Samson: Misunderstood Hero?
After a recent Sunday morning message about Samson, I was left wanting more. So much more.
It was a typical Samson sermon – as fresh as a church basement. Samson was a strong man, who wasted God’s gift. He was reckless, a wild man who couldn’t control his lust for women. Because of this, he died. The moral of the story: Don’t be like Samson.
So, I studied and searched, and found an amazing story. One that I never heard in my 45 years of church attendance. One that I never heard in sunday school or from the pulpit.
Who is Samson?
Interestingly, I find that just about any “morality tale” of Samson leaves out one particular verse:
“Samson went down to Timnah, and at Timnah he saw one of the daughters of the Philistines. Then he came up and told his father and mother, “I saw one of the daughters of the Philistines at Timnah. Now get her for me as my wife.” But his father and mother said to him, “Is there not a woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you must go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” His father and mother did not know that it was from the Lord, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines. At that time the Philistines ruled over Israel.” (Judges 14:1-4, ESV) emphasis added
That little bit of information in verse 4 seems to be left out of just about any account of Samson that portrays him as a steroid-starved hulk. It is that specific piece of information that changes the entire narrative, as well as adds some uncomfortable complexity to the entire story of Samson. Samson’s plan (or desire) to marry a Philistine girl was from the Lord – specifically to seek an opportunity against the Philistines!
When you couple that thought with the last verse of the previous chapter… “and the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him,” we start to see that there may be a different side to this mystery man. One in whom God’s Spirit stirs, and because of this, he acts according to God’s plan. I take it from these verses that Samson knew his purpose in life: kill Philistines. And God moves in him multiple times to accomplish that objective.
But what about Israel?
Interestingly, the people of Israel are not portrayed kindly. In fact, they are downright cowards, yet Samson seems to be the fall guy as an example of the sin of Israel. Let’s look at what Judges 13-15 says about Israel:
Judges 13:1 And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, so the Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years.
Judges 15:11 Then 3,000 men of Judah went down to the cleft of the rock of Etam, and said to Samson, “Do you not know that the Philistines are rulers over us?
Judges 15:113 They [men of Judah] said to him, “No; we will only bind you and give you into their hands. We will surely not kill you.”
So, this is the people, the men of Israel. When Samson stirs up trouble, their question to him says everything about their state, “Don’t you know that the Philistines are rulers over us?” They are complete in their subjection to their enemies. They are humiliated, enslaved and cowardly to obey their Philistine masters’ bidding to capture Samson and hand him over – to keep the peace?
God’s Sovereign Plan: in Samson
The first verse is the most telling. As brought out in a series of messages by Rupert Bentley-Taylor at The Proclamation Trust; The cycle of Judges is as follows: sin, judgement by a conquering nation, people cry out to the Lord, the Lord delivers them, sin, etc. Interestingly, for the account of Samson, we only have sin and the Lord giving Israel over to the Philistines. I highly recommend those sermons, as they provide the context for much of this article.
Here is the point of verse 1: No one is crying out for deliverance! They are completely submissive to their Philistine masters, to the point that they will bind and hand over their God-promised deliverer to be executed. Sound familiar?
Yes, you can make the case that Samson is a type of Christ:
-Samson and Christ are children of prophesy and promise
-Samson “will begin the deliverance of his people.” Christ completed it.
-The promise was given by an angelic visit
-The Spirit of the Lord came upon both of them
-Their own rejected them
-Israel (Judah) handed both of them over to their oppressors, to be killed by them
From my own view, both achieved victory through weakness. Christ as a lamb, became the Lion of Judah and “having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” Samson as weak, was put into a situation that he could have only been in by being temporarily defeated, and then was given strength to publicly humiliate and defeat all of the Philistine kings, leaders, armies and thousands of people.
Maybe a stretch, but I like my heroes strong and courageous. So does God:
Hebrews 11:32-34 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.
Check, check, check, check, check, check, check aaaaaand check. Yes, that’s Samson all right. Sounds like a great man of God, who sought an occasion against the Philistines and did what he was promised and prophesied to do.
There are many comparisons that one can make. For a great outline with references and also lively discussion in the comments (probably the first time I would ever direct people to the comments) of this article, go to the Pyromaniacs blog, Samson and Jesus: Studies in Contrast.
The last chapter of Samson’s life is one that is really up for debate. But here are two points I’ll make based on the two actions that have people scratching their heads in trying to get to know this man.
1. Samson “went to Gaza and there he saw a prostitute and he went in to her.” Sunday School teachers love use this verse as a bludgeon before the final nails in Samson’s casket.
However, let’s look at another verse in Israel’s history, Joshua 2:1, “And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” And they went and came into the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab and lodged there.”
In this account we clearly have Joshua’s spies going into Jerico and spending the night at the house of a prostitute. That was cause for snickers in Sunday School (did they at least spy a little, or just go strait to the prostitute?) It was headlines when the US Secret Service did it, so maybe this should be headline material as well? The issue wasn’t that the Marriott was booked full for the night, the issue is that hotels as we know them now, were houses of prostitution throughout history (See Wild Wild West: US History). Now, I’m not saying this is by any means a reprieve for Samson. I’m just saying that we have to view this account within the historical narrative of the time. The two spies seem to get off the hook easy – Rahab saves their lives. Samson gives an object lesson on how “the gates of hell shall not withstand.”
2. The second bit isn’t as confusing in my book. In fact, the more I read it, the more I see God at work showing us his providence and plan to deliver his people – even if they don’t want to be delivered. I’ll admit that business with Delilah was stunning, and you have to ask, “Samson, are you that stupid!?!?”
Because no one could be that stupid….right? Or, was Samson doing as he always did – seeking an occasion against the Philistines? Was he operating in his calling from his own understanding, when God had a greater, more astonishing plan that would enable him to defeat not just a few dozen, or a few thousand, but the majority of the Philistine nation (and their kings). Of course, it would require him to be shamed, tortured, publicly humiliated and ultimately – his sacrificial death.
My hero, Samson
There is my heart on the matter. I’m tired of Samson being a punching bag for morality tales. I’m tired of congregations and Sunday School classes gathering around his story and saying “ooooh too bad, he could have been somebody great!”
Samson is not there for our pity. He is there for God’s everlasting glory, a shadow of a greater Redeemer to come! A Greater Samson.
- Samson was the beginning of God’s deliverance
- Samson was prophesied by angel delivering the news to his mother and father
- The Spirit of the Lord came upon Samson not once but multiple times – (mentioned more times than anyone other person in the Old Testament)
- Samson is the only one who was given great strength by the Spirit of God (multiple times)
- Samson single-handedly defeated thousands of Philistines
- Samson was alone – his own people rejected him in favor of peace with their captors. (RE: Caiaphas, in John 11:45-53)
- Samson sacrificed himself – in accordance with God’s plan to “‘begin the deliverance of Israel.”
That’s my take on the matter. You may disagree, and I’m fine with that.
However, if you disagree, and choose to do so in the comments, disagree according to the words of Luther: “Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience”