Samson: The Power of God versus the Power of Sin

Prof. Johan Malan

The story of Samson is narrated in Judges 13 to 16. In this story the power of God and the power of sin are described in a dramatic way as observable realities. It was common practice in the Old Testament to give physical demonstrations of the spiritual battle between the kingdoms of God and Satan, so that all could become increasingly aware of its reality. We too should derive spiritual lessons from these examples and apply them to our own lives.

An important lesson that we should learn from Samson’s life is that a person, who once was an anointed of the Lord and experienced the power of the Holy Spirit in his life, may completely lose this power because of persistent sinning, and become a slave of sin, controlled by Satan. However, such an apostatised person can return to the Lord and be spiritually restored. What happened to Samson was reflected in the parable of the lost son as described many centuries later by Jesus Christ. After a time of serious backsliding, the son took courage to return to his father’s house where he was completely forgiven and also restored as son and heir.

Samson was an anointed of the Lord who acted as a judge for Israel. As a Nazirite (a Consecrated Person) he was specifically dedicated to the Lord since his birth. This vow demanded of him that he would fear the Lord, abstain from wine and strong drink, and that no razor should ever come upon his head (Num. 6:2-5; Judg. 13:5).

The power of God

The Holy Spirit came mightily upon Samson and imbued him with supernatural strength to fight against animals and men, and to conquer them. He was probably of average build, causing all people to be amazed by his abilities. Without the supernatural strength that was given to him on certain occasions he was “weak like any other man” (cf. Judg. 16:17). When the Holy Spirit moved upon him he was empowered to do things that no man could ever do:

     He attacked a roaring lion with his bare hands and tore it apart.

     He caught 300 foxes, tied their tails together in pairs, with a torch between each pair, and then let them run through the fields of the Philistines, burning the grain to the ground along with the stacks of grain.

     He fought against a thousand Philistines who came to kill him, picked up the jawbone of a donkey and slew all of them.

     In a city of the Philistines where he spent the night, the men lay in wait at the city gate to capture him when he would leave. At midnight Samson arose, took hold of the city gates with the gate-posts, pulled them up, put them on his shoulders and carried them to the top of a mountain.

     He often freed himself by breaking the strong, new ropes with which he was bound, like cotton thread.

     With his two hands he pushed over the two large pillars on which the roof of a large temple rested, causing the roof and galleries to tumble down, killing 3000 Philistines.

During the years when the Philistines had dominion over Israel the Lord empowered Samson in a special way - as a lesson to Israel that they would not be able to deliver themselves from the power of the enemy. Israel’s enemies were pagan nations who served idols, rendering them enemies of God also. Dagon was the principle deity of the Philistines and a large temple where he was worshipped was erected by them. When they prevailed over their enemies, Dagon received all the praise.

Israel was the only people of God among the heathen nations, and when Israel pleased God by walking in His ways He intervened in the wars against their enemies and helped them to conquer. These victories were usually achieved by a small number of soldiers (as in the case of Gideon and his 300 men); by empowering one man (as in the case of Samson, or David when he fought Goliath); by the intervention of an angel of the Lord (like in the time of Hezekiah when the angel of the Lord killed 185 000 Assyrians who besieged Jerusalem); by afflicting Israel’s enemies with supernatural plagues (as in the case of Israel’s exodus from Egypt); by causing the walls of a pagan city like Jericho to collapse; or to cause confusion among Israel’s enemies by making them to flee or kill one another (cf. Ex. 23:27;  according to Zechariah 14:12-13 that will again happen during Jerusalem’s end-time siege). The power of the Lord was always available to His people to deliver them from their enemies, and He will again use this power against the Antichrist and his armies (Rev. 19:19-21).

The power of sin

The devil also has great powers which he incessantly uses to fight against God’s people – collectively or individually. He fills people with hatred, hostility, craving for power, covetousness, lust and various other propensities to sin, and also suggests evil plans to them to bring these evil drifts to fruition. This is the cause of a continuous battle between the powers of light and darkness. During Old Testament times this battle was directed against Israel, who were the only representatives of God’s kingdom on earth.

Satan not only established his evil powers in pagan nations, but also relentlessly endeavoured to deceive Israel to become unfaithful to God. He knew that if Israel persevered in sin and also bowed the knee before idols they would forfeit the benevolence and protection of the Lord. That would render them an easy target to their enemies. Balaam’s counsel to the pagan king Balak of the Moabites was that he should not try to subject Israel, as God’s people, by military means, since the Lord was helping them. He was advised to rather befriend himself with Israel with a view to enticing them to attend a feast to the honour of Baal, where they would participate in sacrifices to idols. They would thereby arouse the anger of the Lord and forfeit His protection, thus rendering them easy victims to their enemies (Num. 22–25; 2 Pet. 2:15; Rev. 2:14). That is exactly what happened.

