Judges 13-16 -- Samson - Empowered by the Spirit, Dominated by the Flesh

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          What comes to mind when you hear the name “Samson”?  Some will immediately think of the woman that brought him down – “Delilah”.  Others will think of his “super strength” or his “Long hair”.  Still others think of someone who had amazing strength but was quite dumb when it comes to the ladies.  Sort of like a dumb jock in high school, big and strong, but not all together smart.  Samson’s demise by Delilah still amazes me.  How could he be so foolish to allow Delilah to trick him?  What was he thinking?  Couldn’t he see through it?

In fact, if the life of Samson was a mere story, it would rival that of anything Shakespeare wrote, for Samson truly is a tragic hero whose amazing deeds are overshadowed by disastrous failures in life.  Samson was one who was empowered by the Spirit, yet also one who was dominated by the flesh.  To really understand the downfall of one who had it all, we need to first take a brief look at the time in which he lived.

To understand Samson’s time, we must understand the time of Judges in Israel.  God had chosen Israel, brought them out of slavery in Egypt, given them His law to live by and placed them in the Promised Land.  They were expected to live like His people, to be Holy because He is Holy.  They went into the land under the leadership of Joshua, but after Joshua dies, things begin to head into a downward spiral fast.  So to see what the book of Judges is about, from chapters 1 – 21, Open your Bibles to the very last verse of the book, Judges 21:25.

This verse summarizes the whole period of time that the  book of Judges covers.  The book is a 300 year history of what happens when a nation depends on its own sense of morality rather than on God’s.  This book is a record of Israel’s dark ages.  Joshua has died, and it is before there was a king to lead God’s people in what is right.  So they did what was right in their own eyes.  It is a depressing and graphic book is filled with murder, rape, idolatry, homosexuality, betrayal, deceit, fornication, adultery, divorce, and this is just in the leaders of that time.  God’s people, who had done what was right most of the time during Joshua’s time, now have walked away from God, doing what was right in their own eyes.

So God punishes His people for their sin.  In this, we see the cycle of sin in the book of Judges of Sin, Servitude, Supplication, Salvation, and Security.  Israel would sin, follow after idols and reject God.  So God would raise up people around them to oppress them and make them slaves.  They would cry out to God and he would raise up a “Judge” or deliverer to save them.  Then there would be a time of peace and after the “Judge” died, Israel would go back to sinning and the cycle would repeat.

To deliver Israel from these different oppressions, God would raise up a “Judge” which was basically a military and civil leader who would defeat the enemy and lead the people for a period of time.

This is where we come to Samson.  Israel has been through this cycle time and time again.  Turn in your Bibles to chapter 13 of Judges, Judges 13:1.  At this time, Israel again sinned and God let the Philistines rule over and oppress them for 40 years.  Yet this time, they didn’t cry out to God to deliver them.  They were content being slaves to the Philistines, but God decides to deliver them anyway and He chooses to do so with Samson.

  • This epic story begins with the longest oppression Israel has faced, 40 years under the Philistines.

  • It begins in a small town about 15 miles west of Jerusalem, where the angel of the Lord predicts the birth of Samson.

Samson’s Mission in life

Prophecy of His Birth

  • Samson’s birth is unusual.  He is given the honor of having his birth announced by the angel of Yahweh.

  • His birth announcement rivals that of Isaac and John the Baptist.

  • Samson’s beginning is nothing short of amazing.  The one who came to Samson’s mother was the second person of the Godhead, the preincarnate Christ.

  • The fact that this is God is seen in the parent’s fear of dying for having seen “God” in verse 22.

  • Great things were in store for Samson.  There was excitement and great promise for this boy, for God himself come to announce his birth.

Prominence of His Calling

  • Not only was Samson’s birth extraordinary, but also His calling.

  • This was not some ordinary calling of living a normal life, but a special calling of Yahweh that is seen in two factors.

Nazirite Vow

  • Central to the Angel’s message is seen in this Nazirite vow.

  • Nazirite means dedicated or consecrated.  In Numbers 6:1-12, The Nazirite vow was taken for a voluntary period of time.

  • Yet Samson was to be a Nazirite for life.  He was to be dedicated to and consecrated to God for life. 

  • A Nazirite was to abstain from fermented drinks (wine and beer), not to cut his hair and not to touch a dead body. 

  • Violations of this calling will play an important role in the life of Samson and be the downfall of his life.

  • The Nazirite vow was not just a list of rules to conform to but was an outward expression of an inward dedication to God.

  • This person was visibly seen as different and as separated to God.

Deliver of Israel

  • Another aspect of His calling is seen at the end of verse 5, He will begin to deliver Israel from the Philistines.

  • Not only was he to live a special life of dedication to God, but also to live a special life of delivering God’s people.

  • But notice this important observation in the narrative.  The Angel tells Mrs. Manoah what the boy’s calling will be, what his mission in life is, yet she omits certain facts when retelling it to her husband in verse 7.

