Judges 15 ended by telling us that Samson “judged Israel in the days of the Philistines for twenty years.” This is the typical ending formula for the accounts of the judges. This is the logical ending of the sad story of Samson. There should not be another chapter after this one. But there is.
After killing all those Philistines in chapter 15, Samson went to Gaza (even farther into Philistine territory than Timnah). Surprise, surprise, Samson’s eyes got him into trouble again. He saw a prostitute and wanted her. So, he went to her. The Philistines decided to try to ambush him by waiting outside the house until morning. Samson, however, rose at midnight and skipped town. While leaving, he decided to take the city gates with him as a souvenir. Ancient gates were really big. To carry them all the way to Hebron was quite a task. Samson was showing off his strength, boasting. He had not changed at all since chapter 15. He still relied on his sight to tell him what to do; he still loved the Philistines and still had disregard for Israel. Samson did not cry out to the LORD here. He did not need it! He felt that he was perfectly capable of taking on the Philistines. He carried off their gates in a demonstration of his own greatness. He went way beyond what was necessary to display his own might. The narrator does not say this, but he does not have to; by now, we know Samson well enough to know that this action was very self-centered.
After this, Samson fell in love with another Philistine woman, named Delilah. The fact that it says he “loved” her shows just how connected Samson was to the Philistines. It also explains why he stayed with her in spite of what transpired. In verse 5, the Philistines hired Delilah. She did not love him; she just saw him as a means to make money. We cannot really blame her though. She was offered 1,100 pieces of silver from each of the five kings, which was an outrageous sum (about 15 million dollars). In addition, Delilah knew that the Philistines would probably kill her if she did not cooperate. Delilah seemed quite willing to go along with the plan. Her goal was to seduce him and find the secret of his super strength. And so we head into a dangerous game played between Delilah and Samson.
Round 1 is found in verses 6–9. Delilah decided to try the straightforward approach. She asked him where his strength came from. “Now Delilah, why do you want to know?” “Oh, Samson dear,” she answered, “I want to play this fun game called ‘the Philistines are coming!’” So Samson told her a little fib about fresh bowstrings. Why fresh bowstrings? They are fresh and made from dead animals (from the guts). Samson was repudiating his vow as a Nazirite. Delilah tied Samson in fresh bowstrings and told him that the Philistines were upon him. He easily snapped them. The Philistines probably remained in hiding when they saw Samson snap them so easily.
And so, round 2 began. Delilah said “You have mocked me and told me lies,” which is ironic, since she was planning to deceive and sell him. This time, he feeds her a lie about new ropes, with the same result. He escaped.
We enter round 3 (verses 13–14). This time, Samson told her to weave his hair into a loom. We are getting closer to the truth here, but Samson easily escaped again.
The fourth time is the charm, in this case. Round 4, verses 15–17, is the last round. Delilah asked “How can you love me when you keep doing this to me? Your heart is not with me; you keep mocking me!” But she was the one whose heart was not ultimately with him. Like his first wife, Delilah nagged him day after day, and eventually, he told her all his heart. He told her that he is a Nazirite, but only told her about the hair part of the vow. There is a real ambivalence as to what is going on in Samson’s heart and mind. On the one hand, maybe he did not believe that this was where his strength came from. He had to know that she was going to try it out, so why would he tell her if he thought it was true? On the other hand, he was sincere in his speech. Maybe he really did love Delilah and thought that she would keep his secret. Whatever Samson thought, Delilah did go through with her plans and had all his hair cut off. As in all the other rounds, she woke him from his sleep, shouting, “The Philistines are upon you!” And he awoke from his sleep, expecting his strength to carry him through, but the LORD had left him. He was abandoned. Samson was seized, his eyes were gouged out, and he was taken down to Gaza and made to work a grinding mill in the prison, like an ox.
Does this teach that men should not get their hair cut? No. This goes back to the idea of consecration. We, like Samson, need to dedicate ourselves to God. We are to consecrate ourselves, and not take our identities as “Nazirites” for granted. We are set apart as Christians, called by God to be holy. That is the danger of growing up in the church. We get involved in the church from an early age, so that all spiritual things come “naturally.” We become complacent. We must beware that we are not lulled into a mundane Christianity, letting the things that we do guide us. The challenge for us is to distinguish between externals and internals. We can so easily go about defining Christianity externally, making too many external markers, like what version of the Bible you use, or not to “drink or smoke or chew or go with girls who do,” or conversely, say that by smoking and drinking, we are expressing our Christian liberty and taking pride in that. We think that by all these outward badges, we are part of the covenant community.
God looks at the internal, what is in our hearts. This is especially applicable to teenagers. As a baby, Samson did not choose grow out his hair, but eventually the not-cutting-his-hair thing became Samson’s responsibility. This is where teenagers are — they are going from being controlled by their parents to doing things by themselves. We need to ask them, and more importantly, they need to ask themselves, why they are doing what they are doing? Do they believe and go to church out of an internal conviction? Or is it just because that is what their parents did?
Verse 22 contains a hopeful foreshadowing, “the hair of his head started to grow back.” Clearly this is foreshadowing, but foreshadowing of what? Could this mean that Samson had repented and had a change of heart? Samson’s hair starting to regrow leaves open some new ideas — is this a new start? Was there a genuine rededication to the LORD? The Bible does not say. It does not say “Samson started to regrow his hair” but “the hair began to grow.” All this tells us that the story is not yet over.
