A Time of Apostasy In Israel
Samson is often called "the strongest man who ever lived" because he did certain things that are humanly impossible. Consider some of his incredible feats: He killed a lion with his bare hands. (Judges 14:6) He killed a thousand men by himself. (Judges 15:15)
He tore down the city gates of Gaza and carried them away on his shoulders, supporting beams and all. (Judges 16:3) He was bound with new ropes and broke them as if they were threads. (Judges 16:12) Even though he may have been the strongest man to ever live, he fell short of being the prophetic sample who God wanted him to be.
For several reasons, I believe Samson’s miraculous birth and his amazing strength were prophetic samples of Messiah’s miraculous birth and Christ’s amazing strength over sin.
Samson was born at a time when Israel was in apostasy and under the dominion of the Philistines. Parallel: Jesus was born at a time when Israel was in apostasy and under the dominion of the Romans.
A Miracle Birth
Consider these parallels between Samson and Jesus. Samson: "The angel of the Lord appeared to her [Samson’s mother] and said, ‘You are sterile and childless, but you are going to conceive and have a son.’ " (Judges 13:3, insertion mine) Jesus: "But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus… ‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ " (Luke 1:30-34)
The Nazirite Vow
The angel instructed Samson’s mother, "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 13:4-5)
The Bible mentions the Nazirite vow for the first time when God discusses it with Moses. (Numbers 6) The Hebrew word nazir means to be separate or to be dedicated/consecrated. The essential idea behind taking the vow was total dedication to the Lord for a specific period of time.
Three people in the Bible were put under the Nazirite vow before birth: Samson (Judges 13:4-5), Samuel (1 Samuel 1:11), and John the Baptist (Luke 1:15). These men were obligated before birth because they would become prophetic samples of Christ. Additionally, each of these three men were the result of a miraculous birth. It is also noteworthy that the Levites (the priests) were also obligated to live according to the Nazirite vow. (Leviticus 10:8-10, 21:10-15; Numbers 6:6)
God chose Samson before his birth to accomplish several things. He was to "begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines." To appreciate this task, you need to know something about the setting. According to the Jubilee Calendar, Joshua led Israel into the Promised Land in 1397 B.C.
After Israel scattered throughout Canaan, the twelve tribes quickly lost their sense of direction. Each tribe appointed its own leader and from time to time, various tribes would unite in order to fight a common enemy, but there was no centralized authority over the twelve tribes as there had been during the days of Moses and Joshua.
This verse describes Israel’s early days in Canaan: "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit." (Judges 17:6) God designed this lack of centralized leadership. Jesus wanted each tribe to look to Him for direction. He was, as Pilate would later declare, "The King of the Jews." If each tribe was faith-full in carrying out His commands, He would overthrow their enemies and give them Canaan – one city at a time.
When Israel entered Canaan, millions of Canaanites occupied the land. (Israel, itself, had 601,730 men who were age twenty and older. (Numbers 26:31) God required each tribe to eliminate many Canaanites from their share of the promised land.
By putting a small tribe in a life or death situation against a much larger enemy, God designed that His people would observe first hand that He was a personal Savior. He would deliver them. In other words, God wanted each tribe to see that He was giving them the land. He did not want them to think they were taking the land.
If Israel viewed their conquests through worldly eyes, that would depend upon their own arms of flesh, whereas God wanted Israel to depend upon the everlasting arms of Almighty God. The destruction of Jericho (the first city to fall in Canaan) was a prophetic sample of how God purposed to give Canaan to Israel – one city at a time. Do not forget, the promised land of Canaan was conditional. Israel’s God would only work miracles for Israel if Israel upheld His covenant. (Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28)
Soon after entering Canaan, Israel began repetitious cycles of apostasy and repentance. Every time Israel turned their hearts from the Lord, the Lord refused to protect them from the Canaanites. (A loss of divine protection was clearly promised in the covenant.) Whenever God’s protection was removed, the Canaanites would rush in and regain the cities previously lost. Thus, the Canaanites remained a "thorn in the flesh" for several centuries.
The book of Judges indicates that Israel had a merry-go-round experience with God. They constantly went in circles, cycling between apostasy and repentance, because human nature has a relentless proclivity and insatiable appetite for sin and rebellion. I have mentioned these facts so that you might understand and appreciate the context of Judges 13.
