Too many times when Christians approach the Bible, they approach it with rose-colored glasses on. They read the OT and glamorize many of the major characters in it, when the truth is that the OT writers do anything BUT glamorize their main characters. David, who is arguably considered the greatest king of Israel, nevertheless committed adultery and murder; moreover, the OT is not hesitant to portray him with all his warts. The same applies to Samson. Hollywood and well-meaning Christians have glamorized Samson, even making a hero out of him. We will try to look at Samson as the OT truly portrays him, as one major lost opportunity.
One moral especially comes out in the Samson stories. Like the people of today, Samson valued competency over against spirituality. Parents today spend far more time developing their children's natural talents and abilities than they do their morals and spiritual life. Parents will pour hours of their time into a school project or function for their children and just throw some crumbs in the direction of their children's spiritual and character development. If our system of society worked—that is emphasizing competency, then Columbine and similar incidents like it would have never happened, and marriages would quit ending in divorce. The fact hat Columbines do happen and marriages continue to dissolve proves that our system is not working. If you want to see what happens to a competent, unspiritual person, you need look no further than the story of Samson. Competent and talented to the nth degree but totally lacking in spirituality. It is time to emphasize the spiritual development of people more than the natural development of a person.
ANNOUNCEMENT OF SAMSON'S BIRTH (13:1-7)
A man named Manoah and his wife lived in the territory of Dan near the border with Philistia. The wife of Manoah was barren, a stigma in ancient times, considered to be a curse upon the woman. The woman felt her stigma sharply and entreated the Lord continuously to provide her with a son. God answered her prayers by sending the angel of the Lord to her to inform her of her coming pregnancy. (Just a note of interest—at times the text seems to differentiate the angel of the Lord from the Lord Himself, while at other times the text seems to identify the angel of the Lord with the Lord Himself. This differentiation and yet identification serves as the basis for the later belief in the deity and yet sonship of Jesus Christ. He is not God the Father and yet He is still God, God the Son. Differentiation and yet identification.) The angels informs the wife of Manoah that she will bear a son whom she is to dedicate to he Lord as a Nazarite.
The word "Nazarite" means "separation" because the Nazarite was supposed to be separate unto the Lord for His service. Three elements were supposed to characterize the Nazarite: (1) refraining from wine and other strong drink (that is alcohol made from something other than grapes), (2) refraining from contact with dead persons, and (3) refraining from cutting one's hair. As the story progresses, we see that Samson, while violating the first 2 characteristics, honors the 3 one religiously. Her Nazarite son would deliver Israel from the oppression of the Philistines. God honors His word and gives Minoah and his wife a son whom they call "Samson," which means "daring" or "strong one."
SAMSON'S FIRST ENCOUNTER WITH THE PHILISTINES (14:1-15:20)
The occasion of Samson's first conflict with the Philistines is his betrothal and marriage to a beautiful Philistine maiden from Timnah. Apparently, Samson had felt no qualms at all about associating with the Philistines because in one of his encounters with the Philistines, he espies a young Philistine maiden who "looks good" to Samson. Samson rushes to his parents and asks them to arrange for him to marry the maiden, a customary feature of marriage arrangements in ancient Israel. At first his parents, to say the least, are shocked at Samson's request. They probably had not felt comfortable with him mingling with the Philistines, but now they are thoroughly horrified at the prospects of him actually marrying a maiden from one of the nations God had expressly forbidden them to intermarry with. If Samson could not find a maiden from his own tribe of Dan, surely he could find one from one of the other 11 tribes of Israel. Samson was adamant though. She "looked good" to him, and he refused to entertain the idea of marrying anybody else. His parents recognize his obstinacy and cave in to his desires.
