Categories: Men in the Old Testament
- The Samson story has all the makings of an
R-rated movie -- sex, violence, romance.
- Samson's story comes at a time in Judges (13:1-16:31)
when society is already in sad shape. Afterwards,
it degenerates into chaos. So while Samson did
some heroic deeds, he was also one of the worst
- The Philistines had oppressed Israel for 40
years prior to the birth of Samson, but there
was no "cry to the Lord" for deliverance.
The Israelites had learned to live with it.
- The Samson story is an example of God's graciousness,
where God acts on His own initiative.
- Samson's parents were of the tribe of Dan
in the town of Zorah.
- His father's name was Manoah; his mother,
who was barren, was not named.
- One day an angel of the Lord appeared to his
mother and announced she would give birth to
- She was instructed not to eat anything unclean
or drink any fermented drink - puts a new spin
on prenatal care.
- Generally during a birth announcement, the
angel would name the child (compare Ishmael
and Isaac). Here, however, the angel told her
the child would be a Nazirite, set apart to
God from birth and that he would begin to deliver
Israel from the Philistines.
- Instead of expressing joy or praise, she ran
to tell her husband what happened.
- Her husband immediately gets into the act,
praying that the messenger would be sent back
- ostensibly to give them guidance on raising
the boy, but, more likely, he didn't believe
his wife's report.
- God responds to Manoah's request - by sending
the messenger back to his wife!
- Manoah does have an opportunity to talk with
the messenger and is also told about preparing
the child for divine service.
- Manoah offers to host a meal for the messenger
- perhaps an expression of Eastern hospitality
- The messenger defers, suggesting that Manoah
offer the goat as a burnt offering.
- The messenger disappears in the flames.
- Manoah was afraid, saying, "We shall
die for we have seen God."
- Samson's mother calmed him down by pointing
out that they could not die for they had a purpose
- Though unnamed, Samson's mother plays a key
role throughout Chapter 13.
- Samson's mother named him.
- The name Samson means "little sun",
"sun - boy", perhaps "Sunny-boy!"
(Or - his name reflected a ray of light in the
dark days of the judges.) (Or, given the nature
of this society, it is possible she named him
after the local sun god.)
- Timnah was about six miles from Zorah.
- Samson appears to have no qualms about going
into pagan communities on his own.
- One day he saw a lovely Philistine woman,
went home, and demanded that his parents "get
her" for him.
- At this point, his "seeing" is for
personal reasons only; he seems to have no sense
re: his larger purpose.
- Some scholars call him an insolent, spoiled
- His father and mother are not happy with his
choice - "Must you take a daughter from
among the uncircumcised?" (14:3)
- At this point Samson is callous and disrespectful
towards his parents.
- The narrator's aside tips the reader that
this is all part of God's plan - though it appears
that Samson is acting out of his own selfish
interests. This is not to exonerate Samson's
behavior, but is rather a testament to God's
graciousness. God is able to redeem the most
sinful of acts.
- The lion which jumps out at him is also part
of God's design.
- The Spirit of the Lord comes upon him and
he vanquishes the lion, but it is not clear
whether Samson thinks of it this way.
- The next time he saw the lion's carcass, bees
were making honey in it - a most unlikely sight.
One might expect flies or maggots, but not bees.
- Upon seeing the honey, he grabs some and eats
it on his way - thereby coming into contact
with an unclean corpse and eating unclean food
(which breaks two of his Nazirite vows).
- In sharing it with his parents, he also defiled
them - he didn't tell them its source.
- The word for "feast" really means
a 7-day drinking party (14:11).
- The drinking that ensued during the wedding
broke another Nazirite vow.
- Scholars don't know the purpose of providing
"thirty" companions - maybe it was
a Philistine custom, or maybe they were afraid
- Samson's wager and the resulting riddle is
patently unfair since no one but himself could
figure it out, but it sets up the story for
the revenge to follow.
- After three days of struggling to figure it
out, the Philistines threaten Samson's new wife
- they'll burn her and her family if she doesn't
get the answer from Samson.
- Using all of her feminine wiles, she finally
gets the answer from Samson - and promptly shares
it with her people.
- At the last minute, they tell Samson the answer
to his riddle.
- He now owes them each a new outfit.
- Angry and embarrassed, Samson goes to the
city of Ashkelon, kills thirty men, and takes
their clothes. He uses this to pay his wager,
and leaves the wedding.
