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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Judges 16



Verse 17


‘Then (Samson) told her all his heart, and said unto her, 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.’

Judges 16:17

Samson is unlike any other character in Scripture. Although the sphere in which he moved was a comparatively narrow one, he seems to have made a profound impression on the men of his time. The whole active life of Samson was spent in the district which bordered on the old Philistine frontier. He lived among the men of his own little tribe of Dan, and his history seems to have been compiled from its annals. His work consisted in a series of dashing exploits calculated to raise the hopes and spirits of his downtrodden countrymen, and to strike the Philistines with apprehension and terror, and thus he prepared the way for a more systematic and successful revolt in after times.

It was the turning-point in Samson’s career when he told his secret to Delilah. It was the passage of the Rubicon which separated his life of triumphant vigour from his life of humiliation and weakness. Until he spoke these words he was master of his destiny; after he had spoken them, nothing awaited him but disaster and death.

I. The first thing that strikes us in this account of Samson’s ruin is the possible importance of apparent trifles to the highest well-being of life and character.—Samson’s unshorn hair told other Israelites what to expect of him, and rebuked in his own conscience all in his life that was not in keeping with his Nazarite vow. The great gift of physical strength was attached to this one particular of Nazarite observation which did duty for all the rest. In itself it was a trifle whether his hair was cut or allowed to grow, but it was not a trifle in the light of these associations.

II. Samson’s history suggests the incalculably great influence which belongs to woman in controlling the characters and destinies of men.—Delilah is the ruin of Samson; Deborah is the making of Barak. Deborah’s song suggests what Samson might have been had Delilah been only as herself.

III. Nothing is more noteworthy in this history than the illustration it affords of the difference between physical and moral courage.—Samson had physical courage; it was the natural accompaniment of his extraordinary strength. But he lacked the moral strength which lies not in nerve, nor in brain, but in a humble yet vivid sense of the presence of God.

—Canon Liddon.


(1) ‘I remember receiving a letter from a friend who apologised for his handwriting by the following explanation. He was travelling down the Murray River in a steamboat. One of the floats had been washed off the paddle, and every time the water reached the vacant place the whole steamer was jerked. I thought that the incident suggested the cause of a good deal of weakness in men’s characters. They lose in the river of life one of the floats of the paddle, and their whole life is jerked each time the paddle revolves.’

(2) ‘The most tragic thing about sin is the fact that you cannot curtail its sequels. There is no such thing as a brief crime, contained in a single act. Just as from one coffee tree planted in South Africa there has arisen a whole forest of trees, so every sin propagates over an area impossible to limit. Samson was one of those sturdy giants who can do a cause so much good if their heart is captured for God. He was susceptible to the best, but in the end he was subdued by the worst. He prayed to the last moments of his life, yet what a humiliating end it was! Strength is not the greatest force in the world. The “irresistible might of weakness” has accomplished more than ignorant brute forces.’

(3) ‘Physical weakness cannot break moral strength, but moral weakness is constantly breaking down physical strength. It was so with Samson. He lay in Delilah’s lap, loving the woman who was liar and traitress both, and he in his folly opened his heart to her. One of the most common and fatal forms of moral weakness is betrayal of the inner secrets of life to the unworthy and unclean. And he paid the penalty. His strength was stolen from him. And so still, sin brings its consequences in weakness, in pain, in disease. And where these are not its penalties, they come nevertheless in some form of deterioration in the life.’

Verse 20


‘And he wist not that the Lord was departed from him.’

Judges 16:20

Of all the heroes whose exploits we read in the Book of Judges, none so keenly awakens our sympathy, or so fully arrests our attention, as that solitary hero, Samson. His life is no romance of the past, but it is a type and picture of your life and mine, with its difficulties, temptations, and dangers.

From the story of Samson we learn:—

I. The absolute necessity there is of our achieving a nobler morality, a higher level of religion, than is to be found in the mere conventional standards which are rife around us.—What was it made Samson strong? He refused to accept the low, degraded religious standard which his contemporaries were content with. To him nothing short of a real harmony between the promise of God and the fact of his people’s freedom would be satisfactory.

II. On no account sacrifice your convictions.—The conviction of Samson was that the dominion of God was absolute and irresistible, that the promises of God were true and everlastingly faithful. The force of conviction in your mind that Christ is true, that His Holy Spirit is a real power and influence in your heart, will make you strong, nay omnipotent, against all evil in the world.

