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In His Strength Was Weakness

Updated on January 23, 2018
Anna Watson profile image

Anna is a pastor, writer, and theologian who obtained her BA in religion in '06, Diploma of Ministry in '16, and Diploma of Divinity in '17.

The Birth of Samson

The Book of Judges is an interesting read. Viewed through modern lenses its less a book of judicial leaders and more a book of guerrilla fighters; each with their own strengths and weaknesses. For some of the Heroes described in the book, it can be difficult to look past their flaws, yet to ignore them completely would be to miss out on some important lessons about how God can, and will, work through anybody. One of the more interesting judges in the book is Samson.

Samson was the 15th judge of Israel, born to the Tribe of Dan, sometime between 1154 BC and 1124 BC. God had meant for Samson to be a strong leader, not strong in terms of strength, but to be sure, he had strength in abundance. He was said to be the strongest man of his generation. But God wanted a man with strong moral and leadership qualities, sadly, neither of those were Samson’s strong point. Samson’s mother was barren when an angel appeared to her and told her that she was to have a son. He was to be a Nazarite, set apart from birth by God Almighty. She was to abstain from wine and alcohol, and not ever cut his hair.

Now here is where things get really interesting. Samson’s unnamed mother told her husband, Manoah, that an angel appeared before her to inform her that she was pregnant. Manoah, upon hearing the news, immediately prayed for the angel to return and instruct them on how to raise the child. When the angel returned, he didn’t offer instructions on child care, he simply reiterated that Samson’s mother was to drink no alcohol and eat nothing that was unclean. While it is certainly advisable that pregnant women abstain from alcohol and food which may contain pathogens, it didn’t quite offer the guidelines that Manoah and his wife may have hoped for.

Samson was born after Moses had laid down the law for the Israelites, but before there were any official rulers in the land. The laws codified in the Torah were numbered at 613. If a person obeyed even half of those laws, they were far more likely to be an upright and moral person. God Himself had big plans for Samson. Yet Samson lacked discipline. Living in a lawless country with no real rulers to maintain the written law and order isn’t the most appropriate place for a young man who was often driven by his own testosterone and desires. His parents didn't seem to help guide him much. What little we know of them, it appears as if they often gave into his wants. Perhaps they were afraid of his strength. Or maybe they believed that since he was set aside by the Lord, that they were in no position to provide stricter discipline? Mere biblical speculation, but at any rate, Samson was not one who would allow his impulses to be controlled.

Samson’s mother was barren when an angel appeared to her and told her that she was to have a son. He was to be a Nazarite, set apart from birth by God Almighty. She was to abstain from wine and alcohol, and not ever cut his hair.

The First Sign of Trouble

From a young age, Samson flirted with temptation, that is, when he wasn’t flirting with the Godless Philistines. One of the first signs of trouble was when Samson fell in love with a young Philistine woman named Timnah. He ordered his parents to get her for him, they tried to discourage the union, but in the end, they gave into their son’s wishes. Samson showed no regard for the advice of his parents, or even Timnah herself. On the day he went to bargain for the young Philistine, he killed a lion with his bare hands. And on the day he went to marry her, he noticed that bees had built a hive inside the carcass. He scooped out honey from the comb and shared it with his parents. At the wedding feast, Samson was understandably in good spirits. Standing before his guests of both Israelites and Philistines he used the experience for a riddle, wagering thirty linen garments to the one who could solve the riddle before the seven day feast had concluded. He asked:

Out of the eater, something to eat;
Out of the strong, something sweet.

The Philistines were unable to guess the answer to the riddle, so they petitioned Timnah to coax the answer from Samson. For three days she pestered Samson and on the seventh day he gave in and told her the answer. “What is sweeter than honey? What is stronger than a lion?” Timnah passed the answer onto her countrymen and when they came to Samson with it he lost his temper. He went down to Ashkelon and killed thirty men, stripped them of their clothes and gave them to the men who answered the riddle. Thirty linen garments to the one who guessed correctly. After this incident, Manoah gave Timnah to Samson’s Best Man.

