Samson was a very polarizing figure in the Old Testament. Before we can fully understand his story, we first must understand what a Nazirite vow was.
The purpose for the vow of a Nazirite is found in Numbers 6:1-8.
Numbers 6:1-8 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When either a man or a woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the Lord, he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink. He shall drink no vinegar made from wine or strong drink and shall not drink any juice of grapes or eat grapes, fresh or dried. All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, not even the seeds or the skins. All the days of his vow of separation, no razor shall touch his head. Until the time is completed for which he separates himself to the Lord, he shall be holy. He shall let the locks of hair of his head grow long. All the days that he separates himself to the Lord he shall not go near a dead body. Not even for his father or for his mother, for brother or sister, if they die, shall he make himself unclean, because his separation to God is on his head. All the days of his separation he is holy to the Lord.”
The purpose of the vow of the Nazirite was to express one’s special desire to draw close to God and to separate oneself from the comforts and pleasures of this world. The purpose for taking the Nazirite vow was to separate oneself unto the Lord. It was to give up earthly and personal desires to give one’s life to the service of God until the vow was finished. The Hebrew word for Nazirite is nazir, which means “set apart.”
What were the vows?
- No wine or strong drink nor grape juice nor even eating from any produce of the grapevine, even the seeds or skins.
- No cutting of the hair.
- No going near dead bodies even if they were your parents.
Now that we have a better understanding of the Nazirite vows and the purpose of making them, let’s go back and look at Sampson. Sampson was part of Gods answer for His people, Israel. If we look at chapter 13 in the book of Judges, we can see where Sampson’s story really begins. In Judges 13, we read about the birth of Samson and how the Spirit of the Lord begins to stir in him.
From here, the story of Sampson really gets pretty wild. This man is given incredible physical strength and the Spirit of God is with him; but, the first record in the scriptures of Samson’s doing something proves that he is still just a sinful Israelite. In fact, there’s a very familiar word-phrase used in Judges 14:3. Samson tells his parents to go get him a wife from the Philistines which would have been sinful according to God. But Samson says, “Get her, for me for she is right in my eyes.”
Let’s look at the connection between these words and the verse we find at the beginning of chapter 13:1 where it says, “and the people of Israel … did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, so the Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years.”
You see this in the Old Testament often when God’s people “do what is right in their own eyes.” They are doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord. This doesn’t mean that every time someone does what is right in their eyes it’s not right according to God. The point is that in the Old Testament this phrase “right in my eyes” is usually used to point to the fact that whatever God’s people are doing is sinful.
Look at verse 4 of chapter 14. Samson’s father and mother did not know that it was “from the Lord,” for he (the Lord) was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines. So, Samson, who was a very willing sinner, was drawn by his own desires to this Philistine woman and would be in sin if he took her as his wife. But God was using this woman (a secondary source) and Samson’s own willing sinfulness, because He was going to start the work that He had created Samson to do. If you pay close attention to this story, you can see God’s sovereign hand all the way through. Consider the fact that Samson’s mom was barren, but God came and told her, “You’ll have a son; he will begin to deliver my people from the Philistines.”
Samson is born and, as soon as he’s of age, he wants to marry a Philistine which would have been sinful; but God was sovereignly using Samson’s willing, sinful heart to begin His deliverance of Israel from the Philistines. As we go further, notice God’s hand in the details.
Samson heads down to get his wife, and a young lion comes toward him, roaring. The Spirit rushes over Samson and, with his bare hands, he grabs this young lion and tears it to shreds. One thing to keep in mind is that the verse says this was a young lion. The danger and strength of even a young lion would have destroyed any normal human; so, this feat is no less incredible.
I just want to draw your attention to details, because they are important. Very quickly into the story, we see Samson breaking one of the Nazirite vows. If he tore this lion to shreds, then he would have been touching a dead body. Next, he goes down with his father (which was the custom) to get his wife, and he prepares a feast. Things get a little soap-opera-like when he gives his enemy a riddle about the dead lion and the honey. Then his wife talks him into telling her the answer, and she tells the men. They answer Samson, and he gets angry. The Spirit rushes upon him again; he goes and kills thirty Philistines and gives the prize to the men who answered his riddle.
