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Samson is often called “the strongest man to have ever lived.” He was a man born for greatness, but as we know, his life was defined by failure rather than victory. Where did he go wrong? Let us take a look at three parts of his story: his birth, his downfall, and his redeeming final moment of faith.



The story of Samson is recorded in the Book of Judges. During Israel’s early history, the judges did not sit in a court of law. They led the Israelites into war against their oppressors and, for judges such as Deborah, settled disputes as a mediator between two parties. However, Samson did neither of these things.

Samson was a very different judge, and his life story is unique. Not only is he the twelfth and final judge recorded in the Book of Judges, his story (recorded in chapters 13 to 16) is also given more space than any other judge. Most pertinently, he was specially chosen by God before his birth to deliver the Israelites.

The birth of Samson

Samson’s birth was a miracle. Manoah’s wife was infertile, but the Angel of the Lord appeared to her and announced the birth of Samson, as well as the manner of his life (Judg 13:2–5). He would be a Nazirite from birth, and his hair was to remain uncut.

Numbers 6:1–21 describes the Nazirite vow in detail. It could be taken by any Israelite man or woman for a predetermined amount of time. During the period of the vow, a Nazirite was forbidden to cut his hair, drink wine, and to have anything to do with the grapevine, from the seed to the skin. A Nazirite was not allowed to touch a dead body—if he did, he would have to purify himself and re-start the period of his vow. These processes might seem very troublesome on first reading, but that is the exact purpose of the Nazirite vow. God wanted the Israelites to learn total and absolute consecration to Him.

The Angel who foretold Samson’s birth repeated God’s instructions from Numbers 6, but with two important differences. First, Manoah’s wife was to also abstain from unclean foods (Judg 13:4). This instruction was given explicitly because Israel had fallen into such a bad state that eating unclean food was deemed socially acceptable. Second, unlike a normal Nazirite vow, Samson’s Nazirite status was to last a lifetime.

Even though Samson was to be consecrated his entire life, he failed to adopt the Nazirite lifestyle. He would, instead, pursue the pleasures of the flesh.

Were Manoah and his wife godly parents?

We may wonder why Samson failed to live out his Nazirite status—perhaps his parents were ungodly and failed to raise him according to God’s instructions. But Judges 13:8 tells us otherwise. Manoah was absent when the Angel appeared to his wife, so he prayed to God to re-send the Angel to teach them how to raise the child. He asked, “What will be the boy’s rule of life, and his work?” (Judg 13:12b). We see that this couple cared how Samson was to be raised. How many of us would actually pray to God asking what we should do for our child, or what our child's rule of life will be?

The time of the judges was a dark age for Israel, as they had fallen into the vicious cycle of sin. Whenever the people’s lives became comfortable, they would turn to sin and idolatry. God would then punish them, prompting them to call out to Him. Each time, God would deliver them from their oppressors, only for them to sin again. Samson was born during another of these sinful periods, for “[a]gain the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD” (Judg 13:1a).

Furthermore, Manoah belonged to the tribe of Dan, a tribe that stands out as one of the least faithful to God. Judges 1 records that many Israelite tribes failed to drive out the Canaanites from the land, as God had commanded. But the Danites fared worse than the rest—they themselves were driven back into the mountains by the Amorites (Judg 1:34). Another incident is recorded in Judges 18, where the Danites took the idols of Micah’s house and worshipped them as if they were the Lord God of Israel.

In the midst of Israel’s spiritual depravity, the Danites proved to be the weakest in faith. Yet, here is a Danite couple who was intent on going against the grain. Manoah prayed to the Lord, enquired about how to raise the boy, and, with his wife, offered a young goat with the grain offering to the Lord (Judg 13:8, 12, 19). If we consider the godless times in which Samson’s parents lived, and the fact that they had every intention to raise the child according to the Angel’s instructions, we can infer that they were, indeed, godly parents.

God’s blessings and abidance

Not only was Samson born into a godly household, God was also with him as he grew up: “So the woman bore a son and called his name Samson; and the child grew, and the LORD blessed him. And the Spirit of the LORD began to move upon him at Mahaneh Dan between Zorah and Eshtaol” (Judg 13:24–25; emphasis added). God was with Samson so that he could consecrate and dedicate his life as a Nazirite for the work of God, to fulfill his calling.

At this point of the story, Samson was a man whose birth had been twice announced by the Angel, he was consecrated by God as a Nazirite from his mother’s womb, brought up by godly parents, and blessed by God’s movement. Could a servant of God have asked for more? In fact, the root word for the name Samson means “sun,” which is apt for a man who was to shine as bright as the sun, and had all he needed to accomplish this. But why did he fail so spectacularly?


As Samson’s story unfolds, we see a man dedicated not to his calling, but to satisfying his flesh. One example of this is when he attempted to marry a Philistine woman in Timnah.

