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
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
The Samson episode unfolds in three movements
1. An angel makes two
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
2. In the 1st movemen
Samson goes to Timnah, where he falls in love with a Philistine girl
(14:1). This movement climaxes in slaughter of Philistines at Ramath
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
As Samson went after foreign women, Israel went after foreign gods.
As Samson cried to Yahweh in his extremity and was answered, so did
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
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.
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
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
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
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.