It is not easy to set forth Samson in a right light ethically. Certainly he was a true believer. The Scriptures make this unmistakably clear. But was he, as a believer, a man with strong spiritual impulses and with a flowering faith or must he be classified with carnal believers? Was he, with all his sensuality, a man passionately devoted to the cause of Israel’s God? How the liberal interpreters judge about the man is clear from the following excerpt from the pen of one of their number. “Nobody could be less like the ordinary idea of an Old Testament ‘saint’ than Samson. His gifts from the ‘Spirit of the Lord’ was simply physical strength, and it was associated with the defects of his qualities. His passions were strong and apparently uncontrolled. He had no moral elevation or religious fervor. He led no army against the Philistines, nor seems to have had any fixed design of resisting them. . . . When he does attack them it is because he is stung by personal injuries; and it is only with his own arm that he strikes. His exploits have a mixture of grim humor and fierce hatred quite unlike anything else in Scripture and more resembling the horse-play of Homeric and Norse heroes than the stern purpose and righteous wrath of a soldier who felt that he was God’s instrument.” In a similar vein from another writer of this class, “Given a man of strong passions and uninstructed conscience, wild courage and giant energy, with a sense of the mission which he has to accomplish against his country’s enemies so that he reckons himself justified in doing them injury or killing them in the name of God, and you have, no complete hero, but a real and interesting man. Such a character however does not demand our admiration. . . . When we see Samson leaving the feast by which his marriage has been celebrated and marching down to Ashkelon where in cold blood he puts thirty men to death for their clothing, when we see a country-side ablaze with the standing corn which he has kindled, we are as indignant with him as with the Philistines when they burn his wife and her father with fire. . . . The Danite is moved chiefly by selfish and vain passions, and his sense of official duty is too weak and vague. We see little patriotism and not a trace of religious fervor. Samson is a creature of impulse. . . . perceiving the next thing that is to be done in the light not of religion or duty, but of opportunity and revenge.”

Certainly, this appraisal of the man is untrue. It is the result of an unwillingness or inability to read aright all that is reported of him in the Scriptures. If there had been that willingness, statements like, “His gifts from the Spirit of the Lord was simply physical strength,” and, “He had no moral elevation and religious fervor,” would not have been made. For they are equivalent to the assertion that, as to the heart of his disposition, Samson was a wicked man. Let us see what the Scriptures say about him. The first notice to which attention must be directed is the one which reads, “And the woman bare a son, and called his name Samson: and the child grew, and the Lord blessed him.” It is not the teaching of the Scriptures that the wicked are blessed. But God blessed the lad. It means that God assumed toward him an attitude of favor and in His love was preparing him physically, mentally, and spiritually for His life’s calling, so that, as blessed, he loved God, His cause, and His people. It means that, as constrained by faith, he assumed the obligations of his Nazariteship and was ready and eager to serve the cause of God in the capacity of deliverer of His people. It is wrong to take the Lord’s blessing him as having no other effect than that Samson grew up to be a man with a powerful frame, prodigious strength, and an abundance of natural vigor. If these endowments had not included a sanctifying grace, it would not have been reported of him that he was blessed of God. That Samson, in making war upon the Philistines, was acting from the principle of faith is what we read in the epistle to the Hebrews. “For the time would fail me,” says the author, “to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson. . . .” Thus the author included also Samson in the cloud of witnesses by which God’s people are encompassed. And the writer concludes, “And these all—thus also Samson—having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.” Thus Samson, too, lived by the promise. Despite .his sins, and they were grievous, Samson, was a man of true faith, of heroic faith even. In that faith he warred God’s warfare and delivered his, people.. We must keep this before our mind always, in judging the man, his deeds, methods and motives. Let us then turn to the man and interpret his deeds, as we know them in the Scriptures, in the light of the above observations.

“And the Spirit of the Lord began to move him at times in the camp of Dan between Zorah and Eshtaol” (Judges 13:25). This is the next notice that calls for our attention. Zorah was. Samson’s place of birth and Eshtaol was a neighboring city. Both were inhabited by Danites and men of Judah. The “Camp of Dan” lay between the two cities. The text at Judges 1:34 strongly suggest that it was situated on a mountain top and that warlike recollections were associated with its name. It may even have been a military post. For the text there reads: “And the Amorites forced the children of Dan into the mountains for they would not suffer them to come down into the valley.” It was there that, the Spirit at times and, doubtless, at short intervals, began to move, impel, prod Samson, and there rises in his soul a mighty passion for exploits against the Philistines. It is the sudden surging of a spiritual force that breaks into action. This is the meaning of the notice, “And the Spirit of Jehovah began to move Samson.” The man was aroused. As seized upon by the Spirit, he wanted more than anything to do battle with the adversaries of God and of His people. Now warping the warfare of Jehovah is agood deed as a work of faith. But if the warrior is constrained by wicked impulses, warring God’s warfare is an abomination. Jehu did it as moved by personal ambition, and he committed murder. What now was Samson’s reason for faking action against the Philistines? What was the character of his passion for that war ofthe hatred that sustained him in it, and of the zest with which he fought it? God moved him, true. He did. But God also moved David to go and number Israel. And David did number Israel in his pride and committed a heinous sin. We read of this at II Sam. 24:1. The Chronicler speaks of the interposition of Satan, yet, the sin was committed because God had efficaciously, willed it. I Chron. 21:1. The Egyptians hated the children of Israel. But God had turned their hearts to hate. Ps. 105:25. Then there is the case of Pharaoh. His reaction to the command of Moses that he set Israel free was that he tightened his grip on God’s people, because God hardened his heart. The point is that all men, good and evil, are moved of God in all that they do. But, on this account they are none the leas responsible. It is plain that it cannot be concluded from the mere fact that a man is moved of God that he is a truly good man, a good tree bearing good fruit. Other considerations enter in here. Samson was moved of God. But what his reason for wanting to make war on the Philistines? Abstractedly there could be one or more of several vicious reasons. So then what in Samson’s case was the principle of action in the man, the heart in him from which his spiritual power, zeal, and zest for that war proceeded? Did God move him in His love or in His wrath and anger? Was the man blessed in his deeds or cursed? These are the related questions. And we know the answers. They have already been given as taken from the very Scriptures. The principle from which the man acted was faith. His passion for that war proceeded from a good heart. It was thus as to its core true love of God and of His people and a holy hatred and God’s adversaries. And it is in His love that God moved him, love for the man himself and love for the true Israel. For it is reported that God blessed him. The man therefore was blessed in his deeds. These are God’s answers. And He should know.

