Easton's Bible Dictionary
of the sun, The son of Manoah, born at Zorah. The narrative
of his life is given in Judges
13 - 16.
He was a "Nazarite unto God" from his birth, the first Nazarite mentioned in Scripture
13:3 - 5
; Compare Numbers
6:1 - 21
). The first recorded event of his life was his marriage with a Philistine woman
of Timnath (Judges
14:1 - 5
). Such a marriage was not forbidden by the law of Moses, as the Philistines did
not form one of the seven doomed Canaanite nations ( Exodus
34:11 - 16
7:1 - 4
). It was, however, an ill-assorted and unblessed marriage. His wife was soon
taken from him and given "to his companion" ( Judges
14:20 ). For this Samson took revenge by burning the "standing corn of the
Philistines" ( Judges
15:1 - 8
), who, in their turn, in revenge "burnt her and her father with fire." Her death
he terribly avenged ( Judges
15:7 - 19
). During the twenty years following this he judged Israel; but we have no record
of his life. Probably these twenty years may have been simultaneous with the last
twenty years of Eli's life. After this we have an account of his exploits at Gaza
16:1 - 3
), and of his infatuation for Delilah, and her treachery ( Judges
16:4 - 20
), and then of his melancholy death ( Judges
16:21 - 31
). He perished in the last terrible destruction he brought upon his enemies. "So
the dead which he slew at his death were more [in social and political importance=the
elite of the people] than they which he slew in his life."
"Straining all his nerves, he bowed: As with the force of winds and waters pent,
When mountains tremble, those two massy pillars With horrible convulsion to and
fro He tugged, he shook, till down they came, and drew The whole roof after them,
with burst of thunder Upon the heads of all who sat beneath, Lords, ladies, captains,
counsellors, or priests, Their choice nobility and flower." Milton's Samson Agonistes.
Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names
his sun; his service; there the second time
Smith's Bible Dictionary
(like the sun) Son of Manoah, a man of the town of Zorah
in the tribe of Dan, on the border of Judah. (Joshua
15:33 ; 19:41)
(B.C. 1161). The miraculous circumstances of his birth are recorded in Judges
13; and the three following chapters are devoted to the history of his life
Samson takes his place in Scripture, (1) as a judge--an office which he filled
for twenty years, (Judges
15:20 ; 16:31)
(2) as a Nazarite, (Judges
13:5 ; 16:17)
and (3) as one endowed with supernatural power by the Spirit of the Lord. (Judges
13:25 ; 14:6
As a judge his authority seems to have been limited to the district bordering
upon the country of the Philistines. The divine inspiration which Samson shared
with Othniel, Gideon and Jephthah assumed in him the unique form of vast personal
strength, inseparably connected with the observance of his vow as a Nazarite:
"his strength was in his hair."
He married a Philistine woman whom he had seen at Timnath. One day, on his way
to that city, he was attacked by a lion, which he killed; and again passing that
way he saw a swarm of bees in the carcass of the lion, and he ate of the honey,
but still he told no one. He availed himself of this circumstance, and of the
custom of proposing riddles at marriage feasts, to lay a snare for the Philistines.
But Samson told the riddle to his wife and she told it to the men of the city,
whereupon Samson slew thirty men of the city. Returning to his own house, he found
his wife married to another, and was refused permission to see her. Samson revenged
himself by taking 300 foxes (or rather jackals) and tying them together two by
two by the tails, with a firebrand between every pair of tails, and so he let
them loose into the standing corn of the Philistines, which was ready for harvest,
The Philistines took vengeance by burning Samson's wife and her father; but he
fell hip upon them in return, and smote them with a great slaughter," after which
he took refuge on the top of the rock of Etam, in the territory of Judah. The
Philistines gathered an army to revenge themselves when the men of Judah hastened
to make peace by giving up Samson, who was hound with cords, these, however, he
broke like burnt flax and finding a jawbone of an ass at hand, he slew with it
a thousand of the Philistines. The supernatural character of this exploit was
confirmed by the miraculous bursting out of a spring of water to revive the champion
as he was ready to die of thirst. This achievement raised Samson to the position
of a judge, which he held for twenty years.
After a time he began to fall into the temptations which addressed themselves
to his strong animal nature; but he broke through every snare in which he was
caught so long as he kept his Nazarite vow. While he was visiting a harlot in
Gaza, the Philistines shut the gates of the city, intending to kill him in the
morning; but at midnight he went out and tore away the gates, with the posts and
bar and carried them to the top of a hill looking toward Hebron.
