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5.  Samson

5.3 Samson's Marriage (Judges 14:1 - 15:8)

The whole question of Samson's marriage is overshadowed by the fact that " It was of the Lord, that he sought an occasion against the Philistines" (14:4); He used this incident to begin to raise up Samson as a Judge of Israel (2:16,18; 1 Chron. 17:10). This is surely one of Scripture's purposeful ambiguities, designed to provoke us to meditation: it is unclear whether " he" refers to Samson or Yahweh. There are a number of other passages which mention how " it was of the Lord" that certain attitudes were adopted by men, resulting in the sequence of events which He desired (Dt. 2:39; Josh. 11:20; 1 Sam. 2:25; 1 Kings 12:15; 2 Chron. 10:15; 22:7; 25:20). It is tempting to read 14:4 in this context, meaning that God somehow made Samson desire that woman in order to bring about His purpose of freeing Israel from Philistine domination. And yet this would require that God almost made Samson have a desire for that woman. This may not be impossible- it may be that Paul's God-given " thorn in the flesh" was a similar forbidden passion. It would be an example of God leading into temptation (Mt. 6:13). However, it is more likely that God worked through Samson's wrong desires, through his human weakness, to bring about God's purpose and glory.  

Samson's Aim

The context of Samson's marriage does seem to suggest that Samson himself sought occasion against the Philistines; for the Spirit of the Lord had been troubling his conscience as to why the people of Dan had not followed up Joshua's victories, and had allowed themselves to be overrun by the uncircumcised (13:25 Heb.). The only other references to " troubled" are in Gen. 41:8; Ps. 77:4; Dan. 2:1,3. The Spirit of God worked with Samson's spirit, so that it was troubled as he went for his solitary walks of meditation. It was no accident that he was buried in the very place where his conscience was first awakened (16:31); he maybe asked for this burial place, to show he had at last returned to his innocent spiritual beginnings. He is described as wanting to " take" a wife; this Hebrew word is 51 times translated 'take away', 31 times 'fetch'. He evidently didn't intend to live there with her; he wanted her to come and live with him in the Israelite encampment, four miles up in the hills from the valley where she lived. She was 'right in his eyes' (14:3 AVmg.) not for beauty but in the sense that 'she suits my purpose' (Heb.). The same Hebrew is used not concerning beauty but rather utility in 1 Sam. 18:20; 2 Sam. 17:4; 1 Kings 9:12. The way in which Samson set up the riddle, almost expecting that they might tease it out of him through his wife, the way in which he agreed that if they did this, he would give them the clothes of 30 Philistines... it all suggests that Samson set the whole thing up to seek an opportunity against the Philistines. They had to declare the riddle " and find it out" (15:12). This would indicate that they had to actually find the carcass of a lion with honey in it. They plowed behind his wife as a heifer, and so were led by her to Samson's secret place of meditation where the dead lion was (15:18). He speaks to his wife as if she should expect that he was closer to his Hebrew parents than to her: " 'I haven't even explained it (the riddle) to my father or mother', he replied, 'So why should I explain it to you?'" (15:16 NIV). Gen. 2:24 taught that a man must leave his parents and cleave to his wife in marriage; she must be closer to him than them. It could be that by saying this, Samson was reminding her that he didn't see their relationship as full marriage; he was only using her (cp. how he 'used' a Philistine as his best man, 14:20). Yet he did what only days before had been unthinkable: he told her his finest and most personal secret, which he wouldn't even tell his dear parents. Such is the fickleness of our nature. And yet there seems reason to think that somehow Samson foresaw his possible failure, and arranged to use the situation to forward God's work. It could even be that the girl was party to Samson's plan; she may have appeared to have a genuine interest in Samson's spiritual aims. The Philistines themselves realized this when they chode with Samson's wife that they had been called to the wedding 'to have our possession taken away' (14:15 Heb.). They saw the aim of Samson's marriage: to dispossess them and take their possession for Israel. It seems no accident that he chose Timnath, 'a portion assigned'- to Israel. This was part of the land promised to Dan, but which they had allowed the Philistines to overrun (Josh. 19:43,47). And Samson would have seen himself as 'Samson-of-Zorah', the hornet- symbol of the Egyptian tribes which drove out the Canaanites in preparation for Israel's later victories (Dt. 7:20; Josh. 24:12). We get the picture of Samson and his parents walking the four miles down into the valley, and Samson goes off for a wander in the vineyards. The vineyard was a symbol of Israel (Ps. 80:15; Is. 1:8; 5:7; 27:2; Jer. 12:10; Mt. 21:41). This may have been already evident to Samson from Gen. 49:11; although most likely the symbol of Israel as God's vineyard was already established by his time. Conscious that Timnath was the 'portion assigned' to Dan and yet they had failed, Samson meditates there in the vineyards, a symbol of Israel, the people who should have been there. Inheriting Philistine vineyards was one of the blessings promised (Dt. 6:11) and initially obtained by Joshua-Jesus ( Josh. 24:13). And yet those vineyards were now back in Philistine control. A lion suddenly appeared and roared against him (14:5), just as the Philistines later would (15:14). The lion was a common symbol of Israel's enemies. The Spirit came upon Samson and he overcame it, in evident symbol to him that he really could deliver Israel from the Philistines. There is every reason to think that Samson appreciated all this symbology. And yet did Samson ultimately slay the lion of the Philistines and bring the promised blessings of honey to Israel (cp. Ex. 3:8; Dt. 8:8 etc.)? No, not really. He achieved some tokenistic success against their warriors; but Israel remained enslaved (15:20). He didn't live up to that potential which God had enabled him to achieve. And yet although it may seem that his life was wasted, in that he didn't really bring much deliverance for anyone- the whole process of it saved him personally. Those whose families and converts have turned away from the Faith will identify with this comfort.  