But this is not saying that in fighting that war for the liberation of God’s people Samson’s flesh was not also active. It was certainly. The principle of obedience in him was also small. He was a man of such gross sensuality that on the surface it is not apparent that the mainspring of his life was faith. As a saint he leaves the strangest impression. The man had humor. And his humor was grim indeed. He liked to play with riddles and was given to jesting. And he loved strange women. He was not a docile and submissive son in the home of his parents, but stubborn and self-willed, hard to manage, a problem child, if you will. Certainly he was too much for his father to handle. As moved by the Lord, he went down to Timnah. For he understood His calling. He must begin to deliver Israel. Now Timnah was situated not a great distance to the southwest of Zorak, Samson’s native place, as was said. It lay, did Timnah, on the border of the tribe of Judah (Josh. 15:10), was assigned by Joshua to the tribe of Dan (Josh. 19:43), but had fallen into the hands of the Philistines. Thus the citizenry of the place was made up of Philistines with perhaps an admixture of Israelites. The two elements had no trouble in getting along together. For though the Philistines had dominion over Israel, they were not too actively hostile it seems. And the Israelites were not at all intolerant of the idolatrous practices of these foreigners. They even went along with them in the worship of their gods. For this, as ever, was Israel’s great sin. It was to Timnah that Samson went down. For he must make war against the Philistines. But he must have an occasion for beginning that conflict. And the sacred writer reports that it was of the Lord that he sought an occasion, sought it from the Philistines. Judges 14:4. But the narrative does not make it plain whether he hoped to find what he sought through mingling with the Philistines in Timnah or through marrying into one of the Philistine families who dwelt there. Be this as it may, he did the latter. Arriving in Timnah, he saw there a woman, one of the daughters of the Philistines. A brief courtship followed and Samson’s mind was made up. He resolved to marry the girl. Though it is true that in Ex. 34:16 and Deut. 7:3ff only marriages with Canaanitish women are expressly forbidden, the ground of the prohibition extended equality to marriages with the daughters of the Philistines. For this reason the Philistines also were reckoned with the Canaanites in Josh. 13:3. But this did not deter Samson. He hastened to tell his father and mother of his find and to instruct them as to what he wants them now to do for him. “I have seen a woman in Timnah of the daughters of the Philistines; now therefore get her for me for wife.” Thus he immediately came to the point. For he was a man of few words. He loved action. And in this instance he wanted immediate action. For the matter was pressing. “Get her for me to wife” ‘now without delay.’” His god-fearing parents remonstrated with him. They warned him against such a venture. What god-fearing parents wouldn’t. They said to him, “Is there never a woman among the daughters of thy brethren, or among all my people, that thou goest to take a wife of the uncircumcised Philistines?” Rut he won’t argue with them. He hated argument. He knew what he wanted in the way of a wife. And that for him settled the matter. So his only reply to them is, “Get her for me, for she pleaseth me well.” It is not likely that the scene here enacted was new in the little family circle. Doubtless this was not the first time that Samson had stood up against his parents and that his will had prevailed. Too often, as a lad, he had gotten his way with them. So what could Manoah do but yield if he wished to keep the peace with his son. But now the sacred narrator adds, “But his father and his mother knew not that it was of the Lord, that he sought occasion from the Philistines: for at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel.” Certainly this does not mean that Samson had received a revelation from God to the effect that he should take him a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines. God does not militate against His moral will in commanding His people. Samson’s marrying that Philistine woman was a sin. Yet Samson had to marry the woman, marry her according to the determinate will of God. For the Philistines had to give him occasion. Thus that forbidden marriage was just another instance of sin serving God’s counsel, another instance of the Lord achieving His ends through the perverseness of men, in this case of a man, who, as to the heart of his disposition, was a true believer. The text asserts, and it is well to observe this, that it was of the Lord that Samson sought occasion from the Philistines but not that he sought it through contracting that marriage. The latter was not of the Lord in the sense that He had commanded it, or gendered the desire for such a forbidden marriage in his heart. God is not the author of vile affections in men; but He does give men over to these affections so that they do the things that are unseemly. For He is God and none else.