Unfortunately, Samson wasn’t exactly thrilled that his wife was given away. Rather than try to reason with his father, who offered Timnah’s younger sister in her stead, Samson lost his temper. Vowing revenge against the Philistines, he captured three hundred foxes and tied them tail to tail, in pairs. He attached torches to their tails and let them loose amongst the standing grain of the Philistines. Remember now, that God had big plans for Samson. It is unlikely that animal abuse and wanton destruction were part of those plans. When the Philistines had heard that Samson was the one behind the destruction, and that his motive was in revenge because Timnah had been given to his friend, they reacted violently. Violence only ever begets more violence. In retaliation against Samson’s crimes, the Philistines burned Timnah and her father. A brutal revenge for Samson's actions. This prompted a retaliatory strike by Samson against the Philistines and he murdered many of them.

What do we know here? Timnah was never asked if she wanted to marry Samson, she was told that she had to do it. This was the custom and the culture at the time. Did she have any love for Samson? Probably not. But she may not have hated him either. It’s possible that she didn’t know him well enough to form an opinion. She was married to him, and removed from him, without any say in the matter. Though it’s very likely that after he killed thirty men, she wasn’t too impressed by him.

Did Samson love Timnah? Probably not. But he most certainly lusted after her, and he definitely wanted her. And as we see, whatever Samson wanted, Samson got. And while it was Samson’s father who gave Timnah away, Samson took his anger out on the Philistines. The Philistines, for their part, took their revenge on Timnah and her father, not on Samson. In response, Samson killed even more people. Violence only creates more violence, and these men found themselves in the middle of a bloodbath. The more we know, the more we see that Samson is looking less like a godly figure, and more like a serial killer.

Throughout history, it was common for kings and rulers to marry the royalty in other countries. This helped forge an alliance with foreign entities and could often facilitate peace between the two nations. Israel and Philistine fought constantly, Samson was in a position to use his union with Timnah to bring peace and end the warfare. Instead, through his temper, he exacerbated the tensions. This led to the eventual deaths of thousands of people. Was that God's will? While I can't speak for God, I would wager that it wasn't. From everything else the Bible teaches we can conclude that God loved the Philistines. It is far more likely that He would have preferred conversion to massacre.

Vowing revenge against the Philistines, Samson captured three hundred foxes and tied them tail to tail, in pairs. He attached torches to their tails and let them loose amongst the standing grain of the Philistines.

The Spirit of the Lord, or the Fruit of the Spirit?

After Samson murdered many Philistines, he went into hiding. The Philistines threatened to fight the Israelites, so they went out to Samson, tied him up and handed him over to his enemies. Judges 15:14 tells us that when that happened the “spirit of the Lord came upon [Samson] in power” and he ripped through his cords, picked up a jawbone of a donkey and killed a thousand Philistines. The story reads like a fish tale and it’s easy to imagine the Israelites telling the story over the home fires. To the superstitious Israelites it was proof positive that the Lord was on their side. But getting caught up in the action of the story can make it easy to miss the forest through the trees; as you look at the words being said, don’t miss the words that aren’t said.

The text in Judges 15:14 tells us that the spirit of the Lord came upon Samson in power. But what about the fruit of the spirit? Matthew 7 tells us that we will recognize those who come in the name of the Lord by their fruits. 7:17 says that good trees bear good fruit and bad trees bear bad fruit. At this point in Samson life he had gone dangerously astray. God had singled him out for greatness, but his lust and his temper continually got the better of him. Samson had tremendous strength, but he lacked the fruits of the Spirit; in particular love, wisdom, and self control. As a result, people died.

Judges 15:20 says that Samson judged Israel for twenty years, but it fails to mention what kind of leader he was. In chapter 13 we learned that Samson was singled out before his birth by an angel, he was the only judge to have this distinction. Samson was to be a Nazarite; a group who was to live their lives devoted to God. Nazarites were to never go near a dead body, drink wine, or cut their hair. Of all of those, the only rule that Samson kept was that he never cut his hair. Not surprisingly, that was the only rule that required no discipline.

Good trees bear good fruit and bad trees bear bad fruit. At this point in Samson life he had gone dangerously astray. God had singled him out for greatness, but his lust and his temper continually got the better of him.

Samson's Downfall

Eventually, Samson fell in love with another Philistine, this one from the Valley of Sorek, a woman of great beauty named Delilah. The infamous vixen who led to the downfall of the strongest man in the world. Where thousands of men failed, she succeeded, using her brain instead of her brawn. When the people of Sorek learned that Samson was in love with Delilah they approached her, offering her money in exchange for the secret of his strength. For a time he toyed with her, giving her false information, but eventually he gave into her nagging. He told her that his strength was tied to his hair, so naturally, she had a man shave his head while he slept.

