Samson Slaying the Lion (1628) by Peter Paul Rubens
by Trent Dee Stephens, PhD for the Come Follow Me lesson May 30-June 5, Judges 2-4; 6-8; 13-16
I always have found the story of Samson (Judges 13:24-16:30) to be very difficult to understand and appreciate. Both the Bible dictionary and the Come Follow Me lesson seem to present somewhat the same conclusion. The Bible Dictionary says only that he was the son of Manoah and the twelfth of the Judges. Then it states, “He seems to have been a man notorious for his great physical strength but weak in intellectual and moral character.” The Come Follow Me lesson states, “Samson lost both his physical strength and his spiritual strength because he violated his covenants with God…” Had he not been one of Israelite’s judges, his story probably wouldn’t have been included in the scriptures.
His story seems to be included in all the popular Bible Story Books, but his example is not a good one. Perhaps the most famous part of the story is Samson’s statement that his strength came from his long hair. We read in Judges 16:17: that Samson told Delilah, “There hath not come a razor upon mine head; for I have been a Nazarite unto God from my mother's womb: if I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.”
Then we are told in Judges 16:18-21 “And when Delilah saw that he had told her all his heart, she sent and called for the lords of the Philistines, saying, Come up this once, for he hath shewed me all his heart. Then the lords of the Philistines came up unto her, and brought money in their hand. And she made him sleep upon her knees; and she called for a man, and she caused him to shave off the seven locks of his head; and she began to afflict him, and his strength went from him. And she said, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he awoke out of his sleep, and said, I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself. And he wist not that the LORD was departed from him. But the Philistines took him, and put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with fetters of brass; and he did grind in the prison house.”
The term “Nazarite” is from the Hebrew word נָזִ֔יר, nazir, meaning “consecrated” or “devoted” (Bible Hub: Numbers 6:2). The Nazarite vow is described in Numbers 6:1-6. Samson certainly did not live up to his vows, but, according to the story, his strength came not from his piety, which was lacking, but only from his long hair. Only in Samson’s case does there seem to be a connection between being a Nazarite and having great strength. There seems to be no other legends associating long hair with strength.
If the narrative in the book of Judges is correct, it appears that Samson, at least, attributed his strength, not to his keeping his Nazarite vows, but simply to his long hair. We may ask the question, “How much of a person’s physical strength, say in weight-lifting, is psychological?” In his brief article, “The importance of mental strength in weightlifting,” owner and Head Coach of the New York Weight Lifting Academy, Daniel Casey, said, “Each lift has such a small margin for error that the ability to make it up is minimal. That’s why it is so important to develop excellent mind control- the mind controls the body. Mental control develops confidence, and confidence brings success.” (nyweightliftingacademy.com/importance-mental-strength-weightlifting)
It is very likely that Samson was a big, strong man to begin with, but that his extra strength was not in his long hair, but rather in his belief that his strength was in his long hair. Also recall that Delilah had probably drugged him and “made him sleep upon her knees,” so that when the Philistines came, he was not able to fight against them because of his drugged condition. Furthermore, the Philistines blinded him once they had subdued and captured him.
Like Samson, our own strength is largely psychological. And our own strength can be sapped by neglecting our commitments and covenants, and by allowing ourselves to fall under the spell of drug use and other debilitating activities.
Trent Dee Stephens, PhD