He Stood Alone

Samson

And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone.
—Genesis 2:18.

Richard E. Evans

As the age of the Judges came to a . close, God found it necessary to again ..chasten his people Israel. However, even as he chastened them, he set in motion a plan that would moderate the experience and ultimately bring about redemption.

The Birth

“And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD delivered them into the hand of the Philistines forty years. And there was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren, and bare not. And the angel of the LORD appeared unto the woman, and said unto her, Behold now, thou art barren, and bearest not: but thou shalt conceive, and bear a son. Now therefore beware, I pray thee, and drink not wine nor strong drink, and eat not any unclean thing: 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. … And the woman bare a son, and called his name Samson: and the child grew, and the LORD blessed him” (Judges 13:1-5,24).

The angel of the LORD declared to the mother of Samson that her child would begin the deliverance of Israel from the tyranny of the Philistines.

This declaration probably occurred at about the same time Hannah’s petition for a child was granted by Eli (1 Samuel 1:17). These two acts of grace revealed God’s love for his elect people and his tender care of them. Even as he chastened, he prepared deliverance by bringing forth two men of faith in different parts of the nation. Both would be a “judge” for his people, a “deliverer.” “And when the LORD raised them up judges, then the LORD was with the judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge” (Judges 2:18).

The work Samson would begin, Hannah’s child Samuel would afterward bring to completion.

Samson’s Judgeship

Samson was active as a judge for twenty years. “And he [Samson] judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years” (Judges 15:20). Two great battles between Israel and the Philistines acted as bookends to that judgeship. The first was the devastating defeat of Israel at Ebenezer in which the Ark of the Covenant was lost: “And the Philistines fought, and Israel was smitten, and they fled every man into his tent: and there was a very great slaughter; for there fell of Israel thirty thousand footmen. And the ark of God was taken” (1 Samuel 4:10,11). Upon hearing of the unprecedented loss, Eli fell, broke his neck, and died (1 Samuel 4:18). At that time Samson would have been a teenager.

The second battle of note came shortly after Samson’s death. As the forty years of oppression were to come to an end, God gave Israel a liberating victory at Mizpeh under the leadership of Samuel: “And the men of Israel went out of Mizpeh, and pursued the Philistines, and smote them … 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 7:11,13).

This Israelite victory was preceded by a twenty-year period during which the Ark of the Covenant, after its return by the Philistines, rested in the home of Abinadab (1 Samuel 7:1,2). Hence, Samson’s judgeship followed Eli’s death and took place during the latter half of the forty years of Philistine domination. It coincided with the time the Ark was in the house of Abinadab.

The Good Report

As God’s chosen, Samson stood alone, not for a few hours, not for a few weeks, but for much of his adult life. He lived a life of rejection by the very people for whom he was judge and savior. Then, this man of faith died alone in the midst of his enemies.

“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 … And these all [including Samson], having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise” (Hebrews 11:32,39).

Because of his faith Samson was given a “good report.” This report was not gratuitous. Samson believed God and lived his life accordingly. For example, following the tremendous exertion involved in the slaying of a thousand men he had a life-threatening thirst. With complete certainty he called upon the God of Israel and water came forth: “And he [Samson] was sore athirst, and called on the LORD, and said, Thou hast given this great deliverance into the hand of thy servant: and now shall I die for thirst, and fall into the hand of the uncircumcised? But God clave an hollow place that was in the jaw [Lehi, meaning “jaw,” was the name of the place—verses 9,14,19], and there came water thereout; and when he had drunk, his spirit came again, and he revived” (Judges 15:18,19).

God had promised Samson’s mother her son was to do a work. Samson’s faith in that promise gave him the boldness to ask for water—no, to claim his right for water. Believing God, he had the confidence to stand alone against that army of Philistines with only a jaw bone; and before that to stand alone against a lion with only his bare hands (Hebrews 11:33). Samson’s faith was great. He “obtained a good report”!

The Life

The Old Testament account of this faithful man is brief. In addition to the angelic announcement of his birth only three episodes are recounted from a life that spanned some forty years:

w    First, Samson’s courtship and marriage to a daughter of Israel’s oppressors, his fight with a lion, the wedding feast and his riddle, his wife’s death, and the ensuing conflict with the Philistines—a period of only a few months.

w    Second, his visit to Gaza and the taking of the city gate—parts of two days.

w    Third, his courtship of Delilah, her betrayal and his capture, then his victory in death—another period of a few months.

A Nazarite?

Most English versions render the angel’s birth announcement in a way to suggest Samson was subject to the conditions of the Nazarite vow. This vow, however, was not something to be imposed, but was to be a voluntary act, a free-will offering to God (Numbers 6:21).

