The Bible does not read like a fairy tale and most certainly the Book of Judges does not. The way our author tells the story chapter 16 does not end with a “happily ever after” for Samson.1 So lest we hesitate to even begin this message, let me start with the good news:
32 And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets. 33 Through faith they conquered kingdoms, administered justice, gained what was promised, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength in weakness, became mighty in battle, put foreign armies to flight (Hebrews 11:32-34, emphasis mine).2
Let’s face it, from what we have read in Judges, we might not expect to see Gideon, Samson, or Jephthah in heaven, but the writer to the Hebrews tells us that they will be there. These men are listed among those who are included in the hall of faith, and faith pleases God.3 I am inclined to read Hebrews 11 in such a way as to conclude that it was Samson who, by faith, “gained strength in weakness.” I am also inclined to read Judges in such a way that Samson does not come to faith until the final moments of his life, which would mean that he came to faith during the events described in our text! Never was Samson weaker than he was as he stood between the two supporting columns of that Philistine “temple of doom” in Gaza. His eyes had been gouged out, and he was undoubtedly shackled in chains. Here is the time when Samson really “gained strength in [his] weakness.”4
I start with this because we can read Judges 16 knowing that Samson came to faith in the end and that in spite of his many flaws, he is one of those chosen to eternal life. Whatever else Samson was and did, he ended up in the hall of faith. And here is where our text should encourage us as well. I’ll speak to this at the end of this message.
We were introduced to Samson’s parents in chapter 13. There, the Angel of the Lord appeared first to Manoah’s wife, and eventually Manoah was able to speak with the Angel as well. The Angel promised Manoah that although his wife was barren, she would give birth to a very special child. This child was to be a Nazirite from the time of his conception. Samson’s parents appear to be godly people who sincerely desired to raise their son in the fear of the Lord. The Spirit of the Lord began working in Samson’s life sometime in his youth, but the exact nature of the Spirit’s “stirring” (or “control”) is not stated.
While the reader’s hopes are high after such an impressive beginning, our author quickly dispels any illusions about Samson’s piety. When Samson saw a Philistine woman in Timnath, he decided that this was the woman he wanted for his wife. In spite of his parents’ objections, Samson insisted on them getting this woman for him. The whole wedding attempt was a miserable failure when viewed from Samson’s fleshly point of view. The week-long wedding celebration ended on a sour note when the groom’s guests forced his wife to persuade Samson to reveal the answer to his riddle. Samson met his obligation by killing 30 Philistines and giving his guests their clothing. Samson then went home in anger.
When his anger subsided (and his passion revived), he took a young goat and set off to visit his bride (to consummate their union). Samson was shocked and enraged to learn that his wife had been given to his best man. This prompted Samson to set the Philistines’ farmlands ablaze by the use of 300 foxes (or jackals). In retaliation, the Philistines burned Samson’s “wife” and father-in-law to death. Now Samson felt justified to attack an unspecified number of Philistines and kill them.
The Philistines formed a posse to pursue Samson into Israelite territory. The men of Judah did not want to engage the Philistines in battle, and so they agreed to hand Samson over to them. When the men of Judah came upon Samson, they rebuked him for making trouble for them with the Philistines. They agreed not to kill Samson, promising only to bind him up and deliver him over to the Philistines so that they could kill him. When the Philistines came upon Samson, his ropes dissolved. Seizing the fresh jawbone of an ass, he used it to kill 1,000 of the enemy. In his thirst and fatigue, Samson cried out to God, who answered him by creating a spring in the rock from which he (and many others after him) could drink. This is where our text takes up the story with the closing chapter of Samson’s life.
1 Now Samson went to Gaza and saw a harlot there, and went in to her. 2 When it was told to the Gazites, saying, “Samson has come here,” they surrounded the place and lay in wait for him all night at the gate of the city. And they kept silent all night, saying, “Let us wait until the morning light, then we will kill him.” 3 Now Samson lay until midnight, and at midnight he arose and took hold of the doors of the city gate and the two posts and pulled them up along with the bars; then he put them on his shoulders and carried them up to the top of the mountain which is opposite Hebron (Judges 16:1-3).
This time when Samson goes to Gaza, he ventures deep into Philistine territory. Gaza is a very ancient city, situated close to the Mediterranean Sea in the southern part of Philistine territory. Gaza was located on the main trade route to Egypt, so many travelers would pass through this city. The name Gaza means “strong,” and so we would be safe in assuming that the city was well fortified. Gaza’s city gates would have been formidable.
If there were post offices in those days, Samson’s picture (offering a big reward) would have been posted in some prominent place. And yet Samson ventured to Gaza where he saw a prostitute and promptly purchased her services. No more lengthy marriage process when he could “consummate” this relationship quickly and easily, with no long-term commitments. When Samson went into the city, word went out that he was visiting the prostitute. The men of the city set a watch so that they could seize and kill Samson. They assumed that Samson would spend the entire night with the woman, and so they settled in for what they assumed would be a quiet, uneventful night.
