Philistine Oppression

Again the Canaanite cults made deep inroads into Jewish life. The people became estranged from the spirit of the Torah. Divine punishment now came from the west. Situated along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, the Philistines, descendants of the giant races that had once possessed Canaan, rude, warlike, and restless, had grown into a powerful nation. They began to push further inland, where the land was more fertile. For many years they were a constant threat to the land of Israel. The Israelites, weakened by idolatry and disunion, were often defeated and subdued and had then to submit to merciless oppression. The burdens of war and servitude naturally fell most heavily upon the neighboring tribe of the Danites; but the burdens were felt with more or less weight by the whole nation. For many years the Israelites bore the hateful yoke, and they sent up their cries for help and rescue.

Samson the Nazirite

Their deliverer came at last from the tribe of Dan. In the small town of Zorah there lived a man by the name of Monoah; his wife was childless. One day an angel appeared to her, declaring that she would become the mother of a son who should, in due time, save the Hebrews from the hand of the Philistines. The boy was from his birth to be dedicated to G‑d as a Nazirite; no razor was ever to touch his hair. Amazed by what she heard, she told it to her husband, who devoutly prayed for another appearance of the Divine messenger. The vision was repeated, and the angel announced again, this time both to Monoah and his wife, the birth of the wondrous child, and renewed his former injunctions.

In due course the child was born, and was named Samson. At an early age, Samson realized that he possessed remarkable strength with which he was able to accomplish superhuman feats. Once he was confronted by a young lion, and without exerting much effort, tore it apart. Realizing that he had been endowed with this strength in order to help his people, Samson sought the occasion to vent his anger on the enemy.

Samson's First Exploits

On one of his frequent roaming expeditions, he came to Thimnah, situated south of his native town Zorah.

There he saw a Philistine maiden who so pleased him that he resolved to make her his wife. Although his parents tried to dissuade him, Samson resolved to marry the Philistine woman after she had become a Jewess. On the way to Thimnah some time afterwards to celebrate his marriage, he passed the spot where he had killed the lion. He discovered that a swarm of bees had built their hive in the carcass. He took some of the honey and ate it which was to last for seven days. Present at the wedding were many young Philistines, friends and relatives of his wife. Samson confronted thirty of these young men and put before them the following puzzle; "Out of the eater came forth food, and out of the strong came forth sweetness." If they guessed the meaning, he promised to give to each of them a shirt and a suit of apparel, but if not, then they were to give him thirty shirts and thirty suits of apparel. Unable to explain the riddle, the guests urged Samson's bride to persuade him to divulge to her the interpretation and then to communicate it to them. She succeeded by artful appeals to her husband's tenderness; and on the last day of the feast the men said; "What is sweeter than honey; what is stronger than a lion?" Samson, easily divining the source of their knowledge, answered in his quaint manner: "If you had not ploughed with my heifer, you had not found out my riddle." Resolved to pay his debts in no ordinary way, and at the same to chastise the cunning deceit of the Philistines, he went down to Ashkelon, slew thirty Philistine oppressors, and stripped them of their garments, which he gave to the wedding guests. He then returned, angry and mortified, to his father's house in Zorah.

Further Exploits

At the time of the wheat harvest, Samson came back to claim his wife, when her father told him that in his absence she had been given to one of his companions, and offered him her younger sister in her stead. Enraged at the insult, he exclaimed, "This time I am free of guilt with respect to the Philistines, if I do evil to them." He rushed out into the fields, caught three hundred foxes, tied them together by their tails, two and two, and put a lighted firebrand between them; he then let them loose in the standing corn, in the vineyards, and in the olive-groves. The frightened Philistines asked each other, "Who has done this?" And when they heard that it was Samson, who thus sought to punish his father-in-law's treachery, they went up to the house of the latter, and burned it to the ground. Samson's wife and her father perished in the flames. Some of the old affection was still lingering in the hero's heart, and eager to avenge his wife's cruel and untimely death, he attacked the Philistines single-handed and caused a great slaughter among them. Then he hurried back to the territory of Judah, and there concealed himself in one of the caves of the rocks of Etam.

