused a great deal of tension and war with other nations with his lust, gambling, and tomfoolery. Yet, we can’t get around the fact that Samson was, in fact, a vessel chosen by God and appointed for a particular service. So, did God fail to keep Samson in the fold?
The Scriptures lend a lot of information, not only concerning Samson but revealing who God is and how he brings his will to fruition. We conservative believers like to squeeze God into our fine, upright molds. God, on the other hand, appears to do the most unexpected things—sometimes downright “unchristian” things. So, here is the rest of the story just like it is written in the good old King James Bible.
Judges 13 records Samson’s beginnings. Israel as a nation had a habit of turning their back on God, and God had a habit of spanking them back into line. This time was no different. God set in motion events that caused the Philistines to conquer Israel and rule them for 40 years. It must have been a grueling four decades. When God’s judgment on Israel had done its work and he was ready to set Israel free, he needed to raise up a deliverer to judge the Philistines.
Samson’s story begins in Zorah with Manoah and his wife, who were to become Samson’s parents. Sadly, Mr. and Mrs. Manoah had never been able to have a child. Then one day Mrs. Manoah had a visit from an angel. He said to her, “Behold now, thou art barren, and bearest not: but thou shalt conceive, and bear a son.” Now the angel, whom the lady thought was a human man but suspected might be an angel, gave her very specific prenatal rules for herself and for the child who was to be born. “Now therefore beware, I pray thee, and drink not wine nor strong drink, and eat not any unclean thing: For, lo, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and no razor shall come on his head: for the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb: and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.” Remember the word beware. (By the way, Nazarites were a very small number of people chosen by God who dedicated themselves to holy ministry.)
Think about what you just read. Samson was not yet conceived, but when he was conceived he would belong to that special group. The Nazarites had certain rules they had to follow and from the point of conception—even while in the womb—the unborn child was not to break any of the Nazarites’ dietary rules by means of his mother drinking or eating that which was forbidden. Think about it: Samson was Samson as a tiny embryo, already a Nazarite; he was already a chosen warrior who would have the commission of beginning the process of freeing Israel from the Philistines. And that unique life began at conception.
The soon-to-be pregnant lady went to her husband and told her story. Her husband Manoah was terribly shaken and unsure of himself, so he called on God: “O my Lord, let the man of God which thou didst send come again unto us, and teach us what we shall do unto the child that shall be born.” The angel had already given very clear instruction, but God was forbearing and hearkened unto the voice of Manoah.
In Judges 13 you can read how the angel came again to the lady when she was in the field working. She ran to get her husband so he could hear it straight from the angel. “And Manoah arose, and went after his wife, and came to the man, and said unto him, Art thou the man that spakest unto the woman? And he said, I am. And Manoah said, Now let thy words come to pass. How shall we order the child, and how shall we do unto him?” The angel repeated the same set of rules to Manoah that he had given to Mrs. Manoah earlier. Verse 16 tells us that Manoah did not KNOW that the man was a real angel even though his wife had suggested to him that she thought he was. Manoah insisted that the man stay to fellowship and eat together. Some folks like fellowshipping and making a ceremony out of special events, and obviously Manoah was one of those, so the angel had to set him straight. “And the angel of the LORD said unto Manoah, Though thou detain me, I will not eat of thy bread: and if thou wilt offer a burnt offering, thou must offer it unto the LORD. For Manoah knew not that he was an angel of the LORD.”
Still Manoah kept dragging out the visit, asking the man’s name and where he was from. Finally, the angel made it abundantly clear this was a heavenly visit and not a social event. He made a miracle of fire at the burnt offering and then ascended up in the flames. Manoah basically had a panic attack and fell on his face. Verse 22 says, “And Manoah said unto his wife, We shall surely die, because we have seen God.” Thankfully his wife had more of a practical nature. “If the LORD were pleased to kill us, he would not have received a burnt offering and a meat offering at our hands, neither would he have shewed us all these things, nor would as at this time have told us such things as these.” Clearly Samson’s dad was not a very confident and commanding personality. But it was GOD who chose him and his wife to be Samson’s parents.
From Samson’s birth God’s blessing was on him: “. . . and the child grew, and the LORD blessed him.”
Samson was just a young man when his life’s purpose began. What most everyone misses is the fact that Samson’s mission began with him lusting after a foreign woman. Samson visited a Philistine community (a godless people group) and saw a good-looking gal. He came home and told his mom and dad that he had to have that particular girl for his wife. His parents had spent 20-something years anxiously raising Samson to be what they hoped would be a mighty man of God who would deliver them from these Philistines, not marry into them. His parents also knew how important it was that a man take a righteous wife. They said NO to their lusty son, but Samson would not take no for an answer and his weak father gave in. Neither parent knew this was exactly what God wanted to happen. WHAT? Chapter 14 and verse 4 says, “But his father and his mother knew not that it was of the LORD, that he sought an occasion against the Philistines: for at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel.”