However, it must be recognized that God did in fact send the lion against Samson. He did this in order to go along with Samson's symbolic thoughts, and this may afford some justification for Samson's marriage. He was there, wandering in those vineyards, meditating how they were representative of the blessings which belonged to Israel, and yet they were now in the hands of God's enemies. And then, God furthers the parable: He sends a lion, symbolic of the Philistines, and Samson is given power to overcome him. And further, when Samson returned to the carcass to meditate deeper on 'the fallen one' (14:8 doesn't use the usual word for 'carcass'- s.w. " fall" Prov. 29:16; Ez. 26:15; 27:27; 31:13), " behold, there was a swarm of bees and honey in the carcass of the lion" (14:8). The Hebrew for " swarm" is normally used (124 times) about a congregation of people, often God's people Israel. And the Hebrew for 'Bee' is 'Deborah', a celebrated earlier judge. God was surely teaching him that through his victory over the Philistine lion, God's people would be inspired to be faithful, and would therefore be able to enjoy the promised blessing of honey, taken out of the Philistines. Samson saw all this; for he " took" (Heb. is usually used in the sense of 'to take dominion over') the honey, partook himself, and shared it with others. In all this there is a detailed type of the Lord's representative sacrifice on the cross. On the cross, He won the victory over the lion of the devil (1 Pet. 5:8 cp. Heb. 2:14; 1 Jn. 3:8 may allude to Samson's victory). This enabled us to be empowered to partake the Kingdom blessings. As Samson walked away from the carcass some days after killing it (14:8 Heb. " a time" = 'days'- three days?), with the honey in his hands, eating it and offering it to others, so the Lord left the empty tomb. The way he ate and gave to his parents and they also ate without him telling them where he got it from (14:9) is a clear reversal of what happened in Eden (Gen. 3:6; doubtless Eve didn't tell Adam either where the fruit came from): but here the fruits of spiritual victory rather than failure were enjoyed and shared. The promised blessings of honey were conditional upon Israel's obedience (Dt. 32:13 cp. Ps. 81:16), although granted in prospect (Dt. 32:13). Israel at Samson's time were disobedient and therefore didn't have the Kingdom blessings. And yet the whole acted parable taught that through the supreme zeal of one lonely man, into whose struggle not even his parents could enter (14:6,16), the blessings of obedience could be brought to the disobedient multitude of God's people. And here we have the essence of the Gospel.  

