For the past month we’ve been studying different Judges, also known as prophets, who led Israel. Deborah and Gideon both spoke with God and guided Israel as God wished them, even though in Gideon’s case it wasn’t exactly an eager leadership.
As we previously discussed Deborah and Gideon continued the tradition started by Moses and Joshua. That is Israel did not have a proper king or leader, but rather a prophet who spoke to God and told the people what it was that God desired of them. This essentially makes the prophet the leader of Israel, but not in the same context as say a king. The tribes of Israel could pretty much rule themselves as they liked—as long as they obeyed God’s law—and the Judge only really stepped in when either the people had a dispute they couldn’t solve themselves, the people were going against God, or another nation was messing around with Israel. This is different from a king in that a king has absolute power and is rarely so hands off. It’s a king’s job to know every bit of his countries business. A king would also unite the tribes under a single rulership, instead of as individual nations loosely held together by a judge.
However, for now we have judges. And the Judge we are studying today is Samson. Please open your Bibles to Judges 13. Can someone read Judges 13:1-5?
13 The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines forty years.
2 There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. His wife was barren, having borne no children. 3 And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Although you are barren, having borne no children, you shall conceive and bear a son. 4 Now be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, or to eat anything unclean, 5 for you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor is to come on his head, for the boy shall be a nazirite[a]to God from birth. It is he who shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines.”
Once again the Israelites did something evil and God allowed another nation to take over them, this time for forty years. This other people were the Philistines. For forty years they oppressed the Israelites, and God did not raise up a judge to save them. Until now.
A man named Manoah and his wife had no children. Then an angel appears to them and says they will have a child, a son. And God will raise up this son to deliver Israel from the Philistines.
But he is also to be a Nazirite. Nazirite? What does that mean? Well the angel says it means he can’t have alcohol, eat anything unclean, or cut his hair. But how would his parents know what a Nazirite was? Was that a thing?
Yes, yes it was. Please turn back to Numbers 6. This entire chapter describes what it means to be a Nazirite, the specific laws and rules that that person must follow in order to be a Nazirite.
Can someone read Numbers 6:1-9?
6 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 Speak to the Israelites and say to them: When either men or women make a special vow, the vow of a nazirite,[a] to separate themselves to the Lord, 3 they shall separate themselves from wine and strong drink; they shall drink no wine vinegar or other vinegar, and shall not drink any grape juice or eat grapes, fresh or dried. 4 All their days as nazirites[b]they shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, not even the seeds or the skins.
5 All the days of their nazirite vow no razor shall come upon the head; until the time is completed for which they separate themselves to the Lord, they shall be holy; they shall let the locks of the head grow long.
6 All the days that they separate themselves to the Lord they shall not go near a corpse. 7 Even if their father or mother, brother or sister, should die, they may not defile themselves; because their consecration to God is upon the head. 8 All their days as nazirites[c] they are holy to the Lord.
9 If someone dies very suddenly nearby, defiling the consecrated head, then they shall shave the head on the day of their cleansing; on the seventh day they shall shave it.
A Nazirite basically means someone who has consecrated themselves to God and basically becomes a priest. Remember that priests could only be men from the tribe of Levi. But becoming a Nazirite is open to a person of any tribe—and allows them to become a sort of priest for a time, consecrating their life to God. And the Bible specifically says it can be either a man or a woman, that both can take this vow and become a sort of lay-priest. To show that they are set apart from other people, like priests and not a common person, they had to obey these certain laws. They couldn’t drink alcohol or even eat grapes. They couldn’t cut their hair. They could not go near a dead body and should they accidentally do so they had to follow a very specific cleansing ritual that involved shaving their head to show they were temporarily out of service, if you will.
And that’s just part of the rules, there are even more.
Can someone read Judges 13:24?
24 The woman bore a son, and named him Samson. The boy grew, and the Lord blessed him.
So this couple have the baby, they name him Samson, and he grows and God blesses him.
Alright can someone read Judges 14:1-4?
14 Once Samson went down to Timnah, and at Timnah he saw a Philistine woman. 2 Then he came up, and told his father and mother, “I saw a Philistine woman at Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.” 3 But his father and mother said to him, “Is there not a woman among your kin, or among all our people, that you must go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, because she pleases me.” 4 His father and mother did not know that this was from the Lord; for he was seeking a pretext to act against the Philistines. At that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel.
