Faith Goes It Alone
“Woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.”—Ecclesiastes 4:10
By Richard Evans
As the age of the Judges came to a close, God found it necessary to again chasten his people.”And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the LORD; and the LORDdelivered them into the hand of the Philistines forty years.”—Judges 13:1
Shortly thereafter an angel of Jehovah appeared unto a barren woman, the wife of Manoah, of the tribe of Dan (Judg. 13:2), and announced the birth of a child [probably about the same time Hannah petitioned Eli]. “For, lo, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and no razor shall come on his head: for the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb: and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.”—Judges 13:5
Thus, even as God began his punishment of Israel, he set in motion a plan that would moderate that punishment and ultimately bring about deliverance.
A Good Report
Then Old Testament account of this miracle child is brief. Besides the angelic announcement only three episodes are recounted from a life that spanned nearly forty years:
1. His courtship and marriage to a daughter of the Philistines, his fight with a lion, his wife’s death, and the conflict with the Philistines [a period of months.]
2. His visit to Gaza and the taking of the city gate [one day.]
3. His courtship of Delilah, her betrayal and his capture, and his victory in death [another period of months.]
Thankfully, the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews added important insight into this brief record. “And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouth of lions, … out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.”—Hebrews 11:32-34
The writer continued: “And these all, having obtained a good report through faith” (Heb. 11:39). Through his faith Samson was given a good report. This good report was not gratuitous. Samson believed God and lived his life accordingly. For example, following his battle with the Philistines at Lehi he had a life-threatening thirst. With complete certainty he called upon the God of Israel and water came forth (Judg. 15:19). God had promised Samson he was to do a work. His faith in that promise gave him the boldness to ask for the water. Believing God, he knew he would not be allowed to perish. It was this same faith that gave him the confidence to face a lion with no weapon and to face a thousand Philistines with only the jawbone of an ass.
When studying the account of Samson care must be taken not to be confused by the King James translation. In the birth announcement (Judg. 13:5), for instance, the KJV can lead one to believe that Samson was subject to the conditions of the vow given in Numbers 6:1-21. The Hebrew word translated “Nazarite” means separated, set aside, consecrated. Rotherham’s rendering makes clear the relationship Samson enjoyed. “For lo! thou art about to conceive and bare a son, and no razor shall come on his head, for one separate unto God shall the boy be from his birth—and he shall begin to save Israel out of the hand of the Philistines” (Jud. 13:5, Rotherham).
The only condition placed on Samson’s separation concerned his hair. There was no prohibition concerning wine, strong drink, or touching a dead body. Also this relationship was not something Samson freely elected, nor was it for a short term. On the other hand the vow in Numbers 6 involved all these things. There is no indication that Samson took such a vow or was obligated to live within its requirements. In fact, while under the direction of the spirit of the Lord he killed over a thousand men (Judg. 14:19; 15:8, 14, 16). If he was under the vow this would present a serious dilemma.
When Samson was in his late teens, he was led by the Lord to marry a daughter of the Philistines. “And Samson said unto his father, Get her for me; for she pleaseth me well. But his father and mother knew not that it was the LORD, that he sought occasion against the Philistines” (Jud. 14:3, 4).
Here again the KJV may cause confusion. The use of the word pleaseth could lead to the thought that Samson’s motivation was selfish and lustful. The marginal reading presents the literal and more correct rendering. “Get her for me, for she is right in mine eye” (Jud. 14:3, Margin). She was right for Samson because it was the Lord’s will for him. It would provide an occasion against the Philistines.
The events that grew out of the wedding feast proved that assertion. Samson had the opportunity to do much damage to the Philistines; and it was done in such a way as not to bring down the wrath of the Philistines on his countrymen. At that time [probably after Israel’s great defeat at Ebenezer and the loss of the Ark], the people were demoralized and unable to challenge the intruders. So the marriage provided a means of limiting the incursion while restricting the conflict to Samson. He alone would incur the ire of the enemy. He alone would be pursued.
He Was Different
Though brief, the account highlights a number of differences between Samson and other men used by God. Others were raised as a result of a time of repentance by Israel, and a turning to God for help. Their task was one of leadership. They did not fight alone, but led the men of Israel. No such turning to God for help, however, preceded Samson’s separation. As a result the people were not ready to receive him or rally to his support. Unlike the others, Samson was not to lead Israel into battle. He was to fight alone. Unlike the others, national repentance came after his judgeship, after his victory in death [see box].
His singlehanded defeat of a thousand men, his burning of the Philistine fields, vineyards, and orchards, some twenty years into their dominion over Israel, must have had a moderating effect on their conduct. The economic impact must have weakened them. Following on the heels of their experience with the Ark (1 Sam. 5:1-6:21), the Philistines, no doubt, exercised a bit more caution in their dealings with Israel.
Gaza During his Judgeship
Samson went down to Gaza. We are not told the reason for the visit. The unfortunate rendering by the KJV discussed above could easily lead to an assumption that it was lust since he chose the house of a harlot for his rest (Jud. 16:1). Nothing in the account, however, supports such a conclusion. Apparently it was not uncommon in that day for the houses of harlots to function as inns, just as in the days of Joshua when the spies stayed with Rahab in Jericho (Josh. 2:1). There was probably a very practical, but less sensational, reason for the visit.
