The Story of Patriarchs and Prophets
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 54: Samson
Amid the widespread apostasy the faithful worshipers of God
continued to plead with Him for the deliverance of Israel.
Though there was apparently no response, though year after
year the power of the oppressor continued to rest more heavily
upon the land, God's providence was preparing help for them.
Even in the early years of the Philistine oppression a child was
born through whom God designed to humble the power of these
On the border of the hill country overlooking the Philistine
plain was the little town of Zorah. Here dwelt the family of
Manoah, of the tribe of Dan, one of the few households that
amid the general defection had remained true to Jehovah. To
the childless wife of Manoah "the Angel of Jehovah" appeared
with the message that she should have a son, through whom
God would begin to deliver Israel. In view of this the Angel
gave her instruction concerning her own habits, and also for
the treatment of her child: "Now therefore beware, I pray thee,
and drink not wine nor strong drink, and eat not any unclean
thing." And the same prohibition was to be imposed, from the
first, upon the child, with the addition that his hair should
not be cut; for he was to be consecrated to God as a Nazarite
from his birth.
The woman sought her husband, and, after describing the
Angel, she repeated His message. Then, fearful that they should
make some mistake in the important work committed to them,
the husband prayed, "Let the Man of God which Thou didst send
come again unto us, and teach us what we shall do unto the
child that shall be born."
When the Angel again appeared, Manoah's anxious inquiry
was, "How shall we order the child, and how shall we do unto
him?" The previous instruction was repeated—"Of all that I [p. 561] said unto the woman let her beware. She may not eat of
anything that cometh of the vine, neither let her drink wine or
strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing: all that I commanded
her let her observe."
God had an important work for the promised child of Manoah
to do, and it was to secure for him the qualifications necessary
for this work that the habits of both the mother and the child
were to be carefully regulated. "Neither let her drink wine or
strong drink," was the Angel's instruction for the wife of Manoah,
"nor eat any unclean thing. All that I commanded her let her
observe." The child will be affected for good or for evil by the
habits of the mother. She must herself be controlled by principle
and must practice temperance and self-denial, if she would seek
the welfare of her child. Unwise advisers will urge upon the
mother the necessity of gratifying every wish and impulse, but
such teaching is false and mischievous. The mother is by the
command of God Himself placed under the most solemn obligation
to exercise self-control.
And fathers as well as mothers are involved in this
responsibility. Both parents transmit their own characteristics, mental
and physical, their dispositions and appetites, to their children.
As the result of parental intemperance children often lack physical
strength and mental and moral power. Liquor drinkers and
tobacco users may, and do, transmit their insatiable craving, their
inflamed blood and irritable nerves, to their children. The
licentious often bequeath their unholy desires, and even loathsome
diseases, as a legacy to their offspring. And as the children have
less power to resist temptation than had the parents, the tendency
is for each generation to fall lower and lower. To a great degree
parents are responsible not only for the violent passions and
perverted appetites of their children but for the infirmities of
the thousands born deaf, blind, diseased, or idiotic.
The inquiry of every father and mother should be, "What
shall we do unto the child that shall be born unto us?" The
effect of prenatal influences has been by many lightly regarded;
but the instruction sent from heaven to those Hebrew parents,
and twice repeated in the most explicit and solemn manner, shows
how this matter is looked upon by our Creator.
And it was not enough that the promised child should receive
a good legacy from the parents. This must be followed by careful [p. 562] training and the formation of right habits. God directed that
the future judge and deliverer of Israel should be trained to
strict temperance from infancy. He was to be a Nazarite from
his birth, thus being placed under a perpetual prohibition against
the use of wine or strong drink. The lessons of temperance,
self-denial, and self-control are to be taught to children even from
The angel's prohibition included "every unclean thing." The
distinction between articles of food as clean and unclean was not
a merely ceremonial and arbitrary regulation, but was based
upon sanitary principles. To the observance of this distinction
may be traced, in a great degree, the marvelous vitality which
for thousands of years has distinguished the Jewish people. The
principles of temperance must be carried further than the mere
use of spirituous liquors. The use of stimulating and indigestible
food is often equally injurious to health, and in many cases sows
the seeds of drunkenness. True temperance teaches us to dispense
entirely with everything hurtful and to use judiciously that
which is healthful. There are few who realize as they should
how much their habits of diet have to do with their health, their
character, their usefulness in this world, and their eternal destiny.
