(Samʹson) [from a root meaning “sun”].
One of Israel’s outstanding judges; son of Manoah, a Danite from Zorah. Prior to Samson’s birth an angel appeared to his mother and announced that she would bear a son who was to be a Nazirite from birth and “take the lead in saving Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.” (Jg 13:1-5, 24; 16:17) As future leader in the fight against the Philistines, Samson would have to come near the dead bodies of persons slain in battle. Therefore, the very nature of his commission showed that he did not come under the law prescribing that Nazirites not touch dead bodies. (Nu 6:2-9) It should also be noted that this law applied to persons who voluntarily took a vow of Naziriteship; but in Samson’s case, the requirements that applied were those specifically stated to his mother by Jehovah’s angel.
When old enough to marry, Samson requested that his parents get a certain Philistine woman from Timnah for him as a wife. This was in harmony with the direction of God’s spirit, as it was to provide occasion for Samson to fight against the Philistines. (Jg 13:25–14:4) Subsequently, near Timnah, a maned young lion confronted Samson. Empowered by God’s spirit, he tore the animal in two with his bare hands. He then continued on his way to Timnah and there spoke with the Philistine woman whom he wanted as a wife.—Jg 14:5-7.
Sometime later Samson, accompanied by his parents, went to Timnah to bring his betrothed home. On the way there he turned aside from the road to look at the corpse of the lion that he had killed earlier and found a swarm of bees and honey inside. Samson ate some of the honey and, upon rejoining his parents, offered honey to them. At the wedding banquet he made this incident an object of a riddle and propounded it to 30 Philistine groomsmen. Further developments centering around this riddle provided the occasion for Samson to kill 30 Philistines at Ashkelon.—Jg 14:8-19.
When the father of his betrothed gave her to another man and did not permit Samson to see her, Samson was furnished with yet another opportunity to act against the Philistines. Using 300 foxes, he set the grainfields, vineyards, and olive groves of the Philistines on fire. The enraged Philistines therefore burned Samson’s betrothed and her father, because the Philistines’ loss had resulted from his treatment of Samson. By this act the Philistines once more gave Samson reason for avenging himself upon them. He slew many of them, “piling legs upon thighs.”—Jg 14:20–15:8.
Seeking revenge against Samson, the Philistines came to Lehi. Three thousand fearful men of Judah then prevailed upon Samson at the crag Etam to surrender, thereafter binding him with two new ropes and leading him to the Philistines. Exultantly, the Philistines prepared to receive Samson. But “Jehovah’s spirit became operative upon him, and the ropes that were upon his arms came to be like linen threads that have been scorched with fire, so that his fetters melted off his hands.” Taking the moist jawbone of a male ass, Samson struck down a thousand men, after which he ascribed this victory to Jehovah. On that occasion Jehovah, in answer to Samson’s request, miraculously provided water to relieve his thirst.—Jg 15:9-19.
Another time Samson went to the home of a prostitute in the Philistine city of Gaza. Hearing of this, the Philistines laid in wait for him, intending to kill him in the morning. But at midnight Samson got up and ripped the city gate and its side posts and bar from the wall of Gaza, and he carried them “up to the top of the mountain that is in front of Hebron.” (Jg 16:1-3; see GAZA No. 1.) This was a great humiliation for the Philistines, as it left Gaza weak and unprotected from intruders. The fact that Samson was able to accomplish this amazing feat indicates that he still had God’s spirit. This would argue against his having gone to the house of the prostitute for immoral purposes. In Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures (Jg 16:1, p. 212), commentator Paulus Cassel says on this point: “Samson did not come to Gaza for the purpose of visiting a harlot: for it is said that ‘he went, thither, and saw there a [prostitute].’ But when he wished to remain there [at Gaza] over night, there was nothing for him, the national enemy, but to abide with the [prostitute]. . . . His stay is spoken of in language not different from that employed with reference to the abode of the spies in the house of Rahab. The words, ‘he saw her,’ only indicate that when he saw a woman of her class, he knew where he could find shelter for the night.” (Translated and edited by P. Schaff, 1976) It should also be noted that the account reads “Samson kept lying till midnight” and not ‘Samson kept lying with her till midnight.’
By going into enemy territory, Samson demonstrated his fearlessness. It may well be that he went to Gaza to ‘look for an opportunity against the Philistines,’ as had been the case earlier when he sought a wife among them. (Jg 14:4) If so, Samson apparently intended to turn any effort directed against him into an occasion for inflicting injury upon the Philistines.
Betrayed by Delilah. It was after this that Samson fell in love with Delilah. (See DELILAH.) For material gain she sought to learn the secret of Samson’s strength. Three times he gave her misleading answers. But, because of her persistent pestering, he finally gave in and revealed to her that his strength lay in his being a Nazirite from birth. She then got in touch with the Philistines to get the reward for turning him over to them. While Samson was sleeping on her knees, Delilah had his hair shaved off. Upon awakening, he no longer had Jehovah’s spirit, for he had allowed himself to get into a position that led to the termination of his Naziriteship. Not the hair itself, but what it stood for, that is, Samson’s special relationship with Jehovah as a Nazirite, was the source of his strength. With the end of that relationship, Samson was no different from any other man. Therefore, the Philistines were able to blind him, bind him with copper fetters, and put him to work as a grinder in the prison house.—Jg 16:4-21.
While Samson languished in prison, the Philistines arranged for a great sacrifice to their god Dagon, to whom they attributed their success in having captured Samson. Great throngs, including all the axis lords, were assembled in the house used for Dagon worship. On the roof alone there were 3,000 men and women. The merry Philistines had Samson, whose hair had meanwhile grown luxuriantly, brought out of prison to provide amusement for them. Upon his arrival, Samson asked the boy who was leading him to let him feel the pillars that supported the structure. He then prayed to Jehovah: “Remember me, please, and strengthen me, please, just this once, O you the true God, and let me avenge myself upon the Philistines with vengeance for one of my two eyes.” (Jg 16:22-28) It may be that he prayed to avenge himself for only one of his eyes because of recognizing that the loss of them had come about partly through his own failure. Or, it may be that he felt it would be impossible to avenge himself completely as Jehovah’s representative.
Samson braced himself against the two supporting pillars and “bent himself with power,” causing the house to collapse. This resulted in his own death and that of more Philistines than he had killed in his entire lifetime. Relatives buried him “between Zorah and Eshtaol in the burial place of Manoah his father.” Thus Samson died faithful to Jehovah after having judged Israel for 20 years. Therefore his name rightly appears among men who, through faith, were made powerful.—Jg 15:20; 16:29-31; Heb 11:32-34.