Samson: in Life and Death

Open your Bible to the 14th chapter of the book of Judges. Judges, chapter 14.

This is our 11th lesson in this book. And this week we’re going to be continuing – and actually finishing! – what we started last week. Last week we talked about three minor judges and then the parents of our last major judge. Do you remember the names of the parents?

Well, there was the father whose name was Manoah. We never catch his wife’s name.

And you recall that these parents got some really exciting news. The wife was barren. But she was going to have a son. And he was to be a Nazirite from the womb. No grapes. No alcohol. No unclean things. No cutting his hair. And all this until he died while beginning to deliver Israel from the Philistines.

Judges 14:1-4

We were astonished and amazed! What kind of child would this be? What kind of judge, deliverer, savior, was Israel in for? So, let’s get a taste of what this final major judge is like. Chapter 14, verse 1.

KJV Judges 14:1 ¶ And Samson went down to Timnath, and saw a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines. 2 And he came up, and told his father and his mother, and said, I have seen a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines: now therefore get her for me to wife. 3 Then his father and his mother said unto him, Is there never a woman among the daughters of thy brethren, or among all my people, that thou goest to take a wife of the uncircumcised Philistines? And Samson said unto his father, Get her for me; for she pleaseth me well. 4 ¶ 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.

Notice the concept of “sight” throughout Samson’s story. He sees a Philistine woman and that causes him to want to marry her. After his parents protest he shoots back a defense of his request – “she pleaseth me well” in the King James. In the Hebrew it’s literally “she’s straight in my eyes” – or “she’s right in my eyes”… Hey… that sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The concept of something being right in one’s own eyes. Yeah, actually that’s what Israel was doing in the days of the judges – whatever was straight or right in their own eyes. And Samson was no exception.

And, now, I’ll just admit that I’m a bit confused by verse 4. How could marrying a Philistine be “of the Lord”? It seems like that would be totally against the Lord’s will. And it was. So, how is Samson marrying a Philistine in any way “of the Lord”? Well, it has to do with the fact that someone is seeking an occasion against the Philistines. Either Samson or the Lord himself is seeking an occasion against the occupying Philistines. It’s probably referring to the Lord. So the idea is that Samson’s marrying a Philistine is the one way that God can finally get him to start delivering Israel from their enemies. That’s a sad commentary on Samson’s dedication to the Lord’s will for his life.

And, by the way, this is no proof text for justifying marrying a lost person or kind-of evangelistic dating or whatever bizarre ideas someone might come up with. Again, the book of Judges is no place to find justification for engaging in practices that are forbidden elsewhere in Scripture.

Judges 14:5-9

OK, so Samson has feasted his eyes on this Philistine girl and he’s gotten his parents to buy into the idea. Let’s see what happens next. Verse 5.

5 ¶ Then went Samson down, and his father and his mother, to Timnath, and came to the vineyards of Timnath: and, behold, a young lion roared against him. [Not his parents. Just him. Note that.] 6 And the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and he rent him [The lion] 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. [So, Samson kept it a secret.] 7 And he went down, and talked with the woman; and she pleased Samson well. [Or, again literally, “she looked straight or right in his eyes.”] 8 And after a time he returned to take her, and he turned aside to see the carcase of the lion: [So, he comes back to that old dead 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.

So, Samson is showing a disregard of his Nazarite status. He killed the lion with his hands. And that might be fine, though I believe that the animal would have become unclean once Samson killed it. But the worst part is that Samson comes back later and scrapes some honey out of the rotting carcasse of the lion. That was certainly unclean.

And remember where he met that lion – at the vineyards of Timnath. Now, I’d like to believe that Samson was just walking past the vineyards. But really, I do wonder if maybe he was popping some grapes into his mouth. If he was, he would have again been neglecting his Nazirite status.

So, what we’re seeing so far from this once-promising deliverer isn’t so impressive. A lack of concern for God’s will and a great desire to pursue his own will.

