I received the following question:

Is the story of Samson a case where suicide killing is advocated in the bible?

One thing to always remember when reading the history recorded in the Scriptures is not to assume that every action of every individual recorded in Scripture, be it the “hero” of the story or not, is necessarily something that the Scriptures support. Many times, the Scriptures record what occurred, without offering the Divine Author’s opinion of these things at all. Sometimes, of course, we are given such commentary, and so can speak with confidence regarding God’s opinion of events that transpired. On the other hand, many times we do not have God’s commentary upon what was occurring, but just a record of events. In these situations, we must use care before we rush in to proclaim that what the Bible character did was done on behalf of, or with the approval of, the Lord.

Now when it comes to those who are chosen to represent God specifically, like prophets or apostles, things change somewhat, as the actions of such men are often represented as being done on God’s behalf, or as a result of direct revelation from Him. It is clear that oftentimes such direction was given by God without it being commented upon in the text. Yet upon examining the record, we can see clearly that the prophet or apostle was acting as a representative of God directly.

In the book of Acts, this is certainly the case with those men called “apostles.” The book is the “Acts” of the apostles, and I believe that their very actions, and not just their words, were done by inspiration of God. Thus, our assumption with the apostles is to be that what they did, not just what they said, was all done with Divine approval, authority, and direction. Only when the text specifically declares something they did or said to be out of the will of God can we rightfully pass judgment upon what they did as wrong. An example is Peter’s actions in Galatians 2, which Paul (and the Spirit) condemned as being hypocritical and wrong.

Now Samson, as you know, was appointed by God to be the judge over His people at the time he ruled. Thus, his actions as judge would have been inspired by the Lord. Judges 15:20, “And he judged Israel twenty years in the days of the Philistines,” is enough to clue us in to this fact. Yet the question is, when Samson did what he did in committing suicide, was that done by the Lord’s direction? Was this the official action of a God-appointed judge?

The story of the fall of Samson that led to his death in the Philistine temple begins in chapter 16 with Samson’s return to the ways of his youth in loving Philistine women. This had been his great error in his early life, and in middle age, perhaps similar to the “middle age crisis” as it is called today, it seems that he went back to his old sexual ways. First, he visits a prostitute in Gaza, which he didn’t even do in his youth, as far as we can tell. Then, he “loved” the Philistine woman Delilah. God makes no comments upon this in the text of the story, but Deuteronomy 7:1-11 makes clear His prohibition regarding intermarriage with the peoples of the lands around Israel. Samson should not have done this. We can say this with certainty. And, of course, it was his association with this ungodly woman that led him to his defeat and captivity at the hands of the Philistines.

Finally, Samson’s suicide took place at his own request, and out of his own motivations. Yet it also served the purposes of God. Throughout the story of Samson, we can follow a contrast between Samson’s motivations and the Lord’s. For example, in Judges 14:4, we learn of the LORD’s working through Samson’s stubborn and ungodly resolve to marry a Philistine. The text there declares, “But his father and mother did not know that it was of the LORD—that He was seeking an occasion to move against the Philistines. For at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel.” So Samson’s parents were displeased by their son’s actions. Well they should have been, for they were ungodly, rebellious, and sinful. Yet the LORD knew that this was how He must move Samson to carry out His will, since Samson’s stubborn and self-centered outlook would have responded to nothing else. Samson’s only motivations here were that this girl was hot and he wanted her, but the LORD’s motivations worked through him in spite of that. The same, I believe, is true of Samson’s death.

Samson’s motivations behind his suicide are clear from the words of his last prayer to the LORD. He said, “O Lord GOD, remember me, I pray! Strengthen me, I pray, just this once, O God, that I may with one blow take vengeance on the Philistines for my two eyes!” Samson’s motivations here were typical of him. No repentance. No apology to the LORD for how he had messed things up by disobeying His commands. Only a desire for one last stroke of revenge against his tormentors. Samson also, it seems, did not wish to live without sight, so he went on to request, “Let me die with the Philistines!

The LORD’s motivations, however, also show through in the story here. For example, in Judges 16:22, it declares, “However, the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaven.” The LORD remembered His unique relationship with Samson, and His purposes in it, even when Samson did not. Serving the LORD and carrying out His will was far from his mind. He only wanted revenge against those who had wronged him. Yet the LORD worked through that desire to accomplish His will. For we read again in verse 30, “So the dead that he killed at his death were more than he had killed in his life.” The LORD accomplished His purposes in Samson in spite of who and what Samson was. How much better for Samson it would have been, however, if He could have accomplished His purposes for Samson through a willing and open heart!

Now the LORD granting Samson one last act of strength was a gracious thing, for Samson deserved nothing more than to stay in the situation he had gotten himself in. Yet this also served the LORD’s purposes through Samson. Samson’s request to die with the Philistines was also granted. Yet this may have been a pointless prayer. Once the roof fell in on him, his own death along with the Philistines would have been all but inevitable without the direct intervention of the LORD. Would the LORD have granted his request if he had asked to be spared from the death he meted out upon the Philistines? It is hard to say. But it is pretty clear that without Samson making any request, that he still would have surely died along with the Philistines. So whether his death was an answer to this request or not is, I think, not clear. What his last words do tell us is Samson’s attitude at his death. More appropriate would have been a cry for forgiveness to the LORD. An apology for a life wasted. A plea for mercy and remembrance in the life to come. None of these things escaped Samson’s lips at this final moment. Only one last, bitter request to die along with his hated enemies, rather than living without his pride. This is the deepest, and perhaps the saddest, lesson contained in these last words of Samson, regardless of whether this request had anything to do with the fact that he did die. Samson remained unsubmissive and self-centered to the last. He learned nothing from all the trouble he caused himself. Let us not be like him, but be yielded to the LORD. Anything else will only hurt ourselves!

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