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THE FAITH OF SAMSON – Hebrews 11:32c

Posted by Angella Diehl, Webmaster on July 27, 2016 under PM Bible Study |

PM Home Bible Study Group; July 27, 2016

Hebrews 11:32c

Theme: Samson’s story shows us how we can have faith that God will keep His promises—even when we ourselves often prove unfaithful.

We have been examining the long list of great heroes of the faith that the writer of Hebrews highlights—all illustrating that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1); and affirming to us that “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (v. 6).

As we’ve seen, the writer has given detailed descriptions of many different great Old Testament heroes of faith; but he only mentions a few others by name (see v. 32). We’ve been taking the time in this part of our study to examine those heroes in greater detail who only received short mention. And one of them is one of the most controversial of all Old Testament heroes—Samson.

Samson was a man that God used—as was also true of Gideon and Barak—to deliver his people during the difficult and dark times described to us in the Book of Judges. But the reason Samson is such a controversial character is because, even though he was clearly called by God, his life of service was marked with embarrassing failures of character and morality. He was called to a life of separation and devotion unto God, and was set apart by God to be the deliverer of his people. And yet, he clearly did not remain separated from the sinful things of this world. Often, he was overcome by them to his own destruction and loss.

Nevertheless, he is included in this list by the writer of Hebrews, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, as a great example to us of faith. We should never imitate Samson’s life-style. But his story should give the rest of us—who also ourselves very often fall short of faithfulness—the encouragement that God can still use us if we will trust Him and believe His promises.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Samson’s story of faith (recorded for us in Judges 13-16) can be divided into five main acts. And the first of these we see is …


A. In the Old Testament, God established the law of the Nazirite. The root meaning of the word itself in Hebrew is something along the lines of “consecrated one” or “devotee”. When someone became a Nazirite, they took a vow to separate themselves from the common things of this world, and to give themselves over to a special sacred purpose or calling. Numbers 6:1-21 gives the details of how this ‘separation’ was to be initiated and under what conditions it was to be maintained. To become a Nazirite was to embrace a great honor from God (Lamentations 4:7); and the people of Israel were to carefully respect the vow of the Nazirite (Amos 2:11-12). Certain individuals in the Bible became Nazirites for life—the judge Samuel (who was devoted to a Nazirite life by his mother in 1 Samuel 1:11); and John the Baptist (who was set apart as a Nazirite by the angel Gabriel while he was still in his mother’s womb; see Luke 1:15); and Samson, by direct command of the Lord.

B. Samson’s call to consecration and deliverance came at a time when the people of Israel had fallen away from devotion to the Lord, and had once again been handed over to their enemies. The Philistine people had oppressed them for a period of forty years—a whole generation! We’re told;

Now there was a certain man from Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren and had no children. And the Angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Indeed now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Now therefore, please be careful not to drink wine or similar drink, and not to eat anything unclean. For behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. And no razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines” (Judges 13:1-5).

The woman told her husband about this, and repeated to him how the Angel of the Lord had set the yet-unconceived child apart as a Nazirite. Manoah then prayed that God would send this ‘Man of God’ to them again and teach them what they should do for the child; and Manoah’s request was granted. The Angel of the LORD came again—this time to them both; and He repeated His instructions. They sought to detain holy Messenger for a meal; but He would not eat the food. Instead, He told them,

“Though you detain Me, I will not eat your food. But if you offer a burnt offering, you must offer it to the Lord.” (For Manoah did not know He was the Angel of the Lord.) Then Manoah said to the Angel of the Lord, “What is Your name, that when Your words come to pass we may honor You?” And the Angel of the Lord said to him, “Why do you ask My name, seeing it is wonderful?” (vv. 15-18).

To say that His name was “wonderful” (or, as it can be translated, “secret”) means that it is beyond human understanding or grasp. Manoah wanted to know the mere word of the Visitor’s name; but His “name”—in the fullest sense—spoke of His divine nature and character. Clearly, this was what we call a ‘theophany’—a pre-incarnate appearance of the Lord in human form; who, as Isaiah 9:6 tells us, is named “Wonderful, Counselor”. And in this appearance, He confirmed His promise to Manoah and his wife that He had made earlier. When they placed their burnt offering on an altar made of rock, and as the flame arose, the Visitor ascended into the flame—identifying Himself with their offering. They fell on their faces in worship; and the Angel of the LORD appeared to them no more to them. As a result of realizing who this Visitor truly was, they became terrified.

And Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, because we have seen God!” But his wife said to him, “If the Lord had desired to kill us, He would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering from our hands, nor would He have shown us all these things, nor would He have told us such things as these at this time.”

So the woman bore a son and called his name Samson; and the child grew, and the Lord blessed him (vv. 22-24).

C. We might say, then, that the initial act of faith in Samson’s life was not his own. It was that of his mother and father. They believed the promise that the Lord had made directly to them; and had faithfully set their young son apart as a Nazirite for life. No doubt, they continually told him—throughout his growing up years—about the promise God had made about him.

* * * * * * * * * *

Samson—preserved in a Nazirite vow throughout his upbringing—eventually achieved manhood. Then it came time for him to fulfill his calling from God as a deliverer of his people. The end of Chapter 13 says; “And the Spirit of the Lord began to move upon him at Mahaneh Dan between Zorah and Eshtaol.”

And thus begins the next important event in his strange and remarkable life …


A. We’re told,

Now Samson went down to Timnah, and saw a woman in Timnah of the daughters of the Philistines. So he went up and told his father and mother, saying, “I have seen a woman in Timnah of the daughters of the Philistines; now therefore, get her for me as a wife.” (vv. 1-2).

This would, naturally, be upsetting to his godly mother and father. After all, the Philistines were the oppressors of their people. And what’s more, the people of Israel were commanded by God in Exodus 34:15-16 not to make covenants with the people’s of the nations around them—and particularly not to intermarry with them. They pleaded with their son to consider marrying a nice Jewish girl instead. But Samson was insistent. It may be that Samson was actually plotting against the Philistines; or it may be that he was a passive participant in circumstances that God nevertheless used. But in either case, his mother and father did not know that all of this was of the Lord—“that He [note that the NKJV, NIV and NAS attributes the “He” to the Lord; while the ESV attributes the “he” to Samson] was seeking an occasion to move against the Philistines” (v. 4). So; the family went down to Philistine territory to court the young woman. (Back in those days apparently, when a young man went a-courtin’, mom and dad went along to help with the arrangements!)

B. As they traveled—and apparently while Samson was momentarily separated from mother and father—a lion attacked him; and “the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and he tore the lion apart as a young goat, though he had nothing in his hand” (v. 6). This stunning display of super-human strength must have convinced him that he truly did have a unique calling from God. He managed to keep this event to himself; and after he returned to get the woman for himself, he took some of the honey that a swarm of bees had made in the carcass of the lion. Here, however, Samson committed a serious violation of his Nazirite vow. Nazirites were to refrain from contact with a dead body (Numbers 6:6); and yet he reached in, scooped up honey, ate it, and even gave some to his parents!

C. This remarkable event became his occasion against the Philistines. At the feast that Samson gave in anticipation of his wedding, he posed his famous riddle to his thirty wedding-feast companions:

Let me pose a riddle to you. If you can correctly solve and explain it to me within the seven days of the feast, then I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothing. But if you cannot explain it to me, then you shall give me thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothing.” And they said to him, “Pose your riddle, that we may hear it.” So he said to them:

Out of the eater came something to eat,

And out of the strong came something sweet” (vv. 12-14).

