Samson is an Old Testament character that is often depicted from the pulpit as a womanizer of marginal character. However, there seems to be a growing perspective that Samson foreshadows first advent Christ. Is there any record in Church history that would support this growing perspective?
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Early Christian theologians find many analogies or types of Christ, the church, and the world in the story of Samson. Samson himself is often seen to be a type of Christ, but other times, he is considered a type of the church or even the world. Caesarius of Arles (468–542) writes extensively on the analogies he sees in Samson's story, and summarizes his method of analysis:
This is an important point: the authors identifying Samson with Christ do not do so blindly. Their methods of biblical interpretation allow a variety of images to be drawn from the text, and sometimes more than one. One stark example will suffice for our purposes here: when Samson kills the lion in Judges 14:5–9, Caesarius sees the lion as an image of Christ, since "to us Christ is a lion in whose mouth we found the food of honey after His death" (119.1). Conversely, Samson, far from typifying Jesus, is said to represent the "Jewish people who killed Christ" (119.2). However, as we'll see, other writers make different connections in this particular story.
Turning now specifically to the connections drawn between Christ and Samson, we can put them into a few categories:
One place where Caesarius sees Samson representing Jesus is in his relationship with his Philistine wife. Like Christ, Samson takes a sinful bride:
The analogy is extended to Samson's friend, who took away Samson's wife:
Samson's humiliation and death
Samson's final humiliation begins when his hair is cut in Judges 16:18–21. Caesarius writes that the strength found in Samson's hair is analogous to the "strength in a covering" that Jesus had "when the shadows of the old law protected him." When the law was rejected by the killers of Christ, he suffered, and his purpose was revealed, like Samson suffered and had his secret exposed when his "covering" was cut. (118.6)
This humiliation led to Samson's imprisonment and death, paralleling Christ's:
Samson's victories over enemies
Unlike Caesarius, Ephrem the Syrian sees Samson as an type of Christ in his defeat of the lion:
Philistines with the jawbone
Caesarius notes several places where Samson's victory over his enemies parallels that of Christ. For example, his defeat of 1,000 Philistines in Judges 15:14–16:
Philistines and their gates
Samson's capture and subsequent victory over the Philistines in Judges 16:1–3 is explained by Gregory the Great as an image of Christ's death and resurrection:
Caesarius sees matters similarly, and, like Gregory, extends the image to include the ascension:
Philistines in death
Of course, Samson's greatest victory is associated with his death, like Christ's:
Ephrem connects the freedom Samson purchases with his life to that of Christ:
Christian theologians in the fourth century identified Samson with Christ in particular ways, and additional analogies were developed by authors in the centuries immediately following. In particular, the humiliation and victories of Samson lend themselves to parallels with the humiliation and final victory of Christ.
References and notes:
Samson was a womanizer and adulterer but he did have faith and faith pleases God. He is marginally mentioned in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11. Samuel and David have many more word hits in the New Testament. Gedeon, Barak and Jephthae are also only mentioned in this one passage in the New Testament. That does not mean there are not lessons to be learned as verse 34 of Hebrews 11 is dedicated to warriors of the faith but the emphasis is placed on what they did through faith rather than their character. Samson's birth was foretold by an angel, he did some things correct by faith, he was an imperfect deliverer and he died of his own fault serving God. Christ's birth was foretold by an angle, he did every perfectly and in faith and he died not of his own faults but for the sins of others delivering them perfectly serving God.
The story of Samson throughout the Bible supports this perspective:
Samson is unique: He is mentioned as one of the Faithful in Hebrews 11 and God never once chastises Samson for His behavior. What follows is a line by line commentary on how the life of Samson and the life of Christ parallel:
Note: Samson seeks a wife outside of his own kind in the same way Jesus Christ sought His bride of humanity outside of His divine heritage. God sought an occasion against the Philistines and he also sought an occasion against the satanic realm by betrothing His Son to a bride that belonged to the world. The Philistines typically represent the “satanic realm” or that which belongs to it.
Note: Many assume Samson disobeyed the Nazarite requirement of not touching a dead thing. We see that he took the honey, which does not necessarily mean he touched the carcass.
Note: Jesus Christ is the “Lion of Judah” and from His broken body (death) comes grace (Jhn 6:55 “is meat indeed”) that is sweeter than honey!
Note: Humanity (in Eden) was unfaithful to God; trusting in the words of the serpent rather than in the “Word of God”. This resulted in mankind being handed over to Satan, the “prince of this world”. Samson’s intended was unfaithful to him as well when she revealed what he had asked her to withhold. This resulted in her being handed over to Samson’s best man from his own wedding party (a type of Lucifer).
Note: While out collecting a bridal debt for his in-laws, Samson’s father-in-law gave his daughter to another man. Her younger sister was offered to Samson as a substitute, with no recorded outcome. This is similar to Christ’s 1st Advent when He was scorned and wifeless.
Note: Here Samson uses the craftiness of the fox to execute judgment upon the worldly provision of the Philistines.
Note: Jesus Christ turned the tables on the Pharisees (the establishment) by surrendering to an unjust execution, which transferred the right of judgment into His hands. The victim of injustice is the only one that can legitimately administer judgment and forgiveness!
