By Mary Jane Chaignot

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 judges.
  • 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 a son.
  • 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 or gratitude.
  • 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 to fulfill.
  • 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 kid.
  • 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 of him.
  • 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 companions.
  • 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 his senses.
  • 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 great strength.
  • 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 kings.)
  • 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 vow).
  • 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 from him."
  • Capturing Samson was a great coup for the Philistines.
  • 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 day.
  • 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.

Bible Characters