And we all know the story. Those thirty companions worked on the riddle; and being unable to come up with the answer, they threatened Samson’s bride to be. She was compelled to dig up the answer from Samson and tell it to the thirty men. Just as the deadline came, they gave the answer; and Samson said,

If you had not plowed with my heifer,

You would not have solved my riddle!”

Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon him mightily, and he went down to Ashkelon and killed thirty of their men, took their apparel, and gave the changes of clothing to those who had explained the riddle. So his anger was aroused, and he went back up to his father’s house (vv. 18-19).

D. The wedding seemed to be off from that point. (The fact that he called the intended bride his ‘heifer’ probably didn’t help the relationship much!) But in a strange way—even through Samson’s unfaithfulness—the Spirit of God came upon him and began to use him to begin to deliver his people from the oppression of the Philistines. Surely, this must have impressed itself even upon Samson! Often, we are surprised to discover that our sovereign God uses us in spite of ourselves!

* * * * * * * * * *

As was the custom in such cases, Samson’s ‘wife’ was given instead to his companion, “who had been his best man” (14:20). And that leads us to another step in God’s remarkable and strange work through him …


A. After a while, Samson went back to visit his former ‘wife-to-be’. He brought a young goat along as a gift. (That’s apparently what fellas used in those days instead of a box of chocolates.) But when he came, he was met at the door by the girl’s father and was prevented from going in to her. He said,

I really thought that you thoroughly hated her; therefore I gave her to your companion. Is not her younger sister better than she? Please, take her instead.” (v. 2).

But it was “nothin’ doin’”! Samson said, “This time I shall be blameless regarding the Philistines if I harm them!” (v. 3; which leads us to wonder: Had his conscience bothered him a bit?—and did he think that his previous act against the Philistines was ‘blame-worthy’?) Samson—among his many other faults—was a head-strong and vengeful man. He used his great strength to capture 300 wild foxes (an amazing feat in and of itself!), tie their tails together, stick a burning torch between each pair, and send them—scurrying and yipping—off into the fields of the standing grain of the Philistines; along with their vineyards and olive groves. It may present a funny picture to our minds; but it was actually a devastatingly destructive act! Once the Philistines found out who did this thing, they came up and burned Samson’s former bride-to-be and her father to death by fire.

B. Which lead to yet another act of vengeance on Samson’s part. He said, “Since you would do a thing like this, I will surely take revenge on you, and after that I will cease” (v. 7). Like a one-man-army, he went and attacked them “hip and thigh with a great slaughter”; and afterward, he went and dwelt in a cleft of the rock in the wilderness. We might marvel at his passion for vengeance; but let’s also note that he had some kind of faith in the power of God at work in him—and in God’s promises about him—that he would so bravely go and attack an entire people group single-handedly!

C. This act of vengeance made more trouble for his own people, however. The Philistines responded by encamping against the people of the Tribe of Judah; and the people of Judah asked about it, they were told, “We have come up to arrest Samson, to do to him as he has done to us” (v. 10). We’re told;

Then three thousand men of Judah went down to the cleft of the rock of Etam, and said to Samson, “Do you not know that the Philistines rule over us? What is this you have done to us?” And he said to them, “As they did to me, so I have done to them.” But they said to him, “We have come down to arrest you, that we may deliver you into the hand of the Philistines.” Then Samson said to them, “Swear to me that you will not kill me yourselves.” So they spoke to him, saying, “No, but we will tie you securely and deliver you into their hand; but we will surely not kill you.” And they bound him with two new ropes and brought him up from the rock (vv. 11-13).

As soon as they came to the Philistines—and the Philistines began to shout against Samson—the Spirit of the Lord once again came mightily upon him. The ropes with which they had tied him became like flax that is burned in a fire—easily broken by him; and his bonds became loose and fell from his hands. We’re told that he found a fresh jawbone of a donkey (and I have often wondered where it was that one finds a “fresh” one. Was it found in a “fresh” donkey? Or did he reach out and pull a jawbone from a dead and rotting animal—making this yet another violation of his Nazirite vow?); and with it he killed a thousand Philistines. Such a great slaughter with such a despised object must have been a great humiliation to the Philistines. Samson declared:

With the jawbone of a donkey,

Heaps upon heaps,

With the jawbone of a donkey

I have slain a thousand men!” (v. 16).

