Introduction: Samson is unlike any of God’s prior deliverers. While other deliverers sought to rally the Jews to defeat a foreign enemy or restore civil order, Samson used his gifts solely to fulfill his own personal desires for lust, greed, or vengeance. He represented the society around him. Israel got the deliverer it deserved. God, however, used this self-absorbed deliverer for His own plan to restore Israel on its path. The Jews had become complacent with the Philistine’s subjugation over them. They had also become complacent with temple prostitution and idolatry. The Philistines and their idolatry symbolized the flesh. The Jews were to fight the unclean influences of the flesh. They were also to separate themselves from the world. Yet, they instead allowed their flesh to rule over them without any resistance. Like Samson’s attempt to marry a Philistine, the Jews came to accept being joined to the world. God used Samson’s selfish desires to stir up conflict, and (hundreds of years later under David) free His people from the Philistines. Here, Samson’s failures symbolized the failures of God’s people. From Samson’s failures, God reveals seven lessons on what to avoid and what to embrace to be a Spirit-led leader.
First, from Samson’s lust-filled desire to be married to a pagan Philistine woman, He reveals that a godly leader avoids the unholy lusts of the flesh. Second, from the failure of Samson’s family to follow God’s Law (which prohibited any marriage between God’s people and foreigners), He reveals that a godly leader obeys His Word. Likewise, a godly leader avoids being unequally yoked together with non-believers. Third, from Samson’s defilement of his Nazarite vows by touching an unclean animal carcass, He reveals that a godly leader keeps himself or herself pure from the unclean influences in the world. Fourth, from Samson’s participation in a Philistine bachelor party (which would have most likely involved unclean foods and alcohol in violation of his Nazarite vows), He reveals that a godly leader avoids even the appearance of impropriety. Fifth, from Samson’s attempt to trick the Philistines with an impossible riddle, He reveals that a godly leader avoids deceit in his or her dealings with others. Sixth, from Samson’s anger at the Philistines when they tricked him through his fiancé, He reveals that a godly man does not become angry when others cause hurt or deceive. Finally, from Samson’s vengeance against the Philistines for their deceit, He reveals that vengeance belongs to Him alone. A godly leader forgives, just as God the Father forgives. In order to be forgiven, you must also forgive others.
Samson’s lust for a pagan woman. God’s messenger (a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus) filled Samson’s parents with excitement and hope that their miraculously born son would begin to deliver the Jews (Jdgs. 13:5). Yet, by the time he became an adult, they came to realize that their anointed son was only interested in self-gratification: “1 Then Samson went down to Timnah and saw a woman in Timnah, one of the daughters of the Philistines. 2 So he came back and told his father and mother, ‘I saw a woman in Timnah, one of the daughters of the Philistines; now therefore, get her for me as a wife.’ 3 Then his father and his mother said to him, ‘Is there no woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?’ But Samson said to his father, ‘Get her for me, for she looks good to me.’” (Jdgs. 14:1-3). Even though he was filled with the Spirit, this entire account showed that Samson was ruled by his lusts of the flesh. His encounter took place in a city that came to symbolize lust. The Philistine city of “Timnah” was the same place where Tamar deceived Judah on his way to sleep with what he thought was a temple prostitute (Gen. 38:13). His demands of his parents also closely matched Shechem’s demands after he raped Jacob’s daughter Dinah: “So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, ‘Get me this young girl for a wife.’” (Gen. 34:4). His desire to give into what looked good also paralleled Eve’s coveting the fruit from the tree of knowledge: “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.” (Gen. 3:6). God’s final deliverer had broken His Commandment against coveting (Ex. 20:17; Dt. 5:21). Samson also showed no concern about God’s law against foreign marriages or his calling as the Jews’ deliverer.