In Judges 14:1–4, Samson told his father, “I have seen a woman in Timnah of the daughters of the Philistines; now therefore, get her for me as a wife.” Of course, Samson’s godly parents objected to his demands, but their objections fell on deaf ears. Samson was adamant: “Get her for me, for she pleases me well.” The New Living Translation[1] translates this as, “Get her for me! She looks good to me.” When Samson later spoke to her, again, he was well pleased (Judg 14:7).

Samson was clearly a man of the flesh. It did not matter that God had forbidden the Israelites from marrying the Canaanites (Deut 7:3–4). Worse still, his consecration as a Nazirite meant nothing to him. Samson saw what he liked and took it. He did whatever was good in his own eyes—the same pair of eyes that would be gouged out at the end of his story.

Honey in the lion’s carcass

On the journey down to Timnah, a young lion attacked Samson out of nowhere (Judg 14:4–6). Of course, Samson would not be deterred, and God’s word that he would eventually deliver the Israelites would surely come to pass. The Spirit of God came upon Samson and, for the first time, we read of his incredible strength—he tore the lion from limb to limb. He then rejoined his parents as if nothing had happened.

Some time later, he returned to see what had happened to the lion’s carcass, perhaps to admire his own handiwork (Judg 14:8–9). He found a bee nest inside the carcass, and took some honey to eat. He then gave some to his parents without informing them where it had come from.

Now, let us remind ourselves that the Israelites were forbidden from eating anything unclean. The lion was an unclean animal, and anyone who touched the carcass of an unclean animal would be defiled (Lev 11:24–28). An unclean animal could not defile an Israelite while it was still alive, but when it died, whatever came in contact with it would also become unclean (Judg 11:32). Hence, the honey from the lion’s carcass was unclean. Samson not only defiled himself, but his parents too. Worse, Samson and his mother had been explicitly prohibited by God from eating anything unclean. But Samson did not consider any of these things. The sweetness of the honey outweighed the fact that he would be defiled by the carcass.

The image of the honey in the lion’s carcass neatly encapsulates the phrase “the passing pleasures of sin” (Heb 11:25). Sin is like the lion’s carcass that defiles, but it also has its moments of pleasure, like the taste of honey. This represents Samson’s fatal flaw: he would always choose to eat sweet honey over preserving his holiness. Throughout his life, he did not concern himself with keeping to the restrictions of the Nazirite vow. In fact, he never chose to be a Nazirite, it was forced upon him from birth. He was a Nazirite by name, but not in spirit.

Samson’s literary gift

Although Samson was immensely blessed by God, he only used God’s gifts to satisfy his own desires. In fact, Samson was not only blessed with brute strength, but also with a gift for words. He posed this riddle to the Philistines: “Out of the eater came something to eat, and out of the strong came something sweet” (Judg 14:14). Clearly, Samson had the brains and the brawn. Later, he composed another poem on the spot after killing a thousand Philistines:

With the jawbone of a donkey,

Heaps upon heaps,

With the jawbone of a donkey

I have slain a thousand men!” (Judg 15:16)

What is poignant here is that God blessed Samson with such potential. Samson could have been a much greater man—perhaps even a precursor to David, the sweet Psalmist of Israel. But unlike David, who used his literary gift to compose psalms to praise God, Samson used his gift for his own ends. He posed the riddle to the Philistines to win himself thirty sets of clothing. And he composed the poem not to praise God for giving him a miraculous victory, but to glorify himself for killing a thousand men with only a donkey’s jawbone.

Did God cause Samson to fall in love with the Philistine woman?

When the Bible describes Samson’s desire to marry the Philistine woman, it adds: “But his father and mother did not know that it was of the LORD—that He was seeking an occasion to move against the Philistines” (Judg 14:4). Hence, one might ask, is this entire incident from God? Actually, we have to understand that God did not approve of Samson’s actions. Rather, God was using Samson’s freely made decisions to fulfill His will.

Indeed, God had told Manoah’s wife that Samson would deliver the Israelites. However, Samson was not like Moses, who was moved to deliver the Israelites when he saw them suffering. Samson simply acted on his desires impulsively. He wanted to marry the Philistine woman because he was attracted to her. He posed the riddle because he wanted thirty sets of clothing for free. He killed thirty Philistines in Ashkelon because he was angry that he had lost the wager and had to pay up. He set the Philistines’ fields on fire because his father-in-law had given his wife to his best man. He killed yet more Philistines because they had burned his wife and her father. Everything he did was based on the flesh and on impulse. In fact, he had every intention of marrying the Philistine woman, but God would not allow him to consummate the marriage. As a result, Samson grew angry, and Samson killed. Through this, Samson delivered the Israelites and fulfilled the will of God.