After throwing the jawbone from his hand, he named the place Ramath Lehi; which is roughly translated “Jawbone Height”. (We might call this, ‘The Battle of Jawbone Hill’.) Verse 18-29 tell us of how he thirsted in the wilderness after this battle, cried out to God for water, and was granted water from a rock—just as in the days of Moses. Perhaps this is told to us in order to confirm to us that God, indeed, had His hand on this strange and passion-driven man. And after this, Samson judged the people of Israel for twenty years. It seems as if he was growing—somehow—to have a sense of God’s call on his life; and he stepped forward to fulfill that call.

D. Samson was a man that often operated on the feelings of the moment—sometimes sensual feelings, and sometimes vengeful feelings. He was not a man who seemed to be in control of himself. And yet, as we can see, God still used his failures and faults to bring about His promised outcome. We should never give way to our passions as Samson did. But even when we fail, God can still use us for His purposes.

* * * * * * * * * *

This leads us to one of his most famous failures …


A. Samson was now a recognized judge of the people of God. But it’s with embarrassment that we read, “Now Samson went to Gaza and saw a harlot there, and went in to her” (v. 1). This compromising situation put him in a vulnerable position. The Gazites heard that he was with this harlot; and they surrounded the harlot’s house—waiting for daylight to come so they could gang up on him and kill him. But we’re told,

And Samson lay low till midnight; then he arose at midnight, took hold of the doors of the gate of the city and the two gateposts, pulled them up, bar and all, put them on his shoulders, and carried them to the top of the hill that faces Hebron (v. 3).

In doing this, several things would have been communicated: (1) that his strength was so great that the enemies of Israel dare not trifle with him; (2) that their city was now left vulnerable and defenseless, because their city gate was gone; and (3) the land of the Jewish people, whom they had been oppressing, was exalted over them—possessing the gates of their enemies. What a lesson this should have been to them! But what a teachable moment it should have also been to Samson! His flirtation with sin had left him terribly vulnerable to the enemies of God. God, it seems, allowed him a chance to learn from his error; but sadly, he didn’t take it.

B. We’re told next that he fell in love with a woman (another!) in the Valley of Sorek whose name was Delilah. She has gone down in history as an example of the way the devil can use a sinful woman to rope in an instrument of God—driven and carried along by his own sinful lust—and bring him down to destruction! She became a puppet of the Philistine leaders who told her;

Entice him, and find out where his great strength lies, and by what means we may overpower him, that we may bind him to afflict him; and every one of us will give you eleven hundred pieces of silver” (v. 7).

A shekel would have been around 28 lbs.; and based on contemporary prices (around $14.50 per ounce), 1,100 shekels of silver multiplied five times would be worth roughly $33,500 (although it may be that the value would have been much greater than that in those days). The amount offered to her would have been very significant; which gives us an indication of how much they wanted to be rid of Samson. And it was apparently a sufficient motive for Delilah to betray her boyfriend.

C. What follows is a pathetic comedy—and perhaps involved a campaign of deceit that took weeks to pull off. As Philistine men stood in hiding in her home, she tried to woo out of Samson the secret of his strength. But he toyed with her and frustrated the Philistines each time. First, he lied to her and told he that he could be overpowered with ‘seven fresh bowstrings, not yet dried’ (vv. 6-9). Then he told her that it was ‘new ropes that have never been used’ (vv. 10-12). Then it was that if the seven locks of his hair be woven into a loom and tightened into the batten, he would be as weak as any man (vv. 13-14). Each time, she complained that she had been deceived by him; and the Philistines dared not to come out of hiding to take him—already fearing his great strength. Finally, “when she pestered him daily with her words and pressed him, so that his soul was vexed to death” (v. 16; see also 14:17), he told her that he was a Nazirite to God from his mother’s womb (v. 17); and that if he was shaven, then his strength would be gone. There was a sense in which this also was untrue. The secret to his strength wasn’t in his hair; but in the power of God upon him because of his calling as a Nazirite. But that hair was a symbol of his consecration unto God; and having allowed himself to be caught up in his sin, he lost his hair—and without his knowing it, he also lost the hand of God upon him (vv. 18-20).

