Only two elements in the recurrent pattern remain in the Samson story: apostasy and oppression (13:1). We look in vain for a cry for help or deliverance from the Philistines. Instead, during the forty-year period of Philistine oppression, an angel of the Lord appeared to the barren wife of an Israelite named Manoah with the announcement that she would miraculously bear a son. He was to be a Nazirite, "dedicated" to the Lord at the time of his birth. Numbers 6 provides more information about Nazirites. They were forbidden to touch the carcass of dead bodies, to drink alcoholic beverages, or to cut their hair. The special purpose for which Samson was dedicated was the beginning of the deliverance of Israel from the hand of the Philistines (13:5). When the boy was born he was called Samson ("Sunshine"), and as he grew the Lord blessed him (13:24).
As he grew up, however, Samson proved to be a disappointment. His incredible strength was not paired with an exemplary character. Though his feats usually resulted in the death of huge numbers of Philistines, the purpose for which he had been dedicated, readers are appalled at the cruelty and disregard for human life that emerges from these exploits. In addition, by touching the carcass of a lion (14:5-9) and hosting the extravagant celebration in 14:10, Samson broke two of the three Nazirite vows. The breaking of the third vow would come later.
Samson was finally overcome by Delilah ("Hair [?]; "Night" [?]). The Philistine rulers offered her an enormous fee to discover the secret of Samson's prodigious strength. Each of the leaders pledged 1,100 pieces of silver at a time when the priests earned 10 pieces of silver annually. At first, Samson teased Delilah and lied to her about the source of his prowess. But ultimately she discovered the truth, had his hair cut (thereby breaking Samson's third Nazirite vow), and left him helpless before the Philistines who blinded him and forced him to grind grain at the prison mill.
The tragic story of Samson ends with his death. After his hair had grown back, he was led, still blind and in chains, to a celebration in honor of the Philistine god Dagon. With a prayer of vengeance on his lips (16:28), Samson dislodged the two pillars supporting the temple. He died, along with thousands of Philistines, in the collapse of the building, ironically fulfilling the purpose given at his birth: "It is he who shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines" (13:5, emphasis added). The struggle for deliverance would continue under the leadership of Samuel, Saul, and David.
Samson is usually seen in contrast to the other "judges." In some ways, however, Samson most closely exemplifies Israel in this period. His special status at the time of his birth recalls Israel's privileged position at the start of Judges, just as his disregard for the obligations that such a standing entails echoes Israel's apostasy.
13The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years.
2 There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. His wife was barren, having borne no children. 3And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, Although you are barren, having borne no children, you shall conceive and bear a son. 4Now be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, or to eat anything unclean, 5for you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor is to come on his head, for the boy shall be a nazirite* to God from birth. It is he who shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines. 6Then the woman came and told her husband, A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like that of an angel* of God, most awe-inspiring; I did not ask him where he came from, and he did not tell me his name; 7but he said to me, You shall conceive and bear a son. So then drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for the boy shall be a nazirite* to God from birth to the day of his death.
8 Then Manoah entreated the Lord, and said, O Lord, I pray, let the man of God whom you sent come to us again and teach us what we are to do concerning the boy who will be born. 9God listened to Manoah, and the angel of God came again to the woman as she sat in the field; but her husband Manoah was not with her. 10So the woman ran quickly and told her husband, The man who came to me the other day has appeared to me. 11Manoah got up and followed his wife, and came to the man and said to him, Are you the man who spoke to this woman? And he said, I am. 12Then Manoah said, Now when your words come true, what is to be the boys rule of life; what is he to do? 13The angel of the Lord said to Manoah, Let the woman give heed to all that I said to her. 14She may not eat of anything that comes from the vine. She is not to drink wine or strong drink, or eat any unclean thing. She is to observe everything that I commanded her.
15 Manoah said to the angel of the Lord, Allow us to detain you, and prepare a kid for you. 16The angel of the Lord said to Manoah, If you detain me, I will not eat your food; but if you want to prepare a burnt-offering, then offer it to the Lord. (For Manoah did not know that he was the angel of the Lord.) 17Then Manoah said to the angel of the Lord, What is your name, so that we may honour you when your words come true? 18But the angel of the Lord said to him, Why do you ask my name? It is too wonderful.
19 So Manoah took the kid with the grain-offering, and offered it on the rock to the Lord, to him who works* wonders.* 20When the flame went up towards heaven from the altar, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame of the altar while Manoah and his wife looked on; and they fell on their faces to the ground. 21The angel of the Lord did not appear again to Manoah and his wife. Then Manoah realized that it was the angel of the Lord. 22And Manoah said to his wife, We shall surely die, for we have seen God. 23But his wife said to him, If the Lord had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt-offering and a grain-offering at our hands, or shown us all these things, or now announced to us such things as these.