The appetite should ever be in subjection to the moral and
intellectual powers. The body should be servant to the mind, and not
the mind to the body.
The divine promise to Manoah was in due time fulfilled in
the birth of a son, to whom the name of Samson was given. As
the boy grew up it became evident that he possessed extraordinary
physical strength. This was not, however, as Samson and
his parents well knew, dependent upon his well-knit sinews, but
upon his condition as a Nazarite, of which his unshorn hair was
a symbol. Had Samson obeyed the divine commands as faithfully
as his parents had done, his would have been a nobler and
happier destiny. But association with idolaters corrupted him. The
town of Zorah being near the country of the Philistines, Samson
came to mingle with them on friendly terms. Thus in his youth
intimacies sprang up, the influence of which darkened his whole
life. A young woman dwelling in the Philistine town of Timnath
engaged Samson's affections, and he determined to make her
his wife. To his God-fearing parents, who endeavored to dissuade
him from his purpose, his only answer was, "She pleaseth me
well." The parents at last yielded to his wishes, and the marriage
took place. [p. 563]
Just as he was entering upon manhood, the time when he
must execute his divine mission—the time above all others when
he should have been true to God—Samson connected himself with
the enemies of Israel. He did not ask whether he could better
glorify God when united with the object of his choice, or whether
he was placing himself in a position where he could not fulfill
the purpose to be accomplished by his life. To all who seek first
to honor Him, God has promised wisdom; but there is no promise
to those who are bent upon self-pleasing.
How many are pursuing the same course as did Samson!
How often marriages are formed between the godly and the ungodly,
because inclination governs in the selection of husband
or wife! The parties do not ask counsel of God, nor have His
glory in view. Christianity ought to have a controlling influence
upon the marriage relation, but it is too often the case that the
motives which lead to this union are not in keeping with Christian
principles. Satan is constantly seeking to strengthen his
power over the people of God by inducing them to enter into
alliance with his subjects; and in order to accomplish this he
endeavors to arouse unsanctified passions in the heart. But the
Lord has in His word plainly instructed His people not to unite
themselves with those who have not His love abiding in them.
"What concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he
that believeth with an infidel? and what agreement hath the
temple of God with idols?" 2 Corinthians 6:15, 16.
At his marriage feast Samson was brought into familiar
association with those who hated the God of Israel. Whoever
voluntarily enters into such relations will feel it necessary to
conform, to some degree, to the habits and customs of his
companions. The time thus spent is worse than wasted. Thoughts
are entertained and words are spoken that tend to break down
the strongholds of principle and to weaken the citadel of the
The wife, to obtain whom Samson had transgressed the
command of God, proved treacherous to her husband before the
close of the marriage feast. Incensed at her perfidy, Samson
forsook her for the time, and went alone to his home at Zorah.
When, afterward relenting, he returned for his bride, he found
her the wife of another. His revenge, in the wasting of all the
fields and vineyards of the Philistines, provoked them to
murder her, although their threats had driven her to the deceit with [p. 564] which the trouble began. Samson had already given evidence of
his marvelous strength by slaying, singlehanded, a young lion,
and by killing thirty of the men of Askelon. Now, moved to
anger by the barbarous murder of his wife, he attacked the
Philistines and smote them "with a great slaughter." Then, wishing
a safe retreat from his enemies, he withdrew to "the rock Etam,"
in the tribe of Judah.
To this place he was pursued by a strong force, and the
inhabitants of Judah, in great alarm, basely agreed to deliver him
to his enemies. Accordingly three thousand men of Judah went
up to him. But even at such odds they would not have dared
approach him had they not felt assured that he would not harm his
own countrymen. Samson consented to be bound and delivered
to the Philistines, but first exacted from the men of Judah a
promise not to attack him themselves, and thus compel him to
destroy them. He permitted them to bind him with two new
ropes, and he was led into the camp of his enemies amid
demonstrations of great joy. But while their shouts were waking the
echoes of the hills, "the Spirit of Jehovah came mightily upon
him." He burst asunder the strong new cords as if they had been
flax burned in the fire. Then seizing the first weapon at hand,
which, though only the jawbone of an ass, was rendered more
effective than sword or spear, he smote the Philistines until they
fled in terror, leaving a thousand men dead upon the field.
