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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Judges 13



Verse 24-25


‘And the woman bare a son, and called his name Samson: and the child grew, and the Lord blessed him. And the Spirit of the Lord began to move him at times in the camp of Dan between Zorah and Eshtaol.’

Judges 13:24-25

The lives of the saints in Scripture, and especially in the Old Testament, are entirely unlike our modern religious biographies. Scripture describes no faultless monsters. Its heroes have little in common with the saints whose images we sometimes see in old fanes—with limbs that never could have touched a real earth; with eyes that could not have sparkled with the smiles, or wept with the tears of everyday humanity, fixed as they are upon a sacred scroll, or lifted to a sky of impossible sapphire. Modern religious biographies perplex us by the extreme infallibility, Scripture biographies by the extreme fallibility of their subjects. Samson himself is to some as great a difficulty of faith as the miracle of En-hakkore—that butt for the clumsy avenging wit of the Philistines even unto this day.

I. As regards the character of Samson.—His character is unlike that of the other heroes of Hebrew story. Alone in the Old Testament he overflows with joyousness. His very name is probably associated with the sunshine—‘sunlike.’ He is light of heart, and his courage rises in the hour of danger. He has a sportive wit which sparkles in rhythmic couplets, flashes in epigrams, plays upon words. It will not be forgotten that the great child of daring and genius is brought up a Nezyir-Elohim with his vow of abstinence. Unquestionably he derived an inward strength of a certain kind from the conviction that he was indeed God’s own, consecrated to Him from his mother’s womb. Certainly, also, the circumstances which called him to be a judge must have had a strengthening and ennobling influence.

But Samson’s strictness in one direction was compensated for by laxity in another. A fiercer passion than that for wine coursed through the hero’s veins, and set his blood on fire. The unrivalled bodily strength co-exists with abject moral weakness. Why will so many novelists and poets speak as if strength and passion were almost convertible terms? What we call the strength of passion is really its weakness. It is not passion, but the repression of passion, which is really strong. And the strongest character is that in which what are called the strongest passions are held in leash by the sternest will.

Being such as he was, Samson naturally fell lower and lower. The chains of his own sin, with which he was tied and bound, he could not unrive. He falls naturally, first, in choosing a Philistine wife—he who was raised up to wage war against the Philistines, as Hannibal against the Romans—then, from wife to harlot, and from harlot to traitress. Then he is beguiled of secret, vow, strength, will, eyesight. Then, in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps, he feels some mysterious stir of returning strength. Those returning powers nerve him for one supreme effort, and his ten giant deeds are crowned by the eleventh, of a tremendous self-immolation.

II. The history or parable of a soul’s fall is in this story of Samson.—Every hearer must recognise a picture of this kind. Some one whom he knew well, who in early youth was bright and joyful, with something of the elastic strength, something, perhaps, of ‘the quick and the brave and manly heart’ of the Hebrew hero. The promise of many such is, alas! belied by their after life. Remembering their eminent attractiveness, their charm and glamour, we mention their names somewhere. We are told with an ominous frown and whisper that they are not spoken of in society. Other cases occur in great numbers, where the ruin is not so utter. Still, an evil change has passed upon them. Somehow the knees have been bent at the harlot’s lap; the sunny gaiety has suffered eclipse; the bright eyes have been cruelly put out, the saccharine sweetness has been soured. Think of the elderly roué, the reckless debtor, with the fine sense of honour faded away; the Falstaff, with his bitter irony, mistaken for querulous weakness or good-natured banter, the strong man making sport for the mocking Philistines, the spirits of earth and air who see a comedy in every representation of Samson, and welcome it with the laughter that is of hell.

—Archbishop Alexander.


(1) ‘Flee from every sin that has light in its eye and honey upon its tongue. Flee from the touch that wins, but blisters as it touches, and fills the veins with fire. If tempting thoughts come to you, say, “By the awful purity of Thy Passion, O Lord, give me purity. Make me a clean heart, O God! and renew a right spirit within me.”’

(2) ‘Samson could lead the young lion with no weapon in his ungloved hand, with a masterful ease which scorned to speak of the deed at home, as if it were any wonder for his father’s son; but he could not wrestle down his own desires. He could burn up the standing corn of the Philistines with the vineyards and olives, and watch with contemptuous laughter the flames that swept along the valleys and climbed the hills, thinking by what abject instruments he had wrought so fierce a vengeance; but the fairer harvest, the richer vintage of that young life, which might have been so glorious, he allowed to be scorched and blasted by flames that were carried by as vile a thing.’

(3) ‘Inspiration brought to Samson neither the grace of purity nor the gift of prophecy; but it gave him the special gifts which he needed for his special work. He would have been a nobler man if he had sought the Spirit of God also to help him in more spiritual ways. The receipt of spiritual gifts depends on the condition of our spirit. Samson was only rightly disposed to receive the Spirit at intervals.’


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Judges 13:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

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