“Now there was no smith found throughout the land of Israel; for the Philistines said, Lest the Hebrews make them swords or spears: But all the Israelites went down to the Philistines, to sharpen every man his share, and his coulter, and his axe, and his mattock.”—1 Samuel 13:19, 20
The Philistines enjoyed a technological edge and they very jealously guarded it. Their iron was greatly superior to the brass of Israel. Though much to their chagrin, no doubt, their iron did not stand up to Shamgar’s ox goad, Samson’s jawbone of an ass, or David’s stone from a brook. Whatever the reason for Samson going to Gaza, the removal of the city gate once more demonstrated to the Philistines the great power of the God of Israel. Though God was using them to punish his people he was not going to let them have complete freedom to do as they willed. The Bible does not indicate the time of the visit but it was probably near the end of Samson’s twenty year judgeship. His great defeats against the Philistines would have faded in their memories. The removal of the gate would have jarred them and renewed in them a desire to get rid of him. So their subsequent bribery of Delilah may have been a direct outcome of Samson’s visit to Gaza.
As his time came to a close Samson did let the love of a woman come between him and his relationship with God. The silence of the Bible indicates that they both were unmarried at the time. There is nothing said about Delilah’s race or religion. She could have been a Hebrew. Both peoples lived in the valley of Sorek, and the name Delilah is Semitic in form.
When a broad view is taken of Samson’s life, his failure because of love is understandable. Though married at an early age, before he could enjoy the fruits of that relationship it was lost. Shortly thereafter his countrymen rejected him. They take him captive and turn him over to the enemy. Apparently he then lived alone for twenty years, carrying the burden of his loss and his rejection. He probably had few friends as most would be in awe of his great strength. There is little wonder, then, that he would be blinded by this love for a woman, a relationship that provided much needed human companionship. . . . and, he did love Delilah.
“And it came to pass afterward, that he loved a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah.”—Judges 16:4
Because of his love Samson was not able to see Delilah’s weakness. His love led him to share a confidence she could not keep. So God departed from him. He was taken captive and blinded.
In the end, however, Samson accomplished God’s purpose for him. He called upon God with the confidence he had had in the past with the faith he had had, and he was heard (Judg. 16:28). The destruction of the temple of Dagon and the death of a great number that were in it set in motion the events that led to the Israelite defeat of the Philistines at Mizpeh.
“So the Philistines were subdued, and they came no more into the coast of Israel.”—1 Samuel 7:13
As the angel had declared, Samson did begin to deliver Israel out of the had of the Philistines (Judg. 13:5). Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon—all the faithful of old—believed God, believed in his promise. So did Samson. His life reflected that belief. Jehovah is not ashamed to be called the God of Samson (Heb. 11:16).
When Did Samson Live?
To fully understand the story of Samson it is necessary to correlate events in his life with events in the contemporary history of Israel. The beginning point for such a quest is the birth announcement. The angel declared Samson would begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines (Judg. 13:5). This indicates that the announcement and Samson’s birth was subsequent to the beginning of the forty year punishment of Judges 13:1.
Though by no means absolute, the Scriptural testimony seems to indicate the end point of that forty year period was Israel’s victory at Mizpeh under the leadership of Samuel.
“So the Philistines were subdued, and they came no more into the coast of Israel: and the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel.”—1 Samuel 7:13
This Israelite victory was preceded by a twenty year period during which the Ark of the Covenant rested in the home of Abinadab (1 Sam. 7:1, 2). The Ark had been placed there after its return by the Philistines. Its capture had been brought about by Israel’s defeat at Ebenezer, and its loss resulted in the death of Eli (1 Samuel 4).
Hence Samson’s twenty years of judging in the days of the Philistines (Jud. 15:20; 14:4) must have taken place during the latter half of that forty year period following Eli’s death and during the time the Ark rested in the house of Abinadab. His marriage must have been at the midpoint of that period when he was in his late teens—about the time of the Ark’s capture.
If this scenario be correct, the defeat of Israel at Ebenezer took place a short time before the capture of Samson by the men of Judah. This would explain their great fear of the Philistines and their willingness to turn Samson over to their enemies.
“Then three thousand men of Judah went to the top of the rock Etam, and said to Samson, Knowest thou not that the Philistines are rulers over us? What is this that thou hast done unto us?” (Judg. 15:11).
Also this scenario would place the destruction of the temple of Dagon, along with that of a great number of Philistines, shortly before Israel’s victory at Mizpeh, and would thus explain an otherwise inexplicable text. Israel had gathered at Mizpeh not to do battle, but to pray (1 Sam. 7:5)—a consequence of a great change that had come over the people.
“And it came to pass, while the ark abode in Kirjath-jearim, that the time was long, for it was twenty years: and all the house of Israel lamented after the LORD.”—1 Samuel 7:2
That last clause was dropped in the text without explanation. There is no indication of any kind of the cause of Israel’s sudden change of heart. If Samson’s victory in death happened just before this change, as seems to be the case, then we have the answer. Samson’s great act of self-sacrifice would have been the catalyst that brought on Israel’s lament and thus the subsequent deliverance from the hand of the Philistines (Jud. 13:1; 1 Sam. 7:13).