Was Samson a Good Judge?

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For all of my church-going life, Samson’s had a pretty bad wrap. He had some positives: he was a judge of Israel, a lion killer who had multiple Holy Spirit fillings, and a Philistine killer. And then there were the negatives: he followed his appetite (e.g., food, women, etc), disregarded God’s law (again, food, women, etc), and fell for Delilah’s tricks. He was the last in a downward spiral of God’s judges over Israel, and, as is often taught, was the worst of the judges over Israel.

And yet, though I think this is so (having read through Block’s Judges/Ruth commentary), Watts has challenged that notion. This is not an original idea from him, but one from Gordon Hugenberger’s Judges class. Hugenberger has written an article called “Why Samson May Not Have Visited a Prostitute (Judges 16:1-3)” in a festschrift to Beale titled From Creation to New Creation, and is currently writing the Judges volume in the Apollos Old Testament Commentary series. My Digital Seminary has written about this article a little while ago. While it is illuminating, so are the comments. After reading the comments I thought it was a closed case. But as no argument is sealed with one piece of evidence, Watts came with a sling of evidence about this Philistine killer.

What’s unique about Samson?

  1. He’s the only judge Israel didn’t ask (or “cry out”) for [Judg. 3.9, 15; 4.3; 6.6; 10.10].
    Was Samson a “dropkick” (i.e., a loser)? Watts said, “If you really think Samson is the worst of judges, you have a serious problem. You’ve demonstrated that God can’t provide [good] leadership.”
  2. There are more references to God’s Spirit falling on Samson than any other figure [Judg. 13.25(?); 14.6, 19; 15.14].
  3. He’s in the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11 (v. 32).
    • Though, so is Jephthah, and he doesn’t register high on the moral exemplar list (though that’s not the point of the “Hall of Fame”).
  4. According to Watts, Samson is “one of the wisest figures in the Old Testament.” On two occasions he comes up with three-way puns.
    • One pun is found in Judg. 16.25-27, though I don’t know if it’s one of the “three-way” puns. Watts doesn’t tell us where the puns are found, and I’m not expert on which puns are three-way and which are not.
  5. Samson keeps going back to Delilah. Samson must be a moron blinded by love, right? Yet, throughout the book of Judges, who keeps going back to Israel knowing full well that she will sell him out when there’s money/idols involved?
    • YHWH. He loves Israel, even when she consistently betrays him.
      • Also, it never says that Samson has sexual relations with Delilah. She is commanded to seduce him, which may or may not entail sexual relations (according to Watts, Hugenberger, and the English translations).
  6. When Samson is about to die he prays to YHWH, but doesn’t repent. Yet YHWH still hears Samson’s prayer.
  7. Where in the Bible does God effect a great deliverance to an unrepentant dreadful sinner? Samson.
    1. Where in the biblical narrative does God ever step in to win a greater victory in one’s death than was ever experienced in his life? Samson and Jesus.
  8. Samson is the only judge where the author says, “And his parents did not perceive this was from the Lord” (Judg. 14.4). The author knows all the readers will make the same mistake as Samson’s parents and think Samson is a loser, much like the mistake many righteous people thought about Jesus in his lifetime (including his own family, Mark 3.21).
  9. When Samson goes to Gath (Judg. 16.1-3), many think he’s up to no good in the house of the prostitute. Yet here we see the exact same language used about the spies who go to Jericho in Joshua 2, and nobody thinks the spies are up to no good (a summary of Hugenberger’s article on this topic can be read here).

Are There Other OT Parallels to Samson?

  1. On his way down to Timnah, God’s Spirit falls upon Samson and he kills a lion (Judg 14.6).Later on in 1 Samuel 17.36 we read of another character who polished his skills by killing a lion in his early days (which prepared him for the future holy war with the Philistines). Who is this character?
    • David
  2. After this incident, Samson comes back from fighting the Philistines and finds honey (14.8-9). (Remember, he’s fighting this “holy war” alone).Again in 1 Samuel, there is another who is fighting the holy war alone (along with his armor bearer). These two men take on the whole Philistine army. Later on, they find and eat honey (while his own father is sitting under a tree doing nothing). Who is this man?
    • Jonathan

Are there more OT parallels? Probably. Watts asks, “What if there are more parallels with Samson and Jesus than any other figure in the OT?” This makes me curious: if Hugenberger is right, how many parallels have we missed? Watts takes the idea that Judges was written around the time of 1 & 2 Samuel, which helps make the case for the parallels between the books. If Samson really is so great, what other parallels have the biblical authors drawn from him?

