Samson, Sin and Sovereignty

The Samson saga is bizarre but encouraging:

Yesterday I wrote about the Samson narratives. He was one of the judges, or deliverers, that God raised up during some tough times for ancient Israel. His story in Judges 13-16 is fascinating and sad at the same time. In my earlier piece I offered more of a devotional look at the judge and his ministry:

Here I will offer more of a theological piece, looking at some puzzling issues. While Samson occupies four chapters in the Old Testament, he is mentioned only once in the New: in the list of heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 (albeit fleetingly, in verse 32). His obviously selfish, immoral, lustful, and narcissistic character makes him a very questionable hero of the faith.

For example, he breaks his Nazirite vow, he intermarries with a non-Israelite (forbidden by Torah, eg., Ex. 34:11-16; Deut. 7:1-4); he shacks up with a Canaanite prostitute, etc. The only time he acts it seems it is for his own gain, and not directly for the good of Israel. So how could God use a guy such as this? How could he accomplish his purposes given what a faulty and self-centred individual he was? The Samson cycle raises a lot of questions. But it also offers some tentative answers.

As to the sort of guy Samson was, he was not exactly a great role model. That was true of the people at the time. As we read in Judges 17:6 and 21:25, everyone did what was right in their own eyes. The same is said about Samson and his carnal desire for the Philistine woman (14:3, 7). Glands, not God, seemed to be the driving force in his life.

In addition to what I already said about his many shortcomings, a few commentators can be called upon here. As Mary Evans comments, the Samson narrative

consists of a series of stories relating primarily to Samson’s sex life and his revenge on those whom he sees as acting against his interests in this area. At no stage do we see him expressing any concern for, or interest in, what might be Yahweh’s purposes for him, not even the well-being of Israel as a whole. He is never pictured as consciously acting in the interests of his people. The text seems to go out of its way to portray Samson as entirely concerned for himself, the exact opposite of the commitment to Yahweh that a Nazirite vow was supposed to express.

Or as Dale Ralph Davis remarks:

As we look back over the whole rollicking and tragic story we must mention the strangeness of Yahweh’s choice. That is, why would Yahweh use a character like Samson as his servant? Here is a fellow who shatters all our molds, conventions, and expectations about what a servant of God is to be. Worse yet, Sampson is not only unconventional but also unfaithful. He seems to think his God-given strength was his plaything (at least in 16:1-21); he didn’t seem to realize that our gifts are not given so we can toy with them as we please but to serve and care for the good of God’s people. But here is this Sampson, a sort of wild ass of a man, entertaining yet unpredictable, so promising and so tragic. He seems so unlike an evangelical Christian.

Image of Judges: Such a Great Salvation (Focus on the Bible)
Judges: Such a Great Salvation (Focus on the Bible) by Dale Ralph Davis (Author) Amazon logo

God’s providence

Yet God was able to sovereignly use even a guy like this to work out his purposes. Indeed, God’s providential hand in the Samson narratives is seen throughout. In ch. 13 God helps a barren woman to conceive. In the next chapters God’s spirit comes upon him to do miraculous feats in dealing with the enemy. And God answers his last prayers at the very end of the story.

Despite the evil and immorality of Samson, God was able to still achieve his purposes. The text certainly indicates this. In Judges 13:25 we read that “the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him”. And as I said in yesterday’s piece, even his desire for the Philistine woman was something God made use of. While his parents rightly disapproved, we find in Judges 16:4 these words: “His father and mother did not know that it was from the Lord, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines.”

As we find all throughout Scripture, we have here the conundrum of a God sovereignly achieving his purposes, yet somehow doing so with sinful human beings who are held morally accountable for their actions. It will not be until the next life that we fully get our heads around all this. As Michael Wilcox writes:

“Personally, Samson stands as a dreadful warning, the man of enormous potential who never grasped that the Spirit’s call to holy discipline is even more important than the Spirit’s gifts. But on the broader canvas, the plan of God goes inexorably on, and through Samson, tragic figure though he is, the Spirit of the Lord brings about the salvation of his people.”

