By Mike Willis
Samson is an intriguing Old Testament character. He is mentioned in the honor roll of faith in Hebrews 11:32, in spite of some very serious character flaws.
Interestingly, he never led an army of Israel to a major victory over any Israelite foe. All of his conflicts were personal in nature and usually tied in some manner to a woman, because he had a serious character weakness with sexual promiscuity. Yet, the Lord used Samson for His divine purpose, a purpose that may not be so transparent.
The Philistines had moved eastward from the Mediterranean and settled along the southwest coast of Israel. They controlled five important cities, known as the Pentapolis: Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron, Gaza, and Gath. They had superior weapons to the Israelites, as evidenced by the armaments with which Shamgar (an oxgoad, Judg. 3:31) and Samson (jawbone of an ass, Judg. 14:17) fought. Later, Philistine military superiority is explained because of their monopoly in working with iron (1 Sam. 13:19).
Israel did not attempt to drive the Philistines out of the land or to exterminate them, during this period of their history. As a matter of fact, Samson fraternized with them, as seen by his marrying a Philistine woman (Judg. 14:1), his visiting a prostitute in Gaza (16:1), and his relationship with Delilah (16:4ff.). Judah was unwilling to shake up the status quo when the Philistines were seeking revenge against Samson, choosing to deliver him into the hands of the Philistines rather than organizing behind Samson for battle (Judg. 15:9-14). Had circumstances continued, Israel’s fraternization and peaceful co-existence with the Philistines would have caused them to assimilate with the Philistines and lose their distinctiveness.
Consequently, the Lord raised up Samson. His mission — to pick a fight with the Philistines. When God announced the birth of Samson, He said that he “shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines” (13:5). After Samson became a man, “the Spirit of the Lord began to move upon him” (13:25). His marriage was not a random occurrence; it was God’s spirit moving Samson. “But his father and mother did not know that it was of the LORD—that He was seeking an occasion to move against the Philistines. For at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel” (14:4). All of the events surrounding the marriage of Samson to a Philistine woman were providentially caused by God to “pick a fight” with the Philistines, as evidenced by the Spirit of the Lord enabling him to defeat the lion (14:6) and to kill the thirty men whose garments were used to pay Samson’s gambling debt (14:19). One event in Samson’s life led to another and another, all of which were angering the Philistines and creating conflict with Israel, conflicts which eventually broke out in full-fledged war between the two nations under the leadership of Saul and later, David.
Why did God pick a fight with the Philistines when they were co-existing peaceably at the time? The answer seems obvious. The dangers of peaceful co-existence were greater than the dangers of war. What would have become of Israel had peaceful co-existence continued? Israelite and Philistine children would have intermingled, the idolatry of the Philistines would have at best led to a syncretic religion if not complete acceptance of Philistine deities, moral decadence (as already seen in the life of Samson himself), etc. In war with the Philistines, casualties came, but the people of God were distinctive from the idolatrous nations round about them.
Can anyone deny that the church is being threatened in the twenty-first century by the culture round us? The culture around us is creating a syncretic religion that is far from Christian in doctrine and morality, as evidenced by rejection of Christian doctrine (the virgin birth, the resurrection, the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures, belief in heaven, hell, and judgment, etc.) and Christian morals (living together outside of wedlock, easy divorce and remarriage, abortion, homosexuality, gambling, drinking, dancing, etc.). Perhaps the Lord will raise up some Samsons among us to pick a fight with the American “Philistines” who threaten the existence of His church! This may lead to doctrinal conflict and perhaps even persecution, but that is less threat to God’s people than assimilation.