And Samson knew all this, rising up to an anticipation of the Gospel which few in the OT must have reached. This allows us to view Samson's marriage more positively. He went down to the valley of Ashkelon, the very place that Joshua had conquered but Judah had been unable to drive out the Philistines from (1:18,19), and slew 30 warriors. And then later he used the whole situation as an opportunity to burn up the corn and vineyards of the Philistines (15:5), in conscious allusion to how the law stipulated that a man who did this to his Israelite neighbour must make retribution (Ex. 22:5).  He was emphasizing that these people were not his neighbours, they were not in covenant relationship, and he openly showed that he treated them accordingly. Likewise he took vengeance on the Philistines (15:5; 16:28), when 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). Note, in passing, how he set those foxes up as cherubim- a ball of whirling fire coming in judgment upon the Philistines. The fox was a symbol of apostate Israel in later Scripture (Ez. 13:4); perhaps Samson made the same connection, and wanted to symbolize how through his faith and insight, weak Israel could be turned into the cherubim of God in bringing judgment on the Philistines and deliverance for themselves. The way he used their tails to bring such destruction may have been a reference to Dt. 28:13,44, where apostate Israel, suffering for their sins as they were in Samson's time, are described with the same word: they would be the tail of the nations. He saw that he was the one who could bring salvation and blessing to Israel. His riddle spoke of how " Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness" (14:14). " The eater" (Heb. 'the devourer') and " the strong" not only referred to the lion, but more essentially to Samson himself. The same basic word for 'eater' is used as a verb to describe how Samson 'ate' / 'devoured' the honey from the lion (14:9). And years later the Philistines realized how Samson's riddle described himself: for they rejoiced that " the destroyer (devourer) of our country" was now overcome (16:24). Samson saw that through his God-given strength he could bring forth the honey of blessing to Israel.  

And yet although this was what was possible, Samson never fulfilled it. He never quite killed the lion, and therefore God's people at this time lived under the Philistine yoke throughout his life (15:20), never enjoying the blessings which were potentially possible. Places like Zorah and Eshtaol are associated again with apostacy and Philistine domination (18:2,8,11; 2 Chron. 28:18). Samson was but a blip on the screen of general failure and unspirituality in the Israel of God. And yet although Samson limited God in saving Israel, through it all, he himself was saved (yet so as by fire).  

