The true story of Samson and Delilah occurred long ago, during the period when ‘judges’ ruled a united nation of Israel. This period extended from the time Joshua and the Israelites conquered Canaan to Israel’s first King, Saul. The era spanned from 1398 BC to 1043 BC, a period of approximately 350 years. At least 14 judges ruled Israel during this tumultuous time, dominated by Israel’s idol worship and spiritual rebellion. Othniel was Israel’s first judge. Samuel judged Israel at the end of this era. Samson’s rule preceded the reigns Eli and Samuel. Various oppressors arose to terrorize Israel during this period. This article will not cover all the nefarious activities that occurred. The material presented here will be restricted to the time frame in which Samson judged Israel—a period approximately 20 years. The Philistines terrorized Israel and repeatedly invaded lands held by the Jews. Samson initiated the long war against the Philistines. This war extended through the Monarchies of King Saul and King David.
The judges came from many of Israel’s original twelve tribes. Samson descended from the tribe of Dan. His father, Manoah, was from the city of Zorah. Most of Samson’s life took place between the cities of Zorah and Eshtaol. These cities currently exist in Israel, and tourists can tread on areas where Samson walked over 3,000 years ago. The city of Zorah is pictured below.
A small but gorgeous underground cavern complex replete with beautiful stalagmites and stalactites is also in this area for interested visitors.
The two maps on the preceding page help to portray the crowded landmarks in this small country of Israel. The first map presents current Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The second map displays the many towns and cities in the small strip of land west of Jerusalem called the Shephelah. Many important Old Testament events occurred in this small area. David fought Goliath, and Samson met Delilah and battled the Philistines in this small area. The following map portrays the Shephelah and the five cities of the Philistine empire. The Shephelah was the buffer zone between Jews and Philistines. It is a verdant area with rolling hills. Israel and Philistines fought there many times.
Samson was one of the last Judges of ancient Israel. The Biblical narrative in Judges Chapters 13-16 describes main events in his life.
A certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren and had no children. Then the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold now you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and give birth to a son. Now therefore, be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing. For behold, you shall conceive and give birth to a son, and no razor shall come upon his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines” (Judges 13:2-5).
Samson lived at a time when God punished the Israelites by giving them “into the hand of the Philistines.” The angel of God first appeared to Manoah’s wife, who had been unable to conceive. The angel proclaimed the couple would soon have a son who would begin the deliverance of Israel from the Philistines. The wife believed the angel, but her husband was not present. Manoah’s wife quickly related the angelic appearance to her husband, but he desired the heavenly messenger to return so he could also receive instruction regarding this child. The angel appeared to both of them.
Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “What is your name, so that when your words come to pass, we may honor you?” But the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is Wonderful?” (Judges 13: 17-18).
The angel was actually a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. Manoah recognized this when he declared to his wife, “we will surely die, for we have seen God” (Judges 13: 22).
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace (Isa 9: 6).
This Scripture in Isaiah also uses the name ‘Wonderful’ as a name for Jesus Christ, the Son of God who will rule the world. The word ‘vow’ is related to the Hebrew word, ‘wonder,’ which indicates extraordinary. This once again, reinforces the above verse using the name ‘Wonderful’ to refer to a pre-incarnate Christ appearing prior to the birth of Samson.
The Angel of the Lord commanded that Manoah’s wife (as well as the child) were to abstain from alcohol, and her promised child was not to cut his hair. He was to be a “Nazirite” from birth. In ancient Israel, those desiring to dedicate themselves to God for a time could take a Nazirite vow, which included the above requirements, as well as a pledge not to touch the dead body of a person or an animal.
Nazirite is a Hebrew word meaning ‘to separate.’ The outward restrictions indicated an inner dedication to totally serve God. Israelite men or women could dedicate themselves to God’s service for a period lasting from a month to a lifetime by taking the vow of a Nazirite.
God listed the restrictions of the Nazirite vow in Numbers, Chapter 6. He commanded the Nazirite would drink no wine, not cut the hair of his/her head, and not touch a dead body. At the end of the pre-determined time of service, the Nazirite was released from his vow by shaving his hair and offering it to be burned with animal sacrifices. This Scripture also describes the sacrifices one gives at the end of his separation to God. He/she is to present 2 yearling male and female lambs for burnt and peace offerings, a ram without defect for a peace offering, a basket of unleavened cakes mixed with oil, and a drink offering. The Nazirite then shaves his/her head of hair at the doorway of the tent of meeting and places it on the fire under the peace offering (the sacrificed ram). The priest burns these with fire as a sacrifice to God.