Next he formed his fatal connection with Delilah, a woman who lived in the valley
of Sorek. Thrice he suffered himself to be bound with green withes, with new ropes,
but released himself until finally, wearied out with her importunity, he "told
her all his heart," and while he was asleep she had him shaven of his seven locks
of hair. His enemies put out his eyes, and led him down to Gaza, bound in brazen
fetters, and made him grind in the prison. Then they held a great festival in
the temple of Dagon, to celebrate their victory over Samson. They brought forth
the blind champion to make sport for them, end placed him between the two chief
pillars which supported the roof that surrounded the court. Samson asked the lad
who guided him to let him feel the pillars, to lean upon them. Then, with a fervent
prayer that God would strengthen him only this once, to be avenged on the Philistines,
he bore with all his might upon the two pillars; they yielded, and the house fell
upon the lords and all the people. So the dead which he slew at his death were
more than they which he slew in his life." In (Hebrews
11:32) his name is enrolled among the worthies of the Jewish Church.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
Derived probably from shemesh, "sun" with the diminutive ending -on, meaning "little
sun" or "sunny," or perhaps "sun-man"; Sampson; Latin and English, Samson): His
home was near Bethshemesh, which means "house of the sun." Compare the similar
formation shimshay (Ezra 4:8 , 9 , 17 , 23).
Samson was a judge, perhaps the last before Samuel. He was a Nazirite of the tribe
of Dan (Judges 13:5); a man of prodigious strength, a giant and a gymnast--the
Hebrew Hercules, a strange champion for Yahweh! He intensely hated the Philistines
who had oppressed Israel some 40 years (Judges 13:1), and was willing to fight
them alone. He seems to have been actuated by little less than personal vengeance,
yet in the New Testament he is named among the heroes of faith (Hebrews 11:32),
and was in no ordinary sense an Old Testament worthy. He was good-natured, sarcastic,
full of humor, and fought with his wits as well as with his fists. Milton has
graphically portrayed his character in his dramatic poem Samson Agonistes (1671),
on which Handel built his oratorio, Samson (1743).
3. Story of His Life:
The story of Samson's life is unique among the biographies of the Old Testament.
It is related in Judges 13 - 16. Like Isaac, Samuel and John the Baptist, he was
a child of prayer (Judges 13:8 , 12). To Manoah's wife the angel of Yahweh appeared
twice (Judges 13:3 , 9), directing that the child which should be born to them
should be a Nazirite from the womb, and that he would "begin to save Israel out
of the hand of the Philistines" (Judges 13:5 , 7 , 14). The spirit of Yahweh first
began to move him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol (Judges 13:25). On
his arriving at manhood, five remarkable circumstances are recorded of him.
(1) His marriage with a Philistine woman of Timnah (Judges 14).
His parents objected to the alliance (Judges 14:3), but Samson's motive in marrying
her was that he "sought an occasion against the Philistines" At the wedding feast
Samson propounded to his guests a riddle, wagering that if they guessed its answer
he would give them 30 changes of raiment. Dr. Moore felicitously renders the text
of the riddle thus:
| 'Out of the eater came something to eat, And out of the
strong came something sweet' (Judges 14:14).
The Philistines threatened the life of his bride, and she in turn wrung from Samson
the answer; whereupon he retorted (in Dr. Moore's version):
| 'If with my heifer ye did not plow, Ye had not found out
my riddle, I trow' (Judges 14:18).
Accordingly, in revenge, Samson went down to Ashkelon, slew some 30 men, and paid
his debt; he even went home without his wife, and her father to save her from
shame gave her to Samson's "best man" (Judges 14:20). It has been suggested by
W. R. Smith (Kinship and Marriage in Early Arabia, 70-76) that Samson did not
from the first intend to take his bride to his home, his marriage being what is
known among the Arabs as a tsadiqat, or gift marriage, by which is meant that
the husband becomes a part of the wife's tribe. This assumes that the social relations
of the Hebrews at that time were matriarchate, the wife remaining with her family,
of which custom there are other traces in the Old Testament, the husband merely
visiting the wife from time to time. But this is not so obvious in Samson's case
in view of his pique (Judges 14:19), and especially in view of his parents' objection
to his marrying outside of Israel (Judges 14:3). Not knowing that his bride had
been given by her father to his friend, Samson went down to Timnah to visit her,
with a kid; when he discovered, however, that he had been taken advantage of,
he went out and caught 300 jackals, and putting firebrands between every two tails,
he burned up the grain fields and olive yards of the Philistines. The Philistines,
however, showed they could play with fire, too, and burned his wife and her father.