Had the Israelites been ready to unite with Samson and follow
up the victory, they might at this time have freed themselves from
the power of their oppressors. But they had become dispirited
and cowardly. They had neglected the work which God commanded
them to perform, in dispossessing the heathen, and had
united with them in their degrading practices, tolerating their
cruelty, and, so long as it was not directed against themselves,
even countenancing their injustice. When themselves brought
under the power of the oppressor, they tamely submitted to the
degradation which they might have escaped, had they only
obeyed God. Even when the Lord raised up a deliverer for them,
they would, not infrequently, desert him and unite with their
After his victory the Israelites made Samson judge, and he
ruled Israel for twenty years. But one wrong step prepares the [p. 565] way for another. Samson had transgressed the command of God
by taking a wife from the Philistines, and again he ventured
among them—now his deadly enemies—in the indulgence of
unlawful passion. Trusting to his great strength, which had inspired
the Philistines with such terror, he went boldly to Gaza, to visit
a harlot of that place. The inhabitants of the city learned of his
presence, and they were eager for revenge. Their enemy was shut
safely within the walls of the most strongly fortified of all their
cities; they felt sure of their prey, and only waited till the morning
to complete their triumph. At midnight Samson was aroused.
The accusing voice of conscience filled him with remorse, as he
remembered that he had broken his vow as a Nazarite. But
notwithstanding his sin, God's mercy had not forsaken him. His
prodigious strength again served to deliver him. Going to the
city gate, he wrenched it from its place and carried it, with its
posts and bars, to the top of a hill on the way to Hebron.
But even this narrow escape did not stay his evil course. He
did not again venture among the Philistines, but he continued
to seek those sensuous pleasures that were luring him to ruin.
"He loved a woman in the valley of Sorek," not far from his own
birthplace. Her name was Delilah, "the consumer." The vale of
Sorek was celebrated for its vineyards; these also had a temptation
for the wavering Nazarite, who had already indulged in the
use of wine, thus breaking another tie that bound him to purity
and to God. The Philistines kept a vigilant watch over the
movements of their enemy, and when he degraded himself by
this new attachment, they determined, through Delilah, to
accomplish his ruin.
A deputation consisting of one leading man from each of the
Philistine provinces was sent to the vale of Sorek. They dared
not attempt to seize him while in possession of his great strength,
but it was their purpose to learn, if possible, the secret of his
power. They therefore bribed Delilah to discover and reveal it.
As the betrayer plied Samson with her questions, he deceived
her by declaring that the weakness of other men would come
upon him if certain processes were tried. When she put the
matter to the test, the cheat was discovered. Then she accused
him of falsehood, saying, "How canst thou say, I love thee,
when thine heart is not with me? Thou hast mocked me these [p. 566] three times, and hast not told me wherein thy great strength
lieth." Three times Samson had the clearest evidence that the
Philistines had leagued with his charmer to destroy him; but
when her purpose failed, she treated the matter as a jest, and he
blindly banished fear.
Day by day Delilah urged him, until "his soul was vexed
unto death;" yet a subtle power kept him by her side. Overcome
at last, Samson made known the secret: "There hath not come a
razor upon mine head; for I have been a Nazarite unto God from
my mother's womb: if I be shaven, then my strength will go
from me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man."
A messenger was immediately dispatched to the lords of the
Philistines, urging them to come to her without delay. While the
warrior slept, the heavy masses of his hair were severed from his
head. Then, as she had done three times before, she called,
"The Philistines be upon thee, Samson!" Suddenly awaking, he
thought to exert his strength as before and destroy them; but his
powerless arms refused to do his bidding, and he knew that
"Jehovah was departed from him." When he had been shaven,
Delilah began to annoy him and cause him pain, thus making a
trial of his strength; for the Philistines dared not approach him
till fully convinced that his power was gone. Then they seized
him and, having put out both his eyes, they took him to Gaza.