The Apostle Paul shaved his hair and took a Nazirite vow in Acts 18:18, after God had brought him through a very difficult time in Corinth. Paul was also in the process of taking a Nazirite vow in Acts 21:23-27 when he was apprehended by Jewish mob in the temple and almost killed. Fortunately, a Roman commander and his soldiers quashed the violence and saved Paul’s life.
Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist were members of an honorary club of Godly men—they were Nazirites for life. Samson’s foolishly ended his Nazirite vow when he gave the secret of the vow to the prostitute Delilah and she ordered the locks of his hair cut. At that point the Holy Spirit left Samson and he no longer had superhuman strength. We will discuss this shortly.
Then the woman gave birth to a son and named him Samson; and the child grew up and the Lord blessed him. And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him in the Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol (Judges 13: 24-25).
God gave Samson supernatural strength to combat his enemies and perform heroic feats. Judges chapters 13-16 describe him killing a lion, slaying a multitude of Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey, and carrying the gates of a Philistine city on his back to the top of a mountain. Samson had two significant weaknesses, however: pride and a lust for untrustworthy women. These vulnerabilities moved him along a path towards ultimate destruction.
When a young adult, Samson left the Shepelah to see the cities of the Philistines. He fell in love with a Philistine woman from Timnah, whom he decided to marry, ignoring the objections of his parents, who doubted “it was of the Lord”. However, the intended marriage was God’s plan to begin His campaign against the Philistines, as they “were ruling over Israel.” A ferocious lion attacked Samson on his way to Timnah. God’s Divine Spirit empowered Samson to rip the lion apart. He later arrived at Timnah and set a date for the marriage. On his subsequent trip to the wedding, Samson spotted a beehive in the lion carcass. He ate some of the honey, which was the first noted violation of the Nazirite vow he had taken at birth.
At the wedding feast, Samson posed a riddle to his thirty Philistine groomsmen. If they could solve it, he would give them thirty pieces of fine linen and garments. If they could not solve it, they would be responsible for returning the gift to him. The riddle (“Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet”) was an account of his second encounter with the lion. He infuriated the Philistines with this riddle. The thirty groomsmen threatened to burn Samson new wife and her father’s household if she did not discover the answer to the riddle. Samson’s new wife approached him with tearful urgency, imploring him to tell her the answer of the riddle. Samson told her the answer, and she revealed it to the thirty groomsmen. Before sunset on the seventh day they reported to Samson:
“What is sweeter than honey and what is stronger than a lion?” Samson said to them, “If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have solved my riddle.”
The Scriptural account of this episode reveals God’s hand orchestrated the events that ensued. God’s Spirit entered Samson then he flew into a rage and killed thirty Philistines from the city of Ashkelon for their garments, which he gave to his thirty groomsmen. Samson later returned to her father’s house and discovered his bride had been given to another man. Her father offered Samson her younger sister. Samson took the course of vengeance by torching the tails of three hundred foxes and setting them loose in the grain fields of the Philistines. They burned everything, including vineyards and groves. The Philistines discovered why Samson burned their crops then retaliated by burning Samson’s wife and father-in-law to death. Samson retaliated, once again by slaughtering many more Philistines.
Samson hid in the cave of Etam, in Bethlehem (site noted on the earlier map of Samson’s escapades). An army of Philistines marched to the site and demanded 3,000 men of Judah deliver Samson to them. The Jews tied Samson with two new ropes and handed him to the Philistines. He then broke free of his bonds and slayed 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey. Once again, the Scripture clearly noted the God’s Spirit orchestrated these events. Despite, Samson’s pride and temper, God clearly intended to wage warfare on the Philistines. Thereafter, Samson “judged Israel 20 years in the days of the Philistines.”
Chapter 16 chronicles the subsequent downfall of Samson, which would be initiated by sexual sin. After judging Israel for 20 years, Samson traveled to the Philistine city of Gaza (present today in Israel’s Gaza Strip), where he stayed at the home of a prostitute. His enemies waited at the city gate to ambush him, but he ripped the gate from its moorings and carried it to the top of the mountain opposite Hebron. He carried the gate an incredible 25 miles! He must have felt invincible at that point, so he continued his sexual adventures. Let us examine the remainder of Chapter 16, which delineates the fall of Samson.
