NOTES on Hebrews
11:32-34 C (click here for
Samson is the third judge listed in Hebrews 11:32. His story is in Judges 13-16. In many ways he differs from Gideon and Barak, but in one way he resembles them: his faith in God was weak through part (if not most) of his life.
The Philistines were not native to the Promised Land. They originally settled the Mediterranean coastline and gradually moved inland, growing in numbers and power. Eventually the Israelites apostatized (again), and God gave them over to the control of the Philistines for forty years.
During this time of oppression the "angel of the Lord" appeared to the wife of a man named Manoah from the tribe of Dan. She was sterile, and the heavenly visitor said to her, "You are going to conceive and have a son. Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean, because you will conceive and give birth to a son. No razor may be used on his head, because the boy is to be a Nazirite, set apart to God from birth, and he will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines." (Judges 13:3-5)
This woman was not the only one to receive such an announcement. Sarah received a heavenly promise of a son (Genesis 18:10-14); Hagar received a heavenly visitor who prophesied about Ishmael (Genesis 16:11-12). Rebekah had divine intervention for the birth of Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25:21), and Hannah received a message from God that she would bear Samuel (1 Samuel 1:2). Ahaz king of Judah received a promise from God that a boy would be born who would foreshadow Jesus himself (Isaiah 7:12-16). Zechariah received word that Elizabeth would bear a son, and Mary received an angelic pronouncement of her conception with the baby Jesus. (Luke 1:13, 26-37)
Angel of the Lord
The angel of the Lord who appeared to Manoah's wife did not initially identify himself. The second time the angel appeared to her, Manoah's wife called her husband to come and see. Manoah asked him his name, and he replied, "Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding." (Judges 13:18)
The Hebrew phrase translated "understanding" above is the same as that translated "wonderful" in Isaiah 9:6 which says of the coming Jesus, "And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
The angel of the Lord was, apparently, God. Some say he was the pre-incarnate Christ. Manoah and his wife, however, still didn't recognize him. It wasn't until they offered a sacrifice to God and the angel of the Lord ascended in the smoke from the fire that blazed from the altar rocks that they recognized they had been in the presence of God.
Frightened, Manoah cried to his wife, "We are doomed to die! We have seen God!"
She replied, "If the Lord had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and grain offering from our hands, nor shown us all these things or now told us this." (Judges 13:22-23)
The birth of Samson was so significant that God appeared to two unknown Israelites from the tribe of Dan to prepare them for their role in nurturing this baby. Not only were they going to have a baby, but the as yet unborn boy was to be a Nazirite.
The Nazirite vow was usually taken voluntarily for a temporary period of time. It was a vow of separation to God, and it involved drinking no fermented drink, leaving the hair uncut, and eating no form of grape. Manoah's baby, Samson, was one of two people recorded in the Bible who were set apart as Nazirites before birth. (The other one was John the Baptist.) Manoah's wife was not to eat or drink any fermented products or grape products while she was pregnant with Samson. He had no choice in his being set apart for his entire life.
Samson had no choice in being set apart for God. Unlike Gideon and Barak who were specifically called to be God's generals when they were well into their adult lives, Samson was selected before birth and grew up with the perpetual sign of the Nazirite vow on him: long, uncut hair. Whether he would choose to obey God or not, he belonged to God. He was God's appointed deliverer for Israel, and God blessed Samson with a miraculous gift of strength through no choice or agreement on Samson's part.
Samson's life was a living metaphor of the nation of Israel. God appointed them to be his people before they existed. He promised them to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He delivered them into freedom; he nurtured them into independence. He allowed them to make their own decisions, and he allowed them to forsake him and commit spiritual adultery by embracing pagan gods. Through all these things, God did not forsake Israel, and he continued to fight for them and to rescue them from oppression.
Samson behaved similarly to Israel. God promised him and designed him from before his conception. He told his parents how to nurture him as a Nazirite set apart for God from the moment his mother conceived him. His father and mother allowed him to make his own decisions as an adult, and when Samson made foolish choices that flew in the face of Israelite teachings, they did not intervene. Samson continually sought Philistine women. He lived as a pagan, not an Israelite. He flaunted his Nazirite vow with the exception of his hair; that remained uncut. Yet through all Samson's rebellion and self-centered indulgence, God never withdrew his power from him. Like Israel, he was created to belong to God and to do his will. Like Israel, he failed to uphold his calling. As with Israel, God did not forsake him but accomplished his purposes through him in spite of his disobedience.