The chapter begins with a simple assessment of Israel’s situation around the time of Samson’s birth: "Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, so the Lord delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years." (Judges 13:1, italics mine)
Divine bondage is a profound topic that goes beyond the scope of this study, but we will leave it at this for now: The Lord will permit adversity and bondage to get our attention if and when necessary. If punitive action does not get our attention, the octopus of sin will surely find us because a GPS device comes with every sin. Sooner or later, every person needs the Savior, and Israel cried out for a savior after forty years of serving the Philistines.
I cannot prove this, but I conclude that Samson looked like an ordinary man, a prophetic sample of Jesus. In other words, I do not think that Samson was a hulk of a man with bulging muscles and imposing physique. I do not believe he was a "handsome Hollywood type guy" with long hair.
I base this unusual assumption on three reasons: First, Samson’s incredible strength was not of human origin. In other words, God’s message to Israel through Samson was, not by human might or power, but by my Spirit. (See Zechariah 4:6.) Second, Samson’s life and ministry were to be a testimony to the ordinary people of Israel – that God will give divine strength to ordinary people to overcome any obstacle if they will separate themselves from the world and serve the Lord with all their hearts, minds, and souls (as the Nazirite vow indicates).
Third, Samson was a prophetic sample of Jesus and Jesus’ physical appearance was not attractive. The Bible says of Jesus, "He grew up before him [the Father] like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him." (Isaiah 53:2, insertion mine) We live at a time when the world is obsessed with physical beauty, so it takes spiritual insight to discern this sophisticated idolatry. There is a huge difference between the beauty of holiness and worshiping beauty.
Samson’s amazing strength was to be a herculean testimony. God did not want Israel worshiping Samson’s strength. God wanted everyone in Israel to see what He could do through ordinary people. God wanted Israel to know that even though Israel was in captivity, He had not forsaken them.
God wanted to bring Israel back to Himself, so He raised up an ordinary man who lived under the Nazirite vow to deliver His people from bondage caused by sin. In this sense, Samson was a powerful prophetic sample of Jesus, because when "the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8:36)
Early in his life, Samson did something very strange. The Holy Spirit led him to find a wife among the Canaanites. Samson’s desire for a Canaanite woman deeply troubled his parents because they knew the warning that Moses gave: "When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you. . . .
Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you." (Deuteronomy 7:1-4)
Notice what happened, and pay close attention to the last sentence: "Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman. When he returned, he said to his father and mother, ‘I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.’
His father and mother replied, ‘Isn’t there an acceptable woman among your relatives or among all our people? Must you go to the uncircumcised Philistines to get a wife?’ But Samson said to his father, ‘Get her for me. She’s the right one for me.’ (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.)" (Judges 14:1-4)
When Samson and his parents went down to Timnah to negotiate arrangements for the woman, a young lion came out of a vineyard and charged them. The Holy Spirit enabled Samson to catch and kill the lion by tearing it apart with his bare hands.
When the time came for making plans for the marriage feast, Samson passed by the carcass of the lion on his way to Timnah and there he found a swarm of bees and a honeycomb in the carcass. As he gathered up the honey, he was impressed with two superlatives: At his feet lay the carcass of the strongest predator in nature and in the carcass was a comb of honey, the sweetest substance known at the time.
After the marriage ceremony, Samson offered the Philistines (who ruled over the area) a riddle. He offered a huge prize of thirty linen cloths and thirty sets of clothes if they could solve his riddle by the end of the marriage feast (seven days) and if they couldn’t produce the answer, they would have to give him the same in return.
Because Samson was offering a substantial prize, the Philistines agreed to the challenge. " ‘Tell us your riddle,’ they said. ‘Let’s hear it.’ [Samson said,] ‘Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet.’ For three days they could not give the answer." (Judges 14:13-14, insertion mine)
"On the fourth day [of the wedding feast], they [the Philistines] said to Samson’s wife, ‘Coax your husband into explaining the riddle for us, or we will burn you and your father’s household to death. Did you invite us here to rob us?’ " (Judges 14; 15, insertions mine)
The riddle had innocently put Samson’s wife and her family in a difficult situation. The Bible says, "She cried the whole seven days of the feast. So on the seventh day he finally told her [the answer to the riddle], because she continued to press him. She in turn explained the riddle to her people." (Judges 14:17, insertion mine)
"Before sunset on the seventh day the men of the town said to him, ‘What is sweeter than honey? What is stronger than a lion?’ 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 [the best man] who had attended him at his wedding." (Judges 14:18-20, insertion mine)
In case you missed it, Samson’s wrath against the Philistines is justified. In other words, God used the deceit and extortion of the Philistines to engage Samson in the larger process of setting Israel free from the Philistines. "Later on, at the time of wheat harvest, Samson took a young goat [for the purpose of reconciliation] and went to visit his wife [in Timnah]. He said, ‘I’m going to my wife’s room.’ But her father would not let him go in.