Samson’s Weakness—Chapter 16
After this it came about that he loved a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. The lords of the Philistines came up to her and said to her, “Entice him, and see where his great strength lies and how we may overpower him that we may bind him to afflict him. Then we will each give you eleven hundred pieces of silver.” So Delilah said to Samson, “Please tell me where your great strength is and how you may be bound to afflict you.” Samson said to her, “If they bind me with seven fresh cords that have not been dried, then I will become weak and be like any other man.” Then the lords of the Philistines brought up to her seven fresh cords that had not been dried, and she bound him with them. Now she had men lying in wait in an inner room. And she said to him, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” But he snapped the cords as a string of tow snaps when it touches fire. So his strength was not discovered. Then Delilah said to Samson, “Behold, you have deceived me and told me lies; now please tell me how you may be bound.” He said to her, “If they bind me tightly with new ropes which have not been used, then I will become weak and be like any other man.” So Delilah took new ropes and bound him with them and said to him, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” For the men were lying in wait in the inner room. But he snapped the ropes from his arms like a thread. Then Delilah said to Samson, “Up to now you have deceived me and told me lies; tell me how you may be bound.” And he said to her, “If you weave the seven locks of my hair with the web and fasten it with a pin, then I will become weak and be like any other man.” So while he slept, Delilah took the seven locks of his hair and wove them into the web. And she fastened it with the pin and said to him, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” But he awoke from his sleep and pulled out the pin of the loom and the web (Judges 16:4-14).
Delilah Extracts His Secret
Then she said to him, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me? You have deceived me these three times and have not told me where your great strength is.” It came about when she pressed him daily with her words and urged him, that his soul was annoyed to death. So he told her all that was in his heart and said to her, “A razor has never come on my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If I am shaved, then my strength will leave me and I will become weak and be like any other man.” When Delilah saw that he had told her all that was in his heart, she sent and called the lords of the Philistines, saying, “Come up once more, for he has told me all that is in his heart.” Then the lords of the Philistines came up to her and brought the money in their hands. She made him sleep on her knees, and called for a man and had him shave off the seven locks of his hair. Then she began to afflict him, and his strength left him. She said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had departed from him. Then the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes; and they brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze chains, and he was a grinder in the prison (Judges 16: 15-21).
The Nazirite vow was broken. God left Samson. The Philistines captured him and gouged out his eyes. Thereafter they imprisoned Samson in Gaza, and forced him into slave labor, grinding grain by turning a large millstone. This, normally the task of a donkey, added to Samson’s humiliation—the one who had slain 1,000 Philistines with a donkey bone.
However, the hair of his head began to grow again after it was shaved off (Judges 16: 22).
Samson had ample time for reflection and introspection in prison. Undoubtedly, he felt guilty for many sins. He likely realized how far he had drifted from God’s plan for his life. He had allowed pride and sexual sin to blind him. Samson likely repented of these sins while spending precious time in prison. That valuable time possibly restored his relationship with God. Perhaps he took the Nazirite vow once again—thus, the notation that ‘the hair of his head began to grow again.’
Samson Is Avenged
Now the lords of the Philistines assembled to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god, and to rejoice, for they said, “Our god has given Samson our enemy into our hands.” When the people saw him, they praised their god, for they said, “Our god has given our enemy into our hands, even the destroyer of our country, who has slain many of us.” It so happened when they were in high spirits, that they said, “Call for Samson, that he may amuse us.” So they called for Samson from the prison, and he entertained them. And they made him stand between the pillars. Then Samson said to the boy who was holding his hand, “Let me feel the pillars on which the house rests, that I may lean against them.” Now the house was full of men and women, and all the lords of the Philistines were there. And about 3,000 men and women were on the roof looking on while Samson was amusing them. Then Samson called to the Lord and said, “O Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me just this time, O God, that I may at once be avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.” Sampson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and braced himself against them, the one with his right hand and the other with his left. And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” And he bent with all his might so that the house fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he killed in his life. Then his brothers and all his father’s household came down, took him, brought him up and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of Manoah, his father. Thus he had judged Israel twenty years (Judges 16: 23-31).
