Samson is celebrated in most circles because of his strength. His great, supernatural strength certainly set him apart in many ways but it is not unparalleled in Bible history. For instance, Shamgar, another Judge, slew six hundred Philistines with an ox goad (Judges 3:31). Adino, one of David’s mighty men, slew eight hundred at one time (II Sam. 23:8). Abishai, the brother of Joab, defeated and slew three hundred men (II Sam. 23:18). Benaiah killed a lion in the midst of a pit in a time of snow, as well as two lion-like men of Moab (II Sam. 23:20). Though perhaps more pronounced than all others, Samson’s strength is not all there is to this man.
He was born to God-fearing parents who were concerned about his moral and spiritual welfare. They asked the Angel Who announced his birth, “How shall we order the child, and how shall we do unto him?” (13:12). They were concerned about rearing him correctly. When Samson wanted to marry a Philistine woman, his parents urged him to find a woman from among the children of Dan or any of the children of Israel rather than go to the uncircumcised (14:3). Samson recognized that his parents were conscientious enough of God’s Law not to tell them that the honey he brought them came from inside the dead carcass of lion, which could have potentially violated his Nazarite vow (Num. 6:6).
From the fact that he perplexed the Philistines with a riddle at his wedding ceremony, we may surmise that he was intelligent (14:12). He was not just some big, powerful, lumbering, dumb gorilla of a man but a thoughtful and emotional human being. The attacks he made on the Philistines also show his creativity. For instance, tying the tails of two foxes together to a firebrand would make their movements even more erratic, thus increasing the devastation (15:4,5). His playful and inventive answers to questions as to the source of his strength, demonstrate his quick and biting wit.
Samson also had the advantage of being moved by the Spirit of God. As Samson grew, the Bible tells us, the Lord blessed him (13:24). At different times the Spirit of the Lord began to move him in the camp of Dan (13:25). While others of his tribe were content to remain in the status quo–the Philistines had dominion over Israel for forty years at that time (13:1)–, Samson would find an occasion to attack the Philistines. The men of Judah, for instance, were content to be under the thumb of the Philistines and instead complained that Samson had endangered them by his actions. Instead of fighting the enemy, they actually tried to aid the enemy by binding Samson and delivering him to the Philistines (15:13). How very confused they were!
While his own brethren were complicit in his being bound and captured (although they could not do it on their own but had to gain Samson’s consent – 15:12,13), Samson all the while was plotting a way to use this to bring more devastation upon the Philistines. He allowed himself to be bound and ultimately taken by the Philistines, only to burst forth from his bonds, just like they were butter, when he was brought to the Philistine camp. And then, finding the nearest implement–the jawbone of an ass–he proceeded to slay one thousand men of the Philistines (15:15-17). Too many times we become complacent with sin and just overlook it instead of fighting it.
There is no doubt that Samson hit low points in his life and in his service to the Lord. He had a major weakness for women, especially Philistine women. The first woman from Timnath pleased him well but vexed his parents who wanted an Israelite for a daughter-in-law (14:1-3). But what his parents did not understand was that this was from the Lord so that an occasion might arise to attack the Philistines (14:4). Either this was revealed to Samson or this was the Lord’s plan and used Samson unawares. Either way, it was God’s way of provoking a conflict between the children of Israel and the Philistines.
The second woman was an harlot (16:1). The word translated harlot can also mean “inn-keeper” which often had prostitutes attached to it. But just as the spies went into the house of Rahab the harlot without intending to avail themselves of her services, perhaps Samson went into the Philistine territory of Gaza to learn more about the enemy. After all, it ended up with Samson destroying the city gates and carrying them off because the Philistines were waiting to try and take him. The city gates kept enemies out of the city and now that they were destroyed, the city became more vulnerable.
Unlike the first two women, Delilah had evil intentions. She was specifically employed by the Philistine Lords to learn the secret of Samson’s great strength (16:5). Samson’s misplaced love for this woman cost him God’s favor (16:0). In the end however, after suffering great humiliation for his weakness, Samson was able, by God’s help, to destroy more Philistines in his death than in his entire life (16:30). This was the beginning of the deliverance of Israel out of the hands of the Philistines (13:5).
While many take Samson to task for being too worldly, Samson also did great things for the Lord’s people. Samson is listed in the book of Hebrews among those who are said to be men of great faith (Heb. 11:32). For Samson to have been listed here, he must have acted according to God’s wishes for faith comes by hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17).
Eric L. Padgett