Judges 14:10-14

Alright, well, it’s time for Samson to get married to his pagan bride. Verse 10.

10 ¶ So his father went down unto the woman: and Samson made there a feast; for so used the young men to do. 11 And it came to pass, when they saw him, that they brought thirty companions to be with him. 12 And Samson said unto them, I will now put forth a riddle unto you: if ye can certainly declare it me within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty sheets and thirty change of garments: 13 But if ye cannot declare it me, then shall ye give me thirty sheets and thirty change of garments. And they said unto him, Put forth thy riddle, that we may hear it. 14 And he said unto them, Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness. And they could not in three days expound the riddle.

As I’ve studied Samson, I’ve been amused at his expressions. He’s pretty creative. We’ll see more of that later. But here he develops this riddle. “Out of the eating one came something to eat. Out of the strong one came something sweet.” That’s pretty clever. And apparently Samson intends to exploit the Philistines through this riddle. But if this is his grand plan to kill Philistines and deliver Israel, it’s pretty far short of what’s needed. I mean, taking clothes from the Philistines isn’t going to accomplish anything – except to earn Samson some extra clothes. And sadly I think he would have been happy if that’s all he got out of the deal. But God wouldn’t have been. And actually, neither would the Philistines.

Judges 14:15-20

15 ¶ And it came to pass on the seventh day, that they said unto Samson’s wife, Entice thy husband, that he may declare unto us the riddle, lest we burn thee and thy father’s house with fire: have ye called us to take that we have? is it not so? 16 And Samson’s wife wept before him, and said, Thou dost but hate me, and lovest me not: thou hast put forth a riddle unto the children of my people, and hast not told it me. And he said unto her, Behold, I have not told it my father nor my mother, and shall I tell it thee? 17 And she wept before him the seven days, while their feast lasted: and it came to pass on the seventh day, that he told her, because she lay sore upon him: and she told the riddle to the children of her people. 18 And the men of the city said unto him on the seventh day before the sun went down, What is sweeter than honey? and what is stronger than a lion? And he said unto them, If ye had not plowed with my heifer, ye had not found out my riddle. 19 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 garments unto them which expounded the riddle. And his anger was kindled, and he went up to his father’s house. 20 But Samson’s wife was given to his companion, whom he had used as his friend.

We see here a fatal flaw of Samson’s – as if we needed another one. But did you see how he caved to the pressure his new Canaanite wife exerted on him? The man who can kill a roaring lion with his bare hands can’t fend off the nagging of his pagan wife. So we see in Samson a general inability to resist. Perhaps it’s a lack of self-control and resolve. He goes after whatever looks right in his eyes. He’s physically strong. But he just won’t resist when he should.

So that’s one thing we see in this scene. We also see his creativity again. He’s poetic in his language. He uses imagery. Although it’s not very flattering to his new wife with the comment about the heifer.

And it’s in this scene where we finally see Samson delivering Israel. Well, sort of. I mean, he kills 30 Philistines. So that’s good. But he only does it because he lost the riddle contest. And he stops at 30. This man had almost endless physical power from God himself. What potential! Why stop at 30? Get rid of them all – end their oppression of God’s people once for all! But Samson doesn’t deliver Israel any more than his selfish desires lead him to do.

Judges 15:1-8

So, Samson gets angry, kills a few Philistines, and then leaves his wife. His wife is given to another man, without him knowing. Then we enter chapter 15, verse 1.

15:1 ¶ But it came to pass within a while after, in the time of wheat harvest, that Samson visited his wife with a kid; and he said, I will go in to my wife into the chamber. But her father would not suffer him to go in. 2 And her father said, I verily thought that thou hadst utterly hated her; therefore I gave her to thy companion: is not her younger sister fairer than she? take her, I pray thee, instead of her. 3 And Samson said concerning them, Now shall I be more blameless than the Philistines, though I do them a displeasure. 4 And Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took firebrands, and turned tail to tail, and put a firebrand in the midst between two tails. 5 And when he had set the brands on fire, he let them go into the standing corn of the Philistines, and burnt up both the shocks, and also the standing corn, with the vineyards and olives. 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. 7 And Samson said unto them, Though ye have done this, yet will I be avenged of you, and after that I will cease. 8 And he smote them hip and thigh with a great slaughter: and he went down and dwelt in the top of the rock Etam.

