Harry Whittaker
Judges And Ruth

17. The Birth of Samson (ch. 13)

The story of Samson seems to belong to the end of the period of Judges, but it is no easy matter to link up the relevant chronological details:

  1. 13:1. Philistine domination for 40 years.
  2. 15:20. Samson judged Israel for 20 years.
  3. 1 Sam. 4:18. Eli judged Israel for 40 years.
  4. 1 Sam. 7:2. A rather mysterious period of 20 years.
Out of these details some commentators deduce that Samson and Eli overlapped, but it is not easy to see just how the conclusion is reached.

It does seem fairly likely that Samuel was brought up as a Nazarite (more correctly: Nazirite) in imitation of Samson. The similarity in the circumstances of the births of these two children would doubtless suggest this.

The angel of the Lord

Manoah and his wife lived in Zorah, hard by the valley of Sorek, on the border of the territory of Dan and Judah and not many miles from Philistine territory (Josh. 15:19: 19:41; 1 Chron. 2:53). It was to the woman that the angel of the Lord first appeared. He presented his “credentials” by intimating his knowledge concerning her. “Behold now, thou art barren, and bearest not.” The correct conclusion was immediately drawn that this unknown visitant was, at the very least, a “man of God”, i.e. a prophet.

There followed a plain declaration of the divine blessing of motherhood which was to be hers. God purposed that the son to be born should begin the work of saving his people from the grim consequences of their sins. In token of the reforming character of the movement which he was to lead, he should be a Nazarite from birth. Wherefore also his mother must, during her pregnancy, observe the same restrictions.

All this was duly reported to her husband. He, not at all doubting but being most anxious to observe all the necessary requirements with regard to the child, sought from God the favour of a further theophany. This was promptly granted, and in acknowledgement of it Manoah delayed the divine messenger whilst a sacrificial mean and offering were prepared. The suspicion was there in his mind already, though he couldn’t be sure, that this stranger was more than a prophet.

Godly reaction

Manoah asked yet another favour. Might he not know the name of this illustrious visitor so that the promised son might be named after him? “Why askest thou thus after my name” was the reply, “seeing it is wonderful?” (The same word is later a title of the Messiah; Isaiah 9:6). And, matching his words with his deeds, the angel not only accepted the oblation which Manoah brought but himself ascended out of their sight in the flame of the altar.

The reactions of man and wife were both singularly creditable to them. Manoah, out of a deep sense of human unworthiness, was convinced that such close contact with heavenly majesty must inevitably mean death for them both. His wife, with surer instinct, knew that this amazing theophany was a token of divine blessing and not reprobation: had there not been the repeated promise of a son, and had not their offering been promptly accepted in signal fashion by the Almighty?

The marked resemblance between this experience and Gideon’s would doubtless, on reflection, help greatly to strengthen the faith of Manoah and his wife in the heavenly promise.

Thus the promise was believed, and in due time fulfilled. The child was named — according to the originally expressed intention — after the angel who announced his birth. For the name Samson is almost certainly derived from the Hebrew word for “sun”, a fact much delighted in by certain critics who would explain Samson away as a solar myth preserved in Hebrew folklore.

The similarities between Samson and Hercules, the strong man of Greek legend, are naturally used to support this conclusion. These resemblances can hardly be accidental:

  1. Both strangled a lion.
  2. The spring quenching Samson’s thirst corresponds to the refreshing baths provided by Sicilian nymphs for Hercules.
  3. Samson’s carrying away the gates of Gaza suggests the pillars of Hercules.
  4. Each met his death through the machinations of a woman.
The obvious explanation is that Samson is the origin of the Hercules myth, rather than conversely. There is support for this in the fact that the story of Samson’s foxes and firebrands also finds a clear echo in a Roman legend.

Of course Samson’s name has reference to the angel whose name had never been divulged. He was named after the appearance of the angel: “his countenance was like the countenance of an angel of God, very terrible” (13:6).

“And the child grew, and the Lord blessed him.”

The Nazarite vow, scrupulously observed by Samson at this time, carried with it three prohibitions:

  1. Abstention from the vine and from wine and strong drink in all its forms.
  2. Avoidance of defilement through contact with a dead body.
  3. There must be no cutting or shaving of the hair of the head (Numbers 6:1-8).
These restrictions, voluntarily assumed, make little sense until it is realised that the Nazarite vow was a special device by which the ordinary layman could approximate closely in certain essentials to the character of the high priestly office. When on duty in the sanctuary the High Priest was not to partake of wine (Lev. 10:11). Nor was he to allow himself to become defiled by the dead (Lev. 21:1,5). But, when ministering, he was to wear the crown (nezer) with its golden plate inscribed “Holy to the Lord”. In the case of the Nazarite (the word is obviously derived from the Hebrew word for ‘crown’), his crown was to be the natural growth of hair. “All the days of his separation he is to be holy unto the Lord” (Num. 6:8).

Thus a Nazarite vow meant special sanctity and also consecration as one who sought in some outstanding religious capacity to be the representative of his people. What a high ideal lay before Samson! What great achievements of eternal worth might have been his! But alas! He broke the law of his Nazarite vow both in the letter and in the spirit. Thus his repeated failure was all the more lamentable.


Nazarite. How did a fighter like Samson avoid contact with death? Of course he didn’t. Then after each big fight did he make elaborate renewal of his vow? Or were the wars of the Lord regarded as not defiling? Or did Samson just not bother?
Pressing requests, yet apparently the angel added nothing to what he had already said in v. 3-5.
A kid for thee. Compare Gideon; 6:18,19.
The camp of Dan. Mahaneh-Dan, named from a (chronologically) earlier incident in 18:11,12.

The Spirit of the Lord, fulfilling Gen. 49:11.

Move. The word means “trouble, disturb”. Philistine domination became a sore concern in his mind.

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