After the Lord submitted Israel to the will of the Philistines for forty years, He raised up Samson to deliver His people. Samson’s leadership points to the fact that God’s purposes to establish His corporate people go beyond, and often conspicuously encompasses, the moral failure of those whom He has called to lead. While the Lord used Samson mightily, Samson’s irreverence before Delilah earned him the just condemnation of one who had so carelessly regarded the special call of a Nazirite.
Judges 13 begins with the angelic announcement that Manoah and his wife would have a son, Samson. The proclamation that Samson would “begin to deliver Israel from the power of the Philistines” (Judg 13:5) was inextricably linked to the command that his parents raise him to be a Nazirite from birth. Samson’s parents were faithful and from his early days, “the Sprit of the LORD began to direct him in the Camp of Dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol” (Judg 13:25).
The narrative of Judges 14-15 reveals that Samson’s ways fell short of one wholly devoted to the Lord. Samson’s initial moral blemish involved lust for women (Judg 14:1-2). Then Samson ate honey from a dead animal (Judg 14:8-10), a clear violation of Samson’s Nazirite commitment (see Numbers 6). Samson was arrogant in his defiance of the Nazarite vow, enticing the Philistines with a riddle and wager as to what he had done (Judg 14:12-18). Yet, as is the case throughout the narrative of the Old Testament, God’s activity was compatible with even Samson’s moral lapse. Judges 14:4 records that Samson’s lust for a Philistine wife was actually “from the LORD” (Judg 14:4; see also Gen 50:20).
Nonetheless, Samson’s persistent lust would eventually lead to his demise (Judges 16). Samson’s love for Delilah was so strong that it did not wane even after several episodes where she employed trickery to discover the source of his strength (Judg 16:6-15). Finally, in an act of irreverence, Samson revealed to Delilah, “My hair has never been cut, because I am a Nazirite to God from birth. If I am shaved, my strength will leave me” (Judg 16:17). Samson would soon discover that—for the first time—“the LORD had left him” (Judg 16:20). Samson lost not only his strength but also his sight and his dignity (Judg 16:20-27). In the end, the Lord again worked on behalf of His people despite the failures of Samson, and thousands of Philistines were killed (Judg 16:28-30).
Samson’s behavior was typical of Israel in the time of the Judges. He did whatever he wanted (Judg 21:25). Despite Samson’s moral weakness, the Spirit of the Lord came upon him to deliver Israel from the Philistines (Judg 14:6, 19; 15:14). Samson, like Othniel (Judg 3:10), Gideon (Judg 6:34), and Jephthah (Judg 11:29), received aid from the Spirit for the work God had planned for him. Likewise, the Spirit of God empowered both Saul (1 Sam 10:6, 10; 16:14) and David (1 Sam 16:13; 2 Sam 23:2) for leadership. During Israel’s occupation of Canaan, the ministry of the Spirit was enjoyed primarily by those called to positions of leadership. After the coming of Christ, the ministry of the Spirit is more pervasive in the community of believers invigorating each member for ministry. The same Spirit who empowered Israel’s leaders for their work also enables believers for service in their local churches and in the world. To the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “A manifestation of the Spirit is given to each person to produce what is beneficial…one and the same Spirit is active in all these distributing to each one as He wills” (1 Cor 12:7, 11), and later wrote, “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. We all, with unveiled faces, are reflecting the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:17-18). And in Rom 7:6, Paul wrote that believers have been released from the law “so that we may serve in the new way of the Spirit.”