Here he was bound with fetters in their prison house and
confined to hard labor.
What a change to him who had been the judge and champion
of Israel!—now weak, blind, imprisoned, degraded to the most
menial service! Little by little he had violated the conditions of
his sacred calling. God had borne long with him; but when he
had so yielded himself to the power of sin as to betray his secret,
the Lord departed from him. There was no virtue in his long
hair merely, but it was a token of his loyalty to God; and when
the symbol was sacrificed in the indulgence of passion, the
blessings of which it was a token were also forfeited.
In suffering and humiliation, a sport for the Philistines,
Samson learned more of his own weakness than he had ever known
before; and his afflictions led him to repentance. As his hair
grew, his power gradually returned; but his enemies, regarding
him as a fettered and helpless prisoner, felt no apprehensions.
The Philistines ascribed their victory to their gods; and, [p. 567] exulting, they defied the God of Israel. A feast was appointed in
honor of Dagon, the fish god, "the protector of the sea." From
town and country throughout the Philistine plain the people
and their lords assembled. Throngs of worshipers filled the vast
temple and crowded the galleries about the roof. It was a scene
of festivity and rejoicing. There was the pomp of the sacrificial
service, followed by music and feasting. Then, as the crowning
trophy of Dagon's power, Samson was brought in. Shouts of exultation
greeted his appearance. People and rulers mocked his
misery and adored the god who had overthrown "the destroyer
of their country." After a time, as if weary, Samson asked
permission to rest against the two central pillars which supported
the temple roof. Then he silently uttered the prayer, "O Lord
God, remember me, I pray Thee, and strengthen me, I pray
Thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of
the Philistines." With these words he encircled the pillars with
his mighty arms; and crying, "Let me die with the Philistines!"
he bowed himself, and the roof fell, destroying at one crash all
that vast multitude. "So the dead which he slew at his death
were more than they which he slew in his life."
The idol and its worshipers, priest and peasant, warrior and
noble, were buried together beneath the ruins of Dagon's temple.
And among them was the giant form of him whom God
had chosen to be the deliverer of His people. Tidings of the
terrible overthrow were carried to the land of Israel, and Samson's
kinsmen came down from their hills, and, unopposed, rescued
the body of the fallen hero. And they "brought him up, and
buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol, in the burying place of
Manoah his father."
God's promise that through Samson He would "begin to deliver
Israel out of the hand of the Philistines" was fulfilled; but
how dark and terrible the record of that life which might have
been a praise to God and a glory to the nation! Had Samson
been true to his divine calling, the purpose of God could have
been accomplished in his honor and exaltation. But he yielded
to temptation and proved untrue to his trust, and his mission
was fulfilled in defeat, bondage, and death.
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Physically, Samson was the strongest man upon the earth;
but in self-control, integrity, and firmness, he was one of the
weakest of men. Many mistake strong passions for a strong character, [p. 568] but the truth is that he who is mastered by his passions is a
weak man. The real greatness of the man is measured by the
power of the feelings that he controls, not by those that
God's providential care had been over Samson, that he might
be prepared to accomplish the work which he was called to do.
At the very outset of life he was surrounded with favorable
conditions for physical strength, intellectual vigor, and moral purity.
But under the influence of wicked associates he let go that hold
upon God which is man's only safeguard, and he was swept
away by the tide of evil. Those who in the way of duty are
brought into trial may be sure that God will preserve them; but
if men willfully place themselves under the power of temptation,
they will fall, sooner or later.
The very ones whom God purposes to use as His instruments
for a special work, Satan employs his utmost power to lead astray.
He attacks us at our weak points, working through defects in the
character to gain control of the whole man; and he knows that
if these defects are cherished, he will succeed. But none need
be overcome. Man is not left alone to conquer the power of evil
by his own feeble efforts. Help is at hand and will be given to
every soul who really desires it. Angels of God, that ascend and
descend the ladder which Jacob saw in vision, will help every
soul who will, to climb even to the highest heaven.
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"The Child Samuel"