Samson’s strength was legendary, and his antics with the three Philistine women in his life were nothing short of ridiculous. His story can be found in the book of Judges, chapters 13-16. It’s fun to read, but more than that, it can actually be understood on three distinct levels. It’s about physical Israel, spiritual Israel, and amazingly enough, it’s about you and me. See, God’s messages are timeless when it comes to His people, and this one is no exception. Submission to God gives us strength. Disobedience can be our greatest downfall.
Physical Israel’s Story
The Birth of Samson
Samson was one of several judges, rulers and military leaders who presided over legal disputes for the Israelites. Judges were in charge from the time Joshua took the people into the promised land (about 1250 BC) to the time Samuel the judge and prophet was used to anoint Saul as their first king (about 1019 BC). Samson’s life was pivotal to Israel’s history and actually started before he was even born.
In Judges 13:3, Samson’s birth was foretold by the Angel of the Lord (many believe the preincarnate Christ). It seems that his mother had been unable to bear children until this point. His father’s name was Manoa (meaning “rest”) from the tribe of Dan. His parents were given strict instructions to raise Samson as a Nazarite. (This is not to be confused with a Nazarene, someone from the city of Nazareth, as Jesus was.)
A Nazarite was a person who voluntarily consecrated him/herself to God, making a vow to abstain from certain things for a given amount of time. Three times in the Bible, however, individuals were given by their parents: Samson the judge, Samuel the judge and prophet, and John the Baptist. All three sets of parents were unable to have children until they had heavenly visitors who foretold their sons’ births as part of God’s plan. In this case, Samson would be consecrated for the purpose of beginning to deliver the Israelites from the hands of the Philistines.
Conditions for a Nazarite
The Nazarite vow, explained in Numbers 6:1-7, involved three things. For the duration of the vow, individuals must:
- Refrain from wine and strong drink. It also involved abstaining from any fruit of the vine such as grapes or raisins.
- Refrain from cutting one’s hair.
- Refrain from defiling oneself by touching any unclean thing or dead body.
Vows could be taken by men or women, and they were typically made for a set period of time. At the end, Nazarites would make a sacrifice to God that included burning the hair once it was cut/shaved.
Samson’s First Love Interest
Samson’s story really begins when he decides he wants a Philistine wife. The Philistines were Gentiles who had been oppressing the Israelites for about 40 years. It was part of one of the many times God had to judge His people for disobedience and idolatry. In the natural, this sounds like a very bad plan. After all, God warns the Jews many times to stay separate from their Gentile neighbors. But, the Bible tells us in Judges 14:4 that it is actually the Lord’s idea in this case. After all, it sets in motion the very things that must happen to begin the release of the Israelites from the oppression of the Philistines.
On the way to talk to the girl, Samson encounters a lion in a vineyard. Now, as a Nazarite, Samson is not to have anything to do with grapes in any form. In any case, as he walks, he sees a lion which roars at him. The Spirit of the Lord comes upon him, and he rips the lion apart with his bare hands. On the way back from securing his engagement with the girl, he sees that the lion’s body now has a swarm of bees and honey inside it. So, he reaches in and grabs some honey which he later shares with his parents. Laying aside for a moment that this is yet another supernatural feature of the story, as a Nazarite, he was not to defile himself by touching a carcass.
A Wedding With An Unhappy Ending
So on his wedding day, 30 Philistines come to the party. He tells them a riddle and makes a bet with them. If they can figure out the answer to the riddle before the end of the seven-day feast, he will owe them 30 linen garments and 30 sets of clothing. If not, they will owe the same to him. Here is the riddle:
“So he said to them. ‘Out of the eater came something to eat, and out of the strong came something sweet.’”Judges 14:14
Long story short, the Philistines threaten his young bride and her father. They say they will burn their house down if she doesn’t get the answer from Samson. She wears him down until he tells her the story about the lion and the honey, and the men win the bet. The Spirit of the Lord comes upon Samson who then fulfills the wager by killing 30 other Philistines and taking their linen and clothing to give to the wedding guests.