Samson did the unexpected. (Did he anticipate what the men of Gaza were up to?) He got up at midnight when the gates were securely locked. Here was a chance to show how great his strength was. He simply removed the gates by uprooting the posts to which they were hinged and then lifted the whole assembly onto his shoulders. He carried the gates out of the city to a hill overlooking Hebron. Some read this as meaning that Samson carried the city gates 40 miles or so to a hill close to and overlooking Hebron. I am among them.5 Others see the distance as being considerably less. Either way, this was a task no one could have done in merely human strength.
One has to assume that the author had his reasons for including this story. I’d like to explore this story, taking note of some important observations, and then suggesting how this story relates to the larger account of Samson and Delilah.
We should first note the moral deterioration of Samson that is reflected in this account. Earlier we saw that Samson was unwilling to seek an Israelite woman for his wife, much to his parents’ distress. But from chapter 14, we can conclude that Samson was willing to acquire a Philistine wife according to Philistine custom. This means that Samson and his parents had to make several trips to Timnah and go through a somewhat time consuming process. It looks to me as though the process took weeks at a minimum, and perhaps months, to complete. Had things worked out as Samson hoped, he would have consummated his marriage at the end of this process – something which did not happen because Samson departed in anger, and the woman’s father assumed that Samson had forsaken any thought of completing the marriage process.
When we come to this short account in chapter 16, we find that Samson has lowered his standards for female companionship considerably. On this occasion, Samson sees a woman to whom he is attracted – a woman he knows is available without all the normal delays – and he goes in to her that very day. Samson seems to have been very much like many today, eager to enjoy the pleasures of sexual intimacy without any commitments or delays. This prepares us for what will happen next with Delilah. Rather than marriage, Samson seems very content to merely live with Delilah. Morally speaking, Samson is on a downhill slope. Sadly, however, his conduct is consistent with the moral decay of our own days.
Second, we should note that no engagement in battle is mentioned and that there isn’t any reference to casualties. In short, the Philistines were not reduced in number as a result of Samson’s one-night stand. As a deliverer (judge), Samson’s role was to begin to deliver Israel from her bondage to the Philistines. Samson’s “sleep over” did not reduce the Philistines’ numbers. Seemingly, it was an unprofitable evening, but let’s not arrive at that judgment too quickly.
Third, there is no mention of the Spirit of the Lord in this account. We have been accustomed to reading that the Spirit of the Lord has come upon Samson and powerful things have been the result. The lion attacking Samson was torn to pieces by Samson (14:6); 30 men were killed by Samson for their clothing (14:19); and, Samson’s ropes dissolved and he killed 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of an ass (15:14-15). There were also occasions when the Spirit was not mentioned, such as when Samson burned the fields by using 300 foxes (15:4-5), and when he struck down an undesignated number of Philistines in retaliation for the burning of his wife and father-in-law (15:7-8). After the incident of the jawbone of the donkey, we are never again told that the Spirit of the Lord came upon Samson, although this would appear to be the case when he “brought down the house” in chapter 16.6
The sense I get (and I could be wrong here) is that initially the Spirit of the Lord came upon Samson only long enough for him to handle the immediate crisis. It seems that eventually the Spirit’s power was constantly with him. Thus, when Samson was trapped inside the city gates of Gaza, he did not have to call upon God for the Spirit’s power because he already had it. As time went on, it would appear that Samson began to take this power for granted. The Spirit’s power seems to be linked to his uncut hair.7 Samson does not immediately realize that his power has left him when his hair is cut off.8
This makes it easier for me to read these first three verses of chapter 16. I would find it difficult to read that Samson spent the night with a prostitute, thereby placing himself in grave danger, only to find that he called to the Lord for help and the Spirit was sent to “bail him out” (so to speak). I believe the power was constantly there for Samson to use (or abuse) against the Philistines, but Samson became arrogant and foolish, knowingly putting himself in harm’s way, presuming on the Spirit’s power to get him out of his troubles. It won’t be long before the Lord will leave him to his own devices, and he will not be able to escape from the troubles he has brought upon himself.
Fourth, in addition to the supernatural power bestowed upon Samson by the Spirit of the Lord, there appear to be other indications of divine deliverance. Granted, it was Samson’s supernatural strength that enabled him to remove the city gates and to carry them away, but there were other indications that God intervened to preserve Samson’s life. What prompted the Philistines to wait until morning to attack? What prompted Samson to get up and leave the city at midnight, rather than spending the entire night with the prostitute? And how could Samson possibly get past the Philistines posted at and around the city’s gates? How could they not hear the noise created by the uprooting of the gates and then of hauling them off? I have seen some of the feeble attempts to explain this on a purely human level, and they just don’t wash. It seems that God must have intervened, perhaps by putting these fellows to sleep, a deep sleep, so that Samson could make his escape with the city gates on his back.