24 The woman bore a son, and named him Samson. The boy grew, and the Lord blessed him. 25The spirit of the Lord began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.
14Once Samson went down to Timnah, and at Timnah he saw a Philistine woman. 2Then he came up, and told his father and mother, I saw a Philistine woman at Timnah; now get her for me as my wife. 3But his father and mother said to him, Is there not a woman among your kin, or among all our* people, that you must go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines? But Samson said to his father, Get her for me, because she pleases me. 4His father and mother did not know that this was from the Lord; for he was seeking a pretext to act against the Philistines. At that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel.
5 Then Samson went down with his father and mother to Timnah. When he came to the vineyards of Timnah, suddenly a young lion roared at him. 6The spirit of the Lord rushed on him, and he tore the lion apart with his bare hands as one might tear apart a kid. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done. 7Then he went down and talked with the woman, and she pleased Samson. 8After a while he returned to marry her, and he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion, and there was a swarm of bees in the body of the lion, and honey. 9He scraped it out 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 taken the honey from the carcass of the lion.
10 His father went down to the woman, and Samson made a feast there as the young men were accustomed to do.
11When the people saw him, they brought thirty companions to be with him.
12Samson said to them, Let me now put a riddle to you. If you can explain it to me within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty festal garments.
13But if you cannot explain it to me, then you shall give me thirty linen garments and thirty festal garments. So they said to him, Ask your riddle; let us hear it.
14He said to them,
Out of the eater came something to eat.
Out of the strong came something sweet.
But for three days they could not explain the riddle.
15 On the fourth* day they said to Samsons wife, Coax your husband to explain the riddle to us, or we will burn you and your fathers house with fire. Have you invited us here to impoverish us?
16So Samsons wife wept before him, saying, You hate me; you do not really love me. You have asked a riddle of my people, but you have not explained it to me. He said to her, Look, I have not told my father or my mother. Why should I tell you?
17She wept before him for the seven days that their feast lasted; and because she nagged him, on the seventh day he told her. Then she explained the riddle to her people.
18The men of the town said to him on the seventh day before the sun went down,
What is sweeter than honey?
What is stronger than a lion?
And he said to them,
If you had not ploughed with my heifer,
you would not have found out my riddle.
19Then the spirit of the Lord rushed on him, and he went down to Ashkelon. He killed thirty men of the town, took their spoil, and gave the festal garments to those who had explained the riddle. In hot anger he went back to his fathers house. 20And Samsons wife was given to his companion, who had been his best man.
15After a while, at the time of the wheat harvest, Samson went to visit his wife, bringing along a kid. He said, I want to go into my wifes room. But her father would not allow him to go in. 2Her father said, I was sure that you had rejected her; so I gave her to your companion. Is not her younger sister prettier than she? Why not take her instead? 3Samson said to them, This time, when I do mischief to the Philistines, I will be without blame. 4So Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took some torches; and he turned the foxes* tail to tail, and put a torch between each pair of tails. 5When he had set fire to the torches, he let the foxes go into the standing grain of the Philistines, and burned up the shocks and the standing grain, as well as the vineyards and* olive groves. 6Then the Philistines asked, Who has done this? And they said, Samson, the son-in-law of the Timnite, because he has taken Samsons wife and given her to his companion. So the Philistines came up, and burned her and her father. 7Samson said to them, If this is what you do, I swear I will not stop until I have taken revenge on you. 8He struck them down hip and thigh with great slaughter; and he went down and lived in the cleft of the rock of Etam.
9 Then the Philistines came up and encamped in Judah, and made a raid on Lehi. 10The men of Judah said, Why have you come up against us? They said, We have come up to bind Samson, to do to him as he did to us. 11Then three thousand men of Judah went down to the cleft of the rock of Etam, and they said to Samson, Do you not know that the Philistines are rulers over us? What then have you done to us? He replied, As they did to me, so I have done to them. 12They said to him, We have come down to bind you, so that we may give you into the hands of the Philistines. Samson answered them, Swear to me that you yourselves will not attack me. 13They said to him, No, we will only bind you and give you into their hands; we will not kill you. So they bound him with two new ropes, and brought him up from the rock.
14 When he came to Lehi, the Philistines came shouting to meet him; and the spirit of the Lord rushed on him, and the ropes that were on his arms became like flax that has caught fire, and his bonds melted off his hands.
15Then he found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, reached down and took it, and with it he killed a thousand men.
16And Samson said,
With the jawbone of a donkey,
heaps upon heaps,
with the jawbone of a donkey
I have slain a thousand men.
