Bible Commentary: Judges 16

You are here

Bible Commentary

Judges 16

Login or Create an Account

With a UCG.org account you will be able to save items to read and study later!

Sign In | Sign Up

×

Samson: God's Flawed Tool 

God had been seeking an occasion to move against the Philistines (Judges 14:4 Judges 14:4But his father and his mother knew not that it was of the LORD, that he sought an occasion against the Philistines: for at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel.
American King James Version×
). In itself, that is an interesting turn of phrase, for it implies that God works out His plans within the willing activities of men. God could have directly caused a thing to come to pass, but the Scripture says he sought an occasion. God often works in human events in this manner, interweaving His plans with those of men, bringing His will to pass by using the circumstances and individuals at hand. Thus, God works within the flow of history to accomplish certain ends without violating man's free will and often without producing an obvious trail of "miraculous" happenings. This does not, of course, mean that there is no evidence of miracles in history. The incredible strength of Samson alone would have been clearly miraculous to the people of his day—he carried massive city gates uphill for 40 miles! (Judges 16:3 Judges 16:3And Samson lay till midnight, and arose at midnight, and took the doors of the gate of the city, and the two posts, and went away with them, bar and all, and put them on his shoulders, and carried them up to the top of an hill that is before Hebron.
American King James Version×
)

The free will God allowed the Philistines is extended to all men—even those God specially uses. To break the Philistine tyranny over Israel, God would use a man, Samson, who had remarkable strengths coupled with regrettable weaknesses. God would accomplish His purpose and Samson would be the tool, whether he acted according to his better attributes or allowed his weaknesses to triumph. Regrettably, Samson would allow his weaknesses to get the better of him.

Contrary to scriptural principles, Samson had married a Philistine woman who was eventually given to another man. He could have chosen any Israelite woman, but Samson allowed his impulsive desire rather than his faith-guided intellect to control his behavior. He was lustful and arrogant. A little leaven leavens the whole lump, and so Samson descended even further into sin because he was unwilling to control his desire and submit to God—he went in to a Philistine harlot. Samson was now fully set to follow his lust, and this God would use to finally free Israel.

When Samson fell for another Philistine woman, Delilah, the Philistine lords persuaded her to discover the secret of his strength. After several failed attempts to capture him—attempts that Samson knew involved Delilah—he was finally captured. It is remarkable that in spite of knowing what Delilah was up to, Samson actually told her the truth. Maybe he did not really believe the truth himself, which might be hinted at in verse 20. Perhaps he had grown a bit cocky as to the source of his strength. If so, that was about to end. Overpowered and blinded by the Philistines, he was afterward forced to grind wheat. Some commentators suggest that he ground wheat as the women did, using a grinding stone and plate. Others suggest that he was harnessed to a grinding stone as a beast of burden, although this was apparently not typical until centuries later. In either case, the point was the same: to humiliate Israel's strongman.

When Samson was brought before the Philistine lords in their temple of Dagon some time later, his call to God was sincere. However, his stated motive—revenge for the blindness inflicted upon him (Judges 16:28 Judges 16:28And Samson called to the LORD, and said, O Lord God, remember me, I pray you, and strengthen me, I pray you, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.
American King James Version×
)—was surely not the only motivation he had for seeking God. There is evidence to support Samson's repentance in that the New Testament lists him as a hero of faith who, out of weakness, was made strong (Hebrews 11:32-34 Hebrews 11:32-34 [32] And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: [33] Who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions. [34] Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.
American King James Version×
). Indeed, is it not directly stated that he, along with the others mentioned, died assured of the promises of God's Kingdom and will be "made perfect" with Christians of this age? (compare verses 39-40) Moreover, Judges 16:22 Judges 16:22However, the hair of his head began to grow again after he was shaven.
American King James Version×
is quite telling in relating what happened during Samson's servitude. It states, "However, the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaven." Just what significance does this have? After all, we know that Samson's hair was not "magical." It was God who gave him his miraculous strength—the hair simply representing the Nazirite vow of consecration to God, which, in Samson's case, was supposed to be lifelong. Perhaps verse 22, then, is telling us that while blind and humiliated in servitude to pagans, Samson finally "saw the light" and reconsecrated himself to God. Viewed this way, the final scene in his life is but the culmination of that rededication.

This final scene is well known—Samson brings down the temple by toppling two pillars, which killed him and all the Philistine lords within. Until recently critics had thought this unlikely, a dramatic myth. How could a whole temple be destroyed by toppling two huge stone pillars? Just this past decade, however, a Philistine temple was fully excavated, revealing that the structure of the temple rested entirely upon two central pillars barely six feet apart. Given the weight distribution on those pillars, it would have been entirely possible for the biblical story to have ended precisely as recorded.

Why is not more made of Samson's repentance if it happened at this time? Because that is not the point of the narrative. The entire book of Judges concerns God's repeated deliverance of His people, regardless of the inclinations of those to whom He gave the task. The Nelson Study Bible notes: "Samson's life is ultimately a story about God's faithfulness in spite of human weakness. God's hand can be seen throughout the story—in Samson's empowerment by God's Spirit and in God's professed desire to subdue the Philistines (Judges 14:4 Judges 14:4But his father and his mother knew not that it was of the LORD, that he sought an occasion against the Philistines: for at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel.
American King James Version×
). It also can be seen in this last contest between the true God and the Philistine god Dagon. When the Philistines captured Samson, they attributed this to their god and celebrated his victory (Judges 16:23 Judges 16:23Then the lords of the Philistines gathered them together for to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god, and to rejoice: for they said, Our god has delivered Samson our enemy into our hand.
American King James Version×
, 24). We know, however, that it was God who had allowed it (v. 20), and that it was God who gained the ultimate triumph against Dagon and the Philistine rulers (vv. 27, 30)" (note on Judges 16:23-31 Judges 16:23-31 [23] Then the lords of the Philistines gathered them together for to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god, and to rejoice: for they said, Our god has delivered Samson our enemy into our hand. [24] And when the people saw him, they praised their god: for they said, Our god has delivered into our hands our enemy, and the destroyer of our country, which slew many of us. [25] And it came to pass, when their hearts were merry, that they said, Call for Samson, that he may make us sport. And they called for Samson out of the prison house; and he made them sport: and they set him between the pillars. [26] And Samson said to the lad that held him by the hand, Suffer me that I may feel the pillars whereupon the house stands, that I may lean on them. [27] Now the house was full of men and women; and all the lords of the Philistines were there; and there were on the roof about three thousand men and women, that beheld while Samson made sport. [28] And Samson called to the LORD, and said, O Lord God, remember me, I pray you, and strengthen me, I pray you, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes. [29] And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars on which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left. [30] And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell on the lords, and on all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life. [31] Then his brothers and all the house of his father came down, and took him, and brought him up, and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the burial plot of Manoah his father. And he judged Israel twenty years.
American King James Version×
).