Readers may think the editor, by choosing “Samson His Life And Work,” has lost focus on his God-given work of presenting MILLENNIAL truths for OVERCOMERS; who must be JUDGED as “ACCOUNTED WORTHY” to be with Messiah during “THE THOUSAND YEARS”: Luke 20: 35; Rev. 20: 4!
It may be of interest to know how, as a young boy I used to look out of an upstairs living room window to what was then the Town Courthouse. See photograph above. It has four large pillars supporting the roof; and I could imagine how Samson, pushing “with all his might,” brought the house falling “upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein …” (Judges 16: 30, R.V.)
On a table beside me was a large Family Bible; I had opened it where there was a full page illustration of Samson. The sketch showed a muscular man with his eyes “put out,” and harnessed to a large mill stone and made to grind corn: “He did grind in the prison house” : that was believed to be “the hardest and lowest kind of slave labour!” God must humble all those who are being prepared for an important work; and Samson is the historical type of this divine truth.
All of what seemed insignificant to me, as a boy, playing inside the grounds of the “Old Courthouse,” began to become more and more meaningful during subsequent years after I became a child of God through faith alone, in the “gospel of His grace.
As a young believer I spent a considerable time reading the Holy Scriptures and studying the word of prophecy. At that time I too was blind; but it was blindness to the responsibility truths of Scripture! I couldn’t understand why so many passages were addressed to “Disciples” and “Brethren,” warning them against wilful sin (Heb. 10: 19-39), and the ever present danger of apostasy from “the faith” (Jude 3). I knew nothing of what it was to run in “the race” (1 Cor. 9: 24); or how important for a Christian to be pressing “on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3: 14): or what the loss of the “inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” (Eph. 5: 5) really meant!
As a young believer, full of the joys
of knowing Jesus as my personal Saviour, those texts meant nothing to me! they were for the unregenerate who needed to be saved
through faith in Jesus Christ. At that
time, I thought I had everything! God was my Heavenly Father; Jesus Christ was
my Lord and Saviour; I was baptised as a believer, and accepted into the
membership of a local
It was not until some considerable time later that I began to realise that I was wrong and that I didn’t have everything!
The Holy Scriptures mention more that one ‘salvation’; more than one ‘kingdom’; more than one general ‘resurrection of the dead’; more than one ‘inheritance,’ more than one ‘righteousness’; more than one ‘judgment’ and more than one way to be ‘justified’ (Jam. 2: 21)! But all these divine truths can only be seen and fully understood by asking the Holy Spirit to help us when we study the Word of God.
I soon began to realise that Satan does everything in his power to blind the eyes of God’s redeemed people to: “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” and “the knowledge of the glory of god”: (2 Cor. 4: 4, 6, R.V.). “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!” - (The disciples were expecting Messiah to accomplish, at the time of His First Advent, what He will do at the time of His Second!) - “Behoved it not the Christ to suffer these things” - (they wanted a ruling Messiah, but were blinded to God’s prophecies which speak of a suffering Messiah!) - and to enter into his glory:” (Luke 24: 25, 26, R.V.).
“And to enter …” What a difference the word “and” makes. It is used here as a disjunction, separating the numerous prophecies which were literally fulfilled at Messiah’s First Advent, from those which are yet awaiting a literal fulfilment after the time of His Second Advent: and look at the words that follow, - “Their eyes were opened … while he (Jesus) opened to us the scriptures” (v.v. 31, 32)! This incident is recorded for our learning. It is like a Divine Key which the Holy Spirit will use to open our understanding and enable us to rightly interpret the numerous unfilled divine prophecies in the ‘Age’ yet to come.
Brother George Sleath, from Coleraine, has expressed it this way:-
“He gave us peace, He gave us joy, He breathed on us His Spirit,
He sent us out to tell the world and show His power to live it.
He sees the road that lies ahead, He knows the path is stony
But He’ll be with us all the way and bring us home to Glory.”
But this Divine Power, as we all know, and have known for many years in the life of Samson was LOST! but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be RESTORED AGAIN AFTER REPENTANCE: and as we will see - in “Samson His Life and Work” - how we too, can become overcomers at last! We have often heard it said: “It is not how well we begin our Christian life that is important; it is how well we will end it.”
Oh, that the Holy Spirit would open ‘the scriptures’ to Christ’s ‘disciples’ today, relative to the coming millennial ‘glory’ when: “Creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only so, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for our adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body:” (Rom. 8: 21-23, R.V.)!
It was a considerable time before I realised that there are multitudes of regenerate believers, who are sitting under the same type ministry that I sat under 40 years ago: and I am still sitting under that same type ministry today! I don’t hear anything of God’s conditional promises; or of the dire consequences which will befall us if we live our lives in wilful sin and disobedience! Such is the state of the ignorance amongst multitudes of regenerate, A-millennialist Bible Teachers today!
Satan doesn’t want us to know that Messiah has two kingdoms - one upon this sin-cursed earth (Gen. 3: 17, 18), and the other in “A new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth are passed away; and the sea is no more” (Rev. 21: 1)! Satan doesn’t want us to know that there will be a millennial kingdom, which will precede God’s eternal kingdom, after “He (Christ) shall have abolished all rule and authority and power. For He must reign, till He hath put all His enemies under his feet” (1 Cor. 15: 24, 25. cf. Psa. 2: 8; 8: 8; Psa. 37: 9; Psa. 47: 2-4, 7, 8: see also, Matt. 5: 5; 7: 21; Luke 22: 28-30; 2 Thess. 1: 3-7). Satan wants to keep these very important truths hidden from Christians! He does this because he knows his control and deception over our lives is nearing an end; and that his rule over this sin-cursed earth, will be replaced by One Who is fully qualified to replace him. Our Lord Jesus Christ is now seated at His Father’s side, waiting for the time when He will give Him “the nations” for His inheritance, - “And the uttermost parts of the earth” for His possession. Psa. 2: 8. Christian! Do you believe this truth?
Keep in mind: Messengers of error are men and women, who really believe what they teach; but, being blind to responsibility truths and conditional promises, they lead others into the ditch! They deceive others, because they are deceived themselves, (2 Tim. 3: 13)!
Without any further preamble, let us look for that “salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” “Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.” “Concerning which salvation … the Spirit of Christ which was in them (the prophets) did point unto, when it [He] testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that should follow them,” (1 Pet. 1: 5, 9, 10, 11, R.V.). This is that future “salvation,” when the “Prize,” the “Crown” and the “inheritance” in the “Age” to come, will become a glorious reality! Let us “press on” …
SAMSON HIS LIFE
Rev. THOMAS KIRK
“Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning,
That we, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, might have hope.”
THE Lectures contained in this volume may
be said to have a four-fold design: (1) to give an exposition of the sacred
narrative; (2) to freshen it with the most recent geographical discoveries; (3)
to remove errors and obscurities which have gathered around the character and
work of Samson; and (4) to make the biography religiously profitable. The reason which has led me to publish them
is the belief that they may supply a felt lack in the literature of the
subject. Within the last few years much
light has been shed on the
Supplementary Lecture on the Mythical Theory of Samson, in which I endeavour
not only to show its baselessness but also to establish the historic truth of
the sacred narrative, did not form one of the original course, but has been added
in the hope that it may make the book more valuable, especially for young men
who may be influenced by the wide-spread scepticism regarding the truth of this
Bible biography. I have to express my
very cordial thanks to some of my ministerial brethren, especially the Rev. Dr Whyte
of Lauriston United Presbyterian Church, and the Rev. Mr Dickson, AM, Argyle Place
United Presbyterian Church,
* * *
SAMSON’S BIRTH, Page 1
SAMSON’S MARRIAGE, Page 35
SAMSON’S REVENGE, Page 73
SAMSON’S VICTORY, Page 109
SAMSON’S FALL, Page 149
SAMSON’S DEATH, Page 185
THE MYTHICAL THEORY OF SAMSON, Page 229
APPENDIX, Page 257
* * *
Judges 13: 1-24.
“Man’s sociality of nature evinces itself, in spite of all that can be said, with abundant evidence by this one fact, were there no other: the unspeakable delight he takes in Biography. It is written,
‘The proper study of mankind is man;’ to which study, let us candidly admit, he,
by true or by false methods, applies himself, nothing loath.”
“The story of Samson, although it has no mystery or complication to inspire, like tragic stories of the most perfect kind, a foreboding and anxious gloom in the mind of him who hears it,
is yet a truly dramatic and noble one.”
- MATTHEW ARNOLD.
“In all their afflictions he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old.”
- ISAIAH 63: 9.
SAMSON, whose history is to be the subject of the winter course of monthly lectures, is one of the most interesting, instructive, and, as regards physical strength, extraordinary characters to be found in Scripture. His biography, as compared with those of the other judges, is very full, and occupies no fewer than four chapters of this little book, which deals with a period of Israelitish history of about three hundred years. And this fact, taken in connection with the other, that Samson is mentioned in the eleventh chapter of the Hebrews as one of those who were illustrious for their faith, may well encourage us to make his history the subject of our earnest and diligent study. One of the first impressions which his biography makes upon us is, the stern truthfulness of the sacred historian. Samson was one of the great national heroes of the Israelites, and one whom God had, in a very special manner, raised up to be [Page 4] a judge for them; and yet his weakness in allowing himself to be swayed and blinded by an unworthy passion, is laid bare with an unsparing hand. There is no attempt to tone down the darkness of the blemish, or heighten the brightness of his heroic character and deeds. The entire biography is written in a spirit of strict impartiality. And this feature - a feature belonging to all Scripture biography - goes far to show that the writer, whoever he might be, was elevated above the ordinary feeling of humanity, and inspired by the Spirit of God.
The biography of Samson, owing, doubtless, to the sad blemish which mars and degrades his character, has not received the consideration which it deserves. This may be seen in the singular lack of works on the subject in our religious literature. No adequate work on the life of Samson, so far as I know, exists. No writer seems to have thought it worth his while patiently to examine the sacred records of his life, and set them forth as a connected whole for the instruction of the church.* And Samson has been not only sadly neglected, but also commonly underrated and misunderstood.* The inherent grandeur of the man, and the great importance of his work as a judge, have not been fully recognised. He has been too much regarded as a rollicking buffoon, an erratic and savage [Page 5] warrior, and a conspicuous failure. And hence, with their low views of the man and his work, his prominent position in the sacred narrative has been to many a perplexing enigma. In the course of the following lectures, I hope to make it appear that Samson, with all his faults, was a truly great man, and did a noble work, and that he was eminently worthy of his distinguished position as a judge.
* Appendix, Note A.
The theme of this lecture is Samson’s Birth. The first thing which we are naturally led to
consider, is the condition of his
country at the time, especially as this was the occasion why God raised him
up. The biographer says, verse 1, “And the
The previous history of the children of
because the children of
* The Pulpit Commentary on Jeremiah, by Professor Cheyne. See note on the passage.
Another opinion, supported by the great scholar Gesenius, is that
Caphtor was Crete, one of the largest islands in the
Not to speak of the opinion that Caphtor was the island of Cyprus,
which seems to be abandoned, I would now give the prevailing and, I believe,
the correct view, viz., that Caphtor was somewhere in Egypt. The Philistines were of the same kindred as
the Egyptians, as seems to be the meaning of the statement in the fourteenth
verse of the tenth chapter of Genesis.
In enumerating [Page 11] the descendants of Mizraim, who
occupied the land of Egypt, and from whom Egypt is called in Scripture Mizraim,
the historian says: “And the Casluhim (whence went
forth the Philistines) and the Caphtorim.” And the facts that the Philistines were
amongst the descendants of Mizraim, and that Mizraim occupied
Again, another reason for believing that Caphtor was somewhere
Soon after the oppression of the
Philistines began, probably within two or three months, the [Page 14] Angel of the Lord appeared to the wife of Manoah, and announced to her
that she would become the mother of a son, who would begin to save the children
It was a wonderful and joyful announcement to the childless wife, and a striking illustration of God’s loving forethought for his wayward people. And yet there are two things about it which were fitted to moderate her joy, and impress her with the sad declension of her country, viz., the long-continued oppression which it implied, and the fact that the deliverance by her son was only to be partial. Manoah’s wife was told that her son was to be a life-long Nazirite from his birth, and as the mother of such a child she was at once to become a Nazirite herself. God designed [Page 16] Samson to be a Nazirite from the very moment of his conception. And in this injunction to the mother we may see a recognition of the now well known law of heredity, according to which the habits and tendencies, especially of mothers, are transmitted to their offspring. The restrictions, mentioned by the Angel as those to which her son as a Nazirite, or one specially consecrated to God, was to be subject, are substantially the same as those which are stated in the sixth chapter of Numbers, in the first twenty-one verses. There are two striking points of difference. One is that, while the restrictions in Numbers had reference to a temporary vow - the usual period being thirty days - the restrictions imposed on Samson were for life, apart from any exercise of his own will. And it is noteworthy that he is the first life-long Nazirite spoken of in the Bible, and that the only others who arc mentioned are Samuel and John the Baptist. These certainly are three of the most distinguished servants of God spoken of in Scripture. The second is, that the restrictions imposed on Samson lack this one, viz., that the Nazirite was not to touch a dead body. It is thus stated in the 6th and 7th verses of the sixth chapter of Numbers: “All the days that he separateth himself unto the Lord he shall not come near to [Page 17] a dead body. He shall not make himself unclean for his father, or for his mother, for his brother, or for his sister, when they die, because his separation unto God is upon his head.” This Naziritic restriction teaches that God’s service, in certain circumstances, may require one to refrain from paying the last token of respect to those who are nearest and dearest. Possibly our Lord had this of the Naziritic law in view when, on a disciple excusing himself for not at once following Him, saying, “Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father,” He replied, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but go thou and publish abroad the kingdom of God,” (Luke 9: 59, 60). But his restriction against touching the dead would evidently have hampered and hindered Samson his work of deliverance, and so in his case it as omitted. The ritual, which was so suggestive of spiritual truth, had to give way when it came into conflict with it. God never intended the ceremonial law to be a rigid cast-iron system, but to have certain measure of flexibility and adaptation.
On the departure of the Angel, the wonder-struck and gladdened wife said to her husband Manoah, verses 5 and 6: “A man of God came to me, and his countenance was like the countenance of an angel of God, very terrible: but I asked him not [Page 18] whence he was, neither told he me his name: but he said unto me, Behold, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and now drink no wine nor strong drink, neither eat any unclean thing; for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death.” William Blake thus beautifully describes the appearance of the Angel, and the circumstances in which he came:-
“Pensive, alone she sat within the house,
When busy day was fading, and calm evening,
Time for contemplation, rose
From the forsaken cast, and drew the curtains of heaven.
Pensive she sat, and
And silent prayed to
An angel from the fields of light entered the house.
His form was manhood in the prime,
And from his spacious brow shot terror through the evening’s shade.”
To the apprehension of the wife of Manoah the Angel was a man of God, the usual designation of a prophet, still a prophet whose countenance shone with an awe-inspiring brilliance.
“In his face,
Terror and sweetness laboured for the place.”
Though believing him to be a mere man, she had no doubt, from the wondrous luminosity of his face, that he was a heaven-sent messenger. And this humble pious woman was so much taken up [Page 19] with the message, and so astonished by the messenger, that she omitted to ask whence he was, or what was his name. Her natural curiosity, for the time being, was hushed or overawed. But though ignorant of the messenger, she had no doubt about the truth of his message. And Manoah shared in the faith of his wife. The biographer says, verse 8, “Then Manoah intreated the Lord, and said, 0 my Lord, let the man of God whom thou didst send come again unto us, and teach us what we shall do unto the child that shall be born.” Manoah, amid the general apostasy, stood true to the God of his fathers. He had not been led away by the spirit of his age and country, but kept by the good old paths, in which the patriarchs and such men as Moses and Joshua and Gideon had trod. He could say with them, “0 my Lord.” And he was not only a faithful man, but a man eminent for his faith. He not only accepted the truth of the divine communication on the testimony of his wife, but believed in God as the hearer of prayer. And it is noteworthy that, in his prayer, his sole anxiety was about the right upbringing of the promised son. The feeling that was uppermost in his heart was not gratitude or gladness, though both were doubtless there, but a sense of responsibility in [Page 20] connection with the gift. Hence his earnest prayer that he and his wife might be divinely instructed as to the proper methods to adopt. And in this anxiety about worthily discharging their responsibility, we have evidence that he was a man of rare conscientiousness and piety.
And the prayer of Manoah was heard. The biographer says, verses 9 and 10: “And God hearkened to the voice of Manoah; and the angel of God came again unto the woman as she sat in the field; but Manoah, her husband, was not with her. And the woman made haste, and ran, and told her husband, and said unto him, Behold the man hath appeared unto me that came unto me the other day.” The fact that the Angel appeared again to the wife, and not to the husband, has sometimes been used to the discredit of Manoah’s faith, and the exaltation of that of his wife. It is not, however, necessary to suppose that it was due to any doubt or misgiving in the mind of Manoah about the promised son. The explanation probably is that, in appearing first to the wife, who had seen him before, the Angel sought the best way of ensuring conviction in Manoah that he was indeed the very person who had formerly appeared. She alone could testify to the fact. And by appearing to her again, when she [Page 21] was alone, and sending her to bring her husband, the Angel gave free scope for the operation of her testimony. We may see in the fact, not a reflection on the faith of Manoah, but an illustration of the Angel’s wisdom and love.
The meeting of Manoah with the Angel is graphically described. The biographer says, verses 11-14, “And Manoah arose, and went after his wife, and came to the man, and said unto him, Art thou the man that spakest unto the woman? And he said, I am. And Manoah said, Now let thy words come to pass: what shall be the manner of the child, and what shall be his work?* And the angel of the Lord said to Manoah, Of all that I said unto the woman let her beware. She may not eat of anything that cometh of the vine, neither let her drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing: all that I commanded her let her observe.”
* Authorised Version: How shall we order the child, and how shall we do unto him?
Manoah very naturally asked, when he came to the Angel, if he was the man who had spoken to his wife. We should all of us probably have begun in the same way, even although we had no doubt upon the subject. And in such an important matter as the right ordering of the promised [Page 22] son it was needful, as well as natural, that Manoah should have the direct testimony of the Angel himself. Being assured that he was the same person, Manoah began by wishing that his words about the birth of a son, who should begin to deliver Israel out of the hands of the Philistines, might be fulfilled, thus showing his appreciation of the message. He then asked, and I give the rendering of the Revised Version, “What shall be the manner of the child, and what shall be his work?” The writer* of the notes on judges in the “Speaker’s Commentary” affirms that Manoah, in putting these two questions, merely desired to ascertain the accuracy of the two points on which the Angel had spoken to his wife. He says, “Manoah, distrusting the accuracy of his wife’s memory, and fearful of any mistake, desires to have the information repeated.” There are three facts, however, which lead me to believe that this is a complete misapprehension. The first is Manoah’s prayer in the eighth verse. In that prayer he besought the Lord to send the man of God again, not to certify the information communicated to his wife, but that he might teach them what they should do unto the child that was to be born. The object of the prayer was manifestly [Page 23] fuller instruction as to the upbringing of the child. The second is Manoah’s wish to the Angel. He expressed the hope that his words to his wife regarding the promised son would be realised; but after expressing this wish, it is surely strange that he should begin to ask what the words really were. Both the prayer and the wish seem to imply that Manoah was in no doubt or uncertainty as to what they were. And the third fact is the Angel’s reply. The Angel, in answering the question of Manoah, says nothing about the work of Samson as a deliverer, but confines himself to the matter of the child’s upbringing; and on this matter he tells Manoah that he had nothing more to say than what he had already said to his wife. He virtually told him that they had already received all the necessary instructions. These three facts lead me to think that the translators of the Authorised Version hit the substantial meaning when they rendered the questioning of Manoah thus: “How shall we order the child, and how shall we do unto him?”
Arthur Hervey, Bishop of
After the Angel had repeated and enforced the original instructions, he was about to leave, when Manoah, on seeing this, said, verse 15, “I pray thee, let us detain thee, until we shall have made ready a kid for thee.” Gratitude for the message [Page 24] led him to be kindly disposed towards the messenger; and as Manoah knew not that he was the Angel of the Lord, but looked upon him as a prophet, his desire to provide for his entertainment was natural and becoming. But the Angel said, verse 16, “Though thou detain me, I will not eat of thy bread: and if thou wilt offer a burnt-offering, thou must offer it unto the Lord.” In other circumstances the Angel of the Lord might have partaken of their hospitality. He condescended to partake of the hospitality of Abraham and Lot (Gen. 18., 19.); but on the present occasion he refused, probably for the purpose of causing the gratitude of their hearts to rise in unbroken volume to God; for after refusing he pointed out what it behoved Manoah, to do, viz., to offer a burnt-offering unto the Lord. Manoah then said, verse 17, “What is thy name, that when thy words come to pass we may do thee honour?” His intention was to honour him by sending him a present at the birth of the child. But the Angel said to him, verse 18, “Wherefore askest thou after my name, seeing it is wonderful?”
The word which is translated secret in the Authorised Version is better rendered wonderful as in the Revised Version. It is the same word which Isaiah applies to
the name of the coming Messiah, and which is rendered Wonderful: he says, “His name
shall be called Wonderful” (Isaiah 9: 6.)
And it is evident that this is the sense in
which we ought to take the word here, inasmuch as we are told in the following
verse that “the angel did wondrously.”
His name was Wonderful; and He justified his claim to the title by
acting wondrously. There are two things about the Angel’s reply which are
worthy of remark. One is,
that he refuses to tell Manoah his name.
And the Angel who wrestled with Jacob at the brook Jabbok,
and who, I think, was manifestly the same Angel, acted in a similar
manner. Jacob, after getting from the
Angel his new name of
As the Angel refused to take anything either then or at the
birth of the child, Manoah did what the Angel had suggested: verse 19, “So Manoah
took a kid with the meal-offering, and offered it upon the rock unto the Lord.” And while Manoah and his wife looked on, the
Angel of the Lord did wondrously. The
biographer says, verse 20, “For it came to pass, when the flame went up toward heaven
from off the altar, that the angel of the Lord
ascended in the flame of the altar.” The wonder-working
power of the Angel seems to have been manifested in two ways: (1) in causing a
flame to come forth from the rock to consume Manoah’s sacrifice, and (2) in
ascending to heaven in the flame. The
Angel consumed in this way the sacrifice of Gideon. The historian says, “Then the
angel of the Lord put forth the end of the staff that was in his hand, and
touched the flesh and unleavened cakes; and there rose up fire out of the rock
and consumed the flesh and the unleavened bread” (Judges 6: 21). The consumption of
the sacrifice by fire seems to have been intended as a token to Manoah that his
sacrifice was accepted by the Lord; and the ascent of the Angel in the flame
may suggest that [Page 27] the acceptance of the offering was
due to the mediation of the Angel of the Covenant. On seeing these wonders Manoah and his wife,
who were looking on, fell on their faces to the ground. The children of
The knowledge which Manoah and his wife now had that their
visitor was not a man, but the Angel of the Lord, made a very different
impression upon them. The biographer
22 and 23:
said unto his wife, We shall surely die, for we have
seen God. But his wife said to him, If
the Lord were pleased to kill us, he would not have received a burnt-offering
and a meal-offering at our hand, neither would He have shewed us all these
things, nor would as [Page 28] at this
time have told us such things as these.” Their conviction
that they had seen God in the Angel is evidently recorded by the biographer as
the conviction of a fact; and as this is only one of a number of instances in
which a divine Angel appeared to men in Old Testament times, as to Abraham at
Mamre, Jacob at Peniel, Moses at Horeb, Balaam on the way to Balak, Joshua at
Gilgal, and Gideon at Ophrah, the question as to who he was becomes both
interesting and important. The general
opinion of the Christian Church has been that this Divine Angel was the Eternal
Word or Son of God who afterwards became man.