Note: Firebrand (Strong’s # 3940) is often translated as lamp, but always signifies God’s work, just as in
Note: Jesus Christ in His 1st Advent is the lamp spoken of by Isaiah and the firebrand caught between two world systems (Rome and Pharisaical Israel).
Note: Samson made sure that his own people did not harm him and ultimately gave his life while in Philistine captivity. Likewise, Jesus was arrested by a mob of His own people and died voluntarily in the hands of His enemy!
Note: David is often thought of as a type of 2nd advent Christ, in fact it was for a king like David that Israel was looking for. David’s first weapon against the Philistines was a rock, which he used to defeat Goliath (a type of Satanic realm). David, by using a rock, makes a direct connection with Christ who is the “Rock”, or Petra. All the victories that 2nd Advent Christ will realize are built upon the foundation of His 1st Advent work.
Note: In the balance of King David’s conquest, the most striking contrast between he and Samson is their choice of weapons. Later, David fought with a sword and Samson fought with his only hand-held weapon, the jawbone of a donkey. Note: Jesus Christ in His 2nd Advent will conquer with a sword. In the book of Revelation, He uses the “sword of the Spirit” to execute judgement.
Note: In contrast, the donkey is the premier beast of burden throughout the Bible. Jesus Christ came initially to bear the burden of sin in the world. Samson’s wielding the jawbone of a donkey (in-lieu of a sword) prophesied that the bearing of sin (underpinned by the word of truth) produced Christ’s victory in his 1st Advent.
Note: The hollow place that opened up in the jawbone (Judges 15:19) is like the leaven of Jesus Christ in contrast to the leaven of the Pharisees. The leaven of the Pharisees (sin) results in death, while the leaven of Jesus Christ (righteousness) results in eternal life.
Note: Leaven is used in parables to show the infectious aspects of either sin or righteousness. It is from the hollow place (vacuum) caused by the sinless death of Jesus Christ, that eternal life flows and is dispersed throughout this temporal realm. The penalty of sin is death (a=life; b=sin; c=death; a+b=c; c-b=a), thus a sinless death results in eternal life.
Note: Many commentators believe Samson went into the harlot’s home for sexual gratification. This reads more into the scriptures than they actually reveal. Samson was the Philistine’s single greatest adversary; he more likely took refuge with her until midnight. Jesus Christ was also falsely accused because of the company He kept.
Note: The Cross-is our door into the eternal realm. Jesus Christ carried His door (the cross) on His back up to the hill of Cavalry, just as Samson carried the city door on his back and set it upon a hill. The Jews should have recognized the significance of this act. By taking the door (post, bar and all), he makes a connection to their own Passover, where the lamb’s blood was placed on the post and lintel of the door so the “angel of death” would pass over them.
Note: Jesus, like Samson, was betrayed by a fellow Jew for silver!
Note: Jesus was tempted three times and He withheld the source of His power until His “time had come”.
Finally, you be the judge:
Two wooden pillars hold up the balcony in the Philistine arena. Today, an Israelite named Samson, with arms spread wide is tied in-between those pillars. He is to serve as a novelty, to be made sport of for the sake of Philistine entertainment. The Philistines dominated Samson’s world. Arenas of amusement nurtured their social arrogance. They were a people that defied the God of Israel and mocked His children. This was a special day, for the Philistine’s greatest adversary was under their control. His eyes had been gouged out and he appeared to be powerless against their taunts. The Philistines could see Samson praying to his God, and this incensed the crowd all the more, for their god had been victorious over the God of Israel, having delivered Samson over to them. Dagon, the Philistine’s god, had discovered, through betrayal, the source of Samson’s strength. It was his hair, his covering since birth. Once his hair was cut from him he would become like every other man, helpless. However, one thing had gone unnoticed, his hair once again covered his head!
In Hell, demons shouted with joy, for their greatest adversary, Jesus Christ, had been captured. His Father for the first time had been cut off from Him. He was Spiritually isolated and blinded to any possible escape from His abductors. Satan’s empire was built upon two simple laws; the first “all have sinned” and the second “the penalty for sin is death” (which is separation from the Creator). Now he held the very “Son of God” captive by sin and its penalty. Mysteriously, with arms spread wide, sin came upon the Son while He hung upon the cross. This amazed Satan for he had no record of God’s Son having ever sinned.
The Philistines were startled; those in the upper deck sensed it first. It was almost undetectable, a feeling of instability, a gentle movement. Suddenly, all realized Samson had dislodged the two center pillars that the arena rested upon. Just as quickly, a loud crash and total annihilation consumed all within the facility. It was finished. Samson, in his death was more victorious than in his entire life.
Suddenly, the Spirit of God engulfs Hell and the Father is immediately reunited with His Son. Hell begins to tremble as the Son of God stirs, and the two pillars of sin and death begin to wobble. Confusion ensues as the law of sin and death give way. Satan’s legal claim on the captives of sin and death collapses and his prison is destroyed. God’s truth radiantly reveals that while the penalty for sin is death, a sinless death offers eternal life! Creation once again can be restored to its Creator!