Samson is one of the most interesting people of the Bible. Like the Philistine Goliath, he’s remembered for his legendary physical strength. After killing a lion with his bare hands, he took on a whole army with the jawbone of a donkey and, in his last act, pushed down the pillars of a huge temple (Judges 13–16).
Samson is one of the most tragic and mysterious heroes of the Bible. His greatest achievement was also his last. Ruined by a lifetime of short-sighted choices, he ended up being tortured by his enemies for the harm he had done to them. With eyes gouged out, he cried out to the God of Israel and, in a last gasp of self-destruction, accomplished more in death than he had in his life.
Samson’s ending seems to defy the messianic anticipation that preceded his birth. According to Judges, an angel appeared to a childless couple and told them they were going to have a son who would begin to deliver their people from their enemies (Judges 13:1-5).
The angel told the couple that they were to raise this special son as one dedicated to the Lord. In accordance with the Nazirite vow of dedication (Numbers 6:1-21), their son’s hair was never to be cut. In preparation for his birth, his mother was also told to avoid any fruit of the vine, all unclean food, and any fermented drink.
The mysterious nature of the angel must have added to the couple’s wonder and anticipation. When the husband asked for the messenger’s name, the angel said, “Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding” (Judges 13:18 NIV). The angel then went up in a flame of fire, leaving the couple with the impression that they had been in the presence of God (Judges 13:20-22).
In the days and years that followed, the couple must have wondered if they’d been chosen to be the parents of the long-anticipated Deliverer of God’s people (Genesis 3:15).
But Samson’s story doesn’t end the way it began. The first thing we hear about him as he emerged from childhood does not seem to fit the messianic hope. A young, headstrong Samson soon alarmed and disappointed his parents by finding among the Philistines a woman that he insisted on marrying. When the marriage ended in disaster, Samson showed no change of heart. With no apparent shame, he spent the night with a prostitute in Gaza, and eventually moved in with another Philistine by the name of Delilah. She ended up being Samson’s undoing when his enemies used her to discover the secret of his supernatural strength.
Samson’s parents had every reason to be confused and heartbroken. Certainly, their son was special. He possessed a strength that broke the grip and pride of Israel’s enemies. But why would his life be marked by such willful, indulgent, and self-destructive ways? What happened to the Messiah-like aura that preceded his birth (Judges 13)?
The answer might startle us. Now that the hope of the ages has come in Jesus, there seem to be echoes of Samson in one of the most unlikely of comparisons.
Similarities between Samson and Jesus:
• Their births were announced by an angel.
• They were both born to be deliverers of Israel.
• They were dedicated to the Lord at birth.
• They were born to deliver their people from their enemies.
• They died tragic deaths.
• They accomplished more in death than in the days of their lives.
Such comparisons might make us uncomfortable because of what we know about the scandals of Samson. But like so many other parallels in the Old Testament that foreshadow the coming of God’s Messiah, the point is not only in the comparisons, but also in the contrasts.
Differences between Samson and Jesus:
• Samson was born with God’s help to a childless couple. Jesus was born of a virgin.
• Samson’s life mingled the purposes of God with human weakness and sin. Jesus lived without sin.
• Samson loved women to their harm. Jesus loved women and men for their good.
• Samson died for his own sins. Jesus died for the sins of others.
• Samson’s accomplishments were temporary. Jesus’ were eternal.
What emerges is a wisdom and love that are greater than our sin.
Now we can better understand the mystery of the messenger who announced Samson’s birth. The God who was providing a partial national deliverance through a sinful strong man was giving a foretaste of the full and complete salvation that would one day be won by His Son.
Our God is not limited by our failures. By His eternal plan to provide a perfect sacrifice and Savior, He made it possible to use and to honor the faith of someone as weak as Samson (Hebrews 11:32).
Father in heaven, thank You for helping us to see You and ourselves in Samson, and to see You coming to his rescue and ours in Jesus. —Mart DeHaan