The Hebrew word translated “Nazarite” means “separated,” “set aside,” “consecrated.” Rotherham’s translation of the angel’s words to the mother makes clear the relationship Samson enjoyed: “Now therefore, beware, I pray thee, and do not drink wine or strong drink, nor eat anything unclean; 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” (Judges 13:4,5, Rotherham).

The only condition placed on Samson’s separation concerned his hair. The prohibition regarding drinking and eating was addressed to the mother, not to the son, and it was a prohibition modern science has shown to be wise for pregnant women.

A Nazarite vow was something to be freely taken for a short term, not something to be providentially demanded for a lifetime. 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 (Judges 14:19; 15:8,14,16). If he was under a God-imposed vow, this would present a serious dilemma: “When either man or woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves unto the LORD … All the days that he separateth himself unto the LORD he shall come at no dead body” (Numbers 6:2,6).

The Marriage

When Samson was in his late teens, he was led by the Lord to marry a daughter of the Philistines. This was shortly after Eli’s death and the return of the Ark, about the midpoint of the Philistine oppression. “Then his father and his mother said unto him [Samson], Is there never a woman among the daughters of thy brethren, or among all my people, that thou goest to take a wife of the uncircumcised Philistines? And Samson said unto his father, Get her for me; for she pleaseth me well. But his father and his mother knew not that it was of the LORD, that he sought an occasion against the Philistines” (Judges 14:3,4).

Unlike Samson’s later involvement with Delilah, there is nothing said about him loving this daughter of a Philistine. Here again the translation may be misleading. The use of the word “pleaseth” may result in the conclusion that Samson’s motivation was selfish and lustful, the act of a willful teenager. The marginal reading presents the literal and more correct rendering: “Get her for me; for she is right in mine eyes” (Judges 14:3, margin; also LXX, YLT). She was right for Samson not because of love, or lust, but 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 contention. Samson did much damage to the Philistines; and it was done in such a way as not to bring down Philistine wrath on his countrymen.

At that time, following their defeat and temporary loss of the Ark, the people of Israel were demoralized and unable to challenge their oppressors. The marriage provided a means of limiting the suffering while restricting the conflict to Samson personally. He alone would incur the wrath of the enemy. He alone would be pursued.

This is exactly what occurred following Samson’s destruction of Philistine farmland with fire: “Then the Philistines went up, and pitched in Judah, and spread themselves in Lehi [meaning “Jaw”]. And the men of Judah said, Why are ye come up against us? And they answered, To bind Samson are we come up, to do to him as he hath done to us. [Philistine wrath was directed solely against Samson.] 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? And he said unto them, As they did unto me, so have I done unto them. And they said unto him, We are come down to bind thee, that we may deliver thee into the hand of the Philistines. And Samson said unto them, Swear unto me, that ye will not fall upon me yourselves. And they spake unto him, saying, No; but we will bind thee fast, and deliver thee into their hand: but surely we will not kill thee. And they bound him with two new cords, and brought him up from the rock” (Judges 15:9-13).

The fear that overwhelmed these three thousand men of Judah, and their desperate willingness to give Samson to the enemy, was no doubt the consequence of the ruinous defeat at Ebenezer and the loss of the Ark. Though it is not stated, these men may have outnumbered the Philistines as much as three to one, however, their fear made them weak.

A Unique Ministry

Though brief, the account of the marriage and its aftermath reveals significant differences between Samson and other faithful ones used by God. Others came forth as a result of national repentance and a turning to God for help so their task was one of leadership. They did not fight alone, but led the men of Israel. No such turning, however, preceded Samson’s “separation.” The people did not receive him nor rally to his support. Unlike the others, Samson did not lead Israel into battle. He fought alone! Unlike the others, national repentance came after his judgeship, after his victory in death.

His burning of Philistine farmland and the single-handed defeat of a thousand men had to have had a moderating effect on Philistine conduct. The economic impact must have weakened them. Following on the heels of their experience with the Ark (1 Samuel 5:1 to 6:21), the Philistines, no doubt, exercised a bit more caution in their dealings with the people of Israel.

Gaza

During his judgeship Samson went down to Gaza. The reason for the visit is not recorded. An unfortunate assumption often made is that it was lust since Samson chose the house of a harlot for his rest (Judges 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, as they did in the days of Joshua when the spies stayed with Rahab in Jericho (Joshua 2:1).

There was probably a practical, but less sensational, reason for the visit: “There was no smith found throughout all 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 [plough]share, and his coulter, and his axe, and his mattock” (1 Samuel 13:19,20). The Philistines had a technological advantage and they jealously guarded it.

Whatever the reason for Samson going to Gaza, the removal of the city gate demonstrated once more to the Philistines the great power of the God of Israel. Though God was using them to chasten his people, they did not have complete freedom to do as they willed.

