He judged Israel twenty years - It is difficult to ascertain the time of Samson's magistracy, and the extent of country over which he presided. His jurisdiction seems to have been very limited, and to have extended no farther than over those parts of the tribe of Dan contiguous to the land of the Philistines. This is what our margin intimates on Judges 15:20. Many suppose that he and Eli were contemporaries, Samson being rather an executor of the Divine justice upon the enemies of his people, than an administrator of the civil and religious laws of the Hebrews. Allowing Eli and Samson to have been contemporaries, this latter part might have been entirely committed to the care of Eli. Samson does not appear to have left any posterity. His amours with the different women mentioned in the history were unproductive as to issue. Had he married according to the laws of his country, he would have been both a more useful and a more happy man, and not have come to a violent death.
We seldom find much mental energy dwelling in a body that in size and bulk greatly surpasses the ordinary pitch of man; and wherever there are great physical powers, we seldom find proportionate moral faculties. Samson was a man of a little mind, a slave to his passions, and the wretched dupe of his mistresses. He was not a great though he was a strong man; and even his muscular force would have been lost, or spent in beating the air, had he not been frequently under the impulse of the Divine Spirit. He often got himself into broils and difficulties from which nothing but supernatural interposition could have saved him. His attacks upon the Philistines were never well planned, as he does not appear to have asked counsel from God; indeed, he seems to have consulted nothing but his own passions, particularly those of inordinate love and revenge; and the last effort of his extraordinary strength was, not to avenge his people for the oppressions which they had suffered under the Philistinian yoke, nor to avenge the quarrel of God's covenant against the enemies of his truth, but to be avenged of the Philistines for the loss of his two eyes.
Samson is a solemn proof how little corporeal prowess avails where judgment and prudence are wanting, and how dangerous all such gifts are in the hands of any man who has not his passions under proper discipline, and the fear of God continually before his eyes.
A parallel has been often drawn between Samson and our blessed Lord, of whom he has been supposed to be a most illustrious type. By a fruitful imagination, and the torture of words and facts, we may force resemblances everywhere; but that not one will naturally result from a cool comparison between Jesus Christ and Samson, is most demonstrable. A more exceptionable character is not to be found in the sacred oracles. It is no small dishonor to Christ to be thus compared. There is no resemblance in the qualities of Samson's mind, there is none in his moral conduct, that can entitle him even to the most distant comparison with the chaste, holy, benevolent, and immaculate Jesus. That man dishonors the law of unchangeable righteousness, who endeavors to make Samson a type of any thing or person that can be called holy, just, and pure.
Those who compare him to Hercules have been more successful. Indeed, the heathen god of strength appears to have been borrowed from the Israelitish judge; but if we regard what is called the choice of Hercules, his preference of virtue to pleasure, we shall find that the heathen is, morally speaking, vastly superior to the Jew. M. De Lavaur, in his Conference de la Fable avec l'Histoire Sainte, vol. ii., p. 1, has traced the parallel between Hercules and Samson in the following manner: -
"Hercules was figured by the poets as supernatural both in his birth and actions, and was therefore received by the people as a god of the first order. They attributed to him the miracles wrought by several illustrious chiefs among the people of God, which they found described in the sacred oracles, more ancient than their most ancient accounts, or which they had learned by tradition, and their commerce with the Egyptians and Phoenicians, who were spread through various countries, but particularly in Greece. It is also to the time of these chiefs, and to the government of the Israelites by their judges, that the heroes and grand events of fable owe their origin; to which time, indeed, they are referred by the common consent of authors, sacred and profane.
"Every ancient nation, which had writers who left monuments of their country's glory, had a Hercules of its own, forged on the same plan." Varro reckons more than forty, and Cicero reckons six. (Book iii. De Natura Deorum).
"Herodotus, (book ii., entitled Euterpe), only speaks of the Egyptian and Greek Hercules. Although a Greek himself, this father of history, as Cicero calls him, who lived the nearest of any of these writers to the period he describes, informs us that Greece had borrowed its Hercules from Egypt, and that Amphitryon his father, and Alcmena his mother, were both Egyptians; so that, notwithstanding the desire the Greeks had to make Hercules a native of their country, they could not conceal his origin, which was either Egyptian or Hebrew; for the Greeks and Phoenicians looked upon the Israelites, who were settled in Canaan or Phoenicia, as Egyptians, whose ancestors, after residing in Egypt some centuries, had certainly come from that country.