Mixed Motives

But whilst the above case for Samson's spiritual commitment can be made, there is evidence galore that his motives were mixed in this matter of Samson's marriage. Consider: why did he as a Nazarite go for a walk in vineyards, among the forbidden fruit (cp. Christians in demanding careers, watching television, reading novels...)? This was typical of him: a great zeal and understanding, mixed with a desire to walk as close to the edge as possible, and to ultimately have a little of both. He had a fascination with vineyards, which the record brings out. Like an ex-alcoholic staring at the bottles in the shop ‘just out if interest’, so Samson fooled about with what was forbidden- just as we all tend to. He later teased Delilah to tie him with seven “withs”, the Hebrew word implying made from a vine. He just would mess with the forbidden. The way he burnt up those vineyards in 15:5 may have been as a result of realizing that the answer lay in total devotion and rooting out of temptation; cutting out the eye that offends. He burnt those vineyards in a desire to be " blameless from the Philistines" (15:3 AVmg.). The same word is translated unpunished, guiltless, innocent, clean, acquitted; as if he knew he had sinned, but believed that by further fighting of Philistines he could gain his forgiveness. He had to be brought to the shame of Gaza Prison to learn that forgiveness was by absolute faith, not works and hatred of this present world. He seems angry that he had let himself fall too deeply for that Philistine girl (14:19), and " utterly hated her" (15:2). And yet this human anger may also have been mixed with a more righteous anger, in that to give his wife to another was adultery, and it happened that they carried out (perhaps unconsciously?) the punishment for adultery which the law required (Lev 20:14; 21;9). He realized that the Philistines had led him into sin, and he just wanted to destroy the source of his temptation. And yet he then lost that good conscience; he smote the Philistines hip and thigh with a great slaughter, alluding to the sacrifices (s.w. " shoulder" Ex. 29:22; Lev. 9:21; 1 Sam. 9:24; Ez. 24:4- nearly all usages of this word in Samson's Bible referred to the " shoulder" of the sacrifices), as if he was offering them as a sacrifice to Yahweh; and then " went down (again!!) and dwelt in the top of the rock Etam" (15:8). You don't go down if you are going up to the top of a rock. But perhaps spiritually he 'went down', to dwell in isolation from the people he was supposed to be judging / leading, in the rocks. Dwelling in the rocks is associated with a bad conscience in Is. 2:21 and 57:5. Yet for all this, God counted him as having judged Israel 20 years at this stage (15:20); even though there was this evident break when he simply ran away from his people. The way they tie him up and he begs them not to kill him (15:12,13) hardly sounds like Samson judging them. And yet this was his desire, and this is what God imputed to him (15:20), in the same way as he was a Nazarite to God (i.e. in God's eyes?) all his life (13:7)- although he broke his Nazariteship by contact with dead bodies (14:19; 15:15 cp. Num. 6:6) (1)and probably by drinking wine at his wedding (14:10 " feast" = 'drinking', Heb.). This was not only imputed righteousness, but God counting the essential intentions of a weak willed man to him as if he had actually achieved what he fain would do.  

So Samson had a mixed conscience when he slew the lion. He was in the vineyards, the very place where he shouldn't have been as a Nazarite, although he justified it by spiritual and even Biblical reasoning. He then burns up those vineyards in order to have a blameless conscience. He then loses that good conscience and cowers in the rocks. And then later he goes to the valley of Sorek (Heb. 'the vine') and forges a relationship with another worthless woman (16:4). Samson's marriage looks less acceptable in this context. So he returned to his old desire to walk near the forbidden fruit. His purges of conscience were temporary, and he returned to the old haunts and ways. When he slew the thirty men at Ashkelon, as he seemed to have planned right at the start in his seeking occasion against the Philistines, he was " burning with anger" (14:19 NIV). His motive was partly bitterness and the revenge of a man humiliated and deceived by a woman; but his slaughter of the Philistines was also done in faith (Heb. 11:32-34), with God given strength to confirm his faith. And yet in the days leading up to this, as " she cried the whole seven days of the feast" (14:17 NIV), she daily " pressed him" (14:17). This is the very same Hebrew word used in many passages to describe how an apostate, Gentile-loving Israel would be pressed / oppressed by their enemies (Dt. 28:53,57; Jer. 19:9; Is. 51:13). Samson was in some sense apostate at this time, yet he had faith and was strongly motivated; and for this he was blessed by God with strength to defeat the Philistines. The daughters of the Philistines hate God's people (2 Sam. 1:20; Ez. 16:27,57). The Ezekiel passages stress the paradox: that Israel (whom Samson represented) loved the women who hated them. And yet Samson also despised the uncircumcised Philistines (15:18), as he had been brought up to (14:3). He knew they hated him and yet he loved them and yet he hated them- all this shows the complexity of human nature, and describes our attitude to the world and the things of the flesh. And yet the only real answer is to cut off the flesh; to gouge out the eye that offends; not to comfortably go along with the fact that we have such a love:hate relationship with the flesh. For we cannot serve two masters; we can only ultimately love one. The Lord we serve is in many ways a demanding Lord.  

Samson's marriage reflects a spiritual brinkmanship which was his spiritual undoing, however. For the same word is used concerning how Delilah  later vexed him unto death with her words (16:16), and then Samson rose up and slew the Philistines with God's help. The same word is used concerning how the Gentile enemies of an apostate Israel would afflict them (Dt. 28:553,55,57). Yet at this very same time, Samson had faith. But there came a time- there had to come a time, for the sake of Samson's eternal salvation- when this having a little of both had to be ended. 