The Philistine leaders had assembled in a temple for a religious sacrifice to Dagon. Dagon was a highly venerated national deity of the Philistines. Each Philistine city had its temple for worshipping this god. Dagon was portrayed with the lower torso of a fish and a human upper body. Human sacrifice was the major cultic rite in Dagon’s worship. Perhaps Samson was the intended sacrifice on that day. Philistine dignitaries summoned Samson to the temple and allowed people to watch atop the roof. Samson’s hair had grown long again. The Bible had not previously recorded Samson requesting God for assistance prior to his exploits. On this occasion, however, Samson appropriately asked God to grant him strength for his next move.
After his death, Samson’s family recovered his body from the rubble and buried him near the tomb of his father Manoah. Jewish tradition places Samson’s burial in Tel Tzora, overlooking the Sorek valley. This is located between the cities of Zorah and Eshtaol, which are still present in Israel today. They are noted on the previous shown map of Samson’s exploits. Two large gravestones of Samson and his father, Manoah, reside at this location. The tomb stands in the former Arab-Palestinian village Sar’a, on the top of the mountain now called Tel Tzor’a. Manoah’s altar stands at this site also.
Archaeology Support of Biblical Account
Archaeologists from Tel Aviv University announced the discovery of a 15 millimeter circular stone seal in August 2012. This seal depicted a lion and a man. The seal was found on the floor of a house at Beth Shemesh and is dated to the 12th century B.C. Professor Shlomo Bunimovitz, a co-director of the project, was reported saying this artifact helps “anchor the story of Samson in an archaeological setting.” According to Haaretz, “excavation directors Prof. Shlomo Bunimovitz and Dr. Zvi Lederman of Tel Aviv University say they do not suggest that the human figure on the seal is the Biblical Samson. Rather, the geographical proximity to the area where Samson lived, and the time period of the seal, show that a story was being told at the time of a hero who fought a lion, and that the story eventually found its way into the Biblical text and onto the seal.”
Born to be bad: Delilah
Delilah is a play on the Hebrew word laylah, which means ‘night’. It was commonly thought the night consumed the day in those ancient times.
The name “Samson” is derived from the Hebrew word “shemesh”, which means the sun. Beth Shemesh is a nearby city that means ‘house of the sun’. The name Samson means ‘man of the sun’.
Samson had previously broken his Nazirite vow without a failure of his strength (he had reached his hand into the dead carcass of the lion). The enemy had convinced Samson he could do anything his flesh desired without consequences. Delilah persistently wore Samson down with her repeated requests, using her powers of seduction and deception. Finally Samson relented and divulged the crucial information. Having taken the Nazirite vow at birth, Samson had been set apart to God. As part of that vow, his hair was never to be cut. When Samson told Delilah his strength would leave if his hair were cut, she crafted her wicked plan with the Philistine rulers. While Samson slept on her lap, Delilah called a co-conspirator to shave the ‘seven’ braids of his hair. ‘7’ is God’s number. The seven shorn braids of hair represented God’s strength removed from Samson. The Philistines captured Samson and gouged out his eyes. Sexual sin and lust had spiritually blinded Samson. Spiritual blindness ultimately begat physical blindness. Darkness had overcome the light. The victory appeared in the hands of the enemy.
But alas, God’s light penetrated the darkness enveloping a humbled Samson. Samson prayed and sought God’s deliverance. God answered. Down came the temple, killing Samson and all the people in it. Through his death, Samson destroyed more enemies than he had killed in all his previous battles with the Philistines. God gave Samson His ‘amazing graze’. Samson once was blind, but now he could see spiritually. God turned Samson’s miserable mistakes into victory.
Samson ultimately accomplished God’s plan. Hebrews chapter 11 lists him in the “Hall of Faith” with others who “by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.” God uses men of faith despite their imperfections. It is a great comfort to believers that God prefers to forgive rather than execute His judgment. Ultimately, God saw Samson as a man of faith.
This extraordinary story reveals Samson was spiritually blind long before his eyes were gouged out. Sin seeps deep into one’s life and causes spiritual blindness. A heart given to sin cannot see God. Sin binds, then it blinds, and ultimately it grinds away at ones’ spiritual nature.
When one ignores God’s strength to live a godly life, he begins to think his talents and abilities are due to his own efforts. Ultimately, God’s strength leaves, and the enemy takes control. God grants gifts to each of His children. These gifts are empowered by His Divine Spirit. The enemy of darkness (Satan) will persistently wear away this understanding, as he did Eve in the Garden of Eden. Satan will prevail with deadly consequences unless the believer continually relies on God—the true source of a believer’s strength.