The Legacy of Samson

He is one of the most well-known yet misunderstood heroes of the entire Bible. In fact, there are some that question if he should even be regarded as a hero at all. But whatever one may think of him, his life and God given gifts make him one of the most compelling human beings to have ever lived — for no man before or since has ever been endowed with such incredible strength. Therefore, in this post I would like to examine this misunderstood hero, and perhaps paint him in fresh perspective   against those critics that question his legacy. So who was this mighty man of God?    His name was Samson.

For many believers, Samson stands as one of the saddest figures in the biblical record, a man who started out with such great potential only to squander it all due to his uncontrollable lust. In fact, many churches seemingly present Samson’s story as nothing more than a cautionary tale. I cannot say how many times growing up that I had to sit through Sunday “lessons” railing against Samson, preaching how this anointed man of God failed at his mission – essentially warning us not to be like him. Now I must confess, growing up, Samson was (and still is) one of my favorite characters in the entire Bible. Therefore such “lessons” or “sermons” — to my mind — could not have been further from the truth. Once more, I believe such teachings (criticisms) distort the legacy of Samson and rob us of a truly remarkable hero.

In my view, these criticisms leveled against Samson ignore both the facts and scripture. For instance, Samson is listed in the “Hall of Faith” from chapter 11 in the Book of Hebrews (Hebrews 11:32), where he is honored alongside Gideon, David and the prophet Samuel — among many others. I find it odd that a “cautionary” character of such “ill repute” could gain such an honor in the Word of God, if indeed they were a “failure” in the eyes of God. This is NOT to say Samson was a perfect man, he most certainly was not. But many heroes, especially in the Old Testament, had similar failings, if not worse. Do I need to remind my fellow brethren (believers) about King David, Bathsheba and Uriah? Yet the failures of these other heroes (such as King David) are never held against them in the same way Samson’s are. If we can allow ourselves to take a big picture view for these other biblical heroes: Then why not for Samson? So here (within this post) is the big picture of Samson’s story – at least as I see it.

Samson was born in Israel around the twelfth century BC, during a difficult time for the people of Israel. After their exodus from Egypt, wondering in the desert and conquest of Canaan — the Hebrew people (Israelites) finally reached the Promised Land of their patriarch (Abraham) to settle. However, the Israelites soon found themselves under siege, and during these difficult times, God would raise up from their ranks a leader to protect them against their enemies. These leaders were called Judges.

Overtime, the pagan Philistines gained control of the Promised Land, and the Hebrew people now lived under military occupation. Furthermore, the Philistines made it illegal for the Israelites to own metals of any kind, an ancient policy of “arms control” you could say. Specifically, they denied them the raw materials needed to create swords and spears. As a result, their crude arms made of wood (i.e. clubs) were no match for the superior metal based weapons and armor of the Philistines. Once more, during these times many Israelites compromised their values and began adopting the Philistine ways, including idol worship among other things. However, there were still many Israelites devoted to the worship of the One True God — and the Hebrew people found themselves once again in desperate need of a deliverer.

It is to these desperate times that our hero was born. But Samson’s birth was not just any ordinary birth, but a miracle. His mother was sterile and therefore unable to have children, but an angel appeared to her and later her husband, proclaiming that they would indeed have a son – and he was to be a Nazirite from birth. Nazirites took a vow to abstain from wine and grapes, to avoid contact with the unclean (dead) and to never cut their hair. This set them apart from others as consecrated to God. However, it is important to remember, the angel told his parents that their son (Samson) would begin (take the lead) — as in pave the way for — the defeat of the Philistines. God’s messenger NEVER said his purpose was to defeat them outright. That feat would be accomplished much later (by David). With that in mind, let us continue.

It is fair to assume that Samson grew up knowing he was special, unique and had a divine calling. Although we cannot say if he was spoiled or not, but no doubt his parents likely indulged him to some degree – perhaps excusing such indulgence as the birthright of a truly special child. Therefore, by the time Samson reached manhood he was likely well resigned to this self understanding. Then a funny thing happened, he became taken by a beautiful Philistine woman. Once more, he married her over the objections of his parents. Now while the scriptures suggest this marriage was born out of lust, it would be a mistake for anyone to view Samson’s marrying a Philistine woman as in any way abandoning his divine purpose (for lust). He simply desired her, and seeing himself as special — likely felt entitled to marry whoever he wanted. Plus, it was not uncommon in ancient times for opposing clans (or peoples) to intermarry as a sign of peace. Therefore, while very unpopular among the Israelites, Samson may well have justified his marriage on these grounds. Regardless, little could he know that this marriage would in fact set off a sequence of events that would propel him on a collision course with his destiny. At his wedding feast, Samson engaged in a bet with the Philistine attendees, challenging them with a riddle. He later gave the answer to his bride in confidence — only to be embarrassed when she provided them the answer. Upset by this betrayal he left to sulk, only to return and find his wife had been given to the “best man” during his absence. No doubt he was deeply hurt by this, so he hurt them back in grand fashion.