Samson grows up into a man and one day he sees a woman, a Philistine woman. And he wants to marry her. His parents are like…”umm is that a good idea? The Philistines are our oppressors! Can’t you just find a nice local girl?” But Samson is like “newp, I want to marry her.” And the Bible says specifically, that this is because God wants Samson to marry this Philistine girl so Samson will have an excuse to get angry with the Philistines and go to war with them.
It’s been shown in past stories that God doesn’t really need an excuse. If God wants to end an oppression he usually just tells the Judge “hey, it’s time to go overthrow these guys and be free!” So why is it different now? Well perhaps it’s Samson who needs an excuse. Maybe he’s complacent in his life. Maybe the Israelites are complacent under Philistine rule and wouldn’t follow Samson’s call to battle if it came. We don’t know. All we know is that because Samson marries a Philistine girl it allows him to get to know and get annoyed by some Philistines.
Someone read Judges 14:5-9.
5 Then Samson went down with his father and mother to Timnah. When he came to the vineyards of Timnah, suddenly a young lion roared at him. 6 The spirit of the Lord rushed on him, and he tore the lion apart barehanded as one might tear apart a kid. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done. 7 Then he went down and talked with the woman, and she pleased Samson. 8 After a while he returned to marry her, and he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion, and there was a swarm of bees in the body of the lion, and honey. 9 He scraped it out into his hands, and went on, eating as he went. When he came to his father and mother, he gave some to them, and they ate it. But he did not tell them that he had taken the honey from the carcass of the lion.
Samson and his parents are traveling down to see this girl he wants to marry. On the journey he gets separated from his parents and comes across a lion. And Samson is so strong that he’s able to tear the lion apart with his bare hands. That makes Samson ridiculously strong.
But it also means Samson just touched a dead body, and Nazirites aren’t exactly supposed to do that. But if they do—cuz it happens—they’re to do the purification ritual. So you would think when Samson meets back up with his parents, he would tell them! But does he? Nope.
So Samson goes down and talks to the Philistine woman and is like “Yep, I definitely want to marry her!” Then when he’s traveling again between the town he is from and wherehis future wife lives, he sees the dead body of the lion and some bees have basically made their hive in it. Then Samson—the Nazirite who is not supposed to touch a dead body—gathers honey from inside it and eats it. Then he takes it home and his parents eat it—and he doesn’t tell them it’s from a dead body. So now they’re all unclean and Samson has told no one.
Why? Why does Samson do this?
Well I don’t think it’s nefarious. I don’t think right here Samson is trying to flout God’s law or get himself or his parents in trouble. Having read the whole story I honestly think it’s just that Samson doesn’t always think his actions all the way through—a crime we all often commit. He’s a man of the moment. He sees a woman—he likes her so he wants to marry her. He sees a lion so he kills it. He sees honey so he eats it. He’s not exactly the sort of guy who sits around contemplating philosophy and academia. He’s a man of action. And sometimes that makes him a little reckless.
Anyway, so Samson marries this Philistine woman, whose name we never really know. Can someone read Judges 14:12-20?
12 Samson said to them, “Let me now put a riddle to you. If you can explain it to me within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty festal garments. 13 But if you cannot explain it to me, then you shall give me thirty linen garments and thirty festal garments.” So they said to him, “Ask your riddle; let us hear it.” 14 He said to them,
“Out of the eater came something to eat.
Out of the strong came something sweet.”
But for three days they could not explain the riddle.
15 On the fourth day they said to Samson’s wife, “Coax your husband to explain the riddle to us, or we will burn you and your father’s house with fire. Have you invited us here to impoverish us?” 16 So Samson’s wife wept before him, saying, “You hate me; you do not really love me. You have asked a riddle of my people, but you have not explained it to me.” He said to her, “Look, I have not told my father or my mother. Why should I tell you?” 17 She wept before him the seven days that their feast lasted; and because she nagged him, on the seventh day he told her. Then she explained the riddle to her people. 18 The men of the town said to him on the seventh day before the sun went down,
“What is sweeter than honey?
What is stronger than a lion?”
And he said to them,
“If you had not plowed with my heifer,
you would not have found out my riddle.”
19 Then the spirit of the Lord rushed on him, and he went down to Ashkelon. He killed thirty men of the town, took their spoil, and gave the festal garments to those who had explained the riddle. In hot anger he went back to his father’s house. 20 And Samson’s wife was given to his companion, who had been his best man.
So Samson goes back to his wife’s family and—thinking he’s clever—he thinks of an unfair riddle. “Out of the eater came something to eat, and out of the strong came something sweet.” And he wants his family and his wife’s family to solve it—if they do he’ll give them a present.” The answer is of course the honey he got from the lion. But….it’s not exactly a riddle you can solve with logic. It’s exactly the sort of unfair riddle that’s not a riddle at all, but more of an inside joke or bizarre knowledge tests. Sort of like Bilbo asking Gollum “What’s in my pocket?” in the Hobbit. That’s not a riddle at all.