Thereupon, Samson smote the Philistines in revenge, "hip and thigh" (Judges 15:1
(2) When he escaped to Etam,
an almost vertical rock cliff in Judah (by some identified with 'Araq Ismain)
not far from Zorah, Samson's home, the Philistines invaded Judah, encamped at
Lehi above Etam, and demanded the surrender of their arch-enemy. The men of Judah
were willing to hand Samson over to the Philistines, and accordingly went down
to the cliff Etam, bound Samson and brought him up where the Philistines were
encamped (Judges 15:9 - 13). When Samson came to Lehi the Philistines shouted
as they met him, whereupon the spirit of Yahweh came mightily upon him, so that
he broke loose from the two new ropes with which the 3,000 men of Judah had bound
him, and seizing a fresh jawbone of an ass he smote with it 1,000 men of the Philistines,
boasting as he did so in pun-like poetry, 'With the jawbone of an ass, m-ass upon
m-ass'; or, as Dr. Moore translates the passage, 'With the bone of an ass, I ass-ailed
my ass-ailants' (Judges 15:16). At the same time, Samson reverently gave Yahweh
the glory of his victory (Judges 15:18). Samson being thirsty, Yahweh provided
water for him at a place called En-hakkore, or "Partridge Spring," or "the Spring
of the Caller"--another name for partridge (Judges 15:17 - 19).
(3) Samson next went down to Gaza, to the very stronghold of the Philistines, their chief city.
There he saw a harlot, and, his passions not being under control, he went in unto
her. It was soon noised about that Samson, the Hebrew giant, was in the city.
Accordingly, the Philistines laid wait for him. But Samson arose at midnight and
laid hold of the doors of the gate and their two posts, and carried them a full
quarter of a mile up to the top of the mountain that looketh toward Hebron (Judges
16:1 - 3).
(4) Samson betook himself to the valley of Sorek where he fell in love with another Philistine woman, named Delilah,
through whose machinations he lost his spiritual power. The Philistine lords bribed
her with a very large sum to deliver him into their hands. Three times Samson
deceived her as to the secret of his strength, but at last he explains that he
is a Nazirite, and that his hair, which has never been shorn, is the secret of
his wonderful power. J. G. Frazer (Golden Bough, III, 390) has shown that the
belief that some mysterious power resides in the hair is still widespread among
savage peoples, e.g. the Fiji Islanders. Thus, Samson fell. By disclosing to Delilah
this secret, he broke his covenant vow, and the Spirit of God departed from him
(Judges 16:4 - 20). The Philistines laid hold on him, put out his eyes, brought
him down to Gaza, bound him with fetters, and forced him to grind in the prison
house. Grinding was women's work! It is at this point that Milton catches the
picture and writes,
|"Eyeless in Gaza, at the mill with slaves."
Howbeit, the hair of his head began to grow again; but his eyes did not! (Judges
16:21 , 22).
(5) The final incident recorded of Samson is in connection with a great sacrificial feast
which the Philistine lords gave in honor of Dagon, their god. In their joyous
celebration they sang in rustic rhythm:
|'Our god has given us into our hand The foe of our land,
Whom even our most powerful band Was never able to withstand' (Judges 16:24).
This song was accompanied probably, as Mr. Macalister suggests, by hand-clapping
(Gezer, 129). When they became still more merry, they called for Samson to play
the buffoon, and by his pranks to entertain the assembled multitude. The house
of Dagon was full of people; about 3,000 were upon the roof beholding as Samson
made sport. With the new growth of his hair his strength had returned to him.
The dismantled giant longed to be avenged on his adversaries for at least one
of his two eyes (Judges 16:28). He prayed, and Yahweh heard his prayer. Guided
by his attendant, he took hold of the wooden posts of the two middle pillars upon
which the portico of the house rested, and slipping them off their pedestals,
the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people that were therein. "So the
dead that he slew at his death were more than they that he slew in his life" (Judges
16:29 , 30). His kinsmen came and carried him up and buried him near his boyhood
home, between Zorah and Eshtaol, in the family burying-ground of his father. "And
he judged Israel twenty years" (Judges 16:31).
4. Historical Value:
The story of Samson is a faithful mirror of his times: "Every man did that which
was right in his own eyes" (Judges 17:6 ; 21:25). There was no king in those days,
i.e. no central government. Each tribe was separately occupied driving out their
individual enemies. For 40 years the Philistines had oppressed Samson's tribal
compatriots. Their suzerainty was also recognized by Judah (Judges 14:4 ; 15:11).
Samson was the hero of his tribe. The general historicity of his story cannot
be impeached on the mere ground of improbability. His deeds were those which would
most naturally be expected from a giant, filled with a sense of justice. He received
the local popularity which a man of extraordinary prowess would naturally be given.
