As was the case through most of the era of The Judges, the Israelite unfaithfulness continued, so The Lord gave them the trouble that they were, in effect, asking for: "And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of The Lord; and The Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years" (Judges 13:1 RSV). This time, their deliverer would be a miraculously-born Nazirite - Samson (pronounced in Hebrew as shim-shone), one of the most famous men of the Old Testament era (interestingly, one of the most famous men of God in the New Testament era, John the Baptist, also lived as a Nazirite, and was also born of a miracle from a past child-bearing woman - see The Other Miraculous Birth and the Fact Finder question below).
"And there was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren and had no children. And the angel of The Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, "Behold, you are barren and have no children; but you shall conceive and bear a son. Therefore beware, and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for lo, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from birth; and he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines." (Judges 13:2-5 RSV)
Samson was born as The Lord declared. His birthplace was about half way between Jerusalem and The Mediterranean Sea.
"And the woman bore a son, and called his name Samson; and the boy grew, and The Lord blessed him. And the Spirit of The Lord began to stir him in Mahanehdan, between Zorah and Eshtaol." (Judges 13:24-25 RSV)
Judges Chapter 14
Samson became fond of the Philistine women of Gaza (Samson was of the tribe of Dan; Dan's southern tribal territory was adjacent to Gaza, a Philistine territory - see Tribal Lands), much to the distress of his parents. How, or why, did the Holy Spirit in Samson ("the Spirit of The Lord began to stir him") allow him to involve himself with the Philistines? "His father and mother did not know that it was from The Lord; for He was seeking an occasion against the Philistines. At that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel" (Judges 14:4 RSV).
"Samson went down to Timnah, and at Timnah he saw one of the daughters of the Philistines. Then he came up, and told his father and mother, "I saw one of the daughters of the Philistines at Timnah; now get her for me as my wife." (Judges 14:1-2 RSV)
Although Samson was a strong man, his greatest physical strength came from The Lord, as shown in this example of when Samson was attacked by a lion: "the Spirit of The Lord came mightily upon him, and he tore the lion asunder" (keeping in mind that The Lord chose Samson for a specific purpose).
"Then Samson went down with his father and mother to Timnah, and he came to the vineyards of Timnah. And behold, a young lion roared against him; and the Spirit of The Lord came mightily upon him, and he tore the lion asunder as one tears a kid; and he had nothing in his hand. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done. Then he went down and talked with the woman; and she pleased Samson well.
Samson made a riddle out of the strange experience of finding honey in the lion; he wagered the meaning of the riddle with his new Philistine in-laws. When they couldn't find the answer, they used his Philistine wife to plead the answer out of him. Samson gave in, and lost the wager - while producing his well-known "If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have found out my riddle."
"She wept before him the seven days that their feast lasted; and on the seventh day he told her, because she pressed him hard. Then she told the riddle to her countrymen. And the men of the city said to him on the seventh day before the sun went down, "What is sweeter than honey? What is stronger than a lion?"
Samson then responded according to The Lord's purpose for Samson (i.e. "His father and mother did not know that it was from The Lord; for He was seeking an occasion against the Philistines," quoted above). Samson's new wife (not the infamous Delilah, who would come along later) then married another man.
"And the Spirit of The Lord came mightily upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon and killed thirty men of the town, and took their spoil and gave the festal garments to those who had told the riddle. In hot anger he went back to his father's house. And Samson's wife was given to his companion, who had been his best man." (Judges 14:19-20 RSV)
Judges Chapter 15
Samson later went to reconcile with his Philistine wife, only to discover that she was then married to someone else.
"After a while, at the time of wheat harvest, Samson went to visit his wife with a kid; and he said, "I will go in to my wife in the chamber." But her father would not allow him to go in. And her father said, "I really thought that you utterly hated her; so I gave her to your companion. Is not her younger sister fairer than she? Pray take her instead." (Judges 15:1-2 RSV)
Samson's response was exactly in keeping with what The Lord had intended for Samson to be - God "was seeking an occasion against the Philistines." Samson set fire to the Philistine wheat crop.
"And Samson said to them, "This time I shall be blameless in regard to the Philistines, when I do them mischief." So Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took torches; and he turned them tail to tail, and put a torch between each pair of tails. And when he had set fire to the torches, he let the foxes go into the standing grain of the Philistines, and burned up the shocks and the standing grain, as well as the olive orchards." (Judges 15:3-5 RSV)
The Philistines responded by sending troops into Judah. The men of Judah surrendered Samson (who was of the tribe of Dan - although Samson was a fellow Israelite) to the Philistines, but Samson didn't need their help anyway. The Lord had brought it all about, and it was The Lord who gave Samson what he needed to do what The Lord wanted him to do. Again, the source of Samson's "superhuman" strength was exactly that - the Holy Spirit. Samson broke his bonds and killed a thousand Philistines with a donkey's jawbone.
"Then three thousand men of Judah went down to the cleft of the rock of Etam, and said to Samson, "Do you not know that the Philistines are rulers over us? What then is this that you have done to us?"
Fact Finder: Did John the Baptist, the "Elijah to come," live as a Nazirite?