- This would have been very shameful for the
bride and her family, so she is immediately
given to someone else - one of Samson's thirty
- In a sense then, Samson kept his word and
paid his debt. The circumstances, however, leave
much to be desired. This is hardly the divine
service that the reader has come to expect.
- It is not known how much time has elapsed
before Samson changes his mind and wants to
reclaim his bride.
- He even takes along a goat for a peace offering.
- The woman's dad, in trying to placate him,
offers his younger (more beautiful) daughter
- doesn't say much for a woman's prerogative.
- Samson's reprisal - burning their crops by
tying torches to the tails of foxes - only escalates
the tension and furthers the cycle of revenge.
- By hiding in Judah, Samson's personal feud
becomes a national issue.
- When the Philistines demand that they turn
Samson over to them ("so that we may do
unto him what he has done unto us"), the
Judahites do not rally the troops. They are
paralyzed by fear and try to negotiate a surrender
with Samson - with 3000 troops in attendance!
(The irony couldn't be more pointed - in the
olden days, those troops would have been used
to wage a holy war; now they are standing by
to hand over one of their own.)
- Despite the ropes being new, they fell like
charred flax when the Spirit of the Lord came
upon Samson in power.
- If Samson really did use the "fresh jawbone"
of a donkey, he defiled himself once again by
touching a corpse. And a fresh jawbone makes
a most unlikely weapon.
- This time, however, he attributed the victory
to the Lord through praise and prayer.
- But Samson's prayer has limitations. He demands
refreshment, and suddenly has misgivings about
falling into the hands of the uncircumcised.
- Nonetheless, God responds to his prayer -
in a very miraculous way.
- This prayer reminds us of Moses, who also
got water from a rock.
- Then Samson judged Israel for 20 years.
- Unfortunately, Samson was still a slave to
- The story about his being with a prostitute
serves two purposes. It indicates the Philistines
were still trying to kill him. (Even in a town
60 miles away, there was a price on his head.)
Secondly, it indicates his amazing strength.
- Carrying the city gates uphill for forty
miles is a huge endeavor -to say nothing of
his ability to do this undetected.
- Delilah probably was a prostitute as well;
it is not clear whether she was a Philistine
or an Israelite. Money was her main motivation.
- Delilah is one of the few women who is not
defined by a male relationship.
- Delilah is independent, without any family
ties, and named!
- From the very beginning, the Philistines worked
on Delilah to find out the source of Samson's
- 1100 shekels per governor (five governors)
was a lot of money. (Compare: Abraham paid 400
for the burial plot for Sarah. Gideon only had
1/3 of this amount after routing the Midianite
- Delilah's wiles and pleadings were almost
identical to those of the Timnite wife.
- Samson lied to Delilah three times before
telling her, "It's in the hair."
- The seven "green withs" (KJV) could
mean either bowstrings or tendons from a freshly
slaughtered animal (again breaking another Nazirite
- There is great irony in Samson's true confession
to Delilah. He has always been aware of his
Nazirite vow -- he just hasn't taken it seriously.
- Samson's sleep (much like the guards who slept
through his carrying off the city gates) must
have been divinely induced. How else could Delilah
have his head shaved without him waking up?
- Samson finally realized he had frittered away
his God-given talent. "The Lord had departed
- Capturing Samson was a great coup for the
- At the very end, Samson acknowledged the role
of the Lord in his life. Still, his call for
help is very self-centered - "Remember
me; strengthen me, let me get revenge for my
two eyes, and let me die."
- Three thousand Philistines were killed that
- Though Samson wasted his life, he began to
deliver Israel from the Philistines.
Ackerman, Susan. Warrior, Dancer, Seductress, Queen. New York: Doubleday, 1998.'
Auld, A. Graeme. "Joshua, Judges, and Ruth." The Daily Study Bible Series. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1984.
Block, Daniel. "Judges, Ruth." The New American Commentary. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999.
Gehman, Henry Snyder, ed. The New Westminster Dictionary of the Bible. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1974.
Hamlin, E. John. "Judges, At Risk in the Promised Land." The International Theological Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans, 1990.
Harris, J. Gordon. "Joshua, Judges, Ruth." New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2000.
McCann, J. Clinton. "Judges." Interpretation. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002.
Nelson's Complete Book of Bible Maps and Charts. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996.