When Samson grew up, he announced that he wanted to marry a Philistine woman from the town of Timnah. His parents were upset and asked him to marry an Israelite, but Samson replied, "Get her for me. She's the right one for me."
Then the Bible says a strange thing. In Judges 14:4, right after Samson demands the woman from Timnah, the author of Judges includes this parenthetical comment: "His parents did not know that this was from the Lord, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines, for at that time they were ruling over Israel."
God always accomplishes his will, whether or not we honor him. Samson was flaunting his Nazirite vow of being separated for God; in fact, he was flaunting all of Israel's laws and customs. It was strictly forbidden to marry a non-Israelite.
Exactly how God would have accomplished his will through Samson had he been obedient and faithful is a matter of conjecture. We know, however, that even though Samson was arrogant and disobedient, God still used him as his chosen deliverer. God actually used Samson's sinful behavior as a means of accomplishing his will.
This fact does not give us permission to sin and justify it by saying God's will is being accomplished. Rather, this story confirms that even when we choose to live outside the will of God, God is still sovereign. He can rescue, redeem and transform even our most self-indulgent acts for himself. We might miss the blessing of growing in his grace and of participating in God's work, but God will not abandon his purposes even if we refuse to partake of his blessing.
Samson's Philistine wife betrayed him, predictably enough. He posed a riddle to her family and friends, and at their urging she wheedled the answer from him and told them. When they were able to answer the riddle, he knew he had been betrayed. He paid the price of the bet he had made with them-thirty linen garments and thirty sets of clothes-but he vowed revenge.
"Samson said to them, 'If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have solved my riddle.'
"Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power. He went down to Ashkelon, struck down thirty of their men, stripped them of their belongings and gave their clothes to those who had explained the riddle. Burning with anger, he went up to his father's house. And Samson's wife was given to the friend who had attended him at his wedding." (Judges 14:19-20)
God gave Samson the power to terrorize the Philistines even though Samson's motives were selfish. He was seeking revenge for a personal wrong, and his motives did not include freeing Israel from the Philistine's pagan bondage. Still, God used him to put fear into the Philistine's hearts.
Later, during harvest time, Samson went back to Timnah to finally see his wife. According to the New Bible Dictionary published by Inter-Varsity Press, "The type of marriage indicated [between Samson and the woman from Timnah] did not involve permanent cohabitation, but when Samson arrived back in the early summer with the present customary in such a relationship he was refused entrance." (p. 1053)
Samson was enraged when he discovered that his wife had been given to someone else. The bride's father tried to rationalize: " 'I was so sure you thoroughly hated her,' he said, 'that I gave her to your friend. Isn't her younger sister more attractive? Take her instead.'"(Judges 15:2)
Once again Samson was enraged. He "caught three hundred foxes and tied them tail to tail in pairs. He then fastened a torch to every pair of tails, lit the torches and let the foxes loose in the standing grain of the Philistines. He burned up the shocks and standin grain, together with the vineyards and olive groves." (Judges 15:4-5)
When the Philistines learned that Samson did this awful deed and why he did it, they turned not on Samson but on his wife and father-in-law, and they burned them to death. This act only made Samson angrier, and "he attacked them viciously and slaughtered many of them." (Judges 15:8)
Samson was not living a godly life. He wasn't seeking the Lord's direction or trying to obey the law. He was self-centered and volatile. He acted repeatedly and impulsively in rage. He possessed God's power in his body, but he took it for granted. He thought of his extraordinary strength as a natural part of himself, something he could always call on when it suited his purposes. He used his power from God to get what he wanted and to punish those who stood in his way.
In spite of Samson's immature and violent temper, however, God was allowing his power in Samson to traumatize the Philistines. Even though Samson was not representing God to the pagans, God was still accomplishing his purposes. He was allowing Samson single-handedly to wreak havoc among the enemy.