Fifth, I fear that Samson’s power along with divine intervention only caused Samson to feel invincible, so that he became more and more reckless. Think of all the times in chapters 14-15 (and now in 16:1-3) that Samson could have been killed – should have been killed. And yet no one laid a hand on him, no one did him any harm. Because of this, I think Samson actually began to believe that no matter where he went or what he did no Philistine could do him any harm. Thus, rather than return to Israelite territory and hide from the Philistines, Samson boldly remained in the land of the Philistines, in plain sight, almost daring them to try to do him harm. Samson is in for a surprise; his arrogance is about to get him into deep trouble.
Sixth, I believe there is a prophetic element here. The gates of any city must be strong, as they are essential to the safety of that city. If the gates fail to withstand the onslaught of the enemy, the city is certain to fall. Samson not only disabled the gates of Gaza, he removed them. Indeed, he took them far away. Even today, recovering and re-installing the gates of Gaza would be a substantial project requiring some time and effort to accomplish. During the time those gates were missing, the people of Gaza would have felt vulnerable. Is this a hint of the destruction that is coming to Gaza at the hand of Samson? I’m tempted to think so. Never get caught with your gates down.
Seventh, we should take note that the Philistines who laid in wait for Samson had every intention of killing him:
And they kept silent all night, saying, “Let us wait until the morning light, then we will kill him” (Judges 16:2, emphasis mine).
I think this is a very significant statement to consider. At this moment in time, the Philistines had no intention of letting Samson live. What changed their intentions, so that they would put out Samson’s eyes and keep him in shackles so that he would provide the manpower for grinding their grain?
I believe that it was revenge. Revenge seeks to respond in kind – a tit for a tat. For example, when Samson burned the fields of the Philistines they, in turn, burned his wife and father-in-law. (One burning deserves another.) Apparently, Samson killed no one when he made off with the gates of the city, but he certainly did humiliate his would-be captors. He made a mockery of them and of their security. Hauling those gates a great distance away made all of those who pursued Samson look foolish. Death would be too easy for Samson; they wanted more, much more. And so it is that the Philistines decide that Samson will be humiliated day after day and made a public spectacle later on in this chapter. And all of this was by divine design, so that Samson could destroy the greatest number of Philistines of his career. In this way, we can see how the story of Samson and the prostitute dovetails with the story to follow of Samson and Delilah, and of Samson and the temple of doom.
4 After this Samson fell in love with a woman named Delilah, who lived in the Sorek Valley. 5 The rulers of the Philistines went up to visit her and said to her, “Trick him! Find out what makes him so strong and how we can subdue him and humiliate him. Each one of us will give you eleven hundred silver pieces.”
6 So Delilah said to Samson, “Tell me what makes you so strong and how you can be subdued and humiliated.” 7 Samson said to her, “If they tie me up with seven fresh bowstrings that have not been dried, I will become weak and be just like any other man.” 8 So the rulers of the Philistines brought her seven fresh bowstrings which had not been dried and they tied him up with them. 9 They hid in the bedroom and then she said to him, “The Philistines are here, Samson!” He snapped the bowstrings as easily as a thread of yarn snaps when it is put close to fire. The secret of his strength was not discovered.
10 Delilah said to Samson, “Look, you deceived me and told me lies! Now tell me how you can be subdued.” 11 He said to her, “If they tie me tightly with brand new ropes that have never been used, I will become weak and be just like any other man.” 12 So Delilah took new ropes and tied him with them and said to him, “The Philistines are here, Samson!” (The Philistines were hiding in the bedroom.) But he tore the ropes from his arms as if they were a piece of thread.
13 Delilah said to Samson, “Up to now you have deceived me and told me lies. Tell me how you can be subdued.” He said to her, “If you weave the seven braids of my hair into the fabric on the loom and secure it with the pin, I will become weak and be like any other man.” 14 So she made him go to sleep, wove the seven braids of his hair into the fabric on the loom, fastened it with the pin, and said to him, “The Philistines are here, Samson!” He woke up and tore away the pin of the loom and the fabric.
15 She said to him, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when you will not share your secret with me? Three times you have deceived me and have not told me what makes you so strong.” 16 She nagged him every day and pressured him until he was sick to death of it. 17 Finally he told her his secret. He said to her, “My hair has never been cut, for I have been dedicated to God from the time I was conceived. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me; I would become weak, and be just like all other men.” 18 When Delilah saw that he had told her his secret, she sent for the rulers of the Philistines, saying, “Come up here again, for he has told me his secret.” So the rulers of the Philistines went up to visit her, bringing the silver in their hands. 19 She made him go to sleep on her lap and then called a man in to shave off the seven braids of his hair. She made him vulnerable and his strength left him. 20 She said, “The Philistines are here, Samson!” He woke up and thought, “I will do as I did before and shake myself free.” But he did not realize that the Lord had left him. 21 The Philistines captured him and gouged out his eyes. They brought him down to Gaza and bound him in bronze chains. He became a grinder in the prison. 22 His hair began to grow back after it had been shaved off (Judges 16:5-22).
