Wednesday, November 14, 2018


“The woman bore a son and called his name Samson. The young man grew, the Lord blessed him, and the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol” (Judges 13:24-25).

It is with these words that we are introduced to the life of Samson. The names of those towns are not important to us at this point. They only tell us where Samson was living with his parents. What is important is the phrase, “The Spirit of the Lord began to stir him.”

This word “stir” used in this way causes me to ponder it a little.

 The Hebrew word (in case you are interested), is paam, pronounced something like paw-am'. It is used only five times in the Bible, this being one of them. The other times that it is used it is translated to be troubled, or some such similar word. For instance, the writer of the Psalm uses it to say to God, “You have held my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak” (Psalm 77:4).

In fact, in every other place where the word is used, it is used to describe sleeplessness. It refers to the fact that God was causing the inner spirits of the men to be troubled so that they could not sleep. He was impelling them to do something (Genesis 41:8; Daniel 2:1, 3). God was beginning to take action, and he was stirring the people involved to undertake their roles in what he was preparing to accomplish.

I like the translation “to stir” for this word. It is like a kettle of stew that is sitting on the flame, quietly becoming hotter, but simply sitting quietly. It is only when the cook takes his wooden spoon and begins to stir that the steam rises and the boil begins to take place. The stew is ready!

In much the same way, the inner spirits of these men were quiet within them until the Lord took his wooden spoon and began to stir within them. In these cases apart from Samson, it was not even “holy men” or servants of God whom he stirred. These were not men who were reading their Bibles every day. In the one instance, it was the Pharaoh of Egypt, and in the other King Nebuchadnezzar.

Nevertheless, and even though they were not listening for the voice of God, he sent to them troubling thoughts. God would not allow them to sleep until they did something. It was a call to them to take action.

It was also a call to action for Samson. It was not the same type of stirring of the inner spirit as it was with the pharaoh and the king. I suppose that in the case of Samson, we could say it was more like a stirring of his hormones. Using even this very natural human passion and behind the scenes of it all, God was stirring Samson as a call to action against the oppressors of his people—the Philistines.

There was an additional way in which this call to action for Samson was unique among the other men and women who ruled Israel as judges. If we would take the example of any of these former judges, we would expect that this stirring in Samson would invoke him to raise an army to fight the Philistines. Not so. His action was unexpected and a disappointment to his parents. 

From a Parent’s Perspective

If we remember from the previous post that Manoah, the father of Samson, was very deliberate when he asked the angel for instructions in raising this Nazirite child who was to be born to his wife. We are not told anything about the formative years of Samson, but if we can extrapolate from Manoah’s earnestness, he and his wife did what they could to raise their son in a righteous manner.

Imagine their disappointment when Samson came to them and said, “I saw one of the daughters of the Philistines at Timnah. Now get her for me as my wife.”

His parents tried to convince him to find a girl from their own people instead of the “uncircumcised Philistines,” but Samson would not be dissuaded.

“Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes.”

It sounds like the response of a spoiled child, but whether not this was the case, Samson seemed determined. 

From God’s Perspective

I would tend to agree with the parents in their hesitancy, but the commentary of the writer of the account says something interesting about this desire of Samson’s: “His father and mother did not know that it was from the Lord, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines.”

One could argue the fact whether or not taking a wife from the Philistines was allowable for a Nazirite. Technically, the Philistines are not listed among the condemned people (Exodus 34:11-16; Deuteronomy 7:1-4), but it certainly was a union outside of the faith of the Israelites.

This brings up an interesting dilemma for us. Does God use even our bad choices in life to fulfill what he intends to bring about? Or put in another way, does the Lord also use even the unrighteousness of man for God’s own purpose?

It appears that God did so at least in the two other cases that we noted where he “troubled” the Pharaoh of Egypt and King Nebuchadnezzar so that his purpose would be fulfilled. God also used another unrighteous pharaoh of Egypt in the time of Moses to fulfill his purpose.

The Lord sent Moses to Pharaoh with this message: “For this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exodus 9:16 ESV).

The Apostle Paul commented on this instance in the history of his people to say “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Romans 9:16 ESV).

In a very similar way, Paul speaks of this same dilemma of God fulfilling his purposes even if the people involved prove to be unrighteous. In this case, Paul is speaking of the Jews, to whom God had entrusted much, but who had so utterly failed.

