Samson, Part III

Judges 13-16  

By Kathleen Fucci

The final act of Samson’s life is in the temple of Dagon, the Philistine’s pagan god, where Samson becomes a spectacle for the eyes of all the Philistines who look upon him and praise their god for victory over him. He leans against the pillars of this pagan temple and asks God, “Strengthen me, I pray, just this once, O God, that I may with one blow take vengeance on the Philistines for my two eyes!”  The text continues, “Then Samson said, ‘Let me die with the Philistines!’ And he pushed with all his might, and the temple fell on the lords and all the people who were in it.” (Jgs 16: 28-30)

In his final confession and request of God, we see two things: Samson is still zealous only for Samson, not for Israel. He wants victory over the Philistines only to avenge himself.  His idolatry to self has not changed nor does he see or understand the greater reality of God’s kingdom purposes. Though his name, Shimshown (shim-shone’) in Hebrew means sunlight, he is in utter darkness, spiritually and physically.[1]

But there is one part of his life that sparkles with the light of truth.  For all the ways he did not understand the enemy, for all the ways he did not conduct his life according to the commands of God, he did understand this about Him: If I ask God, he can enable me to push down this building. That’s called faith, and it’s the reason Samson’s name is listed among the greats in the “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11. He had no fear of the enemy, even in death, and understood God was the source of miraculous power.

Before we leave this theme of blindness, let’s recognize the importance of guarding our hearts and minds in Christ. This is impossible to do without eagerly desiring and asking daily for the infilling of the Holy Spirit. It is also impossible without regularly depositing God’s word into our hearts and our minds.  And it is impossible without knowing and reverencing the will of God in our hearts. His word, which is His will, is immutable and unchangeable. It is the foundation of His throne. In this current age where there is a constant temptation to rationalize doing any and everything we think is right, bombarded by the doctrines of demons which swirl around in the cultural air we breathe, it is a matter of life and death to resist the devil and to do what is right in God’s eyes. How will we know what’s right in God’s eyes if we don’t study His word?

Let’s leave this first theme of blindness now to the second most prevalent theme in this passage: power. Though Samson’s heart may have been weak, the power this man was given by God was extraordinary. One can only imagine the marvelous works the Lord had prepared for him to walk in had he been obedient. God made Samson judge over Israel for twenty years.  Samson inspired fear in the Philistines like no other. His strength was a gift from God and it was not revoked even though Samson used it for his own personal gain.  The Lord knew he would; He knew Samson would have a weakness for Philistine women, and He used Samson, even in his weakness to protect Israel.

Samson’s parents were directed by God to make him a Nazirite from the womb. Nazirites were set apart for sacred purposes. They were not allowed to eat or drink anything from the grapevine. In fact, the term Nazirite means an unpruned vine, and this was symbolized by the wild, unshorn hair they were required to grow out and leave uncut. The word “hair” in Hebrew sa’ar (say-awr’) is from sa’ar (saw-ar’) meaning to storm, to come like a whirlwind, to be tempestuous.[2] This is a very accurate picture of wild-man Samson.

The point of a Nazirite’s vows and abstinences was to be set apart for a temporary period of time for a specific purpose. The Mishnah indicates a Nazirite vow would typically last thirty days, or up to a hundred days.  What is unique about Samson’s call is that he was apparently intended to be a life-long Nazirite. There are only two other biblical examples of this type of call, one on Samuel, and the other on John the Baptist.    

Samson’s purpose for being set apart was made known to his parents: he was to begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines who, at that point, had been oppressing Israel for forty years. (Jud 13:5) The Philistines were fierce. They were Israel’s most dreaded enemy in the Promised Land. Even as the Israelites were first coming out of Egypt, God diverted them around Philistine territory so they wouldn’t have to war with the Philistines from the start, and want to run back to Egypt. (Ex 13:17)  

Here’s the irony. God raises up Samson, an absolute powerhouse of a man, to go against Israel’s most powerful enemies. And God commands him to be a Nazirite who, as part of his vow, is specifically not allowed to go near a dead body, even that of a dead relative. (You can read Numbers 6 for all of the laws pertaining to Nazirites.)  

