Again the Israelites did evil in Yah’s sight, so Yah allowed the Israelites to be defeated by the Philistines, who ruled over them for forty years.
In those days a man named Manoah from the tribe of Dan lived in the town of Zorah. His wife was not able to have children, but one day a heavenly messenger of Yah appeared to Manoah’s wife and said, “Even though you have been unable to have children, you will soon become pregnant and give birth to a son. So be careful. You must not drink wine or any other alcoholic drink nor eat any forbidden food. You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and his hair must never be cut, for he will be dedicated to Elohim as a Nazirite from birth. And through him, Yah will begin to rescue Israel from the Philistines.”
The woman ran and told her husband, “A man of Elohim appeared to me! He looked like one of Yah’s heavenly messengers, terrifying to see. I didn’t ask where he was from, and he didn’t tell me his name. But he told me, ‘You will become pregnant and give birth to a son. You must not drink wine or any other alcoholic drink nor eat any forbidden food. For your son will be dedicated to Elohim as a Nazirite from the moment of his birth until the day of his death.’ ”
Then Manoah prayed to Yah, saying, “Yah, please let your heavenly messenger come back to us again and tell us what to do for the son we are going to have.”
Elohim answered Manoah’s prayer, and the heavenly messenger of Elohim appeared to his wife while she was sitting in the field. But her husband, Manoah, was not with her. So she quickly ran and told her husband, “The man who appeared to me the other day is here again!”
Manoah ran back with his wife and asked, “Are you the man who spoke to my wife the other day?”
“Yes,” he replied, “I am.”
So Manoah asked him, “When your promise comes true, what rules must our son obey and what will be his work?”
The heavenly messenger of Yah replied, “Your wife must be careful to do everything I told her. She must not eat or drink anything made from grapes. She must not drink wine or other alcoholic drinks or eat anything forbidden by Elohim’s laws. I told her exactly what to do.”
“Please,” Manoah said, “stay here with us for just a little while, and we’ll fix a young goat for you to eat.” Manoah didn’t realize that he was really talking to one of Yah’s heavenly messengers.
The heavenly messenger answered, “I can stay for a little while, although I won’t eat any of your food. But if you would like to offer the goat as a sacrifice to Yah, that would be fine.”
Manoah said, “Tell us your name, so we can honor you after our son is born.”
“No,” the heavenly messenger replied. “Why do you want to know my name? It is too wonderful for you to even understand it.”
So Manoah took a young goat over to a large rock he had chosen for an altar, and he built a fire on the rock. Then he killed the goat, and offered it with some grain as a sacrifice to Yah. But then an amazing thing happened. The fire blazed up toward the sky, and Yah’s heavenly messenger went up toward heaven in the fire. Manoah and his wife bowed down low when they saw what happened.
The heavenly messenger was gone, and he did not appear to them again, but Manoah and his wife finally realized that he was one of Yah’s messengers, which was known as a “malak” in the Hebrew language. Manoah said, “We have seen one like Elohim. Now we’re going to die.”
“Yah isn’t going to kill us,” Manoah’s wife responded. “Yah accepted our sacrifice and grain offering, and he let us see something amazing. Besides, he told us that we’re going to have a son.”
Later, Manoah’s wife did give birth to a son, and she named him Samson. As the boy grew, Yah blessed him. Then, while Samson was staying at the Camp of Dan between the towns of Zorah and Eshtaol, the Spirit of Yah took control of him.
At that time, the Philistines ruled over Israel, and Yah wanted to use Samson to bring trouble against them. The Philistines despised Samson for the many terrible things he did in their land, such as burning down their wheat fields and killing many of their men, but they had angered Samson as well by marrying off the woman he loved. And they later killed both her and her father.
When Samson found out what the Philistines had done, he went to them and said, “Because of what you did, I won’t rest until I get even with you.” After a fierce battle against these Philistines, which left many of them dead, Samson left Philistia and went to live in the cave at Etam Rock. But it wasn’t long before the Philistines invaded Judah and set up a huge army camp. Then they started spreading out near the town of Lehi.
The people of Judah asked, “Why have you invaded our land?”
The Philistines answered, “We’ve come to get Samson. We’re going to do the same things to him that he did to our people.”
Three thousand men from Judah went to the cave at Etam Rock and said to Samson, “Don’t you know that the Philistines rule us, and they will punish us for what you did?”
“I was only getting even with them,” Samson replied. “As they did to me, so have I done to them.”
“We came here to tie you up and turn you over to them,” said the men of Judah.
“I won’t put up a fight,” Samson answered, “but you have to promise not to hurt me yourselves.”
“We promise,” the men said. “We will only tie you up and turn you over to the Philistines. We won’t kill you.” Then they tied up his hands and arms with two new ropes and led him away from Etam Rock.
When the Philistines saw that Samson was being brought to their camp at Lehi, they started shouting and ran toward him. But Yah’s Spirit took control of Samson, and Samson broke the ropes, as though they were pieces of burnt cloth. Samson glanced around and spotted the jawbone of a donkey. The jawbone had not yet dried out, so it was still hard and heavy. Samson grabbed it and started hitting Philistines—he killed a thousand of them! After the fighting was over, he made up this poem about what he had done to the Philistines:
I used a donkey’s jawbone
to kill a thousand men;
I beat them with this jawbone
over and over again.
Samson tossed the jawbone on the ground and decided to call the place Ramath-lehi, which is Hebrew for, “height of a jawbone,” or “Jawbone Heights.” By this time, Samson was so thirsty that he cried out, “Yah! You have allowed this great victory by the strength of your servant. Must I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of these heathens?”