Needless to say people are frustrated—because it’s a stupid riddle. And the Philistines ask Samson’s wife to get the answer from Samson. So she goes before him and cries and is all overdramatic like “You hate me! Tell me the answer.” And Samson is like “I haven’t even told my parents. Why would I tell you?”
Which…terrible marriage advice from Samson, you guys. You should tell your spouse everything.
But she keeps crying and pushing him for the answer so finally he tells her. And then of course she tells everyone else. And then they give the answer to Samson. Who knows they got it from his wife. Here’s another piece of “don’t take marriage advice from Samson.” Guys, never call your wife a cow. Ever.
Anyway, Samson is so angry about them using his wife like this that instead of giving him the presents he promised, he kills thirty guys. And then goes home.
Without his wife.
Definitely not a happy marriage.
Which is what Samson’s wife’s parents think. Samson just killed a whole bunch of their people after calling his wife a cow, and just all around not being very nice with his unfair riddle. So they’re like “Welp, we better find another husband for our daughter.”
After a while Samson comes back and finds out his wife was given away. He’s all like “WHAT?” and his wife’s father is like “We thought you hated her.”
Samson is so mad that he burns down their fields. The fields of the Philistines, who are the rulers of Israel at this moment.
When the Israelites here about this they’re furious.
Three thousand Israelites from the tribe of Judah come to Samson and are like “Dude! Why would you burn the field of the people who rule us??” This sort of supports the theory that the Israelites wouldn’t have followed Samson into battle against the Philistines if he tried, and perhaps why God is going about this on a more individual level, as opposed to like Gideon gathering a whole army.
Anyway Samson is like “They started it.” And the Israelites are like, “Whatever dude, we have to turn you into the Philistines because they’re our rulers and you attacked them.” But at least they promise not to kill Samson but instead just bind him up and turn it in. They’re going to leave it up to the Philistines to exact judgement on Samson.
Someone please read Judges 15:14-15.
14 When he came to Lehi, the Philistines came shouting to meet him; and the spirit of the Lord rushed on him, and the ropes that were on his arms became like flax that has caught fire, and his bonds melted off his hands. 15 Then he found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, reached down and took it, and with it he killed a thousand men.
The Philistines come to get Samson to exact their revenge, but Samson is so strong that he breaks free from his bonds and then finds a jawbone of a donkey and kills a thousand men with a donkey’s jawbone.
Jawbones are pretty strong, but not that strong. This speaks more to Samson’s fighting ability and massive strength than the strength of a jawbone.
In verse 20 of this chapter it says “Samson judged Israel for twenty years in the days of the Philistine” which indicates that it’s after this that Samson becomes a judge but also that during his twenty years they don’t overthrow the Philistines, they still live under their rule.
But this is not the end of the story of Samson. In fact, we’re just now getting to the most famous part of Samson’s story: Samson and Delilah.
Can someone read Judges 16:4-8?
4 After this he fell in love with a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. 5 The lords of the Philistines came to her and said to her, “Coax him, and find out what makes his strength so great, and how we may overpower him, so that we may bind him in order to subdue him; and we will each give you eleven hundred pieces of silver.” 6 So Delilah said to Samson, “Please tell me what makes your strength so great, and how you could be bound, so that one could subdue you.” 7 Samson said to her, “If they bind me with seven fresh bowstrings that are not dried out, then I shall become weak, and be like anyone else.” 8 Then the lords of the Philistines brought her seven fresh bowstrings that had not dried out, and she bound him with them. 9 While men were lying in wait in an inner chamber, she said to him, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” But he snapped the bowstrings, as a strand of fiber snaps when it touches the fire. So the secret of his strength was not known.
Samson falls in love with a woman named Delilah. We don’t know if she’s a Philistine, an Israelites, or someone else. But Samson fell in love with her and there is nothing in the text to indicate Samson was married to her. In fact earlier sections, if anything, seem to indicate that after his disastrous first marriage Samson is less inclined to get married again—which once again goes directly against the rules God has laid out for his people.
The Philistines ask Delilah to figure out Samson’s weakness—basically like in the Disney movie Hercules when Hades wants to use Megara to get to Hercules. Samson lies to her and tells her if they bind him with a certain type of string than he will be like any other man.
