Many people are familiar with the Biblical story of Samson and Delilah. The titillating narrative of a biblical superhero becoming involved in a dangerous affair with a beautiful temptress is a fascinating read, even to those with secular perspectives. The glamorization of the plot’s sensual elements is probably the reason for its popularity and also why many fail to see the spiritually significant details of Samson’s life. Its core lesson seems to warn all men to avoid the seductive powers of a woman, but there is so much more to the story.
Let’s remember Jacob’s prophetic blessing of Dan, featured in Genesis 49:16, which says, “Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel.” Again, judgment is simply the restoration of justice, and, judges are best viewed as vessels appointed by the Lord to deliver judgment in various ways. Now, when you consider that Samson was both a descendant of the tribe of Dan and one of the most noteworthy judges of Israel, this places him squarely within Jacob’s prophetic description.
Judges 13:1-3; 24 KJV
“1And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD delivered them into the hand of the Philistines forty years. 2And there was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren, and bare not. 3And the angel of the LORD appeared unto the woman, and said unto her, Behold now, thou art barren, and bearest not: but thou shalt conceive, and bear a son …. 24And the woman bare a son, and called his name Samson: and the child grew, and the LORD blessed him.”
Immediately, there are some interesting details to note about Samson’s story. His life began during a time when Israel had been under punitive captivity to the Philistines for forty years, a number recognized for its association with a single generation and familiar since it is the same length of time that Israel previously wandered in the wilderness. Secondly, Samson’s birth was orchestrated by God which is undeniable evidence of divine intention and purpose. In fact, his birth to a barren woman, foretold by an angel of the Lord is strikingly similar to the birth of Jesus, so these are details that shouldn’t go unnoticed. The convergence of these details suggests that the Lord was preparing a for a major shift.
The angel of the Lord also instructed Samson’s parents that he should be a Nazerite his entire life, a commitment which involved a greater dedication to the will of the Lord. As Numbers describes, becoming a Nazerite involved making a special vow which included abstinence from strong, fermented drinks and any form of grapes or grape juice. Nazerites weren’t supposed to cut their hair, and they were not to go near dead bodies for the sake of their commitment to remain spiritually clean.
“3 he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink. He shall drink no vinegar made from wine or strong drink and shall not drink any juice of grapes or eat grapes, fresh or dried. 4 All the days of his separation2 he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, not even the seeds or the skins. 5 “All the days of his vow of separation, no razor shall touch his head. Until the time is completed for which he separates himself to the Lord, he shall be holy. He shall let the locks of hair of his head grow long. 6 “All the days that he separates himself to the Lord he shall not go near a dead body. 7 Not even for his father or for his mother, for brother or sister, if they die, shall he make himself unclean, because his separation to God is on his head. “
As we’ve discovered with Jacob and Esau as well as the sons of Israel, such divine and deliberate coordination of anyone’s birth is almost always indicative of specific purpose. Certainly, Samson would be no different.
When Samson finally arrived, the era of Israel’s judges was nearing its end, and so was God’s patience with Israel’s repeated returns to sin. In this excerpt from Judges 2, the cycle of sin, oppression and repentance and deliverance can be clearly seen and is practically a microcosm of how Israel lived for nearly 500 years.
Judges 2:11-14, 16, 20-23 NASB
11Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals, 12and they forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the LORD to anger. 13So they forsook the LORD and served Baal and the Ashtaroth. 14The anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and He gave them into the hands of plunderers who plundered them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies around them, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies. 16Then the LORD raised up judges who delivered them from the hands of those who plundered them. …. 20So the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and He said, “Because this nation has transgressed My covenant which I commanded their fathers and has not listened to My voice, 21I also will no longer drive out before them any of the nations which Joshua left when he died, 22in order to test Israel by them, whether they will keep the way of the LORD to walk in it as their fathers did, or not.” 23So the LORD allowed those nations to remain, not driving them out quickly; and He did not give them into the hand of Joshua.
Verse 23 says that the Lord specifically allowed certain enemy nations to remain so that He could test Israel’s obedience, and verse 16 describes how judges were the vessels used to liberate them from their oppression. Near the end of this era, when the Lord began preparing for a more lasting change in structure of authority and leadership within Israel, Samson became a judge of Israel.
He would not be a judge like the others, but one used to accomplish and demonstrate something unique and specific. Taking the all of these details into account, does Samson’s life and leadership as judge truly reflect the life and salvation of Christ, or does it reflect something else?
The Woman from Timnath
Samson was an infamous womanizer who repeatedly violated the laws of God. Prior to his notorious relationship with Delilah, he desired another Philistine woman as his wife. As the story goes according to Judges 14, she captivated Samson’s attention during a trip to Timnath, and he desired to marry her even though God’s laws forbade intermarriage with pagan nations. Of course, his parents were none too pleased with his wish to wed outside of the daughters of his own people. So they questioned his intentions but to no avail. Interestingly, scripture reveals that Samson’s attraction to her was actually the will of the Lord, and one might has why?
