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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature
Sam´son. This celebrated champion and judge of Israel, was the son of Manoah, of the tribe of Dan, and born A.M. 2848, of a mother whose name is nowhere given in the Scriptures. His birth was announced by a heavenly messenger, who declared to his mother that the child with which she was pregnant was to be a son, who should be a Nazarite from his birth, upon whose head no razor was to come, and who was to prove a signal deliverer to his people. She was directed, accordingly, to conform her own regimen to the tenor of the Nazarite law, and strictly abstain from wine and all intoxicating liquor, and from every species of impure food [NAZARITE]. According to the 'prophecy going before upon him,' Samson was born in the following year, and his destination to great achievements began to evince itself at a very early age by the illapses of superhuman strength which came from time to time upon him. Those specimens of extraordinary prowess, of which the slaying of the lion at Timnath without weapons was one, were doubtless the result of that special influence of the Most High which is referred to in .
As the position of the tribe of Dan, bordering upon the territory of the Philistines, exposed them especially to the predatory incursions of this people, it was plainly the design of heaven to raise up a deliverer in that region where he was most needed. The Philistines, therefore, became very naturally the objects of that retributive course of proceedings in which Samson was to be the principal actor, and upon which he could only enter by seeking some occasion of exciting hostilities that would bring the two peoples into direct collision. Such an occasion was afforded by his meeting with one of the daughters of the Philistines at Timnath, whom he besought his parents to procure for him in marriage.
At his wedding-feast, the attendance of a large company of friends of the bridegroom, convened ostensibly for the purpose of honoring his nuptials, but in reality to keep an insidious watch upon his movements, furnished the occasion of a common Oriental device for enlivening entertainments of this nature. He propounded a riddle, the solution of which referred to his obtaining a quantity of honey from the carcass of a slain lion, and the clandestine manner in which his guests got possession of the clue to the enigma cost thirty Philistines their lives. The next instance of his vindictive policy was prompted by the ill-treatment which he had received at the hands of his father-in-law, who, upon a frivolous pretext, had given away his daughter in marriage to another man, and was executed by securing a multitude of foxes, or rather jackals, and, by tying firebrands to their tails, setting fire to the cornfields of his enemies. The indignation of the Philistines, on discovering the author of the outrage, vented itself upon the family of his father-in-law, who had been the remote occasion of it, in the burning of their house, in which both father and daughter perished. This was a fresh provocation, for which Samson threatened to be revenged; and thereupon falling upon them without ceremony he smote them, as it is said, 'hip and thigh with a great slaughter.'
Having subsequently taken up his residence in the rock Etam, he was thence dislodged by consenting to a pusillanimous arrangement on the part of his own countrymen, by which he agreed to surrender himself in bonds provided they would not themselves fall upon him and kill him. Being brought in this apparently helpless condition to a place called from the event Lehi, a jaw, his preternatural potency suddenly put itself forth, and snapping the cords asunder, and snatching up the jaw-bone of an ass, he dealt so effectually about him, that a thousand men were slain on the spot. That this was altogether the work, not of man, but of God, was soon demonstrated. Wearied with his exertions, the illustrious Danite became faint from thirst, and as there was no water in the place, he prayed that a fountain might be opened. His prayer was heard; God caused a stream to gush from a hollow rock hard by, and Samson in gratitude gave it the name of Enhakkore, a word that signifies 'the well of him that prayed,' and which continued to be the designation of the fountain ever after.
The Philistines were from this time held in such contempt by their victor, that he went openly into the city of Gaza, where he seems to have suffered himself weakly to be drawn into the company of a woman of loose character, the yielding to whose enticements exposed him to the most imminent peril. His presence being soon noised abroad, an attempt was made during the night forcibly to detain him, by closing the gates of the city and making them fast; but Samson, apprised of it, rose at midnight, and breaking away bolts, bars, and hinges, departed, carrying the gates upon his shoulders, to the top of a neighboring hill that looks towards Hebron (not 'before Hebron,' as the words are rendered in the Authorized Version). After this his enemies strove to entrap him by guile rather than by violence; and they were too successful in the end. Falling in love with a woman of Sorek, named Delilah, he became so infatuated by his passion, that nothing but his bodily strength could equal his mental weakness. The princes of the Philistines, aware of Samson's infirmity, determined by means of it to get possession, if possible, of his person. For this purpose they propose a tempting bribe to Delilah, and she enters at once into the treacherous compact. She employs all her art and blandishments to worm from him the secret of his prodigious strength. Having for some time amused her with fictions, he at last, in moment of weakness, disclosed to her the fact that it lay in his hair, which if it were shaved would leave him a mere common man. Not that his strength really lay in his hair, for this in fact had no natural influence upon it one way or the other. His strength arose from his relation to God as a Nazarite and the preservation of his hair unshorn was the mark or sign of his Nazariteship, and a pledge on the part of God of the continuance of his miraculous physical powers. If he lost this sign, the badge of his consecration, he broke his vow, and consequently forfeited the thing signified. God abandoned him, and he was thenceforward no more, in this respect, than an ordinary man. His treacherous paramour seized the first opportunity of putting his declaration to the test. She shaved his head while he lay sleeping in her lap, and at a concerted signal he was instantly arrested by his enemies lying in wait. Having so long presumptuously played with his ruin, Heaven leaves him to himself, as a punishment for his former guilty indulgence. He is made to reap as he had sown, and is consigned to the hands of his relentless foes. His punishment was indeed severe, though he amply revenged it, as well as redeemed in a measure his own honor, by the manner in which he met his death. The Philistines having deprived him of sight, at first immured him in a prison, and made him grind at the mill like a slave, thus reducing him to the lowest state of degradation and shame.
In process of time, while remaining in this confinement, his hair recovered its growth, and with it such a profound repentance seems to have wrought in his heart as virtually reinvested him with the character and the powers he had so culpably lost. Of this fact his enemies were not aware. Still exulting in their possession of the great scourge of their nation, they kept him, like a wild beast, for mockery and insult. On one of these occasions, when an immense multitude, including the princes and nobles of the Philistines, were convened in a large amphitheater, to celebrate a feast in honor of their god Dagon, who had delivered their adversary into their hands, Samson was ordered to be brought out to be made a laughing-stock to his enemies, a butt for their scoffs, insults, mockeries, and merriment. Secretly determined to use his recovered strength to tremendous effect, he persuaded the boy who guided his steps to conduct him to a spot where he could reach the two pillars upon which the roof of the building chiefly rested. Here, after pausing for a short time, while he prefers a brief prayer to Heaven, he grasps the massy pillars, and bowing with resistless force, the whole building rocks and totters, and the roof, encumbered with the weight of the spectators, rushes down, and the whole assembly, including Samson himself, are crushed to pieces in the ruin.
Thus terminated the career of one of the most remarkable personages of all history, whether sacred or profane. The enrolment of his name by an apostolic pen () in the list of the ancient worthies, 'who had by faith obtained an excellent repute,' warrants us undoubtedly to entertain a favorable estimate of his character on the whole,' while at the same time the fidelity of the inspired narrative has perpetuated the record of infirmities which must for ever mar the luster of his noble deeds.
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Samson'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​kbe/​s/samson.html.