III. Temptation comes gradually.—It seems like a sudden catastrophe when Samson, who had been the glory of his people, the very hero of Dan, is led a nerveless and enslaved captive into the dungeons of the Philistines. Yet the progress of sin was very gradual over his heart. Inch by inch Delilah wearied out the strength of resistance, and then came the terrible catastrophe.

IV. With every sin there comes a blunting of that moral capacity by which you detect its presence.—‘He wist not that the Lord was departed from him.’ No man is the same after sin; no man ever can be. Sow an act and reap a habit; sow a habit and reap a destiny.

V. Notice two thoughts arising from the story: (1) True convictions can be had from Christ alone. (2) Preserve the consecration of your whole life to Him.

—Bishop W. Boyd Carpenter.


(1) ‘The weak man thought himself strong. But his strength had resided in his cleanness and wholesomeness of life, and he had left them in Delilah’s lap with the locks of his hair, and knew not what he had lost until the hour of testing came, and he lost his sight with his strength, and ground as a slave in the prison-house at Gaza. The great power of life is moral power. Health, wealth, stature, beauty, talents of whatsoever sort, are of less worth than plain, stern strength of the moral life. The strong man, full of resources and the power that resources command, but destitute of moral faith and immovable principle, is a weak object in comparison with the child who possesses nothing but an uncompromising abhorrence of lies, and an inability to pursue a single course of dishonour.’

(2) ‘The same man may be morally weak and physically strong, or morally strong and physically weak. Samson illustrated the former combination. His own people and his enemies stood in awe of his arm, and one woman played with his will. Paul was an illustration of the second combination. In presence he said men might regard him as weak and contemptible, but the indomitable resolution, the rugged spiritual power, the irrefragable moral purpose of the little Jew of Tarsus are still the admiration and delight of men.’

(3) ‘By not curbing his passion Samson put a distance between himself and the Lord, just as one vessel drifts from another for want of constant signalling. Each one of us can by sin cut the connection between ourselves and God. Paul was conscious of this power when he said, “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.” He realised, too, the only way by which a man may avoid shipwreck, by bringing the body “into subjection.” What a leader was lost to the nation by the weak surrender of strong Samson! And through the centuries the same sad result has ended the career of many a strong, gifted man.’


Samson’s final entanglement, capture, blinding, and degradation are very significant.

I. How many are there among those who have been the devoted servants of God, who have similarly fallen under the power of passion!—They bade fair to do heroic service for their generation, but a face or figure fascinated them, and cast over them a fatal spell. Their friends saw and bewailed the awful fate, which, like an octopus, was casting its long arms around them to suck them under. From time to time they seem to have been themselves conscious of the peril and, like a dumb animal in a snare, to have made convulsive efforts to escape; but all in vain. It has appeared as though no influence could save them, and at last they have gone down with the Niagara torrent into the boiling cauldron at its foot, to emerge therefrom shorn of all spiritual power and wrecks of their former selves.

II. But even for these there is hope.—Though in the prison, treading to and fro on the beaten track, ill-fed, ill-kempt, and exposed to the mockery of his captors, Samson was able to review his past career, to see where he had failed, to understand the greatness of the opportunities which he had misused. It all stood out before his mental vision, and conscience accosted him with its searching exhortation of, ‘Son, remember!’ He became the subject of deep repentance. Turning to God, he confessed his sin with bitter shame and sorrow, and finally seems to have been restored to a measure of his former peace and power, as a sign whereof the hair of his head began to grow again.

Have you, too, misused your great opportunities, yielding to the Delilah spell, misusing your God-given faculty, and abusing your wonderful opportunities? Are you, too, grinding in some menial sphere, a prisoner in circumstances, a serf in drudgery, a poor jester, called in to make sport for the enemies of your God? It may not be possible to recover all the lost ground and stand where you stood once, but in answer to many tears and prayers the lost strength is coming back, the Spirit of God is inflating again the diseased lungs, the light is returning to the blinded eyes, the hair of consecration is beginning to cover again the brow with virile locks. Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven: like St. Peter you are restored; there awaits you one brief hour of glorious exploit, which shall be equivalent to all the past. He will render double unto you.


‘There are many ways in which God is excluded from a life. Pleasure may become idolatrous. I call to mind a gathering where missionary curios were exhibited. A Chinese god was an object of considerable amusement; but I thought that if the Chinese, on their part, were to make an exhibition of English gods, one of them surely would be a football. I do not decry athletics, far from it; but many a youth of our land thinks football all day, and dreams football through the night, from one week’s end to the other, and God is forgotten. In the midst of such forgetfulness the Lord departs from a man, and the tragedy of it lies in his ignorance of the fact. It is not a sudden event, but a gradual process.’


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Judges 16:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

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