17When he had finished speaking, he threw away the jawbone; and that place was called Ramath-lehi.*
18 By then he was very thirsty, and he called on the Lord, saying, You have granted this great victory by the hand of your servant. Am I now to die of thirst, and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised? 19So God split open the hollow place that is at Lehi, and water came from it. When he drank, his spirit returned, and he revived. Therefore it was named En-hakkore,* which is at Lehi to this day. 20And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines for twenty years.
16Once Samson went to Gaza, where he saw a prostitute and went in to her. 2The Gazites were told,* Samson has come here. So they encircled the place and lay in wait for him all night at the city gate. They kept quiet all night, thinking, Let us wait until the light of the morning; then we will kill him. 3But Samson lay only until midnight. Then at midnight he rose up, took hold of the doors of the city gate and the two posts, pulled them up, bar and all, put them on his shoulders, and carried them to the top of the hill that is in front of Hebron.
4 After this he fell in love with a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. 5The lords of the Philistines came to her and said to her, Coax him, and find out what makes his strength so great, and how we may overpower him, so that we may bind him in order to subdue him; and we will each give you eleven hundred pieces of silver. 6So Delilah said to Samson, Please tell me what makes your strength so great, and how you could be bound, so that one could subdue you. 7Samson said to her, If they bind me with seven fresh bowstrings that are not dried out, then I shall become weak, and be like anyone else. 8Then the lords of the Philistines brought her seven fresh bowstrings that had not dried out, and she bound him with them. 9While men were lying in wait in an inner chamber, she said to him, The Philistines are upon you, Samson! But he snapped the bowstrings, as a strand of fibre snaps when it touches the fire. So the secret of his strength was not known.
10 Then Delilah said to Samson, You have mocked me and told me lies; please tell me how you could be bound. 11He said to her, If they bind me with new ropes that have not been used, then I shall become weak, and be like anyone else. 12So Delilah took new ropes and bound him with them, and said to him, The Philistines are upon you, Samson! (The men lying in wait were in an inner chamber.) But he snapped the ropes off his arms like a thread.
13 Then Delilah said to Samson, Until now you have mocked me and told me lies; tell me how you could be bound. He said to her, If you weave the seven locks of my head with the web and make it tight with the pin, then I shall become weak, and be like anyone else. 14So while he slept, Delilah took the seven locks of his head and wove them into the web,* and made them tight with the pin. Then she said to him, The Philistines are upon you, Samson! But he awoke from his sleep, and pulled away the pin, the loom, and the web.
15 Then she said to him, How can you say, I love you, when your heart is not with me? You have mocked me three times now and have not told me what makes your strength so great. 16Finally, after she had nagged him with her words day after day, and pestered him, he was tired to death. 17So he told her his whole secret, and said to her, A razor has never come upon my head; for I have been a nazirite* to God from my mothers womb. If my head were shaved, then my strength would leave me; I would become weak, and be like anyone else.
18 When Delilah realized that he had told her his whole secret, she sent and called the lords of the Philistines, saying, This time come up, for he has told his whole secret to me. Then the lords of the Philistines came up to her, and brought the money in their hands. 19She let him fall asleep on her lap; and she called a man, and had him shave off the seven locks of his head. He began to weaken,* and his strength left him. 20Then she said, The Philistines are upon you, Samson! When he awoke from his sleep, he thought, I will go out as at other times, and shake myself free. But he did not know that the Lord had left him. 21So the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes. They brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze shackles; and he ground at the mill in the prison. 22But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.
23 Now the lords of the Philistines gathered to offer a great sacrifice to their god Dagon, and to rejoice; for they said, Our god has given Samson our enemy into our hand. 24When the people saw him, they praised their god; for they said, Our god has given our enemy into our hand, the ravager of our country, who has killed many of us. 25And when their hearts were merry, they said, Call Samson, and let him entertain us. So they called Samson out of the prison, and he performed for them. They made him stand between the pillars; 26and Samson said to the attendant who held him by the hand, Let me feel the pillars on which the house rests, so that I may lean against them. 27Now the house was full of men and women; all the lords of the Philistines were there, and on the roof there were about three thousand men and women, who looked on while Samson performed.
28 Then Samson called to the Lord and said, Lord God, remember me and strengthen me only this once, O God, so that with this one act of revenge I may pay back the Philistines for my two eyes.* 29And Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and he leaned his weight against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other. 30Then Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. He strained with all his might; and the house fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So those he killed at his death were more than those he had killed during his life. 31Then his brothers and all his family came down and took him and brought him up and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of his father Manoah. He had judged Israel for twenty years.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org