So we have a very curious scenario whereby Samson the warrior judge cannot, by vow to the Lord, participate in traditional combat or war campaigns, and yet he’s called to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines. How does that work? How can one be a mighty deliverer without being violent? How does a tempestuous beast of a man like Samson with the power of 1000 men defeat the Philistine giants without resorting to physical violence? This is the riddle the Lord poses to Israel when He makes it plain that Samson is to be a Nazirite AND deliver Israel.  It goes straight over their heads. They cannot answer the riddle because they are blind to the reality of spiritual power.  

Samson’s first physical exploit recorded in Scripture is when he’s attacked by a lion on his way to Timnah to see a Philistine woman. Remember, she is the first of three Philistine women he gets involved with. He tears the attacking lion apart with his bare hands. Later he goes back to Timnah to marry the woman and sees the lion’s carcass. A swarm of bees and honey are in it. So during his wedding feast he poses a riddle for his thirty companions. He promises to give all thirty of them a new set of clothes if they can solve the riddle. But if they can’t, they must give him thirty sets of clothes. Here is the riddle:

“Out of the eater came something to eat, and out of the strong came something sweet.”  (Jud 14:14)  

The Philistines cannot figure out the riddle and threaten to burn Samson’s new wife, and her father’s house if she doesn’t get the answer out of Samson.  She pesters him to death, he tells her, she tells them, and they answer the riddle:

“What is sweeter than honey? And what is stronger than a lion?”  (Jgs 14:18)

Samson is so angered by the betrayal that he kills thirty Philistines, rips off their clothes and gives them to the men who solved the riddle. He leaves his wife, and she is given to one of the men in the wedding party. The point to make here is that there are parallel riddles being posed, and both illustrate the same irony.  

Out of a lion, a figure of power and strength who plunders and devours, comes something totally unpredictable, something pleasant, delightful and sweet for others to devour. This drastic dichotomy is the same as the Lord’s riddle of Samson’s life: Out of the Nazirite, a figure of total passivity by vow, comes the ferocious defense, deliverance and victory of Israel over the mighty Philistines. Is it possible? It’s as possible as honey coming out of a lion. Samson doesn’t see the parallel. He doesn’t understand the nature or the use of the koach (ko’-ahk), the power the Lord has given Him.

Samson’s great strength, referred to so many times in Judges is the word koach (ko’-ahk).  It means physical vigor, force, capacity, hardiness, wealth, fruits, substance and power.[3] All power comes from God. When it is given to freewill beings, it can be used for good or evil.

God is mighty in koach. (Jb 9:4) With His koach He can divide the seas. (Jb 26:12) God’s right hand is glorious in koach and by it He delivered Israel from Egypt. (Ex 23:11, Nm 14: 3, Dt 4:37, 9:29, 2 Ki 17:36)

Had Samson recognized that he was a steward of the Lord’s power, given to him, his story’s end might have been a lot less tragic.  Instead, he used this power to serve his own desires, and did what was right in his own eyes.

Today we understand Samson’s riddle with even more clarity. Jesus Christ is the Lion of Judah. He operated on earth anointed by the Father with the power of the Holy Spirit. He submitted himself entirely to the will of the Father, and did what was right in the Father’s eyes. He brandished no weapons. He killed no persons. The war He waged was not a war “against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph 6:12)

His Words caused demons to flee. By His commands and His touch, “He healed all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.” (Acts 10:38) He triumphed over the devil and made a public spectacle of his evil cohorts by laying down His life in submission to the will of the Father, for our sakes. (Col 2:15) The only blood He shed was His own. The honey that spilled from Him was the forgiveness of sins that is available to all who believe. That is the real power that Samson’s riddle foreshadowed. 

We, now joined to Jesus as His body, the Church, have the Holy Spirit, the power of the risen Christ residing in us. And here is the good news: We, the body of Christ, are called to use this power to do even greater things (Jn 14:12), not in our strength or koach, but in His. This is the power that raised Lazarus from the dead, the power that healed the crippled man by the pool of Bethesda, the power that calmed a raging storm … and it is operating today through the Church. When we submit our hearts to the Father’s will, and our eyes are focused continually above, we will walk in victory over evil and live in the fullness of His promises and election.

“Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.” (Eph 1:15-21)

 

[1]Strong, James and John R. Kohlenberger, III, The New Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Red Letter Edition (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001), H8123. [2]., H8181, H8175. [3] Ibid., H3581.