He then goes home, angry. The father of the woman Samson had married gives Samson’s new wife to one of the groomsmen, because he thinks Samson hated her. Things get even weirder when Samson goes back to get his wife and finds out she was given to someone else. He then catches 300 foxes, ties torches to their tails, sets the torches on fire, and lets them loose in the fields of the Philistines. What a sight that must have been! The Philistines ask who has done this, and the people answer, “Samson.” This results in the Philistines burning Samson’s wife and her father. Remember, God said He was going to use Samson to begin freeing Israel from the Philistines.
Before we see his response, can you see how Samson’s desire for this woman is being used to create a battle, of sorts, between Israel and the Philistines? God will use everyday things to accomplish His purposes in our lives.
Let’s keep going. Samson attacks the men who had burned his wife and father-in-law, then he goes and hides in a cave. The Philistines attack Lehi: and when God’s people ask why, the Philistines say, “Tell them they want Samson.” They send 3,000 men of Judah go to get Samson because they know a few guys won’t be enough. Samson says, “As long as you guys don’t attack me, I’ll let you bind me and bring me to the Philistines.” They do it; and Samson, upon seeing the Philistines, when the Spirit of the Lord rushes upon him, breaks the rope with which he was bound then grabs the jawbone of a donkey and kills 1,000 Philistines. Stop and really take that in. This is a sight greater than any movie that Hollywood has created. He is truly a one-man wrecking crew.
In this, we can see God beginning to defeat the Philistines through Samson. The problem is, Samson continues his sinful ways and heads to a town called Gaza to be with a prostitute. Some people find out and decide to trap him. They wait outside of the city gates and say in the morning, “We will kill Samson.” Samson gets up in the middle of the night, ripping the city gates and posts from the ground. If you’re sitting outside a gate waiting for Samson to come out, and the next thing you know the gate is coming out of the ground, and Samson is holding the gate on his shoulders I’m guessing you probably aren’t trying to kill this guy anymore.
What is even more incredible is the fact that the gates would have likely been huge—over 10 feet; they were barred in order to protect the city. That means this gate would have been solid enough to keep armies out of the town. Samson not only rips them from the ground and throws them on his shoulders but the mountain up which he carries them is forty miles from Gaza—and all uphill.
Like many men before, and after him, Samson’s demise comes at the hands of a woman for whom he has fallen. Samson makes the mistake of breaking his last Nazirite vow and he tells Delilah, “If you cut my hair, I will lose my power.” Many people over the years have said that Samson’s power was in his hair, but we must recognize that Samson’s power was from God. As a result of Samson’s vow-breaking, the Philistines take Samson and make him do slave labor. One day, they decide to throw a party to their god for delivering Samson into their hands. A now-blind Samson, because the Philistines had taken his eyes out, is mocked and made to hear their worship of their false god. At the party, Samson asks the guards who are holding him if they will take him to the pillars that hold the entire building together.
Samson puts his arms out and likely pushes these two pillars until they buckle, and the entire building comes down, probably killing the greatest number of Philistines he had ever killed in all his conquests over them. Surely, God was not done using Samson, despite his selfish decision-making and unfaithfulness to his vows. Even though Samson was sinful, God still used him to begin to deliver Israel out of the hands of the Philistines.
We serve a mighty God who does incredible things in, and through, His creation. Do you believe this? Do you trust that He is at work in, and through, us despite our failures and sins? May we repent from our sin and selfishness and not follow the lead of those that failed to be faithful to God before us. Praise God that He is faithful to us despite our failures. In the end, He has given us everything in Christ and owes us nothing. We are truly blessed and should seek Him in all we do so that our lives are lived out for His purposes and His glory!
By His grace and for His glory,
Soldiers for Jesus MC