The Story of Samson (what they didn’t teach you in Sunday School)

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If you grew up in church you have heard the story of Samson. You probably saw it played out on a flannel graph (remember those?!) many times. Even if you didn’t grow up in church you probably at least know the highlights of Samson and Delilah and the immense strength Samson’s hair gave him.

The problem is we think about the Samson Bible story as a love story and worse a kid’s story… It’s neither of those. Rather it’s a story full of obnoxious violence, crude language, and plenty of sexual situations. It’s not a story of love and it’s certainly not a story appropriate for kids. 

The story of Samson is not a story of Biblical hero that we should strive to follow. Rather it’s a cautionary tale of how not to live. 

The story of Samson in the Bible is one that you and I should lean into and pay attention to its warnings. Because if we are honest with ourselves we will find that we are more like Samson than we care to admit. 

I’m going to summarize the story, but if you want to read the full story you can find it here: Judges 13 – 16

What Led To The Story Of Samson

The story of Samson takes place roughly a 1,000 years before Jesus and is recorded in the book of Judges. Prior to this taking place Israel had left Egypt, wandered the desert, and finally taken possession of the Promised Land. They were unlike another nation because they had no king, rather they trusted God and He led them. 

But then the generation that had experienced God’s provision in the desert died and a new generation took over and things went downhill quickly. The nation of Isreal started worshiping other gods and ignored what God said. So He raised up foreign powers to come in and conquer them. And they freaked out. (Judges 2:10-15) 

God would hear their cries and would raise up a judge who would lead them to victory and point them back to God. But once things got better they returned to prostituting (the Bible’s word, not mine) themselves to other gods. And thus the cycle continues. Israel disobeys, they are invaded, they freak out, God saves them through a judge, and Israel returns to worshiping other gods. 

That’s what’s happening in the book of Judges. It’s a cyclical story with different names (Othniel, Gideon, Samson, Shamgar, Deborah, Jephthah, Ehud, etc…)  but the same outcome. Ironically even the “heroes”, the judges, aren’t that heroic either. They were supposed to lead Israel back to God, but often they struggled to follow God’s direction themselves. 

It is in the middle of all this that the story of Samson takes place. Israel had been overcome once again so God raised up Samson to rescue His people. 

Samson Was Different From Birth 

From birth Samson was different. While still in the womb God instructed Samson’s mom that he was to deliver Israel and that he was to be a Nazarite from birth to death. (Judges 13:2-5) 

A Nazarite was someone who took a vow from Numbers 6 to abstain from three primary things: 

  1. Anything from grapes (including all alcohol) 
  2. Cutting any hair
  3. Touching a dead body

Most people that took a Nazarite vow would do so for only a period of time. But from birth, Samson was told he had to follow this his whole life. He was to be different, set apart.

The purpose of this vow was to show you were devoted to God. And Samson was to be set apart from the beginning. His mission was clear, he was to save Israel from the Philistines (Judges 13:5). The purpose was that when Samson entered the picture Israel would see God with him because of his vow and they would recognize it was God saving them. 

We see this plan unfold very early on in the Samson Bible story. Judges 13:25 says the Spirit of the Lord began to stir in him… That word literally means to motivate to action. And this is used several times throughout the story. God was motivating Samson to action. 

You’ve probably been taught that Samson’s power came from his hair. With is true in one sense. But ultimately what the Bible makes clear is that Samson’s power came from God. It was God that had set the stage and it was God that was motivating Samson to action. 

The problem was, Samson had another motivating factor in his life… Women. 

Samson’s Mission Statement for Life

The first thing we see Samson do is go into a Philistine town, enemy territory, where he spots a woman he finds very attractive. He marches home and demands his parents go get her for him. 

A few problems… Israel was commanded to not marry outside the nation. Plus, it’s not wise to literally sleep with the enemy. So his parents protest. (Judges 14:1-3) 

It’s here where Samson reveals the mission statement for his life. He responds to his parent’s concerns with, “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes.” That’s not the last time we will see that phrase being used. It’s his life motto. He does what is right in his eyes. Ironically this mindset is exactly what got Israel in so much trouble to begin with. 

Judges 14:4 shows us how God was moving behind the scenes. Something we will see a lot in this story. But it’s important to note that God wasn’t directing Samson to make mistakes so He could accomplish the goal at hand. Rather He was using Samson despite his mistakes. 