D. What a terrible sense of betrayal he must have felt from Delilah! But more, what a horror it must have been to know that God had finally left him to the consequences of his sin! The Philistines wasted no time. They took him and gouged out his eyes (so that he could no longer see in order to harm them), took him to Gaza, bound him in fetters, and forced him to grind grain in prison like an animal! (v. 21). If he could slay a 1,000 of their men with the jawbone of a donkey, then he would be made by them to do the labors of a donkey. “[B]e sure”, the Bible tells us, “your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23); and what a startling example of this principle Samson’s sad condition became!

* * * * * * * * * *

Samson suffered the ultimate indignity because of his constant flirtation with sin. And yet, we note that his hair began to grow over what must have been several months of torment (v. 22). Perhaps, during those many months, he remembered the promises of God that his parents had passed on to him, and his heart broke in repentance before God. This leads us, finally, to …


A. God had departed from Samson for a time. But it was not in the sense that He had ‘left’ the man He had called; and His departure was not permanent. And Samson himself shows this in the fact that he finally cries out to God from the midst of his failure. At a boastful feast to their false god Dagon, the Philistine leaders—along with about three-thousand men and women—rejoice and praised their vile false god for their victory over Samson (vv. 23-24); and in their high spirits, they called for Samson to come out to the court and perform for them as they sat high in the temple (v. 25).

B. Samson’s hair had grown back; and thus the sign of his devotion to God had been restored. (Apparently the Philistines didn’t think ahead enough to give him regular haircuts!) And Samson positioned himself between the two great pillars of the temple and gave them all a show that would never be repeated! He called upon God and said,

O Lord God, remember me, I pray! Strengthen me, I pray, just this once, O God, that I may with one blow take vengeance on the Philistines for my two eyes!” (v. 28).

He pushed against the pillars and brought the temple down upon himself and the Philistines (vv. 29-30)—thus killing more Philistines in his death than in his life. God had called Samson for a purpose; and the reliability of that calling was not up to Samson, but—ultimately—up to the One who called him. God’s purpose for him—that is, that he would “begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines” (13:5)—would still be accomplished, in spite of his many flaws and failures.

* * * * * * * * * *

And now; what do we do with the story of a man like Samson? How is it that he an illustration to us of faith? Perhaps this would be best understood in how—in spite of all his many failures—he was still used by God. And he proved to have faith in God in the end—in spite of all the embarrassing imperfections of his life. He thus becomes a great example to us who—ourselves—terribly imperfect in our obedience to God.

It was not he who was faithful, but rather God. And he became faithful to the degree that he believed God’s promises. Perhaps our own ‘faithfulness’ is best shown in that we look to the faithfulness of God instead of to ourselves. As it says in Psalm 106;

We have sinned with our fathers,

We have committed iniquity,

We have done wickedly.

Our fathers in Egypt did not understand Your wonders;

They did not remember the multitude of Your mercies,

But rebelled by the sea—the Red Sea.

Nevertheless He saved them for His name’s sake,

That He might make His mighty power known.

He rebuked the Red Sea also, and it dried up;

So He led them through the depths,

As through the wilderness.

He saved them from the hand of him who hated them,

And redeemed them from the hand of the enemy.

The waters covered their enemies;

There was not one of them left.

Then they believed His words;

They sang His praise (Psalm 106:7-12)

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