The Story of Samson in the Bible: Good or Bad?

Samson is often painted as a heroic figure in the Bible. Should he be?

I remember in Sunday school as a kid being taught the story of Samson. Who can forget the Bible’s strongman known for ripping the limbs off a lion, slaughtering roughly 1,000 people with the jawbone of a donkey (Judges 15:15), or setting the tails of 300 foxes ablaze as a weapon?

As an eight year old boy, I thought that those stories were awesome. After all, who doesn’t love a bit of action done in God’s name?

But were Samson’s Jean-Claude Van Damme-like actions righteous in God’s sight? Knowing the biblical backdrop behind the book of Judges would have been helpful in understanding those stories. For a Jew reading these Scriptures, instead of marveling in the ‘manly’ acts of Samson, they would have shuddered to see the Samson’s utter disregard for God’s law (specifically Deuteronomy).

Samson was God’s appointed leader for Israel, he unfortunately was the best example of the theme of Judges: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 17:6).

Here are a few examples of Samson’s utter disregard for the law of God:

  • In Judges 14:6-9, Samson tears a lion limb from limb defending himself, but fails to cleanse himself from touching the carcass of the animal (touching a dead animal makes him ceremonially unclean). Samson then goes back later to find the carcass filled with honey and eats honey from the carcass, again breaking the law of Deuteronomy 14. This is why it says in verse 6 and 9 that “he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done.” Nobody likes confessing sin to their parents!
  • Later, in Judges 15, Samson seeks revenge on the Philistines by catching 300 foxes, tying their tails together, and setting them through the Philistines crops with a torch to destroy their crops. This disobeys the command of Deuteronomy 32:35 against seeking revenge. This act also destroyed much of the food supply for the Philistines and hurt them badly economically, destroying a  staple in their economy.
  • Samson’s relationship with Delilah, the Philistine woman shows Samson’s disobedience to the laws of Deuteronomy 7:3-4 by seeking a foreign wife. Samson’s parents try and stop him from doing that in Judges 14:1-3, but replied by saying the only thing that mattered to him: “…She is right in my eyes.”

Even Samson’s death was characterized by an inward bent. He was captured by the Philistines in Judges 16:21 and his eyes are plucked out.

When he is tied up to pillars as a spectacle, his desperate plea to God is all about him: O Lord GOD, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes(Judges 16:28).

In one short prayer, Samson references himself four times! It is not wrong to pray for yourself (we are commanded to!), but it is ironic indeed that after all of these disobedient acts where Samson did what was right in his own eyes, God allowed Samson’s enemies to pluck out those very eyes.

Disobedience is a terrible legacy to leave. If the nation’s leader cannot show high regard for the law of God—what would become of the people?

Blog: Jonathan Edwards’ Powerful Example of Leaving a Godly Legacy

Instead of doing what is right in our own eyes, we are to do what is right in the eyes of God. One of the benefits of doing what is right in the eyes of the Lord is that He grants us greater spiritual vision coming from a deeper knowledge of God. Consider the words of Jesus in John 14:23:

Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

God rewards those who obey Him with a greater experience of God, a greater knowledge of the truth, and a true sense of the freedom that is ours only in Christ (John 8:31-32).

The story of Samson is a vivid reminder to not just hear God’s word, but obey it. Let it be our prayer to understand God’s Word and apply it to our lives, being characterized by lives of doing what is right in the Lord’s eyes.

And even though Samson had many flaws, the author of Hebrews listed him in Hebrews 11 (Hebrews 11:32) as a great example of a person of faith. Does this make Samson a good example or a bad one? A future post on the Unlocking the Bible blog will discuss Hebrews 11 and how God can use sinful people to accomplish His purposes.

Author: Kevin Halloran

Related Resources:
Bible Study Resources and Tools for Church Small Groups
Sermon Series: Keeping Yourself in Spiritual Shape: 7 Workouts for a Healthy Christian Life
Sermon: Being a Man After God’s Heart On YouTube: Sermon on Biblical Manhood
YouTube: An Encouragement to those Fighting Sin and Temptation

Images used under the Creative Commons License

Date Posted: October 18th, 2012

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