"M. Jaquelot, in his 'Treatise on the Existence of God,' believes that the Tyrian Hercules, who was the most ancient, was no other than Joshua. But St. Augustine (City of God, book xviii., chap. 19). has made it appear that it was after Samson (because of his prodigious and incomparable strength) that they forged their Hercules; first in Egypt, afterwards in Phoenicia, and lastly in Greece, each of whose writers has united in him all the miraculous actions of the others. In fact, it appears that Samson, judge of the Israelites from about A.M. 2867 to 2887, celebrated in the book of Judges, and mentioned by Josephus in his history, is the original and essential Hercules of fable: and although the poets have united these several particulars, drawn from Moses and Joshua, and have added their own inventions; yet the most capital and considerable belong to Samson, and are distinguished by characteristics so peculiar to him, as to render him easily discerned throughout the whole.
"In Hebrew the name of Samson (שמשון ) signifies the sun, and in Syriac (servitium vel ministerium ejus ) subjection to some one, servitude. Macrobius says that the name of Hercules signifies only the sun; for, he adds, in Greek Hercules means, it is glory of the air, or the light of the sun. The Greeks and Egyptians have exactly followed the Syriac signification by imposing on their Hercules, during the whole of his life, a subjection to Eurystheus in all his exploits, and who appointed him his famous enterprises. This necessity they attribute to fate and the law of his birth. Having spoken of his name, we will now examine the circumstances of his birth, as mentioned in the sacred writings, Judges 13:2-24, and in the History of the Jews, chap. x.
"Manoah, of the tribe of Dan, had married a woman who was barren, which led them to pray earnestly that the Lord would bless them with an offspring. One day, this woman being alone, an angel appeared to her, and told her he was sent by God to inform her she should have a son of the most extraordinary strength, who was to raise the glory of their nation, and to humble their enemies. Upon the arrival of her husband, she imparted to him the message and discourse of the angel. Some time after this heavenly messenger showed himself to them both as they were in the house together, and ascended up to heaven in their sight, after having confirmed the promises made before to the woman, who soon after became pregnant, and was in due time delivered of Samson.
"The singular birth of Hercules, in fable, is similar to the above account, with a trifling alteration taken from the ideas the poets entertained of their gods. Amphitryon, the most considerable person and the chief of the Thebans, had married Alcmena, whom he loved to distraction, but had not any children by her. Jupiter, desirous of making her the mother of Hercules, repaired to Alcmena one night, in the absence and under the figure of her husband. On Amphitryon's return, his wife said she had seen him before, on such a night mentioning the visit she had received. Amphitryon, transported with jealousy, and enraged with his wife, whatever good opinion he might entertain of her virtue, would neither be appeased nor consoled till Jupiter appeared to vindicate her conduct; and, in order to convince Amphitryon of his being a god, visibly ascended up to heaven, after informing him that he alone had visited Alcmena, assuring him of her virtue, and promising him a son, who was to be distinguished for his strength; whose glory was to confer honor on his race and family; who was to humble their enemies; and who, finally, was to be immortal.
"The Spirit of God, with which Samson was from the very first endowed, caused him, even in his youth, to effect prodigies of strength. He once met with a furious young lion which attacked him; Samson, then unarmed, immediately rent the lion in pieces, as if it had been a lamb; and, resolving to revenge himself upon the Philistines, who had grievously afflicted the children of Israel, he slew vast numbers of them at different times, weakened them excessively, and thus began to deliver Israel out of the hands of their enemies as the angel had predicted.
"Fable, likewise, causes Hercules to perform exploits requiring prodigious strength; but, as its exaggerations are beyond all bounds, it attributes to him, while still an infant, the strangling enormous serpents which fell upon him in his cradle, and the first and most illustrious exploit of his youth was the defeat of a terrible lion in the Nemaean forest, which he slew without the help of any weapon of defense: the skin of this lion he afterwards wore as a garment. He likewise formed and executed the design of delivering his country from the tyrannic oppression of the Myrmidons. We ought not to be surprised that fable, which disfigures so many events by transforming them to its fancy, has altered the other adventures of Samson; that it has added to them others of its own invention; that it attributes to him the actions of other chiefs and heroes, and ascribes some of the performances of Samson to other persons than Hercules; for this reason we find the account of the foxes Samson caught and tied by the tail preserved indeed, but transferred to another country.
"Fable then borrows in favor of our hero, Hercules, the miracle which God wrought for Joshua, when he assisted the Gibeonites against the five kings of the Amorites, when the Lord cast down great stones upon them from heaven, so that more of those who fled from the Israelites perished by the hail than did by the sword. In imitation of this miracle, fable says (Pliny, book iii., chap. iv.; Pomponius Mela, De Situ Orbis, book 2:, chap. v). that when Hercules was engaged in a combat with the Ligurians, Jupiter assisted him by sending him a shower of stones. The quantity of stones which are still to be seen on the plains of Crau (called by the ancients Campi Lapidei) in Provence, has occasioned the poets to consider this place as the theater of the above miracle.