The spiritual decline of Samson

From a spiritual viewpoint, Samson had complete disregard for the word of God. Throughout his life, he only pursued Philistine women, those whom God had expressly forbidden the Israelites from marrying. In Timnah, Samson was unwilling to marry any Israelite, but was adamant on marrying a Philistine woman just because she “looked good” to him. Later, he saw a prostitute in Gaza and paid to sleep with her (Judg 16:1). Finally, he fell in love with Delilah, and lived with her out of wedlock. Samson had no qualms with defiling his body, whether it was paying a prostitute or cohabiting with Delilah, to satisfy his fleshly desires. This failure to resist the honey in the lion’s carcass ultimately led to his demise.

As far as his Nazirite status was concerned, Samson violated one restriction after another with wanton disregard. He ate unclean food—the honey from the lion’s carcass. He also threw a wedding feast at Timnah, where it is likely that he drank wine (in Hebrew, the root word for “feast” is, literally, “drink.”) Now, the only Nazirite restriction left unbroken was the prohibited cutting of hair. And this is the area where he played dangerously close to the edge.

Going to the edge

In Judges 16, we read that the Philistines paid Delilah to seduce Samson. Indeed, she asked him directly about the source of his power, saying, “Please tell me where your great strength lies, and with what you may be bound to afflict you” (Judg 16:6). Samson must have realized what Delilah was doing, because each time he disclosed his supposed weakness, she would use it to try to subdue him and allow the Philistines to attack. And yet, Samson was not concerned; he continued to play with fire by engaging with Delilah’s game. He did not realize that he was drawing closer and closer to the edge. First he said “bind me with seven fresh bowstrings” (Judg 16:7); then, “bind me securely with new ropes” (v. 11); then, “weave the seven locks of my head into the web of the loom” (v. 13). He finally caved in and confessed, “If I am shaven, then my strength will leave me” (v. 17). This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. When the Philistines attacked, Samson did not realize that he was powerless, and that God had already departed from him (v. 20).

It is just as the proverb warns: “Can a man take fire to his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?” (Prov 6:27) When it comes to sin, man likes to play with fire. We like to go to the edge and test the boundaries, thinking that we can always turn back in time.

With regards to sexual sin, some believers go to the edge without thinking of the consequences. It is only after they have indulged their flesh that they ask, “Is this a mortal sin?” Unfortunately, some go so close to the edge that they inadvertently fall off. They realize, too late, that the Lord has already departed from them. This is what happened to Samson—he lived his life so close to the edge that he fell off, and the Lord departed from him.


Finally, we come to the last part of Samson’s life—the silver lining of his story. His sins had finally caught up with him, and the very eyes he had lived to satisfy had been blinded by his enemies. He had used God’s strength for his own purposes, and now he had to use his own strength to work as a grinder in prison. He had always gratified his flesh and its desires, but now he had to indulge the desires of the Philistines by performing for them. Yet, Samson was like the man Jesus healed, who said, “[T]hough I was blind, now I see” (Jn 9:25b). Samson’s physical eyes were blind, but his spiritual sight was finally clear.

When the author of Hebrews lists down the Old Testament heroes of faith, Samson is included (Heb 11:32). Some find it puzzling that Samson is mentioned, while others explain it away by saying that he demonstrated some faith throughout his life. But let us not forget, Samson was able to achieve his final victory only because God answered his prayer. Samson called out: “O Lord GOD, remember me, I pray! Strengthen me, I pray, just this once, O God, that I may with one blow take vengeance on the Philistines for my two eyes” (Judg 16:28). As Isaiah says, it is our iniquities that separate us from God (Isa 59:2). Samson’s sins had alienated him from God. Would God have answered his final prayer if Samson had not truly repented?

The same God who had left Samson in the Valley of Sorek would again strengthen him, one last time. With one push, Samson brought down the temple of Dagon and killed 3,000 Philistines, including many prominent leaders. This victory was to be Samson’s greatest, but it was also his last. He died along with the Philistines. And after a lifetime of living with the Philistines, Samson was brought back to his own people to be buried in his father’s tomb (Judg 16:31).

Samson’s end reveals to us the power of God’s forgiveness. The greatest victory lies in overcoming our past sins, and repenting with a broken and contrite heart (Ps 51:17). For this is when God hears and answers our prayer.


Samson is like the worker who “will be saved, yet as through fire” (1 Cor 3:15b). The conclusion of Samson’s story is tinged with sadness. We see his unfulfilled potential, like so many athletes who show brilliant talent in their youth, but indulge in the party lifestyle and fizzle out before their prime.

Samson was a man who simply indulged his flesh, used God’s gifts for himself, and trampled his Nazirite calling. He could have accomplished so much for God, but his life ended with many regrets and what-ifs. He failed to live up to his name; he failed to shine as bright as the sun.

The question for us to ponder is: What about us? Will our Christian life be one of regrets and tragic waste? Let us learn from Samson’s mistakes and seek to fulfill our potential. If we embrace our calling and use our gifts to shine for God, then we can do mighty and victorious works for Him.

[1] Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.