For the first time, Samson falls in love, at least so far as our author informs us. In the case of his Philistine “wife” in chapter 14, we are only told that Samson “saw” her and wanted her, because she looked good in his eyes. In the case of the prostitute in the earlier verses of our text, we are again told that Samson “saw a prostitute” and went in to her. It is only here that we are told Samson “loved”9 a woman, and only here are we given the name of the woman – Delilah.
Nothing is said here about marriage. After his failed attempt at marriage in chapter 14 and his encounter with a prostitute in verses 1-3 of chapter 16, Samson seems to have few moral scruples regarding his relationship with women. Delilah lived in the Sorek Valley, north of Gaza and much closer to the Israelite border. Among other things, it was apparently known for its vineyards – not a great place for a Nazirite to live. But Samson seems to be living with Delilah, and this fact becomes known to the Philistines. Feeling invincible, I doubt that Samson cared whether or not they knew. Indeed, he may have preferred it this way: “Let them come and try to take me.”
The Philistines had learned their lesson. They were not about to engage Samson in battle with his full strength. They knew that his strength came from some unknown source. If they could only determine the source of his power, they could reduce him to normal strength and then overpower him. Apparently Samson’s weakness for women was also known to them. (Did they know about the riddle and how Samson’s wife had persuaded him to tell her his secret?) And so the Philistine lords approached Delilah and offered her a deal that no Philistine girl could reject – 1100 pieces of silver from each of the five Philistine lords.10 They did not threaten her life, as those at Timnah threatened Samson’s wife; they did not need to. Samson was to Delilah what he was to the prostitute – a meal ticket, a loaf of bread.11 And so from this moment on, Delilah was a woman on a mission and that mission was to loosen the lips of Samson so that she could learn the secret of his power.
At this point, most readers are really getting into the story. “Don’t tell her!” we almost shout to Samson. But I would like to ask a question I’ve yet to hear: Why not tell her? Why not tell everyone where his power comes from? Allow me to explain.
First of all, Samson is not very good about telling others what should be told. He should have told his parents about the lion that attacked him, which he killed (by the power of the Spirit of the Lord who came upon him). But then they would have known that he had been defiled by contact with a dead animal and that would have required him to return to his home and be ceremonially cleansed. Furthermore, he should have told his parents that the honey he offered them (which they ate) came from the carcass of the dead lion. Knowing that the honey had been in contact with a dead body, they would not have eaten it. Samson’s silence caused his parents to unknowingly become defiled. So, Samson doesn’t always tell others what they need to know.
Secondly, Samson’s silence about the source of his power tends to make Samson look better than he is. He gets the credit for his strength and for the victories God gave him through the Spirit’s power. (I wonder if this wasn’t part of Samson’s appeal with the women he attracted.)
Third, this meant that Samson’s silence failed to give God the glory that He deserved. Samson’s silence is a far cry from that of David – Israel’s godly king – when he confronted another Philistine (Goliath).
26 David asked the men who were standing near him, “What will be done for the man who strikes down this Philistine and frees Israel from this humiliation? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he defies the armies of the living God?” 27 The soldiers told him what had been promised, saying, “This is what will be done for the man who can strike him down.” . . . 28 When David’s oldest brother Eliab heard him speaking to the men, he became angry with David and said, “Why have you come down here? To whom did you entrust those few sheep in the desert? I am familiar with your pride and deceit! You have come down here to watch the battle!” . . . 36 Your servant has struck down both the lion and the bear. This uncircumcised Philistine will be just like one of them. For he has defied the armies of the living God!” 37 David went on to say, “The Lord who delivered me from the lion and the bear will also deliver me from the hand of this Philistine!” Then Saul said to David, “Go! The Lord will be with you.” . . . 45 But David replied to the Philistine, “You are coming against me with sword and spear and javelin. But I am coming against you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel’s armies, whom you have defied! 46 This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand! I will strike you down and cut off your head. This day I will give the corpses of the Philistine army to the birds of the sky and the wild animals of the land. Then all the land will realize that Israel has a God 47 and all this assembly will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves! For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will deliver you into our hand” (1 Samuel 17:26-28, 36-37, 45-47, emphasis mine).