Retaliation on Both Sides
After his debt is settled, he decides it’s finally time to consummate the wedding. But it’s too late. The girl’s father thought Samson hated her and gave her to his companion whom he had used as his best man. In a rage, Samson catches 300 foxes and ties their tails together two at a time. He then sets them on fire and points them toward the Philistines’ fields, groves, and vineyards. Ironically enough, the Philistines then take out their anger on the young bride and her father by burning their house down anyway.
Afraid of retaliation, 3,000 of the Jewish people betray Samson by turning him over to the Philistines. They hold him with two new cords, but the Spirit of the Lord comes upon him, and he bursts the bands. He then grabs a jawbone of a donkey and kills 1,000 Philistines with it. When he is done, he is so tired and thirsty that he calls out to the Lord. God causes water to come from a hollow place in the jawbone, and he drinks freely.
Samson’s Ladies #2 and #3
Samson’s second lady friend has a very quick story. She was a prostitute that he finds in Gaza, a place known for its evil doings. The other Philistines find out he is in the area and make a plan to capture him at dawn. Instead, he leaves at midnight, taking the whole gate and its two pillars and walking twenty miles with it to Hebron. This leaves the city defenseless against invaders and further enrages the Philistines against him.
Lady friend #3 is the famous Delilah. The name means “lustful,” “delicate,” or “languishing.” He wants her, bad, but she is what we call today a “gold digger.” Five Philistine lords promise her that if she will tell them the secret of Samson’s great strength, they will each give her 1,100 pieces of silver. Long story short again, after a series of lies, Samson finally tells her what he believes is the truth: his strength is in his long hair. Delilah calls the Philistines again. They shave his head, which is forbidden by the Nazarite vow. Now Samson has broken at least two (and maybe all three) of the rules set for consecration to the Lord. The Spirit of the Lord leaves him along with his great strength. His captors put him in brass fetters, gouge out his eyes, and force him to grind grain while in prison.
Samson Fulfills God’s Plan
The story ends sometime later when the Philistines have a big party and invite Samson in to be mocked for entertainment. His hair has regrown some by this time, and he prays to God that he can avenge himself with one last feat of strength. He gets a boy to guide him to a place between two pillars and shoves with all his might. The place collapses, killing him and thousand of others, more than any other amount he killed while alive. This fulfills God’s plan to begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines. He is then buried with his father after having judged Israel 20 years.
Samson and the First Wife Explained
Everything in the Bible, even the Old Testament, points to Jesus. Samson represents Israel because he is consecrated, or set apart for God, just like the Israelites were God’s people. When the lion visits him in the vineyard where he should not have been, it roars. This represents Jesus (the Lion of the Tribe of Judah) visiting His people to warn them to repent and get right with God. Just like the Jewish people did to Jesus, Samson tears the lion. The honey that comes from the carcass and features in the riddle was part of the very last meal that Jesus ate on earth (broiled fish and honeycomb) when He visited His disciples in the upper room 40 days after His resurrection.
The Gentile wife represents the church. She was given to the bridegroom’s friend, or the Holy Spirit. When God, through Samson, destroys the Philistine’s crops, they retaliate against her, much like God’s enemies will retaliate against the church in Revelation 12:17. Foxes in the Bible are part of the beasts of the earth and represent earthly demonic forces. In Song of Solomon 2:15, we hear that it is the little foxes that spoil the vine. Vines here are representative of God’s people. The foxes get in through breaches and holes like sins and belief in false teachers. The destruction of the crops would then be a type of the worldwide economic collapse during the end times. It is God’s judgement, but it is the demonic forces that carry out the damage.
Why a Donkey’s Jaw?
As for the strange way Samson retaliates when his own people betray him, it makes more sense when you know that donkeys always represent prophecy in the Bible. In Genesis 49:14, the tribe of Issachar is spoken of as a donkey, and in 1 Chronicles 12:32, we hear that the tribe has understanding of the times. The jawbone would be the mouthpiece of prophecy, or the Word of God. Samson used it to slay 1,000 Philistines. This symbolizes the destruction of God’s enemies as foretold in scripture. The water that comes from the jawbone to quench Samson’s thirst is representative of the Holy Spirit.