Samson was tired and weary, but Yah sent water gushing from a rock. Samson drank some of it and felt strong again. Samson named the place En-hakkore, Hebrew for, “spring of the one calling,” because he had called out to Yah for help. It is said that the spring is still there at Jawbone Heights.
Samson judged Israel for twenty years, but the Philistines were still the rulers of Israel that entire time.
Samson was known for his brute strength. Once, a fierce young lion suddenly roared and attacked Samson. But Yah’s Spirit took control of Samson, and with his bare hands he tore the lion apart, as though it had been a young goat. At another time, while Samson was spending the night in a Philistine city called Gaza, the people who lived in Gaza found out he was there, and they decided to kill him at sunrise. So they went to the city gate and waited all night in the guardrooms on each side of the gate.
But Samson got up in the middle of the night and went to the town gate. He pulled the gate doors and doorposts out of the wall and put them on his shoulders. Then he carried them all the way to the top of the hill that overlooks Hebron, where he set the doors down, still closed and locked.
Tales of Samson’s strength spread far and wide, and people wondered where he had gotten this great strength, but he never told anyone what had made him so strong.
Some time later, Samson fell in love with a woman named Delilah, who lived in Sorek Valley. The Philistine rulers went to Delilah and said, “Trick Samson into telling you what makes him so strong and what can make him weak. Then we can tie him up so he can’t get away. If you find out his secret, we will each give you eleven hundred pieces of silver.”
The next time Samson was at Delilah’s house, she asked, “Samson, what makes you so strong? How can I tie you up so you can’t get away? Come on, you can tell me.”
Samson answered, “If someone ties me up with seven new bowstrings that have never been dried, it will make me just as weak as anyone else.”
The Philistine rulers gave seven new bowstrings to Delilah. They also told some of their soldiers to go to Delilah’s house and hide in the room where Samson and Delilah were. If the bowstrings made Samson weak, they would be able to capture him.
Delilah tied up Samson with the bowstrings and shouted, “Samson, the Philistines have come to capture you!”
Samson snapped the bowstrings, as though they were pieces of scorched string. The Philistines had not found out why Samson was so strong.
“You lied and made fun of me,” Delilah said. “Now tell me. How can I really tie you up?”
Samson answered, “Use some new ropes. If I’m tied up with ropes that have never been used, I’ll be just as weak as anyone else.”
Delilah got new ropes and again had some Philistines hide in the room. Then she tied up Samson’s arms and shouted, “Samson, the Philistines have come to capture you!”
Samson snapped the ropes as if they were threads.
“You’re still lying and making fun of me,” Delilah said. “Tell me how I can tie you up!”
“My hair is in seven braids,” Samson replied. “If you weave my braids into the threads on a loom and nail the loom to a wall, then I will be as weak as anyone else.” While Samson was asleep, Delilah wove his braids into the threads on a loom and nailed the loom to a wall. Then she shouted, “Samson, the Philistines have come to capture you!”
Samson woke up and pulled the loom free from its posts in the ground and from the nails in the wall. Then he pulled his hair free from the woven cloth.
“Samson,” Delilah said, “you claim to love me, but you don’t mean it! You’ve made fun of me three times now, and you still haven’t told me why you are so strong.” Delilah started nagging and pestering him day after day, until he couldn’t stand it any longer.
Finally, Samson told her the truth. “I have belonged to Yah as a Nazirite ever since I was born, so my hair has never been cut. If it were ever cut off, my strength would leave me, and I would be as weak as anyone else.”
Delilah realized that he was telling the truth. So she sent someone to tell the Philistine rulers, “Come to my house one more time. Samson has finally told me the truth.”
The Philistine rulers went to Delilah’s house, and they brought along the silver they had promised her. Delilah had lulled Samson to sleep with his head resting in her lap. She signaled to one of the Philistine men to come in and begin cutting off Samson’s seven braids. And by the time the man was finished, Samson’s strength was gone. Delilah tied him up and shouted, “Samson, the Philistines have come to capture you!”
Samson woke up and thought, “I’ll break loose and escape, just as I always do.” He did not realize that Yah had stopped helping him.
The Philistines grabbed Samson and poked out his eyes. They took him to the prison in Gaza and bound him in bronze chains. Then they put him to work, turning a millstone to grind grain. Time passed, and they didn’t cut his hair anymore, so it started growing back.
After this, the Philistine rulers threw a big party and sacrificed a lot of animals to their pagan deity. The rulers said, “Samson was our enemy, but our deity helped us capture him!”
Everyone there was having a good time, and they shouted, “Bring out Samson—he’s still good for a few more laughs!”
The rulers had Samson brought from the prison to entertain the Philistines. They made him stand between the pillars that supported the roof. And, being blind, Samson said to the young man who held him by the hand, “Let me feel the pillars that support the roof, so I can lean against them.” The Philistine rulers were celebrating in a temple packed with people and with three thousand more on the flat roof. They had all been watching Samson, who did things to amuse them.
While Samson did this he prayed, “O Yah, please remember me and give me strength one last time. The Philistines poked out my eyes, but make me strong one last time, so I can pay the Philistines back for my two eyes!”
Samson was standing between the two middle columns that held up the roof. He felt around and found one column with his right hand, and the other with his left hand. Then he shouted, “Let me die with the Philistines!” He pushed against the columns as hard as he could, and the temple collapsed with the Philistine rulers and everyone else still inside. With that, Samson killed more Philistines when he died than he had killed during his entire life.
After this, his brothers and the rest of his family went to Gaza and took his body back home. They buried Samson between Zorah and Eshtaol, in the place where Manoah, his father, was buried.
Read this story in Judges chapters 13 to 16 | (Also see Numbers 6:1-21)