The Sin of Underachievement


It will be instructive to notice ways in which the events recorded concerning Samson serve as types and contrasts to the life of Christ. Like all the judges, Samson was to be a deliverer of the people of God from oppression. In this earthly vocation, with definite spiritual implications for true worship of the Lord, the results of deliverance were always temporary and did not secure the people from eventual apostasy. None of the Judges, however, failed more spectacularly to achieve the potential of his gifts and calling than did Samson.


I. The promise of Samson’s birth – Chapter 13

A. As the cycle of disobedience continued, from Jephthah through Abdon (12:7-14) Israel had judges for 31 years and then “again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” Consequently, they fell under God’s judgment through the Philistines for forty years.

B. The “Angel of the Lord” came to the wife of Manoah, a barren woman, with the promise of a child.

  1. Her pregnancy was to be characterized by great care from a dietary standpoint, no wine or strong drink for beverage and nothing “unclean” for food. None were supposed to eat unclean things; this specific instruction indicates that, among other perversions of God’s laws, the people would eat things considered ceremonially unclean. As her child was to be separated as a Nazirite, so she must see to it that even during her pregnancy the vows peculiar to that vow were not violated. She would be the source of his nutrition n the womb and at the breast so must honor his status from the time of her conception until beyond his birth. So should all mothers be concerned about the well-being of the children that God gives them from the first moment of their existence. They do not have life and death rights over the child but, rather, the existence of the child gives definition to the duties that lie upon them as the bearers of the gift of God to perpetuate the race of image-bearers.
  2. The words, “You shall conceive and bear a son” were virtually identical to those spoken by an angel to Mary, “You shall conceive in your womb and bear a son” (Luke 1:31). Mary’s was a virginal conception of the human nature of Christ by the power of the Spirit; the wife of Manoah (her name is never given) was given fertility so that she could conceive through relations with her husband. In both cases we see the direct intervention of God to bring deliverance to his people.

C. Other indications were given concerning the child.

  1. The child was to be a son upon whose head a razor should never pass. This would mark him out among his peers and be a consistent reminder of his status as a special gift from God to bring about a particular advantage for them.
  2. He was to be a Nazirite.
  • The provisions for the Nazirite are given in Numbers 6. The hair was not to be cut nor was anything to drink or eat from the grape permitted. He was to be around no dead bodies (shall not go near a dead person” including father, mother, brothers, and sisters) and if such should occur sacrifices were required and the time of the vow was to be restarted. The time announced for Samson was “from the womb to the day of his death” (Judges 12:7).
  • The presence of a Nazirite was to be taken as a sign of blessing from God (Amos 2:11, 12) for it spoke of a distinctive holiness in their presence and that God was among his people. One mark of the people’s hatred of God’s holy presence was their determination to entice a Nazirite to break his vow (Amos 2:12).
  • “He shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” The intention of this is uncertain as to method. The result of his life was that it was done by killing, which involved massive violations of the Nazirite vow. It is quite possible that, if Samson had persevered in the holiness indicated by the ceremonial intent, their deliverance would have come through spiritual renewal and miraculous intervention. As it was, his action to “begin to save Israel” came through death and the necessary violation of his vows.


II. The Compromise of Samson’s Life. Samson is listed as a man of faith in Hebrews 11:32, so we have scriptural testimony that his faith is accounted as that which made him pleasing to God. Perhaps the incidents recorded about his life are isolated in such a way only to show how God in his providence will take the failures and reckless presumptuousness of his people and turn it for his glory though at the same time it serves as a judgment on their corrupt blindness and compromise. How long Samson lived conscientiously with his vow we are not told. Judges 13:24, 25 indicate that for some time his life manifest the blessings and special stirring of God on him. Also Samson judged Israel for twenty years and must have demonstrated some wisdom and godly insight during those years, though they were inserted with major moral blemishes and self-serving atrocities. Young manhood, however, caused him to see the blessings of his vow as an unnecessary restriction on his life. Parents under the new covenant are told to rear their children in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” or the “discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). How many children come to see such infinite blessings as burdens rather than privileges of grace?

