Understanding the Old Testament

Samson Enraged

(All quotations are from the New American Standard Bible translation)

After Jephthah’s death, three men—Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon—judged Israel for a total of 25 years. (Judges 12:8-15)

But the Israelites, as they so often did, again turned to evil, and God allowed them to be oppressed by the Philistines for forty years. (Judges 13:1)

Sometime during this forty years God prepared a deliverer who would “begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines.” (Judges 13:5, emphasis added) An angel appeared to a Danite named Manoah and his wife, who was barren, to tell them that she would bear a child who was to become a Nazirite for life.

Numbers 6:1-21 explains the Nazirite vow: an Israelite man or woman would take the vow for a certain period of time in order to dedicate themselves to the Lord. For the duration of the vow the person could not cut his hair, drink vinegar or anything alcoholic, consume grapes or grape juice, or go near a dead person.

Manoah's son was named Samson. He would grow up to be strong enough to kill a lion with his bare hands. (Judges 14:5-6) God began to use him from an early age.

In his youth Samson fell in love—or perhaps lust—with one of the daughters of the Philistines, who were ruling Israel at that time. Judges 14:4 tells us that the Lord was behind this romance, “for He was seeking an occasion against the Philistines.” That occasion came during Samson's wedding feast in his bride's hometown of Timnah.

Samson propounded a riddle involving honey in the body of the lion he had killed. He wagered thirty sets of clothing that the wedding guests would not be able to solve the riddle before the feast ended in seven days. They won the bet by inducing his new wife to betray him and reveal the answer. Samson was so incensed at this treachery that he killed thirty Philistines in the city of Ashkelon and brought those thirty sets of clothes to pay off the bet—and then went home without his new wife.

Some months later Samson returned to claim his wife and found that her father had given her to another man. (Judges 14:20-15:2) Samson again lost his temper and burned the Philistines’ crops and vineyards in revenge. (Judges 15:4-5)

The Philistines wanted to bring Samson to justice for destroying their crops, and the men of Judah seemed only too happy to help if it saved them from Philistine retaliation. So they bound Samson and delivered him to the Philistines. But once in their hands, Samson burst his bonds and killed a thousand Philistines “with the jawbone of a donkey.” (Judges 15:14-16) (I wonder if there isn't more to the story, since it's hard to imagine one man killing 1,000 enemies at one time no matter how strong he is. Perhaps Samson led an uprising or an ambush, assisted by the Judahites, and gets the credit because he was the leader—just as we say that General Grant won the battle of Vicksburg.)

This victory apparently kept the Philistines at bay for twenty years, for that is how long Samson judged Israel. (Judges 15:20)

Questions to ponder or discuss: Samson was used mightily by God, but seems to have had no choice of his own in the matter, since God selected him to be a Nazirite before he was even born. Does that seem fair to you? Would you want to be used by God if you couldn’t choose to do otherwise? Why or why not?

Copyright 2018 by Don Davidson

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Understanding the Old Testament


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