And the saying of John in the beginning of his gospel, “No man hath
seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father,
He hath declared Him” (John 1: 18), seems to make that opinion
absolutely certain. Dr Chalmers, in his “Sabbath Scripture
Readings,” asks in reference to this Angel who visited Manoah
and his wife, “Is not this He whose name should be
called Wonderful and the Mighty God? We
think so, and hold this to be one of those deeply interesting evolutions from
the upper regions, of which there are several examples in the Old Testament”
(vol. 2. P. 349). Now this manifestation
of God in the Angel, for God as a Spirit is invisible to mortal flesh, inspired
Manoah with the fear that he and his wife would die. The notion that it was death for mortal man
to see God was common. Jacob had it,
when he said in amazement at Peniel after his wrestling and intercourse with
the Angel, “I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved”
(Gen. 32: 30). The Israelites
had it at the base of
In concluding this lecture, I shall briefly state some of the lessons which the narrative suggests. First, we may learn the loving forethought of God for His people. God had delivered His ancient people into the hands of the Philistines for their sins; but shortly after the oppression had begun, which was to continue for the long period of forty years, He showed that He was making preparation for their emancipation. He sent the Angel to the wife of Manoah to tell her that she was to be the mother of a son who would begin the deliverance. And in this we have an illustration of the loving forethought which God always exercises towards His own. He never wounds them without at the same time making provision for their healing. Their emancipation may be only partial in the present; but it is certain in the future to be gloriously complete. The agents for bringing it about are in the counsels and resources of the Most High.
Again, parents may learn the right method of training their children for future service in the Church and in the world. It is to act in the spirit of Manoah, when he prayed, “0 my Lord, let the [Page 32] man of God whom thou didst send come again unto us, and teach us what we shall do unto the child that shall be born.” God’s teaching is necessary for the great and difficult work; and God’s teaching should be asked for and followed.
Again, we may learn that eminent service for God is allied to
eminent consecration to God.
was to begin the deliverance of
And again, we may learn the duty of hopefulness in the midst of all darkness and perplexity. The spirit of Manoah’s wife in reference to the visit of the Angel ought to be ours in reference to all dark [Page 33] and threatening providences. Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, because we have seen God.” He took a dismal and hopeless view of the visitation. But his wife said to him, “If the Lord were pleased to kill us, He would not have received a burnt-offering and a meal-offering at our hand, neither would He have shewed us all these things, nor would as at this time have told us such things as these.” And her bright hopefulness rested on a solid foundation. But as believers in Christ we have even better grounds for looking with bright hopefulness in reference to every threatening visitation of Divine Providence. God has given to us richer tokens of His love. He has given to us especially the unspeakable gift of His own Son. And with such a gift we may be sure that He can mean to do us no harm. The clear apprehension of the greatness and the preciousness of that gift will lead us to say, “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8: 32).
* * *
[Page 34 blank: Page 35]
Judges 13: 24 - 14: 18.
“They that enter into the state of marriage cast a die of the greatest contingency, and yet of the greatest interest in the world, next to the last throw for eternity. Life or death, felicity or a lasting sorrow, are in the power of marriage.” -
- JEREMY TAYLOR
“Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers.”
- 2 CORINTHIANS 6: 14.
“The Destiny, minister general,
That executeth in the world o’er all
The purveyance which God hath seen beforne,
So strong it is, that tho’ the world had sworn
The contrary of a thing by yea or nay,
Yet sometime it shall fallen on a day
That falleth not oft in a thousand year.
For, certainly, our appetites here,
Be it of war, or peace, or hate, or love,
All this is ruled by the sight above.”‑
CHAUCER: “The Knighte’s Tale.”
THE name Samson, which the wife of Manoah
gave to her son, has been very differently explained. Josephus
in his Antiquities says that it signifies, one that is strong (Book v., chap.
8.); and the Strong One would be an apt name for the son of Manoah, seeing that
he was the strongest man who has ever lived; but this meaning is open to two
serious objections: (1) that the Hebrew word for Samson does not warrant it,
and (2) that even if it did, it is not likely that such a name was given to him
at his birth, before his wonderful strength was known. Others, like Dr Geikic, in his “Hours
with the Bible” (vol. 3., p. 6), derive
it from a root which signifies to destroy, and understand it as meaning the
Destroyer. This too is an apt name for
the man who wrought such destruction to the Philistines; but, like the
preceding, it is open to the objection that the peculiar destructiveness of
Samson was not known at his birth.* The writer of the notes on the book of [Page 38] Judges, in the “Speaker’s
Commentary,” suggests that it may come from a root which
signifies to minister, and may thus allude to the fact of his Naziritic
consecration. The fact of the Naziritic
consecration, which was so singular, could hardly fail to make a deep
impression on the parents, and especially on the mother; and such a fact might
well lead the mother to give her son a name in commemoration of it. Striking facts in connection with the child
were often the occasion of the name. The
two sons of Isaac and Rebekah got their names in this way, the one being called
Esau, or red, because the babe was covered with red hair, and the other Jacob,
or the one that takes by the heel, or supplants, because the babe had taken
hold of the heel of his twin brother at the time of his birth. The son of Amrarn
was called Moses, or the one drawn out, because Pharaoh’s daughter had drawn
him forth from the river
* Lord Arthur Hervey, Bishop of
The most common and beautiful, and on the whole probable,
derivation is, that the name [Page 39] Samson comes from the Hebrew
word Shemesh, the sun, and means, the Sunlike. There are two
striking points of resemblance: one is, that Samson was like the sun in the joyousness of his career.
David says, “The sun is as a bridegroom coming out of his
chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race” (Ps. 19: 5); and of all strong men
Samson is perhaps the best fitted to furnish such a comparison, on account of
the radiant good humour which distinguished him. Many seem to
think that the name originated in this resemblance. An eminent living writer says,- “His name, Samson, refers not to
his strength, but to his temper. It
means Sunny.” An obvious
objection to this view is that the sunny-heartedness of Samson was unknown when
the name was given. It could hardly be
the inexhaustible joyousness of disposition which he displayed as a man that
led his mother to call him Samson when he was a child. The other striking point of resemblance, and the one which probably
gave rise to the name, is that the child who was to
begin to save
* “Israel’s Iron Age,” by Dr Marcus Dods, p. 123.
All that we know of the early life of Samson, previous to the incidents in connection with his marriage, is contained in the pregnant words, verses 24 and 25,- “And the child grew, and the Lord blessed him. And the Spirit of the Lord began to move him at times in the camp of Dan (or Mahaneh-Dan) between Zorah and Eshtaol.” Samson had the great advantage of being brought up in an eminently godly home. Both his parents, though differing widely from one another in temperament, the father being more grave and sombre, and the mother more genial and bright, [Page 41] were ardent and devoted worshippers of the God of their fathers. And in addition to the benefit of a godly example, Samson had, we may be sure, the benefit also of a conscientious religious training. We have the guarantee for this in the earnestness with which Manoah had prayed for divine guidance in the matter before Samson was born. And the religious training of godly parents is an incalculable advantage to a child. “And,” says the biographer, “the child grew, and the Lord blessed him.” Similar language is employed in Scripture regarding the childhood of other distinguished persons. It is said of Samuel, “And the child Samuel grew on, and was in favour both with the Lord, and also with men” (1 Sam. 2: 26); of John the Baptist, “And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his showing unto Israel” (Luke 1: 80); and of [our Lord] Jesus, greater by far than either, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (Luke 2: 52). Now the similarity of the language employed in reference to Samson leads us to think that the blessing of the Lord includes not merely physical, but also moral and spiritual well-being. Through the divine blessing on the religious training of the parents, the child Samson became, in all likelihood, [Page 42] a true and ardent worshipper of Jehovah. And in support of this opinion I would appeal to the fact, that amid his backslidings he never forsook the God of his fathers for the worship of false gods. Though he acted in a manner unworthy of his profession, as many godly men have often glaringly done, he never abandoned it in that idolatrous age. And during the early period of his life, Samson, we may well believe, was one of the brightest and happiest of boys, exulting in his strength, and overflowing with mirth and humour.
The biographer tells us another interesting and suggestive
fact of this early period of Samson’s life: he says, “And the Spirit
of the Lord began to move him in Mahaneh-Dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.”
Mahaneh-Dan, or the camp of Dan, was the place where the six hundred men
from Zorah and Eshtaol first encamped in emigrating to Laish, in the
north. This is stated in the 11th and I2th verses
of the eighteenth chapter of this book; and it is important to bear in mind
that the last chapters, from the seventeenth to the close, are an appendix, and
contain incidents which took place, not after, but during the preceding period
of the Judges. The historian there
says,- “And there went from thence of the family of the Danites, out
of Zorah, and out of Eshtaol, [Page 43] six hundred men appointed
with weapons of war. And they went up,
and pitched in Kirjath-jearim, in
Before passing from this interesting period of Samson’s life,
I would refer to an opinion regarding the forty years’ oppression of the
Philistines, which has been advanced and generally accepted, the importance of
which, in relation to this period of Samson’s life, has been entirely
overlooked. The opinion is that the
forty years’ oppression, which began before the birth of Samson, was brought to
an end by the great victory which was achieved [Page 45] by Samuel at Ebenezer. An account of this victory, and the
circumstances which led to it, is to be found in the seventh chapter of the
first book of Samuel. The oppressed
Israelites were lamenting after the Lord; longing for his forgiveness, and the
return of his favour. In these
circumstances, Samuel said to them, “If ye do return unto the Lord with
all your heart, then put away the strange gods and the Ashtaroth from among
you, and prepare your hearts unto the Lord, and serve Him only; and He will
deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” And when they had acted on his advice, Samuel
issued the order, “Gather all
Now the opinion that this Philistine oppression, which was ended by the great victory at Ebenezer, was the forty years’ oppression in the days of Samson, rests upon two grounds. One is the fact that, while Samson began the deliverance from that forty years’ oppression, as the angel who announced his birth foretold, the book of Judges says nothing about its completion. And as the book of Judges is silent, it is not unnatural to suppose that the ending of the Philistine domination recorded in the first book of Samuel supplies us with the information. The second is the fact that about twenty-one years before the deliverance was effected by Samuel, during which they were oppressed by the Philistines, the war which then raged, and in which the two sons of Eli were slain and the ark taken, seems to have been a rising on the part of the Israelites to throw off the Philistines’ yoke. The Philistine leaders, when they saw that their troops were alarmed at the news that the Israelites had brought the ark of God into the camp, encouraged them, saying, “Be strong, [Page 47] and quit yourselves like men, 0 ye Philistines, that ye be not servants unto the Hebrews as they have been to you” (1. Sam. 5: 9.)” These words seem to imply that the Hebrews had been for some time previous to this in subjection to the Philistines; and if so, then this previous period, added to the subsequent period of about twenty-one years, might make up the forty years’ oppression. If we reject this view, then we shall have to believe two very unlikely things, viz., (1) that the Scriptures give us no information about the completion of the deliverance which Samson began, and (2) that the Israelites had been subjected to two very long successive oppressions by the Philistines without the fact being specially mentioned. The probabilities seem to be in favour of the view that Samuel completed at Ebenezer what Samson had begun.
Now if this view, which is at present
generally adopted, be correct, it will throw considerable light on the early
history of Samson. Samson was born
probably about a year after the forty years’ oppression of the Philistines
began; and as he judged
* Appendix, Note B.
Two well-known writers who have adopted the new view of the victory at Ebenezer, have strangely failed to see that it leads to the historical result which I have just stated. One of them, after adopting it, actually considers whether Samuel might be alive in the days of Samson. He says, “As Samson is said to have judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years, it seems to follow that his death occurred not more than twenty years previous to the time just referred to, when the prophet Samuel erected his Ebenezer of triumph. It follows, unless we imagine Samuel to have been less than twenty years of age at the time of this great victory, which seems improbable, that Samuel was born before Samson’s death, and that the priesthood of Eli was contemporary with the judgeship of Samson.” Now this writer has gravely erred in supposing that the judgeship of Samson belonged to the first half of the forty years’ Philistine domination. A glance at the sacred narrative will suffice to shew us that Samson’s judgeship must belong to the second half of that period, inasmuch as Samson was born after the Philistine oppression had begun. And as the victory at Ebenezer, on the supposition that it ended the forty years’ oppression, must have [Page 50] taken place within three or four months after the death of Samson, Samuel, who won that victory, must have been alive in the days of Samson.
* “Men of Faith,” by Luke Wiseman, p. 292.
The other writer, the learned Bishop of Bath and Wells, Lord
Arthur Hervey, who clearly recognises that Samson was
born after the Philistine oppression had begun, and “that
his judgeship must about have coincided with the last twenty years of
Philistine dominion,” has also failed to see the historical result of
the view which he adopts. He says in
support of it, “It looks as if the great exploits of
the young Danite Nazirite had suggested to Hannah the
consecration of her son in like manner.”* Now if the view regarding the victory
at Ebenezer, which he advocates, be correct, it is as
clear and certain as a demonstration in
* Article “Samson,” in Dr Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible.
If, then, the view that Samuel’s victory at Ebenezer ended the forty years’ Philistine oppression be correct, we get the interesting fact that in a few years after God had raised up Samson to [Page 51] begin the deliverance of his people by means of his extraordinary physical strength, He raised up Samuel to complete it by means of his extraordinary spiritual strength. And in this fact we should have a striking illustration of God’s wisdom and love in His providential workings on behalf of His people. During the Philistine oppression, He who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working, would have raised up and prepared two men of widely diverse gifts for their emancipation.
But again, this view would throw light on the circumstances and occasions in which the Spirit of the Lord began to move Samson in Mahaneh-Dan. Samson would be about eighteen years of age when the attempt was made to throw off the Philistine yoke in the days of Eli the High Priest;* and there can be no doubt that the sad disaster which befell the attempt - the complete rout and great slaughter of the Israelitish army, the death of the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, in the battle, the capture of the ark of God, and the death of Eli himself, caused by the news - must have stirred the soul of the young Danite to its very depths. It was probably then, when the circumstances of the nation appealed so powerfully to his [Page 52] patriotism, that the Spirit of the Lord began to move him. And during the next seven months, when the ark of God was in the land of the Philistines, the intelligence about what had befallen the god Dagon in the temple at Ashdod, the plague of emerods with which the inhabitants were smitten at Ashdod, Gath, and Ekron, whither the ark was brought, and the consternation which these events had excited amongst the Philistines with the return of the ark to the men of Bethshemesh - such intelligence could hardly fail to enkindle the piety and patriotism of Samson. And through these events the Spirit of the Lord probably moved him and awoke him to a sense of the grand mission for which he was born. But as the whole country was crushed and dispirited, and as he was as yet but a mere unknown youth, Samson would feel that he must bide his time. He would see that in the present condition of the country it would be sheer madness on his part to strike a blow for his country’s freedom. And when we take his youth and inexperience, and the utter prostration of his fellow-countrymen, into consideration, we may with justice regard his inactivity, not as a sign of indifference to his country’s weal, but as a sign of his youthful modesty and humility.
* Appendix, Note C.
When he was probably between eighteen and nineteen years of age Samson, who was peculiarly sensitive to female charms, fell in love with a daughter of the Philistines who lived in Timnah. The biographer says, verses 1 and 2: “And Samson went down to Timnah, and saw a woman in Timnah of the daughters of the Philistines. And he came up, and told his father and his mother, and said, I have seen a woman in Timnah of the daughters of the Philistines: now therefore get her for me to wife.” The town of Timnah, now called Tibneh, lay about three miles to the south-west of Zorah, the birthplace of Samson, on a rising ground about 800 feet above the level of the sea; and as the hill on which Zorah was situated was 1171 feet above the level of the sea, the biographer is accurate in describing Samson as going down from Zorah to Timnah, and as going up from Timnah to Zorah. Mr. Harper, in his work entitled “The Bible and Modern Discoveries,” thus states the relative positions of the two towns. He says, “Samson going down from Zorah would have to descend 700 feet and then re-ascend 350” (p. 245). About two miles to the east of Timnah, on the south side of the valley of Sorek, lay the town of Bethshemesh, now called Ain Shem, the place to which the ark [Page 54] was drawn from Ekron; and a few miles to the east of Bethshemesh, in the valley of Sorek, lay the city of Kirjath-jearim, whither the ark was brought from Bethshemesh, and where it remained till the days of David. It was to the west of Kirjath-jearim, as we have already seen, where the six hundred Danites, who had emigrated from Zorah and Eshtaol to Laish in the north, had their first encampment.
We are not told the circumstances in which Samson first saw the Philistine maid in Timnah; but he seems only to have seen her, perhaps as she was bearing a pitcher of water to her father’s house, and at once to have been smitten with her beauty. The words of the poet may be taken as a fit expression of Samson’s feelings: -
“She was a phantom of delight
When first she gleamed upon my sight;
A lovely apparition, sent
To be a moment’s ornament.”
And the ardour of his love at first sight is seen in the fact that, on his going home, he said to his parents, according to the custom of the cast, “Get her for me to wife.” In the East, it is the parents and not the young people themselves, who make [Page 55] the preliminary arrangements with a view to marriage. It was thus for the parents of Samson, and not for Samson himself, to make the proposal and arrange the conditions with the parents of the damsel.
On hearing the request, the parents of Samson were displeased: verse 3, “Then his father and his mother said unto him, Is there never a woman among the daughters of thy brethren, or among all my people, that thou goest to take a wife of the uncircumcised Philistines? And Samson said, Get her for me, for she pleaseth me well.” The aversion of his parents to the desired marriage was well founded. They disliked it, not only because the young woman belonged to the oppressors of their country, but also and especially because she belonged to an ungodly and idolatrous people. Manoah speaks of their oppressors as “the uncircumcised Philistines;” and that to him meant as much as the un-baptised heathen to us. Besides, such a marriage was contrary to the spirit of the Mosaic Law. The children of Israel at Sinai were warned against contracting marriages with the Canaanitish tribes (Exodus 34: 16); and Moses in his discourse on the east side of Jordan said to them, “When the Lord thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to [Page 56] possess it, and shall cast out many nations before thee, the Hittite and the Girgashite, and the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite, seven nations greater and mightier than thou; and when the Lord thy God shall deliver them up before thee, and thou shalt smite them; then thou shalt utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them; neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter shalt thou not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. For he will turn away thy son from following me that they may serve other gods; so will the anger of the Lord be kindled against you, and He will destroy thee quickly” (Deut. 7: 1-4). And although the Philistines did not belong to the native tribes of the country, but were emigrants from Caphtor, the same reason which led to the prohibition of marriage with the Canaanitish tribes was equally valid in their case. But like many a love-smitten youth both before and since, Samson refused to give heed to the remonstrances of his parents: he said, “Get her for me, for she pleaseth me well.” The force and glamour of his passion overpowered all considerations of propriety and religion; and owing to his importunate vehemence [Page 57] Manoah and his wife, although doubtless with great reluctance and pain, yielded to his request. They probably regarded this ill-assorted marriage as being almost certain, not only to injure their son, but to unfit him for the grand mission for which God had raised him up. Their gloomy view, however, was due to their ignorance of the divine purpose and plan. The historian says, verse 4, “But his father and mother knew not that it was of the Lord; for he sought an occasion against the Philistines.”
The 4th verse has been very strangely and very unfortunately
misunderstood by many. It has been
thought to mean, (1) that Samson was moved by the Spirit of God to desire this
marriage, and (2) that Samson desired to enter into it for the purpose of finding
occasion to quarrel with the Philistines.
“The first I saw at Timna, and she pleased
Me, not my parents, that I sought to wed
The daughter of an infidel: they knew not
That what I motioned was of God; I knew
From intimate impulse, and therefore urged
The marriage on; that by occasion hence 1
I might begin
The work to which I was divinely called.”
This view of the marriage, which has been adopted by many expositors, seems open to three fatal objections. One is the silence of Samson about any such movement of the Spirit of God. He bases his request for the marriage solely on the ground that the fair Philistine pleased him well; and as his parents were sorely distressed on account of it, it is almost certain that, if he could have urged the divine impulse, he would have done so to remove their distress. To suppose otherwise is to make him an unfeeling and an undutiful son. Another objection is that it makes God inspire Samson to go contrary to the spirit of his own law, which looks very much like making God the author of sin. And a third is that this view, which supposes that Samson sought the marriage to find occasion against the Philistines, is opposed to the whole spirit of the narrative, which impresses one with the idea that Samson was sincere in his passion. On these grounds we reject this view of the marriage as a gratuitous reflection both on the character of God and on the character of Samson. We believe that God had nothing to do with inspiring the passion of Samson, and that Samson was as sincere in his passion as any love-possessed youth ever was; and yet the marriage was of God, as the [Page 59] conquest of Nebuchadnezzar or the treachery of Judas, inasmuch as He permitted it and overruled it for bringing Samson into collision with the Philistines, and introducing him to the grand work of his life. It is a striking illustration of the way in which God brings good out of evil, and overrules the sins and imperfections even of His own people for the execution of His own purposes.
Soon after Samson had expressed his desire to be married to
the fair maid of Timnah, probably the very next day on account of its
vehemence, Manoah and his wife went down to see her parents, and to pay, if
they consented, the required dowry.
Samson, too, went down, though not in their company. He seems to have allowed some little time to
elapse before he set out, that the business arrangements of the betrothal might
be completed before he arrived. And as
he came to the vineyards of Timnah, the biographer says, verses 5 and 6, “Behold, a young lion roared against
him. And the Spirit of the Lord came
mightily upon him, and he rent him as he would have rent a kid, and he had
nothing in his hand: but he told not his father or mother what he had done.” These vineyards were on the slopes of the hill on which Timnah
was built: there are [Page 60] vineyards along the slopes of the
hill still. And although there are now
no lions in this region or in
The interval between the betrothal and the marriage varied, according to circumstances, from a few days to a full year. Possibly in this case, on account of the ardour of Samson’s passion, the interval was short, perhaps not more than two or three months at the longest. The biographer merely says, “And after a time he returned to take her.” Possibly his parents had preceded him to claim the bride for their son, and make all needful preparations for the marriage-feast. The ninth verse seems to imply that they were at Timnah on his arrival. By the way Samson had the curiosity to turn aside to see the carcase of the lion which he had killed on the day of his betrothal; and to his wonder and surprise he found that it was in the possession of a swarm of bees. This certainly, on account of the natural aversion of bees to dead bodies or carrion, was a most extraordinary circumstance. Two explanations have been given. One is, to suppose that all the flesh of the lion had been picked away by ants or vultures, which might be done in a very short [Page 62] time; and then it is said that the skeleton covered with the skin would very soon become in that hot climate “a sweet and very convenient habitation in which a swarm of bees would be very likely to settle, especially in a secluded spot, among the shrub-like vines.”* The other, which is perhaps the more likely, is that the whole carcase had been thoroughly dried by the heat of the sun without passing into a state of putrefaction. An eminent German authority, quoted by Keil and Delitzsch in their Commentary, says: “In the desert of Arabia, the heat of a sultry season will often dry up all the moisture of men or camels that have fallen dead within twenty-four hours of their decease, without their passing into a state of decomposition and putrefaction, so that they remain for a long time like mummies, without change and without stench.” In such a carcase, as well as in the one supposed in the preceding explanation, a swarm of bees might take up their abode just as readily as in the hollow trunks of trees or clefts of the rock. Though extraordinary, the occurrence was not impossible.
* Kitto’s Bible Illustrations.
After Samson had discovered the bees in the carcase of the lion, the biographer says of him, verse 9: “And he took thereof,” i.e., of the [Page 63] honey-comb, “in his hands, and went on eating, and came to his father and his mother, and he gave them, and they did eat: but he told them not that he had taken the honey out of the carcase of the lion.” Here again we have another instance of reserve. Two reasons may be given for it. One is, to secure that his parents might eat the honey. According to the ceremonial law, the honeycomb, from its having been in contact with a dead body, was unclean, and the likelihood is that, if the parents of Samson had known the fact, they would have refused to eat it. Hence, to ensure their eating it, it is supposed that Samson was silent about where he had found it. Such a motive for his silence would be indeed discreditable; but it does not seem likely that such minute particulars of ceremonial observance, in that degenerate period, would be present to the mind of a young man of about nineteen years of age. The other reason which may be given for his silence - and probably the true one - is, that he might ensure the success of his riddle at the marriage feast. Samson was gifted with a quick wit and ready invention. He saw, as he walked along, how the circumstance of getting the honey out of the carcase of the lion might be turned into a riddle for the entertainment of his guests, and [Page 64] so, in order to make sure that no inkling of it might get abroad, he resolved to keep it a secret. He was manifestly a young man who could keep his own counsel.