‘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.’ Samson said to them, ‘This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines; I will really harm them.’ So he went out and caught three hundred foxes [an extraordinary feat] 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 standing grain, together with the vineyards and olive groves. When the Philistines asked, ‘Who did this?’ they were told, ‘Samson, the Timnite’s son-in-law, because his wife was given to his friend.’
So the Philistines went up and burned her and her father to death. Samson said to them, ‘Since you’ve acted like this, I won’t stop until I get my revenge on you.’ " (Judges 15:1-7) The love of Samson’s life was murdered and his desire for revenge was insatiable.
Samson’s personal zeal for justice helps us understand Christ’s zeal for righteousness. Notice this parallel: "When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.
So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!’ His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house [a place where truth is taught, righteousness is upheld, and prayer is offered] will consume me.’ " (John 2:13-17)
"One day Samson went to Gaza, where he saw a prostitute. He went in to spend the night with her. The people of Gaza were told, ‘Samson is here!’ So they surrounded the place and lay in wait for him all night at the city gate. They made no move during the night, saying, ‘At dawn we’ll kill him.’ But Samson lay there only until the middle of the night. Then he got up and took hold of the doors of the city gate, together with the two posts, and tore them loose, bar and all. He lifted them to his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that faces Hebron." (Judges 16:1-3)
Evidently, when Samson lost his wife, he also lost his moral compass. Samson sought out a prostitute (probably, one of many such instances) and this is how his downfall began. "Some time later, he fell in love with a [Philistine] woman in the Valley of Sorek whose name was Delilah. The rulers of the Philistines went to her and said, ‘See if you can lure him into showing you the secret of his great strength and how we can overpower him so we may tie him up and subdue him. Each one of us will give you eleven hundred shekels [twenty eight pounds] of silver.’ " (Judges 16:4-5, insertions mine)
The Bible does not say whether Delilah was a prostitute; however, the Bible does indicate that she did not love Samson and that she betrayed him for money. Delilah did to Samson what Judas did to Jesus. Delilah did not love Samson, but Samson loved her. Judas did not love Jesus, but Jesus loved him.
Both Samson and Jesus were betrayed for the love of money. It is ironic that Samson gave up his life to destroy as many of his enemies as possible, whereas Jesus gave up His life to save as many of His enemies as possible. "For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!" (Romans 5:10)
The story of Samson has a sad end, but not a hopeless end. He repented of his sins and the Lord honored his repentance by restoring strength to him. (This proves that Samson was not naturally strong.) Samson betrayed the Lord by loving Delilah more than he loved the Lord.
Then, Delilah betrayed Samson because she loved money more than she loved Samson. After spending a few cruel years in Philistine captivity, the Lord enabled Samson to weaken the authority of the Philistines over Israel by killing many of them at a religious feast.
It is a divine irony that the destruction caused by Samson, and centuries later, the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, centered on the destruction of two temples. Both temples served as the religious center for both nations and both religious centers were corrupt. Samson’s final act enabled Israel to escape the bondage of the Philistines – for a while.
The story of Samson is a tragedy. God chose him before birth to accomplish far more than he succeeded in doing. Samson was unusually gifted with Holy Spirit power, but he did not use the gift as God desired. He could have done so much more, but sin defeated the strongest man to ever live.
Samson did kill a few thousand Philistines, but he could have been another Moses. Even though Samson’s life is not a perfect mirror or prophetic sample of Christ like Job, Isaac, Joseph, and Samuel, we can rejoice over two facts: First, Samson repented at the end of his life and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit shows that God forgave him.
Second, the story of Samson’s incredible strength is a sterling example of the strength that Christ will give us to root out the Philistines in our lives. If you are dealing with an enemy that keeps you in bondage, why not ask God for strength!
Jesus said, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" (Matthew 7:7-11)