In the case of Samson the Philistines soon discovered that they were powerless against his supernatural strength, and that they would never be able to conquer him as long as he was thus empowered. They tried everything to determine the secret of his strength so as to enable them to rob him of it. The devil seduced Samson by giving him a love for foreign, immoral women – to such an extent that he even visited a prostitute in Gaza (Judg. 16:1). He eventually ended up with Delilah. The Philistines, incited by the devil, used her to discover the secret of Samson’s strength. They were determined to rob him of his supernatural abilities and reduce him to a powerless slave in their prison.

Samson knew very well that the Philistines were determined to apprehend him and take revenge for the harm that he had inflicted on them. He thwarted various efforts by them to arrest and bind him. In spite of his success to overcome all the physical force mustered against him, he succumbed to Delilah’s charm and continuous nagging and revealed his secret to her. Under the power of deception he revealed to the enemy the secret of the only weapon that he had. They cut his hair and thereby, with Samson’s full cooperation, broke the Nazirite vow that he had made to the Lord.

The spiritual defeat and unfaithfulness of Samson had immediate and tragic consequences, thereby clearly demonstrating the power of sin in a person’s life. The very first consequence of his deliberate sin was that the Lord departed from him: “But he did not know that the Lord had departed from him” (Judg. 16:20). Samson was no longer consecrated to the Lord and by his actions induced the Lord to take His Holy Spirit from him. Samson did not break with His sin, thereby affording sin the opportunity to take full control over him and to break him. It happened as follows:

     He lost his strength. When the Lord’s Spirit departed from Samson he had no power to resist the efforts of his enemies to take control of him. They easily and quickly conquered him after he had lost his strength.

     He lost his freedom. Samson became a slave of his enemies. They bound him with bronze chains and incarcerated him in a prison where he had to grind grain.

     He lost his sight. Samson’s eyes were gouged out and he had to serve his enemies as a blind man. They led him wherever they wanted and mocked him in the presence of their idol.

     He lost his life. Although Samson was spiritually restored shortly before his death and took revenge on his enemies, he died before his time (cf. Eccl. 7:17).

Spiritual application

In New Testament times there is a much more intense battle between the kingdoms of God and Satan. In this case it is not a physical battle against a specific people, Israel, but a predominantly spiritual battle against the devil and his powers: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). We are therefore not, like Samson, dependent upon great physical strength, but need to be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. We need a spiritual armour (Eph. 6:10-11; 2 Cor. 10:3-5). The Lord Jesus said: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be witnesses to Me” (Acts 1:8).

Unfortunately, many Christians are not imbued with power from on high as they are not yet filled with the Holy Spirit. Such carnal Christians (cf. 1 Cor. 3:1-3) are powerless in the service of the Lord and are also unable to resist the lusts of the flesh. James 1:15 says, “…when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown, brings forth death.” Such people should heed the important message from the life of Samson: Break with sin, or sin will break you!

In the parable of the lost son the tragic consequences of backsliding which result from deliberate sinning are most evident (Luke 15:11-32). The lost son originally lived in his father’s house, but turned his back upon this life and preferred to live a life of sin in the world. Parties and immoral women were much more desirable to him. After his life of sin had ruined him financially, his friends abandoned him and as a poor and hungry man he was forced to look for a job on a farm where he had to feed swine. He then came to himself and realised what he had lost.

This son fully realised that he had forfeited his whole inheritance through foolishness, that he had lost everything he once had, and had become an outcast in society. He nevertheless knew his father as a loving and forgiving man and decided to return home. He took a renewed step of repentance: “I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants” (Luke 15:18-19).

A great miracle occurred in this young man’s life, once he became spiritually alive for a second time. During his wanderings in the world he was dead and lost (Luke 15:32). He was not physically dead and lost, but spiritually. Because of returning to his father he became “alive again” (Luke 15:24, 32). That implies that he initially lived, then died spiritually because of his sins and iniquities, but was afterwards restored and was alive again (the Greek word anazao means to recover life; live again; revive). Although he resolved to reduce himself to the level of a labourer who has no inheritance, his father fully restored him as son and heir.

That is exactly what happened to Samson, as well as various other people who fell from grace but later returned to the Lord. Many people can also clearly identify with the different consequences of Samson’s apostatising, since the same experiences are shared by a backslider who again lives under the dominion of sin:

     He loses his power. When a person backslides he loses the power of the Holy Spirit in his life. The result of this situation is that he can no longer resist temptations and sin. The lust of the flesh gains control over his life. At first he is only a backslidden Christian (1 Cor. 3:1-3; Gal. 5:16-17), but later the Holy Spirit may depart from him, resulting in him getting an evil heart of unbelief (Heb. 3:12-13). Such people cannot resist sin.

     He loses his freedom. Such a person does not stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and becomes entangled again with a yoke of bondage to sin (Gal. 5:1). In course of time he becomes a powerless slave of sin. It does not matter whether he is addicted to tobacco, liquor, drugs, gambling, theft, covetousness, lies, violence, craving for power, fornication or other forms of sexual perversion – he is a slave of these vile habits and continually commits them. He cannot liberate himself in his own power.

     He loses his sight. The devil and sin completely blind a person to the truth so that he cannot see it. Satan is the god of this age who blinds the minds of people to keep them from seeing the truths of the gospel of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4). They lose all spiritual insight and discernment and become blind followers of the devil.