The Story Of Samson Is About A Guy Who Does What He Wants

Samson continues to live out his mission statement for his life. This is the crazy part of the story of Samson you probably didn’t learn about in Sunday School. And man do I wish they had flannel graph pieces for these parts of the story of Samson.

Tempts Fate with Grapes and Dead Things

One day while traveling to visit his woman Samson strolls through a vineyard where a lion attacks him and the spirit of the Lord rushes upon him and he tears it apart. (Judges 14:5-7). Awhile later he can’t help but return to see his work finds that bees have made their home in the carcass and produced honey. So he does what any of us would do, he takes a big handful and eats it. 

Remember the vow Samson took? He’s already broke two of the rules. He’s supposed to avoid grapes and dead things. Rather than go around the vineyard, he goes through it, multiple times. And he keeps visiting the carcass of the loin, even eating from it. Samson is supposed to be different, set apart, but rather than follow God he does what is right in his eyes. 

But that’s minor, compared to what is about to happen. 

Samson Gets Married and Kills Some People

Samson goes to get married and he can’t help but start trouble. He makes a rather expensive bet with his wedding party that they won’t be able to solve his riddle. (Judges 14:10-14) They agree, but it’s rigged from the beginning. The riddle was about the lion he killed, and no one except Samson knew the answer. Once the wedding party realizes this they search for the loophole. Not wanting to pay up, they go to Samson’s wife and demand that she find out the answer. (Judges 14:15-17)

Samson, having little self-control, eventually tells his wife the answer and she turns around and tells the wedding party. They give the correct answer and Samson is forced to pay up what he wagered. Samson can’t even win at the game he rigged to win because he has no self-control.

So now he has to pay. The problem is he doesn’t have the debt he owes.

We all remember this part from Sunday school I’m sure… Samson goes and kills 30 men, takes their possessions and gives it to those who he had told the riddle. And then returns home in hot anger without his wife. (Judges 14:19-20) 

Remember that? Maybe not. But Samson is just getting started, it’s about to get worse, and a whole lot weirder.

Loses His Wife and Sets 300 Foxes on Fire 

Samson is chilling at home, while his wife remained in her homeland. Which was a common practice in the day when the Israelites would intermarry the Philistines. Often times the wife would stay in her homeland and live with her parents. And the husband would come visit every so often, and really the visits were only for one reason… Sex. 

After some time at home, Samson gets lonely, so he decides to go “visit” his wife. Again Samson isn’t interested in her needs, he’s only interested in what he can get out of the relationship. He’s doing what is right in his eyes.

When he gets there his father-in-law tells him he has given his wife away to someone else. (Judges 15:1-2) And Samson LOSES it. I mean he goes crazy. 

Samson goes out and catches 300 foxes, tied them tail to tail, lights them on fire, and releasing them into the Philistines grain fields and vineyards burning them to the ground… I wish there was a flannel graph for this… (Judges 15:3) 

Whoever said the Bible is boring never read this the story of Samson.

The Philistines Burn Samson’s Wife Alive

The Philistines are pissed, understandably as their livelihood was just destroyed. They retaliate by burning Samson’s wife and father’s house down with them inside. But they aren’t done. They decide to go to war with Israel because of Samson did. 

What a mess.

The Israelites don’t like Samson either, so they broker a deal to turn him over to avoid more bloodshed. So they capture him, tie him up, and leave him for the Philistines. (Judges 15:9-13) 

Samson Kills Even More People 

The Philistines arrive with 1,000 men to overpower Samson and bring him to justice. Again the Bible says, “The Spirit of the Lord rushed upon Samson”. Telling us that what was about to happen wasn’t by Samson’s strength, but God’s.  

Samson goes berserk. He breaks his chains and picks up a fresh donkey bone and strikes down everyone. (Judges 15:14-17) Again ignoring the vow, he was supposed to be following. 

The Turning Point In The Samson Bible Story

Apparently, after killing 1,000 men with a donkey jawbone you become very thirsty, to the point of feeling like you are dying. Samson now exhausted and cries out to God to save him. (Judges 15:18-20) This is a very selfish prayer that comes from a very real need. But rather than rebuke, God provides water. 

