"Sun-like." The son of Manoah, a man of the town of Zorah, in the tribe of Dan, on the border of Judah.1 The miraculous circumstances of his birth are recorded in Judges 13; and the three following chapters are devoted to the history of his life and exploits. Samson takes his place in Scripture, (1) as a judge—an office which he filled for twenty years;2 (2) as a Nazirite, the first Nazirite mentioned in Scripture;3 and (3) as one endowed with supernatural power by the "Spirit of the Lord."4
As a judge his authority seems to have been limited to the district bordering upon the country of the Philistines. The divine inspiration which Samson shared with Othiniel, Gideon, and Jephthah assumed in him the unique form of vast personal strength, animated by undaunted bravery. It was inseparably connected with the observance of his vow as a Nazirite: "his strength was in his hair." Contrary to the wishes of his parents, and to the law as laid down in Exodus5 and Deuteronomy,6 he married a Philistine woman of Timnath.
One day, on his way to that city, he was attacked by a lion, which he killed; and again passing that way, he saw a swarm of bees in the carcass of the lion, and he ate of the honey, but still he told no one. He availed himself of this circumstance, and of the custom of proposing riddles at marriage feasts, to lay a snare for the Philistines. If they answered correctly he would give them thirty sheets and thirty change of garments. But before the seven days were over Samson told the riddle to his wife, and she told it to the men of the city, and when they arrived said, "What is sweeter than honey? And what is stronger than a lion?" Angered, Samson went to Ashkelon and slew thirty men of the city, and took their spoil, and gave change of garments to them which expounded the riddle.7
Returning to his own house, he found his wife married to another, and was refused permission to see her. Samson revenged himself by taking 300 foxes (or rather jackals) and tying them together two by two by the tails, with a firebrand between every pair of tails, and so he let them loose into the standing corn of the Philistines, which was ready for harvest. The Philistines took vengeance by burning Samson's wife and her father; but he fell upon them in return, and smote them "hip and thigh with a great slaughter," after which he took refuge on the top of the rock of Etam, in the territory of Judah.8
The Philistines gathered an army to revenge themselves, when the men of Judah hastened to make peace by giving up Samson, who was bound with cords. When they came at Lehi the Philistines shouted against him, and "the Spirit of the Lord" came upon him and he broke the cords like burnt flax. Finding a jawbone of an ass at hand, he slew with it a thousand of the Philistines. After the feat he called that place Ramath-lehi. And as he was sore athirst, he called upon God, who caused water to spill out of a hollow in the ground, and Samson was revived as he drank. He called the spring En-hakkore.9
After a time he began to fall into the temptations which addressed themselves to his strong animal nature; but he broke through every snare in which he was caught so long as he kept his Nazirite vow. While he was visiting a harlot in Gaza, the Philistines shut the gates of the city, intending to kill him in the morning; but at midnight he went out and tore away the gates, with the posts and bar, and carried them to the top of a hill looking toward Hebron.10
Next he formed his fatal connection with Delilah,11 a woman who lived in the valley of Sorek. Thrice he suffered himself to be bound with green withes, with new ropes, but released himself, until finally, wearied out with her importunity, he "told her all his heart," and while he was asleep she had him shaven of his seven locks of hair, and his strength went from him. His enemies took him and put out his eyes, and led him down to Gaza, bound in brazen fetters, and made him grind in the prison. Then they held a great festival in the temple of Dagon, to celebrate their victory over Samson. They brought forth the blind champion to make sport for them, and placed him between the two chief pillars which supported the roof that surrounded the court. Samson asked the lad who guided him to let him feel the pillars, to lean upon them.
Then, with a fervent prayer that God would strengthen him only this once, to be avenged on the Philistines, he bore with all his might upon the two pillars; they yielded, and the house fell upon the lords and all the people. "So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life." His brothers and all his family came down and take his body away and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the burying place of Manoah his father.
In Heb. 11:32 his name is enrolled among the worthies of the Jewish Church.
- Smith, William. (2004). Smith's Bible Dictionary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
This article incorporates text from Smith's Bible Dictionary (1863) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.