Some find it perplexing that this man with all his faults is among the faithful of Hebrews 11 who are awaiting God's Kingdom. What did he do to deserve this distinction? What can we learn from his life?
Ask someone who was the strongest man in the Bible and you'll likely hear "Samson." After all, it's not every day that one hears of a man who kills 1,000 men in hand-to-hand combat. Armed with only the jawbone of a donkey, Samson was one tough adversary (Judges:15:15). Set during the time of Israel's judges some 3,000 years ago, Samson's life was a highly unusual one—yet one that bears lessons for us today.
Samson's parents hadn't been able to have children when the "Angel," meaning Messenger, of the Lord appeared to the woman who would be Samson's mother. She and her husband Manoah came to realize that the Messenger on this occasion was actually God Himself (Judges:13:21-22; compare Exodus:3:1-14). It was not God the Father, whom no one had ever seen or heard (compare John:5:37). Rather, it was the divine Word of God who was later born as Jesus Christ (see John:1:1-3, 14). This appearance was, of course, a highly unusual event.
The divine Messenger gave Samson's mother some good news. She was going to have a baby boy. But she was also told to be careful during her pregnancy to avoid alcohol and defiling food and, once the boy was born, not to ever cut his hair because he was to be a "Nazirite to God from the womb" (Judges:13:5). Here is another unusual request.
Having Samson live under the terms of a Nazirite vow—not drinking alcohol, not being defiled and not cutting his hair all the days of his life to signify his dedication to God—was highly unusual. Apparently, some people would undergo this vow for a short period of time, yet Samson was to do it for life. Incidentally, Samson is the first person we read about in the Bible to be called a Nazirite.
These events surrounding Samson's conception were clearly out of the ordinary, and there was another surprising announcement made by the Angel of the Lord. Samson, with God's help, was going to "begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines" (verse 5).
Just as they had been told, Manoah and his wife soon had their baby boy, whom they named Samson. God blessed Samson and, as he grew older, God began helping him by His Spirit (verses 24-25).
As we consider Samson's life, it is important for us to understand from the outset that God is not calling men today to imitate Samson's conduct. As a physical, carnal nation, ancient Israel waged war with other nations. New Testament Christians, however, look to future citizenship in God's Kingdom, which is not of this world, and do not fight in physical warfare, being ministers of life, not death (see Matthew:5:38-39, 43-44; John:18:36; 2 Corinthians 3:6).
God gave Samson the unique job of weakening the Philistine nation during the time of Israel's judges—a job He is not giving to people today. Furthermore, like everyone, Samson did some things right and he also made mistakes.
Samson goes a-courting
Soon after Samson matured, he saw a Philistine woman in Timnah whom he decided he wanted to marry (Judges:14:1-2). His parents wisely cautioned him against marrying outside his faith (verses 3-4). Yet Samson was adamant in his desire to marry her. Though his choice was not wise, God used this as a way to "move against the Philistines."
On his way to Timnah, Samson was attacked by a young lion. With the help of God's Spirit, he miraculously tore the lion apart with his bare hands (verse 6). He then visited his bride-to-be and apparently set a date for their wedding (verse 7).
When the date approached, Samson traveled back to Timnah and decided to check out the carcass of the lion he had killed on his previous trip. To his surprise, a swarm of bees had established a hive in the carcass and had produced some honey.
At his wedding feast Samson decided to use the honey from a lion carcass as a riddle for 30 Philistine companions. If they could correctly solve the riddle in seven days, he would give them 30 changes of clothing. If they couldn't, they'd have to give him the same. The riddle was: "Out of the eater came something to eat, and out of the strong came something sweet" (verse 14).
To make sure they got the answer and their new clothes, the 30 Philistines threatened Samson's bride and her family with their lives if she didn't tell them the answer to Samson's riddle. So Samson's wife-to-be "wept on him, and said, 'You only hate me! You do not love me! You have posed a riddle to the sons of my people, but you have not explained it to me'" (verse 16).
Samson finally told her the answer—that bees had produced honey in the carcass of a lion—on the seventh day, and she immediately told the 30 Philistines. When they gave Samson the correct answer, he knew they had gotten it from the woman he was marrying.
"Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon him mightily, and he went down to Ashkelon and killed thirty of their men, took their apparel, and gave the changes of clothing to those who had explained the riddle. So his anger was aroused, and he went back up to his father's house. And Samson's wife was given to his companion, who had been his best man" (verses 19-20).
This marriage to someone outside Samson's faith was a terrible tragedy on multiple counts. Samson's eyes had deceived him into thinking that a woman of a different religion was the one he should marry. The woman faced a threat to her life and the lives of her family members. She betrayed her husband. Samson killed 30 Philistines and immediately went home to his parents without his wife, who was then given in marriage to another.
The only thing good about this sad chain of events was that God, through Samson, was beginning to weaken the Philistine nation.
More destruction of the Philistines
After spending some time with his parents, Samson decided to go back to Timnah for his wife. Upon arrival he learned that she had been given in marriage to his best man. In revenge he "caught three hundred foxes; and he took torches, turned the foxes tail to tail, and put a torch between each pair of tails. When he had set the torches on fire, he let the foxes go into the standing grain of the Philistines, and burned up both the shocks and the standing grain, as well as the vineyards and olive groves" (Judges:15:4-5).
In their anger over the devastation to their crops, the Philistines burned the woman Samson had married and her father (verse 6), and in retaliation Samson killed more Philistines.
In destroying much of their food supply and killing more of their citizens, Samson now had the Philistines' full attention, and they quickly came to arrest him. Samson allowed the men of Judah to bind him with ropes and deliver him to the Philistines. But when the Philistines came to get him, God's Spirit again came upon him. Samson broke free of the ropes with which he had been bound, grabbed the jawbone of a donkey, killed 1,000 Philistines and secured Israel's freedom. Samson then became the judge over Israel for 20 years.
More trouble with women
Toward the end of Samson's life, his eyes deceived him again. First it was a harlot at Gaza and then it was a woman named Delilah, who sought his confidence in order to betray him to the Philistines. Under relentless nagging, Samson finally told Delilah the secret of his strength—his faithfulness to his Nazirite vow to God, which forbade him from cutting his hair.
Armed with this key information, Delilah had Samson's hair cut while he was sleeping. In his weakened conditioned, the Philistines captured him, put out his eyes and put him in prison. But his hair began to grow again (Judges:16:17).
Falsely assuming that their god Dagon had delivered Samson into their hands, approximately 3,000 men and women (the Philistine leaders), gathered at the temple of Dagon to sacrifice in celebration. While there, they decided to bring Samson out to mock him. But the tables soon turned.
Though he could no longer see, Samson clearly understood God's purpose for his life—to weaken the Philistine nation. Standing between two pillars that supported the building, Samson asked God for extra strength to be avenged for the loss of his eyes and wreak final havoc upon the Philistines. God answered his prayer. Saying, "Let me die with the Philistines!" Samson pushed on the pillars and brought the temple crashing down (verse 30. He killed more Philistines at his death than he had during his whole life until then.
Lessons for today
Without doubt Samson made mistakes when it came to choosing women and revealing information to them that he shouldn't have. However, he did eventually yield to God's great purpose for his life and finished his life praying for God's help to accomplish it. We can learn from both his mistakes and from what he did right.
Today, God has a purpose for each of our lives as well. He wants us to become children in His family (John:1:12). Will you accept the purpose for your life and live accordingly—and avoid doing it the hard way? VT