Note 2 things about this episode so far. First, what Samson did directly violated the commands God had given regarding the interaction of the Israelites with the Canaanites/Philistines. God had commanded the Israelites to annihilate these people—not marry them! Second, we need to be careful in the way we interpret the statement that God caused this to happen because He was seeking a cause against the Philistines. God would not give one commandment and then cause something to happen which violated that commandment. That would mean that God was faithless, schizophrenic. In accordance with James 1:17; we need to understand this as meaning that even though Samson refused to obey God's commands by marrying a Philistine, God nevertheless was still able to use him to accomplish the purposes He had in mind for Samson. As we go through the story, we are going to highlight the misery that Samson brought upon himself because he refused to honor God's will. The following are true: (1) God accomplished His will through Samson despite Samson's disobedience; (2) the degree to which God worked through Samson was limited because of Samson's disobedience; and (3) because of his disobedience, Samson was unable to enjoy the wonderful things God accomplished through him.
In order to betroth Samson to the Philistine maiden, Manoah and his wife accompanied by Samson head for Timnah. On the way, Samson apparently turns aside into a vineyard on the outskirts of Timnah in order to procure some grapes for their refreshment. While Samson is in the vineyard, a lion attacks him. The Spirit of the Lord, though, comes upon Samson in such a dramatic fashion that he is able to tear the lion to pieces with his bare hands. Probably, in order not to alarm his parents, Samson returns to them and mentions nothing of the incident. In Timnah, the marriage arrangements are made.
At the appointed time, Samson returns to Timnah to celebrate his marriage to the young maiden. The celebrations are to last 7 days, at the end of which Samson is to consummate his marriage sexually with his Philistine wife. On the way to the marriage festivities (probably after some considerable time had elapsed), Samson comes upon the lion he had previously killed and sees that a swarm of bees have invaded the dead, dry carcass and produced a hive there. Once more he is alone. He scoops some of the honey out of the carcass and takes it to his parents; all 3 enjoy the refreshment. Once more he does not inform his parents of what he has done.
At the festivities, the Philistines supply all the guests to the wedding, even the 30 men who served as groomsmen for Samson—including the best man for the wedding! Apparently, the Israelites who were friends of Samson refused to take part in this whole enterprise since it violated God's Law. At the beginning of the festivities, Samson proposes a contest with the 30 groomsmen. If they can answer a riddle he will pitch to them, then he will supply them each with a lavish garment with undergarments. On the other hand, if they cannot answer it at the end of the 7 days of feasting, then they will have to supply him with 30 garments plus undergarments.
Samson pitches to them the following riddle: "Out of the eater came something to eat, and out of the strong came something sweet." The answer is simple because we have read the preceding story about the lion and the honey.
Well, the riddle totally stumps the Philistines. For at least 4 days they try to solve the riddle on their own. Realizing that time is running out and that the bet is going to hurt them seriously financially—lavish garments were a sign of serious wealth in those days (see James 5:2), they turn to Samson's new bride. They threaten her that if she does not supply them with the answer to the riddle, then they will burn down her and her father's house. Desperate, Samson's new wife begins to plead with him to reveal to her the meaning of the riddle. At first, he resists her pleading; however, by the 7th day, she is so hysterical that he finally caves in and reveals to her the answer to the riddle. She immediately informs the 30.
Just as the sun is beginning to set and Samson has thought that he had won the bet, the 30 Philistines approach Samson and reveal to him the meaning of the riddle—the strong who has been eaten is the lion, while the weak who is the eater is the swarm of bees. Samson immediately realizes that they had "plowed with his heifer" and in anger promises to make good on the bet. He goes out and slaughters 30 Philistines, and strips them of their fine garments. He then abandons his new wife and returns to his father's home, leaving her at her father's home. Thinking that all is lost between Samson and his daughter, the father of the bride tries to save face and gives his daughter in marriage to Samson's best man.
Later after Samson has had time to cool off, he returns to the home of his wife, only to discover that she has been given in marriage to his former best man. The father of the bride justifies his action by reminding Samson that he had abandoned his daughter in such anger because she had betrayed him that the father understandably thought that Samson had abandoned her for good. Moreover, to show that there were no hard feelings on his part, the father suggests that Samson take in marriage his younger daughter, who actually is better looking than her older sister.