The Bible does not indicate the time of this visit to Gaza, 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 jarred them and renewed in them a desire to get rid of this thorn in their flesh. So the subsequent bribery of Delilah to betray Samson was probably a direct outcome of the removal of Gaza’s gate. Her betrayal, however, would result in Samson’s victory in death and begin the deliverance God had promised.

Delilah

As Samson’s time came to a close, his love for a woman did come between him and his relationship with God. In spite of the unfounded assertions made by many commentators, the silence of the Bible indicates they both were unmarried. Also, there is nothing said about Delilah’s race or religion. She could have been a Hebrew. Both peoples lived in that area, 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 took him captive and turned him over to the enemy. Apparently he lived alone for the subsequent years, carrying the burden of his rejection. He probably had few friends as most would be in awe of his great accomplishments through faith.

Also, much of Israel probably would be unable to face him because of the shameful way they had treated him. This would have been especially true for the three thousand that not only turned him over to the enemy but, no doubt, stood by and watched as he fought that enemy alone. By not going to his aid their sense of guilt may well have been great and would have hindered any future relationship with Samson.

There is little wonder, then, that Samson would be blinded by this love for a woman, and he did love Delilah. His conduct was not motivated by lust as so often declared, but by love: “And it came to pass afterward, that he [Samson] loved a woman” (Judges 16:4).

Here is a great lesson for all who have responded to the call to be of God’s heavenly priesthood. God is a jealous god and all who serve him must love him more than anything, any person, of this physical world: “For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14).

Because of his great need for human companionship, Samson was not able to see Delilah’s weakness. His love led him to share a confidence she could not keep. For a brief time in his life his love for the physical was greater than his love for the spiritual. The desire to love and be loved is a strong human need. Those who are to be of the church, however, must always mind the words of Jesus: “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37).

All who have had a secret, and a loved one who is aware there is a secret, know it can introduce a seriously divisive element into the relationship. It is very difficult not to share a secret with those with whom one shares life—especially if it is known there is a secret.

In any event Samson revealed his secret. His hair was cut and his strength departed from him. He was taken captive and blinded.

The Death

In spite of his lapse, however, Samson accomplished God’s purpose. In his chains he called upon God with the faith he exhibited throughout his life, and he was heard. “O Lord GOD, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God” (Judges 16:28).

After being lead to the pagan temple and placed between its two great pillars, he again called out to his God: “And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life” (Judges 16:30).

The destruction of that pagan temple, and the death of a great number of prominent Philistines, set in motion the events that led to the Israelite victory at Mizpeh under Samuel’s leadership (1 Samuel 7:5-13).

Undesigned Coincidence1

Samson’s victory in death explains an otherwise inexplicable text. Samuel had gathered Israel at Mizpeh not to do battle, but to pray. As indicated by the text, this was a consequence of a great change that had come over the people: “All the house of Israel lamented after the LORD” (1 Samuel 7:2).

This text appears without explanation. There is no indication for the cause of Israel’s lament, for its sudden change of heart.

If Samson’s victory in death happened just before this change, as seems to be the case, then it provides the probable explanation. That great act of self-sacrifice combined with the people’s sense of guilt could have been the catalyst that brought on Israel’s lament; and it was that lament that led to the subsequent removal of Philistine domination.

“Israel lamented after the LORD. And Samuel spake unto all the house of Israel, saying, If ye do return unto the LORD with all your hearts, then put away the strange gods [male gods] and Ashtaroth [female god] from among you, and prepare your hearts unto the LORD, and serve him only: and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines. Then the children of Israel did put away Baalim [Baals, male gods] and Ashtaroth, and served the LORD only. And Samuel said, Gather all Israel to Mizpeh, and I will pray for you unto the LORD” (1 Samuel 7:2-5).

It was at Mizpeh that God gave Israel its release from Philistine rule. So, as the angel of the LORD declared, Samson did begin the deliverance of Israel (Judges 13:5).

The Lesson

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, and all the faithful of old, believed God, believed in his promise. So did Samson! His life reflected that belief. Jehovah God is not ashamed to be called the God of Samson (Hebrews 11:16).

Rejected by his people and destined to a life alone, Samson was a man who lived a life in faith. God has given his example that all with a similar faith might learn and stand firm in like circumstance. His faith in such extraordinary experiences should strengthen the faith of all who come after so they are undaunted when they encounter their “lion,” or the army of their enemy. When they experience rejection of family and of friends, they can recall how Samson’s faith remained strong though he stood alone. Even in his blindness he knew he could call upon his God and he would be heard.

In the common trials of daily lives Samson’s faith sets forth a challenge, an inspiration, particularly if one must stand alone.

“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1), just as Samson ran the race before him.


1. For other undesigned coincidences that substantiate the Bible as the Word of God see Undesigned Coincidences in the Writings of the Old and New Testament,“ J. J. Blunt, 9th edn., 1869.