Paul says of these: “What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar” (Romans 3:3-4 NAS).

All of this is not to say that it is the will of God for some to be unfaithful or unrighteous. From very early in Scripture it is written, “Let the fear of the LORD be upon you; be very careful what you do, for the LORD our God will have no part in unrighteousness” (2 Chronicles 19:7 NAS).

The Apostle John says the same thing in the New Testament when he writes that there is “no unrighteousness in Him” (John 7:18).

What it all does mean that even in our failure, God’s purposes will remain fulfilled. He is sovereign and his will be accomplished. Indeed, in the end, it will be an even greater demonstration of the grace of God, in that it shows that he steps in to give us righteousness when we cannot obtain it on our own, and even when we do not deserve it.

“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Let God be true, even though everyone else may be a liar.

In the case of Samson, even though some may wish to argue the point that taking the Philistine girl for a wife was or was not contrary to his vow as a Nazirite, certainly we must say that in his life he did repeatedly do things contrary to the vow.

In his choice of taking a wife from the Philistines, whether permitted or not, it is clear that he was not making the wisest choice. But even in this, God would use this unwise choice to bring about the ends to which he was working.

As for Samson himself, by doing this, he was asking for trouble for himself.

He would get what he asked for. 

What Happened on the Way to the Engagement

True to the wishes of Samson, he and his parents did make a trip to Timnah to arrange the engagement to the Philistine girl. Before they reached the home of Samson’s bride-to-be and as they approached the vineyards outside of the town, a young lion suddenly came roaring to attack Samson.

Samson had no weapon, but “the Spirit of the Lord” came upon him and he tore the young lion in pieces “as one tears a young goat.” He did this with his bare hands. I have no idea how easy it is to tear young goats into pieces, since I have never done that. Nor do I know if that was a practice in those days, but this is the comparison that is made. It is only meant to convey the idea that tearing the lion apart was a simple feat for Samson.

The parents of Samson were with him on the journey, but they must have been lagging behind some distant back, since they saw or heard none of this. By the time they caught up, it was all over, and Samson told them nothing of the event.

The journey to Timnah was the trip to arrange the marriage. It would be some time before the actual wedding would take place. When Samson finally did return to take his bride, enough time had passed that the carcass of the lion had been reduced to only the skeleton; at least that is the way I think that it must have been. Samson stopped along the way to see where he had killed the lion, and when he saw the bones, he noticed that some bees had actually used them as a place to make their hive.

Taking the opportunity to harvest some honey, Samson scooped some out with his hand and ate the honey as he went along. He also took some extra with him, because when he saw his parents, he also gave some to them without telling them where it came from.

In the village of the bride, one of the wedding customs that Samson was expected to fulfill was to hold a feast. It was at that time that he was given thirty men to be his “companions.” I suppose these may have been like groomsmen, but their function may have also been meant to extend beyond the actual wedding. 

The Riddle

Perhaps feeling somewhat in a party mood, Samson decides to make a little wager with these thirty men.

“Let me put a riddle to you” Samson said to them. “If you can tell me what the answer is within the seven days of the feast, then I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothes. However, if you cannot tell me what it is, then you must give me thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothes.”

“Put your riddle to us,” they answered him.

Samson gave them the riddle in the form of a short rhyme: 

“Out of the eater came something to eat.
Out of the strong came something sweet.” 

It is no wonder to me that the thirty groomsmen could not come up with the correct answer to this vague and enigmatic riddle. Who would ever guess that some bees would be found in a skeleton of a dead lion? After three days of puzzling over the riddle, they asked Samson’s new wife for a little help.

“See if you can’t sweet-talk your husband into telling us the answer to the riddle,” they said to her.

Then, just to persuade her to do this, they decided to add a little incentive: “If you do not, we will burn your house and your father’s house with fire!”

It was enough to convince Samson’s wife to get the answer from her husband. She decided to use the “poor unappreciated wife” tactic. She came to him weeping: “You only hate me. You do not love me. You have put a riddle to my people, and you have not told me what it is.”

“I have told no one,” Samson answered. “I have not even told my father or my mother. Why should I tell you?”

But his wife continued to weep for the entire rest of the time. Finally on the seventh day of the feast, Samson could take it no longer. He told her of the lion with the honey bees.