In the most theatrical of ways, he hit them where it hurt, capturing 300 foxes to which he tied torches to their tails and set them loose in the grain fields of the Philistines. For some background, the Philistines were largely an agrarian people and their worship centered around the fertility of their fields. To that end, their god was Dagon, the god of grain, and the pride of the Philistines was the fruits of their crops. Therefore, by burning their grain fields, Samson was in fact attacking their religion. The Philistines responded by killing his wife in the most horrific manner (burning her and her father alive), and attacking Judea. Samson in kind, slaughtered many Philistines in return, before holding up at Etam. However, the Israelites were offered a way out of the escalating crisis: give up Samson or die. A rather large delegation then proceeded to surround the caves at Etam and urged Samson to surrender, to which Samson obliged. He was subsequently bound and marched off to the Philistine army, where we can assume at this point he was probably going to be executed. But at the transfer, the Spirit of God came upon him and gave him great power. Infused with supernatural strength, Samson broke free from his bonds and grabbed the closest object at hand (a donkey jawbone) as a weapon, then attacked and killed a thousand enemy troops. Quite a phenomenal feat! One man against an entire army of a thousand — and he won.

As one can imagine, news of Samson’s astonishing victory over their oppressors quickly spread throughout the land, electrifying Israel with new hope — their deliverer had arrived. Once more, he simultaneously struck fear into the hearts and minds of the Philistines. Therefore, practically overnight Samson became the leader of his people — the newest Judge and Protector of Israel. In this capacity, the scriptures tell us that Samson enjoyed a very long career. He was the Judge of Israel for twenty years, during which time he would have settled disputes among the Jewish people and administered social affairs (i.e. weddings) all the while continuing to irritate the Philistines. In fact, there is no evidence at all that Samson ever failed in his professional duties as Judge of Israel, but his private life was another matter. You could say that after he “clocked out” from work, he slipped off for personnel recreation that made him a reckless man in his private life. Specifically, to the Philistines’ Samson was a target (their Public Enemy Number One), and they were always looking to ambush him with spies and informants planted everywhere. Yet during these years — like a moth to a flame — he continued to needlessly place himself at risk, enduring a few close calls along the way. Consequently, this reckless “invincible complex” he displayed in his personnel life was about to finally catch up with him.

When Samson was about forty years old (or so), he began a relationship with another Philistine. Her name was Delilah, and she had already betrayed him three times, yet blinded by her beauty, Samson finally revealed to her the terms of his Nazirite vow. Then, while he was sleeping, Delilah cut his hair and called in the Philistines who laid in wait. When he awoke, God’s strength was no longer with him, for he had now broken all the vows that set him apart, and the Philistines overpowered and captured him. However, they did not execute him. Now bound in chains, they gouged out his eyes and put him in prison, where he was forced to work as a slave for their idol god, grinding grain. Just as quickly as he rose to prominence, he had now fallen, and Samson’s career as Judge of Israel was over with his reputation seemingly lost. Samson now spent out his days in absolute darkness, walking in circles as the trophy of the Philistines, no doubt humbled and filled with regrets. And if this indeed was the end of the story, I too would be inclined to agree with those critics that espouse Samson was an ultimate failure. But this is not how his story ends. His legacy is NOT one of failure, but one of redemption.

One day Samson’s daily routine was interrupted as a religious festival had begun. His prison guards led him to the Pagan Temple, where a packed house of Philistines celebrating their idol god Dagon relished at the sight of their defeated foe and trophy. Positioned between two structural pillars that held up the building of the pagan’s temple, Samson prayed to God to give him strength for one final act. For it had never been Samson himself — nor his long hair — that was the source of his power. Rather, it had always been the Spirit of God. Once more, sensing the opportunity before him, Samson realizes this final act would be a one way ticket, and accepts it — asking to die with his enemies. And God answered his prayer. Samson, once again infused with the supernatural strength from God, pushed the pillars apart and sent the temple crashing down — sacrificing himself and killing three thousand enemies of Israel.  Thereby in death, he was able to ease the oppression of his people (Israel) at the hands of the Philistines. Of course, Samson’s sacrifice did not defeat the Philistines outright, but it struck a blow that helped pave the way for their eventual defeat. So in the end, Samson was faithful and fulfilled God’s purpose for his life.

Now after exploring the full picture of Samson’s life, we can conclude that he was NOT a failure. He was a hero, not a perfect hero, but a hero nonetheless. Dedicated from birth as a Nazirite, Samson was consecrated to God. Once more, he was endowed with incredible supernatural strength; strength he used to fight Israel’s enemies throughout his life. A life that saw Samson enjoy a long twenty year career as Judge of Israel. Although during his reign, he certainly made many mistakes in his personnel life, mistakes that ultimately led to his fall. But in the end, Samson was humbled before God and redeemed. Moreover, at his lowest moment, Samson’s faith in God never wavered — and in his final act — he fulfilled God’s purpose for his life. Therefore Samson’s legacy is NOT one of failure, but one of redemption. Not only that, his story can teach us a lot about faith. No doubt, one of the many reasons Samson is honored in the “Hall of Faith” found in the Book of Hebrews.

Thank you for reading. That concludes this post. I hope some may have found it insightful.

JDN

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