Hair today; gone to sorrow.

Bible Stories for Grown-ups:  Samson and Delilah

Comments on Judges 3, Ehud
Comments on Judges 4 - 5, Deborah
Comments on Judges 6 - 7, Gideon
Comments on Judges 10 - 11, Jephthah

Judges 13:1-25, Great Gifts, Thrown Away
Judges 14:1-20, A Spoiled Child
Judges 15:1-20, The Jawbone of an Ass
Judges 16:1-20, Betrayed
Judges 16:21-31, Samson's Revenge

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The Death of Samson. Click to enlarge. See below for provenance.
Judges 13:1-25 (10/5/2009)

"Samson and Delilah" is a long, exasperating story.  Children do know the essentials.  They know that Delilah cut Samson's hair and betrayed him to the Philistines.  Some of them know that he was blinded.  There's a children's book out on the grandkid's bookcase in my living room that even tells how he died.  (Grimm's version, probably.)  Even so, there are some interesting details that we probably don't burden the kids with, and this week we'll take a look at them. 

The reason I say this story is exasperating is that Samson had great gifts, but he threw them all away.  He was a special child.  Born to a barren mother, he was dedicated as a Nazirite from conception.  He was supposed to begin the work of rescuing the Israelites from the Philistines.
First let me say a little bit about the time of the Judges.  The 12 tribes did not have any central government.  Most of the time the elders of each tribe ran things, which is pretty much the system that is still used in that part of the world.  However, if you read Judges, you see a cyclical pattern of apostasy of one or more tribes, oppression by a foreign people, repentance, the raising of a judge by God, throwing off the oppression, worship of God during the lifetime of the Judge, and then apostasy again.  A judge was a charismatic leader chosen by God - usually a military leader, and sometimes a religious leader.  The book of Judges talks about 13 judges, although 6 are mentioned only briefly.  Samson was one of the judges, and he gets more pages than any other judge except Samuel (who has his own book).  Mostly, however, Samson serves as a really bad example.

Judges 14:1-20 (10/6/2009)

Samson Slays the Lion. Click to enlarge. See below for provenance. When I was about 12 or 13, we had some good friends consisting of an older man and woman with a boy the same age as my little sister, who was in kindergarten.  All three of them were nice people, but the kid was spoiled rotten.  As near as I could tell - and remember that I was just a kid myself, so I suspect the situation was even worse than I remember - the little boy ran the show.  He got whatever he wanted from his doting parents.
Samson was also the only child of an older couple.  It appears to me that he could have used a good walloping or two in his youth.  He was self-centered, bull-headed, and impulsive.  He was also prone to ignore his Nazirite vows not to have anything to do with dead bodies or unclean foods.  And that's just today's scripture!

Let me comment on vs. 4, to save you the trouble of asking.  Certainly God could use Samson's waywardness to accomplish His own ends; remember that God can use evil for
good. Nevertheless, God would probably have been a lot more pleased to use Samson's obedience for His own ends.  We will never know, since Samson wasn't good at obeying either his parents or God.

Judges 15:1-20 (10/7/2009)
The little poem that he made up goes something like this:
This little ditty illustrates a couple of things about Hebrew poetry.  First, there is the play on word sounds - ass khamor, mass khomer, masses khomerim.  Second, the second line in a poem is normally parallel in some way to the first line.  In Samson's poem, the second line explains the first line, which otherwise would be sort of cryptic. 
Sometimes the second line amplifies the first by giving a second example:
Sometimes it provides a contrast:
By now, you will have recognized the first sentence of this study tip as an illustration of Hebrew poetry.

Judges 16:1-20 (10/8/2009)

Samson and Delilah. Click to enlarge. See below for provenance.

How dumb do you have to be to give someone four - count them - four tries to betray you to your enemies?  Once, okay.  You probably trusted this person.  Twice, maybe.  Everybody deserves a second chance.  But four?  You think maybe after the third time Delilah yelled, "Samson, the Philistines are coming," that Samson should have twigged that his girlfriend was not trustworthy?

Anyway, let's talk about hair.  Nazirites were Jews who had made special vows to God.  Most of the time the term of the vow was limited, like 30 days or maybe three months.  Some people, like Samson, were dedicated as Nazirites for their entire

lives by their parents.  The rules for Nazirites are found in Numbers 6.  The main rules are (1) don't eat or drink any grape products, (2) don't cut your hair, and (3) don't touch any dead bodies.  When the term of the vow is up, the Nazirite shaves his or her head and gives the hair to the priest to be burned under the sacrifice for the peace offerings.  (Modern Jews are divided about whether it's still possible to take Nazirite vows, because there is no longer a burnt peace offering.)  Num. 6:9-12 makes it clear that an accidental breaking of the vow counts as breaking the vow, and the Nazirite must start over from scratch to fulfill it.
Samson's hair was only indirectly related to his strength.  He was a Nazirite from conception, and God had given him the gift of great strength.  His hair was the symbol of his Nazirite vow, and his strength was a gift associated with his Nazirite vow.  When his head was shaved, the term of the vow was up, accident or not.  The gift of strength that was associated with the vow left him immediately.   

Judges 16:21-31  (10/9/2009)

If a Nazirite's vow was interrupted, he (or she) had to shave his head and start over.  This is essentially what happened to Samson after his hair was cut.  As the symbol of his vow returned, so did his remembrance of his responsibilities.  Samson is only recorded as praying twice.  The first time, in Judges 15:18, he complains that he's thirsty, and God gives him water.  At the end of his life, he seems to realize that his strength came from God, and he prays that God will renew his strength.  Even so, his motive is revenge.  What could Samson have accomplished if he had used his God-given strength for God's purposes, instead of his own?

Copyright 2009, 2011 by Regina L. Hunter.  All rights reserved.

The illustration showing the death of Samson is from the Binns family Bible, now in the private collection of Regina L. Hunter. The woodcuts are from the family Bible of John O. Spencer and Lydia Bunn, married 18 Nov. 1857 in Hector, Schuyler Co., NY. A complete listing of the posted images from this Bible is given at Ducks in a Row, Inc.

Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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