That evening before the sun went down, the men of the city came to him:

“What is sweeter than honey?
What is stronger than a lion?” 

Samson realized what had happened. He knew that his poor and underappreciated wife had told them the answer. He then answered with his own little ditty. This one is not so difficult to understand:

“If you had not plowed with my heifer,
You would not have found out my riddle.” 

But the answer had been given, and Samson had to make good on his lost wager. He went to the town of Ashkelon, which was some distance away, down along the coast of the Mediterranean. There, he struck down thirty men of the town and took garments and gave them to those whom had told the answer to the riddle.

There are several questions for which we have no answer in all of this. For instance, why did Samson go to Ashkelon to do this? Was there not a place much more close at hand where he could have done the same thing? But the end of the matter was that God was beginning to use Samson to punish the Philistines for their wickedness.

This, after all, was God’s stated purpose with Samson. Unlike the other judges that we have read about, securing the freedom of the Israelites was not God’s purpose. The people of Israel had not asked the Lord for that. God’s primary purpose was punishment for the Philistines.

As for Samson: after he had paid off his debt he did not return to his wife. He was angry with her, so angry that he returned to the home of his parents. 

Samson Returns to Timnah

We do not know how long Samson stayed at the home of his childhood, but the father of the bride must have thought he was never returning. He gave his daughter to one of the groomsmen of Samson’s. In fact, she was given to his best man.

But Samson did return. It was just at wheat harvest time when the wheat stood yellowed and dried in the fields. Some had already been cut and gathered into shocks.

When Samson tried to go into his wife’s chamber, he was stopped by her father. “You cannot go to her. I really thought that you utterly hated her, so I gave her to your companion.”

Now Samson was angry. “This time I shall be innocent in regard to the Philistines, when I do them harm,” he said.

I do not know how Samson accomplished this feat, but somehow he captured three hundred foxes and tied them together in pairs by their tails. On each tied pair of tails, he placed a torch and let the foxes go. Off they ran into the dried wheat fields, setting fires to everything.

“Who has done this?” the Philistines asked.

When it was revealed that it was Samson, the son-in-law of the Timnite, and that the reason that he had done it was because his father-in-law had given Samson’s wife to Samson’s best man, the Philistines burned both she and the father with fire.

We will remember that Samson’s wife was earlier threatened with the burning of her home and also her father’s home if she would not find out the answer to Samson’s riddle, but now even they were burned.

As for Samson, with each action of the Philistines, he was becoming increasingly angry.

He said to them, “If this is what you do, I swear I will be avenged on you, and after that I will quit.” 

Retreat in the Hills

Without saying exactly what he did in this case, the text tells us that he struck them with a great blow, “hip on thigh” (whatever that may mean). After that he retreated into the hills. He made his home in a cave in an area of the tribe of Judah.

It was not remote enough of a place if his motive for doing this was to go into hiding. The Philistines may not have known his exact location, but they learned of the area of his dwelling place and sent a contingent of warriors to raid a nearby town.

“Why have you done this to us?” the Judeans asked the invaders.

“We want Samson. Deliver him to us,” the Philistines responded.

The townspeople must have known about the sequestered Samson, and sent their own contingent of three thousand men to speak to him. By this time, Samson had built for himself quite a reputation of his strength. The three thousand tried to talk some sense into him:

“Do you not realize that the Philistines rule over us?” they asked him. “It is because of you that they have come to attack us. What have you done to us?”

“I did nothing that they have not done to me,” he answered them.

That was not reason enough for the Judeans. “Well, however you want to look at the matter, we are here to arrest you and hand you over to the Philistines.”

Samson was willing for them to do this. He had nothing against the Judeans. He only wanted assurances from the three thousand that they would not kill him and then hand him over to the Philistines.

“We will not kill you,” the men responded, “but we are going to tie you up before we lead you down to them.”

Tie him they did, they tied him twice, using two new ropes.

When they arrived at the camp of the Philistines, the invaders rushed to meet them shouting. The Judeans may not have wanted to kill Samson, but it was clear that the Philistines had different intentions.

But the Holy Spirit was also rushing. “The Spirit of the Lord rushed (the word that is used) upon Samson. The ropes that were on his arms became as “flax that has caught fire, and his bonds melted off his hands.”

