Webb, Barry, "A Serious Reading of the Samson Story (Judges 13 16)," RTR 53 (1994) 110 120 (Summary by J. R. Vannoy).

The Samson story is an embarrassment for many evangelicals. They want to treat it as the Word of God, but do not know how to do this. The Samson story doesn't lend itself easily to the kind of moralizing that is quite common in evangelical pulpits and Sunday school lessons. The alternatives are to trivialize it (Samson is the biblical Superman) or ignore it   the last alternative is probably the most common. Webb calls for a serious reading that recognizes its essentially theological character and that understands how it functions in its canonical context.

The story occupies a strategic position in the book of Judges --  at the end of the main central section (contrary to Nothian view that it was secondary).

Its positioning and the space given to it (4 chapters) suggest that if we miss the point of this episode we may miss the point of the whole book.


The Samson episode unfolds in three movements

1. An angel makes two predictions

A barren woman will bear a son (13:3)
This son will begin to deliver Israel from the Philistines. (13:5).

1st fulfilled in 13:24
2nd fulfilled progressively in two major narrative movements spanning chapters 14-16

2. In the 1st movement Samson goes to Timnah, where he falls in love with a Philistine girl (14:1). This movement climaxes in slaughter of Philistines at Ramath lehi (15:14-20).

3. The 2nd movement begins with Samson's going to Gaza (16:1) where he visits a harlot and this movement climaxes in the slaughter of Philistines, the destruction of Dagon, and Samson's own death at Gaza 16:31.

The references to Zorab and Eshtaol in 13:25 and 16:31 bracket these two movements, and the references to Manoah, Samson's father in 13:2 and 16:31 frame the entire narrative.

Samson the Nazirite

Nazirite defines what Samson was by divine determination.
13:5,7  Samson was to be "a Nazirite to God from birth to the day of his death.

He is not a Nazirite by voluntary vow, but by divine decision.
The period of consecration is not temporary, but the whole of his life.
When he is released, it is not just his hair that is sacrificed, but Samson himself, his whole person.
As the story unfolds, Samson does everything a Nazirite should not do:

He touches dead bodies, drinks wine, and lets his hair be cut.

In 16:17 he says at Delilah's persistence   "If I be shaved, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man."

Webb: Suggests Samson may have wanted to be as other men -  but God would not let him be so. Yahweh withdrew from him only long enough to have him transferred to the place where he was at last to fulfil his calling.

John Milton (Samson Agonistes) speaks of Samson in this way: "O mirror of our fickle state." Milton is right   in terms of the whole way the Samson story functions in the book of Judges. The story of Samson is the story of Israel recapitulated and focused for us in the life of a single man."

As Samson was a 'holy' man, Israel was a 'holy' nation (Ex 19:6).
As Samson desired to be as other men, Israel desired to be as other nations.
As Samson went after foreign women, Israel went after foreign gods.
As Samson cried to Yahweh in his extremity and was answered, so did Israel.
And finally (and here we go beyond the scope of Judges itself) as Samson had to be blinded and given over to the bitter pain of Gaza before he came to terms with his destiny, so too Israel would have to be given over to the bitter suffering of exile in Babylon.
The Samson story mirrors the story of Israel.
In the Epilogue (17:6; 21:25) -  every man did what was good in his eyes () -  Samson is every man. In the structure of the book the Samson story leads into the epilogue (cf. 14:3,  "for she is good (right) in my eyes").

Samson the Saviour

The Philistines sing the praises of Dagon in 16:23,24.
Here is the dramatic irony of the story  It is not their god who has given Samson into their hand at all, but it is Israel's god, Yahweh, and he has done so for the very purpose of destroying them (i.e., the Philistines).

Two issues central to the book:
1. The implied contest between Yahweh and other gods for the loyalty of Israel.
With Samson the victory goes decisively to Yahweh. Samson at his death proves the 'other gods' are no gods at all, and that Yahweh alone is worthy of Israel's devotion.

2. Yahweh's sovereignty and freedom.
All the savior judges with the exception of Othniel are unlikely heroes in one way or another (cf., ft. nt. 13, p. 118). The God revealed in the book of Judges as the true God acts in ways that utterly confound human wisdom, and the story of Samson is the author's supreme testimony to that fact.

Concluding reflections

1. Israel's calling to be a holy nation (Exod 19:5,6) is applied to Christians as the New Covenant people for God in 1 Peter 2:9. What we are corporately we are also individually -  called to be saints.

Because of this continuity between the fundamental calling of the OT and NT people of God, it is entirely appropriate that we see in Samson, not just Israel's story, but our own story.

The challenge here is whether or not we will gladly embrace our calling. If we are 'saints' by calling we cannot be 'as other men', and should not want to be.

2. Because Samson's name appears in Hebrews 11 (v 32) he has something to teach us about the nature of faith.

In spite of his failure there are moments when Samson shows awareness that the great reality that stands behind the world and his own existence is God, whose servant he is (15:18). He casts himself utterly on God at these times and finds him faithful. Samson's finest moments are moments of faith from which we can still learn much.

3. Here is a figure raised up by Yahweh to save his people.
His birth is announced
His conception is miraculous
He is rejected by his own people (15:12)
His saving work consummated in his death -  a death in which he brings down Dagon and lays the foundation for a deliverance to be more fully manifested in the future.

In other words in this most unlikely figure -  we see, possibly more clearly than anywhere else in the OT - the shape of things to come.

We must not reduce Samson to a mere warning against wilfulness, or an example of faith; he is much, much more. He is a forerunner of the greatest Saviour of all.