With the Philistines in place, Delilah woke Samson who was immediately captured, blinded, and shackled. He was imprisoned in Gaza where he was set to grind at a mill as punishment. While there, his hair eventually began to grow back. One day the Philistines held a great celebration to their god, Dagon, who had delivered Samson into their hands. They brought Samson out and had him perform, like a trained seal, before a crowd of thousands. Samson requested that the guard take him to the pillars of the temple. At the temple thousands of spectators had gathered, 3,000 were watching from the roof alone. With a prayer to God, for revenge, not peace or forgiveness, Samson pushed the pillars off their base. The pillars, which were likely already strained under the weight of the onlookers, toppled like a house of cards. Thus, chapter 16:30 tells us that Samson killed far more people when he died than when he lived.

In the Time of the Judges

In the time of the judges, Israel had no leader. The book of Judges repeats the phrase “everyone did as he saw fit.” It does not say “everyone did right in the eyes of the Lord." It is said that a country gets the leader it deserves, if this is true, it speaks volumes about both Samson and the Israelites. The Israelites, at this time, lived violently, died violently, and found time to worship idols in between. The last several chapters of Judges speaks of terrible violence, both heterosexual and homosexual gang rape, murder, and massacres. God had wanted a moral leader, but sadly, Samson’s strength lay in his muscles, not his leadership qualities. I say that not to judge, but to mourn. Who suffered the most from Samson’s short comings: Samson, the Philistines, or the Israelites? Samson had great promise, but he failed to live up to it, any good he did seemed to be by accident more than design. His twenty years of rule was pockmarked by fits of lust and violence, and in the end, he brought about his own downfall. His final act in life was revenge.

The story may be dark, but there’s hope. The heroes in the Book of Judges all had one thing in common: they were imperfect human beings. Just like the rest of us. Some of their weaknesses were obvious and fatal, as we saw from Samson. Others, like Gideon, had more inward limitations; fear and uncertainty. Yet despite their flaws, God still used them for His purpose. And if He can use them, then He can use us too.

© 2018 Anna Watson

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    • Anna Watson profile image
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      Anna Watson 3 months ago from Atlanta, GA

      Thank you, William

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 3 months ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      Good thoughts, Anna.

    • Anna Watson profile image
      Author

      Anna Watson 3 months ago from Atlanta, GA

      One thing I've always liked was that the Bible doesn't gloss over the flaws of its heroes; David had an affair with Bathsheba and arranged for the death of her husband, Jacob was a con-artist, Samson was violent, Abaraham and Sarah laughed at God, Thomas doubted the resurrection of the Christ, etc. The Bible shows the good and bad of every character. A timeline of my own life would show, not violence thankfully, but many, many, many other sins. If I was in the Bible, people years from now would probably judge me pretty harshly. It's a great comfort to know that God can use me, not because of me, but in spite of me.

      But I do understand what you're thinking with the Bible. Truthfully, I think there's a market for it. There's already women's Bibles, student Bibles, teen Bibles, and other editions which give greater backstory to the information depending on its target demographic. So a Bible which highlights peace over violence is doable. For example it can highlight how Moses had to run for his life after killing the Egyptian. Or it can show how, after cutting off the centurion's ear, Peter turned to a life of peace and urged others to do likewise. It can show how David, because of his violence, was not allowed to build the Lord's temple, only a peaceful man could do that. It can even contrast Jesus' words for peace against the actions of others just to show how us humans tend to deviate from God's plan.

      It would be an easy guide, but I would hope that anybody who reads the Bible would be able to discern for themselves. When you read the standards for the Israelites you can see how they strayed from God's high ideal. Tragically, the history of Christianity from the early church until now has not been much better. Make no mistake-- that's Satan's influence, not God's.

    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 3 months ago from Houston, TX USA

      I think it is time that we grow and mature and only have Peaceful Heroes. Examples: MLK, Gandhi, Jesus, Buddha, etc. Sampson was Not Peaceful, therefore we should not teach his story. At the very least, we should have an edition of the Bible which points out that violence shows bad character.

    • Anna Watson profile image
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      Anna Watson 3 months ago from Atlanta, GA

      I, too, remember being a small child in Sunday school learning of the great leader, Samson. I try not to discount any lesson that can be learned though. Everybody can be an example, either of what to do or what not to do.