The incensed Philistines pursued him and demanded that the daring offender should be delivered into their hands. The men of Judah, fearing their masters, surrounded the cave where Samson lay hidden, and remonstrated with him sharply for what they considered reckless imprudence. At Samson's suggestion, they bound him with two new cords, and brought him a prisoner to the Philistine camp. A shout of joy arose from the heathen hosts; but "the spirit of the L-rd came mightily upon Samson, and the cords upon his arms became as flax burnt with fire, and the bands fell loose from his hands." Then taking for his weapon the jaw-bone of an donkey which he had found near, he slew with it a thousand men, in commemoration of which exploit the place where it was achieved was called Ramath Lechi (the height of the jawbone) Wandering alone amidst the rocks, weary and exhausted, far from brook or spring, the hero prayed earnestly to G‑d for help; the ground clove at his feet, and a stream of refreshing water rushed up before him; the spring remained and was long famous under the name of Enhakkore (spring of the praying).

Samson Recognized As Judge

Samson was now recognized chief and Judge of Israel. His strength and the terror of his name were sufficient to maintain peace for twenty years.

One night when he had wandered into Gaza, one of the chief cities of the Philistines, his enemies, ever lying in wait for him, surrounded the walls and barred the gates with a view to attacking and killing him in the morning. But Samson, guessing their evil designs, arose at midnight, and unhinging the two huge gates, placed them on his shoulders, bar and all, and carried them as far as the top of a hill before Hebron.


Samson at this time was married to another woman by the name of Delilah. The Philistines promised her a large reward if she would discover the secret of Samson's strength. Samson soon found no peace, for Delilah was constantly nagging him. Once he told her that if he were to be tied with seven moist ropes, he would become like an ordinary person. After binding him as he had prescribed, she called out suddenly, "The Philistines are upon thee!" Samson arose, and tore the ropes from his arms like threads. A number of times he deceived her with false clues. Too self-confident to flee from this evil woman, he at last poured out his whole heart; he told her that the mystery of his power lay in his hair, which no razor had touched from the day of his birth, and that as long as he was truly and faithfully a Nazirite to the L-rd, he would remain invincible. Delilah felt that this time he had spoken the truth. She called the Philistine chiefs, and informed them that at last she truly had Samson in her hands. With well-feigned affection, she watched beside her unfortunate victim till he slept, and then she softly bade a man cut the long and carefully preserved locks from his head. When the fatal work was finished, she cried out, "The Philistines are upon thee!" Samson awoke, unconcerned as before, trusting that he would rid himself of his enemies as he had so often done—but his strength was gone. The Philistines fell upon him, made him their prisoner, cruelly put out his eyes, and brought him to Gaza, where they loaded him with iron chains and made him grind corn in the prison house.

Samson's End

The Philistine people rejoiced over the fall of the mighty Hebrew champion; they held public festivals and revelries, and offered sacrifices and thanksgivings to their god Dagon. It was during one of these feasts of wild merrymaking that they brought out their captive, to make cruel sport of him in his misery and blindness. The temple of the god Dagon was filled with vast numbers of people; three thousand were on the roof alone, whilst the inner part of the building was thronged to overflowing. Samson was led out of his prison, and his inhuman masters bade him sing and dance before them. A boy was leading him by the hand and placed him between two of the pillars that supported the colossal building. As he was standing between the two pillars, he prayed to G‑d for a last gift of strength. "Let me die with the Philistines," was his prayer, and it was answered. Samson felt his strength return to him, and so he pulled at the two pillars with a mighty heave. The whole edifice collapsed, burying him, and, of course, the thousands of Philistines assembled there.

Samson's body was later removed and brought to burial in the burying-place of his fathers.