Samson is the last of the judges in the book of Judges, and one of the most difficult to understand. He did not use other men. He worked solely by himself. He did great feats of strength. If he had been intended to raise an army, there would have been no need for the extra strength. Not one of the judges who raised an army was so enabled. Samson’s principal work was in keeping the Philistines off balance. As long as Samson lived, their attention was so taken with him that little was done against the rest of the Israelites.
Samson judged for the twenty years between the battle of Aphek (1 Samuel 4:1-11), when the ark was captured by the Philistines, and the battle of Mizpeh, when Israel defeated the Philistines (1 Samuel 7:2, 7-13). The total Philistine oppression of forty years (Judges 13:1) which ended with the Mizpeh victory, was half over when Samson entered the picture. The first half of the oppression was serious enough, but nothing like it would have been following the Aphek battle, had not something been done to interfere. The ark of God was seized, Hophni and Phinehas were killed, and Eli died.
A countermeasure was needed. Yet because the oppression had been imposed because of sin, there had to be a true repentance before victory could be granted. This did not exist yet, so only a stopgap measure could yet be taken with Samson. He would “begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines” (Judges 13:5). Samson would only begin the deliverance. Others, like Samuel at Mizpeh, would finish it (1 Samuel 7:7-13).
The material culture of the Philistines shows their dominance. They held a monopoly over the Israelites in smelting iron. A sword of iron could completely sever a sword of bronze.
There was a supernatural announcement of Samson’s birth. Nothing is mentioned regarding the births of the judges before him, except that Jephthah was born illegitimately. When the angel of the Lord came the second time, he did not give any additional information. Everything the parents needed to know had already been stated. The desire to know all the steps ahead is not usually honored by God. God wanted Manoah to trust Him and be content. When the angel of the Lord was asked his name, he said his name is “wonderful” (Hebrew pele, Judges13:8). Gideon asked for an authenticating sign, while Manoah did not. God knew they each needed a sign, so he gave them. When the angel ascended in the flame, he did so “wonderfully,” using the same basic word.
The usual time for the duration of a Nazarite vow was thirty days. Both Samuel (1 Samuel 1:11) and John the Baptist (Luke 1:15), whose births were also of mothers who had been barren, were probably Nazarites all their lives like Samson was.
Samson was a living miracle in having greater physical strength than any other man. He needed to learn to live correctly with his unusual ability, and not use this strength for selfish ends or personal honor. The Nazarite form of life provided the discipline of a daily and continual reminder of his responsibility before God.
The Spirit of the Lord began to move or impel Samson (Judges 13:25). He was strong all the time he had his hair and kept his vow, and that strength was sufficient for most tasks. Occasionally there was need for a greater strength, and the Spirit provided it.
God used Samson’s wedding as an occasion by which to provoke the Philistines. This does not excuse Samson for marrying a Philistine. He should have known they could not be trusted.
The attitude of the Israelites in apprehending Samson for the Philistines at Lehi (Judges 15:11-13) shows that the Israelites were in no mood to fight the Philistines. The Philistines were greatly concerned regarding Samson, and any further effort to subjugate Israel was by-passed. Thousands of Philistines came for the purpose of capturing one man. In their slaughter, Samson gave himself unstintingly, and was dehydrated. God opened a spring which continued to run, as emblematic of Samson’s faith. A period of peacetime judging started for Samson shortly after his slaughter of the thousand Philistines. Following their complete failure to capture him, the Philistines may have ceased trying.
Only a small part of Samson’s life is known. The account is limited almost entirely to the first year and the last year of his judgeship. Nearly nothing is said about the intervening eighteen years.
Samson was duped by Deliliah in a shocking example of the power of lust. There must have been a serious decline in his sense of dedication to God. Recognition of his special assignment had grown dim. The natural weakness that had been there all the while could now raise its head. This is a commentary on the power of passion to control and ruin any man. Samson was a weakling in the hands of Delilah. Entanglement with people of impure motives is like playing with fire. The close of Samson’s life saw his weakness coming to the fore in all its strength, to bring degradation. The degree to which his effectiveness was damaged is impossible to assess. Samson’s life could have been greater had he not given in to his weakness for women. That the Philistines offered Delilah so much money shows how much they wanted to be rid of this man. That shows how well Samson had been accomplishing God’s assignment. Samson must have wished he could live those few days over again. But there was nothing to do but suffer the consequences. The wages of sin run high.
In the moment of death, Samson slew more Philistines than in all his life. He was successful in his job of beginning to deliver Israel. There’s no indication that the Philistines made any further inroads during Samson’s twenty years of judgeship. His failures should not make us forget the commendable life he lived. God didn’t forget it. Hebrews 11:32 shows God’s evaluation.