Judges 14:4 KJV
4But 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.”
Through his attraction to a woman from Timnath, God was using Samson as a judge but without his awareness of the ways. In spite of Samson’s desire to mingle with an unbelieving nation, The Lord was orchestrating an opportunity to confront the Philistines using him.
So, Samson and both of his reluctant parents journeyed to Timnath. When Samson came to the vineyards there, full of grapes which he was forbidden to consume in any form, he encountered an attack from a young lion.
“…and, behold, a young lion roared against him. 6And the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and he rent him as he would have rent a kid, and he had nothing in his hand: but he told not his father or his mother what he had done. 7And he went down, and talked with the woman; and she pleased Samson well.”
In a remarkable feat of supernatural strength, Samson tore the Lion and proceeded on his way as if such a great beast was only a minor obstacle. This scripture’s immediate return to the topic of Samson’s lustful interests seems to insinuate that nothing could deter Samson from the pursuit of his unlawful bride. Then, some time later, during another trip to marry her, Samson sinned against his Nazerite vow again and consumed honey from the carcase of the lion he had previously killed. Afterwards, he gave some of the honey to his mother and father without telling them where he had gotten it, exposing the knowledge of his own wrongdoing.
8 And after a time he returned to take her, and he turned aside to see the carcase of the lion: and, behold, there was a swarm of bees and honey in the carcase of the lion. 9 And he took thereof in his hands, and went on eating, and came to his father and mother, and he gave them, and they did eat: but he told not them that he had taken the honey out of the carcase of the lion.
We must ask why Samson failed or refuse to tell his parents that he killed the lion or that he took honey from its dead body. We also must consider that scripture highlights this fact. Deceit was undoubtedly at play here, and Samson was obviously aware of it. Ignoring his own guilty conscience, Samson continued his sinful quests for pleasure and constantly found himself in environments where he was surrounded by things he was forbidden to engage in. During a wedding party with the family of his Philistine wife, Samson told them a riddle and placed a bet against them. Then, after Samson’s wife seduced and betrayed him with the Philistines, they discovered the answer to his riddle, and Samson retaliated by killing 30 of their men. The father of Samson’s wife suspected that Samson wanted nothing more to do with them, so he gave his daughter to a friend of Samson’s. This infuriated Samson, and he took vengeance into his own hands. He tied 300 foxes in pairs, by the tail, lit a torch between them and let them go in the corn fields of the Philistines. The Philistines sought to kill him, the Israelites turned him in, and the Spirit of God, again, empowered Samson to kill 1,000 men with a donkey’s jawbone.
So, Delilah was not the first woman who used Samson’s appetite for pleasure against him. She was actually the 3rd significant woman mentioned in scripture. However, she is significant because she was the one who used seduction and deceit to finally extract the secret of Samson’s strength. Delilah was the seductress for whose lust this chosen vessel of God betrayed his commitment to the Lord. She was the physical desire that caused Samson to forfeit what he previously never did—the spiritual secret to his strength and purpose.
For 20 years, Samson judged Israel but in the strangest way. Although he had opportunities to do so willingly, he often had to be forced into his own purpose. Tragically, he could never overcome his desires for his sinful ways and women of neighboring pagan nations, and he never really seemed to be concerned with his own nation, Israel. So, it was through Samson’s apathy, in spite of his rebellion and beyond any awareness of his truest calling as a judge that God used him to deliver Israel from the hands of its oppressors. His story is one of sin, its temptations and its repercussions. It is not so much about warning men of the dangers of seducing women, but it is more of a warning not to credit ourselves with the feats of God grace. For when we consider that a strength or status granted to us by God is our own, we assume that we can pursue whatever we desire without fear of consequence, and that is dangerous.
Samson’s story also importantly highlights the truth that God’s will is unchanged by the cooperation man, but the cooperation of men does determine his fate.
As pitiful as Samson behaved, his deeds actually weren’t different from the ages of Israelites who came before him and those who surrounded him. At his point in Israel’s history, much of the nation had proven its tendency to return to idolatry, and many of its leaders seemed, simply, to be poster children for the entire nation.
In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.
Whether it was Samson, Saul, Jeroboam or Ahab, Israel’s leaders were often singular embodiments of the nation’s collective spiritual shortcomings. At the time of their rulership, they were not the reason for Israel’s failures but symbols of the fate deserved by their sin. A deeper look into the circumstances surrounding Israel’s rulers often reveals agreement and compliance among the people, and in today’s times, the same often applies. While it is not always and absolute, any nation’s highest authorities are frequently icons of the that nation’s spiritual position. In the case of Samson, every deed he performed accurately mirrored the idolatry of Israel during the age of its judges, and the details are extremely prophetic.