"The jaw-bone of the ass, rendered so famous from Samson having slain one thousand Philistines with it, has been changed into the celebrated club of Hercules with which he defeated giants, and slew the many enemies that opposed him. The similarity of the Greek words κορῥη and κορυνη may have given rise to this alteration; corre signifying jaw, and coronae, a mace or club. The change of one of these words for the other is not difficult, especially as it seemed more suitable to arm Hercules with a club than with the jaw-bone of an ass. But fable has, however, more clearly preserved the miracle of the spring of water that God produced in this bone, to preserve Samson from perishing with thirst, after the defeat of the Philistines; for it relates that when Hercules had slain the dragon that guarded the golden apples in the garden of the Hesperides, and he was in danger of perishing with thirst in the scorching deserts of Libya, the gods caused a fountain to issue from a rock he struck with his foot; Apol. book xxxvi. of Argonauts, ver. 1446.
"The extraordinary strength of Samson was accompanied with a constant and surprising weakness, viz., his love for women. These two characteristics compose his history, and are equally conspicuous throughout the whole of his life: the latter however predominated; and after having frequently exposed him to great danger, at length completed his ruin. Fable has not omitted this characteristic weakness in its Hercules; in him this passion was excited by every woman that presented herself to his view; it led him to the performance of many base actions, and, after precipitating him into several dangers, at length put an end to his miserable existence. Samson, who well knew that his strength depended upon the preservation of his hair, was so imprudent as to impart this secret to Delilah, his mistress. This woman, whose sole design in importuning him was to betray him, cut his hair off while asleep, and delivered him, thus deprived of all his strength, into the hands of the Philistines, who took from him both his liberty and eyesight, and treated him as the vilest and most wretched of slaves. Tradition, which spoils and disfigures the ancient histories and those of distant countries, has transferred this adventure to Nisus, king of Megara, and his daughter Scylla. Megara was also the name of one of Hercules' wives the daughter of Creon, king of Thebes. The name of Scylla is taken from the crime and impiety of the daughter of Nisus, from the Greek verb συλαω, sulao, which signifies to rob or strip with impiety. The destiny or welfare of Nisus depended on the preservation of a lock of purple hair which grew on his head. Scylla, having conceived an affection for Minos, who was at that time besieging the capital of her father's kingdom, betrayed her parent, cut off this lock of purple hair while he was asleep, and delivered him into the hands of his enemy. Nisus lost both his senses and his life, and according to fable, was changed into a bird. - Ovid, Met., book viii.
"But the most remarkable and striking event in the history of Samson, is that by which he lost his life. The Philistines, when offering solemn sacrifices to their god, by way of thanksgiving for his having delivered into their hands their formidable enemy, caused Samson to be brought out of prison, in order to make a laughing-stock of him. Samson, as though wishing to rest himself, requested his conductors to let him lean against the pillars which supported the temple, which was at that time filled with a great multitude of persons, among whom were many princes of the Philistines. Samson then, invoking the Lord, and exerting all his strength, which was returning with the growth of his hair, laid hold of the pillars with both his hands, and shook them so violently as to pull the building down upon the whole multitude therein assembled. By this fatal catastrophe Samson killed a greater number of Philistines than he had done during his life.
"Fable and tradition could not efface this event in the copy of Samson, which is Hercules. Herodotus relates it as a fabulous tradition, invented by the Greeks, and rejects it as having no foundation either in the history itself, or in the manners and customs of the Egyptians; among whom the Greeks say this event had happened. They relate (says this historian, book ii., entitled Euterpe, p. 47) that Hercules, having fallen into the hands of the Egyptians, was condemned to be sacrificed to Jupiter. He was adorned like a victim, and led with much pomp to the foot of the altar: after permitting himself to be conducted thus far, and stopping a moment to collect his strength, he fell upon and massacred all those who were assembled to be either actors in, or spectators of, this pompous sacrifice, to the number of many thousands.
"The conformity between these adventures of Samson and Hercules is self-evident, and proves beyond a doubt that the fable of the one was composed from the history of the other. The remark of Herodotus respecting the impossibility of this last adventure, according to the Greek tradition, and the folly of attributing it to the Egyptians, serves to confirm the truth of its having been borrowed, and of its being but a disfigured copy, whose original must be sought for elsewhere.
"In fact, it appears that Samson, judge of the Israelites, particularly mentioned in the book of Judges, and by Josephus, Ant. lib. v., c. 10, is the original and essential Hercules of fable; and although the poets have united some particulars drawn from Moses and Joshua, and have added their own inventions, yet the most capital and considerable belong to Samson, and are distinguished by characteristics so peculiar to him, as render him easily discernible throughout the whole."
The above is the substance of what M. De Lavaur has written on the subject, and contains, as some think, a very clear case; and is an additional proof how much the heathens have been indebted to the Bible.