And Davis is again quite helpful here. Speaking of his parents, he comments: “This does not mean they were wrong to object to Samson’s desires and action. Nor does it mean that Samson’s desires were virtuous or that his bullheadedness was right. It means that neither Samson’s foolishness nor his stubbornness is going to prevent Yahweh from accomplishing his design. Yahweh can and will use the sinfulness or stupidity of his servants as the camouflage for bringing his secret will to pass.”

Again, how the sinful actions of man can somehow be used to bring abut God’s purposes remains a mystery this side of heaven. But we do know that the most horrible and sinful actions of man – the crucifixion of Christ – were most certainly used for his good purposes.

The Romans and Jews who brought this about are still guilty, but God could somehow weave even their evil actions into his greater purposes for good. Moreover, the good news remains: if God can use a sleazeball like Samson, then it seems he can even use someone like you and me. That should be a reassuring thought to most of us.

Type or antitype?

One final point can briefly be discussed here. There has been debate as to whether Samson can be viewed as a type of Christ. Yes, some similarities can be found, ranging from a miraculous birth to a sacrificial death. And both bought deliverance to God’s people.

Perhaps it might be best to see Jesus as both a type and antitype of Samson. In his NIVAC commentary on Judges and Ruth, K. Lawson Younger spends a bit of time on this question (pp. 325-328). He argues that antitype is the preferred option here. He admits that an “analogy of Samson to Christ is easy to make,” but then goes on to say this:

The clear and lengthy portrayal of Samson in Judges 13-16 is hardly a characterization that parallels the person of Jesus Christ. In the context of Judges, Samson is far from the standard of Christ. He is one of the most narcissistic persons in all the Bible. Self-gratification is what drives this man. Never in the Samson narrative does he operate in anyone’s interest but his own. He does not care about God’s plan or any of the divine standards of either his place as an Israelite or his Nazirite status. He does not care about the will of his parents or the hearts of the “lovers” with whom he consorts. All are to be manipulated for his sake.


Nevertheless, in spite of his wrong motives (revenge), God uses Samson to prove that he, not Dagon, is God. Only God’s grace makes something positive come out of his life—in every case in spite of Samson. Ironically, by the exercise of his own immoral will, Samson serves as an agent of the Lord’s ethical will,” and by the narrator’s own acknowledgment he accomplishes more dying than living.


Very simply, Samson is not a type of Christ. Nowhere is this implied in the Old or New Testaments. Instead, if anything, Samson is a foil to Christ. Yes, there are some similarities, but the contrasts are much greater. The similarities only heighten the contrasts all the more. ‘There is no way that such an ego-driven, narcissistic, immoral man is, in any way, a real type of Christ, the one who was the ultimate—the sinless, real deliverer!


Samson and Christ are polar opposites in attitude and action. . . . Therefore, those who make Samson a type of Christ do so by emphasizing the similarities and utterly ignoring the tremendous differences. Just because there are a few similarities does not mean that we are dealing with a type of Christ.

In sum, despite the many theological questions that arise here, we can – once again – say a few obvious things. Samson was without doubt a very strange character. But aren’t we all? And just as God could use Samson, often in spite of himself, so too he can use us. That is the real mystery and wonder of this story.

Amazing grace indeed.

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2 Replies to “Samson, Sin and Sovereignty”

  1. Thanks Bill, another strange anomaly in the Bible. I agree, Samson is not a type of Christ but got listed in Hebrews as a hero of faith as he had faith in God at the end of his life, believing in God’s gift of strength against all odds.

  2. Thanks Bill, it is an important and inspiring article you wrote, and even more so the inspired Biblical story of Samson.

    I am part of a WhatsApp group where a lot of despair is present about the world (Ukraine civilian suffering, the death of Israelis and Palestinian children, this terrorist attack in Moscow, the list could go on). It’s hard as a Christian to know how to bring God and His hope into the group, but I need to start by praying and hope God can use me in some small way.

    Many blessings to you Bill, Matthew.

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