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"The Spirit of the Lord came upon [Samson] in power so that he tore the lion apart with his bare hands" Judges 14:6

Samson (Hebrew: שמשון, Shimshōn; Greek: Σαμψών, Sampsōn; Arabic: شمشون, Shamshoun; "Name means::sunlight") (Born::Tammuz 2853 AM–fl. ca. Flourit::1 Sivan 2883 AM–ca. Died::15 Sivan 2903 AM)[1] was the fourteenth and most famous Judge of Israel and the one whose career was the most tragic. In popular culture, he is renowned for his superhuman strength, as is the popular Greek hero, Hercules.[2] But his story should serve as a warning to anyone, and particularly anyone who purports to serve God, who boasts of his own strength and thus falls into sin.


Samson was a Danite, the son of Manoah of Zorah.[2][3] Manoah's wife was sterile, and prayed earnestly to God on this account. The Angel of the Lord appeared to her and said that she would indeed have a son. He gave her very strict instruction not to drink wine or strong drink or to eat any unclean food (advice that a pregnant woman today would do well to heed). He also said that the boy would be a Nazirite, dedicated to God from birth,[2][4] and would as an adult begin to break the Philistine dominion over Israel.

(In fact, Jephthah had beaten the Ammonites in battle the year before, and the Philistine dominion would not actually begin until about eleven more years had passed. Nevertheless the combined Philistine-Ammonite oppression was still a recent memory.)

When Manoah heard his wife speak of these things, he asked God to send the man again for further instructions. (He did not know that the messenger was the Angel of the Lord, i.e. Jesus Christ in His pre-incarnate mode.) The Angel of the Lord returned and gave the same instructions as before. Manoah then offered to kill a young goat to provide food for the man. The man replied that he would not eat Manoah's food, but if Manoah wanted to make a burnt offering, then he should offer it to God. Manoah then asked the man his name, and the man said to Manoah that he wouldn't understand his name anyway.

Manoah did offer a goat and a grain offering, and then the man disappeared. Then Manoah realized that he had been speaking to God, and was afraid that he would die for that reason. His wife reminded him that if the Angel of the Lord were going to kill them, then he would not have accepted a burnt offering.

Samson was born nine months later, and often frequented the "camp of Dan" until his career began. (Judges 13 )


The Book of Judges declares that Samson's desire to marry a certain unnamed Philistine woman whom he had seen in the city of Timnath was actually a Divine pretext. In other words, God intended to cause the Philistines to do Samson mischief and thus provoke Samson to take revenge. Samson is the only Judge of Israel ever to act from such a motive; all the others acted as genuine liberators.

The Biblical narrative declares that Samson saw a Philistine woman and asked his father and mother to arrange a marriage for him. Manoah protested that Samson surely ought to seek a wife from among his fellow Danites or even from some other tribe of Israel before seeking a foreign wife, but Samson insisted.[2] So the three of them were traveling to Timnath when a young lion attacked the party. Samson killed the lion with his bare hands as easily as an ordinary man might kill a young goat.[2][3][4] He did not tell his parents what had happened, so the party finished their journey to Timnath without further incident. Manoah and his wife completed the negotiations, and later Samson traveled the road to Timnath again. He happened to pass the carcass of the lion, and noticed that wild bees had built a hive in it and had begun to store honey. Samson took some of the honey out of the lion and gave it to his parents to eat, but never told anyone that he had killed a lion. (Judges 14:1-10 )

According to custom, Samson gave a wedding feast. Thirty Philistines attended. Samson challenged them all with a riddle:

"Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness." - Judges 14:14 (KJV)

The Philistines tried for three days to solve the riddle themselves, but could not—and if they failed to solve the riddle by seven days, they each would have to pay Samson a bolt of linen and a change of clothes. (Judges 14:11-14 ) On the fourth day, they threatened Samson's wife with murder to make her ask Samson to tell the answer to the riddle. Samson ultimately did tell her the answer, which was that the sweet stuff was honey taken from the body of a lion. On the last day of the feast, Samson's guests told him the answer.

Samson, of course, protested that his guests had not gotten the answer to the riddle honestly. Nevertheless, he had to pay the wager. So he traveled to Ashkelon, killed thirty men, stripped them, and then brought back thirty changes of clothes and thirty bolts of linen to his guests.[2][4] Then he returned to his father's house, and gave every indication that he no longer wanted to marry the Philistine woman. (Judges 14:15-20 )

But later, on or about Sivan of 2883 AM ("in the time of the wheat harvest"), Samson changed his mind, but by then the woman's father had given her in marriage to another man. The elder Philistine offered Samson the woman's younger sister's hand, but Samson refused.[2] He then said,

"This time I shall be blameless in regard to the Philistines when I do them harm." - Judges 14:3 (NASB)

Thus the career of Samson as a judge may be said to have begun at this time of year. Floyd Nolen Jones, in The Chronology of the Old Testament, states that Samson's career must have begun halfway through the forty-year Philistine dominion, because only Samuel's victory at Mizpah would prevent the Philistines from taking a devastating reprisal for Samson's ultimate revenge at the Temple of Dagon, in the last year of his career and life.[5]

First acts

Samson's first act was to burn the Philistines' wheat crop while it was still standing in the fields. He captured three hundred foxes, tied their tails together in pairs with a torch for each pair, and released them into the fields.[4]

The Philistines then burned Samson's fiancée and her father alive in their house. Samson, in turn, killed an unknown number of Philistines, probably by waylaying them on a highway.

