"He shall begin to deliver Israel"
In the south west of the land of Canaan was the plain of Philistia. There were five principal cities and the people who dwelt in them were known as "the Philistines". They were a warlike and fierce people who possessed superior weapons to those of Israel. They cruelly oppressed the people of God for many years making them subject to their rule.
At this time Samson was born. A man of great strength and great weakness. But we are taught from the story of his life that despite man's weakness God is able to deliver His people.
A STRANGE VISITOR TO MANOAH'S WIFE (Judges 13).
Close to the Philistine border in the little town of Zorah, lived a faithful couple. The husband's name was Manoah and he and his wife had no children.
Quite unexpectedly, a visitor appeared to Manoah's wife and announc ed that she would have a son (Judges 13:1-3). He told her that this boy would be a Nazarite (separated one) from his birth and that she too was to observe the Nazarite customs until the child was born.
His mission, said the angelic visitor, would be to "begin to deliver Israel out of the hands of the Philistines" (v. 5).
Manoah and his wife were so concerned about this strange message from God that they requested God to give them more information about how they should bring the child up. God granted their request and the angel appeared again. He emphasised again the importance of the Nazarite vow, and when Manoah offered a burnt offering to God the angel ascended in the flame of the fire and disappeared from their view.
THE NAZARITE VOW.
Numbers 6 outlines the details of the Nazarite vow. It was given in order that any Israelite who wanted to separate himself from his normal duties and dedicate himself to the service of his God, could do so (v. 2). By it he was permitted to imitate the High Priest in certain ways. Like the High Priest, the Nazarite was not to touch any strong drink or fruit of the vine. He was not to be defiled with death, that is by touching a dead body and if accidentally so, then his vow was broken and he had to begin his time of separation again. Finally he was not to cut his hair as a symbol of his dedication to God (cp. Numbers 6:3-8; Leviticus 10:8-11; 21:10-12).
The vow could be taken for a specific period of time or a child could be devoted by the parents (as was Samson) for life.
It was because Israel had mixed with the Gentiles and adopted their practices that they suffered. Samson, the deliverer, was to be a Nazarite highlighting the principle that separation from the ways of the Gentiles would bring salvation. Samson in his life depicts the great struggle which has taken place in God's nation sometimes strong sometimes weak. Now achieving great victories now succumbing to their enemies oc casionally showing great faith usually wretched because of turning away from God and doing all the things that please themselves.
SAMSON'S WORK BEGINS (Judges 14:1-4).
Samson's parents would have spent many hours instructing him in his mission. As he grew, the spirit of God came upon him from time to time and moved him to do things for God. He became a prominent figure in the region beyond Zorah and bordering on the Philistines territory (Judges 13:25).
Timnath means "assigned portion". It was a city of the Philistines, though God had granted it to the tribe of Dan (see Josh. 19:43). Samson went down to this city, no doubt at the prompting of the spirit of Yahweh, but while there Samson fell in love with a Philistine woman (14:1-2). He requested his parents to arrange the wedding. They were very disappointed in him, but did as he wished. How like the nation of Israel he was. The evidence of their God was all around them and His appeal was to obey Him and love Him and to show His ways. This would have meant a full and happy life for them, but they refused. Instead they loved the gods of the people around about and the evil practices that the na tions indulged themselves with would bring sorrow and death to the Children of Israel.
To enter marriage with a Philistine woman brought Samson into con flict with his Nazarite vow. Here was one who had separated himself to a life of holiness, betraying his vow completely. The commandment forbid ding marriage outside the Truth was brushed to one side (Deut. 7:1-4; see also Josh. 23:12, 13).
SAMSON'S MARRIAGE (Judges 14:5-20; Chapter 15).
On his way down to Timnath to make arrangements for the wedding, Samson was attacked by a lion. The spirit of Yahweh came mightily upon him and with his bare hands he tore the beast apart and killed it. The Philistines were like the lion destroying the people of God. But just as Samson in the strength of the Spirit of God destroyed the lion, so with Israel, if they allowed God to guide them would be able to defeat their enemies by His power.