Why shouldn’t the Philistines know that they are fighting against the Lord when they oppress God’s people? Why shouldn’t they realize that Samson’s strength comes from the God of Israel? Why shouldn’t they be given the opportunity to recognize how weak and powerless their god, Dagon, is; indeed, that he is no god at all? Samson’s silence is not golden, my friend. It is sinful and self-serving.
So, because Samson has chosen to remain silent about His relationship to God and the source of his power, Delilah sets out to loosen his lips. Through her persistent efforts, she evokes four different “confessions” from Samson, all in the name of proving his love for her. I believe it is worthwhile to point out some of the characteristics of this interaction between Samson and Delilah.
1. Delilah’s approach is far from subtle: “Tell me what makes you so strong and how you can be subdued and humiliated.” Let’s face it, she asks Samson to reveal the secret of his power so that he could be rendered powerless. What does he think she will do with this information? After his earlier experience with his wife, his groomsmen, and the riddle, one would think that Samson would have wised up about a woman’s wiles.
2. Samson is not stupid. I don’t even think he is love struck. I believe that Samson is arrogant due to all of his previous escapes from the Philistines. In my opinion, Samson really does think that he is invincible. I am convinced that Samson knows exactly what Delilah is trying to do, and he is absolutely certain that it will never happen. He is toying with her and enjoying every moment of it. He loves to see her beg and plead and try to manipulate him.
3. Samson’s confessions get closer and closer to the real truth, and yet they become more and more ludicrous. Is Delilah really so gullible as to believe that Samson’s strength can be nullified by weaving his hair into the fabric on a loom? Samson must be chuckling to himself the whole time Delilah is doing this. How naive can this woman be?
4. Finally, Delilah wears Samson down, and he tells her the truth about his strength. I think that Samson still believes that he is invincible because he does not intend to let anyone cut his hair.
5. By this time, the reader is pondering a couple of questions. First, “Doesn’t Samson see what she is doing, where she is going with this?” The answer: “Yes, he does, and he thinks he can handle it.” In fact, he’s having a great time toying with Delilah by letting her think she’s getting the upper hand. Second, “How in the world can Samson sleep through his hair being cut?” There are several possible answers to this. He may not have gotten a “Yul Brynner” cut. For those of you who are not old enough to understand this, Yul Brynner’s head was shaved so that he was completely bald. Samson’s hair might not have been shaved off in the sense that we might think of shaving (Gillette didn’t exist in those days). Then, too, Samson’s love-making and wine-drinking might very well have made him oblivious to what was going on.12 Finally, Samson’s sleep may have been divinely enhanced, perhaps like the Philistines who sought to kill him at Gaza.
The sad reality is that Samson did reveal the secret of his power, his hair was cut, and he was now deprived of his supernatural power. He was no stronger than any other man. Sadder yet is the fact that initially Samson didn’t even realize that his power was gone. When he was awakened by Delilah, Samson fully expected to shake off his bonds and have another good laugh. The laugh was now on Samson. They captured him, gouged out his eyes, and bound him with bronze chains. They put him to forced labor, grinding their grain in prison.
But in the midst of this tragic situation, the author supplies the reader with a faint word of hope. Samson’s hair began to grow back.13 Who knows why the Philistines didn’t take note of this, or why they did not keep his head shaved. But for whatever reason, they did not take Samson seriously any longer. It was over for Samson, they thought, and all that was left was ample opportunity for them to humiliate him. Now he would pay for the pain and humiliation he had caused them.
23 The rulers of the Philistines gathered to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god and to celebrate. They said, “Our god has handed Samson, our enemy, over to us.” 24 When the people saw him, they praised their god, saying, “Our god has handed our enemy over to us, the one who ruined our land and killed so many of us!”
25 When they really started celebrating, they said, “Call for Samson so he can entertain us!” So they summoned Samson from the prison and he entertained them. They made him stand between two pillars. 26 Samson said to the young man who held his hand, “Position me so I can touch the pillars that support the temple. Then I can lean on them.” 27 Now the temple was filled with men and women, and all the rulers of the Philistines were there. There were three thousand men and women on the roof watching Samson entertain. 28 Samson called to the Lord, “O Master, Lord, remember me! Strengthen me just one more time, O God, so I can get swift revenge against the Philistines for my two eyes!” 29 Samson took hold of the two middle pillars that supported the temple and he leaned against them, with his right hand on one and his left hand on the other. 30 Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” He pushed hard and the temple collapsed on the rulers and all the people in it. He killed many more people in his death than he had killed during his life. 31 His brothers and all his family went down and brought him back. They buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of Manoah his father. He had led Israel for twenty years (Judges 16:23-31).
The Philistines were not content with things as they were. They wanted to celebrate their victory over Samson with a heathen worship ceremony, one that included bringing Samson in to further humble and humiliate him. If Samson was not willing to give credit for his power to the God of Israel, these Philistines were eager to give their god, Dagon, credit for Samson’s defeat. In so doing, they were proclaiming Dagon’s superiority to Yahweh, the God of Israel. This is not the first time other nations would praise their god as superior to the One True God, nor will it be the last. But we should not expect Yahweh to remain silent in such circumstances.