Looking around him for a weapon of some sort, Samson saw a jawbone of a donkey lying on the ground. As the Philistines came rushing at him, Samson picked up the jawbone and began to fight off the soldiers. He killed a thousand of them, using only the jawbone for a weapon.

Samson summed up the entire event with a few, well-chosen words. He seems to have had a penchant for verse. He liked to play with words. Samson threw down the jawbone to the ground and said: 

“With the jawbone of a donkey, heaps upon heaps.
With the jawbone of a donkey have I struck down a thousand men. 

The Hebrew words for “donkey” and “heap” are very similar in sound (chamor in the first case and chamorah or chamor in the second). Here again we see Samson playing with words to give a subtle twist to his meaning.  What Samson seems to be saying by using this homonym of sorts and in the phrase “heap upon heaps,” is that there were then two heaps of donkeys at that place. One heap was the donkey from which he took the jawbone, and the other was the dead Philistines then also lying there, whom he considered simply another heap of dead donkeys. 

The Gates of Gaza

 It seems that quite some time passed after this slaughter of the soldiers before the next event that we read about in the life of Samson, but we are given no true timeline. Whenever it was, Samson came to Gaza, which was another Philistine town near the coast of the Mediterranean.

There, he was solicited by a prostitute, to whom he succumbed. When the men of the city learned of his presence, they laid an ambush for him at the city gates. They planned to seize him when he left the following morning.

But Samson rose from the bed about midnight and went out to the gates. Taking hold of the doors and the posts that held them and pulled them up. Hoisting the entire assembly onto his shoulders, he carried them some forty or fifty miles and deposited them in a pile on top of a hill near the town of Hebron. 


Samson again fell in love. It was with another Philistine woman named Delilah who lived in a valley named Sorek. This time he would not try to formalize the relationship as he had done with the wife of his youth. It was simply an agreement. But Delilah was to be his downfall.

The leaders of the Philistines, by now finally realizing that they would never take Samson by force, convinced Delilah to seduce him into telling her the secret to his strength. I do not know how many men had come to her with the offer, but in the third chapter of the book of Judges, it speaks of “the five lords of the Philistines, so it may have been five. But whatever the number, each promised 1,100 pieces of silver if she would discover this secret. It was a generous proposal. Delilah could not resist.

“Please tell me where your great strength lies, and how you might be bound, that one could subdue you,” she later said sweetly to Samson.

Samson undoubtedly remembered what had happened many years earlier with his wife and when she also managed to seduce him into revealing the answer to his riddle. This time he decided to play with Delilah a little.

“If they bind me with seven fresh bowstrings that have not been dried, then I shall become weak and be like any other man,” he told her.

The leaders of the Philistines brought the bowstrings to her, and she tied him up. He must have allowed her to do this since she could hardly have done it while he slept. Samson, after he was tied and still playing the game, probably struggled to get loose. I can almost hear him teasingly commenting on how tight the knots were that she had tied, and how helpless he felt.

But it was no game to Delilah. There was a large reward waiting for her. She had arranged for some men to be hidden and in waiting in an inner room.

“Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” she suddenly said to him after he had been tied.

Hearing this, the game was also over for Samson. He snapped the bowstrings as if they were threads of flax snaps when they are touched by fire, as it is described, and subdued the Philistines. The secret was still with Samson. Delilah did not discover it.

But Delilah would not be deterred. She later came to him pouting, “You have mocked me and told me lies. Please tell me how you might be bound.”

“If they bind me with new ropes that have not been used, then I shall become weak and be like any other man,” he told her.

Again, just as she had done the first time, Delilah tied him again.

And again, just as she had done the first time, Delilah shouted, “The Philistines are upon you Samson!”

And also again, just as in the first instance, Samson snapped the ropes off his arms like a thread.

Delilah sulked. “You only mock me and tell me lies,” she said to Samson. “Tell me how you might be bound.”

Delilah was determined. Samson seemed still to be playful, but getting nearer to revealing his secret. It had to do with his hair.

Samson said to her, “If you weave the seven locks of my head with the web and fasten it tight with the pin, then I shall become weak and be like any other man.”

Remember, Samson’s hair was long. It had never been cut. I do not know if he had dreadlocks, but in order to manage all that hair, he in some way had his hair separated into seven locks. This time Samson was sleeping when Delilah took the seven locks of his head and wove them into the web upon some sort of loom.

After securing them with a pin, she again shouted, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!”