On his arrival at Timnah, Samson, according to the custom of the young men of his time, made a marriage feast, which was perhaps held in the house of a Philistine acquaintance, as Kitto suggests. The feast lasted seven days, which seems to have been the customary period, as this was the length of the feasts with which Jacob long before celebrated his successive marriages to Leah and Rachel. The bridegroom on such an occasion was in the habit of having a number of companions, called in the New Testament “the friends of the bridegroom,” and “the children of the bridechamber”; but as Samson came with none, perhaps on account of his inability to obtain them amongst his fellow-countrymen, the parents or relations, when they saw his case, brought thirty companions to be with him. Josephus and others have imagined that this was done through fear - but such an imagination is without any foundation in the narrative, and seems in the highest degree unlikely. Samson had as yet done nothing, so far as we know, to excite their fear. His stalwart frame and fearless bearing, seeing that he was [Page 65] about to be united to them by the tender ties of marriage, were likely to awaken in them nothing but admiration. On the first day of the feast Samson said to them, verses 12-14: “Let me now put forth a riddle unto you: if ye can declare it me within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty changes of raiment: but if ye cannot declare it unto me, then shall ye give me thirty linen garments and thirty changes of raiment. And they said to him, Put forth thy riddle that we may hear it. And he said unto them,
‘Out of the eater came forth meat,
And out of the strong came forth sweetness.’”
The propounding of riddles seems to have been a common form of
amusement at entertainments in ancient times.
The ancient Greeks, with whom it was popular, called them “banquet riddles,” and “cup
questions.” The manner in which
Samson propounded his is characteristic.
He confidently challenged the whole thirty upon equal terms. He promised to give them thirty linen
garments, and thirty changes of raiment, if they succeeded in solving it, while
he only required them to give one of each, if they failed in the attempt. There is a curious parallel to this riddle of
Samson in the annals of
“As hitherwards on my way I sped, 1
I took the living out of the dead,
Six were thus of the seventh made quit,
To rede my riddle, my lords, ’tis fit.”
And according to the story, the judges failed, and her husband was spared. And Samson s thirty companions also would have failed, if they had been left to themselves to solve the riddle. During the first three days of the feast they struggled hard to solve the enigma, and suggested many explanations, but failed to hit the right one. During the next three days they seem to have been silent, though doubtless the riddle was much in their thoughts. And as they felt themselves at the end of six days as much perplexed as ever, with the prospect of having to pay the wager, they went on the seventh day to Samson’s wife, and said to her, verse 15 : “Entice thy husband that he may declare unto us the riddle, lest we burn thee and thy father’s house with fire: have ye called us to impoverish us? is it not so?” It was [Page 67] a threat of the grossest meanness and barbarity; and if thirty young men of the Philistines could so act towards one of their own nation on such a festive occasion, the Philistines in general, in all probability, would deal very cruelly and oppressively with the Israelites.
The young bride, therefore, to avoid such a terrible doom as they threatened, sought most earnestly to extract the secret from her husband. The biographer says, verse 16: “And Samson’s wife wept before him, and said, Thou dost but hate me, and lovest me not: thou hast put forth a riddle to the children of my people, and hast not told it me. And he said unto her, Behold I have not told it my father nor my mother, and shall 1 tell thee?” Samson’s reply seems to us harsh and unnatural. According to our notions of propriety, the young wife ought to have the first place in her husband’s affections, and the best right to know her husband’s mind; but Samson, in preferring his parents to his young wife, was but expressing the common sentiment of his age, as well as that which now prevails in the East. “To the oriental,” says Kitto in his “Daily Bible Illustrations,” “especially while he is still young and newly married, his parents are first in his confidence, and his wife only second.” But, however [Page 68] natural and cogent Samson’s argument might be, the young wife, encouraged by his strong affection and impelled by the dread of the threatened burning of herself and her father’s house, pressed her suit with increased earnestness and weeping. She had been earnestly beseeching him, as we learn from the seventeenth verse, to tell her the secret of the riddle during the seven days of the feast. She had been doing so out of curiosity. The riddle, which had perplexed and astonished the guests, fascinated her. She was eager to know what it meant; and conscious that she was deeply and tenderly beloved by her young husband, she plied him with all the resources of female rhetoric. And the fact that Samson resisted the blandishments and tears of his young bride for six days says much for his natural firmness of mind. But on the seventh day, when she pressed him sore, Samson, to the credit of his heart though not to the credit of his wisdom, gave way and told her; and she soon after told it to the children of her people. Before sundown, when the men of the city would have lost the wager, they said to, Samson, possibly with an air of insolent triumph, “What is sweeter than honey? and what is stronger than a lion?” Samson at once perceived that they had come by the knowledge through [Page 69] the treachery of his wife; but, instead of losing self-control and turning the festal chamber into a scene of bloody strife, he merely said: “If ye had not ploughed with my heifer, Ye had not found out my riddle.”
In conclusion, I would briefly state two or three practical reflections. First of all, we may learn the duty of keeping our passions under the control of reason and conscience. Samson failed in this respect. He was so enamoured of the fair maid of Timnah that he paid no heed to the remonstrances of his parents. He altogether disregarded the serious drawback that the object of his affections belonged to an idolatrous people and was an idolatress herself, and that her people were the cruel oppressors of his country. Reason might have told him that alliance with such a one in marriage was imprudent and unbecoming, and conscience that it was sinful and dangerous; but his passion blinded him to all such considerations. His only reply to the earnest and loving remonstrances of his parents was, “Get her for me to wife, for she pleaseth me well.” And such uncontrolled passion, which is far from being uncommon, is unworthy of the rational and responsible nature of man. There is nothing wrong in the passion of love in itself; it is a divinely-implanted part of [Page 70] our constitution; but it ought to be curbed and regulated by the higher faculties of our nature.
Again, we may learn that ill-assorted marriages are to be dreaded. Samson’s marriage with the fair maid of Timnah was ill-assorted, inasmuch as the deepest sympathies of the two parties flowed in opposite directions, those of the one towards God’s chosen people, and those of the other towards their enemies. A follower of Jehovah could not be happily united to a worshipper of idols; and it was fortunate for Samson that this ill-omened marriage was ruptured at the close of the marriage feast. But even during his brief period of married life he was wounded to the quick by the treachery of his fair bride: she betrayed his secret, to his great loss. And the sad experience of Samson is a beacon to all Christian young men and women, warning them to avoid the rock on which his conjugal happiness was wrecked. “Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Cor. 6: 14).
And once more, we may learn the secret of successfully contending with our spiritual enemies. The young lion that roared against Samson on his way to Timnah, was a most formidable enemy for an unarmed man to meet. Such a man, left to himself, would have been inevitably torn to pieces. But the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon young Samson - and through his superhuman strength the mere stripling, though he had nothing in his hand, caught the lion and rent it asunder as if it had been a kid. He gained the victory over the wild beast through the strength of the Spirit of the Lord. And the grand source of Samson’s victorious physical strength is equally the grand source of our victorious spiritual strength [by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit]. We are powerless in ourselves, Christian brethren, successfully to cope with the lusts and affections of the flesh. These lusts and affections, which we must conquer or be destroyed by them, vary in the experience of each of us. The besetting sin of one may be covetousness, of another envy, of another pride, of another vainglory, of another drunkenness, of another fleshly lusts, of another ambition, and so on. They differ from one another, but they are merely varieties of the same species, sin. And in addition to these wild beasts, which have their lairs in the recesses of our nature, we have all to encounter him who is well called Apollyon or the Destroyer, who goes about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. There is only one way in which we can avoid being destroyed in the conflict, and that is, to be [indwelt and] strengthened in the inner man with might by the [Page 72] Spirit of the Lord. And He is just as ready to come mightily upon us as He was to come upon Samson. His superhuman strength, which will enable us to vanquish sin and Satan, and even to vanquish them with masterly ease, is to be had for the asking. We may get it whenever and however we may be assailed. These words of our Lord, in this world of abounding danger, ought to be very dear to us, and always present to our minds: “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?” (Luke 11: 13).*
[* See G. H. Lang’s “The Personal Indwelling of the Holy Spirit.” His indwelling is maintained by our obedience to our Lord’s precepts, (Acts 5: 32]
* * *
Judges 14: 19 - 15: 8.
“The first lesson of history is the good of evil. Good is a good
doctor, but bad is sometimes a better.”
“Great evils ask great passions to redress them,
And whirlwinds fitliest scatter pestilence.”
“Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee; the residue of wrath
shalt Thou gird upon Thee.”
- PSALM 76: 10.
SAMSON’S marriage, which displeased his parents, and which they sought to prevent, was according to the divine purpose and plan. The biographer says,- “But his father and his mother knew not that it was of the Lord, for he,” i.e., the Lord, “sought an occasion against the Philistines” (14: 4). The Lord, indeed, did not influence Samson to contract the marriage, as many have supposed, but left him untrammelled to the freedom of his own will ‑ and Samson, in allowing himself to be swayed by his passion for the fair Timnite, and refusing to listen to the remonstrances of his parents, and insisting on getting her to be his wife, was blameable both in respect of prudence, and of violating the spirit, if not the letter, of the Mosaic law. To all appearance, it was a marriage likely to injure Samson as a man, and unfit him for the work to which he had been set apart from his birth. The danger was great that he would be lured from the worship of [Page 76] Jehovah, and become a Philistine in spirit, and an enemy of his country. Hence his parents so earnestly remonstrated with their only and well beloved son. But it was the purpose of God to overrule this blameable ill‑assorted marriage, so as to bring Samson into conflict with the Philistines, and constrain him to begin the great work of his life. He who is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working, would bring good out of evil, and light out of darkness. And the divine purpose was realised by means of a number of striking and unexpected incidents.
The first of the series was the killing of a lion by Samson, when he was on the way to Timnah, on the day of his betrothal. He had reached the vineyards on the slopes of the hill on which the town of Timnah lay, when a young lion roared against him; and as he had nothing in his hand, the likelihood was that he would fall a victim to the ferocious beast; but the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him, and he rent it with as much case as if it had been a kid. I am not aware that any unarmed man either before or since has ever done the like. The second incident was the possession of the carcase of the lion by a swarm of bees. This certainly was a strange habitation for bees to dwell in, and, considering their [Page 77] natural aversion to anything putrid, a most unlikely one; but the dead lion may have become a fit abode for bees in two ways, - either through its being dried like a mummy by the heat of the sun, or through its flesh being pecked out by vultures or insects, and nothing left but the skeleton covered with the skin. Here, then, in this mummified or cleaned out carcase, a swarm of bees chanced to settle, and here,
“Their laden thighs
Reposed their burdens, and the painful prize
Of their sweet labours, in the hollow chest
Of the dead lion.”
The next incident was Samson’s discovering that the carcase of the lion was tenanted by a swarm of bees, when he was on the way to his marriage. It is likely, though nothing is said of it in the narrative, that Samson often went from Zorah to Timnah to see his sweetheart between the day of his betrothal and the day of his marriage; but, if he did, it seems never to have occurred to him to turn aside and see the carcase. His curiosity, however, was excited on the day of his marriage. The poet Quarles fancifully imagines that it was the hum of the bees which arrested his attention, and drew him to the spot. He says. -
“His wondering ear
Perceived a murmuring voice: discerning not
From whence that strange confusion was, or what,
He stays his steps and hearkens. Still the voice
Presents his ear with a confused noise.
At length his gently moving feet apply
Their paces to the carcase, where his eye
Discerns a swarm of bees.”
But the narrative rather leads us to suppose that his curiosity was excited by the recollection of his wonderful feat, and that the discovery of the bees was the result of his investigation. On the day of his marriage the scene of his encounter with the lion might readily recall it, as but for his success then, this joyous day would never have been his; and the remembrance of his victory would naturally excite his curiosity as to his adversary’s remains. But however brought about, this curiosity, which led to the discovery and the plundering of the bees in the carcase of the lion, was one of the links in the chain of events which led to the execution of the divine purpose.
The next incident, closely connected with the preceding, was the propounding of a riddle by Samson at the marriage feast for the entertainment of his guests. Samson, as he brooded over the singular fact of the swarm of bees in the carcase of the lion supplying him with a feast of honey, saw [Page 79] with his quick poetic mind how it could be turned into a riddle, beautifully simple and yet, considering the extraordinary character of the fact on which it was based, exceedingly hard to solve. It was, “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness.” Dr. Parker, in his “People’s Bible,” treats the intellect of Samson in the matter of the riddle with something like contempt. He says: “How infantile was his mind! It is beautiful to watch this huge elephant as he moves clumsily about. He is so pleased with little things. ... How he was delighted with a riddle!” and so on. It seems to me, however that a young man of nineteen years of age, who could extemporise a riddle, which has been deemed worthy to be recorded in the inspired Word, and which is confessedly one of the best ever fashioned by the wit of man, can hardly be spoken of with justice as having an infantile mind. We must remember that it was at a marriage, and not in some grave assembly, that Samson propounded his riddle; and I venture to think that few marriages, since the world began, have given rise to a finer or more memorable intellectual product of the kind.
There are two circumstances in connection with the propounding of the riddle, the absence of either of which would have unfitted the [Page 80] incident for furthering the divine purpose. The one is, that Samson kept the incident, out of which the riddle arose, a secret even from his own parents; and the other, that he propounded the riddle with a wager, promising, on the one hand, thirty linen shirts and thirty changes of raiment to his thirty companions if they solved it, and requiring them, on the other hand, to give him collectively an equal number of both if they failed. The first circumstance closed the door against the possibility of disclosure, save in the case of his young wife, to whom he afterwards made it known; and the second made the solution of the riddle a matter of deep personal interest to both parties.
And the next incident was the treachery of his newly-wedded wife. It was providential that Samson’s thirty companions at the marriage feast were young Philistines of Timnah. Had they been thirty young Israelites, they would never have dared to threaten Samson’s wife as they did, and the young wife would in all probability have been true to her husband’s interests; but being Philistines, they threatened to burn her and her father’s house with fire, unless she enticed her husband to disclose the secret of his riddle. It was under the pressure of this terrible threat that [Page 81] on the seventh and last day of the feast, the fair bride besought her loving husband to tell her the secret with redoubled earnestness and weeping; and it was through his thus being sore pressed that Samson yielded and told it to her. Hence they were able to say before the sun went down, and so before the allotted time for guessing the riddle had expired, “What is sweeter than honey? and what is stronger than a lion?” And as Samson at once saw how they had come by the knowledge, he said to them, “If ye had not ploughed with my heifer, ye had not found out my riddle.” Thus through the treachery of his wife, and the dishonesty of his thirty companions, Samson lost the wager. And this foul wrong, which went like a sword into his heart, became the occasion of his taking the first step to make war against the Philistines. The very marriage, which seemed as if it would bind Samson to the Philistines with the bands of love, became the means, in the wonderful providence of God, of leading him to take up an attitude of avowed hostility. And the contemplation of the varied and complicated incidents which conspired to bring about this result may lead us to say, “0 the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His [Page 82] judgments, and His ways past finding out!” (Rom. 11: 33).
Samson’s indignation at the foul wrong which was done to him, manifested itself in a singular way. The biographer says, verse 19: “And the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him, and he went down to Askelon, and smote thirty men of them, and took their spoil, and gave the changes of raiment unto them that declared the riddle.” Those who had done him wrong were his young wife and his thirty companions at the feast; but, instead of avenging himself upon them, he avenges himself upon thirty strangers in a distant city. He seems to have been restrained, in reference to the wrong-doers, by regard for his fair bride and the claims of hospitality. Though they had acted dishonourably towards him, he would act honourably towards them. He would not only do them no harm, but would faithfully pay the wager, which he had lost. Their injustice, however, brought very vividly home to him the injustice which the Philistines had inflicted on his native country. Personal wrong invariably intensifies the sense of national wrong. The foul injustice which Wallace suffered in the murder of his young wife, made the desire for his country’s freedom from the cruel oppression of the English burn in [Page 83] his bosom with a stronger and a brighter flame. And personal wrong in the case of Samson broke the charm of his passion, and awoke him to his nobler self, as the divinely-commissioned avenger of his people’s wrongs.
It is noteworthy that Samson’s revenge on this occasion
against the enemies of his country was directed by a divine impulse. We read that the Spirit of the Lord came
mightily upon him; and it was under this overmastering divine impulse that he
went down to Askelon and smote thirty of the inhabitants. Askelon was one of the five royal cities of
the Philistines. It lay twenty-four
miles, as the crow flies, to the south-west of Timnah, on the shores of the
* “The Giant Cities of Bashan and Syria’s Holy Places,” p. 203. ** “Tent Work in Palestine,” vol. ii. p. 164.
The reason why Samson was impelled by the Spirit of the Lord
to go down to the distant city of Askelon, when there were other cities of
Philistia, such as
The feat of killing thirty men, and stripping them of their raiment, in a large and warlike city, was a very remarkable one for a Hebrew youth of nineteen years of age to do; but it was [Page 87] scarcely less remarkable that he should take the thirty linen shirts and thirty outer garments and carry them on his shoulder back to Timnah. It was a feat which none but a Hercules could accomplish. On his arrival he presented these clothes, stained perhaps with the blood of their original owners, to his thirty companions in payment of the wager, and so honourably fulfilled his promise. After this, the next thing which we might have expected Samson to do would have been to take his young wife home to his father’s house, or a house of his own. He had come down, we are told, to take her when he came to the marriage-feast; but he was so enraged at her treachery in the matter of the riddle that, instead of taking her, he went up to his father’s house without her. If we leave out of account, as Samson seems to have done, that his marriage with this daughter of the Philistines was contrary to the Mosaic law, we may justly say that his, conduct in thus leaving his young wife was hasty and ill-advised. The wilful separation of a husband from his wife, or of a wife from her husband, is a serious evil, which ordinary causes of dissatisfaction cannot justify. Married persons ought to bear and forbear. And if Samson had patiently borne the wrong which his young wife had done, [Page 88] he would soon have come to know that she was not so guilty as he had imagined. But in the blazing heat of his anger he left her in her father’s house and went away home. His blameable conduct, however, was divinely ordered for rupturing the marriage, which ought never to have been contracted.
Some time after Samson’s angry departure, probably after an interval of a few weeks, his deserted wife was given by her father to be the wife of Samson’s friend at the marriage-feast. Of Samson’s thirty companions, the one who acted as the master of ceremonies was called the friend of the bridegroom. His office was to commend the bridegroom to the bride, and remove any obstacle that might arise to the union. John the Baptist compared himself in his relation to Jesus to such a friend. He said to his disciples, who were jealous of the growing popularity of Jesus, “He that hath the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled” (John 3: 29). But this friend of the bridegroom, who had taken a fancy to the bride, took advantage of Samson’s absence to win the bride for himself. He may have done two things. He probably [Page 89] aggravated to her father, instead of mitigating, the wrathful departure and neglect of Samson; and he would offer to remove the disgrace which Samson had brought upon his daughter by marrying her and giving him a becoming dowry. And through the combined influence of anger and greed the father, probably with the cordial consent of his daughter, accepted him as his future son-in-law. This new betrothal, for the marriage only took place after an interval more or less prolonged, shows both low views of the sanctity of marriage, and a cruel disregard of the rights and feelings of the oppressed Israelites.
After the betrothal of his young wife, Samson, in ignorance of what had taken place, visited Timnah for the purpose of being reconciled to her. The biographer says (15: 1), “But it came to pass after a while, in the time of wheat harvest, that Samson visited his wife with a kid; and he said, I will go into my wife into the chamber. But her father would not suffer him to go in.” Samson’s glowing anger against his wife had cooled down, and his old affection for her had revived. Though passionate, he was naturally good-natured and generous. He came to Timnah, not as the wronged party, as he might have done, but rather as the wrong-doer, who was desirous [Page 90] of pacifying the offended party. He brought with him a kid to win her favour and heal the breach; and it was doubtless his intention, after the reconciliation, to take her home to live with him at Zorah. His behaviour towards his young wife was very beautiful and becoming. He came to Timnah in the spirit of the exhortation, “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12: 21). But his father-in-law would not suffer him to see her: he said, verse 2, “I verily thought that thou hadst utterly hated her, therefore I gave her to thy companion: is not her younger sister fairer than she? Take her, I pray thee, instead of her.”
The Timnite probably spoke the truth when he said that he thought that Samson utterly hated his daughter: his wrathful departure and his continued absence for a series of weeks, if not months, were fitted to make that impression; but the mere thought of Samson’s total abandonment of his young wife did not warrant him to act as he did. As Bishop Hall says: “Lawful wedlock may not be dissolved by imaginations, but by proofs.” He ought at the very least to have ascertained the mind of Samson, and endeavoured to reconcile him; and if, after all his efforts, Samson had expressed his resolution to repudiate his daughter [Page 91] henceforth as his wife, then the father, so far at least as Samson was concerned, might have been justified in giving her in marriage to another. But after rashly and unrighteously rupturing the marriage-bond, he coolly proposed to Samson that he should take the younger sister instead, and recommended her on the ground of her superior beauty. The fact that a dowry for the elder daughter had been paid by Samson’s father probably prompted the proposal. This Philistine father acted towards Samson, in relation to his daughters, as a shopkeeper to a customer in relation to his articles of merchandise.
But though Samson had been most unrighteously dealt with, he acted in a manner worthy of a high-toned and honourable man. He who slew the lion on the way to Timnah, and killed thirty of the men of Askelon, could easily have overmastered his father-in-law, and forcibly taken away his wife; but, though keenly feeling the wrong, he refrained from doing him, or any belonging to him, any harm. He showed the same noble self-control as he had done when he suffered through the treachery of his wife, and the dishonesty of his thirty companions. But at the same time he let his father-in-law and his household understand that, owing to the dissolution of the marriage, he was now freed from the obligations which that [Page 92] relation-ship imposed. He said (chap. 15: 3), and I give his words from the Revised Version,- “This time shall I be blameless in regard of the Philistines, when I do them a mischief.” These words were not intended to express any conscious blame-worthiness which he had in reference to the past slaughter at Askelon, for he had none. His revenge was undertaken under a sense of duty: he was doing the divine will in connection with the judgeship. They express the conscious freedom which he now felt as contrasted with the former restraint. Then he was hampered by the obligations of his marriage, and the claims of hospitality; he felt that he could not honourably avenge himself either on his thirty companions, or the inhabitants of Timnah, and that, if he did, he would be blameworthy; but now that his marriage had been dissolved, he could do them a mischief, and be blameless.
The plan of avenging himself on the Philistines, which Samson
conceived and carried out, was most extraordinary, as well as skilful and
effective. The biographer says, verses 4 and 5, - “And Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took
firebrands, and turned tail to tail, and put a firebrand in the midst, between
every two tails. And when he had set the
brands on fire, he let [Page 93] them go into the standing corn of the Philistines, and burnt up both the
shocks and the standing corn, and also the oliveyards.” The general opinion is
that the word rendered “foxes” would be better rendered “jackals,” which
are often called foxes by the Arabs. And
it is a fact that jackals are still very numerous in the neighbourhood of
Samson’s birthplace. Dr. Porter thus graphically describes
his experiences at Bethshemesh, which lay about two miles to the cast of
Timnah, on the south side of the valley of Sorek: “We
lingered long amid the ruins of Bethshemesh, reading and pondering these”
(viz; - those in connection with the life of Samson)
“and other incidents of sacred history, which the
places round about us naturally suggested.