The second woman Samson gets involved with is a prostitute. This, of course, represents Israel’s penchant for idolatry. In fact, it becomes something of a vicious cycle in the Book of Judges and elsewhere in the Old Testament. It looks a little something like this.
God used wicked nations to judge Israel, but He also judged wicked nations through them. When Samson took the city’s gate, it exposed them to outside forces. Their little “g” gods would not be able to protect them, and this is a lesson we see over and over in the Bible as God exposes them as useless in the face of an all-powerful God.
The Third and Only Named Lady: Delilah
Delilah is one of the Philistines. They are representative of the world-system. He lusts after her, and eventually she is his downfall. This is much like the Israelites’ tendency to desire the worship and lifestyle of surrounding nations which caused Israel to be judged again and again. Delilah asks him multiple times what the secret is to his great strength, calling the Philistines to capture him each time he gives her an answer. But, each time he still has his strength and gets away. Finally, he gets tired and tells her what he believes to be the truth. His strength is in his hair.
But, the truth is that his strength came from God. His hair was the last remnant of a vow to be set apart for God and His purposes. Submission to God was always Israel’s great strength, but when they grew cold toward God, they had to be judged. When Samson disregarded the vow, surely he knew that Delilah would cut his hair. After all, she had tied him with 7 fresh bowstrings, bound him with new ropes, and encircled him in 7 locks of his own hair woven in a loom (all the lies he had told her would remove his strength). But, she wore him down much like the world system pressing on all sides of Israel.
Maybe it was his pride, like that of the Pharisees and scribes who thought that their righteousness came from themselves. In any case, Judges 16:19 says she “lulled him to sleep on her knees,” and the Philistines caught him, put him in brass fetters, and gouged out his eyes. Brass represents judgement, and the blindness refers to Israel’s temporary inability to see Jesus as the Messiah (Romans 11:25).
Samson does get it right in the end, though, reconciling to God and fulfilling his purpose. This is symbolic of the Jewish people at the end of time. They will also come back to God as His people (Romans 11:26) as God judges His enemies once and for all at the battle of Armageddon.
You And Me (The Church Today)
The Nazarite Vow
The Nazarite vow was a type and shadow of believers in the church today. We are also told to be separate and avoid things that defile us. 2 Corinthians 6:17-18 says, “Therefore ‘Come out from among them and be separate,’ says the Lord. ‘Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.’” It was a consecration to God, much like Paul’s advice to Christians about presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice in Romans 12:1-2. “’…present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…”
Like the story, we must not allow ourselves to wander into vineyards, or places we should not be. We need to stay far away from the lusts of the world without allowing it to wear us down or cause us to sleep. Galatians 6:9 tells us “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” And, Matthew 24:42 tells us to be vigilant: “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.”
Just like Samson’s strength was in keeping to his Nazarite vows, our strength is in our relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ. We can’t depend on our own strength or pride in ourselves. 1 Corinthians 10:12 says, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” Instead, we must cleave to Him in these last days, keeping ourselves pure and unspotted from the world and continually renewing our mind in the Word of God. Ephesians 5:25b-27 “…just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.”
The Message of Samson’s Story
The message of Samson’s story is clear on all three levels: submission to God is our greatest strength. Disobedience just brings judgement and separation. Samson’s obedience to the Nazarite vow gave him strength to fulfill the plan God had on his life, but when he broke those vows, he was left with only weakness. The Israelite’s obedience kept them safe and protected by God, but their disobedience and hardness of heart caused them to be judged and separated from God for it. Finally, our submission to God today is what keeps us strong and protected by God in our lives. He is our only hope for making it through the trials we will face in these last days.
If you like new spins on Old Testament stories try Balaam, Us, and the 3 Wills of God or What Did Jesus Write in the Dust? Or, try The Red Heifer Is a Symbol of Jesus and Sanctificaiton or The Bible is a Lamp Unto Our Feet. These contain Old Testament symbols with application for today. Please make sure to subscribe via email in the upper right hand corner. Also, check out my YouTube channel in which I read the blogs out loud. I also have a playlist of hymns from my church.