Most know that Samson was a he-man with a she-problem (Charles Swindoll’s phrase). But there was more happening than an appetite gone wild. Most Bible commentators major on Samson’s flesh failures and say little about the critical phrase in Judges13:5 – God’s commission for Samson was that he would “. . . begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines.” This is the bigger perspective on Samson – a focus on his life purpose.
The reader’s understanding of these two articles on Samson will be greatly assisted by a couple of readings of Judges 13-16. The articles assume a knowledgeable readership.
Prominent Parents We are given just four chapters in the Bible to report a judgeship of 20 years (15:20 and 16:31), and the parents dominate 1.5 chapters of the four. They were prominent in the anticipated conception and birth (Judges 13). Including pronouns, Manoah and his wife are referred to over 50 times in Judges 13 and 10 references are made to “his father and mother,” or “his father” in Judges 14.
Interesting that the angel came a second time, but added nothing new to the instructions about how to raise Samson. This shows God’s interest and importance of both a Nazarite vow and the special, personalized commission.
Close to His Parents The basis on which Samson refused to share the riddle (14:14) with his new wife was that he “hadn’t even shared it with his parents,” (14:16), showing their relationship was very close.
Certainly they would have shared with their son again and again the experience of meeting the Angel. How she had been childless, but suddenly conceived. That one thing would have been a watershed experience with the Living God for Manoah and his wife. Women memorialize their experiences of giving birth. Just ask a mother to tell you about the birth of her child. In living color, it will be rehearsed contraction-by contraction and play-by-play in slow motion.
Nazarite for life An additional reason for this closeness was the Nazarite vow – maintaining it, talking about it, and living with it as a daily reality. The central point of the Angel’s message was that Samson was to be separated unto God his whole life, “even from the womb” (13:5). The Angel made a close connection between Nazarite and begin to deliver Israel, implying that success in the latter would depend on the degree of adherence to the former. Samson’s mother was to observe dietary restrictions even before the birth, so that Samson would be characterized by Nazarite separation all his life. The outward life-style of the Nazarite was to represent an expected inner dedication of life.
Supernatural Strength When Samson first became aware of extra strength it would have been a life-impacting moment. Normally strong became miraculously strong. I believe it came full throttle — not gradually — so Samson knew it was from God. Likely it came at 18 or 19 years of age. He would need time to recognize it for what it was and learn to live with it humbly. No showing off. No settling old scores. He could now do many tasks that he previously had been unable to do – and he needed time to determine which he could / should do and which would be inappropriate. His training as a Nazarite helped him be disciplined and discerning. Nothing negative appears in the record, so the assumption is that Samson handled this adjustment well. He remained humble. He would need some time to test it before he faced the Philistines. His new strength was a huge entrustment and responsibility. He was to be dedicated to God such that both Philistines and Israelites would see that his strength was from God.
Samson enjoyed supernatural strength continually through his whole life, as shown from its loss when his hair was cut (16:21). There were occasions that called for unusual physical power (14:6, 14:19 and 15:14).
Since people wanted to know the source of his strength (Delilah, 16:6, 9, 15), apparently he was not bulging with muscles. He may have had an ordinary appearance.
Now, on to the “bigger perspective.”
“Begin to Deliver Israel” Samson has been criticized for not raising an army to fight the Philistines as other Judges had done. But that was not his commission (13:5). He was “. . . to begin the deliverance;” others would complete it. 1
Samson pressed his parents to arrange for him to marry a Philistine woman (chapter 14) was the opening salvo of distracting Philistine attention on to himself. How brokenhearted his parents must have been, especially in light of their high hopes for him because of the Angel’s announcement. On his way to his wedding in Timnah, Samson killed a lion with his bare hands (14:6).
Though the text says, “His parents did not know that this [wedding to a foreigner] was from the Lord Who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines . . . ,” God could have provided a different way to open the anti-Philistine campaign other than through Samson’s fleshly attraction. “That God used the wedding to provoke the Philistines was in spite of Samson’s wrong decision, not because of it.” 2
Samson proposed a riddle at his wedding based on him having killed a lion. Through this riddle, it became known. The Philistine wedding companions pressured Samson’s young wife, threatening to kill her (Nice guys. Just the kind of people you want at your wedding.) When Samson lost the bed and killed 30 Philistines to pay it off (14:19)3, his reputation spread through Philistia even more,4 furthering his divine commission to “begin the deliverance of Israel.” The stories about Samson were repeated in many villages and hamlets in Philistia.
Continuing his campaign, Samson captured 300 foxes, tied their tails together, attached a burning torch and set them free in the standing grain of the Philistines’ fields. How did he ever catch 300 foxes? How did he tie them together? Transport them to the Philistines’ fields? I have no idea. God had to enable this. This ruined part of the harvest, resulting in a diminished food supply for the nation, which contributed to keeping the Philistines off balance.
- Full deliverance would await Samuel’s military victory at the battle of Mizpeh (I Sam. 7:7-13).
- Wood, The Distressing Days of the Judges; Zondervan, page 312.
- How humiliating for the Philistines. And what a demonstration of his supernatural strength.
- In a seemingly contradictory situation (Deuteronomy 7:3, 4 directed Israelites to not marry Philistine women), God allowed / provoked a quarrel with the enemy (14:4) through Samson’s attraction to this Philistine woman. Far from ideal.