We surely all feel an identity with this. And yet his situation was serious; we know the final terrible humiliation it resulted in. And our position is likewise serious. No wonder the Lord taught us of gouging out eyes (a Samson allusion?), and Paul speaks of putting to death the passions of flesh. There is no other way. The old nature will be destroyed at judgment day, so we might as well destroy it now. God will vindicate Himself against sin in us; if we go through the putting-to-death process now, then there will be the eternity of the Kingdom in God's nature. If we don't, God will put it to death for us in the process of destruction which will follow judgment- and we will die eternally. There is a powerful, powerful logic in this, if only we would apprehend it. 

The Lust Of The Flesh

Samson really loved that girl (14:3,17; 15:1,7,11), even though he also hated her (15:2; he must have gone through this process again with Delilah in the time that led up to her final betrayal). This true love for her makes Samson's marriages look more questionable. When Samson " smote the Philistines hip and thigh" and burnt up their corn, he commented that " as they did unto me, so have I done unto them" (15:11). If we ask 'What exactly did they do to him? What did they kill and burn of his?', the answer must be 'His wife'. He perhaps felt that she was worth hundreds of them, and the burning of their livelihood, leaving famine in it's wake, was what they had done to him emotionally. Yet it is curious how he loved the Philistines and yet hated them. She is described as a " woman" (14:7), using a word which means an older, married woman (s.w. 14:15 " wife" ) rather than a maiden. She had seen something of life, and therefore the fact Samson loved her suggests that it was a serious relationship. His action was quite contrary to the spirit of the Law: that marriage with the local tribes was categorically prohibited (Ex. 34:16; Dt. 7:3,4; 1 Kings 11:2). Joshua's warning that those who married the surrounding tribes would find them " a snare and a trap for you... thorns in your eyes" (Josh. 23:12,13 RSV) was fulfilled in Samson being tied up and blinded by Delilah; and yet it also had an element of fulfillment with his wife. The similarity is such as to suggest that Samson's marriage out of the Truth was definitely wrong because it was a fulfillment of the words of Josh. 23. " Is there never a woman among the daughters of thy brethren...that thou goest to take a wife of the uncircumcised Philistines?" (14:3) implies that she wasn't the first one; he had often got involved with Philistine girls down in the valley, despite his conscience for Yahweh troubling him as he walked alone on the heights (13:25 Heb.) (2). Samson gave no good answer to his parents: simply " Get her for me; for she is right in mine eyes" (14:3, repeated in 14:7 for emphasis- he really did fall for the lust of the eyes). This insistence rather than explanation would suggest a bad conscience in Samson. Likewise he crowd only shouted out the more when asked why and for what crime they wished to crucify Jesus (Mt. 27:23). The process of marriage involved Samson in participating in the traditions of the surrounding tribes (this is emphasized: 14:10,11; 15:20). The " feasting" was strictly 'drinking' (Heb.)- and Samson the Nazarite attended this. Even if he didn't partake, he was placing himself directly in temptations' way.  

It is emphasized that Samson " went down" to her (14:1,5,7,10), as if his literal descent to her in the valley was also a retrograde step spiritually. Samson's marriage was wrong. And so it was. And yet his hero Gideon (see Samson And Deja Vu) had likewise 'gone down', the record emphasizes, to liberate Israel from their enemies (7:9,10,11,24). In view of the other examples of Samson consciously imitating Gideon, it is likely that he was seeking an opportunity to deliver Israel from the Philistines. And yet he mixed his motivations. He loved the girl, he wanted to gratify his flesh with the forbidden fruit. He loved the world, and thereby became in some sense an enemy of God (James 4:4). But then he loved Gideon, he loved the holiness of Yahweh, he hated the world and the Philistines, he loved Israel, weak as they were, and wanted to deliver them from their spiritual bondage. And instead of casting him off as a man of such divided heart that he was not worthy of God's covenant love, God worked with him. And by using a purposeful ambiguity, He has recorded this for us in such a way as unites God's desire for Israel's deliverance with that of Samson: " It was of the Lord that he sought an occasion against the Philistines" (14:4). The " he" can be read as both God and Samson; they both had the same desire, and God worked with mixed up Samson to this end. Working all this out from the evidence presented in the record is hard work. The fact a man does something " of the Lord" doesn't mean that he is guiltless. In the same context of God's deliverance of Israel from the Philistines, men who did things " of the Lord" were punished for what they did (Dt. 2:30; 1 Sam. 2:25; 2 Chron. 22:7; 25:20). 