So, Samson again here is I suppose delivering Israel. Although, it doesn’t say he killed any Philistines. He simply burns their fields during the dry wheat harvest. And he does it in such a creative – even playful – way. Tie foxes tail-to-tail and put a torch between them? Sounds like something that would amuse a little boy. And in the end, it’s Samson’s former wife and her father that are the only Philistines from which Israel is delivered.

Judges 15:9-13

Now, Samson escapes from that scene and the angry Philistines pursue him. Verse 9.

9 ¶ Then the Philistines went up, and pitched in Judah, and spread themselves in Lehi. [Which means “jawbone” by the way.] 10 And the men of Judah said, Why are ye come up against us? And they answered, To bind Samson are we come up, to do to him as he hath done to us. 11 Then three thousand men of Judah went to the top of the rock Etam, and said to Samson, Knowest thou not that the Philistines are rulers over us? what is this that thou hast done unto us? And he said unto them, [And note the element of childish personal vengeance here that matches the Philistines’ words — ] As they did unto me, so have I done unto them. 12 And they said unto him, We are come down to bind thee, that we may deliver thee into the hand of the Philistines. And Samson said unto them, Swear unto me, that ye will not fall upon me yourselves. 13 And they spake unto him, saying, No; but we will bind thee fast, and deliver thee into their hand: but surely we will not kill thee. And they bound him with two new cords, and brought him up from the rock.

This is really pitiful. The very nation which Samson is supposed to be judging or delivering is now coming to hand him over to the enemy. It’s sort of understandable. Samson really hasn’t been acting much like a judge. He hasn’t been a man that Israel could stand behind and follow. He’s been too consumed with his own lusts. He isn’t too concerned with serving God. He’s more interested in his own will. Sounds a lot like the nation Samson was sent to judge. The people got what they deserved in their “leader”.

Judges 15:14-17

So Judah binds Samson their judge and is now handing him over to the enemies. Verse 14.

14 ¶ And when he came unto Lehi [a.k.a. Jawbone], 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. 15 And he found a new jawbone [“Lehi”] of an ass, and put forth his hand, and took it, and slew a thousand men therewith. 16 And Samson said, With the jawbone of an ass, heaps upon heaps, with the jaw of an ass have I slain a thousand men. 17 And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking, that he cast away the jawbone out of his hand, and called that place Ramathlehi. [Or “Height of the Jawbone”]

Now, that was impressive. Yes, Samson did violate again his Nazirite vow by touching an unclean donkey jawbone. But he killed 1,000 Philistines. He evens sings a little song about it. The phrase “heaps upon heaps” is actually very difficult to translate. Samson literally says, “With the jawbone of the donkey, donkey, donkeys. With the jawbone of the donkey I have slain a thousand men.” And so many translations translate “donkey, donkeys” to “heaps upon heaps” – probably because that’s what would have been laying all around Samson – heaps of bodies. But I do wonder if Samson was just making a little song. You know – we have that song that says “Have you ever seen a lassy, a lassy, a lassy…” and it goes on. In this case, it would be like “With the jawbone of a donkey, donkey, donkeys…”

Judges 15:18-20

Well, whatever Samson is saying here, he killed a lot of Philistines. Finally. Well, what happens next? Verse 18.

18 ¶ And he was sore athirst, and called on the LORD, and said, Thou hast given this great deliverance into the hand of thy servant: and now shall I die for thirst, and fall into the hand of the uncircumcised? 19 But God clave an hollow place that was in the jaw [“Lehi”], and there came water thereout; and when he had drunk, his spirit came again, and he revived: wherefore he called the name thereof Enhakkore [“The Well of the One Who Cried Out”], which is in Lehi unto this day. 20 And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years.

