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”?