The sun went down into the waters of the
* “The Giant Cities of
I may give a few facts with regard to the jackal, on the authority of the writer on it in the new edition of the “Encyclopaedia Britannica.” The jackal is a carnivorous mammal belonging to the dog class. It grows to a height of fifteen inches at the shoulder, and to a length of about two feet, exclusive of its bushy fox-like tail. Its fur is of a greyish-yellow colour, darker on the back, and light-coloured beneath. They are nocturnal animals, concealing themselves until dusk in woody jungles, and other natural lurking places, thereafter sallying forth in packs, which sometimes number two hundred individuals, and visiting farmyards, villages, and towns for food. When unable to obtain living prey, they feed upon carrion and refuse of all kinds. They are also fond of grapes and other fruits, and are thus the pest of the vineyard, as well as of the poultry-yard. They are also said to be very cunning and fierce. Now the capture of three hundred of these cunning and fierce animals could hardly fail to be a task of some difficulty, and seems to imply that Samson [Page 95] was a most expert hunter. It is possible that he may have got others to assist him, although from the fact that Samson in all his other exploits acts alone, it seems more probable that he captured them himself single-handed; and as the jackal is said to be easily caught, the fact that they go in packs will explain how he could capture so many of them in a few days.
But, in addition to their capture, he had to bring them to a
place or places suitable for his purpose, manufacture at least one hundred and
fifty fire-brands, and perform the somewhat difficult and dangerous operation
of tying tail to tail one hundred and fifty times. It was a work which none but a Samson could
successfully accomplish. And this novel
device for inflicting vengeance on the Philistines was most skilful and
effective. After he had collected and
prepared his instruments of vengeance, doubtless to the great wonderment of his
friends in Zorah, the biographer says, - “And when he had set the brands on
fire, he let them go into the standing corn of the Philistines, and burnt up
both the shocks and the standing corn, and also the oliveyards.”
This would be done by night when the
Philistines were asleep, and the animals would be allowed to go on unchecked in
their devastating career. [Page 96] The plains of
But while admiring the ingenuity and success [Page 97] of Samson’s exploit, perhaps the most ingenious and successful in the circumstances possible to one man, what are we to say of its moral character? Are we to praise or condemn it? A recent writer on the Book of Judges thus expresses himself, - “When we see a country side ablaze with the standing corn which he has kindled, we are as indignant with him as with the Philistines when they burn his wife and her father with fire.”* Certainly incendiaries, who set fire to stack-yards, public works, or other kinds of property, are regarded as heinous culprits, and dangerous citizens: but in estimating the character of Samson’s incendiarism, there are two things which we ought to bear in mind. One is, that it was directed against the enemies of his country. What may be wrong in the case of one citizen acting as an incendiary towards another, may be right in the case of a citizen towards a foreign enemy. Patriotism in the latter case may justify and demand the destruction of the foreign enemy’s property. None of us, I imagine, would condemn Wallace or the Black Douglas for capturing and destroying the provisions for an English garrison in one of our Scottish towns, or for crossing the border and desolating the lands of their oppressors. The other is that Samson [Page 98] was divinely called to the work of emancipating his Country from the thraldom of the Philistine oppressors. Men may err in assuming the role of patriots, as did Theudas and Judas of Galilee, of whom we read in the Acts of the Apostles, and thereby aggravate their country’s woes; but He to whom vengeance belongs, had called Samson to the position. And the fact that in carrying out his commission Samson was stimulated by personal wrong, will not warrant us in condemning his action; it was his duty to weaken the Philistines to the best of his ability, and the personal wrong goaded him to do it in a most skilful and effective way.
* “Judges and Ruth,” by Dr. Watson, p. 293.
The conflagration made by the one hundred and fifty pairs of jackals with firebrands, naturally led the angry and alarmed inhabitants to ask one another, “Who has done this?” The conviction that it was the work of an incendiary, and not an accident, was probably brought about by seeing some of the tail-tied jackals with the burning brands scampering about the plains. It is not likely that all the Philistines in Timnah and the surrounding country were in their houses and asleep; some of them might be abroad hunting, or returning home from a feast where they had been spending the evening with friends; and, [Page 99] even on the supposition that all the inhabitants were asleep, some of them would very soon be awakened by the howling of the jackals and the crackling of the conflagration, and those awakened, in view of the general danger, would speedily arouse the rest. In answer to the question, which the enraged and terror-stricken inhabitants put to one another as to who had caused the conflagration, some were able to say, “Samson the son-in-law of the Timnite, because he had taken his wife and given her to his companion.” It is quite possible that Samson may have been observed, as he was engaged in his destructive work, by one or more of the inhabitants; but even if this were not the case, the Timnites might be quite sure that it was Samson, because he had openly threatened vengeance for the wrong done to him by his father-in-law, and perhaps because they knew that for some days before he had been actively engaged in capturing a large number of jackals.
On being told who had done it and why, the biographer says, “The Philistines came up and burnt her and her father with fire.” The fact that they are said to have come up seems to imply that the Philistines spoken of were not the inhabitants of Timnah, but those who dwelt in the towns and villages in the plain; and when they knew that [Page 100] Samson’s father-in-law and wife were the occasion of their ruinous losses, the Philistines, in their fury, wreak their vengeance on them by burning them with fire, probably amid the flames of their own home. Some, like the writer in the “Speaker’s Commentary,” are of the opinion that this savage deed was an act of justice in favour of Samson, and in hope of pacifying his anger; but as Samson was one of the Hebrews under their yoke, and as his formidable power was not yet fully known, it does not seem likely that they would be in a mood to conciliate such a foe. It seems much more likely that they were bent on doing him harm if they could; but as the Timnite and his daughter, who were guilty in the matter, could be more easily reached, and were less formidable than Samson, the Philistines naturally gave vent to their fury first upon them, intending to take vengeance afterwards upon him. But as Samson was a spectator of their cruel revenge, he anticipated further action on their part by appearing on the scene, and saying to them, as the words are given in the Revised Version, “If ye do after this manner, surely I will be avenged of you, and after that I will cease.” Samson at the first had no intention to do more than destroy the produce of the Philistines; but, as he was now stirred [Page 101] up to burning indignation by their savage cruelty to those whom he had once tenderly loved, he resolved to inflict on them a terrible retribution. And so, according to the statement of the biographer, “He smote them hip and thigh with a great slaughter.”
The phrase “hip and thigh,” literally “hip or leg on thigh,” or “hip or leg in addition to thigh,” is a proverbial expression of obscure origin. The writer in the “Speaker’s Commentary” suggests that it may refer to the choice pieces of the sacrifices used in a metaphorical sense for the great and mighty. According to this view, the words would mean that Samson smote the great and mighty amongst the Philistines - an explanation which seems to be very unnatural and unsatisfactory. Ewald, in his “History of Israel,” seeks to account for the phrase in the following way: “The blow from behind strikes the fugitive first upon the hips, and would of itself be sufficient; but it is followed immediately by one upon the thigh, which makes him instantly fall. Hence it means strictly the thigh over and above, i.e., besides the hips.”* But the view given by Gesenius in his Hebrew Dictionary seems to be more natural and satisfactory. He understands it to mean that [Page 102] “he cut them in pieces so that their severed members, legs and thighs, lay upon each other in heaps; i.e., he smote them even to utter destruction.” And the complete and merciless defeat was with great slaughter; large numbers of the Philistines fell beneath his avenging stroke; and after such a great and merciless slaughter, seeing that it would be now no longer safe to remain in Zorah, Samson “went down and dwelt in the cleft of the rock of Etam.”
* “History of Israel,” by Ewald, vol. ii. p. 405.
In concluding this Lecture, I shall mention some of the
practical reflections which the narrative suggests. One is, that infliction of wrong is sometimes
overruled for the good of the sufferer. Samson was
deeply wronged by his father-in-law giving away his wife to the Philistine who
had acted as his friend at his marriage, and by his wife in abandoning him, and
allowing herself to become the chosen bride of another; and as Samson loved her
with a strong and tender affection, the great wrong must have pierced him to
the very heart; but in the providence of God this great wrong freed Samson from
the meshes of an unworthy alliance, and awoke him to the responsibilities of
his position as the divinely-chosen champion of his people. Samson in the bitterness of his disappointed
love felt this, when he said, [Page 103] “This time shall I be blameless in
regard of the Philistines, when I do them a mischief.”
And wrongs, even great and heartrending wrongs, are often permitted by
God, sometimes for the purpose of rescuing Satan’s slaves from his servitude,
and sometimes for the purpose of rescuing His own people from the enslaving
power of some unworthy passion. The
injustice which abounds in the world is not an unmixed evil. Tyrants, extortioners, dishonest merchants,
and all sorts of wrong-doers to their fellow-men, are used by God for
beneficent ends. They often constrain
those who groan under the wrongs which they inflict to think of God, and the
things unseen and eternal, and to enter on a new and a divine life. Great wrongs from men often lead the
sufferers to see and repent of the great wrongs which they have done against
God. They have often been the means of
breaking their moral and spiritual slavery, and bringing them into the liberty
wherewith Christ makes His people free.
And great wrongs have been the means, not only of giving freedom to the
slaves of sin and Satan, but also of purifying and ennobling the people of
God. The great wrongs of the Babylonian
captivity burnt out of the Jewish people the besetting sin of idolatry. The great wrongs which the apostles and the [Page 104] early church had to endure at the hands of their wicked persecutors were,
like the furnace to silver or gold, the means of their moral and spiritual
refinement. Paul said to the Christians at
[* Keep in mind: the context of this Greek word, translated here as “eternal,” can also mean age-lasting: and I believe this is a case where it should be understood to mean age-lasting “glory.” See footnote at the end.]
Another reflection which the narrative suggests is, that wrong-doers naturally seek to justify themselves. The father-in-law of Samson sought to vindicate his conduct in giving his daughter, Samson’s newly-wedded wife, in marriage to another, and refusing to let him see her; he said: “I verily thought that thou hadst utterly, hated her; therefore I gave her to thy companion.” The reason was plausible, but not sufficient to warrant what he had done. And this spirit of self-justification, which is generally associated with wrong-doing, appeared very early in the history of [Page 105] our race. When the Lord asked Adam in Eden if he had eaten the forbidden fruit, he did not frankly acknowledge his sin, but sought to excuse himself by saying, “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.” And when the Lord said to Eve, “What is this that thou hast done?” she also sought to excuse herself by saying, “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.” And the same spirit of self-justification is commonly found in their descendants amongst all ranks and classes of wrong-doers. Frank and full acknowledgment of a wrong is exceedingly rare. In most cases the wrong-doer through self-love aims at making the wrong appear right, or as near to right as one may expect from fallible men; and in this endeavour to exonerate himself he is in great danger of blinding the eye of his conscience, and tampering with the sanctities of truth. Hence it behoves us, in the interests of our moral nature, to abhor that which is evil and to cleave to that which is good; and, when we have done wrong through weakness or the stress of temptation, frankly and at once to confess it. The person who does wrong and seeks to justify it, is morally on the down-grade.
Another reflection is, that wrong-doing is sometimes signally punished in the providence of God. [Page 106] The Timnite and his daughter deeply wronged Samson, and committed a heinous sin, when they ruptured his marriage bond and contracted another alliance. Samson, however, did not avenge himself upon them. He manifested under this wrong, as he had done under the former in the matter of the riddle, a noble self-control. He acted, so far as they were concerned, as if he had heard the words, “Avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath; for it is written, Vengeance belongeth unto me: I will recompense, saith the Lord” (Rom. 12: 19). But soon after stern retribution overtook them for their odious sin. It came to them very strikingly through their own fellow-countrymen. The Philistines in the plain, when they came to know that it was their shameful conduct towards Samson which had led him to destroy their corn-fields, went up in a fury to Timnah and burnt them both with fire. Death by fire was the punishment for adultery required by the Jewish law (Levit. 20: 14; 21: 9); it was also, as we learn from Genesis, the usual punishment for such sins amongst the ancestors of the Israelites long before the giving of the law (Gen. 38: 24). It is noteworthy that it was the dread of this very doom which led the daughter of the Timnite treacherously to discover the secret of [Page 107] the riddle to the thirty companions at the marriage feast; and yet the act which she did to avoid it ultimately led her to do what deservedly brought the dreaded calamity upon her. The executioners of the divine vengeance may not be blameless. It is to be feared that the Philistines burnt her and her father with fire, not on account of their hatred to the sin of adultery, but on account of the losses which it had brought upon them. The punishment was probably, so far as they were concerned, an act of the meanest cruelty. But God used them for the avenging of a grievous wrong, and the punishing of a heinous sin. And this is an illustration of what God often does in the dispensation of his providence. God, indeed, does not always punish wrong-doing in the present; this arises, not from ignorance or inability, but from long-suffering patience; the present is a dispensation of grace; but while in this period of gracious probation God does not always punish wrong-doing according to its deserts, He often does so in a striking and unmistakeable manner, that men may know that the heavens do rule. And these judgments in time are a foreshadowing of what will overtake sinners in eternity - [and to all of His rebellious and apostate children after “the Judgment Seat of Christ,” for the duration of the Millennium].* The very imperfections of retributive justice in the present, which flow from the long-suffering patience [Page 108] and mercy of God, are an argument for a great coming day of rectification, when “God will give to every one according to his works.” Wrongdoers are often encouraged by the long-suffering patience and mercy of God to go on in their evil courses; “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil” (Eccles. 8: 11); but sooner or later, if not in the present yet certainly in the future, judgment will be executed on every evil work. The only possible way of avoiding the punishment is by repenting of the sin and coming to God for forgiveness through the blood of the Lamb. And amid the wrongs and imperfections of the present, the [obedient] followers of Christ may sing the anthem sung by the great multitude in heaven, whose voice was as the sound of many waters, “Hallelujah, for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth” (Rev. 19: 6).
[* NOTE. God has left Himself “a thousand years” to punish disobedient “disciples”:-
“Whoso shall cause one of these little ones which believe in me to stumble, it is profitable for him that a great mill-stone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be sunk in the depth of the sea. Woe unto the world because of occasions of stumbling! For it must needs be that the occasions come. … It is good for thee to enter into life maimed or halt, rather than having two hands and two feet to be cast into the eternal (age-lasting) fire. And if thine eye causeth thee to stumble, pluck it out and cast it from thee: it is good for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into the Gehenna of fire. See that ye (‘disciples,’ verse 1), despise not one of these little ones…” (Matt. 18: 5-10, R.V.). Again: “Vengeance belongeth unto me (God), I will recompense. And again, the Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. … Cast not away therefore your boldness, which hath a great recompense of reward. For ye have need of patience (endurance), that, having done the will of God, ye may receive the promise. … But my righteous one shall live by faith: and if he shrink back, my soul hath no pleasure in him. But we are not of them that shrink back unto perdition (destruction); but of them that have faith unto the saving of the soul.” And Peter reminds us that that “salvation,” is yet future; a “salvation ready to be revealed in the last time,” (1 Pet. 1: 6), that is, “at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (verse 13)!]
* * *
Judges 15: 9-20.
“ ’Tis liberty alone that gives the flower
Of fleeting life its lustre and perfume;
And we are weeds without it. All constraint,
Except what wisdom lays on evil men,
“Lay the proud usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in every foe!
Let us do or die!”
“And what shall I more say? for the time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson,
Jephthah; of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith
subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises,
stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire,
escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were
made strong, waxed mighty in war,
turned to flight armies of aliens.”
- HEBREWS 11: 32-34.
SAMSON’S two exploits after the rupture of his marriage with the fair maid of Timnah, viz., his burning of the corn fields of the Philistines by means of the three hundred foxes or jackals, and his smiting of the Philistines hip and thigh with a great slaughter, brought him into open and avowed hostility to the oppressors of his country. The previous exploit of killing thirty men of Askelon and stripping them of their raiment for the payment of the wager, did not bring him into notice, on account of his being unknown to the inhabitants of that distant city; the only effect which that daring exploit could have, would be to intensify the hatred of the Philistines against the Israelites in general; but Samson was known to be the inflicter of the two recent crushing disasters, and was, therefore, certain to stir up the bitterest hatred and the whole might of the Philistines against him. And, foreseeing the coming storm, Samson [Page112] went down for shelter to the cleft of the rock of Etam.
Three places of the name of Etam are mentioned in the Old
Testament. One of them was a village of
the tribe of Simeon (1. Chron. 4: 32), supposed by Captain Conder to be the same as the place now called Aitun, which
lies about twenty-five miles to the south of Zorah; another was a city,
fortified and garrisoned by Rehoboam (2 Chron. 11: 6), which was situated near Bethlehem
and Tekoah, near the modern Urtas, where Solomon had his famous gardens, and
which has probably left its name in the spring called Ain Aitan,
near the so-called Solomon’s Pools; and the third was the rock Etam, the hiding
place of Samson. The last is now, with
great probability, supposed to be the same as the modern Beit Atab, which lies
about six miles to the south-east of Zorah, the birthplace of Samson. Captain Conder, who visited the spot towards
the close of 1873, gives several reasons for this belief. He says in his work entitled “Tent Work in
* “Tent Work in Palestine,” vol i. p. 275.
Such, then, was in all probability the hiding place to which
Samson betook himself, for the [Page 114] discovery of which, and for many
other discoveries in connection with Bible history, we are indebted to the
painstaking and indefatigable labours of Captain Conder, the leader of the band
of explorers sent out by the Palestine Exploration Society. Samson did what Wallace and other patriots
have often been constrained to do, when they were unable to cope with the
overwhelming forces of their oppressors.
Soon after his departure, probably in the course of a few days, or a few
weeks at the longest - no time, we may be sure, would be lost - the Philistines
came up into the
The biographer says, verse 10, “The three thousand men of
Their language to
Samson, when they found him in his hiding-place, was most unbecoming in
Israelites, especially in men of the tribe of
“To love bondage more than liberty,
Bondage with ease than strenuous liberty.”
Samson’s language in reply was modest and temperate in
tone. He does not upbraid them for their
cowardice and ingratitude in upholding the cause of the Philistines, and
blaming him for lifting up the standard of rebellion; he does not, as he might
well have done, appeal to the fact that God had raised him up to begin their
deliverance; he rests his case simply and solely on its justice. He said to them, “As they did
unto me, so have I done unto them.” The Philistines, who
were so enraged against Samson, were the first offenders. Samson was living peaceably under their yoke, and had even united himself to
them by the close and tender ties of marriage; but they had cruelly wronged him
in the matter of the wager, in depriving him of his wife, and then burning her
and her father with fire. And as they
had so acted to him, Samson had paid them back in their own coin with
interest. He had been goaded on to act
as he had done; and in that age his self-justification ought to have commended
itself to the men of
The Philistines at Lehi, who could thus make three thousand men of Judah false to Samson, and ready to bind him and deliver him up, must have been a very formidable host; but, however numerous and warlike the invading army might be, the men of Judah would never have acted thus if they had been “men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel had to do.” Samson had shown himself to be a man of extraordinary resource and strength, and had, single-handed, inflicted a heavy blow on the power of the Philistines; and unless their eyes had been holden by slavish fear, they might have seen in him a champion who was able to lead them to victory; but, instead of placing themselves under his leadership, they in their blindness ignominiously combined to aid their oppressors in his destruction. It was a most dishonourable and ruinous policy. They were seeking to disgrace the man whom they ought to have honoured, and to destroy the man whom they ought to have protected and followed.
Samson, on hearing the purpose for which they had come, could
hardly fail to be filled with grief, [Page 120] and shame, and indignation; but it is
very remarkable that he neither upbraids nor resists them. He might with justice have scorned them for
their baseness, or threatened that, if they attempted to lay hands on him, he
would smite them hip and thigh; but, instead of doing so, he expresses his
willingness to be bound and delivered into the hand of the Philistines if they
would solemnly undertake to do him no injury themselves. He said, “Swear unto me that ye will not fall
upon me yourselves.” And such meekness and
resignation remind one of the meekness and resignation of our Lord, when He
permitted Himself to be apprehended in the
After Samson had expressed his readiness to allow the men of Judah to bind him, and deliver him up to the Philistines, on condition that they solemnly agreed to do him no injury themselves, they said, verse 13 : “No; but we will bind thee fast, and deliver thee into their hand: but surely we will not kill thee.” The meekness of Samson makes them plain-spoken, even to rudeness. They tell him that they will bind him fast, and deliver him into the hand of those from whom he could expect no mercy. They tell him bluntly that they will do their utmost to make his destruction certain. The magnanimous meekness of Samson induced these cowards and betrayers to assume the appearance of courage and conscientiousness. And so they bound him with two new ropes, and brought him up from the rock.
Samson now, to all human seeming, was a doomed man. He was a strongly-bound prisoner [Page 124] in the hands of three thousand men, who were guarding and conducting him to an armed host of fierce and relentless enemies. Possibly, not one of the three thousand men had the slightest doubt that Samson’s career as a champion was ended; and we can well imagine that, as they were wending their way with him through the valleys, some of them, as they thought of his youth and wonderful feats, had touches of pity for him, and qualms of conscience, and relentings of heart, at being the instruments of bringing him to an untimely end. These uprisings, however, of their better nature were kept under by the overawing and overmastering dread of the army of the Philistines. Samson’s thoughts too, during the march, were in all probability of the most sombre kind. He was, no doubt, saddened and humiliated as he thought of the cowardice and treachery of his body-guard. The remembrance of the glorious days of old - the victories won by Joshua, by Deborah and Barak, by Gideon and Jephthah, and others - would only deepen the darkness of the present hour, and bring into stronger relief the utter lack of patriotic valour and faith. He probably thought that the youthful dreams, which he had so fondly cherished, of doing great and noble deeds for his country’s weal, were now blasted for ever; and as he was [Page 125] then, in all likelihood, not more than twenty years of age, he could hardly fail to contemplate his exit from the stage of life, on which he had begun to play his part, with something like sorrowful regret. And when the Philistines at Lehi saw the men of Judah drawing near with Samson bound, they shouted as if their hated and deadly foe were now completely in their power. They joyed “according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice who divide the spoil.” But when the condition of Samson was at the darkest, to the eye of sense irretrievably dark, the historian says, verses 14 and 15: “the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him, and the ropes that were upon his arms became as flax that was burned with fire, and his bonds dropped from off his hands. And he found a new jawbone of an ass, and put forth his hand, and took it, and smote a thousand men therewith.”
We may truly say of Samson, in reference to this journey from
the Rock of Etam to Lehi, that “he was led as a lamb to the slaughter; and as a
sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.” The attitude of his countrymen,
and the whole aspect of divine providence, convinced Samson, at the Rock of
Etam, that it was the divine will that he should suffer and die for his [Page 126] country’s good. No other course
seemed to be open to him but meek submission, unless, indeed, he were to imbrue
his hands in his countrymen’s blood, from which his loving and patriotic heart
recoiled; and in showing his readiness to die rather than slay his own people,
he displayed a moral heroism of singular grandeur and sublimity; but as in the
case of Isaac, who patiently submitted to be bound on the altar as a burnt
offering on Mount Moriah, Samson was not intended by God actually to die. He was brought, like Isaac, to the very
borderland of death, when he probably looked upon himself as good as dead; but
then, when the result was on all hands regarded as absolutely certain, the
Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him, and endowed him with superhuman
strength, and the shouts of the Philistines stirred up the slumbering fire of
patriotism into a bright and consuming flame.
In a moment, the new cords, with which they had bound his arms, and the
manacles, with which they had fettered his hands, were burst asunder with
infinite ease. Samson is represented by
“Cords to me were threads touched with the flame.”
And having recovered his freedom, he laid hold of [Page 127] the first offensive weapon within reach, which appened to be a moist or new jawbone of an ass - an insignificant and ineffective weapon - and used it with such tremendous energy and effect, that he slew a thousand men. Other instances are on record of great deeds having been done with feeble and unlikely instruments. Shamgar, one of the Judges, smote six hundred Philistines with an ox goad (Judges 3: 31); David killed the mighty Goliath of Gath with a sling, and a smooth stone from the brook (1 Sam. 17.); Jashobeam, the son of a Hachmonite, and Abishai, the brother of Joab, two of David’s mighty men, each of them slew three hundred Philistines with a spear (1. Chron. 11: 11 and 20); and Benaiah, another of David’s mighty men, with only a staff, vanquished an Egyptian, a man of great stature, five cubits high, whose spear was like a weaver’s beam (1 Chron. 11: 22, 23). Other warriors, who have done great and notable deeds, might be mentioned from Scripture, and also from ordinary history, such as Tell, Wallace, Bruce, and the Black Douglas; but the greatest exploit in warfare ever done by one man, was that of Samson, when he slew a thousand armed Philistines with the jawbone of an ass.