Like the Jews, Samson did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25)1
Avoid the unholy lusts of the flesh. The Holy Spirit will also dwell within you when you accept Christ (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19). Yet, even with the Holy Spirit, you can, like Samson, allow the lusts of the flesh to control you. Your eyes are the gateway that can fill your body with either light or darkness (Matt. 6:22-23; Lk. 11:34). Your desires to fill your eyes with darkness and give into your lusts are from the devil and not from the Holy Spirit: “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.” (1 Jo. 2:16). Moreover, the desires of your eyes and your flesh can never be permanently satisfied when you give into them: “Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, nor are the eyes of man ever satisfied.” (Prov. 27:20). Giving into these lusts can lead to addictions and pain. Thus, you must resist the unholy desires of your flesh: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” (Ro. 13:14). If something in your life is causing you to stumble and give into the flesh, you must cut it out: “If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell.” (Matt. 18:9; 5:29; Mk. 9:47). Are you watching things that are filling your body with darkness or light? Unlike Samson’s parents, are you monitoring what your kids covet?
The failure of Samson’s parents to follow God’s Law or pray. Instead of rebuking their son with God’s Law or seeking His guidance through prayer, Samson’s parents gave in to his demands: “4 However, his father and mother did not know that it was of the Lord, for He was seeking an occasion against the Philistines. Now at that time the Philistines were ruling over Israel.” (Jdgs. 14:4). Samson’s request to marry a pagan wife should not have not presented a dilemma for them. It was clearly forbidden in the Torah: “Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons. For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods; then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you and He will quickly destroy you.” (Dt. 7:3-4). “and you might take some of his daughters for your sons, and his daughters might play the harlot with their gods and cause your sons also to play the harlot with their gods.” (Ex. 34:16). This was also one of Joshua’s final warnings before his death: “For if you ever go back and cling to the rest of these nations, these which remain among you, and intermarry with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, know with certainty that the LORD your God will not continue to drive these nations out from before you; but they will be a snare and a trap to you, and a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good land which the LORD your God has given you.” (Josh. 23:12-13). This same problem was also one of the central reasons for the Jews’ cycle of idolatry, punishment, and their need for deliverance: “and they took their daughters for themselves as wives, and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods.” (Jdgs. 3:6). “For they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has intermingled with the peoples of the lands; indeed, the hands of the princes and the rulers have been foremost in this unfaithfulness.” (Ezra 9:2). “So I contended with them and cursed them and struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God, ‘You shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor take of their daughters for your sons or for yourselves.”’ (Neh. 13:25). Even if the Law were not clear, Samson’s parents also failed to pray for God’s counsel (Jam. 1:5). Moreover, God’s messenger had specifically told them that their child was meant to deliver the Jews from the Philistines. They did nothing to remind Samson of his special calling. Thus, the parents failed in raising Samson to embrace God’s special calling for him. Today, the Church is committing the same sin of omission as Samson’s parents. In an effort to be seeker friendly, it has largely ceased to teach its members to be separate from the world.
The Jews were called upon to destroy the nations of Canaan. In addition to prohibiting marriage with the Canaanites, God commanded the Jews to destroy the nations of Canaan. As their deliverer, Samson’s calling was to lead the Jews to destroy the Philistines, not intermarry with them: “They shall not live in your land, because they will make you sin against Me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.” (Ex. 23:33). “You shall consume all the peoples whom the LORD your God will deliver to you; your eye shall not pity them, nor shall you serve their gods, for that would be a snare to you.” (Dt. 7:16; 12:30). “They did not destroy the peoples, as the LORD commanded them, but they mingled with the nations and learned their practices, and served their idols, which became a snare to them.” (Ps. 106:34-36). Yet, although Samson was doing the exact opposite of what God wanted, Samson’s lusts would later trigger a war that would end the complacency of God’s people with their subjugation to the pagan Philistines. Thankfully, our own failings cannot subvert God’s perfect plans.
Don’t be unequally yoked with non-believers. Like Samson, Christians are also prohibited from marrying non-believers. When a believer joins together with a non-believer, they become one flesh (Mk. 10:8; Gen. 2:24). As one flesh, a believer can be pulled off his or her walk when the other person does not share the same beliefs: “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14). If you are a parent, do you place restrictions on your children dating non-believers? Unlike Samson’s parents, would you intervene to dissuade your child from marrying a non-believer?