A. He yearned for a wife from among the Philistines, people that were uncircumcised and thus ceremonially unclean, and at that time enemies of Israel (14:1-4). We learn from an aside in the text, that in the providence of God, this would turn into an “opportunity against the Philistines.” This particular determination on his part might be the first departure of Samson from a life of careful observance, but it indicates a downward trajectory. God would insert his own judgment against the Philistines into the silly and dangerous carelessness of Samson, and at the same time would allow Samson’s folly to lead him to a path of destruction.

  1. He killed a lion with his hands and eventually ate honey from its carcass. (14:5-9). Not only was this in itself a violation of the Nazarite vow, but it became an occasion for an idle jest and murderous revenge. Samson made a riddle (he seemed to have a penchant for riddles, for jesting, and for clever sayings-eg. 14:18; 15:16; 16:25) of the lion-slaying and honey-eating and turned the riddle into a wager. The wager brought pressure on his wife under the threat of death to find the meaning of the riddle through false appeal to love, crying, and deceit. When he told her, she told those who threatened her and her father’s house.
  2. In order to fulfill the wager, Samson killed thirty men and took their garments to the thirty men who had “solved” the riddle. For the purpose of physical strength in God’s beginning his judgment on the Philistines, “the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon” Samson, and he was enabled to kill them unchallenged by the other people in the town of Ashkelon.
  3. Frustrated with the entire event Samson went back to his father’s home and his wife was given to another man. When he returned during the time of harvest and wanted to be with his wife, he learned that she was now another’s. Enraged, and feeling entirely just in his plans for revenge, Samson used 300 foxes (or possibly jackals) and firebrands to burn the harvest of the Philistines.
  4. When this became known that Samson had engineered the conflagration, the Philistines burned his wife and “her father with fire.” The consequences of unfaithfulness extend far beyond our own conscience and spiritual well-being and can destroy the lives of others.
  5. Samson then killed the men who killed his wife and father-in-law and returned to a place of rest and refuge in Judah. His own countrymen took 3000 men to capture and bind him to return him to the vengeful Philistines. Having allowed his fellow Jews to do this so that he could be even more aggressive with the Philistines, he broke the ropes with which he was tied, found the jawbone of a donkey and with it killed 1000 of the Philistines. Again the text tells us, “The Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him” to make this mighty slaughter of the enemies of the Jews and render divine justice against them.
  6. Subsequent to this enormous output of energy, he was to the point of death in thirst, and he called on the Lord to provide water to refresh him. (15:18, 19)

B. He went to Gaza and found a prostitute and went to her for an evening. The most prominent evidence of concupiscence as the driving active element of our fallen natures is the feverish quest for sexual fulfillment irrespective of its lawful and divinely ordained place in human relations. Quite possibly Solomon pictured the sexual wanderings of Samson when he penned Proverbs 2:16-19. Paul clearly sees this as a major issue in sanctification among the Gentiles when he wrote 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8.

  1. The Gazites learned of this and sought an opportunity to kill him at the city gate in the light of morning. At midnight, Samson arose from the prostitute’s bed, whether from conscience or sense of danger we are not told, but he went to the city gate, probably while those who were waiting for morning light were in deep sleep, and picked up the entire gate, doors and posts, and walked them up to a hill that is in front of Hebron. This was a journey of approximately 40 miles distant.
  2. This was a feat of amazing strength. Its effect would certainly be to render the Philistines even more wary of Samson. Their hold on Israel would not be unchallenged as long as Samson remained alive and in circulation. When the people of Hebron saw the gates of Gaza outside their own city, they would be amazed and perhaps encouraged that God had sent among them a judge of such immense and seemingly invincible strength. As a type of Christ this event reminds us that the greater than Samson has removed the bars of death, has made the gates of hades of none effect. Death has lost its power and has become the entrance into the presence of God himself for the believer because Jesus has conquered death by his death.
  3. At the same time, it was a show of pride on Samson’s part and would lead to the query of the Philistines as to the secret of the strength of Samson. They had missed an opportunity to capture and kill him and could not be confident of any scheme to do so as long as he retained such cunning and physical prowess.
  4. While Samson is wasting away his gifts and his opportunity for spiritual leadership, God is using his folly for a great moment of judgment on the Philistines just at the point when they are most confident in the superiority of Dagon their god.