In verse 23, we are told that the Philistines were having an intense party, a festival to Dagon, their god. This is an anti-climax to how you would expect a story of a judge to end. It should end with a festival to the LORD. Instead, the Philistines are throwing a party for their god. And — how nice! — Samson got invited to their party. He was the entertainment. Samson presented a very tragic figure — a blind man called to parade around in front of the Philistines.
In verse 28, Samson cried out to the LORD again. Positively, He cried out to the LORD, asking Him to strengthen him so that he could be avenged. Negatively, it is a cry for vengeance. The previous prayer was a prayer for life; this is a prayer for death. Samson spent his whole life trying to be among the Philistines, and now he died with them. In verses 29–31, in one last desperate show of superhuman strength, Samson brought down the house as an entertainer, killing three thousand Philistines. No longer able to fill his heart with the lust of his eyes, Samson finally accomplished what he should have been doing all his life.
Samson had judged Israel for twenty years. What did all that accomplish for Israel? The answer is precisely nothing. Israel was still in bondage. God began to deliver his people, as He had promised in 13:5, but we are still looking for somebody different, somebody better than this, which will eventually lead us into I Samuel (the book of Judges is in historic sequence between Joshua and I Samuel — Ruth is in a different location in the Hebrew text).
Now we are truly finished with the story of Samson. We have seen him go from being consecrated as a baby, to a young man filled with the Spirit of the LORD, to a broken man whose life was controlled by his sinful eyes. Charles Spurgeon pointed out that Samson was a picture of every Christian. Like him, we all face real dangers like pride and self-confidence. Samson’s whole life is a downward cycle of recklessness and self-destruction. His life teaches us that even those who look good, as Samson did in chapter 13, can end up like Samson in chapter 16. As Christians, we can be found at either end, or anywhere in between. There are many lessons to be learned, depending on where we are in the cycle.
If you are on the top of the cycle, if your life looks more like Samson’s early life, if you are on fire for the LORD and doing His work, congratulations. But be careful of pride. The temptation for people at the top of the cycle is to assume that since God worked through them in some way that they must be special. Every young person who has been on a mission trip comes back with some high spiritual experience, assuming that God has done something dramatic and special through him. Every person who has volunteered at a homeless shelter for a week or gone to an evangelical conference thinks that he is special. It is true that there is a growing awareness of self and of God that comes through such experiences, and I recommend everyone to take part in them, to go out and get involved. But, they can be dangerous. Such experiences lead to self-confidence and recklessness. We think, “I am serving God, so He should do good things to me.” And such thoughts lead to self-destruction. God did not do the marvelous things we thought that He would, so we get disappointed and self-destruct. This is what happened to Samson.
What about the people who are down at the bottom of the Samson spiral, who recognize themselves as bound and headed to Gaza? If the temptation at the top is pride, the temptation down here is to turn to other alternate resources, like suicide, drug abuse, alcohol, etc, since they have nothing else to turn to. People at the bottom feel despair and a loss of hope. There are more people down here than you may think. Suicides always surprise those around them. If you are not at the bottom, you need to reach out to those who find themselves near the bottom with love and hope. If you are at the bottom, focus on the gospel. God grew Samson’s hair back. God could not leave Samson where he was. God could not leave Samson tied up at the mill in Gaza. Even though Samson was faithless, God was always faithful.
Samson failed. He was not enough. We are not enough, either. We cannot be our own deliverers. You know, the bottom of the spiral is in some places a safer place than the top. It is hard to get people at the top to realize this, to see the dangers of pride, because pride is so deceptive. People at the bottom know enough to understand that there is no hope within them. We need a greater deliverer than Samson; we need a greater deliverer than ourselves. We need someone to come as the new Samson, as the new Israel, and to take the same path — set apart to the LORD, holy from His birth, able to live a perfect life. Jesus came and did all those things perfectly. But He ended up in the same situation as Samson did, dying stretched out against His will, with insults hurled upon Him by mocking onlookers. But why? Christ did not die for His own sins; He was not being punished for His pride; He was doing this for our sins. And that is not the end of His story. In the resurrection of Christ, God joins us to Him. This is more than a new beginning, for we are given the Spirit of Christ. How do we get to be a part of this new creation? We repent, looking only to Christ, knowing increasingly that there is no good thing in us. And now we can do all things through Christ (not through ourselves). That is the means by which God provides hope to people both at the top and at the bottom of the spiral. Christ has come and fulfilled the law for us, for Pharisees as well as prodigal sons.
Lesson 16: Points to Ponder
- Read 1 Corinthians 10:13. Samson did not fail because the temptation was too strong, nor because it was inescapable. Why did he fail? How do we find ourselves doing the same? How does the petition “lead us not into temptation” address this?
- How do Samson’s games with Delilah fit in with the rest of his life?
- Why do you suppose Samson did not become suspicious of Delilah in her attempts to discover his strength?
- How do some Christians define Christianity externally today? Do you see similar patterns in your church? In your own life?
- How did Samson become complacent in his beliefs? How does a person growing up in the church avoid becoming complacent? How can we avoid becoming “smug” Christians?
- How can a person help another who is filled with shame or depression? Remember, restoration is not built on performance but on God’s grace.
- How does Christ fill us with both humility and confidence?