Guide your children in fulfilling their calling for God. Unlike Samson’s parents, Christians are also called upon to raise up their children in the Lord: “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6). “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Eph. 6:4). Are you raising your children to fulfill their calling?
Samson’s defilement of his vows by touching a carcass. During Samson’s parents’ negotiations with the Philistine woman’s family, God gave Samson the miraculous strength to kill a lion. As a test to Samson, he then miraculously filled the lion’s carcass with a beehive, a place they do not appear naturally. Samson, however, failed His test by touching the dead carcass and violating his Nazarite vow: “5 Then Samson went down to Timnah with his father and mother, and came as far as the vineyards of Timnah; and behold, a young lion came roaring toward him. 6 The Spirit of the Lord came upon him mightily, so that he tore him as one tears a young goat though he had nothing in his hand; but he did not tell his father or mother what he had done. 7 So he went down and talked to the woman; and she looked good to Samson. 8 When he returned later to take her, he turned aside to look at the carcass of the lion; and behold, a swarm of bees and honey were in the body of the lion. 9 So he scraped the honey into his hands and went on, eating as he went. When he came to his father and mother, he gave some to them and they ate it; but he did not tell them that he had scraped the honey out of the body of the lion.” (Jdgs. 14:5-9). Normally, bees would not form a hive in an animal carcass. Instead, only flies and maggots would inhabit a putrefied corpse. Thus, it was a miracle that only God could perform to dry out the carcass and turn it into a beehive. God never wastes a miracle. Thus, the question is what was His purpose in this miracle? The answer is that it was both a test for Samson and the divine catalyst that would upend the cozy relationship between the Jews and the Philistines. As a Nazarite, Samson was prohibited from going near a “dead body,” which included an animal carcass (Nu. 6:6; 19:11). Even if this were unclear, all Jews were prohibited from touching the carcass of a non-Kosher animal, which includes lions: ‘“You shall not eat of their flesh nor touch their carcasses; they are unclean to you.” (Lev. 11:8). Merely touching the corpse of the dead lion should have required that Samson present a sin offering: ‘“Or if a person touches any unclean thing, whether a carcass of an unclean beast or the carcass of unclean cattle or a carcass of unclean swarming things, though it is hidden from him and he is unclean, then he will be guilty.” (Lev. 5:2). Instead, he freely ate from it. He also defiled his parents by giving them honey without telling them where it came from. He again showed that he had no concern about his calling. He did not follow the vow of the Nazarites, nor did he follow the law of the Jews. One by one, he would compromise each thing that made him distinct in God’s eyes. When he finally lost all the symbols that made him unique (the last one being his hair), he lost his power. He would eventually become salt that had lost its saltiness (Matt. 5:13). Are you set apart from the world?
Avoid gluttony. Like the Jews’ improper attempt to hoard the manna from heaven, Samson also committed a separate sin when he sought to take more divinely created honey than he could eat at that time. As explained by Solomon, believers are not to hoard the things of God: “Have you found honey? Eat only what you need, that you not have it in excess and vomit it.” (Prov. 25:16). Samson’s hoarding also allowed him to defile his parents when he gave the honey from the animal carcass to them. The lesson is that hoarding always leads to unintended negative consequences. When you take more than you need, you show a lack of trust and faith in God for Him to provide for you in the future. When God blesses you in your finances, do you hoard His extra provision?