Samson awoke from his sleep, pulled away the pin, the loom, the web, and was free. 

The Fatal Mistake

The story is getting a little old, but there is just one more instance.

“How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me?” Delilah again pouted. “You have mocked me these three times, and you have not told me where your great strength lies.”

Delilah continued to whine day after day. Finally Samson had had enough, “His soul was vexed to death,” the text says. He was also very foolish. Delilah had already demonstrated three times her true intentions in wanting to know the answer, but Samson paid this no heed.

He finally told her in all sincerity. “A razor has never come upon my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If my head is shaved, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak and be like any other man.”

Delilah could see that Samson was being honest with her, so she again sent for the Philistines. “Come up again, for he has told me all his heart.” She was able to get Samson to fall asleep in her lap.

Come they did, and they each brought their 1100 pieces of silver for the blood money. With Samson’s head sleeping on her lap, Delilah called for a man to shave off the seven locks of hair from his head.

Then, just as she had said three times before, she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!”

Samson, unaware of what had happened, awoke from his sleep and said, “I will shake myself free just as I did before.”

But it did not happen as Samson had hoped. The text tells us that he “did not know that the Lord had left him.” The Philistines seized him.

The first thing that they did was to gouge out his eyes. They then bound him with bronze shackles and brought him down to Gaza, the very town that he had relieved of its gates years earlier. There they threw him in a prison and put him to work grinding grain. It was humiliating work for the former mighty man.

He was in prison grinding grain for some time, long enough for his hair to begin to get long again. 

The Celebration of Dagon

After a bit more time, the Philistines gathered in the city to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god. They were still rejoicing over the fact that Samson was finally their prisoner. “Our god has given Samson our enemy into our hand, the ravager of our country, who has killed many of us.”

After a bit more drinking, they decided to bring Samson out of the prison so that they could mock him and otherwise make fun of him. The entire event was taking place in the temple of the god Dagon, a large structure with a flat roof supported by pillars. So large was the building that there were thousands of people present—three thousand on the roof itself besides those who were inside.

There was a young man who was leading Samson around by the hand. I suppose that this was part of the entertainment for the people, seeing that Samson could not even free himself from this boy.

At one point Samson said to the lad, “Let me feel the pillars on which the house rests, that I may lean against them.”

Then Samson called to the Lord, “O Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes.”

The lad had placed Samson between the two main middle pillars on which the house rested. They were quite close together, since Samson, standing between them could place one of his hands on one, and the other hand on the opposite post.

“Let me die with the Philistines.” Samson said to God and to himself.

Then he bowed with all his strength, toppling the pillars, causing the collapse of the entire structure. The house fell upon the lords and upon all the people who were in it. It is said that the dead whom Samson killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life. 

Straining all his nerves, he bowed:
As with the force of winds and waters pent,
When mountains tremble, those two massy pillars
With horrible convulsion to and fro
He tugged, he shook, till down they came, and drew
The whole roof after them, with burst of thunder
Upon the heads of all who sat beneath,
Lords, ladies, captains, counsellors, or priests,
Their choice nobility and flower.
         (John Milton: Agonistes) 

Samson’s Epitaph

It perhaps was Samson’s epitaph, “He killed more in his death than he had killed during his life.”

Punishing the Philistines for their wickedness was, after everything else, the purpose to which God had appointed Samson. Even with Samson’s many failures in life, God’s purposes were fulfilled. Though Samson was weak, God remained strong.

Though every man is a liar, God remains truthful.

Nevertheless, one wonders how God could have put Samson to even greater tasks had he remained true to his vow of the Nazirite. What would God have accomplished through Samson if Samson had been wholly dedicated to God?

Perhaps you have heard of D. L. Moody, the preacher, publisher and servant of God in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Moody faithfully served God in significant ways and was the founder of the Moody Church of Chicago, and also of Christian schools.

Moody is quoted to have said, “The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully consecrated to him.”

It is true that God can and will enable people to accomplish his will, even those who fail in many manners in their lives. He did with Samson, and he did and will with many others. But what of someone who is fully consecrated to him? What of those who shake off all claims that the world puts on him or on her, and who dedicates themselves to only serving God—wherever it may lead and whatever it causes them to do?

May each of our answers be that as Moody himself answered his own question:

“By God’s help, I aim to be that person.”

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