All peoples glory in their heroes. The theory that the record in Judges 13 - 16
is based upon some "solar myth" is now generally abandoned. That there are incidents
in his career which are difficult to explain, is freely granted. For example,
that he killed a lion (Judges 14:6) is not without a parallel; David and Benaiah
did the same (1 Samuel 17:34 - 36 ; 2 Samuel 23:20). God always inspires a man
in the line of his natural endowments. That God miraculously supplied his thirst
(Judges 15:19) is no more marvelous than what God did for Hagar in the wilderness
(Genesis 21:19). That Samson carried off the doors of the gate of Gaza and their
two posts, bar and all, must not confound us till we know more definitely their
size and the distance from Gaza of the hill to which he carried them. The fact
that he pulled down the roof on which there were 3,000 men and women is not at
all impossible, as Mr. Macalister has shown. If we suppose that there was an immense
portico to the temple of Dagon, as is quite possible, which was supported by two
main pillars of wood resting on bases of stone, like the cedar pillars of Solomon's
house (1 Kings 7:2), all that Samson, therefore, necessarily did, was to push
the wooden beams so that their feet would slide over the stone base on which they
rested, and the whole portico would collapse. Moreover, it is not said that the
whole of the 3,000 on the roof were destroyed (Judges 16:30). Many of those in
the temple proper probably perished in the number (R. A. S. Macalister, Bible
Side-Lights from the Mound of Gezer, 1906, 127-38).
5. Religious Value:
Not a few important and suggestive lessons are deducible from the hero's life:
(1) Samson was the object of parental solicitude from even before his birth.
One of the most suggestive and beautiful prayers in the Old Testament is that
of Manoah for guidance in the training of his yet unborn child (Judges 13:8).
Whatever our estimate of his personality is, Samson was closely linked to the
(2) He was endowed with the Spirit of Yahweh--
the spirit of personal patriotism, the spirit of vengeance upon a foe of 40 years'
standing (Judges 13:1 , 25 ; 14:6 , 19 ; 15:14).
(3) He also prayed, and Yahweh answered him, though in judgment (Judges 16:30).
But he was prodigal of his strength. Samson had spiritual power and performed
feats which an ordinary man would hardly perform. But he was unconscious of his
high vocation. In a moment of weakness he yielded to Delilah and divulged the
secret of his strength. He was careless of his personal endowment. He did not
realize that physical endowments no less than spiritual are gifts from God, and
that to retain them we must be obedient.
(4) He was passionate and therefore weak.
The animal of his nature was never curbed, but rather ran unchained and free.
He was given to sudden fury. Samson was a wild, self-willed man. Passion ruled.
He could not resist the blandishments of women. In short, he was an overgrown
schoolboy, without self-mastery.
(5) He accordingly wrought no permanent deliverance for Israel; he lacked the spirit of cooperation.
He undertook a task far too great for even a giant single-handed. Yet, it must
be allowed that Samson paved the way for Saul and David. He began the deliverance
of Israel from the Philistines. He must, therefore, be judged according to his
times. In his days there was unrestrained individual independence on every side,
each one doing as he pleased. Samson differed from his contemporaries in that
he was a hero of faith (Hebrews 11:32). He was a Nazirite, and therefore dedicated
to God. He was given to revenge, yet he was ready to sacrifice himself in order
that his own and his people's enemies might be overthrown. He was willing to lay
down his own life for the sake of his fellow-tribesmen--not to save his enemies,
however, but to kill them. (Compare Matthew 5:43 ; Romans 5:10.)
(1) Commentary. on Judges, notably those by G. F. Moore, ICC, 1895; Budde, Kurzer
Handkommentar, 1897; Nowack, Handkommentar, 1900; E. L. Curtis, The Bible for
Home and School, 1913; Bachmann, 1868; Keil, 1862; Farrar in Ellicott's Commentaries;
Watson, Expositor's Bible.
(2) Articles on "Samson" in the various Bible Dictionaries and Encyclopedias;
in particular those by Budde, HDB; C. W. Emmet, in 1-vol HDB; S. A. Cook, New
Encyclopedia Brit; Davis, Dict. of the Bible.
George L. Robinson
ate honey, bible commentary, bible history, bible reference, bible study, blinded, burnt corn field, delilah bribed, destroyed house, grind mill, hair (cut while sleeping), jawbone, judge of israel, killed lion, nazarite, samson, philistine wife, philistines burnt wife and father, pushed pillars, refuge in rock of etam, secret power, water miracle