Lucas Cranach (1472-1533) “Samson and the Lion” (oil painting)2
Samson’s likely defilement through alcohol and unclean food. Samson also most likely violated his vows of separation by engaging in a week-long bachelor party with the Philistines where he would have likely drank and ate food that was not Kosher: “10 Then his father went down to the woman; and Samson made a feast there, for the young men customarily did this. 11 When they saw him, they brought thirty companions to be with him.” (Jdgs. 14:10-11). As a Nazarite, Samson was not to drink alcohol: “he shall abstain from wine and strong drink; he shall drink no vinegar, whether made from wine or strong drink, nor shall he drink any grape juice nor eat fresh or dried grapes. All the days of his separation he shall not eat anything that is produced by the grape vine, from the seeds even to the skin.” (Nu. 6:3-4; Jdgs. 13:7). As a Jews, he also could not eat any food that was ritually unclean (Lev. 11:1-47; Dt. 14:1-21; Jdg. 13:4). The Philistines, however, had none of these laws. By participating in a seven-day Philistine bachelor party, he would have certainly drunk alcohol and ate their unclean foods. The rules of conduct were meant to remind Samson of his separation to serve God. Again, Samson was becoming salt that had lost its saltiness (Matt. 5:13; Lk. 14:34). Instead of waging war against the unclean influences that were ripping apart the Jewish nation, his open embrace of the Philistines pagan ways made him part of the problem.
Avoid even the appearance of immorality. Every believer is an ambassador for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). As a believer, your life is meant to reflect His light (Matt. 5:14). Because some may decide whether to become a believer based upon your conduct, you must avoid even the appearance of impropriety: “abstain from every form of evil.” (1 Thess. 5:22). “Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God;” (1 Cor. 10:32). “but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior;” (1 Pet. 1:15). “For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.” (1 Thess. 4:7). Are you living a holy life as an example for others to follow? Or, like Samson, are you engaging in all the impure activities that a nonbeliever would do?
Samson’s attempt to trick the Philistines with a riddle. At the beginning of his bachelor party, Samson sought to trick his hosts with a riddle based upon his miraculous two encounters with the lion that they would not likely solve: “12 Then Samson said to them, ‘Let me now propound a riddle to you; if you will indeed tell it to me within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty linen wraps and thirty changes of clothes. 13 But if you are unable to tell me, then you shall give me thirty linen wraps and thirty changes of clothes.’ And they said to him, ‘Propound your riddle, that we may hear it.’ 14 So he said to them, ‘Out of the eater came something to eat, and out of the strong came something sweet.’ But they could not tell the riddle in three days.” (Jdgs. 14:12-14). There would be no way for any person to know Samson’s riddle unless they knew of the miracle that God created. Nothing in the natural world would have allowed the Philistines to guess that bees would live in an animal carcass. Thus, Samson was deceitful in leading the Philistines to believe that they could ever figure out his riddle on their own. Again, his actions reflected poorly on what it meant to be God’s deliverer.
Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn (1606-1669) “Samson Tells a Riddle at His Feast” (1638)3
Be honest in your dealings with others. Deceit is one of the signs of both a “depraved mind” (Ro. 1:29) and heart: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). It is also one of the things that “defiles” you (Mk. 7:22). Because you represent Christ, you should always be honest in your dealings with others: “My lips certainly will not speak unjustly, nor will my tongue mutter deceit.” (Job 27:4). Job once rebuked his friends for misrepresenting God with deceit: “Will you speak what is unjust for God, and speak what is deceitful for Him?” (Job 13:7). Are you engaging in deceitful dealings that will reflect poorly upon Christ?
Jesus in the riddle. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, David once prophetically wrote: “Then I said, ‘Behold, I come; In the scroll of the book it is written of me.’” (Ps. 40:7). Jesus later quoted from this prophecy to reveal the entire Old Testament is in fact written about Him (Heb. 10:7). Thus, Samson’s riddle is also about Christ as well. He is also the lion of the tribe of Judah (Rev. 5:5). He is your strength (Ps. 28:7). His body is offered through you in communion (Matt. 26:26; Mk. 14:22). When you take what He offers, you enjoy the sweetness of His fellowship: ‘“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.” (Rev. 3:20). He also offers the sweetness of an eternal life in heaven, a greater joy and luxury than any word can describe (2 Cor. 12:14).
