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Biblical People
Samson. [Heb. Shimshon, meaning uncertain. Some have interpreted the name to be derived from shemesh, "sun," with a diminutive ending, thus meaning "little sun"; others have connected it with shamam, "to destroy," explaining the name Samson as meaning "destroyer." Josephus (Ant. v. 8. 4) explains the name to mean "the strong one," deriving it from shamem, "fat," "robust"; Gr. Sampsoµn.] A hero of the late period of the judges, who performed feats of superhuman strength during the Philistine oppression of Judah and Dan shortly before Saul became king of Israel. Although Samson is called "judge," he is so different in character and action from the other judges that he can hardly be compared either with the major judges—Othniel, Ehud, Barak, Gideon, and Jephthah—or with the minor ones—Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon.

Samson's birth was predicted to the barren wife of Manoah, by an angel of God who at the same time instructed her as to the nature of his upbringing and work. He was to be a Nazirite and as such had to live under certain restrictions (Jgs 13). The family of Samson belonged to the tribe of Dan and lived at Zorah (v 2) in the Shephelah (Palestine Under Joshua and the Judges), not far from the territory of the Philistines, hence probably felt the brunt of Philistine oppressive rule. Samson possessed unusual strength with which he was able to perform heroic deeds of extraordinary valour. If his moral character had been commensurate with his strength, God would have used him mightily for the deliverance of His people. As it was, he failed to complete the work of God had given him to do, and finally died in captivity and ignominy.

Samson's recorded acts may be divided into 5 episodes, but it should be remembered that neither his whole life nor all his performances of heroism are recorded in the Bible (see Jgs 13:25).

(1). After Samson, under the influence of the Spirit of the Lord, had performed certain unspecified acts of heroism (Jgs 13:25), he fell in love with and married a Philistine girl of Timnah (KJV "Timnath"; Palestine Under Joshua and the Judges). At the wedding feast he asked his Philistine guests a riddle based on his experience with a lion he had killed. Their inability to solve the riddle led to a number of complications, the result of which was that Samson thoroughly antagonised the Philistines. Later, his wife was given to another man and he took revenge by burning some Philistine fields and olive orchards. When they retaliated and burned his wife and her father, he slew many of them (chs 14:1 to 15:8).

(2). Later, Samson found a retreat at the "rock of Etam." While he was there the Philistines invaded Judah to take vengeance on him. Fearful of the Philistines, 3,000 Judahites went to Samson to deliver him to his enemies, and he agreed to let them hand him over bound. However, when he was brought to the Philistines the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and bursting the ropes, he slew 1,000 of them and put the rest to flight. When the slaughter was over he was so thirsty that he feared he would die, but God answered his prayer and miraculously provided water. It was after this experience that he was made judge by his people (Jgs 15:9-20).

(3). The next recorded event reveals him as again a slave of his lower instincts. He went to the Philistine fortress city of Gaza to visit a prostitute, thus placing himself in the hands of his enemies, who determined to have their revenge. However, he left her house at midnight, went to the closed city gate, tore it from its sockets and carried it, with its beams and bar, to the top of a hill that lay in the direction of Hebron (Jgs 16:1-3).

(4). Once more his passions became his master. He fell in love with Delilah, a woman of the valley of Sorek. Seeing this, the Philistines offered her a large sum of money if she would find out for them the secret of Samson's strength. Three attempts to get him into their hands failed because he gave her misleading reasons for his supernatural strength and how he could be weakened. Finally, however, he gave in and revealed to her that his long hair, which was the symbol of his strength, had never been cut. While he was asleep she shaved his hair, and his strength left him. The Philistines captured him, blinded him, and put him in prison in Gaza (Jgs 16:4-21), where he had to grind grain in mill, thus doing the humiliating work of a slave.

(5). On the occasion of a great Philistine festival at Gaza when sacrifices were offered to their god Dagon, Samson was brought and publicly exhibited in the temple. The temple was full of people, and about 3,000 more were on the roof. Samson apparently knew the structure, for he had been in Gaza before. Taking hold of 2 central pillars which stood close together and supported the roof, he prayed to God and requested from Him the necessary strength to take revenge for the humiliations suffered at the hands of the Philistines. Using all his strength, he tore the pillars from their foundation with the result that the heavily loaded roof came down, killing a large number of those on the roof and burying Samson and most of the assembled people in the temple (Jgs 16:22-30). Samson's kindred came, claimed his body, and buried him in his father's tomb near Zorah. He had judged Israel about 20 years (v 31).

In spite of Samson's grave failures the NT lists him among the great heroes of faith (Heb 11:32), possibly because he finally realised his total dependence upon God and called upon Him in his last act of valour. Samson's death should not be considered suicide, but a self-sacrificing act in fulfilment of his calling.

The Samson stories not only give the picture of a chosen instrument of God whose indulgence of weaknesses and passions made it impossible for him to fulfil his calling but also provide valuable information concerning the customs of the judges' period, of which so little is otherwise known. We learn that feasts lasting several days were connected with marriage rites; that, on occasion at least, riddles were propounded at these feasts; that the father gave his daughter to the bridegroom; and that a rejected wife was given to someone else. This account also throws light on how crimes were punished and prisoners treated -- Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary.

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