It’s interesting that all of a sudden when Samson needs deliverance from the Lord that he starts speaking in spiritual language. He calls the Philistines “uncircumcised” – which describes them physically, but also spiritually. Samson is recognizing that they’re pagans who don’t trust Yahweh. But Samson hasn’t been too concerned about all of that until this point. Now he needs God to do something for him. So he’s going to talk the talk.

And despite that, Samson is demonstrating some faith right here, isn’t he? He’s calling out to Yahweh – the true God. He could have called out to Dagon, the Philistine god. He could have called out to any number of the deities that Israel was worshiping. But he cries out to the God of Israel. He exercises a measure of faith.

Judges 16:1-3

So, God responds to Samson’s faith and mercifully revives him. And he goes on to judge Israel for 20 years. The end! No, just kidding. I wish it was the end. But unfortunately we have one more chapter left. And it’s the worst one yet for Samson. Chapter 16, verse 1.

16:1 ¶ Then went Samson to Gaza, and saw there an harlot, and went in unto her. 2 And it was told the Gazites, saying, Samson is come hither. And they compassed him in, and laid wait for him all night in the gate of the city, and were quiet all the night, saying, In the morning, when it is day, we shall kill him. 3 And Samson lay till midnight, and arose at midnight, and took the doors of the gate of the city, and the two posts, and went away with them, bar and all, and put them upon his shoulders, and carried them up to the top of an hill that is before Hebron.

So in a way we see here again Samson delivering Israel from the Philistines. Only, the circumstances surrounding the deliverance are definitely a bit seedy. He again shows a lack of self-control – going to this nameless Philistine prostitute and spending the night. He seems to thoughtlessly put himself in harm’s way. It’s like he’s flirting with destruction. Maybe he thinks it’s fun.

But he does manage to escape. And he carries away their city gate. This would have been devastating for the people of Gaza. Without a gate, a city was vulnerable to attacks. And Samson takes that gate and travels basically across Israel from the Mediteranean Sea into the hill county on the east and just sets the gate down.

This is the essence of Samson – his incredible feats of strength leave you laughing with joy and amazement… while his excess and recklessness leave you in tears.

Judges 16:4-31

And this last episode in his life that we’re about to read gives us more sorrow than laughter. Finally, after three nameless women in his life, Samson is associated with a woman who’s given a name by the narrator. Her name is Delilah. Verse 4.

4 ¶ And it came to pass afterward, that he loved a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. 5 And the lords of the Philistines came up unto her, and said unto her, Entice him, and see wherein his great strength lieth, and by what means we may prevail against him, that we may bind him to afflict him: and we will give thee every one of us eleven hundred pieces of silver.

 6 And Delilah said to Samson, Tell me, I pray thee, wherein thy great strength lieth, and wherewith thou mightest be bound to afflict thee. [Can you believe she just said that? She gives away her motive for finding out the source of his strength. Samson would never fall for that! Would he?…]

 7 And Samson said unto her, If they bind me with seven green withs [Or cords] that were never dried, then shall I be weak, and be as another man. 8 Then the lords of the Philistines brought up to her seven green withs which had not been dried, and she bound him with them. 9 Now there were men lying in wait, abiding with her in the chamber. And she said unto him, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he brake the withs, as a thread of tow is broken when it toucheth the fire. So his strength was not known.

OK, joke’s over, Samson. Let’s just be done with this game. It’s dangerous. Isn’t that how you feel? But Samson isn’t done playing his dangerous game. Round 2.

 10 ¶ And Delilah said unto Samson, Behold, thou hast mocked me, and told me lies: now tell me, I pray thee, wherewith thou mightest be bound.

 11 And he said unto her, If they bind me fast with new ropes that never were occupied, then shall I be weak, and be as another man. 12 Delilah therefore took new ropes, and bound him therewith, and said unto him, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And there were liers in wait abiding in the chamber. And he brake them from off his arms like a thread.