You’d think at this point that Samson would see error in his ways and repent. But he doesn’t. He continues to do what is right in his eyes. Once he gets his strength back he goes into the next town, finds a prostitute, and spends the night. 

This marks a turning point in Samson’s story. No longer does the Bible mention the phrase “the spirit of the lord” rushed upon him. At least not until the very end and we will get there.

Here’s something we need to recognize. God is kind, he is compassionate, he is loving. But God will not be mocked. God is not willing to let people keep rebelling against him without them feeling some of the consequences of their sinful actions. For Samson, his continued disobedience marked a departure of the Spirit that allowed him his strength. 

The Story Of Samson and Delilah (Samson’s Demise)

So Samson continues to do what’s right in his eyes, this time it’s spending the night with a prostitute. Not only is he disregarding God, he’s being unwise. He again ventured into a Philistine town and drew a large crowd that wanted him dead. (Judges 16:1-3) But using his strength he escaped. 

At this point, Samson has continually broken the first two vows he had taken, but he still hadn’t broken the last one. His hair. He still had his strength, which he uses to be increasingly foolish and get what he wants. But then he sees Delilah and starts playing an even more dangerous game. 

Unbeknownst to Samson, Delilah wasn’t interested in a relationship she was just trying to find out Samson’s secret to his strength so the Philistines could finally capture him. (Judges 16:4-5) 

In Judges 16:6-22 we see Delilah seduce Samson and then beg him to tell her his secret to his strength. And he tells her a lie to appease her, she ties him up, calls in the Philistines, Samson breaks free and kills them. This plays out over and over again. 

Now I’m not sure why Samson kept letting Delilah tie him up… Well, I have one idea, but we aren’t going to go there…

He has to know at this point that she is just with him to trap him. But he doesn’t care.  He doesn’t care about wisdom, he doesn’t care about what God says is best, His ONLY concern is getting what he wants. He is a slave to his lust and desires. So he keeps going back to the same trap. Knowing full well what is going to happen, confident in his own strength to get him out. 

One day Samson has finally had enough of Delilah’s nagging. Judges 16:16 says Samson was sick to death of her nagging… So finally gives in and tells his secret. Samson has to know what is going to happen next, he’s done this before. But he lets it happen anyway. He’s a slave to his desires. He falls asleep with her, she calls the Philistines in, they shave his head. He wakes up and tries to break free… But this time God has left him and he has no power.

Up to this point, Samson had broken every rule but one… he had not cut his hair. God had patiently been waiting for him to repent. But when he breaks the last rule God isn’t there to bail him out. Samson has to suffer the consequences. Why? Because God wants him to feel the weight of what he has done so that maybe, just maybe Samson will repent and come back. 

Samson’s Death 

The Philistines take Samson, gouge his eyes out, and put him into forced labor.  Wanting to humiliate him more, they bring him out of prison to be their entertainment. They chained him to a few pillars and began to mock him. (Judges 16:23-25) 

It just so happened they chained him to pillars supporting a roof with 3000 Philistines on it. Samson, maybe for the first time, gets it and prays an honest prayer. He begs God for strength one more time. He recognizes that it was God that did everything through him. God gives him the strength and he pulls the roof down killing the 3000 Philistines and himself. (Judges 16:26-31) 

That’s Samson’s life. A sad story really. A man that literally destroys everything in his life, including himself, in his pursuit of what is right in his eyes.

The point we cannot miss is that God’s purpose for Samson’s life was accomplished. But because Samson’s continued and blatant sin it was done the hard way. 

We can only imagine how things could have been if Samson did what was right in God’s eyes rather than his own. Or at least had he sought repentance earlier in the story. But he didn’t and his life stands as a warning for us about how not to live and a promise that despite us God’s will, will be accomplished. 

What The Story Of Samson Teaches Us Today

If we are honest in this story we can probably see more of ourselves then we care too. Maybe we don’t live to the extreme that Samson lived, but we do what’s right in our eyes far too often. Most of the time we are more concerned with our own desires rather than God’s desire for us. For us, Samson’s life shows us the results of living life according to what is right in our eyes. We should take it as a warning to live differently. If we don’t we will end up like Samson.

Regardless of what we do God’s will for us, for humanity, will be accomplished. We don’t get to decide or change that. We get to decide if we want to go with God’s plan or against it.  Which path will you take?

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