This extraordinary feat of Samson was due [Page 128] partly to his superhuman strength, and partly to the panic which the unexpected sight of Samson bursting his bonds wrought amongst the Philistines. Had it not been for the panic, which led the Philistines to flee, Samson in the midst of a great army must soon have been wounded and slain. Perhaps the panic was in the main miraculously produced. It is quite possible that God inspired not only Samson with supernatural strength, but also the Philistines with supernatural fear, as He did the Syrians in the days of Elisha the Prophet (2 Kings 7: 6, 7). And in this extraordinary feat we have a striking fulfilment of the promise, which God made to the children of Israel at Sinai, if they were obedient, viz., “And five of you shall chase an hundred, and an hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight; and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword” (Lev. 26: 8).
After this wonderful feat Samson, in the enthusiasm of victory, burst forth into this brief but memorable song:
“With the jawbone of an ass, heaps upon heaps,
With the jawbone of an ass have I slain a thousand men.”
This little song shows that Samson had
the rhythmic power of a poet and the keen wit of a humorist. The Hebrew word for a “heap” means also an “ass.” Hence the grim humour of suggesting that the
slain Philistines were asses.
Kitto says in his “Daily
Bible Illustrations”: “It is an elegant
play upon the words - a paronomasia founded on the identity of the Hebrew word
for an ass and a heap, whereby the Philistines are represented as falling as
tamely as asses.” Manifestly Samson could smite with his mouth as well as with his
hand. There is one thing lacking in the
song, which reflects on the mood of Samson, and that is, the acknowledgment of God
in the victory which he had achieved.
The victory was strikingly due to the divine inspiration and might; and
yet Samson speaks of it, as if it were due solely to himself. He says, “With the jawbone of an ass have I slain a thousand men.” The spirit of the song seems to be
akin to that of the saying of Nebuchadnezzar,
“Is not this great
The biographer, after recording the song of victory, adds, verse 17: “And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking, that he cast away the jawbone out of his hand; and that place was called Ramath Lehi.” The name Lehi, or jawbone, which is applied to the place in the ninth verse, is given by anticipation. It was not the name of the place when the Philistines encamped there; according to Josephus, it had no particular name - but, as it was the well-known [Page 131] name of the place when the biographer wrote, he very naturally calls it Lehi, although as a matter of fact it did not receive the name till after the victory of Samson. And as the place was an eminence (Ramath), it was called in commemoration of the incident of the jawbone Ramath Lehi, or the jawbone height. The biographer then says in the eighteenth verse, “And he was sore athirst, and called on the Lord, and said, Thou hast given this great deliverance by the hand of Thy servant: and now shall I die for thirst, and fall into the hand of the uncircumcised?” His great thirst, which induced the most painful languor, was due to his gigantic exertions and the sultry heat of autumn. The likelihood is that Samson’s victory was won about the close of the wheat harvest; and in his deep sense of need, being painfully, conscious of complete bodily exhaustion, which made him liable to fall into the hand of the Philistines, he cried to the Lord for help. His great need awoke his better nature. He had forgotten God in the glowing enthusiasm of his victorious strength; he had been exalted above measure by the exceeding greatness of his success; but the weakness, in which it resulted, was as a thorn in the flesh to humble him, and lead him to exalt God. Formerly, when he was still aglow with [Page 132] the superhuman energy of the Spirit of the Lord, he exclaimed, “With the jawbone of an ass, heaps upon heaps, with the jawbone of an ass have I slain a thousand men;” but now, when he was left to himself to realise his own feebleness, he says, “Thou hast given this great deliverance into the hand of Thy servant.” And most, if not all men, require humbling providences to keep them right; great success is apt to inspire pride and forgetfulness of God.
There are two facts in the prayer which Samson recognises and
pleads with God. One is,
that he is the Lord’s servant:
he describes himself as “Thy servant.” Samson, in all
his hostile acts against the Philistines, evidently regarded himself
as doing the work for which God raised him up. The angel, who announced his birth, foretold
that he would “begin to save the children of
And this powerful plea of Samson was successful. The biographer says, verse 19, “But God
clave the hollow place that is in Lehi, and there came water thereout; and when
he had drunk, his spirit came again, and he revived: wherefore the name thereof
was called En-hakkore, which is in Lehi, unto this day.” The translation of the first clause of this verse, which we
have in our Bibles, is unfortunate and misleading: it is, “But God clave
an hollow place that was in the jaw, and there [Page 134] came water thereout.” It favours the idea that the water
sprang from a hollow or cavity in the jawbone with which Samson smote the
Philistines. This was the opinion of Martin Luther and of many others. Bishop
Hall, in his “Contemplations,” thus
beautifully turns it to spiritual profit: he says, “The
same God who gave this champion victory, gave him also refreshing; and by the
same means. The same bone yields him
both conquest and life, and is, of a weapon of offence, turned into a well of
water. He that fetched water out of the
* Catholic Presbyterian Magazine, December 1879.
Some have indeed gravely questioned the genuineness of his piety; and the serious blemishes which mar his character give some colour of reasonableness to the doubt; but it seems to me that such an incident as this, which lays bare the hidden springs of his life, ought to, put the genuineness of his piety beyond suspicion. The higher and the deeper nature of Samson was often obscured by the mists of his carnal propensities; but, while deploring these obscurations, we may justly say with Josephus, “We ought to bear him witness that in all other respects he was one of extraordinary virtue.”*
* Antiq. B. V. ch. viii. 12.
And this miraculously opened spring was fitly called En-hakkore, which means “the well of the crier.” This name, which has been preserved, is a remembrancer of the power of believing prayer, and of [Page 136] the wonder-working power of God. It reminds us that believing prayer is all powerful with God, and that God is all powerful to answer believing prayer. The well of the crier furnishes an Old Testament illustration of the saying, “All things arc possible to him that believeth” (Mark 9: 23).
This memorable spot in the life of Samson seems to have been
recently discovered by Captain Conder,
in the course of his explorations in
* “Tent Work in
After recording the memorable victory and answer to the
believing prayer of Samson at Ramath Lehi, the biographer adds, verse 20: “And he
In conclusion, amongst the practical reflections which this
portion of Samson’s life suggests, I would mention the following:- First of all, Samson furnishes us with a fine example of patient self-control
and noble self-sacrifice for the good of his country. Samson was a man of strong passions. He was not only keenly sensitive to wrong,
but capable of manifesting the most intense indignation against it. His anger could burn like a furnace seven
times heated, and yet, with all his keenness and strength of emotion, he was a
man of remarkable self-control. He never
allowed his burning indignation to burst forth into acts of violence towards
the Philistines, who had wronged him, when they were bound to him by the ties
of relationship and friendship. He showed this remarkable self-control both on
the occasion of his marriage-feast, when he felt so keenly the treachery of his
wife, and the dishonesty of his thirty companions, and on the occasion when his
father-in-law refused to let him see his wife, and told him that he had given
her in marriage to his friend. On both
these trying occasions, when his soul was aglow with indignation, he refrained
from doing the slightest injury to the wrong-doers. He kept his soul, like a strong man, in
patience. And Samson manifested the same
noble self-control [Page 139] towards his own countrymen at the Rock
of Etam. The three thousand men of
Again, the manner in which Samson was able to burst his bonds
at Ramath-Lehi may teach us a lesson as to how we may burst the bonds of sin. Samson was securely bound by the men of
Again, Samson’s wonderful victory at Ramath-Lehi with the jawbone of an ass may teach us that the servants of God, when mightily endowed by the Spirit of the Lord, may achieve wonderful successes with the most insignificant and unlikely instrumentalities. The jawbone of an ass was a poor equipment for Samson in an encounter with the army of the Philistines; it was a very small and ineffective weapon as compared with the swords and spears of his enemies; and yet the Spirit of the Lord enabled him with that contemptible weapon to kill a thousand warriors, and put the rest of them to flight. And this wonderful success in the sphere of physical warfare may be taken as an illustration of the wonderful successes which the [Holy] Spirit of the Lord may enable His servants to win with paltry means in the sphere of spiritual warfare. The apostle Peter, if we think of his merely human qualifications and attainments, was poorly equipped for contending with the embattled hosts of his own countrymen; he was but a humble, uneducated fisherman; and, although he had been nearly three years under the training and in the society of Jesus, his knowledge of the Gospel on the day of Pentecost was probably not superior to that of many children in our Sabbath schools; but the Spirit of God, who came mightily upon him, enabled him by means of a simple sermon to convert about three thousand souls. And the history of the Christian Church contains numerous illustrations of similar wonderful victories being won through insignificant and unlikely instrumentalities. We are not indeed to despise distinguished intellectual gifts and attainments; these [Page 144] in their own place are most important, and the Christian church in its membership, and especially in its ministry, cannot possess them in too large a measure. To rail against culture and learning, and clamour for an uneducated ministry, because God sometimes achieves great results through uneducated men, would be as foolish now, as it would have been for the Israelites then, if on account of Samson’s victory they, had despised swords and spears, and demanded that all their warriors henceforth should be armed only with the jawbone of an ass. But, on the other hand, it is important to remember that the [Holy] Spirit of God is the grand source of efficiency in spiritual warfare, without Whom great gifts and learning will be in vain, while with Him small gifts and learning may achieve marvellous success. Hence, while not neglecting the culture of their powers and the increase of their knowledge, the chief concern of Christians, as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, should be that the Spirit of the Lord should come mightily upon them. Their prayer should be,
“Come with unction and with power,
On our souls Thy graces shower.”
And through the power of the [Holy] Spirit, every one of [Page 145] us, however paltry our weapons, may win great victories over the forces of sin and Satan.
And once more, Samson’s great need of being revived after the victory at Ramath Lehi may teach us the lesson of our continual dependence upon God for spiritual renewal. The superhuman might with which the Spirit of the Lord endowed Samson was only for a time; it was to fit him for the great crisis which had arisen, not only in his own history, but in that of his country; but after the crisis had been met, Samson became very weak, so weak that he cried, “Thou hast given this great deliverance by the hand of Thy servant; and now shall I die for thirst, and fall into the hand of the uncircumcised?” In answer to this prayer, God caused a spring of water to bubble forth from a hollow in the hill; and when he had drunk thereat, his spirit came again and he revived. And in this incident we may see an illustration of the principle on which God has acted towards his people in all ages. His promise is, “As thy days, so shall thy strength be.” The strength for to-day, like the manna of old, is only sufficient for the necessities of to-day; and if we would be equal to the duties of the morrow, or to any emergency that may arise, we must get [daily] fresh strength from the Lord. Without spiritual renewal, after exhausting [Page 156] labour or conflict, we shall become faint and ready to perish so it is also with the mightiest spiritual warriors; but if we cry unto the Lord in our times of faintness, He will hear us, as He did Samson, and He will open up for us, not in the hollow of some desert place outside, but in the depths of our own parched souls, a spring whose pure living waters will gladden and revive our languid hearts. When, then, we suffer spiritual exhaustion from our conflicts with our spiritual enemies, let us not despond or despair, but let us seek to have this fountain of the water of life opened up within. This fountain, which is the indwelling Spirit of God, exists in every Christian heart though it may be closed up; and what we need in order to have it sending forth its delicious and invigorating waters, is to pray always with all prayer and supplication. The name of this fountain, as well as of that which revived Samson, is En-hakkore, “the well of the crier.” And all men, if they would but believe in Christ, might have such a fountain within for their refreshment and strength. Jesus cries to-day, as He did on the last and great day of the feast, “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink. He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7: 38). [Page 147] And such a fountain is perennial. Jesus said to the woman of Samaria at Jacob’s well, “Every one that drinketh of this water shall thirst again, but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up unto eternal life” (John 4: 13, 14). May all of us be able to say,
“I heard the voice of Jesus say,
‘Behold, I freely give
The living water; thirsty one,
Stoop down, and drink, and live.
I came to Jesus, and I drank
Of that life-giving stream;
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
And now I live in Him.”
* * *
[Page 148 blank: Page 149]
Judges 16: 1-20
“Her little sweet hath many sours,
Short haps immortal harms;
Her loving looks are murdering darts,
Her sons bewitching charms”
- ROBERT SOUTHWELL
“That weird legend of the northern lands is not more tragic or more pitiful than the story
of the part played by women of late years in the great tragedy of contemporary
history. The Strange Woman has played the Were-Wolf with a
vengeance among the foremost men of our time.”
- The Review of Reviews, Dec. 1890.
“Now, therefore, my sons, hearken unto me, and attend to the words of my mouth.
Let not thine heart decline to her ways, go not astray in her paths.
For she hath cast down many wounded: yea, all her slain
are a mighty host. Her house is the way to Sheol,
going down to the chamber of death.”
- PROVERBS 7: 24-27.
exploits, recorded in the
preceding chapter, seem to have taken place during the first year of his
judgeship; the remaining incidents of his life, recorded in this chapter, seem
to have taken place during the last year of his judgeship; so that, if these
views be true, of his twenty years’ judgeship the intervening period of
eighteen years would be a complete blank.
There are two facts, however, which may help us to form some idea of the
general character of this intervening period.
One is, that the children of
There are two facts in Samson’s history during the intervening
period of eighteen years which, in all likelihood, injuriously affected his
character. One is,
his uniform success. The wonderful exploits which are recorded of his early
manhood, and the general strain of the narrative, furnish [Page 153] good ground for believing that Samson in all his conflicts with the
Philistines never suffered defeat. And
uniform success would be apt to inspire him with a spirit of rash and
adventurous daring. Those who are uniformly
successful are prone to imagine that they are elevated above the risks which
are common to men in general. Something
of this spirit may be seen in the most successful warriors, such as Alexander
the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon Buonaparte, and
General Gordon. It was possibly this
over-confident spirit, born of success, which led Samson to enter alone into
* Appendix, Note D.
These two probable facts in the intervening period, viz., his,
uniform success in his conflicts with the Philistines and his enforced
celibacy, will help us to understand the sad incident which we are now to
consider. The biographer states, verse 1, “And Samson went to
* “Tent Work in Palestine,” vol. ii. p. 169.
It was to this ancient city, the strongest and most
flourishing of all the cities of the Philistines, that
Samson went, and entered within its gates, and mingled with the crowds in its
busy streets and bazaars. It was an act
of the most reckless daring. It was like
putting his head into the mouth of a ferocious lion. There he was hemmed in with walls, and in the
midst of a hostile people who were thirsting for his blood. His sole object in making this hazardous
visit seems to have been sheer curiosity.
He had taken a fancy to see the city, of whose wealth and splendour he
had heard so much; and on account of its being a distant frontier city, he
probably [Page 157] hoped to escape recognition. But the recklessness of his daring is even
more marked, when we think of him allowing himself to be lured by one of the
loose women to her abode. It was
recklessness, of which none could be guilty but one blinded and infatuated by
lust. Samson, however, though he fondly
hoped to remain unknown, was recognised by some of the inhabitants, or perhaps
strangers from Timnah and neighbourhood, who had come to
There can be no doubt that Samson was now in the most imminent peril; and if he had remained in the city till the morning, the likelihood is that the armed host, which encompassed him, would have ended his career; but in some way or other he had become alive to his danger. Perhaps, as the poet Quarles supposes, during the course of the evening, when perfect stillness ought to have reigned over the city,
“He heard a whispering, and the trampling feet
Of people passing in the silent street.”
And this circumstance, in combination, perhaps, with the remembrance of suspicious looks, which he may have observed but failed seriously to consider at the time, may have made him apprehensive that the Philistines were preparing for his destruction. It is very likely that at the first he expected that the house in which he was dwelling would be invaded; but when the sounds of the whispering and the tramp of men were hushed and a solemn stillness settled down upon the city, he probably divined that their plan was to attack him in the morning, and meanwhile to give themselves to sleep. Hence at midnight, when they were locked in unconscious slumber, as the [Page 159] narrative informs us, “Samson arose, and laid hold of the doors of the gate of the city, and the two posts, and plucked them up, bar and all, and put them upon his shoulders, and carried them up to the top of the mountain that is before Hebron.”
The doors of the city-gate of
The site of this memorable gate, which is pointed out by the
natives, lies on the south-east of the hillock on which Gaza is built; and the
mountain to which, according to a Latin tradition, Samson carried it with all
its belongings, is a very conspicuous isolated hill, called El Muntar or the
Watchtower, which is situated about two miles to the south-east of the city,
and which stands out from the chain which runs up to Hebron.
“Then by main force pulled up, and on his shoulders bore
The gates of Azzah, post, and massy bar,
Up to the hill by
No journey of a Sabbath day, and loaded so;
Like whom the Gentiles feign to bear up heaven.”
The Dutch traveller Van
de Velde, who visited the district in 1852,
favours the traditionary view. He says,
“The hill El Muntar is in my opinion the same to which
Samson conveyed the gates of the city, ‘the top of the hill which is within
* Syria and Palestine,” vol. ii. p. 184.
We come now to the consideration of an incident, or rather
series of incidents, which is closely connected with the sin of which Samson
was guilty at
There is nothing said in the narrative about the nationality
of Delilah. The common opinion, which
rests on the authority of Josephus,
is that Delilah was a Philistine.
“My name perhaps among the circumcised
In Dan, in
To all posterity may stand defamed,
With malediction mentioned, and the blot
Of falsehood most unconjugal traduced:
But in my country, where I most desire,
I shall be named among the famousest
Of women, sung at solemn festivals.
Living and dead recorded, who, to save
Her country from a fierce destroyer, chose
Above the faith of wedlock bands.”
There are several things, however, which may well lead us to doubt the correctness of this opinion, and to believe that she was an Israelite. First of all, there is her residence, which seems to have been within the territory occupied by the tribe of Judah; then there is the confidence placed in her by Samson, which would be highly improbable on the supposition that she was a Philistine; and then there is the largeness of the bribe with which she was tempted by the lords of the Philistines - a fact which can be most easily explained on the supposition that she was an Israelite, whose patriotism had to be overcome.
There is nothing in the narrative as to the length of the
interval between the incident at
On hearing of Samson’s love for Delilah, as the biographer informs us in the fifth verse, “the lords of the Philistines came up unto her” (“up,” because from the plain of Philistia to the high land of Judah), “and said unto her, Entice him, and see wherein his great strength lieth, and by what means we may prevail against him, that we may bind him to afflict him; and we will give thee every one of us eleven hundred pieces of silver.” Bishop Hall, in his “Contemplations,” shrewdly remarks, “The princes of the Philistines knew already where Samson’s weakness lay, though not his strength.” And it was through this weakness that they sought to overcome him. It was through Adam’s love for Eve that Satan sought to overcome him; and it was through Samson’s love for Delilah that the lords of the Philistines, [Page 165] sought to overcome Samson. Woman, indeed, when true to duty, is an helpmeet for man; but, when perverted and false, she is one of his greatest sources of danger. And in seeking to gain the help of Delilah, the lords of the Philistines manifested the wisdom of the serpent.
The lords of the Philistines, from the words which they spoke to Delilah, were obviously under the impression that the strength of Samson was supernatural. His feats of strength were so extraordinary, so far beyond the reach not only of all strong men, but of such a man as Samson outwardly appeared to be, that they were constrained to think that his wonderful strength lay not in himself but in something external, perhaps some amulet or magical charm which he had, and through the use of which he was endowed with a divine power. And although their belief was superstitious, it contained substantial truth. The strength of Samson did not reside in himself; it was not the result, like that of Goliath of Gath, of uncommon muscular development; it was a supernatural endowment, which was made to depend on his keeping his locks unshorn, the outward symbol of his Naziritic vow of consecration.
The eagerness of the lords of the Philistines to [Page 166] discover the secret of Samson's
strength, and how that strength might be overcome, was shown in the largeness
of the bribe which they offered to Delilah.
Each of them promised to give her, on condition of her success, eleven
hundred pieces of silver, or £135; and as these lords were five in number,
ruling respectively over the five cities, Gaza, Ashdod, Askelon, Gath, and
Ekron, the entire sum amounted to £675. This great reward, especially as they came and
offered it in person, disclosed the high value which the lords of the
Philistines set upon the capture of Samson.
And in treating with Delilah they honestly told her their object: it
was, that they “might bind him to afflict him.”
They probably felt that with such a woman honesty was the best
policy. Delilah, therefore, was fully
aware of what she was doing, when she entered into a compact with the lords of
the Philistines to act as they desired.
“I saw thee mutable
Of fancy, feared lest one day thou wouldst leave me
As her at Timna, sought by all means therefore
How to endear, and hold thee to me firmest:
[Page 167] No better way I saw than by importuning
To learn thy secrets, get into my power
The key of strength and safety: thou wilt say
Why then revealed? I was assured by those
Who tempted me, that nothing was designed
Against thee but safe custody, and hold
That made for me; I knew that liberty
Would draw thee forth to perilous enterprises,
While I at home sat full of cares and fears
Wailing thy absence in my widowed bed:
Here I should still enjoy thee, day and night
Mine and love’s prisoner, not the Philistines’
Whole to myself, unhazarded abroad,
Fearless at home of partners in my love.”
After the departure of the lords of the Philistines, Delilah, on the first opportunity, sought to gain her end. She said to Samson, doubtless when he was most amenable to her charms (verse 6), “Tell me, I pray thee, wherein thy great strength lieth, and wherewith thou mightest be bound to afflict thee.” It was a strange and startling question from a professed lover to the man who was ardently devoted to her; and, considering its treacherous design, we may say that it was a question which none but a woman of the coolest and most daring effrontery could have put. But its bold frankness, her endearing caresses, and the probable fact that she was a Hebrew, prevented Samson, with his loving [Page 168] trust-fulness, and high sense of honour, from entertaining the slightest suspicion of her treachery. He probably looked upon it as a mere freak of feminine curiosity, inspired by the wish of knowing how to keep him in complete subjection to her power. And so, in order to humour her without divulging his secret, he said to her, verse 7, “If they bind me with seven green withes that were never dried, then shall I become weak and be as another man.” Some would understand the words translated “green withes” as meaning “new bowstrings,” which is the rendering given in the margin of the Revised Version; but the common opinion, that they refer to ropes composed of such material as osiers and the tough fibre of trees, seems more probable, as such ropes are in common use still. These ropes, when green or newly made, are strongest and least liable to break. And Samson perhaps may have mentioned seven of these, for the purpose of investing them with a mysterious disenchanting power. Possibly Delilah, when she was thus told how his extraordinary power might be taken away, playfully asked if he would submit to be so bound on the occasion of his next visit, and Samson may as playfully have granted her request.
After the departure of Samson, this artful woman communicated the supposed discovery to the lords of the Philistines, and then, as we are informed in the ninth verse, “the lords of the Philistines brought, up to her seven green withes which had not been dried,” and in all probability, at the same time, a number of picked men to lie in wait in her inner chamber for the capture of Samson, when it was found that he had been rendered powerless. During the first visit of Samson, after all things had been prepared, Delilah, perhaps with the assistance of a domestic, bound him with the seven green withes - and while he was sleeping, she said to him, doubtless, in a shout of alarm, “The Philistines be upon thee, Samson;” but, on being awakened, Samson, instead of being the powerless man she was led to expect, “brake the withes as a string of tow is broken when it toucheth the fire.” Delilah at once would see that Samson’s discovery was a deception, but as the Philistines, who were lying in wait, were still in the inner chamber, and out of sight, she would have little difficulty in persuading Samson that the alarm was but a ruse to test the truthfulness of his own words. Being led to regard it in this light, Samson, as he thought of his own fury, and the evident disappointment and chagrin of Delilah, [Page 170] would burst into peals of laughter; and his light-heartedness would naturally furnish Delilah with an occasion for renewing her entreaties. It was probably then that she said to Samson, verse 10, “Behold, thou hast mocked me, and told me lies; now tell me, I pray thee, wherewith thou mightest be bound?” And after perhaps some importunity, Samson, to pacify and humour her, said, verse 11, “If they only bind me with new ropes, wherewith no work hath been done, then shall I become weak, and be as another man.”