Sleeping With the Enemy
Strangely, Israel was not sympathetic to Samson's attacks on the enemy. They had been under Philistine control for many years. Apparently the pagan power was not overwhelmingly crushing, and the people of Israel had adapted to life with the Philistines. Israel was practicing their pagan religion, and they had learned to get along with the people from whom they were to be separate. They had lost their sense of being set apart for God. Like Samson, set apart from before birth, they ignored God's claim on them and lived as they pleased.
No doubt the Israelites were afraid of Samson also. He certainly caused them to fear that the Philistines would retaliate by turning against them.
After Samson's vicious attack, "The Philistines went up and camped in Judah, spreading out near Lehi. The men of Judah asked, 'Why have you come to fight us?'
'We have come to take Samson prisoner,' they answered, 'to do to him as he did to us.'
"Then three thousand men from Judah went down to the cave in the rock of Etam and said to Samson, 'Don't you realize that the Philistines are rulers over us? What have you done to us?'
"He answered, 'I merely did to them what they did to me.' " (Judges 15:9-11)
After agreeing not to kill Samson, he allowed the men of Judah to tie him up and deliver him to the Philistines. As he approached their camp, "The Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power." (Judges 15:14)
He broke out of the ropes, found and grabbed a donkey's jawbone, and with his makeshift weapon he killed one thousand Philistines.
The Israelites did not want Samson upsetting the balance they had with the Philistines. They were willing to give the enemy the most powerful man in their nation in order to stay on good terms with the pagans.
An interesting note to this story is that this was the only instance during the time of the judges when a force of men from Judah gathered during a national crisis. Other judges gathered troops from several different tribes when they went on their God-ordered campaigns against the oppressing nations. This instance in Judges 15 is the only time a force of men gathered from Judah, but they did not gather to fight the enemy. They gathered to help the enemy and to protect their unholy alliance with them.
Samson personally reflected the self-protective, self-centered attitude of the men of Judah. After his amazing slaughter of 1,000 men, he petulantly cried out to God, " 'You have given your servant this great victory. Must I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?'
"Then God opened up the hollow place in Lehi, and water came out of it." (Judges 15:18-19)
Samson understood that God had given him great strength, but he lacked a sense of reverence. He was so accustomed to his privilege that he failed to understand that he owed it and his allegiance to the gift's Giver. He acknowledged that God had given him the victory over the Philistines, but he turned and demanded that God satisfy his needs.
God, in his great mercy and long-suffering, miraculously provided water for Samson. This act of God was reminiscent of God providing water from the rock for the petulant Israelites in the desert. In spite of humanity's selfish, manipulative weakness, God persists in protecting and rescuing his people. We cannot make God forsake us. His claim on us and his love for us transcends our narrow, self-destructive attitudes. God continues to reveal himself and to draw us with his love and grace.
After this incident at Lehi, Samson judged, or led, Israel for twenty years. Apparently the Israelites realized that God was in his strength, and they couldn't overpower God and get rid of Samson. They finally allowed Samson and his gift to work in their behalf.
Samson's character did not parallel his physical strength. His story is checkered with anger, impulsivity, immorality, and revenge.
Sometime after avenging himself on the Philistines, Samson visited a prostitute in Gaza. He followed that visit with another act of brute strength. He left the woman during the night, avoiding the men of Gaza who were lying in wait to ambush him, and he tore the city gates out of their foundations and carried them, posts and all, to a nearby hill where he planted them facing Hebron, the capital of Judah. This act, apparently, was Samson's response to Judah's attempt to betray him. He used his strength just to remind his countrymen that he had the last word. They could not overcome him.
The next recorded incident in Samson's life is the most famous one: his affair with Delilah. "He fell in love with a woman in the Valley of Sorek whose name was Delilah." (Judges 16:4)
The Bible does not even suggest he married Delilah. This was, apparently, a woman with whom Samson had an affair.
We all know the story. The Philistine rulers visited Delilah and bribed her to discover the secret of Samson's strength. "Each one of us will give you eleven hundred shekels of silver [about 28 pounds]," they told her. (Judges 16:5)
The money was far more meaningful to Delilah than was a relationship with Samson. She commenced a campaign to manipulate the information from him.