So she binds him up—presumably while he’s sleeping—and then shouts “SAMSON THE PHILISTINES ARE HERE.” But Samson breaks the strings and is not captured by the Philistines.
You would think at this point Samson would be like “huh, I told Delilah how to hurt me and then she immediately tried to hurt me. Maybe I should not trust her and not hang out with her and certainly not love her.”
But that is not what Samson does.
Can someone read Judges 16:13-14?
13 Then Delilah said to Samson, “Until now you have mocked me and told me lies; tell me how you could be bound.” He said to her, “If you weave the seven locks of my head with the web and make it tight with the pin, then I shall become weak, and be like anyone else.” 14 So while he slept, Delilah took the seven locks of his head and wove them into the web,[a] and made them tight with the pin. Then she said to him, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” But he awoke from his sleep, and pulled away the pin, the loom, and the web.
Instead of Samson getting mad at Delilah for trying to betray and kill him, Delilah gets mad at Samson and is like “YOU LIED TO ME.” And instead of responding, “Well you tried to kill me.” Samson just lies to her *again* about how to make him weak.
Why on earth would anyone want to stay with someone who is obviously trying to kill him? Well the text says Samson loved her, I think it’s more likely he was deep in lust with her and just wanted to be able to continue to sleep with her. So he appeases her.
So Samson lies to her again, she tries it again, and again it doesn’t work. Rinse and repeat.
Can someone read Judges 16:15-20?
15 Then she said to him, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me? You have mocked me three times now and have not told me what makes your strength so great.” 16 Finally, after she had nagged him with her words day after day, and pestered him, he was tired to death. 17 So he told her his whole secret, and said to her, “A razor has never come upon my head; for I have been a nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If my head were shaved, then my strength would leave me; I would become weak, and be like anyone else.”
18 When Delilah realized that he had told her his whole secret, she sent and called the lords of the Philistines, saying, “This time come up, for he has told his whole secret to me.” Then the lords of the Philistines came up to her, and brought the money in their hands. 19 She let him fall asleep on her lap; and she called a man, and had him shave off the seven locks of his head. He began to weaken, and his strength left him. 20 Then she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” When he awoke from his sleep, he thought, “I will go out as at other times, and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had left him. 21 So the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes. They brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze shackles; and he ground at the mill in the prison.
Delilah again is like “Why do you keep lying to me?” And keeps pressing him about it and finally he tells her the truth. That he has never cut his hair from the day of his birth, as God asked of his mother, and should his hair be cut, his incredible strength would leave him.
And Delilah basically goes immediately to the Philistines and is like “pay up!” So they pay her and she cuts his hair. And when he wakes up, he can’t break free. His strength has left him. His hair is gone.
The Philistines capture him and gouge his eyes out and make him their prisoner.
Samson is kept prisoner for a while, because it brings the Philistines joy to have this mighty warrior humbled before them. They mock him for their enjoyment.
Can someone read Judges 16:28-30?
28 Then Samson called to the Lord and said, “Lord God, remember me and strengthen me only this once, O God, so that with this one act of revenge I may pay back the Philistines for my two eyes.” 29 And Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and he leaned his weight against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other. 30 Then Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” He strained with all his might; and the house fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So those he killed at his death were more than those he had killed during his life.
Samson prays to God and is like “please, just give me strength one more time so I can end this.” And God does. Samson grabs the two pillars he is standing between and pulls them in. The building then collapses all around them killing himself and all the people inside.
He killed more with his death than he ever did with his life.
This…isn’t usually how these stories go is it. Usually our judge has a victory against his oppressor, freeing Israel, but Samson is defeated. Samson is repeatedly hotheaded and in the end defeated by his own lust and refusal to see the truth about the woman he chose to hang out with.
There are so many things we can talk about with this story. How it’s important to think through our actions and how what we might do reflects on ourselves, our families, and God. How the people you hang out with can change you and use you, and that’s why it’s so important for us to surround ourselves by good people. We can talk about lust and love—how they’re not the same—and you shouldn’t let yourselves be driven by lust or desire, especially when you know that person doesn’t feel the same about you.
But I think the most important thing is that…sometimes people fail. Sometimes we fail our people, we fail God. Samson failed. He didn’t save Israel. His greatest accomplishment resulted in his own death. People will fail us. It is as they say “to err is human.” Humans make mistakes. We do the wrong things. You can’t put your faith solely in any one person to save you, or complete you, or never fail you. Only God is that faithful.
And he is faithful as we will see going forward. Just because Samson failed it didn’t mean the end for Israel. There is hope, because God has a plan.
A king is coming.