We are not to suppose that, on receiving this fresh discovery, Delilah at once proceeded, to put it to the test. First of all, it is not likely that she had new unused ropes in the house; besides, the eighteenth verse seems to imply not only that she had not, but also that on every occasion, when she sought to deprive Samson of his extraordinary strength, she consulted the lords of the Philistines; and once more, it is not likely that Delilah, after her failure, would at once put Samson’s words to the test, in as much as such a hasty attempt would be apt to arouse suspicion. The true state of the case seems to be this:- Between this visit of Samson, and that of the second trial, Delilah communicated to the lords of the Philistines both the failure of her attempt to bind Samson [Page 171] with the green withes, and the new discovery for depriving him of his strength which Samson had made to her, and requested them to furnish her with new cords for the securing of their dreaded enemy; and soon after, we may be sure, they sent her new cords, which had never been used, for the binding of Samson. It was possibly during the first visit of Samson, after she had got the new ropes, that Delilah, with her cunning flatteries and wiles, persuaded him to let himself be bound; and it was while he was sleeping, as on the former occasion, that she shouted the alarm, “The Philistines be upon thee, Samson;” but, on being awakened, Samson, instead of lying hopelessly bound, as Delilah confidently expected, “broke them from off his arms like a thread.”
This second failure could not but be a source of bitter disappointment and humiliation to Delilah. It rudely dispelled the flattering thought that her fascination over Samson was complete; it was a revelation which not only humbled her in her own eyes, but was certain to humble her in the eyes of the lords of the Philistines, and which snatched from her the dazzling reward that she imagined was almost within her grasp. She was doubtless sorely vexed, and perhaps alarmed, at the failure; but as the Philistines, who were lying in wait, were out of sight in the inner chamber, Samson in his loving trustfulness probably at once regarded the shout of alarm on the part of Delilah as a mere ruse to test the truth of his words, and made the whole matter a theme for light-hearted pleasantry and laughter. He never dreamed that he was trifling and playing with a beautiful but baffled leopardess. Delilah, on the other hand, acted under the humiliation of this second disappointment as if she were a deeply injured woman: evildoers often feel themselves to be wronged when their malicious designs are foiled: she said to Samson, verse 13, “Hitherto thou hast mocked me, and told me lies; tell me wherewith thou mightest be bound.” And she probably accompanied her reproach and importunity with lamentation and tears. Samson indeed felt that she was asking what was unreasonable, and what it would be wrong for him to grant; but he was so fascinated by her charms, that he lacked courage to grieve her by telling her so. Hence he again, while keeping his secret, had recourse to deception. He would rather please her by telling her a falsehood, than wound her by telling her the truth. And so he said to her, “If thou weavest the seven locks of my head with the web.”
These words, in which he professes to tell [Page 173] Delilah how his extraordinary strength might be taken away, inform us that his hair was arranged in seven locks or plaits; and as his unshorn locks were the symbol of his Naziritic consecration, this sevenfold arrangement was perhaps intended to invest it with a halo of sacredness. It is noticeable that Samson in this, the third of his fanciful inventions, came very near to the secret of his great strength; it lay, in the retention of his hair; and so by declaring that if the seven locks of his hair were so woven into a web, his great strength would depart, he was endangering his secret in two ways, first in the way of thereby losing his locks, and second in the way of drawing attention to them as the secret of his strength, - a clue which might lead to the discovery. This misrepresentation, which Samson made to silence the importunity, and humour the whim of Delilah, was perhaps suggested by the sight of her loom in the apartment. “These looms,” says Kitto, in his “Daily Bible Illustrations,” “as shown in Egyptian sculpture, and as still subsisting in the East, are very simple, and comparatively light, and must by no means be confounded with the ponderous apparatus of our own hand-loom weavers.”
It is not likely that Delilah, when she heard the words of Samson which professedly told her how [Page 174] she might deprive him of his strength, at once set about putting them to the test. Though eager to accomplish the downfall of her lover, and earn the enormous reward promised, she was in all probability deterred from attempting it by the fear of exciting his suspicion. She would bide her time. She would do her best to please him, and allay any ripples of distrust which the outburst of his fury against the supposed attacking Philistines, occasioned by her own shout of alarm, may have caused. It was probably during his next visit that Delilah induced him to let her weave the seven locks of his hair into the web of her loom; and after she had done so, this cunning and treacherous woman, in order to make the powerlessness of Samson more certain, fastened the beam on which the web was rolled or, as some think, the loom or frame itself, with a pin to the ground or wall. This was probably done when Samson was asleep; but, be this as it may, he was in a deep slumber, when Delilah with a tone perhaps of malicious triumph sounded the alarm, “The Philistines be upon thee, Samson.” On being awakened, the prostrate champion, instead of remaining hopelessly bound down, “plucked away the pin of the beam and the web,” to her consternation and chagrin. It was a most wonderful [Page 175] and extraordinary manifestation of strength. And as Delilah looked on the infuriated Samson with the web and pin hanging from his locks, and dangling behind, his ludicrous appearance perhaps raised a smile on her terror-stricken and disappointed countenance. She had possibly no difficulty in persuading Samson that her alarm, like those on the two preceding occasions, was a mere ruse to test the truth of his words; but, as this extraordinary forth-putting of strength must have left painful effects on the head of Samson, she probably then did not venture to renew her importunities to discover his secret, but rather sought to soothe him, and regain her mastery, by indulging in flattering condolences and regrets on account of what he must have suffered.
The fifteenth verse expresses the substance of Delilah’s action during many subsequent visits of Samson. “And she said unto him, How canst thou say, I love thee, when thine heart is not with me? thou hast mocked me these three times, and hast not told me wherein thy great strength lieth.” Samson had remarkable power in keeping his own counsel: he was the very opposite of being a simpleton. He told no one, not even his own parents, of his wonderful feat of killing the lion on the way to Timnah, or of his finding [Page 176] afterwards a swarm of bees in its carcase; and when his young wife, whom he tenderly loved, asked him to tell her the secret of the riddle, which he propounded at his marriage feast, he bluntly refused and continued to refuse, notwithstanding the most urgent importunities, till the last day of the feast. And we find the same dogged retention of the secret of his strength under the long continued and pressing solicitations of Delilah. But at last on this, as on the former occasion, his fort of silence was stormed. The biographer says in verses 16 and 17, “And it came to pass, when she pressed him daily with her words, and urged him, that his soul was vexed unto death. And he told her all his heart, and said unto her, There hath not come a razor upon mine head; for I have been a Nazirite unto God from my mother’s womb: if I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.”* There is something noble, as well as sad, in Samson’s surrender. It sprang from his large-hearted tenderness and high sense of honour. His great love for this unworthy woman and his honourable disposition blinded him to her falseness. He took her to be such an one as himself. But he soon afterwards discovered, to his lifelong bitter humiliation and [Page 177] shame, that his confidence in her had been altogether misplaced.
* Appendix, Note E.
Probably on the very day of the discovery, when an opportunity presented itself, Delilah sent for the lords of the Philistines, saying, “Come up this once, for he hath showed me all his heart.” The three previous failures seem to have led the lords of the Philistines to tell Delilah that it was hopeless to expect that Samson would discover to her the secret of his strength, and that they were coming up no more to be befooled. Hence the urgency with which she asked them to come up this once. And the message, as we might expect, had the desired effect. The biographer says, “Then the lords of the Philistines came up unto her, and brought the money in their hand.” And one day, when all things were ready, as the biographer informs us in the nineteenth and twentieth verses, “She made him sleep upon her knees; and she called for a man, and she caused him to shave off the seven locks of his head; and she began to afflict him, and his strength went from him. And she said, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he awoke out of his sleep, and said, I will go out as at other times, and shake myself. But he wist not that the Lord was departed from him.”
Samson, through his own folly, lost the symbol [Page 178] of his Naziritic consecration. He had not only told Delilah that his great strength depended on his keeping his locks unshorn, but he had wantonly, at her suggestion and entreaty, put his head with its sacred locks upon her lap, and had thoughtlessly fallen asleep. In his simple trustfulness he gave her the opportunity of depriving him of his extraordinary strength; and she, in her base treachery, took advantage of the opportunity. Having lulled him to sleep perhaps by gently stroking him with her hand, and sweetly chanting some of her favourite airs, she called for the man, probably a barber whom she had provided for the purpose, and got him to shave off the locks. It is said that eastern barbers, whose business lies in shaving the head rather than the beard, do it so skilfully and so gently that, so far from a sleeping man being awakened, a waking man is lulled to sleep under the operation. And having through his own folly lost his locks, Samson at the same time lost his extraordinary strength. But as Samson was ignorant that he had been shorn of his locks, and so of the fact that the Lord had departed from him, and that he had now only the mere natural strength of an ordinary man, he manifested, on his being awakened from his sleep, the same confidence in his ability to free himself from [Page 179] the fetters and the hands of the Philistines, as he had done on former occasions. He said, “I will go out as at other times, and shake myself.” Quarles thus beautifully describes the humiliating experience of Samson:
“Even as a dove, whose wings are clipt for flying,
Flutters her idle stumps, and still relying
Upon her wonted refuge, strives in vain
To quit her life from danger, and attain
The freedom of her air-dividing plumes:
She struggles often, and she oft presumes
To take the sanctuary of the open fields;
But, finding that her hopes are vain, she yields;
Even so poor Samson.”
In conclusion, the following practical truths are suggested by
this portion of Samson’s history. One is, that the [redeemed and unredeemed] sinner often abuses the
longsuffering, patience and abounding goodness of God. Samson sinned in a shameful manner at
Again, it is not safe to rely on those who are faithless to any known duty. Samson found to his bitter experience that Delilah, in whom he trusted, was unworthy of his confidence. She was faithless in her observance of the seventh commandment; she knowingly and deliberately set it at nought; and this woman, faithless as to one duty, proved faithless to Samson, who loved her with a devoted affection. For the sake of gain she treacherously betrayed him into the hands of his enemies. And all who are faithless to God, in any matter, are liable, if circumstances are tempting, to prove faithless to their fellowmen. The lack of fidelity in one particular shows that they are destitute of the true spirit of fidelity, as James says in his general epistle, “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble at one point, he is become guilty of all” (2: 10). And Jesus said to his disciples, “He that is faithful in a very little, is faithful also in much; and he that is unrighteous in a very little, is unrighteous also in much” (Luke 16: 10). The man or woman who knowingly and habitually does wrong, however estimable in many other respects, is not a friend in whom we can safely rely. Those only can be safely trusted in anything, who make conscience of everything.
Another truth suggested is, that it is dangerous to tamper with temptation. Samson ought to have guarded with watchful care the sacred symbol of his Naziritic consecration, in as much as upon it his extraordinary strength depended. When asked by Delilah where his great strength lay, he ought to have told her that this was a secret which it did not behove him to disclose. Had he taken a decided stand at the beginning, the [Page 182] danger of yielding to importunity would have been comparatively slight, but instead of doing so he began to temporize. He felt that it would be wrong in him to tell the secret, and yet, such was the hold that Delilah had of his affections, he had not the courage to cause her pain by decisively refusing. He therefore had recourse to deception. He pretended to reveal to her the secret, but as one fanciful invention after another was seen to be false, his strength to resist her importunities became weaker and weaker. And at last he yielded, to his own great loss and shame. And so it ever is when we are tempted to do anything contrary to the voice of conscience. If we begin to temporize like Samson, the probability is that we shall ultimately yield like Samson to our own great loss and shame. The only safe attitude to take, is to give a decided No to every tempter from the very first.
And once more, we may learn that it is possible to lose our spiritual strength without being aware of it. Samson was ignorant, when he was awakened out of his sleep, that his extraordinary strength was completely gone. He said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself,” but when he made the attempt, he found, to his grief and surprise, that his wondrous conquering power had [Page 183] vanished. Now, God gives to all [obedient] believers an endowment of extraordinary strength in the gift of the Holy Spirit,* and through this supernatural endowment they can do more wonderful feats in the moral and spiritual sphere than Samson in the physical. Paul could say, “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4: 13). In this divine strength, Christians can vanquish, not only flesh and blood, but also the principalities and the powers of darkness. But if Christians allow themselves to be enslaved by some worldly lust or affection, and draw away from the service of God, the loss of this inward consecration will lead to a withdrawal of the supernatural spiritual power, and they will find to their surprise in the hour of temptation, that they have become weak as other men. Hence, it behoves us ever to be on our guard against the deceitfulness of sin. If some besetting sin, Delilah-like, get the better of us, and lull us to sleep, we shall find, when awakened out of our slumber, that our spiritual strength is gone, and that we are at the mercy of foes more powerful and relentless than the Philistines. Let us, therefore, watch and be sober.
[* Acts 5: 32. cf. 1 Sam. 15: 22-29.]
* * *
[Page 184 blank: Page 185]
Judges 16: 21-31
“Whene’er a noble deed is wrought,
Whene’er is spoken a noble thought,
Our hearts, in glad surprise,
To higher levels rise.”
“The knight’s bones are dust,
And his good sword rust;-
His soul is with the saints, I trust.”
“And these all, having had witness borne to them through their faith,
received not the promise, God having provided some better
thing concerning us, that apart from us they
should not be made perfect.”
HEBREWS 11: 40.
THE outstanding blemish in the character
of Samson - a blemish which sadly interfered with his unreserved consecration
to his divinely appointed life-work - was the unbridled strength of his natural
passion of love. This blemish appears at
the very beginning of his public career, when the Spirit of the Lord began to
move him in Mahaneh Dan. On a visit to
the neighbouring town of
On learning that Samson was the incendiary, and that he had inflicted this terrible disaster upon them because his father-in-law had given away his wife to another, the Philistines in their fury came up and burnt her and her father with fire. This tragic event not only ensured Samson’s complete freedom from the enslaving power of his passion, but also strengthened his righteous indignation against his country’s oppressors. But while this ill-starred union, in the providence of God, was overruled for leading Samson to begin the grand work of his life, and nerving him for it, he himself was punished for contracting it, inasmuch as he was deeply wounded in his affections by, the faithlessness and woeful death of his young wife.
The second manifestation of the outstanding blemish in his
character took place during his adventurous visit to
“I waive the quantum of the sin,
The hazard of concealing;
But, och! it hardens a’ within,
And petrifies the feeling.”
The third manifestation of this blemish in the character of
Samson took place possibly soon after the incident at
Many have done injustice to Samson by supposing that he was aware of Delilah’s treacherous designs. An eminent living writer speaks of him as “giving way to the solicitations of a harlot whom he knew to be also in league with his enemies, and a traitress.”*
* “Israel’s Iron Age,” by Professor Marcus Dods, p. 138.
“Thrice I deluded her, and turned to sport
Her importunity, each time perceiving
How openly, and with what impudence
She purposed to betray me; and (which was worse
Than undissembled hate) with what contempt
She sought to make me traitor to myself.”
Such an opinion is not only without foundation in the narrative, but also contrary to all the probabilities of the case. The narrative indeed informs us that Philistines were lying in wait in the inner chamber of her house, and that Delilah in putting his discoveries to the test aroused him with the cry, “The Philistines be upon thee, Samson”; but it is manifest that the Philistines did not come forth from their hiding-place, because there is no mention, or suggestion, either of their discomfiture, or of Samson’s knowledge of their presence. And it [Page 193] is morally certain that, if Samson had discovered her to be in league with his enemies, and seeking to rob him of his strength for the purpose of delivering him into their hands, he would have at once abandoned her with loathing and indignation. Samson, when he discovered the treachery of his young wife in the matter of the riddle, left her in hot displeasure at the close of the marriage feast; and if he acted thus towards her for a comparatively trivial wrong, it is unreasonable to suppose that he would cleave to such a woman as Delilah, and dally with, and at last yield to her importunate inquiries, when he knew that she was basely plotting his betrayal. Samson, we may be sure, was ignorant of her designs. His great love for her blinded him to her suspicious modes of action, and led him, not only to tell the secret of his extraordinary strength, but also to give her the opportunity of depriving him of it. The simple trustfulness of a noble nature was blinded and swayed by an ignoble passion.
One day, when Samson was weary, and perhaps oppressed with the sultry heat of noon, Delilah persuaded him to lay his head upon her lap and sleep; and, after lulling him to slumber with her songs and caresses, she called for the man whom she had in attendance for the purpose, to shave [Page 194] off the seven locks of his head. She then began to afflict him, and to sound the alarm, “The Philistines be upon thee, Samson.” On awakening out of his sleep Samson, in profound ignorance of his loss, imagined that he could put forth his usual extraordinary strength. He said to himself. “I will go out as at other times and shake myself.” He thought that he could free himself with his usual success from the encircling hosts of the Philistines; “but he wist not that the Lord was departed from him.” His locks, the symbol of his Naziritic consecration, being now lost through his own sinful weakness, the Spirit of the Lord, the source of his extraordinary strength, who was given to Samson in connection with his consecration, left him* to his own natural strength. And as an ordinary man Samson unarmed [and without the indwelling Holy Spirit] was easily overcome by the armed band of Philistines who were lying in wait. Thus the unbridled strength of his natural passion led in the long run to the downfall of the renowned champion of Israel; and yet, while it involved him in woeful suffering and shameful humiliation, God in His wonder-working providence overruled it for the glorious completion of the great life-work of His erring but devoted servant.
[* See G. H. Lang’s: “The Personal Indwelling of the Holy Spirit.”]
Samson in the house of Delilah [Page 195] the Philistines, as the biographer
informs us in the 21st verse, “put out his eyes, and brought him down to
On their arrival at
[* NOTE. It is impossible for any regenerate believer to come ‘to ruin in body and soul for ever’! Therefore, the ‘life’ which ‘is better to enter into’ - after restoration and final victory (as was the case in the life and martyr’s death of Samson) - is life in the coming “age”. Luke 20: 35; Rev. 3: 18, 19, 21; 20: 4-6.
Soon after the ignominious capture of Samson,
possibly after the lapse of about two months, the lords of the Philistines
resolved to hold a great religious festival at
The Philistines, who were assembled in
Samson is spoken of in the twenty-fourth verse as being seen by the people, and in the twenty-fifth verse as being brought forth out of the
prison - a representation which seems to imply that the twenty-fourth verse refers to an incident which took
place after that which is recorded in the twenty-fifth verse; but if we suppose, as is highly probable, that the religious
festival lasted more days than one, then the incident of the twenty-fourth verse may have taken place at its beginning,
and that of the twenty-fifth verse at its close. And as we picture to ourselves the blind
Samson, led by the hand along the streets of
“0 miserable change! is this the man,
That invincible Samson, far renowned,
The dread of
Equivalent to angels, walked their streets,
None offering fight; who single combatant
Duel’d their armies ranked in proud array,
Himself an army, now unequal match
To save himself against a coward arm’d
At one spear’s length.”
Samson’s thoughts that day must have been peculiarly bitter. He had the consciousness of [Page 202] returning strength; but, owing to his blindness, he could not hope to use it with success. Had his eyes not been cruelly put out, he might have freed himself from his body-guard, and routed the assembled thousands with a great slaughter, as he did at Ramath Lehi; and as he heard the praises of Dagon for his capture, he would have an eager desire to do so, to vindicate the honour of Jehovah and avenge his own wrongs. His very helplessness in the midst of his triumphant enemies would make him feel more keenly the loss of his eyes. Milton, who knew what blindness was from personal experience, represents Samson bewailing it in these touching words:-
“0 dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon,
Irrecoverably dark, total eclipse
Without all hope of day!”
But at a subsequent period of the religious festival, when the
hearts of the Philistines were merry with wine, Samson was exposed to a more
bitter humiliation than that of being the object of their delighted gaze. The people in their drunken revelry shouted to
their rulers, “Call for Samson, that he may make us sport”; and the rulers, probably with great
readiness, humoured the people by calling for Samson out of the prison.
“Have they not sword-players, and every sort
Of gymnic artists, wrestlers, riders, runners,
Jugglers, and dancers, anticks, mummers, mimicks,
But they must pick me out, with shackles tired,
And over-laboured at their public mill,
To make them sport with blind activity?
… I will not come.”
“Shall I abuse this consecrated gift
Of strength, again returning with my hair
After my great transgression; so requite
Favour renewed, and add a greater sin
By prostituting things to idols?”
But at last, as
“Now,” says the biographer in the twenty-seventh verse, “the house was
full of men and women; [Page 204] and all the lords of the Philistines were there; and there were upon the
roof about three thousand men and women, that beheld
while Samson made sport.” It is quite possible
that this house, which was so crowded with people, may have been, as Kitto supposes
in his “Daily Bible Illustrations,” “a large
building, in which public business was transacted, assemblies held, and feats
and games celebrated, constructed probably on the general plan of
dwelling-houses, but with special accommodation for spectators on the galleries
and roofs.” But the narrative seems to favour the common
opinion that it was the
* Hours with the Bible,” vol. iii. p. 9.
Now Samson, who probably noted the construction of the
[* NOTE. “Then Jesus said to his disciples, If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever would save his life shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what shall a man be profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and forfeit his life (or soul)? or what shall give in exchange for his life (or soul)? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and THEN SHALL HE RENDER (REWARD) TO EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS OWN DEEDS:” (Matt. 16: 24-27, R.V.).
All martyrs will one “Day,” judge the nations and reign
with Jesus in the millennium: “And I saw thrones, and
they that sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them -
(presumably reunited to glorified, immortal bodies of ‘flesh and bones’ Luke 24: 39,
at the time of resurrection) - that had been beheaded
(martyred) for the testimony of Jesus, and for the word
of God … and they lived and reigned
with Christ a thousand years. The
rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years should be finished ...:”
(Rev. 20: 4, 5, R.V.). And again - for the benefit of those who
mistakenly believe that Moses -
(because the Lord was angry with him, and he was not permitted to enter the
Promised Land, Deut. 1: 37) - “There shall be weeping and
gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and ALL THE PROPHETS - (Moses being
one of the greatest prophets of God) - in the kingdom
of God, and yourselves cast forth without. And they shall come from the east and west
and from the north and south, and shall sit down in the
When the lad let go the hand of Samson, and allowed him to grasp the two pillars with his arms, Samson, as we are told in the twenty-eighth verse, “called unto the Lord, and said, 0 Lord God, remember me, I pray Thee, and strengthen me, I pray Thee, only this once, 0 God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my [Page 207] two eyes.” Though short, the prayer reveals the most intense earnestness. The repetition of the name of God, and of the words of entreaty, “I pray Thee,” shows that his whole heart was in the prayer. The words “remember me,” when we think of Samson’s recent past, seem to throb with lowly contrition; his heart in them seems to say, “I acknowledge that I have been an unworthy servant, and that, on account of my folly and sin, I justly forfeited Thy favour, and lost the distinguishing honour of being Israel’s judge; but, notwithstanding my past unworthiness, remember and strengthen me for the great work which I purpose to do.” And as Samson was conscious that the work would involve his own death, he asks for the divine favour and strength “only this once” as a reason why his prayer should be granted. The object of his prayer to be divinely strengthened was, “that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.” Some eminent expositors render the words thus, “that I may avenge myself for the loss of one of my two eyes upon the Philistines.” According to this rendering Samson so keenly felt the loss of his two eyes, that the terrible vengeance which he was meditating, was in his estimation only an adequate compensation for the loss of one. This certainly represents [Page 208] Samson as animated by an extraordinary spirit of revenge. But the common rendering, which is that both of our ordinary Bible and the Revised Version, seems better, more in harmony with the passage and the spirit of Samson. Samson indeed keenly felt the cruelty of the Philistines in depriving him of his two eyes; it was not only a great loss in itself, but it unfitted him for acting as the champion of his country; but what he meant in his prayer was, that his meditated revenge might be, not a retribution for the loss of one of his eyes, but a complete and final retribution for them both. He desired to avenge himself in one grand final act of vengeance; and in this one grand final act of vengeance Samson had respect, not merely to the loss of his two eyes, although that was the cause of his keenest sense of wrong, but also, we may be sure, to the oppression of his country.