III. Samson, in his wanderings about the country, saw a woman of Sorek named Delilah. Knowing his propensity to sacrifice good sense for the sake of female love and sexual pleasure (16:5), the Philistines bribed Delilah with 5,500 pieces of silver to betray Samson. For much less Judas betrayed the Lord and giver of life.

A. She asked him point blank to tell her the source of his great strength. On three occasions he toyed with her and broke every attempt to bind him.

B. She cajoled him with a feigned love as his wife had done earlier to find out the riddle. “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me?” This is quite an amazing insight into the relationship. Samson seems actually to have used those words, “I love you.” Also she manipulated and pressured him on the basis of that profession. She knew, though she was a pagan, that love would not deceive but “rejoices in the truth . . . and believes all things.” She only had intention to deceive, but the law written on the heart and the natural effect of expectations we have from others brings to us some clear moral ideas. She had no intention to conduct herself accordingly, but used the universal to manipulate Samson. “She pressed him hard with her words, day after day, and urged him [so that] his soul was vexed to death.” The ability to badger a person through questioning their sincerity and using deep elements of a relationship as a tool for personal advantage employs a subtle power but is not an admirable quality. His capitulation led into a situation where another violation of his Nazarite vow would certainly occur.

C. Upon the revelation that he was under a vow never to cut his hair, she put him to sleep on her knees, had a man shave his head. The hair was a symbol of his vow and it removal meant that the vow had been broken and its blessings removed. Nothing magical resided in the hair. With this final betrayal of the seriousness of his vow, “he did not know that the Lord had left him” (16:20) The true source of his strength had removed it to put Samson in a position for his final assault on the Philistines.

D. The providence of God in working the final victory of Samson shows the patience and intricate working of God to accomplish the counsel of his will. Reveling in their capturing, subduing, and humiliation of Samson, the Philistines, apparently some weeks or months later, called upon their formerly deadly foe to “entertain” them. The form of this entertainment is not specified. But perhaps he made riddles or told stories. However it was, they felt that he was harmless now and was useful as a donkey to push the mill or as a spectacle of failure. Realizing that his strength was not in his hair but in the Lord, Samson prayed that God would restore his strength (16:28) for the sake of his two eyes. Having been led to the supportive pillars by a young man, Samson pushed them apart and those that were celebrating the victory of Dagon over Samson (16:23, 24) were crushed by their house of fun and entertainment.


IV. Food for Thought

A. Gifts and calling from God carry with them a great accountability and are not to be compromised by embracing the allurements of worldly power, pleasure, or recognition. Samson pursued his own pleasure, reveled in his strength as if it were his own doing, and fell far beneath the level of delivery he could have effected. Even in the end he seemed more intent on revenge for his eyes than on the glory of God and more offended at the abuse hurled at him than at the pagan worship and adulation of Dagon of the Philistines. Contrast this with Paul of whom it is written, “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16). He sought an audience and preached the gospel to them. When he was ridiculed at Caesarea as being out of his mind, he responded, “I am not out of my mind, most Excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words.” Then he remarked when they chided him for seeking to convince them to become Christians with such a concentrated presentation, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains” (Acts 26:24-29).

B. God will accomplish his purpose in this world to bring a final and complete manifestation of glory to his Son for his work of redemption. Along the way he has ordained the use of means within which he operates to accomplish this goal. Sometimes these means seem mysterious to us but his work always is right and wise while we are responsible for all of our actions in light of his revealed will for our faithfulness and holiness.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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