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Samson’s incredible strength leads to his eventual downfall

Whenever we read the Samson stories in my Old Testament class, the students eat it up, especially the boys. In brief, here's an outline of the tale.

Samson is born to a nameless woman who has not conceived children with her husband Manoah. One day an angel appears to Manoah's wife and tells her that she will indeed bear a son. However, this son will be consecrated to God, and so the child's hair is not to be cut. Ever. Sure enough, the woman gives birth to a boy, and the boy is named Samson.

Years pass. Samson falls for a Philistine (non-Jewish) woman and wants to marry her. Mom and dad are not pleased their son is marrying outside of Judaism. Samson insists. So mom, dad and Samson meander to the town where the Philistine woman resides. Along the way, a lion confronts the trio. With no weapon in hand, Samson tears the lion apart with his bare hands.

In an unexplained sequence of events, Samson later returns to the carcass of this lion. He notices bees have nested in the carcass and have produced honey. Samson scoops up the honey from the carcass with his bare hands and eats it. Ever the thoughtful son, Samson brings some of the honey for his parents to eat. They do, but Samson fails to tell mom and dad whence the honey came.

Time for the wedding to the Philistine woman. Thirty men are brought to Samson to be his companions during the customary seven-day wedding party. Jubilant, Samson offers a riddle to his new found friends. He offers thirty linen tunics and thirty sets of garments to anyone who can solve the riddle. If they cannot, they must provide him with the same. "You're on!" they cry.

Seven days pass and the thirty men cannot solve the riddle. Finally, after continual harping from his new wife, Samson tells her the answer. She immediately blabs it to her fellow Philistines who in turn confront Samson with the correct answer. True to his word, Samson coughs up the terms of the wager, but does so by killing thirty men in another town. He strips the dead of their clothes and gives the garments to his thirty new friends. Angry about losing the bet, Samson stomps back home to mom and dad.

Time passes, and Samson cools off. Sort of. Samson returns to his wife's town, knocks on the door of his father-in-law's house and bluntly tells the father, "Let me be with my wife in private." The old man tells the randy Samson that his daughter has been married off to another man. "I thought it certain you wished to repudiate her," says the old man. Samson is displeased. Not wanting to be totally insensitive to Samson's plight, the old man offers the wife's younger sister to Samson as a sop, and in order to sweeten the offer, the old man says, "She is more beautiful." Samson refuses. Who did Samson's wife marry? Samson's best man at Samson wedding. Ouch!

Now Samson is really mad. In revenge, Samson catches three hundred foxes. He ties torches to the tails of all these foxes. Next, he sets the torches on fire. Three hundred foxes tear off into the Philistine's fields of grain in a vain effort to extinguish the fire that is burning their rear-ends. In doing so, the foxes light fires throughout the fields of grain. The fields burn down.

This, of course, does not go over well with the Philistines. A thousand or so angry Philistine men swarm upon Samson. Undaunted, Samson makes use of the nearest weapon at hand to pulverize these Philistines. That weapon is the jawbone of an ass. Samson slays them all with it.

Not seemingly tuckered out from killing scores of Philistines, Samson goes to Gaza where he shacks up with a harlot. Catching wind that Samson is with said harlot, a group of Philistine men surrounds the city gate and lies in wait for him. About midnight, Samson departs in a huff from the arms of the prostitute. Whether the tryst didn't turn out as planned or whether he is privy to the Philistine's stakeout is not clear. But whatever the reason, Samson leaves in a foul mood. How foul? Well, he seizes the door of the city gate, tears it loose with his bare hands, hoists both the door and the gateposts onto his shoulders and stomps off to Hebron.

After that Samson falls in love with Delilah. She snips off a lock of his hair one day when Samson was napping with his head in her lap. Having lost his great strength due to his hair being cut, the Philistines finally subdue their foe. They gouge out his eyes. They make him play the buffoon. But Samson's hair grows back, and in a final act of strength Samson fells the great stone pagan temple in which he and three thousand Philistines are gathered. All die.

Now I'm telling you: you can't beat a story like that. The boys in class love it. The girls are mystified. Of all the stories we read in the Old Testament, that one wins hands down.

And that's why it's one of my favorite Bible stories. What's yours?


Deacon Mark Plaiss teaches in the Department of Religious Studies at Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein, IL. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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