The Story of Samson

Rick Hamlin revisits the story of the man who was chosen by God to have supernatural strength.

Posted in , Feb 15, 2018

Actor Taylor James, who stars as the Biblical strongman in the new movie 'Samson'

An angel appearing to announce the birth of a special child is familiar to all Bible readers, especially the incident we refer to as the Annunciation, when Gabriel told Mary she would bear a son named Jesus. But that story has some antecedents in the Hebrew Scriptures, one of my favorites in the book of Judges.

It was not a good time for the Israelites. The Philistines had overtaken their land and the people were suffering. There was a man named Manoah from the town of Zorah in the low country of Judah. His wife had not been able to give birth (reminiscent of the aged and barren Sarah). One day the angel of the Lord appeared to her and told her that though she’d been unable to get pregnant, she was now, and she would soon bear a son, but there were some particulars that had to be observed.

First she had to be careful not to drink any wine or brandy or eat anything impure. Then she was to make sure that no razor ever touched her boy’s head, because he would be a Nazirite—one pledged to the Lord—and someday he would rescue the Israelites from the Philistines. (Note that detail about the boy’s hair.) 

As always an appearance of the angel of the Lord could be unsettling. The woman ran to her husband, Manoah, told him that something scary had happened to her, very scary, and an angel of the Lord had a message for them but she had neglected to ask where he was from or what his name was (questions I can’t imagine asking any angel).

Manoah was evidently not convinced that it was an angel and prays to God that this “man of God”—as he called him—make a return visit. Indeed the angel came back, appearing to the woman in a field. She raced to get her husband. (Did she say to the angel, “Don’t go away, I’ll be right back?”) Manoah came and saw “the man” for himself.

Sounding a bit like a prosecutor examining a witness, Manoah asked the angel, “Are you the man who spoke to this woman?” 

“I am,” said the angel.

“Now when your words come true, what should the rules for the boy be and how should he act?” God’s messenger repeated himself. Manoah’s wife should not drink anything that comes from the grape, neither wine nor brandy, or eat anything ritually unclean, and they should raise the child up as they were told.

Being the good host, Manoah tried to persuade the “man” to stay and suggested preparing a young goat for him to eat. 

“Even if you persuaded me to stay, I wouldn’t eat your food,” said the angel. “But you could make the goat your offering to the Lord.”

“What’s your name?” Manoah said.

“Why do you ask my name? You couldn’t understand it.” Even angels can get a bit testy.

Manoah took a young goat and a grain offering and put them on a rock-like altar, building a fire beneath (in my imagination I picture it looking like an outdoor barbecue). The next thing that happened floored them both, literally. The flame from the altar shot up to the sky and the angel rose right up on that pillar of fire, disappearing completely. Manoah and his wife fell face down on the ground, trembling in fear and awe.

Finally Manoah grasped the truth. They had been visited by an angel. But if that was true, then hadn’t they actually seen God, and if you saw the face of God, didn’t that mean you would die immediately? His good wife, who was clearly the more faith-filled of the two, reassured him that this was simply God’s messenger bearing good news and they would surely live to see all that the angel had promised come to pass. Indeed they did. She came to full term and delivered a son, Samson.

Yes, that Samson, the one with the fabled long hair and the enormous strength, who could kill a lion with his bare hands and knock off a thousand Philistines with a donkey’s jawbone. But he met his match with the temptress Delilah, who discovered the secret of his strength—that long hair—and when he fell asleep one day she called a man to shave off his seven braids. His hair gone, the Lord left him. The Philistines blinded him, bound him in chains and took him as prisoner where he had to work the mill. They didn’t seem to notice that his hair started growing back.      

That gave him his chance for revenge. The Philistines were having a celebration in their temple and they wanted Samson to appear. After being hauled out, he positioned himself between two pillars. The place was packed with some three thousand spectators, people even huddled on the roof. Samson prayed to God, then pushed the pillars in one mighty shove and the temple collapsed, killing all his enemies as well as himself. A self-sacrificial act from a Biblical superhero. He was buried in the family tomb in Zorah, not far from where the angel had foretold his birth.

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The poster from the movie Samson Samson, starring Billy Zane, Taylor James (pictured above), and Lindsay Wagner, debuts on February 16 in theatres across the country.


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