5.7 The Death Of Samson (Judges 16:23 - 30)
A read through all the recorded words of Samson will reveal a growing
humility and spirituality. " Suffer me that I may... that I may"
(16:26) reflects a courtesy and humility distinctly lacking in his previous
recorded speech. His growth came to its intended climax in the repentance
and final peak of spirituality which he achieved in his time of dying.
He was made weak by Delilah, and yet out of weakness he was made strong
by pure faith (Heb. 11:34). Paul, Job, Jacob, Moses, the Lord Himself,
all reached their spiritual pinnacle at the end. And so surely with us.
Like Paul and the crucified thief, Samson by his death came to a deep
realization of the reality of judgment to come: " Remember me"
(16:28) must be read in this context. It carries the connotation of 'remember
me for good and therefore forgive me at the judgment' in Ps. 25:6,7; Lk.
23:46. It seems that Nehemiah was inspired by this at his end (16:28 =
Neh. 13:22,31; did he too come to a finer realization of his failures
at the end?). " Remember me" was a cry only used prior to Samson
by men in weakness: Gen. 15:8; Josh. 7:7; Jud. 6:22 (Gideon, Samson's
hero, had used it). Yet now Samson appropriates it to himself in faith
that he will be mercifully treated at the judgment. And his example in
turn inspired Nehemiah. The intensity of Samson's repentance was quite
something. It must have inspired Manasseh (2 Chron. 33:11), who like Samson
was bound (16:21) and humbled (16:5,16,19 AVmg.)- and then repented with
a like intensity. And Zedekiah went through the same basic experience,
of capture by his enemies, having his eyes put out, his capture attributed
to false gods; and he likewise repented (2 Kings 25:7).
Not only did Samson at his death repent. He reached a very high level
of appreciation of the grace of God, and the principles through which
He articulates this grace. The record seems to suggest there was a link
between the growth of his hair, and God giving him strength again. This
doesn't mean that there was some metaphysical link between his strength
and his hair. Rather does it show how God responded to his faith and what
was behind the growth of his hair, and therefore gave him strength
to destroy the Philistines. It would seem that Samson decided to keep
the Nazarite vow again. He was in no position to offer the inaugatory
sacrifice which the law required; and yet he threw himself upon God's
grace, trusting that his zeal would be accepted by God; that he, the sinner
and failure and shamer of Yahweh, could be allowed to make that special
act of devotion in Nazariteship. And he was accepted in this, as witnessed
by the great power of the death of Samson.
Samson's desire to die with the Philistines could be read as suicidal
(16:30). In this case, he had elements of weakness at the end, and yet
he was accepted as dying in faith. Or it could be understood that he wanted
to die because he believed that through his death, he would achieve God's
plan for taking the gates of his enemies. In this case he would have had
the spirit of Christ. Samson's death plea for vengeance against the Philistines
for his two eyes (16:28) sounds woefully human. Indeed, the RSV and RVmg.
speak of him asking for vengeance " for one of my two eyes"
, as if he felt that even if God gave the destruction he asked for, this
would only half avenge him. This would indicate a real bitterness, an
unGodly hatred of both sinner and sin. In some ways, for all the intensity
of weeping before God in repentance (16:28 LXX), Samson had not progressed
much from his attitude in 15:7, over 20 years before- where he once again
had admitted that his motive for 'seeking occasion against the Philistines'
was partly just personal revenge. The spirit of not avenging oneself but
leaving it to God to do was evidently something he never quite rose up
to in his life (Rom. 12:19). " That I may be at once avenged
of the Philistines for my two eyes" seems to be quite without
any desire for the vindication of God's Name. Although it seems to me
it was wrong, and betrayed some unspirituality, yet it is taken as the
epitome of the desire of all the faithful for vindication through the
coming of Christ (Rev. 6:10).
However, it could be argued that he had earlier taken vengeance on the
Philistines (15:5), knowing that the Law taught that Israel were not to
take vengeance (same word) on each other (Lev. 19:18), but could
do so on their enemies (Num. 31:2; Dt. 32:43 cp. Josh. 10:13). He was
thus treating the Philistines as out of covenant relationship, whereas
his weak brethren were all too willing to forget the fundamental difference
between them. We would surely be happier if Samson had asked if God would
let him take vengeance on God's behalf against God's enemies. This was
surely in Samson's mind, but the shame of the loss of his eyes was all
too humanly strong within him. I can only conclude that therefore it would
seem that he died with this weakness still conquered: a desire for personal
retribution against the Philistines. Jacob and Paul likewise died with
some weaknesses evidently still showing; and there is not one of us who
will die with every weakness conquered. And yet, without wishing to inspire
any complacency but rather a thankful appreciation of God's grace, the
point must be made that they were all graciously accepted by a loving
Father. Samson's death was died in faith, and at his time of dying he
had been made strong out of weakness, on account of his faith (Heb. 11:32-34).
" Let me ('my soul', AVmg.) die with the Philistines" (16:30)
was surely a recognition that in his heart he had been a Philistine, for
all his hatred of them and despising of them as uncircumcised, and thus
outside the covenant (15:18). It could be that he was too hard on himself:
for even at his weakest, Delilah had observed that his heart wasn't with
her: it was somewhere else, i.e. with the God of Israel (16:15). Yet Samson
wanted to receive the just desert for his life: to die with the Philistines.
His mind may well have been on Scripture as he died: on Joshua 23:10,11,
which spoke of how one man would chase a thousand (he had earlier appropriated
this to himself in 16:7)- if Israel took good heed to their souls
(AVmg.). And perhaps Samson realized that he hadn't taken good heed to
his soul, and therefore had ultimately been unable to chase a thousand
men. And yet he died in faith, even though with a deeply appreciated recognition
of his sinfulness. As with Paul and Jacob, deep recognition of personal
sinfulness was a feature of their spiritual maturity. And as with Jacob,
Job and Moses, Samson seems to have reached a progressively higher appreciation
of the Name of God. His calling on Yahweh Elohim at the end, weeping before
Him, was the first and only time he ever used that title; and the first
time we actually read the covenant Name on his lips (cp. 15:18).
God patiently worked through the weakness of Samson to achieve not only
a great final victory over the Philistines, but also Samson's own salvation.
The way Samson asked the lad to guide him to the pillars in the Philistine
language, learnt in his mis-spent relationships with women, the way he
knew the architectural structure of the Dagon-temple, where presumably
he had been in his earlier love-hate affair with the Philistines- God
didn't reject him for these earlier failures, but worked with him, making
use of the knowledge and experience which Samson had picked up along the
road of earlier failure. This is how God works with us, too- if only we
would have the humility to realize it. And the least we can do is to replicate
it in our dealings with our failing brethren.