  • She doesn’t repeat two essential things.  Not to cut his hair and that he was to be a deliverer of the nation.

  • No wonder Manoah wonders in verse 8 and pleads that the Lord will send the messenger again.  He asks in verse 12, What shall be his mode of life and vocation?  What is his mission in life?

  • But the Angel has already told the wife.  Look at 13.  Rather than repeat, He reminds.

  • What we see is confusion about what the Samson’s mission in life is.  This will be a theme repeated all through the narrative. 

  • Rather than deliver the nation of Israel, he gets caught up in doing what he wants when he wants.

Samson’s Moral Failures & Mighty Deeds

  • What makes Samson’s story so compelling and interesting is all of the mighty deeds he does.

  • In chapter 14 through the beginning of chapter 16, Samson accomplishes some amazing and mighty deeds due to the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

Samson –


      Killed a lion with his bare hands

      Killed thirty Philistines

      Caught 300 foxes and torched fields

      Killed 1000 Philistines with a jawbone of a donkey

      Carried the gate of a city up a Mt.

      Killed 3000 Philistines by destroying the temple

  • Yet He also falls into gross moral failures along the way, showing that he is dominated by his flesh too.

      Married a Philistine because of lust

      Violated His Nazirite vow by touching a dead body

      Slept with a prostitute

      Involved himself with a wicked woman – Delilah

      Violated His Nazirite vow by allowing his hair cut.

  • Though time does not permit an in-depth look at these mighty deeds and moral failures, we do need to look briefly at some.

  • Turn to Chapter 14:1-9

  • In this section, we see both Moral failure and Mighty deeds.

  • The saga of Samson begins and ends the same way, with Samson displaying a fatal weakness for Lust.

  • Samson has gone down to a Philistine city and saw a woman that pleased him.  Literally, “Right in His eyes”.

  • He wants what he wants.  He tells his father to arrange the marriage, but his father and mother try to dissuade him.

  • According to God’s standards, Israel was not to intermarry with foreigners.  This wasn’t because God promoted racism, but because by marrying these pagans, they would turn the hearts of God’s people away from God.

  • This is seen over and over again in the Bible, especially in Solomon’s life, where his foreign wives turned his heart away from God and he served other gods.

  • But Samson wants what he wants.  His response is chilling in verse 3, “Get her for me, because she looks good to me”.  Lit. Right in Samson’s eyes. 

  • Notice the parallel to the chapter 21:25 where everyone did right in their own eyes.  Samson will disobey God because it seems good to him.

  • Yet we also see a mighty deed in that a lion attacks him but he kills it with his bare hands due to the Spirit.

  • But yet again, He disobeys and touches the carcass of the dead lion because he wants some honey.  He wants what he wants regardless of what God has said.

  • He wasn’t suppose to touch a dead body due to his nazirite vow, yet because he wanted the honey, he did it anyway.

  • The rest of this section shows that while celebrating the wedding, Samson gets into a riddle contest with some Philistines.  They are stumped so they press his new wife to give them the answer otherwise they will burn her and her father.  She presses him and nags him for a week and he finally gives in.

  • She tells the Philistines the answer, so out of anger Samson goes to another town to kill 30 Philistines to pay the wager.  So this starts off a war between Samson and the Philistines.  Samson catches 300 foxes, ties them two at a time by the tail and ties torches to them so they torch the Philistines fields.  In revenge, they burn his wife and father in law. 

  • Notice his motive for fighting the Philistines, he wants revenge, revenge for killing his Philistine wife.  So Samson kills many of them.  15:8, He struck them ruthlessly.

  • Then the Philistines get the tribe of Judah to capture Samson (which he does willingly) only to break free and kill 1000 of them with the jawbone of a donkey.

  • But notice again 15:11, He responds to the question of why he has fought with the Philistines with this answer, “As they did to me, so I have done to them.”

  • Then in chapter 16:1-4, Samson yet again is controlled by his lust and visits a prostitute.

  • While at the prostitute’s house, the Philistines set up a trap, then go to sleep thinking Samson will be there all night.  But Samson leaves at midnight, only to find the gate of the city locked up, so he breaks and carries it up a mountain some 40 miles away.

  • The remarkable thing here is that instead of following His calling and mission as a nazirite and deliverer, He does his own thing, whatever is right in his own eyes and only gets involved with Philistines when it becomes personal.

  • He only kills Philistines in chapter 14 because he owes other Philistines 30 garments.  He only burns their fields after he gets mad at them, then kills them after they kill his wife and father in law seen in 15:7 – Since you act like this, I will take revenge on you.

  • When the men of Judah come to capture him to take him away to the Philistines, they ask why he has done this and He says in 15:11, “As they did to me, so I have done to them.”

  • Instead of living in light of His mission as deliverer of Israel, he only acts when it becomes personal to him. 

  • Instead of living in light of His special relationship with God, he does whatever he wants, even if it means breaking his vow.

Samson’s Misery and Demise

  • Then final chapter of Samson’s life is one of Misery and Demise.

