For forty long and bitter years, with few intermissions, the Jews had been feeling the crushing weight of Philistine oppression, nor being able to win a decisive victory over their cruel foe. The Philistines were the "whip" with which the Almighty was punishing the Jews for their disloyalty to Him.
The Birth of Samson
One day, when Zealphonis, a Jewish woman, was walking in the field, a very wonderful thing happened to her. An angel of Heaven appeared before her and said, "You will bear a son, who will some day rescue the Jewish people from their enemies. He will be an extraordinary person - stronger than a lion, and fleeter than a deer; and his spirit will be free and fearless. You must remember that his life will be consecrated to the service of G‑d. Therefore, never cut his hair, and give him no wines or liquors, but nourish him with the purest and mildest food, for he shall be a Nazirite!"
Zealphonis was overcome with joy. For years she had longed for a child, but she had been childless, and now, at last, her great desire was to be fulfilled. She hastened to tell the joyful news to her husband, Manoah, and the two rejoiced together. When she gave birth to a son, she called him Samson Shimshon in Hebrew, from the word shemesh, "sun." She felt that "Shimshon" was destined to be bright and mighty as the sun, and would deliver the Jewish people from those awful Philistines.
Even in his early youth, Samson revealed remarkable physical strength. One day, he was wandering in the woods, when suddenly he came face to face with a ferocious lion. The lion charged, but Samson, undaunted, slew the lion with his bare hands, as though it were a kitten.
As Samson grew to manhood, he began to resent more and more the oppression of his people by the Philistines. But he was too modest, too humble, to undertake the leadership of a Jewish army. He decided that he would avenge himself upon the Philistines by engaging them in personal conflicts, and intimidating them, so that they would no longer molest his brethren.
Samson in Philistina
Samson began to seek ways of getting into a close grip with the enemy. It was necessary for him to win their confidence, and at the same time to find good excuses for a personal vendetta with them.
One day Samson met a woman in the Philistine town of Timnah who was ready to accept the Jewish faith and be his wife.
At the wedding feast were gathered the young men of the town who had come to take part in the wedding festivities. Samson now had an opportunity to put his plan into practice. He addressed the company saying, "I will ask you a riddle and if you can solve it, I will give each of you a suit of clothing. But, if you do not guess the riddle, then each of you will have to give me a suit of clothing." The Philistines were only too glad to accept his challenge, and Samson asked them:
"Out of the eater came forth food and out the strong came forth sweetness. What is it?"
When Samson presented this riddle to them, not one of them could find a solution. They appealed to Samson's wife to coax the answer from her husband. "Are you not one of us? Will you let your countrymen be defeated and humiliated by a Hebrew? If you don't find the answer for us, we'll burn your father's house!" they threatened.
Samson's wife began to press him hard to tell her the answer to the riddle. Samson finally gave in, and told her the story that led him to form his riddle in that way:
"When I was going to Timnah for the first time, a young lion roared against me in the vineyard near the town. I grabbed the lion by his jaws and rent him in two with the greatest of ease. Now when I was coming here to marry you I remembered the lion, and decided to have a look at the carcass. I found a bee comb in it and I took a handful of honey from it. It was the sweetest honey I ever tasted. Now you know why I put forth such a riddle to the Philistines!"
On the seventh day of the feast, just before sunset when the time for solving the riddle was due to expire, the Philistines came to Samson and said: "What is sweeter than honey? And what is stronger than a lion?"
Samson realized at once he had been betrayed by his wife, and left the city in a terrible anger. Going to Ashkelon, another town in Philistinia, he avenged himself by killing thirty wicked Philistines there, and then he sent their robes to the men who had won the wager, albeit dishonestly.
Returning to Timnah with a present for his wife, Samson found that her father had made her wed another man. Samson became very angry, for not one Philistine protested against the scandalous act.
Samson caught three hundred foxes, tied their tails, and put flaming torches between each pair of tails. Leading the foxes into the Philistine cornfields, Samson started a terrible conflagration that destroyed the Philistine crop. In addition to avenging his own grievance, this was to teach the Philistines a lesson for their frequent pillaging of the land of Israel.
The Philistines immediately tried to mollify Samson's anger by burning the house of his unfaithful wife, and her father's house. "They alone were responsible for arousing Samson's fury," they said.
But when Samson heard of the belated penitence of the Philistines, he said, "It is too late now for you to defend my honor. Now I will have my revenge!"
And Samson, alone, with only his great Divine strength to help him, fought the Philistines and defeated them singlehanded in many combats. Then he went to live among the rocks of Etam.
Samson's attacks upon the Philistines greatly aroused their wrath. With a mighty army the Philistines went up to Judah and camped there by the town of Lehi. The Philistines sent a message to Judah, "If you surrender Samson to us, we will leave you to dwell in peace, but if you do not comply with our request, we will lay waste your entire land!"
