Bible Heroes & Villains

Samson Becomes Strong by Asking God to Forgive Him

When we hear the name “Samson,” we think of his great physical strength. Unfortunately, it is easier to be physically strong than morally strong. Samson found this to be true again and again throughout his life.

Before Samson was conceived, an angel of the LORD told his parents that their son “will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines” (Judges 13:5). Therefore, to symbolize that he was “set apart to God from birth,” no razor was ever to be used on his head (Judges 13:5).

When he grew up, Samson’s great physical strength quickly became legendary. He killed a lion with his bare hands (Judges 14:5-6). When he was bound with ropes, he broke loose and struck down the Philistines who tried to capture him (Judges 15:13-15). So “Samson led Israel twenty years in the days of the Philistines” (Judges 15:20).

Unfortunately, Samson’s ability to lead Israel was undermined by his immorality and his foolishness. He repeatedly consorted with prostitutes and other women to whom he was not married (Judges 16:1-4). He foolishly told women secrets because they nagged him (Judges 14:12-18; 16:4-19).

It was as if Samson’s great physical strength arose by sucking dry his moral strength—as if Samson’s great muscle power arose by sucking dry his will power.

After years of repeated immoral and foolish choices by someone who was supposed to have been “set apart to God from birth” (Judges 13:5), the LORD had had enough. He knew that Samson would have to reap what he was sowing. The LORD knows—as any loving parent learns—that if your child won’t follow your wise advice to make good choices that cause good consequences, eventually your child will learn the hard way that bad choices cause bad consequences.

Samson’s latest foolish sexual escapade was with a woman named Delilah. She kept nagging Samson to tell her the secret of his great strength.

At first, he lied to her. It should have been obvious to him that Delilah was telling his secrets to the Philistines. The Philistines kept trying to defeat Samson based on the latest lie he told Delilah (Judges 16:4-14)!

But finally Delilah’s nagging was stronger than Samson’s willpower. “[S]he prodded him day after day until he was tired to death” (Judges 16:16).

At last, Samsom “told her everything” (Judges 16:17). He explained that, to symbolize that he was set apart to God from birth, no razor had ever been used on his head. He confided, “If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man” (Judges 16:17).

Delilah promptly told the Philistines the key to destroying Samson. When they were ready to seize him, she “put him to sleep on her lap. And, after a man shaved off the seven braids of his hair, “his strength left him” (Judges 16:18-19).

When Samson first awoke, he did not realize he had become weak. “[H]e did not know that the LORD had left him” (Judges 16:20).

This is one of the scariest thoughts in the Bible. If we repeatedly treat the LORD with contempt by our immoral behavior, we can travel so far away from the ways of the LORD that the LORD can leave us and we won’t even know it!

Without the LORD to give him strength, Samson was doomed. “[T]he Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza” (Judges 16:21).

Rather than killing Samson, the Philistines humiliated him. “Binding him with bronze shackles, they set him to grinding in the prison” (Judges 16:21). To complete his humiliation, they held a huge party. They even brought Samson out of prison to entertain them! About three thousand jubilant Philistines, including their rulers, gathered in their temple to mock blind Samson as he performed for them (Judges 16:23-25, 27).

But these arrogant Philistines did not realize that—although God is holy and just—God is also merciful. Like a loving parent, God gives us a new chance to make a good choice. We only have to ask him.

In the weakness of his humiliation, Samson found the way to become strong again. Truly strong. Spiritually strong!

Samson found the courage to ask God to forgive him! Forgive him for the spiritual blindness that caused him to lose his way, straying into the paths of immorality and foolishness (See Psalm 1).

For the first time in any story about Samson, he “prayed to the LORD.” He said, “O Sovereign LORD, remember me. O God, please strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes (Judges 16:28).

Samson was not yet a spiritual giant. He was motivated by a desire for revenge on his enemies (the Philistines from Gaza), instead of being motivated by a desire to love his neighbors (the Philistines from Gaza).

Samson was not strong and courageous enough to love and forgive those who tortured him, as Jesus forgave those who tortured him, saying “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Nevertheless, now that Samson was willing to sacrifice his own life for the good of God’s people, God gave him back his strength. Bracing himself against “the two central pillars on which the temple stood,” Samson “pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it” (Judges 16:29-30).

This final act of courage and strength brought Samson more success than a lifetime of physical strength marred by immorality and foolishness. The Bible tells us Samson “killed many more when he died than while he lived” (Judges 16:30).

Furthermore, the Bible lists Samson with other great heroes of the faith, including Abraham and Moses, as someone whose life encourages us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” so that we can “run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 11:32; 12:1).

This is the courage that empowers us to ask God to forgive our sins—to give us another chance to make a good choice—no matter how often we have sinned in the past.

This is the courage that empowers us to choose to sacrifice our lives for the good of God’s people—indeed for the good of all people, even neighbors who are our enemies.

This is the courage that empowers us to ask God to give us wisdom no matter how often we have been foolish in the past.

This is the courage that empowers us with the spiritual strength to serve the LORD in the Promised Land.

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This blog is based on pages 144-146 of my book, The Promised Land.

Few questions are more troublesome to me than how we cheer the killing of God’s enemies in some parts of the Bible, yet we claim to be following the Way of Jesus who commands us: “[D]o not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” and “[L]ove your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:39,44). Some of my thoughts on this quandary can be found on pages 17-18, 21-24 and 132-135 of my book, The Promised Land and in my blog “Judas Betrays Jesus: The Love of Money”.