  • What a tragic ending for someone as promising as Samson.

  • His downfall, starting in chapter 14 with his lust culminates in chapter 16 with his involvement with Delilah.

  • Once again, a woman gets him to tell his secret.

  • What we see of Delilah’s character is that she was easily agreeable to coax Samson’s secret of his strength from him.

  • Yet we also see Samson’s deadly game with Delilah. 

vs. 6-9 – “If I am bound with new bowstrings”

vs. 10-12 – “If I am bound with new rope”

vs. 13-14 – “If you weave my seven locks of hair”

vs. 15-22 – “A razor has never touched my head, for I am a Nazirite to God”

  • In this deadly game with Delilah, we see Samson acting indifferent with the source of His power, but more to the point with his special relationship with God.

  • He was more concerned with losing Delilah than with violating his relationship with Yahweh expressed in the nazirite vow.

  • Then, verse 20 he assumes that he can go out and defeat the Philistines like before, only this time, the Spirit who empowers him has left him.

  • You know the rest of the story, He is bound, blinded and put into prison.

  • He is mocked then martyred.  The tragic ending of a promising life.

  • Even in his last act against the Philistines where he kills 3000, He does so not because he realizes his mission is to deliver Israel, but out of revenge for his two eyes.  16:28

  •  He started out with so much and ended with so little.

  • What can we learn from the life of Samson?

  • What we see in the life of Samson is one of so much promise yet filled with so much tragedy.

  • We see a person empowered by the Spirit yet dominated by the flesh.

  • We see a person so gifted by God, yet so controlled by what he wanted.

  • On the surface, Samson reminds us that falling prey to temptations can prevent God’s people from realizing their full potential for God.

  • But a closer look tells us a few things.


Samson didn’t live in light of His:

1. Special relationship to God

    • Samson knew He was a Nazirite and he knew that meant he needed to follow a certain set of rules.

    • These rules were found in the torah, in Numbers 6.  It was also communicated to His mother, which was passed down to Him.  
    • But a knowledge of rules is not enough.  The Nazirite vow was not just something to follow, a list of don’ts in life.  
    • It was a sign of special dedication, a sign of a special relationship with Yahweh.  
    • Without understanding of this larger purpose, that the nazirite vow was more than a list of don’ts, his nazirite vow wasn’t enough to sustain him in times of temptation.  
    • It became just arbitrary rules rather than an outward symbol of inward dedication.  
    • So when the honey was sitting there, looking delicious, his nazirite vow didn’t mean much, because it was a list of don’ts, not a reminder of his relationship with a holy God.  
    • When he was confronted with the loss of Delilah, His hair was just hair.  His vow was nothing more than a list of don’ts rather than an outward expression of an inward dedication to Yahweh.  
    • Sad to say, this is many Christians today.  We have a special relationship with God through Jesus Christ, but to some being a Christian is a list of do’s and don’ts.  
    • But it is more than that, it is a special relationship with a holy God who has saved us.  When we are tempted by the honey of this world seen in various forms, we don’t have what it takes to resist it, because our relationship is just a bunch of do’s and don’ts.  
    • Not based on the fact that we have a special relationship with God, that He has saved us and that we are to be holy because He is Holy, to bring Him glory.  
    • Samson’s dietary rules and long hair marked him out as having a special relationship with God.  
    • In the same way, the commands of God found in the Bible that we so easily disregard are not just rules of do’s and don’ts but are there to show that we have a special relationship with God.  
    • We are to be holy because He is holy.  We are to live holy lives and glorify God because He bought us with a price, the death of Christ.  
    • We are His children, therefore we must live according to what He says, because of this relationship.


2. Special God-given Mission in life  

·         Another observation we see in the life of Samson is that he was called to be a deliverer of Israel.  He was to deliver Israel from the Philistines.

·         Yet throughout his life, He was mission-less, purposeless and just did what he wanted to do.

·         When he fought with the Philistines, instead of delivering Israel, He fought because of vengeance and revenge for himself.

·         Everything that Samson did was because of self.  He lived life the way he wanted to live it rather than what God had called him to be and do.

·         He wanted a Philistine wife so he disregarded God’s law.  He wanted to get revenge for what he felt rather than fighting for what God had called him to fight for, the deliverance of Israel.

·         He was more concerned about the loss of his own two eyes than fulfilling the God-given mission of deliverer.

·         We tend to live the same way.  Rather than living according to a God-given mission, we live as purposeless as Samson.

·         We do things because we want them, because they are right in our own eyes.

But God has called us, saved us for a God-given mission.

1.    To Bring Him Glory                                 (1 Cor. 6:20, 10:31)

2.    To Live as His Holy People                      (Eph 1:4, 1 Pet. 1:16)

3.    To Share His Message of Salvation.          (Matt. 28:18-20, 1 Pet. 2:9-12)

When we don’t live in light of our special relationship to God and our special God-given mission in life, we are nothing more than Samsons – empowered by the Spirit but dominated by the flesh, only to live a tragic Christian life of failure.

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