I cannot tell for certain whether this great celebration service is being held at Dagon’s temple, or elsewhere, but either way it is a large building – the largest building in Gaza I would expect (the more it could hold, the more that would die when it collapsed). It apparently held several thousand on the lower level and accommodated another 3,000 spectators on the roof. It may be that the crowd which had gathered exceeded the limits of what that building could support. Nevertheless, it seems as though it was filled to capacity. With so many people gathered on the roof, it assured disaster if the building’s two main support columns collapsed.
So the Philistines were assembled at Gaza, giving praise to Dagon their god. There was obviously liquor being consumed because it was only after the crowd had become good and drunk that they began to call for Samson. It was time to bring him out of prison and have some fun with him. We are told that Samson “entertained” the crowd. I doubt that the entertainment consisted merely of having him stand before this jeering crowd. I even doubt that he was forced to stand there while people threw things at him (including insults), or poked and prodded him, enjoying the sight of his sightless eyes and of his flailing arms, seeking to defend himself or to do damage to someone who ventured too close to him. In those days, one was humiliated by stripping off all or part of their clothing.14
Samson’s humiliation was cruel, but fitting. It was Samson’s eyes that got him into so much trouble. Now Samson’s eyes are gouged out. Samson’s strength was prostituted for his own purposes and glory; now his enemies mock him, and he is powerless to do them harm as he had once done. Samson took pride in being invincible; now he is in chains, grinding grain. Samson was inclined to indulge the flesh, enjoying illicit sexual pleasure; now he is being paraded about naked, or only partly clad, much to the delight of a mocking crowd. Samson is finally paying a high price for his sin.
In spite of this (or, perhaps, because of this), it would seem that Samson now sees things more clearly than he has ever seen them before. I have already indicated that I believe this is the point in time when Samson came to trust in the God of Israel. He now prays, calling to “Yahweh Adonai” – “Sovereign Lord” (NET Bible: “O Master, Lord”). He prays that strength may return to him one last time so that he might get his revenge against the Philistines. Is this a model prayer, the kind that others should be encouraged to repeat? I think not. This prayer falls short of the ideal, but taking the words of the writer to the Hebrews seriously, I believe this is the point in time when God acknowledged Samson’s faith.
God answered that prayer. Samson was positioned in such a way as to be able to exert pressure on both main supports. When these two supporting columns gave way, the entire building collapsed. The roof and supporting beams, along with the 3,000 people standing on the roof, came crashing down upon those assembled below. While Samson sacrificed his life in order to destroy the building and its inhabitants, more Philistines were killed through Samson’s death than he killed during his life.
And these were not your “everyday,” “run of the mill” citizens. These were the cream of the crop. These were the top political (and military?) leaders of the nation. It would have been something like a gathering of the joint session of Congress, along with the military leaders of the Pentagon and the members of the Supreme Court. For these leaders to be in one place at one time was a devastating error on the part of the Philistines. For all of these leaders to die in one place and at one time would have thrown the Philistines into confusion and chaos, which would render the nation powerless for years to come. Indeed, this was the most destructive victory of Samson’s career as Israel’s judge.
We might call the last verse of chapter 16 “family reunion.” It is interesting is to learn that Samson had a family beyond his father and mother. This verse informs us that Mrs. Manoah did not remain barren after the birth of Samson. He had brothers and perhaps sisters as well. When they learned of Samson’s death, they went to Gaza to remove his body and bury it in Israelite territory, between Zorah and Eshtaol, in the tomb of his father, Manoah. This means, of course, that Manoah had died some time before his son, Samson. At long last, Samson was restored to his family and to his country. How fitting for a man who is to be found in the hall of faith (Hebrews 11).
When I began my preparations for this message I said to myself, “There is no way to guild this lily; indeed, there isn’t even a lily to guild.” I looked at a couple of the Bible story books we keep for our grandchildren, and they certainly make every effort to guild the lily with the story of Samson, especially the Samson we find in Judges 16. But the biblical account of Samson does not begin, “Once upon a time. . .” and end with “. . . happily ever after.”
There is only one way to understand the story of Samson – from a divine point of view. We dare not attempt to make Samson a hero, a man who serves as a model for Christian men and boys. Samson is a man who illustrates the warnings of Scripture, particularly those we find in the Book of Proverbs. He is a man who lived his life in the pursuit of fleshly pleasures, a man who cared too little about God, about Israel, and about his divinely-given gifts and calling. Samson is a study in how not to live the Christian life.