      That's an interesting idea about a header. I have always said the Bible should come with an R- Rating, not suitable for small children!

    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 3 months ago from Houston, TX USA

      I like what you teach here, but my teachers did not teach this. My teachers (long ago) made Sampson into a Hero to follow. They taught that his strength was in his hair (absurd).

      I believe a Header should appear on every page which renounces war and violence so the many teachers of the Bible will teach Peace.

    • Anna Watson profile image
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      Anna Watson 3 months ago from Atlanta, GA

      Good morning Jay,

      I love the unique way you look at scriptures. I feel we could all benefit, if we look at known stories from new angles.

      By this point in history, Israel absolutely did have the Mosaic laws that they were expected to obey. Among them was the rule to make a parapet on your roof when you build a new house. That way if anyone fell, it would not bring "blood guilt" on the property owners. (Deuteronomy 22:8) By the time of Samson, Israel already had judges, lawyers, and lawsuits. So it is possible that the temple architects were willing to deflect blame for their own shortcomings. That said, it was a Philistine temple on Philistine land. The Philistines were under no obligation to follow Jewish laws. The Philistine religion and culture failed the test of time and so we don't have a handy document that details their own rules. Should an archeologist unearth a clay tablet or cylinder with their written laws, I would love to read it.

      Please don't misunderstand the purpose of the article. If the article was unclear, then the blame rests with me and I apologize. Samson squandered his gifts. Through his own violence, lust, and temper, he brought about his own ruin and, simultaneously, the destruction of others. He lacked discipline and the fruits of the Spirit of God; wisdom, self-control, and love. James 1:23-24, 27 teaches that "anyone who listens to the Word (of God) but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

      Samson may have had faith, but he was polluted by the world. Yet we can, and should, still learn from his mistakes. The Bible often used imperfect people because people are imperfect. If we study the monsters of the world; the Hitlers, the Pol Pots, the Caligulas, then we can learn how they managed to commit brutalities, the culture that allowed it, and we can hopefully not repeat the same mistakes. If we study the Biblical heroes, whether they were good or bad people, we can learn from there mistakes. Not everybody can be an Elijah, Abraham, or Timothy, some of us are Gideons, Davids, Delilahs, Jacobs, or whoever. Some people today have checkered pasts and have still turns to God and became new. Praise God! The Bible shows us repeatedly that God can, and will, use us for good. Even if it's inspite of us rather than because of us. That's an important lesson, and one I hope that I don't falter.

    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 4 months ago from Houston, TX USA

      We are in the Book of Judges. That indicates there were lawyers and law suites back then. Perhaps the account was written from the standpoint of the builders to avoid law suites.

      The books we read and the culture we adopt should have peaceful heroes, not violent. Things have changed, but people should have known, even back then, that violence and killing was wrong.

      Let us not teach divine intervention. God is not behind our purpose, we are.

    • Anna Watson profile image
      Author

      Anna Watson 4 months ago from Atlanta, GA

      HI Jay,

      Regarding the pillars, archeologists have found some from Samson's era. They were pretty massive, but many were wooden and set close together. I can't say if the pillars were faulty or not, but I'm guessing the 3,000 people on the roof of the temple had a lot to do with causing it to topple. Structurally speaking, buildings can only hold so much. I can easily see how a strong man can push pillars off a stone base, especially if they were already strained. If the average person weighed 150 then that's quite a bit of weight just sitting on the roof of the temple.

      Regardless of how it happened, that's quite a bit of lives lost. Just think of how much better things could have been if Samson brought unity instead of destruction.

      Sadly, it was a different world then. So much has changed for the better, I'm so grateful for that.

    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 4 months ago from Houston, TX USA

      "Violence only ever begets more violence. In retaliation against Samson’s crimes, the Philistines burned Timnah and her father. A brutal revenge for Samson's actions."

      "Samson killed even more people. Violence only creates more violence, and these men found themselves in the middle of a bloodbath."

      "He told her that his strength was tied to his hair, so naturally, she had a man shave his head while he slept."

      Yes, violence begets more violence. His strength was Not in his hair. If he toppled a building by pushing the pillars apart, the pillars must have been faulty.

      God does Not take sides in human conflicts. God is within us and we are to learn the Golden Rule, which occurs in all other major religions.

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