Then Samson added to the trouble: he also had a weakness for gambling. On the way down to see his gal he had killed a lion. When he went to visit her the next time, he saw that bees had made a nest full of honey inside the dried-up lion carcass. Samson was unusually smart, so he created a riddle using the lion and honey to challenge 30 young Philistine men to a very expensive gamble of 30 sets of clothes. Verse 14 records the riddle: “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness.” The 30 young men couldn’t figure out the riddle, so they convinced the new bride to entice Samson to tell her what it meant. With a little crying, lying, and begging, he told her, and she told her demanding family.
So Samson lost the bet. He was mad. If I were judging the matter I would say Samson’s extreme anger was wrong and his violence was evil, but listen to what God says: “And the Spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon, and slew thirty men of them, and took their spoil, and gave change of garment unto them which expounded the riddle. And his anger was kindled, and he went up to his father’s house.” Note that he did not go back to his new wife, as he must have been quite angry with her. Months later Samson was over his anger and went down to his wife. When he got there he found out his precious little wife was now the wife of his best friend. Yeek! Now the hot-head was really, really mad. And now the bigger drama began.
Can you imagine anyone catching 300 foxes and then connecting them by their tails and setting a firebrand between their tails? The superpower strength (and, it appears, ability to move extremely FAST) that God gave Samson made it possible. Of course, the terrorized animals ran in crazy circles all through the Philistines’ corn fields, vineyards, olive trees, and communities, setting everything ablaze. This meant years of harvest was gone and many would go hungry. Now the Philistines were mad. I am sure there is an old proverb that says, ‘Being married to the wrong man can result in dire consequences. Even being the father-in-law can be iffy.’ Keep that in mind.
It says in chapter 15 verse 6, “Then the Philistines said, Who hath done this? And they answered, Samson, the son in law of the Timnite, because he had taken his wife, and given her to his companion. And the Philistines came up, and burnt her and her father with fire.” See what I mean? Hearing about the slaughter of his wife and her family, Samson was really, really, really mad.
He came after the Philistines, killing them in a great slaughter. The Philistines knew they could not defeat Samson, so they threatened to kill all the people of Samson’s community unless they delivered Samson up to them. His countrymen knew they could not catch Samson and tie him up, so they appealed to him to allow them to tie him so they could deliver him to the Philistines to save their families’ lives. He agreed and they took him all bound up to the Philistines. Verses 14 and 15 tell what happened then. “And when he came unto Lehi, the Philistines shouted against him: and the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and the cords that were upon his arms became as flax that was burnt with fire, and his bands loosed from off his hands. And he found a new jawbone of an ass, and put forth his hand, and took it, and slew a thousand men therewith.” The Philistines were ready to call it quits. But God was not finished.
Seeing his exploits, the nation of Israel appointed Samson to the highest political office. For the next 20 years Samson was the judge of Israel. By this time Samson was a middle-aged man. Again he lusted after one of those gorgeous Philistine women and began to spend lots of time lying with her. The Philistines, who knew they could not defeat this man who had supernatural strength, constrained Delilah to find out the secret of his strength. Several times he gave her false information, but after her sweet pleading and various forms of “If you really love me you will tell me . . .” he finally told her it was his hair. I can see how after all these years Samson would take his strength for granted, thinking it was his natural power. Would any reasonable person believe long hair would turn a man into an undefeatable warrior?
While he peacefully slept in the arms of his trusted lover, she gave him a haircut and then tied him up. He was now as weak as any man. The angel had warned him, “Beware.” No army could destroy him, but one selfish woman brought him down. The Philistines put out both of Samson’s eyes and set him to the task of walking in an endless circle grinding their meal. This one-time superhero was now just an aging, blind man. But each year his hair grew longer . . . and longer.
Samson was now in the position where God could use him to end the Philistine tyranny. The wealthy lords and the most aristocratic Philistines gathered together for a big day of sport and to offer sacrifice to their god Dagon for delivering Samson into their hands. The large theater was filled with 3000 of Philistine’s leaders and dignitaries. In the midst of their wild party they, “. . . called for Samson out of the prison house; and he made them sport: and they set him between the pillars.”
Now was Samson’s moment. “And Samson called unto the LORD, and said, O Lord GOD, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.” Samson took hold of the two pillars. “And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.” People wonder if suicide is the unforgiveable sin; well, Samson did it. Amazingly, you will find Samson listed in Hebrews 11 (verse 32) as one of the faithful few who conquered by faith.
God did not make Samson a lustful, gambling man. Did he cause him to succumb to a lying, crying woman? No, but God knew he would. God used Samson’s weakness and gave him extra strength as a means to destroy the Philistines. How else would an Israelite infiltrate a Philistine religious celebration with the opportunity and ability to take out the two center columns and bring the whole structure down on the entire government?
Samson was a loser. He lost his little wife and then she lost her life. He lost a very big gamble. He lost his integrity. He lost his superpowers. He lost his authority as judge. He lost his eyes. In the end he lost his life. And he drove his parents crazy. Yet, by taking out the Philistines’ leadership, Samson broke the back of that evil nation, which resulted in Israel’s freedom. He was God’s man for the job.
God calls all kinds, even losers. But I like to remember that God called him faithful.