Then the Philistines camped in the territory of Judah and demanded that they hand Samson over to the Philistines. Three thousand Judahites found Samson and asked him to surrender to them. Samson made them swear not to kill him, and allowed the men of Judah to bind him. But shortly after they handed him over to the Philistines, Samson broke the ropes that bound him. Then he picked up the jawbone of a donkey and killed a thousand Philistine soldiers with it.[2][3][4] (Judges 15:4-17 )

This act was surely miraculous in itself, because usually even the strongest warrior would not have been able to kill a thousand helmeted men with a bony weapon without breaking the bone before the battle was over. But God granted Samson another miracle by giving Samson water to drink from a cleft in the rocks after he had finished killing the Philistines. (Judges 15:18-20 )

Samson and Delilah

The Bible says only that Samson was the judge of Israel for twenty years, and implies that Samson never attracted any sort of following, and certainly never raised an army of resistance. Perhaps the only other Judge who never raised such an army was Shamgar, and the Bible gives no reliable indicator of the length of his career.

In his last year, Samson traveled to Gaza and spent the night with a prostitute. The next morning he escaped from the city by lifting the city gates off their foundations and carrying them up a mountainside.[2] (Judges 16:1-3 )

Then he fell in love with another Philistine woman named Delilah, a woman whose name means "temptation" to this day. The Lords of the Five Cities offered to pay her eleven hundred pieces of silver from each of the lords if she could determine for them the secret of Samson's strength and how to nullify it.[6] (Judges 16:4-5 )

Delilah tried three times to learn Samson's secret. Each time Samson told her a stratagem, always something ridiculously ineffective. Finally Samson told her his secret: that if he were ever shorn, he would be as weak as any man. So Delilah had someone shave his head while he slept, and the Philistines promptly arrested him, blinded him, and put him to work as a grinder in the prison house.[2][3][4][6]

His hair grew back while he was in prison, but the Philistines seem to have taken no notice.[3][4][6] (Judges 16:6-22 )

The cereal harvests probably ended with the wheat harvest, during the Hebrew month of Sivan.

Samson's Revenge

The Lords of the Five Cities ordered a grand sacrifice in the Temple of Dagon. With all the Five Lords and three thousand civilians in attendance, the authorities brought Samson out of the prison and to the Temple in order to make sport of him. Then they made their fatal mistake: they forced Samson to stand between the two middle columns of the Temple that together were the Temple's single weak spot. Samson prayed to God to restrengthen him one final time, so that he could take revenge for the loss of his eyes. He forced the pillars apart, and the entire building collapsed. All the Five Lords, and all the three thousand attendees, died on that day.[2][3][4][6] (Judges 16:23-31 )

Chronological placement

James Ussher fixed the date of the beginning of the Philistine dominion at about the month of Abib in 2848 AM and suggested that Samson was born in Tammuz of that year. He also suggested that the forty-year dominion ended with the collapse of the Temple of Dagon.[7] But Ussher also suggested that the Philistines captured the ark of the covenant shortly after this, and oppressed the Israelites for an additional twenty years after this.[8]

Floyd Nolen Jones suggests instead that the capture of the ark occurred in the fall of 2883 AM ({{#show:Capture of the ark|?Began}}), that the Philistines returned the ark seven months later (about {{#show:Capture of the ark|?Ended}}), and that Samson began his career as Judge of Israel in the same month.[5]

Ussher suggests that Samson fell out of fellowship with high priest Eli on account of his seeking a Philistine wife.[7] Jones finds no warrant for any such quarrel.

The Nazirite custom

Blank[6] states that Samson was the most famous Nazirite of the Old Testament era. The most famous New Testament Nazirite was, of course, John the Baptist.

Critical discussion

Some critics allege that the story of Judge Samson was a recasting of the myth of Hercules in Hebrew.[2] In fact, Hercules, if he existed at all, lived in the era of the Mycenean and Argive civilizations and died before the Trojan War, which Ussher estimates happened in 2820 AM (1184 BC)[9] The Greek myths involving Hercules were written no earlier than about 800 BC, and therefore such criticism could represent another attempt to allege that certain books of the Bible were written much later than the events that they describe.

Allegations that Samson is a myth have persisted since the Talmudic period, and the Talmud in fact contains an attempted refutation of such criticism.[10]

Preceded by
Successor of::Abdon
Member of::Judge
Flourit::1 Sivan 2883 AMDied::15 Sivan 2903 AM
Succeeded by
Succeeded by::Samuel

See Also


  1. Jones, Floyd N., The Chronology of the Old Testament, Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2004, p. 279 and Chart 4
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 Driscoll, James F. "Samson." The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. Accessed December 24, 2008 <>.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Konig G, "Samson,", n.d. Accessed December 24, 2008.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 "Samson," Luther Productions, n.d. Accessed December 24, 2008.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Jones, op. cit., pp. 78-79, 81-85 and Chart 4
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Blank, Wayne, "Samson and Delilah," Daily Bible Study, n.d. Accessed December 24, 2008
  7. 7.0 7.1 James Ussher, The Annals of the World, Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2003, pghh. 380-385a
  8. Ussher, op. cit., pghh. 386-391
  9. Ussher, op. cit., pgh. 373
  10. Jacobs J, Price IM, Bacher W, and Lauterback JZ, "Samson," The Jewish Encyclopedia, n.d. Accessed December 24, 2008.