Later, on his way down to the wedding, Samson observed that a swarm of bees had made a hive in the carcase of the lion and he was able to eat some of the honey. This became the basis of an impossible riddle which
Samson put to the Philistine wedding guests. He wanted to torment them. By theatening his wife the Philistines eventually obtained the answer from her and answered the riddle. Samson was angry with them for using his wife in this way. He slew 30 Philistines to obtain the raiment which he had promised as payment for solving the riddle.
This started a chain of events in which Samson
- burned down the Philistines corn by putting burning torches between the tails of 300 foxes (Judges 15:1-5);
- smote the Philistines in their villages "hip and thigh with a great slaughter" (Judges 15:8);
- slew 1,000 of them with the jawbone of an ass (Judges 15:9-20).
SAMSON'S DOWNFALL (Judges 16).
Although moved to actions of great strength Samson also displayed great weaknesses. Eventually these brought about his downfall.
He allowed himself to become involved with an evil woman called Delilah. The Philistines promised to pay her a large sum of money if she could discover the secret of Samson' strength.
After several false explanations to Delilah, Samson eventually gave her the right one. The secret was in his uncut hair (not that his long hair itself gave him strength but it was a symbol of his relationship with God). The strength came from God, but once Samson allowed his hair to be cut then God departed from him.
Samson betrayed his Nazarite vow. He had repudiated his position of a "specially separated" person unto God for the pleasures of the flesh. Weakened now, he was taken captive by the Philistines and putting out his eyes (the cause of his downfall) they made him grind corn in the prison.
SAMSON'S DEATH (Judges 16:21-31).
How long Samson was kept in prison we do not know. But it was long enough for his hair to grow again. He spent many hours thinking of his God and realising how foolish he had been in betraying his vows. It could be said that he "saw" more of the principles of holiness in his blindness than when his sight led him astray.
Then, during a great feast that the Philistines held to their god, Dagon, they sent for Samson that they might make sport of him. A boy led him in before the huge crowd who mocked him to amuse themselves. At Sam son' request the boy guided him to a position between the two great pillars which supported the building.
With great feeling Samson prayed to God, "remember me", "strengthen me", "avenge me". Then, with an arm straining at each pillar, Samson said, "let me die with the Philistines." Exerting himself, he felt the power of God surge into him again. He bowed himself for ward. Loud were the jeers of the mob, but at the first great "crack" there would have been a sudden deathly hush. Samson bowed lower. Suddenly the pillars gave way and amid screams and shrieks of terror the huge edifice crashed down.
The number of Philistines slain in this one act were more than Samson had slain during his whole life.
Samson's body was recovered by his brethren and he was buried with his father between the towns of Zorah and Eshtaol.
LESSON FOR US:
Samson was a man of great contrasts. Faithfully serving God in one scene and serving the lusts of his flesh in the next. The spirit of God mov ed him frequently to do great acts of deliverance and the spirit of rebellion in his flesh moved him equally as often to acts which brought him into bondage.
Are we like Samson? All of us, when we attempt to serve God will find wonderful help in the Word of God and have access to a source of strength that will enable us to do great things for God (Phil. 4:13). We will also find that the desires of our flesh will try to assert themselves and turn our mind away from God's truth and our responsibilities toward Him. We must learn from Samson that to give into fleshly lusts will bring ruin and death. The great lesson of Samson's life is described in Proverbs 16:32, "He that ruleth his spirit (is better) than he that taketh a city."
Samson's eyes continually led him astray and eventually he lost the sight of them altogether. It was then that he was able to "see" his true position. Jesus recommends that we too, should put aside the things of this world so that we might "see" clearly the teaching and reward of God (Matthew 18:7-9; John 9:39-41).
"The Story of the Bible" (H. P. Mansfield) Vol. 3, No. 3
"Samson" (R. W. Abel) C.S.S.S. Study notes
- In what way was Samson a Nazarite?
- In what way was Samson a type of his people?
- What was the secret of Samson's strength?
- Why did God withdraw His strengthening spirit from Samson?
- Explain Samson's attitude which caused God to return to him after his imprisonment.
- Explain what Samson's weaknesses teach us about our choice of friends today.
- What was a Nazarite and why was Samson to be a Nazarite from his birth?
- Samson was a man of great strengths and great weaknesses. Show how he was typical of Israel and how his experiences form a lesson for us today.
- Separation from the world is essential for salvation. How is this lesson illustrated in Samson's life?