God used Gideon to end the Israelites’ worship of Baal, and then to defeat the Midianite army in a very strange way. How often do you hear of an army killing each other after hearing smashing pots, trumpets and shouting? After the victory, Gideon went on to judge Israel for forty years, and they had peace. After he died, his son Abimelech took his place. Then came Tola. Then Jair. Jephthah. Ibzan. Elon. Abdon. Throughout this time, the Israelites kept forgetting God and calling out to Him when they got in trouble. Whenever they called out, God sent them a deliverer. Jephthah in particular won an important victory with God’s help, but he learned too late that it isn’t a good idea to make promises to God without thinking about what might happen when you have to keep them. But that’s another story.
After Judge Abdon’s death, the Israelites turned away from God again, and so He let them be oppressed by the Philistines for 40 years!
During that time, there was a man named Manoah, who wanted a child, but his wife couldn’t have children. One day, an angel appeared to Manoah and his wife and gave them some great news. They were going to have a son! But there was a catch. The boy would be a Nazirite. That meant he would be set apart for God. He wouldn’t be allowed to have a haircut, touch a dead body, or drink alcohol.
So, true to the angel’s word, the couple had a baby boy, and they named him Samson. As he grew, his hair got very long, and God gave him amazing strength. This guy was a rough, tough, macho man, and he tore a lion apart with his bare hands! Later, he found the lion’s dead body and discovered a beehive in it. There was honey, and it looked delicious, so he took some…but in the process, he touched the lion’s body even though God had told him not to touch dead bodies.
Samson fell in love with a Philistine woman. He wanted to marry her, even though God had commanded the Israelites long ago not to marry Philistines or anyone else from the lands they had conquered. At the wedding, he came up with a riddle and offered a big reward for anyone who could answer it:
“Out of the eater, something to eat;
Out of the strong, something sweet.”
When the Philistines couldn’t figure out the answer, they convinced his bride to coax the answer out of him. So she betrayed him, and everyone was mad, and not everyone survived. In fact, her father was so mad at his son-in-law that he gave his daughter to someone else. When Samson found out that his father-in-law had taken away his wife, he got really steamed. So he rounded up 300 foxes and tied their tails together in pairs. He tied a burning torch to each pair of tails and let them run wild in the Philistines’ fields. (Think about it. Foxes are wild, and it’s tough to catch one, let alone 300!) The Philistines were very upset about Samson burning their crops, and they got really mad. The Israelites got scared and took Samson to the Philistines so they could take out their anger on him. But as he got close to the Philistines, God’s strength came on Samson. He took a donkey’s jawbone and used it to defeat 1000 strong men! So he became Israel’s judge and led them for 20 years.
Sometime later, Samson went to Gaza, where he ripped off the doors of the city gate and carried them to the top of a nearby hill. They were heavy! The Philistines could tell he was very strong. About this time, he fell in love with a woman named Delilah, and the Philistines asked her to find out Samson’s secret to being so strong. She tried several times, but he kept coming up with lies about it:
“Tie me up with seven bowstrings, and I’ll get weak.” But when they tried that, he easily snapped the bowstrings off.
After he suggested they tie him up with new ropes, he snapped them like twigs. Maybe if they weave his long hair into fabric? Nope. He broke the loom and pulled the hair fabric apart. Day after day, Delilah nagged and prodded Samson, and she started to wear him down. So he said, “OK, fine. I’ve never had a haircut. Try cutting my hair.” Nothing else had worked, and Samson didn’t think this would work either. But he didn’t know that this was the final straw for God. God had given Samson so many chances, and he had disobeyed so many times, that God had had enough. Samson had the surprise of his life in the morning when the Philistines came in and tied him up, and he wasn’t strong enough to fight back! They poked out his eyes and threw him in prison, where they made him grind grain.
But while he was in prison, his hair started to grow back. One day, the Philistines had a big celebration to honor their false god Dagon. They liked to humiliate prisoners at their parties, and Samson seemed like a really fun idea for entertainment. The blind strongman performed for the Philistines, and they loved it. But then, he asked the servant who was leading him around to place him between the two main pillars of the crowded Philistine temple. Samson knew that he had done some terrible things, but he also knew that God had sent him to deliver Israel from the evil Philistines. So he prayed that God would give him superhuman strength once more. He no longer cared for his own life. Samson stood between the two pillars and put a hand on each one. With all his might, he pushed outward, and he brought the house down. Literally. That day, more Philistines died from the building falling on them than he had killed in his lifetime. Samson himself didn’t live to tell the tale.