How much better it would have gone for Samson if he had lived according to the warnings regarding women that we find in Proverbs 5 and 7.15 He should have looked for an Israelite wife that was more like the description we find in Proverbs 31. It would seem that the earlier verses of Proverbs 31 regarding kings would have kept Samson out of much trouble:
1 The words of King Lemuel,
an oracle that his mother taught him:
2 O my son, O son of my womb,
O son of my vows,
3 Do not give your strength to women,
nor your ways to that which ruins kings.
4 It is not for kings, O Lemuel,
it is not for kings to drink wine,
or for rulers to crave strong drink,
5 lest they drink and forget what is decreed,
and remove from all the poor their legal rights.
6 Give strong drink to the one who is perishing,
and wine to those who are bitterly distressed;
7 let them drink and forget their poverty,
and remember their misery no more.
8 Open your mouth on behalf of those unable to speak,
for the legal rights of all the dying.
9 Open your mouth, judge in righteousness,
and plead the cause of the poor and needy (Proverbs 31:1-9).
When we read the early verses of Romans 8, we see the results of having our minds set on the things of the flesh:
1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh have their outlook shaped by the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit have their outlook shaped by the things of the Spirit. 6 For the outlook of the flesh is death, but the outlook of the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the outlook of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to the law of God, nor is it able to do so. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:1-8).
There are many New Testament texts which call the Christian to live a disciplined life, rather than one that is focused only on the satisfaction of fleshly lusts:
24 Do you not know that all the runners in a stadium compete, but only one receives the prize? So run to win. 25 Each competitor must exercise self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. 26 So I do not run uncertainly or box like one who hits only air. 27 Instead I subdue my body and make it my slave, so that after preaching to others I myself will not be disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
3 Take your share of suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No one in military service gets entangled in matters of everyday life; otherwise he will not please the one who recruited him (2 Timothy 2:3-4).
20 Now in a wealthy home there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also ones made of wood and of clay, and some are for honorable use, but others for ignoble use. 21 So if someone cleanses himself of such behavior, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart, useful for the Master, prepared for every good work. 22 But keep away from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faithfulness, love, and peace, in company with others who call on the Lord from a pure heart (2 Timothy 2:20-22).
13 But evil people and charlatans will go from bad to worse, deceiving others and being deceived themselves. 14 You, however, must continue in the things you have learned and are confident about. You know who taught you 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy writings, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:13-15).
I suppose that in today’s psychological jargon people would be inclined to say that Samson suffered from a “sexual addiction.” In biblical terms, we would simply say that he was a man who, although he was empowered by the Holy Spirit, chose to live his life in the pursuit of fleshly pleasure in the power of the flesh. How many Christians have fallen short of their calling because they, too, have chosen to indulge the flesh? Are you looking at pornography, choosing to live in this fantasy world of fleshly indulgence, or are you finding contentment within the confines of a godly marriage? Have your forsaken your marriage vows for the pursuit of illicit pleasure outside of marriage? Are you thinking of doing so? Learn from Samson that the way of the transgressor is hard.
Good understanding wins favor,
but the way of the unfaithful is hard (Proverbs 13:15; NIV).
What a tragic picture Samson is. The power and the presence of God departed from him, and he doesn’t even know it.16 I fear that Samson may not only be a picture of the man or woman who turns away from walking with the Lord, but that he may also be a picture of the church that has come to rely on fleshly means and mechanisms, rather than upon God’s Spirit. How easy it is for Christians to follow the fads of those who use secular methods, rather than to rely on the power of God’s Spirit:
1 When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come with superior eloquence or wisdom as I proclaimed the testimony of God. 2 For I decided to be concerned about nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and with much trembling. 4 My conversation and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith would not be based on human wisdom but on the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).
For we are not like so many others, hucksters who peddle the word of God for profit, but we are speaking in Christ before God as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God (2 Corinthians 2:17).
1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? We don’t need letters of recommendation to you or from you as some other people do, do we? 2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone, 3 revealing that you are a letter of Christ, delivered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on stone tablets but on tablets of human hearts. 4 Now we have such confidence in God through Christ. 5 Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as if it were coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, 6 who made us adequate to be servants of a new covenant not based on the letter but on the Spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Corinthians 3:1-6).
1 Therefore, since we have this ministry, just as God has shown us mercy, we do not become discouraged. 2 But we have rejected shameful hidden deeds, not behaving with deceptiveness or distorting the word of God, but by open proclamation of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience before God (2 Corinthians 4:1-2).
We are weak in the power of the flesh. That is why He gave us His Spirit, dwelling within Christians (individually) and dwelling within His church (corporately). We dare not presume to think that the successes which God achieves in and through us by means of His Spirit are somehow our works, for which we can take the credit. And we dare not prostitute the power of God’s Spirit, using it for self-serving purposes. If we do, there may very well come a time when the Spirit has departed from us, and we don’t even know it.