The Prisoner - A Victor
You can imagine what an effect these words had on the tribesmen of Judah when they saw the great array of arms, and the powerful army of the Philistines.
The men of Judah went to Samson. "Samson," they said, "the Philistines will slay us all, burn our homes, take our wives and children captive if we do not deliver you. They are standing this very minute at the gates of Judah."
"Very well," replied Samson, "bind me, but promise that you will not harm me." They assured Samson that they would surrender him to the Philistines unharmed. Then Samson permitted them to bind him.
Fast they bound him, with new strong ropes, and with a prayer in their heart for his deliverance they brought him before the Philistines.
A shout of joy arose from the Philistine camp, when they saw their dangerous enemy Samson bound with heavy ropes and utterly at their mercy. But, at that moment Samson felt the spirit of G‑d that bestowed upon him supernatural strength. Suddenly, the heavy ropes that held his hands and arms so fast, became as light as the finest thread, and with the greatest of ease he freed his hands from the bonds. A terrible wrath and fearful might stirred in him. Tearing out on the battle-field, he destroyed a thousand Philistine warriors with nothing but a fresh jawbone of an ass which he had picked up, and the Philistines fled in disorder.
After this spectacular victory the Jews realized that Samson was chosen by G‑d to lead them, and they appointed him as Judge. (He was the 13th judge in Israel since Joshua).
Samson never ceased to perform his breath-taking feats for which he became famed. One day, when he was in Gaza, the Philistines were informed of his presence. Surrounding the town, they quietly waited for sunrise when he would go on his way; then they would attack and slay him.
But Samson, who had heard that the Philistines surrounded the town, did not wait for morning to come. In the black of night, Samson left the house. Coming to the gates of the city, he found them locked. With remarkable ease, he tore the gates and the posts away, bar and all, and carried them on his shoulders all the way to Hebron in Judah.
Samson and Delilah
Samson married again a Philistine woman called Delilah after she became a Jewess. The Philistine lords came to Delilah one day and said to her, "Delilah, you must find out what the secret of your husband's great strength is. If you will obtain the secret of his strength from him, we will reward you well. You will be rich. You will have everything your heart desires!"
Delilah could not resist this offer of wealth. And so, this heartless creature agreed to sell her husband's life for some silver pieces. But now, the question remained - how to wheedle the truth out of Samson. Delilah was an artful creature - she would find a way.
With all the wiles and guile she possessed, she cruelly and tenaciously tormented him with the question "What is the secret of your power?" until he could stand it no longer. "If you bind me with seven new ropes that were never used, then I am no stronger than the ordinary man," Samson told her.
Delilah told the secret to the Philistine lords, and they brought her seven fresh cords that hadn't been used. Saying she wished to see if he told her the truth, Delilah persuaded Samson to let himself be bound, being unaware that the Philistine lords lay waiting to pounce upon him in Delilah's chamber. Then she cried to him: "Samson, the Philistines are upon you!"
At these words Samson broke the ropes with no trouble at all, as though they were mere cobwebs.
Delilah was not discouraged. "Oh, Samson," she cried tearfully, "you have deceived me! All your vows of affection were but a mockery and an untruth! Come, tell me wherein really lies the secret of your strength."
Again and again Samson deceived her with false clues about the mystery of his strength. However, Delilah did not relent her efforts to entice him.
Finally, Samson could no longer bear her constant prying, and told her the secret of his strength. "Since my birth, I have never cut my hair, for I am a Nazirite; if my hair is cut, I lose my strength, for G‑d will not be with me any longer!"
The treacherous Delilah knew that Samson was telling her the truth this time. She hastened to summon the Philistine lords to her house. When Samson was asleep, one the men cut his locks away and then Delilah cried: "Samson, the Philistines are upon you!"
Samson jumped up, and prepared to defend himself. But, the Divine protection that had endowed him with such extraordinary strength before, had departed from him, and the men who lay in wait for Samson, easily overcame him. These heartless Philistines put out both his eyes, and led him to Gaza in iron chains.
The Philistines made a great feast to celebrate their victory over Samson. Gathered in the great hall in Gaza, they sang and danced, and gave thanks to their god, Dagon, for delivering Samson into their hands. And then they sent for the blind Samson, so that he might amuse them. Tormented and cruelly humiliated, he could not bear their rude jests and their idol worship. Turning to his guide, he said, "Lead me to the pillars, so that I may lean upon them and rest for a minute." The boy obeyed.
Samson, afire with anger and pain, invoked the Lord, "O, G‑d, give me strength this once. Let me avenge myself on these cruel Philistines that they may know that you are the only G‑d. It matters not if I die with them!" Once again he felt the spirit of G‑d in him. With one mighty heave, Samson tore the pillars down. The next instant, the walls and the roof came crashing down, and not a single Philistine present survived. Samson, too, was killed in this great crash.
Later his remains were brought to his native land, and he was interred in the soil he had fought so valiantly to defend. Samson had been the acknowledged judge of the people of Israel for twenty years.