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?
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:
What was the meaning of Samson? If I say he signified Christ, it seems to me that I speak the truth. However, the thought immediately occurs to anyone who reflects: Was Christ overcome by the flattery of a woman? How is Christ understood to have gone in to a harlot? [...] Inasmuch as Samson performed virtues and miracles he prefigured Christ, the head of the Church. When he acted prudently, he was an image of those who live justly in the Church, but when he was overtaken and acted carelessly, he represented those who are sinners in the Church. (118.3)1
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:
- Samson's wife
- Samson's humiliation
- Samson's victories over his enemies
One place where Caesarius sees Samson representing Jesus is in his relationship with his Philistine wife. Like Christ, Samson takes a sinful bride:
The harlot whom Samson married is the Church which committed fornication with idols before knowing one God, but which Christ afterwards united to Himself. (118.3)
The analogy is extended to Samson's friend, who took away Samson's wife:
Then follow the words: 'Samson was angry because a friend married his wife.' This friend prefigured all heretics. It is a great mystery, my brethren. Heretics who divide the Church have wanted to marry the wife of the Lord and carry her away. (118.4)
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 was condemned to prison, while Christ deigned to descend into hell. Samson extended his hands to the pillars, and the house of the Philistines fell with its princes; Christ stretched out His hands to the two beams of the cross as to two pillars, overthrowing and destroying the house or kingdom of the devil and his angels. (120.4)
Notice here an image of the cross. Samson extends his hands spread out to the two columns as to the two beams of the cross. (118.6)
Samson's victories over enemies
Unlike Caesarius, Ephrem the Syrian sees Samson as an type of Christ in his defeat of the lion:
The Nazirite, Samson, gazed at the type
of Your courage. He tore the lion apart,
the likeness of death. You ripped [death] asunder
and made the sweet life emerge
from its bitterness for human beings3
Who was in Samson, when he killed the lion that met him as he went to get a wife among strangers, but He who, when going to call His Church from among the Gentiles, said, "Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world?"4
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:
Before the coming of Christ all the Gentiles were torn to pieces by the devil and lay scattered like dry bones form the ass's body, but when Christ the true Samson came, He seized them all in His holy hands. He restored them to the hands of His power, and with them overcame His and our adversaries. (119.4)
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:
What does the city of Gaza signify, if not hell, the abode of the dead? What is shown by the Philistines, if not the mistaken confidence of the Jews? For, when the Jews saw that the Lord was dead, and his body placed in the tomb, they posted guards around it. They were delighted that Jesus, whom the author of life had glorified, was now held captive by the gates of death, just as the Philistines were exultant that they had imprisoned Samson in Gaza. However, in the middle of the night, Samson not only escaped, but carried the gates away with him. Just so did our Redeemer, rising against before it was light, not only walk free out of death and of hell, but also destroy hell's very gates.5
Caesarius sees matters similarly, and, like Gregory, extends the image to include the ascension:
Moreover, he removed the city gates, that is, He took away the gates of hell. What does it mean to remove the gates of hell, except to take away the power of death? He took it away and did not return it. Furthermore, what did our Lord Jesus Christ do after He had taken away the gates of death? He went up to the top of a mountain. Truly, we know that He both arose and ascended into heaven. (118.5)
Philistines in death
Of course, Samson's greatest victory is associated with his death, like Christ's:
In the fact that he is written to have destroyed more enemies at his death than he struck before in the whole course of his life, the mystery of the Lord's Passion is shown, for through it the house of the devil fell and the kingdom of death was shattered. (120.4)
Ephrem connects the freedom Samson purchases with his life to that of Christ:
Samson is a type of the death of Christ the high priest:
Samson's death returns prisoners to their towns,
whereas the High Priest's death has returned us to our heritage6
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:
- Caesarius of Arles, Sermons 118, 119, and 120, in Sermons, Volume 2
- Ambrose teaches on Samson in On the Holy Spirit, Book II, but does not connect Samson to Christ in the same way as do the other authors here. Jerome says that "every one of the popular leaders" in Judges is a type of some kind in Letter 53. Samson receives only fleeting mention in the surviving writigs of the earliest fathers.
- Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns, Hymn 13.4, 137
- Augustine, Reply to Faustus, Book XII, §32
- Gregory the Great, Forty Gospel Homilies, 21, in Reading the Gospels with Gregory the Great, 36
- Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns on Paradise, 13.12.13, in Ancient Christian Commentary, 167
Heb 11:32 And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: Heb 11:33 Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Heb 11:34 Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Heb 11:35 Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: Heb 11:36 And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: Heb 11:37 They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; Heb 11:38 (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. Heb 11:39 And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: Heb 11:40 God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.
Heb 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
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:
Judges 14:1-4 https://www.blueletterbible.org/kjv/jdg/14/1/s_225001
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.
Judges 14:5-9 www.blueletterbible.org/kjv/jdg/14/5/s_225005
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.
Judges 14:10-14 www.blueletterbible.org/kjv/jdg/14/10/s_225010
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!
Revelation 5:5 And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.
1 Corinthians 11:24 And when he had given thanks, he brake [it], and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.
Judges 14:15-20 www.blueletterbible.org/kjv/jdg/14/15/s_225015
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).
Judges 15:1-2 www.blueletterbible.org/kjv/jdg/15/1/s_226001
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.
Judges 15:3-5 www.blueletterbible.org/kjv/jdg/15/3/s_226003
Note: Here Samson uses the craftiness of the fox to execute judgment upon the worldly provision of the Philistines.
Mathew 8:20 And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath no where to lay His head.***
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
Isaiah 62:1 For Zion's sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp  [that] burneth.
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).
Luke 13:32 And he said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox (Herod), Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to day and to morrow, and the third [day] I shall be perfected.
Luke 23:12 And the same day Pilate and Herod (foxes, tail to tail) were made friends together: for before they were at enmity between themselves.***
Judges 15:6-13 www.blueletterbible.org/kjv/jdg/15/6/s_226006
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!
Judges 15:14-16 www.blueletterbible.org/kjv/jdg/15/14/s_226014
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.
Revelation 19:15 And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.
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.
John 1:14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
Judges 15:17-19 www.blueletterbible.org/kjv/jdg/15/17/s_226017
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.
Leviticus 23:16,17 Even unto the morrow after the seventh Sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the LORD. Ye shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals: they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baken with leaven; [they are] the firstfruits unto the LORD.
Mathew 13:3 Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.
Leviticus 10:12 And Moses spake unto Aaron, and unto Eleazar and unto Ithamar, his sons that were left, Take the meat offering that remaineth of the offerings of the LORD made by fire, and eat it without leaven beside the altar: for it [is] most holy:
Matthew 16:6 Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.
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.
John 4:10 Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.
Revelation 22:1 And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.***
Judges 15:20 And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years.
Judges 16:1 Then went Samson to Gaza, and saw there an harlot, and went in unto her.
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.
Mathew 11:19 The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners.
Judges 16:2-3 www.blueletterbible.org/kjv/jdg/16/2/s_227002
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.
John 10:9 I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.
Judges 16:4-5 www.blueletterbible.org/kjv/jdg/16/4/s_227004
Note: Jesus, like Samson, was betrayed by a fellow Jew for silver!
Judges 16:6-16 www.blueletterbible.org/kjv/jdg/16/6/s_227006
Note: Jesus was tempted three times and He withheld the source of His power until His “time had come”.
Judges 16:17-30 www.blueletterbible.org/kjv/jdg/16/17/s_227017
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!
1 Corinthians 15:55-58 O death, where [is] thy sting? O grave, where [is] thy victory? The sting of death [is] sin; and the strength of sin [is] the law. But thanks [be] to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.
Rev 1:18 I [am] he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.
Rev 20:14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.**