Samson toyed with her. Apparently he never considered the possibility that God might actually remove his strength from him. He had lived so self-indulgently without serious consequences that he took God's gift completely for granted. He seemed not to believe that God, while full of mercy and grace, also demanded justice and honor. Arrogantly he gave Delilah hints that moved closer and closer to the external symbol of his Nazirite vow: his uncut hair.
Throughout his life Samson had ignored his vows of holiness. He had lived recklessly with no attempt to honor God's laws or God's claim on his life. The one thing he had not trampled was God's command not to cut his hair. Samson knew there was a connection between his hair and his strength. If not, he probably would have cut it before this time in his life since he ignored the other aspects of holy living. It is likely that he broke his vow and drank strong drink during his marriage festival at Timnah since those events always included drinking wine. No matter what commands he ignored, however, Samson never lost his strength.
Now, confronted by Delilah's pouting and demands that he prove his love by sharing his secret, Samson's weak character overcame him. Three times he gave her false information. First she tied him with seven bowstrings. Second, she tied him with seven new ropes. Third, she wove his hair in a loom. Each time he broke free when she told him the Philistines (who were hidden in the room) were upon him.
Finally she nagged. " 'How can you say, "I love you," when you won't confide in me? This is the third time you have made a fool of me and haven't told me the secret of your great strength.' With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was tired to death." (Judges 16:15-16)
He told her everything. He told her that he had been set apart from birth as a Nazirite, and he told her if his hair were gone, his strength would also be gone. Delilah realized Samson had finally told her the truth. She made sure the Philistines were present and hidden, and then she got Samson to go to sleep with his head in her lap. She called a man to shave his hair "and so began to subdue him. And his strength left him." (Judges 16:19)
The heart of the tragedy of Samson's story is that when Delilah woke him by warning him that the Philistines were upon him, he did not know that the Lord had left him. His strength had never been in his hair; it had always been in the Lord. Because Samson had been set apart from birth, the Spirit of God had been with him throughout his life, strengthening him whenever he had to take care of a Philistine problem. Just as God was always with Israel, fighting her battles and accomplishing his purposes through her without their efforts yet pulling back and allowing them to fall into captivity when they persistently apostatized, so God left Samson when he disrespected the visible sign of His presence with him. Samson had chronically ignored God. He had taken for granted that God's gifts were his entitlement. Finally, with this last insult to God's claim on him, God left him.
Samson didn't even know He was gone.
Samson believed he could escape, but the Philistines caught him, gouged out his eyes, and led him to prison where they set him to grinding grain, the work often assigned to an animal. As Samson ground day after day, his hair began to grow back.
Overjoyed at their success, the Philistines gathered to offer "a great sacrifice" (Judges 16:23) to their god Dagon, the god of grain, for delivering the feared Samson into their hands. The people gathered in their temple, and they called for Samson to come and perform for them. The man of terror had become an object of derision.
The jailers brought Samson, and as he stood between two pillars in the temple, he prayed what might have been his first prayer of faith, "O Sovereign Lord, remember me. O God, please strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes." (Judges 16:28)
Just as Israel would turn to God and finally remember to acknowledge his sovereignty and miraculous power in their past, just as Israel would repent and ask God to deliver them, so did Samson. Punished almost beyond endurance, deprived of the gift that had defined his self-centered life, Samson finally acknowledged that his strength had always been from God. He begged God to do one more miracle and to allow him to once more avenge himself against the Philistines.
This time, however, Samson acknowledged that he could not destroy the enemy without the power of God. This time he was willing to give God the credit for the destruction, and he was content not to be restored to greatness. He did not ask God to heal him. He simply asked God for one more gift of strength. As he stood in the pagan temple which honored a demonic god, Samson finally acknowledged God's sovereignty. He asked God to demonstrate his power over the pagans right in their own temple.
God honored Samson's prayer of faith. With a mighty push, Samson toppled the pillars against which he leaned, and the structure crashed, killing the people and the rulers gathered inside.
"Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived." (Judges 16:30)
A Deeper Look
Samson was unique among the judges. In Samson God demonstrated the story of Israel. God placed among them a self-centered, morally weak man who possessed the supernatural strength of God. He allowed his people, chronically disobedient and apostatizing, to see their own story lived out in the pathetic and tragic life of this man. In Samson they were allowed to see the strength that was always theirs if they would only acknowledge it.