The spirit of this prayer is indeed contrary to the spirit of the Gospel. Jesus said to the multitudes in His Sermon on the Mount, “Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour and hate thine enemy; but I say unto you, Love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you; that ye may be the sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5: 43-45); and Paul thus exhorts the Roman Christians, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath; for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Rom. 12: 19). But we have to bear in mind that the Old Testament church was radically different from the New Testament church. The former was natural and national, while the latter is spiritual and universal. The former was one of the kingdoms of this world, while the latter is not. The Old Testament church was the Jewish nation religiously organised; the rites and ceremonies, which the members of the Jewish nation were required to observe, were outward and bodily for the most part, though strikingly emblematic of the inward and spiritual; and if the Jewish nation were to keep the land of Canaan, which had been given to them by God, and maintain their independence, it was necessary that they should hate their enemies, and fight them with the carnal weapons of earthly kingdoms. The great danger to the Jewish nation, as a divinely-organised religious society, sprang from friendly dispositions towards their idolatrous neighbours. Hence, as the welfare of the world was bound up with the preservation of the Jewish nation, it was then a great virtue to hate idolaters, and especially to hate them when they invaded [Page 210] their country and oppressed them. David says, “Do not I hate them that hate Thee, 0 Lord? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against Thee? I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them mine enemies” (Psa. 139: 21, 22). Samson, then, in his prayer was not cherishing a blameable spirit, but one in perfect harmony with his divinely-appointed mission. The very suffering and humiliation, which the Philistines inflicted on him, were permitted by God for the purpose, not merely of chastening him for his sin and folly, but also of enkindling within him a consuming zeal for the destruction of his country’s enemies.
Having offered up his prayer, “Samson, as the biographer informs us in the twenty-ninth verse, “took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house rested, and leaned upon them, the one with his right hand, and the other with his left”: and, as “he bowed himself with all his might,” he said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” Samson, in the closing hour of his life, showed himself to be a man of eminent faith and heroic self-sacrifice. As soon as he prayed, he began to act in the full assurance that he would get the extraordinary strength which he desired: it is said that “he bowed himself with all his might.” Samson conformed to the spirit of the exhortation about [Page 211] prayer, which James in Christian times addressed to the Twelve tribes of the Dispersion, viz., “Let him ask in faith, nothing doubting: for he that doubteth is like the wave of the sea, driven by the wind and tossed” (James 1: 6); and this whole-hearted faith of Samson is the more remarkable, seeing that but a few weeks before he had grievously sinned, and God had departed from him, and permitted him to fall into the hands of the cruel Philistines. His whole-hearted, unwavering faith seems to be a striking proof of the genuine thoroughness of his repentance and re-consecration of himself to the service of God. And what Samson did, after praying for supernatural physical strength, is a shadow of what we should do, after praying for supernatural spiritual strength. Samson at once began to bow himself against the two pillars with all his might; and in like manner, after we have prayed to be strengthened inwardly by the Spirit of God, we should at once begin to put forth the most strenuous efforts to do the work which the Lord requires. If we pray for spiritual strength, and then do nothing, or put forth feeble efforts, for the destruction of our own and the Church’s spiritual enemies, our inactivity or languor is a proof that faith has been either altogether absent from our prayers, or but feebly present. Samson furnishes a striking illustration of the old adage, “Ora et labora,” pray and labour.
Samson too, in this closing hour of his life, showed himself to be a man of heroic self-sacrifice. He cried, as he thought of the terrible disaster which the downfall of the temple would bring on his and his country’s enemies, “Let me die with the Philistines.” He was eagerly ready to involve himself in the catastrophe, which would fill the land of the Philistines with mourning, lamentation, and woe. Samson indeed has been regarded as a suicide.* A recent able writer in “The Expositor’s Bible,” who maintains this view, has done in my judgment serious injustice to the character of Samson. He says, “Not Milton’s apology for Samson, not all the illustrious men who have drawn the parallel, viz., between Samson dying for his country and Christ dying for his people, can keep us from deciding that this was a case of vengeance and self-murder, not of noble devotion. We have no sense of vindicated principle when we see that temple fall in terrible ruin, but a thrill of disappointment and keen sorrow that a servant of Jehovah should have done this in His name.” And again, “Samson threw away a life of which he was weary and, ashamed. He threw it away in avenging a [Page 213] cruelty; but it was a cruelty he had no reason to call a wrong. ‘0 God, that I might be avenged’! - that was no prayer of a faithful heart. It was the prayer of envenomed hatred, of a soul still unregenerate after trial. His death was indeed self-sacrifice - the sacrifice of the higher self, the truer self, to the lower.”
* Appendix, Note F.
Now this language I cannot help regarding as alike
uncharitable and unjust. Suicide or
self-murder is indeed a heinous crime, which no amount of misfortune, except
insanity, can excuse; all men in all circumstances are bound to preserve
sacredly the gift of life; but the man who knowingly sacrifices his life in the
discharge of some public trust, or in the furtherance of some patriotic or
benevolent purpose, is not a suicide but a hero. The soldier who volunteers to be one of a
forlorn hope in the storming of a fortress, the captain who keeps to his post
and allows others to escape from the sinking ship, the patriot who will rather
die than betray the interests of his country, are felt to be worthy of our
admiration and esteem. And Samson is
worthy to be ranked amongst such. It is
very likely that Samson was sadly weary of his maimed and dishonoured life at
* “Judges and Ruth,” by Dr Watson, PP. 331 and 333.
The writer to
whom I have already referred, suggests how Samson ought to have acted. He says, “Samson
should have endured patiently, magnifying God.
Or we can imagine something not perfect but heroic. Had he said to these Philistines, My people
and you have been too long at enmity. Let there be an end of it. Avenge yourselves on me, then cease from
* “Judges and Ruth,” by Dr Watson, P. 333.
And Samson’s final act of revenge was a great and crowning success. The biographer says in the thirtieth verse: “And he bowed himself with all his
might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were
therein. So the dead which he slew at
his death were more than they which he slew in his life.”
Possibly the lad who had led Samson by the hand escaped. As he stood by, and heard Samson pray to his
God, and saw him grasp the two pillars, and bend himself upon them with all his
might, it is not unlikely that he dreaded danger, and at once fled from the
building. His kindness to Samson, in
permitting him to grasp the pillars, makes it pleasant to think that it might
be so; and perhaps it is to this lad that we are indebted for our [Page 216] knowledge of what Samson said and did in the last hour of his life. This terrible disaster, which Samson
inflicted on the Philistines at
“Dan shall judge his people,
As one of
the tribes of
Dan shall be a serpent in the way,
An adder in the path,
That biteth the horse’s heels,
So that his rider falleth backward.”
- (Gen. 49: 16, 17.)
And as Samson, who belonged to the tribe of Dan, was a Judge, and the only Judge from the tribe, and as he resembled the serpent in his sagacious subtilty and destructive power, the common opinion, that the prediction refers to him, seems well founded. And in the wondrous effectiveness of Samson’s death we may see a shadow of the wondrous effectiveness of the death of Christ. Bishop Hall, in his “Contemplations,” after referring to his tragic death, says, “So didst thou, 0 blessed Saviour, our better Samson, conquer in dying; and triumphing on the chariot of the cross, didst lead captivity captive; the law, sin, death, hell, had never been vanquished but by Thy death. All [Page 217] our life, liberty, and glory, spring out of Thy most precious blood.”
When the news reached Zorah, and the other cities of Dan, that
Samson had brought down the Temple of Dagon, and had died along with the lords
of the Philistines and an immense multitude in its ruins, “then his
brethren and all the house of his father came down, and brought him up, and
buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the burying place of his father Manoah.”
The words “his brethren” mean, not his brothers, for Samson had none, but his
relatives, and seem to imply that his father Manoah was dead; and the words “all the house
of his father” mean
the whole tribe of Dan. The members of
his family and tribe left Samson to fight the Philistines single-handed and
alone; but, now that he was dead, they mustered courage to go to Gaza to get
his remains, that they might honour him with a becoming burial. They were probably emboldened to do so, not
only by an enthusiastic admiration for his heroic death, but also by the terror
and confusion which the downfall of the
“Come, come, no time for lamentation now,
Nor much more cause; Samson hath quit himself
[Page 218] Like Samson, and heroicly hath finished
A life heroic; on his enemies
Fully revenged, hath left them years of mourning,
And lamentation to the sons of Caphtor
Through all Philistian bounds; to
Honour hath left, and freedom, let but them
Find courage to lay hold on this occasion;
To himself and father’s house eternal fame
And, which is best and happiest yet, all this
With God not parted from him, as was feared,
But favouring and assisting to the end.
Nothing is here for tears, nothing to wail
Or knock the breast; no weakness, no contempt,
Dispraise, or blame; nothing but well and fair,
And what may quiet us in a death so noble.
Let us go find the body where it lies
Soaked in his enemies’ blood; and from the stream,
With lavers pure and cleansing herbs, wash off
The clotted gore.”
And when his relatives and the men of Dan found the body of the great champion amid the ruins, they bore it northward with tearful sadness, and yet with the joy of triumph, and laid it with becoming solemnity and respect in the family tomb. According to tradition, the conspicuous white chapel on the hill near Zorah is Samson’s tomb. Captain Conder says, “It appears probable that the tomb now shown at Zorah is that known to the Jews in the fourteenth century as Samson’s; and the tradition, thus traced to other than [Page 219] monkish origin, is very possibly as genuine as that which fixes the tombs of Joseph and Phinchas near Shechem.* And after mentioning the burial, the biographer adds, with a view to show that the judgeship of Samson ended only with his death, “And he judged Israel twenty years.”
* “Tent Work in
We have now finished our exposition of this brief but suggestive biography of Samson, one of the most wonderful and interesting personalities who have played their part in the great drama of sacred history. His birth was heralded, and special instructions were given relating to his birth and upbringing by the Angel of the Lord, whose name was Wonderful; and after such a distinguished and marvellous introduction, we naturally expect an extraordinary and most important personage; but some have thought that Samson fails to satisfy this natural expectation, and that he was altogether unworthy of such a brilliant and painstaking heralding. They feel a sense of incongruity between the heralding and the life of Samson, akin to that which we experience, when we find a magnificent porch lead to an insignificant house, or hear an ornate and brilliant introduction followed by a common-place [Page 220] discourse. But I venture to think that this sense of incongruity springs from a superficial view of Samson.
First of all, Samson did a most extraordinary work. Single-handed
he kept a whole nation at bay, and weakened their power over his country during
his lifetime, and by his heroic death he inflicted such a crushing blow upon
the oppressors as to lead to their speedy overthrow. Such a work done by a single warrior is
unparalleled in the history of the world.
Samson indeed might have done more for his country, and occupied a
higher place in the roll of
Again, Samson was a man of the most extraordinary, physical strength. In this respect he is quite unique in the history of
the race. He immeasurably transcends all
other strong men in the might which he puts forth. His feats, such as the
routing of a large army at Ramath Lehi with the jawbone of an ass, the carrying
away of the city gates of
Again, Samson was a man of distinguished intellectual ability. He lived indeed in a rude and unlettered age; he probably received no education but what he got from his pious parents at home; but in the brief record of his eventful life we have evidence that he possessed an intellect of uncommon nimbleness and perspicacity, rich in wit and humour, and capable of rising into the region of poetry. The riddle which he, when about [Page 222] nineteen years of age, extemporized on the way to the marriage, after finding honey in the carcase of the lion which he had slain on a former occasion, viz., “Out of the eater came forth meat; and out of the strong came forth sweetness,” is a masterpiece of wit and beauty. The song of victory, which burst forth from his lips on the battlefield of Ramath Lehi, viz., “With the jawbone of an ass, heaps upon heaps, with the jawbone of an ass have I slain a thousand men,” bears the impress of genuine humour and even poetic inspiration. He showed the nimbleness of his wit, and his fertility of resource, not only in the three fictions with which he deceived and pacified the importunate Delilah, but also in his whole career as a warrior. His device for the destruction of the cornfields of the Philistines by means of foxes, his carrying away of the gates of Gaza at midnight while his enemies were lying in wait and slumbering under the impression that he was in safe keeping till the morning, and the promptitude with which he at once sees and seizes the opportunity which he got when he was set between the pillars of the Temple of Dagon, are striking illustrations. To speak of him as an infantile giant is a gross caricature. He had one of the brightest and finest, as well as strongest, intellects of his [Page 223] day; and such an intellect was not unworthy of the position of judge to which he was divinely called, or of the man whose birth was heralded by the Angel of the Lord.*
* The Bishop of Derry calls Samson “the great child of daring and genius” (“The Great Question and other Sermons,” p. 147); and Ewald says, “In Samson’s case it is sufficiently striking, that one consecrated to God, whose life has a wholly different object, displays notwithstanding a mental superiority even in these sports of new and pointed thought and creative imagery” (“History of Israel,” vol. ii. P. 401).
Again, Samson was a man of distinguished moral greatness. Samson has had to pay an enormous penalty for his unbridled passion. He suffered much for it during his lifetime. He suffered much, not only through his unwise marriage with the fair maid of Timnah, but also, and especially, through his dishonourable connection with Delilah. Through that base and treacherous woman he was shorn of his extraordinary strength, and made a prisoner by the Philistines, who not only put out his eyes, but compelled him to grind corn in the prison house, and make sport for them at their idolatrous festival. And after his death he has suffered much on account of it in the estimation of mankind. This great blemish has obscured the remarkable excellencies of his character, and made him the theme of general [Page 224] merriment and contempt. But if we look beneath his faults to the underlying qualities of the man, we shall see that he possesses a singular fitness of character for his divinely-appointed work. He was a man of unwavering faith, sunny-hearted enthusiasm, noble magnanimity, heroic daring, and devoted self-sacrifice. Samson, as Josephus said, was a man of extraordinary virtue.* An eminent living writer, who in many respects does ample justice to the life of Samson, does singular injustice to his character. He uses these words, and he does it for the purpose of magnifying the heroism of Samson’s death, “Those former victories, in which he sustained no hurt, displayed no devotion, no character, scarcely any daring - for he trusted in the talisman of his hair, and knew he could overpower all opposition. But in his death his heroism first appears; and we understand how he should be enrolled among the glorious names of history; we forget all his faults in his noble disregard of his own life, in his magnanimous scorn of those Philistines and their God.”**
* Antiq., B. V. c. viii. 12. ** “Israel’s Iron Age,” by Professor Marcus Dods, p. 130.
Now, to say that Samson before the closing act of his life “displayed no devotion, no character, [Page 225] scarcely any daring,” and that “in his death his heroism first appears,” is not in
accordance with fact. The man who could
grapple with a lion unarmed, go down to Askelon to kill thirty men in payment
of his wager, fall upon the large body of Philistines who had burned his wife
and her father with fire and smite them hip and thigh, encounter with the
jawbone of an ass an armed host, and visit Gaza, the largest and strongest city
of his enemies - the man who could do all these things alone, must surely be a
man of the most heroic daring. It is no
doubt true that this wondrous daring was due to his faith, not, as the writer
unhappily expresses it, to trust “in his talisman of
hair,” but to trust in God, as his prayer at Ramath Lehi clearly shows;
but the source of his heroic daring, instead of detracting from it, and
practically making it no daring, or “scarcely any
daring,” enhances it, and imparts to it something of moral
sublimity. Again, to say that Samson displayed
“no devotion,” when for twenty years he alone
of the Israelitish people disowned and defied the Philistines,
is surely to use language wide of the mark.
The fact that he sustained no hurt does not annihilate his devotion any
more than the fact that a soldier has come forth unharmed from a bloody
campaign annihilates his [Page 226] devotion in voluntarily enlisting and
continuing in the war. And to say that
he displayed no character is perhaps “the unkindest
cut of all.” Samson displayed on
several occasions the noblest generosity and self-control. Both when wronged in the matter of the
riddle, and the betrothal of his young wife to another, he honourably respected
the claims of relationship and friendship; he was burning on both occasions
with indignation, and he could easily have avenged himself on the wrongdoers;
but he nobly exercises self-restraint towards them, and lets his vengeance go
forth against the enemies of his country in general. And when the three thousand men of
But, again, Samson was a man of remarkable typical significance. He was in many respects an eminent type of Christ. He shadows forth very clearly Christ’s consecration to the work of our redemption from his very birth, His wondrous gift of the [Holy] Spirit for the doing of it, His solitariness in the grand spiritual conflict, His fiery enthusiasm against the enemies of God and man, His magnanimity and meekness under wrong, and the fruitfulness of His heroic death. There were dark spots in the glory of the type, but none in the antitype, the Sun of righteousness who has risen [‘out from the dead’*] with healing in his wings. And when we think of all that Samson was, and did, and foreshadowed, the fact that he was heralded before his birth by the Angel of the Lord, will appear highly appropriate.
[* 1 Cor. 15: 20, 23; Acts 2: 31.]
And now we must close our study of Samson, one of the most human, one of the most wondrously gifted, one of the most interesting, and one of the most instructive of men. After he had served his own generation by the will [Page 228] of God he fell asleep. The body, which was mangled by the fall of the temple, and which was laid in the tomb between Zorah and Eshtaol, saw corruption, and has been reduced to its kindred dust; but his spirit [Soul] was conveyed by the angels to Abraham’s bosom in the Paradise above [below].** Let us be at once warned and stimulated by his example; and while it behoves us to be thankful for such a man as Samson, let us especially be glad that we have an infinitely grander and more glorious Samson in Jesus, grander and more glorious alike in His person, in His character, and in His work.
* Appendix, Note G.
[* See Acts 2: 27; Luke 23: 43.]
* * *
THE MYTHICAL THEORY
“Truth, like a torch, the more it’s shook it shines.”
- Motto from Sir WILLIAM HAMILTON’S “Discussions on Philosophy.”
“Thy word is truth.”
- JOHN 17: 17.
“Well, I suppose the Scriptures, as a series of documents, are their own best witness-bearers.
But the Christian evidence is marvellously cumulative. I believe that what our
modern men call the ‘internal evidence’ is by far the deepest.”
- PROFESSOR DUNCAN in “Colloquia Peripatetica,” P. 79.
THE MYTHICAL THEORY
AS Biblical critics, like Kuenen and Renan, whose works are extensively read in this country, would reduce the biography of Samson to a myth or fable, it may not be out of place to consider their theory, especially as it may serve the double purpose of showing the flimsy grounds on which it rests, and of establishing the historic truth of the sacred narrative. Kuenen thus expresses his view: “The requisite light cannot be thrown on these particulars, viz., the incidents relating to Samson in the sacred narrative, unless we assume that Samson was originally a mythical being, the sun-hero, the personal representative, therefore, of the operations and fortunes of the sun.”* And Renan, in his “History of the People of Israel,” speaks of the biography as “a fable woven round the exploits of a certain man called [Page 232] Samson, the son of Manoah of Zorah, a warrior of the tribe of Dan of extraordinary strength.”**
* “The Religion of
The grounds on which this mythical theory is based are the following: (1) the fact of sun worship amongst the Canaanitish tribes, which is proved by the name Bethshemesh (House of the Sun), the name of a town in the neighbourhood of Zorah, the birthplace of Samson; (2) the fact that the objects in nature, which were worshipped, were commonly, if not universally personified the mythologies of Greece and Rome furnish striking illustrations; (3) the resemblance between Samson and the Grecian Hercules, who is generally regarded as to some extent a sun-myth; and (4) the name Samson, as coming from the Hebrew word Shemesh, which means the sun.
Now, much stress cannot be laid on the name Samson, as its derivation is confessedly doubtful, although the derivation relied on seems the most likely; and as little stress can be laid on the resemblance between Samson and the Grecian Hercules. To make Samson the hero of twelve labours like Hercules is to strain the narrative, and compels us to number amongst them the taking of honey out of the dead lion, which was an ordinary act, and the up-springing of the water [Page 233] at Ramath Lehi, which is ascribed in the narrative to God, and not to Samson. Besides, the feats of Samson are in general unlike the twelve labours of Hercules. The only one in which there is a striking resemblance, is Samson’s first feat of slaying the lion on the way to Timnah, with nothing in his hand, which corresponds to the first labour of Hercules, viz., the strangling of the Nemean lion. And with regard to this one striking point of resemblance, it is not unlikely that the fame of Samson’s feat gave rise to the fabled feat of Hercules.* With regard to the two other points of the evidence, it may be frankly admitted that there might he sun-worshippers and sun-myths amongst the Canaanites in the days of Samson. But with every desire to give the highest value to the evidence, I cannot help thinking that it furnishes but a very slender foundation on which to build such an elaborate and ponderous structure as the mythical theory of Samson. There are two reasons which lead me to think that it rests on a foundation of sand.
* See Note to the Article “Samson” in Dr Smith;s Bible Dictionary.
The first is, the strong unlikelihood of the Samson-myth in itself. The hero Samson, with his beaming countenance and uncut bushy locks, would make indeed a beautiful personification of the sun; but to suppose that the history of Samson was originally a mythical description of the operations and fortunes of the sun, is to credit the imagination of the ancient heathen with an incredible freak. To be convinced of this, we have only to consider it, as it is presented by the advocates of the theory themselves. Kuenen, who only gives one illustration, and who doubtless selected it as being in his judgment one of the best, says, “Do we not discover the only satisfactory solution of Samson’s well-known riddle which remains a riddle so long as we think of an ordinary lion, in the carcase of which bees are not accustomed to deposit honey - when we find in it the idea that the sun produces sweet honey, when he is in the constellation of Leo?”* According to Kuenen, the representation of the sacred biographer, that Samson took the honey out of the carcase of the dead lion, is incredible. Professor Steinthal of Berlin, who is the author of Kuenen’s “only satisfactory solution,” declares it to be a physical impossibility. He says, “The story of the slain lion and the honey found in his carcase cannot contain the solution, because it involves a [Page 235] physical impossibility. Bees do not build in dead flesh; their wax and honey would be spoiled by putrefaction. In no such wise can honey come out of the lion.”**
* “The Religion of
As I have already adduced evidence in support of the possibility of bees taking up their quarters in the carcase of a lion, I need not repeat it, but refer the reader to my second lecture. But as Professor Steinthal is of the opinion that the sacred writer has blundered in his attempted solution of the riddle, and as he considers the explanation, which I have quoted above, as the only satisfactory solution, it may be well to know what he regards as certain in the narrative. He says, “It is certain that a riddle like the one in question, viz: ‘Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness,’ was in circulation among the ancient Hebrews, and that Samson was believed to have proposed it. It is equally certain that its solution lay in the words transmitted from antiquity, ‘What is sweeter than honey, what stronger than a lion’?”* Now if these things are certain, and if Samson is, as they suppose, a personification of the sun, then [Page 236] it seems equally certain, if we are to carry out the sun-myth, that Samson must be represented as taking the honey, either out of a dead or a living lion. And of the two I prefer the dead lion on the score of credibility. Besides, the fact that “the sacred writer, who was acquainted with the climate and circumstances of Palestine, says that Samson took the honey out of the dead carcase, especially as it was never called in question by the Jews, is presumptive proof that the thing in itself was possible. The explanation, however, which the advocates of the mythical theory give, and which they declare to be the only satisfactory solution, seems to require that Samson should be represented as taking the honey out of the living lion, inasmuch as the sun in the constellation of Leo, shines with his greatest strength.
* Ibid., P. 394.
