Read the Passage: Judges 16
Samson’s Deliverance (16:1–3)
Previously, we studied the life of Gideon, who was the fifth judge of Israel and is described in Judges 6–8. In today’s passage, we’ll be looking roughly 100 years past the time of Gideon, as we’ll focus on the twelfth and final judge in this book—namely, Samson. The judges whom we’ll skip over are: Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon. Very little information is recorded about these six men, with the exception of Jephthah, whose narrative covers portions of Judges 10–12. The story of Samson runs from Judges 13–16, as there is more information about Samson than any of the other judges narrated in this book. In summary: Judges 13 reports Samson’s miraculous birth; Judges 14 details Samson’s dubious marriage; and Judges 15 records Samson’s victories over the Philistines. Observe that Samson is one of four judges—along with Barak, Gideon, and Jephthah—referred to at Heb. 11:32.
While the birth of Samson entailed several miraculous events, the details of which are recorded in Judges 13, Samson’s questionable morality is evident from the earliest details given about his life. For instance, in Judges 14 Samson desires to marry a Philistine girl of low moral character, rather than a daughter of Israel. While Jews were not explicitly forbidden to marry Philistines, given the rivalry between Jews and Philistines, this was certainly an unwise decision. Further, Samson’s disregard for Nazarite regulations (cf. Num. 6:1–21), as well as laws about ceremonial cleanliness (cf. Lev. 11:24–28), is evident. Yet, as is narrated throughout Judges 14–15, God was pleased to use Samson to give Israel repeated victories over the Philistines. It is clear the secret to Samson’s victories is that, “The Spirit of the Lord came upon him mightily” (Judg. 14:6, 19; 15:14). Beginning this chapter, Judges 16:1–3 reports one of Samson’s victories over the Philistines.
Samson’s Sin (16:4–22)
Samson clearly had an affinity for Philistine women of low moral character. Although Delilah is never called a Philistine, her nationality can be inferred given that she resided in Philistine territory. She may even be identical to the prostitute of Gaza whom Samson had earlier visited (cf. Judg. 16:1). Indeed, Delilah’s flawed moral character is evident given that she was willing to betray Samson for a large sum of money. It should have been clear to Samson that Delilah was willing to sell him to the Philistines, for three times she had inquired about the secret of his strength. Moreover, the fact that the Philistines “were lying in wait, staying in the room” (Judg. 16:9, 12) must have been evident to Samson. Note the parallels between Samson (see Judg. 16:17), Esau (cf. Gen. 25:29–33), and Judas (cf. Matt. 26:14–16), all of whom were willing to sell their souls for material things.
Little by little, it is evident that Samson’s love (or lust) for Delilah is greater that his love for God. The third time Delilah tested Samson, he came close to disclosing the details of his Nazarite vow, as he told her that weaving his hair into a loom would take his strength (cf. Judg. 16:13–14). At Judg. 16:17, Samson finally disclosed the secret of his strength, saying, “If I am shaven, my strength will leave me.” Of course, Samson’s hair was not the secret of his strength; it was just a sign of his relationship with God (cf. Num. 6:5; Judg. 13:5). Indeed, this narrative repeatedly teaches that God was the real source of Samson’s strength (cf. Judg. 14:6, 19; 15:14). Samson’s telling Delilah about his hair was just an outward sign that he had inwardly placed his relationship with her above his relationship with the Lord. Indeed, we are told twice in the text that Samson “told her all his heart” (Judg. 16:17–18).
Samson’s Death (16:23–31)
When Samson was captured by the Philistines, they took out his eyes and made him a manual laborer in a prison in Gaza (cf. Judg. 16:21). However, we are meant to take hope in learning that “the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaven” (Judg. 16:22). This is an allusion to Samson’s growing faith that culminates in his prayer of repentance recorded at Judg. 16:28, “O Lord GOD, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes.” The narrative tells us that God restored Samson’s strength, enabling him to topple the support pillars of the Temple and to kill more Philistines in his death than he had killed in his entire life. Although Samson was a man of questionable moral character and dubious life-decisions, since God restored his strength, it is best to view Samson’s death as a self-sacrifice, and not as a divinely-enabled suicide.
- What do you know about Samson? Given what you know about Samson, do you believe he is an example of a good or a bad judge?
- Given that Samson is mentioned at Heb. 11:32, do you think he was a believer? Do you think all of the judges in this book were true followers of God?
- What was the secret to Samson’s repeated victories over the Philistines? Why was God willing to use Samson despite his continual moral failures?
- What does it mean that Samson told Delilah “all his heart” (Judg. 16:17)? Why was Samson unaware that his strength was gone (cf. Judg. 16:20)?
- How can we explain the restoration of Samson’s strength? Was Samson’s death an act of self-sacrifice or an act of suicide?