After having listened to Watts, I’m eager to read Hugenberger’s commentary on Judges. I’d like to see what parallels he has found and how he defends his “Samson-is-more-like-YHWH-than-you-thought” concept. While I find this interesting, I can’t help but ask what this does to the storyline of Judges? How does this view of Samson relate to the other judges and the story as a whole? Until I know that, I’m not fully persuaded (though if the evidence warrants, I could be). I’d like to hear your thoughts on this too. Do you think Samson is a lost cause? Or is he simply misunderstood? Could it be said of us readers that we “did not perceive this was from the Lord”? 


Author: Spencer

I put ice in my cereal. Make yourself at home and feel more than welcome to contact me.

23 thoughts on “Was Samson a Good Judge?”

  1. Hey Spencer, very insightful post – and very interesting stuff, too. The points mentioned do make sense. Looking forward to more!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Did I never respond to this?? Thanks, Jan! Hopefully Hugenberger’s commentary will come out soon (?) so we can see why he takes Samson to be such a great guy.


    1. No it’s not. It can be frustrating at times having so many idea out there, but it also makes God’s Word all the more interesting, and hopefully always pointing us to the bigger picture.


  2. I enjoyed reading your blog. Has some interesting points. One question and one exception.

    Question. . . Can you expand your thinking on point 7? “Where in the Bible does God effect a great deliverance to an unrepentant dreadful sinner?” Your response is “Jesus” to that question. Are you stating that Christ was “an unrepentant dreadful sinner?”

    Exception. . . I take exception to your statement in point 9. You state that the prostitute language for Samson and the spies in Joshua are identical.
    Joshua 2: “And they went and came into the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab and lodged there.”
    Judges 16: “Samson went to Gaza, and there he saw a prostitute, and he went in to her.”

    It appears in the Joshua story, the spies went in for lodging. Whereas in Samson’s case no such statement is made. We must be safe in making an assumption, but from Samson’s history, it would appear at first blush “lodging” was not his reason for entering the prostitute’s house.


    1. Hey Thinker1963, thanks for you comments. I fixed up Q #7, so hopefully it better reflects what Watts was trying to get at.
      As for Q #9, have you read Hugenberger’s article that I have hyperlinked there? It’s not his article per se, but a post about his chapter in a festschrift to G. K. Beale. Hugenberger thinks that the language used of Samson going to Gath to the prostitutes house doesn’t necessarily mean that he slept with the prostitute. I don’t agree with his view (and I don’t think the judges are portrayed positively throughout Judges), that’s his view.

      Thanks for your thoughts!


    1. Yeah, I really look forward to Hugenberger’s commentary to see what other ideas he draws out from Samson and the other judges.


  3. Spencer, I appreciate your insightful post. It has given me lots to reflect upon. I love how God love embraces the complex person – people full of both strengths and weaknesses, goodness and brokenness. People like Samson. It gives us such hope to know that we do not have to be perfect and get everything right for him to listen, respond, care and provide for us. Thanks for the post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good thoughts, Anne. People are complex, and many biblical characters cannot be put into a box of “bad” or “good.” They did things for many reasons, and we have to try to think about those reasons. We do many things with good and with poor intentions, and thankfully, God loves us too.


  4. Samson was a lawed man of faith chosen by God and God used Him. Aren’t we all flawed? Do we have faith that God will use us, like Samson had faith?

    It seems that Watts and Hugenberger make a good case for a less flawed Samson and that is possible.

    Another interesting note is that Samson essentially committed suicide, yet God blessed that act. There are definitely things about Samson where we do not know all that is happening “behind the scenes” with Him and God.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for writing this. It’s fascinating to read and to hear all of the other positive things associated with Samson and the parallels with Jesus. The thing is that God still used Samson for his purposes regardless of how we might regard some of his actions. He was God’s instrument against the Philistines and part of God’s greater plan. God uses flawed individuals with many faults and vices, which should be an encouragement to us when we think we can’t measure up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And he’s in the “hall of faith” inHebrews 11. He was very flawed, and yet he had faith. How much more should we, having faith in Christ, be assured of God’s love for us and his ability to use us for his good purposes?


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