There is a strong word of warning in our text for those who are unbelievers – for those who have never trusted in the saving work of Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of eternal life. Those who had gathered at Gath to worship their god and to mock Samson (and his God) felt confident and secure in their false religion. They gave Dagon credit for Samson’s defeat. They were in the midst of jubilant celebration when their day of judgment came. So it will be in the end, when our Lord comes to bring judgment upon all who have rejected Him:
37 “For just like the days of Noah were, so the coming of the Son of Man will be. 38 For in those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark. 39 And they knew nothing until the flood came and took them all away. It will be the same at the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:37-39).
2 For you know quite well that the day of the Lord will come in the same way as a thief in the night. 3 Now when they are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction comes on them, like labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will surely not escape (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3).
There is a day of judgment coming upon all those who have rejected the salvation God has provided in the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is a day that Christians eagerly await and for which they pray. But it is a day of dreaded and unexpected judgment for those who have rejected God’s only means of salvation. Just as the men and women of Gaza felt safe and secure (now that Samson was weakened, blinded, and in chains), men and women in the last days will be at ease, thinking that they are safe and secure apart from Christ. Their day of judgment will catch them completely off guard, and at that point in time, it will be too late.
The day of salvation is now, my friend. The Bible teaches that every human being is a sinner, in need of a Savior. Because we are sinners, we are not capable of earning our salvation by our efforts to meet God’s standard of righteousness. Only Jesus has done this, and He took our sins on Himself (He became sin for us) and paid the penalty for those sins when He suffered the wrath of God17 on the cross of Calvary. He not only died, He rose from the dead, and then ascended to the right hand of God the Father in heaven, to intercede for all those who have trusted in Him. Salvation is assured for all those who acknowledge their sin and helplessness to save themselves, and who trust in what Jesus has done on their behalf in His death, burial, and resurrection.
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. 21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed – 22 namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25 God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed. 26 This was also to demonstrate his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness (Romans 3:19-26).
1 And although you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you formerly lived according to this world’s present path, according to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom all of us also formerly lived out our lives in the cravings of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath even as the rest… 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, 5 even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you are saved! – 6 and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 to demonstrate in the coming ages the surpassing wealth of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 it is not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them (Ephesians 2:1-10).
17 So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away – look, what is new has come! 18 And all these things are from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and who has given us the ministry of reconciliation. 19 In other words, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people’s trespasses against them, and he has given us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making His plea through us. We plead with you on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God!” 21 God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).
4 But “when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, 5 he saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7 And so, since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).
11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 The one who has the Son has this eternal life; the one who does not have the Son of God does not have this eternal life (1 John 5:11-12).
Thank God that our salvation is not dependent upon our works, but only upon the work which the Lord Jesus has accomplished in our place. The story of Samson serves to illustrate this truth in a powerful way. His salvation was most certainly not the result of his works, and so it is that the author of Hebrews places him in the hall of faith. Our salvation does not rest upon our performance, but upon the perfect work of our Lord. To Him be the glory!
Copyright © 2009 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 15 in the series, The Dark Days of Israel’s Judges, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on November 22, 2009. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.
1 I say this while wondering how it is that the children’s Bible story books expend every effort to make Samson look better than he is.
2 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: .
3 See Hebrews 11:6.
4 If Samson was not saved in the final moments of his life, then he must have been saved at some earlier point in time, though his conduct would certainly not incline us to assume that he was a believer.
5 I’m always ill at ease with attempts to make miracles seem more do-able. For example, some give examples of whales swallowing men so that we find it easier to believe that Jonah was indeed swallowed by a great fish. Miracles are miracles – God accomplishing the impossible. I don’t need to be told something is possible in order to believe God did it. Okay, I feel better now, having gotten that off my chest, so let’s get back to our story.
6 Judges 16:28-30.
7 Judges 16:17.
8 Judges 16:20.
9 For those inclined to overwork the distinctions in the various Greek words for “love,” I would point out that the word “love” in verses 4 and 15 are based on the verb agapao in the Greek translation of this Old Testament text.
10 While our text does not tell us there were five Philistine lords, we know this from Joshua 13:3; Judges 3:3; 1 Samuel 6:4, 16, 18.
11 Proverbs 6:26.
12 Remember Lot’s daughters. See Genesis 19:30-38.
13 It would therefore seem that he was imprisoned for some time, long enough for his hair to grow out (though surely not as long as it once was).
14 See 2 Samuel 10:4; Isaiah 20:4; 47:1-4.
15 I realize that Proverbs was not yet written, but I feel confident that his mother had given him similar warnings.
17 Jesus suffered the wrath of men as well, as was dramatically portrayed in the movie, “The Passion of Jesus the Christ,” but it was our Lord’s suffering the wrath of God in our place that provided salvation.