All this may seem a quagmire of evidence that it is almost impossible to put in place and reach a fair conclusion as to Samson's spiritual motivation in the matter of Samson's marriage. And yet the complexity of Samson is only a reflection of the complexity of our own failures; every failure is the result of a long process of complex desire and counter-desire, with the flesh winning the day under cover of some kind of spirituality. God responded to the complexity of Samson's spirituality by the complexity of His dealings with him and Israel. He delivered Israel to the hand of the Philistines during the forty years of Samson's judgeship (13:1), and yet through Samson He also delivered Israel out of their hand (2:16,18). Yet God only " began to deliver" them through Samson (13:5), although the potential was there for total deliverance (2:16,18). God worked both for and against Israel at this time, in reflection of how Samson their intended Saviour had a similar struggle between the Spirit and flesh, never completely coming down on the side of either. And so often we are like Samson; we never completely lose faith, like Israel we eat the bread of Heaven daily and yet rise up and worship our golden calf as part of a supposed service of Yahweh. We can serve God and mammon, even though from the Lord's perspective actually we only serve mammon. And yet we can drift on like this for years. It lead Samson to be eyeless in Gaza in his 60s, and only then did he learn. We may fail that kind of final, desperate attempt to reform us. Samson is written for our learning. Total commitment is the answer, the only answer; cutting off the flesh, putting it to death, living out day by day the process we went through at baptism.  

The Nudges Of God

The record of Samson shows God nudging him time and again, and Samson taking no notice; God flashing red lights, and Samson time and again driving through them. The way that Delilah betrays him regarding his hair is perhaps the most poignant example; but actually it's a theme throughout Samson's life. The incident of Samson and the slain lion, and honey forming in the carcase, must surely have had point and purpose. The record isn't there simply to pad out a story. Samson discovered a congregation (Heb. 'edat) of bees- deborim , in Hebrew. The judge Deborah would've been fairly recent history for Samson; she would have been the heroine of anyone like Samson, who also arose to save Israel from their enemies at that time. Surely he was being gently led to reflect that there were a whole congregation of Deborahs ['bees'] around, and he should eat of them. And yet Samson went his loner road, and suffered the consequences of it- rather like Elijah, who was in denial of the fact there were actually at least another 7000 in Israel who had not bowed the knee to Baal. Or perhaps Samson was simply being asked to execute his deliverance of Israel after the pattern of Deborah, to 'eat' of her, to fellowship her example and spirit. But he chose not to 'get it'; as we so often do in the countless nudges and prods which God gives us in daily life.


(1) " Hip on thigh" is apparently a better rendering, implying hand to hand combat. This would serve to emphasize his contact with the dead bodies, as he hurled them to the ground one by one. And yet the Spirit of Yahweh came upon him to enable this- a breach of the letter of the Nazarite law.

(2) " Is there never a woman among the daughters of thy brethren" (14:3) could mean that Samson had a number of relationships with Israelite girls but never hit it off with any of them. This may have been because he was a spiritual man in the midst of a sadly apostate Israel. " ...among the daughters of thy brethren" could suggest that Samson was a generation above the marriageable girls. Does this imply Samson stayed single for the Lord? The incident relating to Samson's marriage could have happened at any time during the first 20 years in which he judged Israel (15:20).