When God called Gideon, he raised up a Moses figure. In Gideon the Israelites were reminded of God's call of their great deliverer and of their rescue as a nation from the hands of relentless evil. God was trying to remind Israel who they were; they were his chosen people, and once again he was orchestrating their rescue from enemy oppression.
When God called Barak, he issued the call through a woman. Such a call was a stigma of weakness. Barak illustrated the moral and spiritual weakness of the men of Israel. No one had the faith or courage to lead the nation except Deborah the prophetess. Yet God called a man, so weak and timid that he asked Deborah to go into battle with him, to lead his people to another supernatural victory against the Canaanites. Through Barak God illustrated his redemption of passivity and lack of responsibility. God transformed the reluctant Barak into a man of faith, and God was willing to transform all of Israel into a nation of strength and courage.
Overarching all of these living object lessons to Israel, God was demonstrating that He is sovereign. No matter how fallen or disloyal or unobservant his people became, no matter how unequipped his people were to lead with courage and valor, God still accomplished his purposes. Even when he had to deal with intractable disloyalty, as in the case of Samson, God still used Samson's self-serving reactions to accomplish His will.
God gives each of us physical and spiritual gifts according to his will. He plans each of us before we are born, and he designs the package of skills and sensitivities and blessings he wants each of us to have. Sometimes we don't want to be responsible for those gifts or for what they equip us. Sometimes they require more surrender than we wish to exercise.
God never gifts us without also providing the courage and the strength to use those gifts. Just as the gifts are not intrinsically ours, neither is their exercise. God desires to glorify himself through each of us, and his goal is to fill us with his Spirit and to do His work through us.
If we take ownership of God's gifts instead of acknowledging they are his, we twist them and use them to glorify ourselves. They become a curse to us instead of a blessing. If we view them as ours, we feel free to use them or ignore them, despise them or manipulate them, control others with them or enslave ourselves to them.
If we allow Jesus to be central in our hearts, then he is free to develop and use his gifts to us according to his will. When Jesus is in charge of our gifts, they become sources of blessings in our lives and in the lives of others.
God is asking you to acknowledge Him as your designer. He's asking you to embrace his call on your life and to accept his gifts to you as blessings, not burdens. He's also asking you to let go of your control over the blessings he's given you so he can grant you freedom from them instead of enslavement to them.
When God gives us freedom from his gifts to us, he doesn't remove his gifts. Rather, he takes charge of their use and development, and we are free to stop focusing on them. When we focus on Jesus instead of managing our blessings, we find that our hearts become filled with satisfaction and joy instead of worry and anxiety.
God has called you and chosen you. You are his, and he wants to use your life to glorify himself. He will not do a hostile takeover of your soul; he waits for you to choose to surrender to him. When you do, his love will motivate you, and you will discover that God's will is being done through you even when you're not aware of his working.
When you acknowledge Jesus as your Lord, he becomes your reward instead of the accomplishments and things in your life holding that position. When Jesus claims your heart, you will discover your life has power and meaning and joy, and you won't be generating those things at all. They are his gifts to you.
God is calling you to give up your most prized accomplishments and abilities to him. He's asking you to let go of the things that feel like your own-your skills, your children, your spouse, your career, your reputation-and place them all into his hands. He's asking you to give up your clinging and attempts to manage those things and allow Him to teach you to rest. He's asking you to trust him to care for those things with his eternal perspective. He's asking you to open your heart to him so his eternal love can help you to trust his perspective. He's asking you to let him give back to you the things you love after he has transformed you and your expectations. God is asking you to trust him.
Praise God that he knows us better than we know ourselves. Praise God that he faithfully leads us step by step towards himself, transforming us by his grace as we learn to surrender. Praise Jesus that he has forgiven all our selfish sins and manipulations. Praise Jesus that he has given us his life to take the place of our deeply flawed natures. Praise the Holy Spirit that he indwells us and continuously bathes us in the love and correction and grace and strength of Jesus.
Praise God for giving us new birth!
All contents copyright (c) 1999-2001 Graphics
Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised August 11, 2001.