But what are we to understand by Samson killing the lion? The ordinary explanation is easy enough; it is, that Samson actually killed a lion; but the mythical explanation has been felt to be difficult by the advocates of the mythical theory themselves. Their explanation is a curiosity. It is meant, say they, to express that the sun-god commits suicide. Professor Steinthal says, “No doubt he does. The Phoenicians, Assyrians, and Lydians, attributed suicide to their [Page 237] sun-god; for they could only understand the mitigation of its own heat as suicide.”* Again, “The Bible says that Samson killed the lion with his bare hands: ‘there was nothing in his hand.’ But Herakles (Hercules) also kills the Nemean lion without his arrows, by strangling him with his arms. This feature, too, is probably significant. The Greek myth says that the reason why Herakles could not use any weapons was because the lion’s hide was invulnerable; but this is pure invention. The truth seems to me to be, that the weapons possessed by the sun-god are actually his only in so far as his symbol is the lion; for they consist of the force and efficacy of the sun. Now when the sun itself is to be killed, that cannot be done with the very weapons which are its strength. The god is forced to catch the burning rays in his own arms; he must extinguish the sun’s heat by embracing the sun, i.e., by strangling or rending the lion.”** It strikes me that these explanations speak for themselves. If they are not edifying, they are certainly diverting.
* Steinthal’s Essay, P. 397. ** Ibid., PP. 398 and 399.
As I have stated and discussed with a measure of fulness what are regarded as the strong points of the mythical theory, I may touch lightly on the rest. The story of the foxes is explained [Page 238] to mean the destructive influence of the sun’s heat. Professor Steinthal, whom Dr Goldziher in the Introduction to his work, “Mythology among the Hebrews,” lauds as “the founder of mythological science on Hebrew ground,” says, “Like the lion, the fox is an animal that indicated the solar heat; being well suited for this both by its colour and by its long-haired tail. At the festival of Ceres at Rome, a fox-hunt through the circus was held, in which burning torches were bound to the foxes’ tails: a symbolical reminder of the damage done to the fields by mildew, called the ‘red-fox’ (robigo), which was exercised in various ways at this momentous season (the last third of April). It is the time of the dog-star, at which the mildew was most to be feared; if at that time great solar heat follows too close upon the hoar-frost or dew of the cold nights, this mischief rages like a burning fox through the corn-fields.”* The Professor in this very extraordinary explanation omits any reference to the number of the foxes, which was three hundred, or to their having been sent by pairs with their tails tied into the corn fields of the Philistines. It is difficult to see what meaning on the mythical theory can be attached to these [Page 239] incidents; but after the remarkable discoveries, which we have already considered, it would be too much to say that the thing is impossible.
* Steinthal’s Essay, P. 398.
The incident of the ass’s jawbone is confessedly a hard nut for the Professor to crack. He says, “There is much difficulty here, and it will be impossible to be certain as to the interpretation.”* But, after giving the perplexing problem his mature consideration, the Professor feels himself justified in saying, “Surely the jawbone cannot be anything but the lightning, just as in Aryan mythology the head of an ass, or still more that of a horse,. denotes a storm-cloud, and a tooth, especially the tusk of a boar, signifies the lightning. Here, then, we have a thunder-bolt thrown down in the lightning - the instrument with which Samson conquered, and at the same time formed the locality.” Again, “The fact that in the Hebrew story the spring is put into combination with the jawbone would seem to me, connecting it with my conception of the latter as lightning, to indicate that the spring is the rain, which breaks forth from the cloud with the lightning.”**
* Steinthal’s Essay, p. 400. ** Ibid., PP. 402 and 403.
The incident of carrying away the city gates of
* Steinthal’s Essay, PP. 403 and 404. ** Steinthal’s Essay, PP. 404 and 405.
Before dealing with the death of Samson, Professor Steinthal favours the public with an estimate of what he had already done in explaining Samson as a sun-myth. He says: “Looking back, we find that we may probably regard as certain the proposed interpretation of the killing of the lion, of the foxes carrying firebrands, and of Samuel’s sexual passion: while the deeds with the jawbone and the gates must be termed uncertain. Now Samson’s end brings us back into perfect clearness; it refers again to the solar-god.” And after explaining the incidents of the cutting off of Samson’s locks, the putting out of his eyes, and his being bound, as varied symbols of the sun’s loss of power in winter, he thus concludes: “The final act, Samson’s death, reminds us clearly and decisively of the Phenician Herakles, as sun-god, who died at the winter solstice in the furthest west, where his two pillars are set up to mark the end of his wanderings. Samson also dies at the two pillars, but in his case they are not the pillars of the world, but are only [Page 242] set up in the middle of a great banqueting hall. A feast was being held in honour of Dagon, the fish-god; the sun was in the sign of the waterman; Samson, the sun-god, died.”*
* Steinthal’s Essay, p. 406.
Such is a brief outline of the mythical theory, on which much learning and ingenuity have been expended. It may afford amusement, but it will not, I am sure, commend itself to the common sense of mankind; and I am disposed to think that it will go down to posterity as one of the most imposing monuments of learned folly which the nineteenth century, or any other century, has reared.
The second reason for saying that the mythical theory rests upon a foundation of sand is, the strong unlikelihood that a sun-myth would be applied to the son of Manoah. Even if the supposed myth were credible, it is incredible that the myth or fable would be woven round the hero of Dan, as Renan supposes. First of all, the parents of Samson, instead of being sun-worshippers, were ardent and devoted worshippers of the God of Israel. It was, therefore, extremely improbable that they would give to their only son the name of the sun-god. Their devoted piety would naturally lead us to expect that they would shun [Page 243] with a strong aversion such an approach to the countenance of idolatry. Then this unlikelihood is still further strengthened by the circumstance, that their son had been announced to them beforehand by the Angel of the Lord, as one whom the Lord was to raise up to do a special work for His people against their idolatrous oppressors. It is very unlikely that pious parents, who were so honoured, and who were so desirous of being divinely-guided as to the right upbringing of their son, would be guilty of applying to him the name of a heathen god.
But, further, the mythical theory of Samson is opposed to the whole drift of the sacred narrative. Its whole drift is to show the evil of idolatry. The biography of Samson is prefaced with the declaration, “And the children of Israel again did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord delivered them into the hands of the Philistines forty years” (13: 1). The evil which excited the anger of the Lord on this occasion, and on all the other occasions referred to in the Book of Judges, was the sin of forgetting the Lord their God, and following after the gods of the surrounding nations. This is the sin which is uniformly represented as the reason why the Lord delivered them into the hands of their enemies; [Page 244] and it was to free them from the consequence of this sin that the Lord raised up Samson. Now, apart altogether from the historic truth of the narrative, is it likely that a writer, whose manifest aim is to show the evil of idolatry, would clothe the Lord’s own chosen servant with the imaginary attributes and deeds of one of the heathen gods? Would not such a course tend to defeat the end which he had in view? Would it not be honouring the very thing which he was seeking to discredit? And how was it possible that he could utilise a heathen myth without the fact being known or suspected by the Jewish people, for whose benefit he was writing? But as such an idea seems never to have occurred to the Jewish mind, and as the whole tone and tendency of the sacred narrative are hostile to idolatry, the only conclusion to which, it seems, we can reasonably come, is that the mythical theory is not only without any solid foundation, but also opposed to all the probabilities of the case.
In concluding the discussion of the mythical theory of Samson, I may briefly state the grounds of my belief in the historic truth of Samson’s history. First of all, the biography of Samson, which we have in the Book of Judges, forms a part of the sacred Scriptures of the Jews. [Page 245] This is a fact which nobody doubts. It is a part of that Book to which our Lord and His apostles uniformly appealed as the Word of God. It was of the writings contained in this Book that Paul wrote to Timothy: “Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work” (2 Tim. 3: 16, 17). And it appears to me that the fact that the biography of Samson forms a part of such a Book, is in itself a sufficient ground for believing in its historic truth.
But in addition to this, there are several things relating to the biography, which point to the same conclusion. There is, for example, the distinct and harmonious character of Samson. It is very noticeable, in reading the sacred narrative, that the biographer makes no attempt to delineate the character of the hero, but simply narrates the incidents of his life; and yet these incidents, which differ widely from one another, reveal a distinct and harmonious personality. The sacred writer, with few materials, and apparently without thought or effort, has penned for us one of the most luminous and life-like portraits to be found in the whole gallery of biography. Though [Page 246] possessed of extraordinary strength Samson is intensely human; he is many-sided: humorous and witty, generous and magnanimous, fierce like an eastern tornado yet good-natured and placable, rashly brave and yet alert to see his danger, eminently reserved and yet capable of a childlike openness under female blandishments and entreaties; yet in all his movements he speaks and feels and acts in harmony with himself. The only satisfactory explanation of this singular unity and uniqueness in the character of Samson seems to be that the sacred writer accurately narrated what actually occurred. The wonderful result was due, not to happy accident or artistic genius, but to the sacred writer being like the evangelists, a simple and honest penman, who was guided in the selection and presentation of the materials of the life, by the unerring Spirit of God.
Another feature in the biography is, the accuracy of its references to places in the sphere of Samson’s life and labours, and to the customs of the period. Samson is accurately described as going down from Zorah to Timnah, and as going down from Timnah to Askelon, inasmuch as Timnah was situated on a lower eminence than Zorah, and Askelon was in the plain by the sea, while Timnah was in the hill country. The Rock Etam, to [Page 247] which Samson fled for refuge after burning the corn of the Philistines and smiting them hip and thigh with a great slaughter, has been recently discovered by Captain Conder at Beit Atab, about six miles from Zorah. At this place there is not only an outstanding rock, but a great cave, which has been a place of refuge from time immemorial. The place suits exactly all the circumstances of the description. The biographer writes of the scene of Samson’s great victory, and of the well which sprang up in answer to Samson’s prayer, as being well known at the time he wrote. The height (Ramath), where the victory was won, was called Lehi (jawbone), from the jawbone with which Samson slew the Philistines; and the well, which God caused to spring up in answer to Samson’s prayer, was called En-hakkore (Well of the Crier). And the biographer says of this well En-hakkore, that “it is in Lehi unto this day” (15: 19). Captain Conder is of the opinion, as you will see from a quotation in the fourth lecture, that he has discovered the scene of this great victory, and the fountain, about a mile to the north-west of Zorah. And such incidents as the securing by the parents of Samson the fair maid of Timnah in marriage for their son, the propounding of a riddle with a wager at the marriage-feast, the [Page 248] duration of the marriage feast, Samson’s having thirty companions at his marriage, one of whom was distinctively called his friend, the burning of Samson’s wife and her father with fire, and the putting out of Samson’s eyes, are in strict accordance with the customs of the time. Now, such accuracy in notices of places and customs is, to say the least, favourable to the idea that we have accuracy in the details of the life itself.
Again, the recorded sayings of Samson and others in the sacred narrative go a
considerable way to establish the truth of the extraordinary events. The riddle, “Out of the eater came forth meat, and
out of the strong came forth sweetness,” taken in connection with its solution, “What is
sweeter than honey? and what is stronger than a lion?”
seem naturally to arise
out of such incidents as the killing of the lion by Samson, and his taking of
the honey out of the carcase. The song
of victory, “With the jawbone of an ass, heaps upon heaps; with the
jawbone of an ass have I smitten a thousand men,” which seems to be a genuine outburst
of feeling and to bear the stamp of Samson’s distinctive genius, is certainly
most easily and satisfactorily accounted for on the supposition that Samson
actually routed the Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, as we are [Page 249] informed in the sacred narrative.
The prayer of the thirsty and exhausted Samson after the victory, “Thou hast
given this great deliverance by the hand of Thy servant, and now shall I die
for thirst, and fall into the hand of the uncircumcised?” which is marvellously life-like and
appropriate, seems to be a voucher not only for the extraordinary character of
the victory, but also for the extraordinary uprising of the well. If God enabled Samson to do the one deed, we
feel that it was natural and becoming that God should do the other deed for His
servant. The doxology, sung by the
Philistines over the capture of Samson at the
Again, another feature of the biography of Samson is, its profound harmony with other scriptures. The account which it gives of the visit of the Angel of the Lord to Manoah and his wife, tallies with all the other notices of the Angel in Scripture. The Angel has the appearance of a man, as He had when He appeared to Abraham, Jacob, Joshua, and Gideon; and yet there was something about Him, or done by Him, which wrought in them all the conviction that He was divine. He refuses to tell His name to Manoah, [Page 251] as He did to Jacob; He speaks of it as secret, or wonderful, which is the same word that Isaiah, in the ninth chapter of his prophecies, applies to the name of the coming Messiah. The fear of Manoah that he would die, because he had seen God, is in harmony with the feeling both of Jacob and Gideon, and the declaration of God to Moses, “Thou canst not see my face; for man shall not see me and live.” The representations of God in the biography of Samson are elevated and ennobling, and exactly similar to those which are to be found throughout Scripture. He is seen in the narrative to be the Sovereign Controller of all events, as in the marriage of Samson; the Hearer of prayer, as in the answers given to Manoah and Samson; the Almighty Helper of his people, in clothing Samson with invincible power; the Long-suffering One, in patiently bearing with his erring servant, and yet the Holy One, and the just, in permitting him to be severely punished by the Philistines for his sins; and yet this full and splendid revelation of God, which is in perfect harmony with that of other Scriptures, is given, not formally or ostensibly, but in the simple narrative of the life of Samson itself. The only satisfactory explanation of this profound harmony between the biography of Samson and other [Page 252] Scriptures, seems to be that the sacred writer not only narrates facts, but narrates them under the guidance of the Spirit of God.
And another feature of the biography is,
truthfulness of the sacred writer. If he touches up the story in an extraordinary way, as Renan
certainly does not embellish the character of his own countrymen, or of
Samson. Three thousand men of
* Renan’s “History of the People of Israel,” P. 282.
It might be said that the sacred writer made this humiliating exposure of his countrymen for the purpose of exalting the magnanimous heroism of Samson; but we find him making equally humiliating exposures of blemishes in the character and conduct of Samson himself. He represents him at the very opening of his career as blindly infatuated by his passion for the fair maid of Timnah, and as utterly regardless of his parents’ remonstrances about marrying a daughter of the uncircumcised Philistines, and towards the close of his career as entering into the house of a harlot at Gaza, and showing woeful effeminacy with Delilah in the valley of Sorek. The last is depicted with such minuteness and graphic power as to lead us to regard him with mingled pity and disgust. Now it seems to me that such stern truthfulness towards a national hero, and towards his own countrymen, in a narrative which was meant to be embodied in the nation’s annals, and which has always been accepted by the nation as genuine, is a good guarantee that the sacred writer penned the biography, not in the spirit of the novelist, but of the historian.
I have not entered on the discussion
of the question as to the time when the biography of Samson was written. Those who deny its historical genuineness,
labour to show, more frequently assume, that it was written at a comparatively
late period; their object is to secure abundant opportunities for the mingling
of the true history of Samson with legend and myth. The late date, however, seems to be disproved
by the twenty-first verse of the first chapter of the Book: “And the
children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites that inhabited
* * *
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NOTE A, page 4.
Perhaps I ought to have made an exception in the case of the late Dr John Bruce, Free St Andrew’s, Edinburgh, the author of the only monograph on Samson with which I am acquainted - a work which was published about forty years ago, and which is now, I believe, out of print. This work, however, while containing passages of original genius, is singularly defective in its treatment of the places, customs, and incidents mentioned in the biography. It deals too much with the spiritual experience of Samson, and in a way which is to a large extent purely imaginary, and not very credible. Take, for example, the explanation which he gives of the fact that Samson, after burning the corn-fields of the Philistines, and smiting them hip and thigh with a great slaughter, went down and dwelt in the cavern of the Rock Etam. Its plain meaning is that he fled thither for safety; but, according to Dr Bruce, he retired “to bury himself in solitude, and there to meditate and to pray, and to try if, amid the great complexity of sins and temptations with which through that godless marriage he had ruinously entangled another far more helpless, and doubtless also, considering her ignorance, far less criminal [Page 258] than himself - to try, I say, if through that entanglement he can discover any straight and certain pathway, for his own return unto God” (p. 68). But it has to be mentioned, that Dr Bruce had a very high opinion of the rich instructiveness of the sacred history of Samson. He says “I do take shame to myself, for having so often treated this wondrous record with so little reverence, and so having for a long time seen so exceedingly little in it, either to edify or alarm me. And yet it is as far as possible from my design to try to compensate for this indiscretion now, by attempting to rifle these chapters of all their wealth, which would be in fact to exhaust that which is indeed inexhaustible” (“ Biography of Samson,” P. 25).
Dr Edersheim says: “Can Samson claim a place among the spiritual heroes who ‘through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises’? The question cannot be dismissed with a summary answer, for if, as we believe, the Holy Spirit pronounced such judgment on his activity as a Judge, then careful and truthful study of his history must bear it out. But then also must that history have been commonly misread and misunderstood” (“Israel under Joshua and the Judges,” pages 163 and 164).
Dr George Dana Boardman of
NOTE B, page 48.
The likelihood is that Samuel was more than ten years of age at the death of Eli. According to Josephus, he was twelve when God called him in the tabernacle at Shiloh, and revealed to him the doom of Eli’s house (Antiq. v. 10, 4); and as there was an interval between the call of Samuel and Eli’s death, the probability is that Samuel was at least thirteen years of age when the great defeat, which was the occasion of Eli’s death, occurred. According to this reckoning, Samuel would be about thirty-four years of age when he won the victory at Ebenezer, and must have been born about six years after the forty years’ Philistine oppression had begun, and about five years after the birth of Samson.
NOTE C, page 51,
Dr. Edersheim asserts that the judgeship of Samson began before the death of Eli. He says: “According to the chronological arrangement already indicated, we infer that Samson was born under the pontificate of Eli, and after the commencement of the Philistine oppression, which lasted forty years. If so, then his activity must have begun one or two years before the disastrous battle in which the ark fell into the hands of the Philistines, and in consequence of which Eli died (1 Sam. 4: 18)” (“Israel under Joshua and the Judges,” p.166). There are two reasons which lead me to believe that Samson’s judgeship must have begun not before but after the death of Eli. The first is Samson’s age. Eli’s [Page 260] death took place about twenty-one years before the victory at Ebenezer, as we know that the ark after his death was seven months in the land of the Philistines (1 Sam. 6: 1), and twenty years at Kirjathjearim (1 Sam. 7: 2) before the victory. Now as Samson was born about a year after the Philistine oppression had begun, he could not have been more than a few months over eighteen years of age at the time of Eli’s death; and if, as Dr Edersheim strongly asserts, Samson’s judgeship began one or two years earlier, he must have been then only a little over sixteen or seventeen years of age, which appears to be much too early for a Judge. The second reason is the fact, that there is no trace of Samson’s activity in connection with the Israelitish rebellion, which ended so disastrously, and was the occasion of Eli’s death. If Samson had been active against the Philistines for one or two years before the defeat of his countrymen and the capture of the ark, it is almost certain that he would have been heard of in connection with the conflict, and that he would not have allowed the Philistines to remain in peaceful possession of the ark for the long period of seven months. The only satisfactory explanation of the silence about Samson’s activity at this critical period appears to be that his judgeship had not yet begun.
NOTE D, page 154.
Canon Liddon thus eloquently speaks of Samson’s
incontinency in relation to his divinely-appointed work as a Judge. He says: “This
inconsistency,” i.e., his incontinence as opposed to his Naziritic vow,
“did not, of itself, involve disloyalty to the ruling
idea of his life as a champion of
‘The wisest, brightest, meanest of mankind.’
Samson’s inconsistencies did not ruin his work so long as he was faithful to its central idea - and so long as his hair was uncut, he felt that his life was a consecrated life, and that he must keep its high purpose in view” (“Sermons on the Old Testament,” pp. 100 and 101).
NOTE E, page 176.
The late Canon Liddon bases on the influence of Delilah over Samson, the general observation that women have incalculably great influence in controlling the characters and destinies of men. He says: “The influence which Nature and Christianity alike assign to women, and which is, as I have said, enormous, is an indirect influence. As man’s helpmate, woman inevitably governs [Page 262] in a large sphere of our common life. She has not, indeed, man’s strength of muscle, or man’s strength of will, or, at least as a rule (for there ate great exceptions), Man’s strength of understanding. But her life of sympathy is much richer and stronger than his; her passive courage, as a rule, is greater; her insight into character more accurate and penetrating. And these qualities cover a very large district of our common existence, so that in all ages, but especially since the Incarnation has rescued women from the degradation of the ancient world, women’s position in life and society has been one of great power.”
“That Delilah used her influence for
a bad end - as a bad woman would - I do not, of course, forget. But as she wields her power with such
ruthless decision, she points a moral which we may not pass by. Samson had placed himself in her power - and
she was at least loyal to the instincts of race and country. And if Delilah represents the misuse of
woman’s great influence, side by side with Delilah in this very Book of Judges,
there is another woman who more than redresses the balance - Deborah, the Judge
and mother in
NOTE F, page 212.
‘Out of the eater came forth meat, And out of the strong came forth sweetness.’”
Dr Boardman, in characterizing the heroic death of Samson as a “tragic suicide,” has forgotten his own warning, to which I have referred in a previous note, and given way to the temptation of passing an altogether unfavourable judgment. As I have tried to shew in the lecture, this judgment is alike uncharitable and unjust. But Dr. Boardman has also, it seems to me, seriously erred in regarding the punishment which befell Samson for his sensuality as the grand moral of his life. This certainly is one of the lessons which his life impressively teaches us; but there are others, even more important, such as the wonderful results which God can achieve by one consecrated man, and the mighty power of faith.
NOTE G, page 228.
Dr. John Bruce thus generously concludes his description of the death of Samson: “And worthy therefore, I say, was he to be borne away from the ruins, and carried by many brethren and by all the house of his father, and laid in the place of his fathers’ sepulchre as a prince and a great man, who had fought and had fallen gloriously [Page264] that day, for Israel’s liberties and for the honour of Israel’s God. And though not a few of the many things we have had to say, as being either suggested to us by the Scriptures or literally recorded there, may have worn somewhat the air of chivalry and romance, yet have we all along striven to speak of him under the solemnising conviction, that it is as but a little while and we shall actually see him raised along with ourselves in the day of the Lord, and standing probably among the foremost of those most blessed saints of whom it is written, that ‘they loved not their lives unto the death; and they laid them down for the brethren - and they overcame by the word of their testimony, and by the blood of the Lamb’” (“The Biography of Samson,” p. 118).
THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON FOR US ALL
Samson said he would go out and shake himself as at other times – “and he wist not that the Lord was departed from him” (16: 20). All the outer man was there, but it was a temple without God: and Samson knew it not! The power was gone and the man of God was not aware of it! Is there any irony so humbling, so awful for us to contemplate? Jesus said: “When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, add dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first:” (Luke 11: 24-26, A.V.).
Others may look on and pity us; some may believe that we were never saved at all! But the truth of the matter is that a man or woman of God may have lost the indwelling Holy Spirit! Who will dare tell others of this great danger, which may be the cause of such a ghastly condition? “Ichabod” may be written over the life of a Christian! – the glory has departed, the eyes have lost their sight; the sense of danger no longer remains; the desire to live a holy life before God has left: and it can happen only to regenerate believers! How is it with us today?
Seeing and knowing this great danger is possible, there is one prayer which we should carry daily to the throne of grace: and only a redeemed child of God can pray it. That deep, high, grand, all-inclusive and most important prayer is: “Take not Thy Holy Spirit from me,” – take health, take friends, take happiness, take all the world values as good and necessary if need be, but take not Thy Holy Spirit from me! “Renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not the Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation; and uphold me with a free spirit:” (Psa. 51: 10-12).
Heavenly Father, save us in the midst of our temptations; direct us safely along the road that is sown with traps and snares; take hold of our hand every step of the way; strengthen and equip us to finish the work which my Lord has given us to do, and grant that we may be judged as worthy to enter that “sabbath rest for the people of God” (Heb. 4: 9, 11) - that thousand-year-rest which is promised to overcomers. Psa. 95: 11; Psa. 132: 8, 9; Isa. 11: 10b; Jer. 50: 34; Dan. 12: 13; Heb. 4: 11.
“How shall they hear the message
If there are none to preach?
How shall they learn Your lesson
If there are none to teach?
Take us, then, Lord, and use us
To tell what we have heard,
And all the minds of millions
Shall feed upon Thy Word.”
- Charles Joseph Jefferies, 1896-1972.
“ And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the HOLY SPIRIT,
whom God hath given TO THEM THAT OBEY HIM:” (Acts 5: 32, R.V.).