Samson’s anger at the Philistine’s deceit. When they realized that Samson’s riddle was impossible to answer, the Philistine hosts blackmailed Samson’s fiancé to trick Samson to get the right answer: “15 Then it came about on the fourth day that they said to Samson’s wife, ‘Entice your husband, so that he will tell us the riddle, or we will burn you and your father’s house with fire. Have you invited us to impoverish us? Is this not so?’ 16 Samson’s wife wept before him and said, ‘You only hate me, and you do not love me; you have propounded a riddle to the sons of my people, and have not told it to me.’ And he said to her, ‘Behold, I have not told it to my father or mother; so should I tell you?’ 17 However she wept before him seven days while their feast lasted. And on the seventh day he told her because she pressed him so hard. She then told the riddle to the sons of her people. 18 So the men of the city said to him on the seventh day before the sun went down, ‘What is sweeter than honey? And what is stronger than a lion?’ And he said to them, ‘If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have found out my riddle.’” (Jdgs. 14:15-18). By waiting until the eve of the seventh day, the Philistine hosts showed that they meant to taunt Samson with their answer. Samson’s anger showed that he knew all along that his riddle was impossible to answer. He was angry at being tricked when he was trying to trick them. His response showed contempt not only for his hosts but also towards his fiancé. He called her a “heifer”, which would have been just as insulting at that time as it is today. His anger reflected poorly upon God. Although he was angry about being deceived, he had reaped the fruit of his own deceit.
Do not become angry when others hurt you. Unlike Samson, you are never to show anger at others when they hurt you. “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but the slow to anger calms a dispute.” (Prov. 15:18). “He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is quick-tempered exalts folly.” (Prov. 14:29). “He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.” (Prov. 17:27). “This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger;” (Jam. 1:19). Instead, you are to love your enemies: “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Lk. 6:27-28; Matt. 5:43-44). “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” (Ro. 12:14). When others hurt your feelings, are you quick to become angry? If so, what kind of witness for Christ are you when you lash out in anger when others hurt you?
Samson’s vengeance against the Philistines for being tricked. Because Samson was ruled by his flesh, he sought vengeance against the Philistines for tricking him: “19 Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon him mightily, and he went down to Ashkelon and killed thirty of them and took their spoil and gave the changes of clothes to those who told the riddle. And his anger burned, and he went up to his father’s house. 20 But Samson’s wife was given to his companion who had been his friend.” (Jdgs. 14:19-20). Although Samson was called upon to kill the Philistines to drive them out of Israel, he did not kill the 30 Philistines with any divine purpose in mind. Instead, he killed 30 innocent men to seek vengeance against the Philistines for tricking him. Not only did he lose his bet and his morals, he also lost his Philistine fiancé as a result of his rage against their people.
Forgive others and leave vengeance to God. Unlike Samson, you are called upon to forgive those who deceive or hurt you. If you do not forgive others, God will not forgive you: “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matt. 6:14-15; Mk. 11:25-26). “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.” (Col. 3:12-13). “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Eph. 4:32). If you are hurt, you are to leave all vengeance to God: “'You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.” (Lev. 19:18; Dt. 32:35). “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.” (Ro. 12:17). “Do not say, ‘I will repay evil’; wait for the LORD, and He will save you.” (Prov. 20:22). Are you showing Christ’s love and forgiveness when others hurt you?
God can use even your evil actions for His glory. Samson killed the Philistines out of a personal vendetta. Why then would God empower him with the Holy Spirit when he did this? The answer is that God used Samson’s rage to stir up conflict between the Jews and the Philistines. Samson’s actions would start a wave of retaliations back and forth between Samson and the Philistines. This would eventually lead to war between the Jews and the Philistines. Although Samson would fail to deliver the Jews, David would ultimately win the war that he would start and drive out the Philistines. Thus, we can give thanks that His perfect plans will never be compromised by our sinful nature. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Ro. 8:28). When all seems lost, do you trust God in faith that He is in control and has a plan for you?