Well, this explanation and offer of marriage do not assuage Samson's anger. He vows to vent his wrath until his anger is spent. Probably over a period of several days, Samson takes pairs of foxes (jackals), ties their tails together, attaches a lighted torch to the tails, and then turns them loose on fields belonging to Philistines. Throughout the period, he is able to turn loose 150 pairs of foxes. When the Philistines ascertain who is causing this destruction and the reason behind it, they vent their wrath against Samson's "wife" and "father-in-law" by burning them with fire. (Either the Philistines held the father-in-law and wife ultimately responsible for Samson's actions because of the way they had treated Samson, or else knowing that they could not get directly at Samson, they chose the next best thing by getting at him through his wife and father-in-law.) Now Samson is really ticked. This time he attacks the Philistines ruthlessly. He has inflicted such carnage against the Philistines that he has to flee to Judah to escape a major Philistine effort to kill him.
The Philistines approach the Jews and threaten them that if they do not turn Samson over to them, then they are going to pillage Judah. Approximately 3,000 Jews approach Samson who is living in a cave and ask him to allow them to turn him over to the Philistines. How sad. Instead of coming to him and asking him to lead them against the Philistines, they are basically turning on him like cowards. Samson agrees to their request on the condition that they do not kill him once he surrenders to them. They heartily agree. He in turn allows them to bind him with ropes. Once they turn him over to the Philistines though, the Spirit of the Lord descends upon him with such might that he breaks through the ropes and with the fresh jawbone of a donkey (much harder than the jawbone of a donkey that's been dead for a long time) kills 1,000 Philistines.
SAMSON AND DELILAH (16:1-31)
Because of shortage of time and also because everybody is familiar with this story, I just want to mention a few details from this episode which coincide with the major theme of Samson's life. First, Samson once more goes after a Philistine woman named Delilah. (Will Samson never learn?) Second, she betrays him (just like his wife had done previously) by first discovering the source of his strength and then relaying that information to the Philistines. This time he not only loses his freedom but also his eyesight when the Philistines gouge out his eyes. At a major feast given in honor of the god Dagon who had delivered Samson into the hands of the Philistines (at least that is what the Philistines thought), Samson destroys the temple with the 3,000+ Philistines reveling in it along with himself.
Once more before we leave this story, we need to sum up all the tragedy which befell Samson:
Why recount the misery which befell Samson? To impress upon us the fact that what happened was not in accordance with God's will. What happened resulted because God was going to use Samson in spite of himself. Too many times when we disobey God and yet God uses us, we use the fact that God used us as a way to justify our disobedience. A person I knew one time knowingly did not honor a time deadline set for a group. Later that group was involved in an accident in which the other vehicle was totally trashed and the people in it hurt. Fortunately, our vehicle escaped unhurt. We had a cell phone we used to call in the ambulance. That person then told me that they were glad they were late because we were then on the scene at that time to help these people. My response? "Don't spiritualize your irresponsibility." A better response would have been, “There would have been no accident at all if we had been on time instead of being late." Basically, that is a good way to sum up Samson's life. God was determined to use Samson—either through his obedience or through his disobedience. The sad thing was that Samson faced so much misery because God had had to use the latter way.
What is even truer is that due to Samson's disobedience, God's use of Samson was limited. We rejoice in the fact that he slew 1,000 Philistines with the fresh jawbone of a donkey. It is great that 3,000+ died in the temple of Dagon. Yet when you compare disobedient Samson with obedient Gideon, you will see that his numbers pale in comparison with Gideon's numbers. Samson killed around 10,000 Philistines (we're being kind here); well, Gideon killed 135,000 Midianites. Moreover, although God used Samson, Samson never got to enjoy the victories the way Gideon did. Moreover, he was never used to his fullest potential. The story of Samson is probably one of the best illustrations of the modern church: being used by God but (1) in such a way the church doesn't enjoy it and (2) in a limited way—both because of her disobedience. All the glory of the great things that have been done will credited to God's power, wisdom, and grace.