OK, this is no game. There are Philistines in the house. Samson, just get out of there! But he’s goes on to Round 3 of the game.

 13 ¶ And Delilah said unto Samson, Hitherto thou hast mocked me, and told me lies: tell me wherewith thou mightest be bound.

And he said unto her, If thou weavest the seven locks of my head with the web. 14 And she fastened it with the pin, and said unto him, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he awaked out of his sleep, and went away with the pin of the beam, and with the web.

Oh no. He’s getting the hair involved. Don’t talk about your hair, brother! That is where your strength lies! Don’t even let them touch it. Why is this guy flirting with ruin? Well, he does. So on to the last round. Round 4.

 15 ¶ And she said unto him, How canst thou say, I love thee, when thine heart is not with me? thou hast mocked me these three times, and hast not told me wherein thy great strength lieth.

 16 And it came to pass, when she pressed him daily with her words, and urged him, so that his soul was vexed unto death; [She annoyed him to death. So he caves to the pressure.] 17 That he told her all his heart, and said unto her, There hath not come a razor upon mine head; for I have been a Nazarite unto God from my mother’s womb: if I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.

I can hardly believe what we just witnessed. Samson knows Delilah is trying to hand him over to the Philistines. Why in the world would he stay wih her and reveal the source of his strength? Why would he tell her how he could lose his power?

But he does tell her. And she brings someone to shave his head. And Samson presumptously awakes as if all is well – but it’s not. His strength is gone. He’s played with fire and now he’s getting burned. And so the Philistines put out his two eyes – remember, the ones that got him into so much trouble with all these Philistine women? The Philstines bind him and force this once mighty judge of Israel to grind grain in their prison.

But his hair does begin to grow back. That’s what we’re told in verse 22. I wonder why that’s significant…

23 ¶ Then the lords of the Philistines gathered them together for to offer a great sacrifice unto Dagon their god, and to rejoice: for they said, Our god hath delivered Samson our enemy into our hand. [They got that wrong. Actually the Lord did it.] 24 And when the people saw him, they praised their god: for they said, Our god hath delivered into our hands our enemy, and the destroyer of our country, which slew many of us. [Though far fewer than he should have.] 25 And it came to pass, when their hearts were merry, that they said, Call for Samson, that he may make us sport. And they called for Samson out of the prison house; and he made them sport: and they set him between the pillars. [Uh-oh. Apparently the Philistines don’t know that Samson’s strength has returned.] 26 And Samson said unto the lad that held him by the hand, Suffer me that I may feel the pillars whereupon the house standeth, that I may lean upon them. [Can you sense the suspense? Samson’s strong again. He’s holding the pillars – the support – of the building. And the suspense keeps building.]

27 Now the house was full of men and women; and all the lords of the Philistines were there; and there were upon the roof about three thousand men and women, that beheld while Samson made sport. [The roof, I say – the one supported by the pillars that this supernaturally strong man is holding…] 28 ¶ 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 sounds genuine. And I think it is. This is what God wanted to do for Samson throughout his life. He did strenghten Samson. He wanted to deliver Israel through him. So this is a somewhat encouraging prayer. But listen to Samson’s reasoning for asking the Lord for strength.] that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes. [So, even now it’s all about personal revenge. They took my eyes so I’m going to kill them. Nevertheless, the Lord hears Samson.] 29 And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left. 30 And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. [It’s a love/hate relationship, apparently. He loves them so much that he’s amongst them all the time. But he also hates them and wants to take vengeance on them.] 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. [Again, that’s more of a commentary on Samson’s ineffective judging of Israel during his life than on his bravery in death.]

31 Then his brethren and all the house of his father came down, and took him, and brought him up, and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the buryingplace of Manoah his father. And he judged Israel twenty years.

So, we’ve just witnessed probably the most disappointing of the judges. And the disappointment doesn’t end there. Next time we’ll see more hi-jinks from the tribe from which Samson originated – the wandering tribe of Dan.

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