     He loses his life. The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). James says that sin brings forth death (Jas. 1:15). Apart from the fact that sin leads to everlasting death it can also lead to an early physical death. Many people destroy their bodies with sin and live so recklessly that they untimely end up in the grave. “Do not be excessively wicked, nor be foolish; why should you die before your time?” (Eccl. 7:17).

Samson also died before his time because he surrendered himself into the hands of his enemies through his foolish actions. Fortunately for him, like the lost son, he had enough time to consider his sins and digression, and to turn to God from this perilous situation shortly before his death. However, to many backsliders, death comes quickly and they pass unsaved into eternity.

Are you bound by cords of sin and iniquity? Then you are a slave of sin. “For by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage” (2 Pet. 2:19). Come to the Lord Jesus who is mighty to save. “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). He will completely restore you and again endow you with power from on high (Luke 24:49).

As Christians we must continuously make choices whether our bodies will be subjected to the power of sin or to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit: “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Rom. 6:12-13).

If we maintain our dedication to the Lord, the enemy of our souls will never be able to take us captive, to blind, to enslave and to kill us. The Lord wants to strengthen us to emerge as victors from the struggle, but then we should fully realise the seriousness of the battle in which we are engaged, and daily pray to be delivered from the evil one. Those who underestimate the enemy and start making compromises grieve the Holy Spirit and will find themselves pierced by many sorrows. Some of them even quench the Holy Spirit by their actions (1 Thess. 5:19) and find themselves increasingly on a path to spiritual darkness. Turn back before it is too late!

Types of Israel

Apart from the important spiritual lessons that we can learn from this section, Samson and the lost son are also types of the people of Israel. As anointed ones of the Lord they were initially in the Father’s house. They were His heirs and were destined for great things in the kingdom of God. But their hearts were not perfect with the Lord since they allowed sin in their lives. Their divided hearts paved the way towards a phase of great apostasy in which they spent a long time in the world away from their Father’s house. After the dark time of wanderings they were both dramatically saved and completely restored to the Father’s house.

In the beginning Israel was called and spiritually imbued by the Lord to be His special witnesses in an apostate world. But over many years they were unfaithful to the Lord and also rejected and persecuted His prophets. They ultimately filled the measure of their guilt when they also rejected the Messiah. He said to the leaders of the nation: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate” (Matt. 23:37-38). This would however not lead to a permanent estrangement between them as the Messiah indicated that they would welcome and accept Him at His second coming by greeting Him in the Name of the Lord. He said, “You shall see Me no more till you say, Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!” (Matt. 23:39).

However, like Samson and the lost son, they would in the meantime be far from the Father’s house where they would severely suffer in a hostile, pagan world. The Lord Jesus said, “You will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). We are now in the time when the trampling of Jerusalem is being terminated in various phases. The city’s physical and political trampling has already ended and it only needs to be spiritually restored. Israel must be revived spiritually to be able to fulfil their calling as God’s people.

This nation is presently in great distress, surrounded by hostile nations who are committed to its destruction. At the same time, Israel’s Western allies are turning a cold shoulder to them, leaving them only one option and that is to turn to the Lord for help. They are virtually on the point where the lost son was when he said, “I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you” (Luke 15:18). Samson was in the same situation. Surrounded by his enemies who scoffed at him and hastened his downfall he called to God and said: “O Lord God, remember me, I pray! Strengthen me, I pray, just this once, O God” (Judg. 16:28). The Spirit of God came mightily upon him and he achieved a great victory over the enemy.

Israel’s long wanderings in the world will be finally over when they are spiritually revived at the second coming of the Messiah. The same will happen to them as with the lost son who was completely forgiven and restored: “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, on the day that I make them my jewels. And I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him” (Mal. 3:17).

Jerusalem and its inhabitants, who rejected the Messiah 2000 years ago, will serve Him with all their heart after their end-time restoration: “Behold, I will bring [Jerusalem and its people] health and healing; I will heal them and reveal to them the abundance of peace and truth. And I will cause the captives of Judah and the captives of Israel to return, and I will rebuild those places as at the first. I will cleanse them from all their iniquity by which they have sinned against Me, and I will pardon all their iniquities by which they have sinned and by which they have transgressed against Me. Then [Jerusalem and its people] shall be to Me a name of joy, a praise, and an honour before all nations of the earth, who shall hear all the good that I do to them; they shall fear and tremble for all the goodness and all the prosperity that I provide for it” (Jer. 33:6-9; cf. Zech. 8:20-23).

The church of Christ has a clear command to support Israel spiritually and prepare them for a meeting with the Messiah in order that all the wonderful promises regarding Jerusalem and its inhabitants can be fulfilled: “You who make mention of the Lord, do not keep silent, and give Him no rest till He establishes and till He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth” (Isa. 62:6-7).

This is the message that we should also proclaim to spiritually backslidden people in the whole world: There is forgiveness, restoration and cleansing in the Name of the Lord Jesus. He is not only the Messiah of Israel but also the Saviour and King of the whole world!