Samson is one of the last of the Judges of the ancient Israelites mentioned in the Hebrew Bible (Book of Judges chapters 13 to 16).
According to the biblical account, Samson was granted supernatural strength by God in order to combat his enemies and perform heroic feats such as killing a lion, slaying an entire army with only the jawbone of an ass, and destroying a pagan temple. Samson had two vulnerabilities, however: his attraction to untrustworthy women and his hair, without which he was powerless. These vulnerabilities ultimately proved fatal for him.
Samson is believed by Jews and Christians to have been buried in Tel Tzora in Israel overlooking the Sorek valley. There reside two large gravestones of Samson and his father Manoah. Nearby stands Manoah’s altar (Judges 13:19–24). It is located between the cities of Zorah and Eshtaol.
Samson's activity takes place during a time when God was punishing the Israelites, by giving them "into the hand of the Philistines". The Angel of the Lord appears to Manoah, an Israelite from the tribe of Dan, in the city of Zorah, and to his wife, who had been unable to conceive. The Angel of the Lord proclaims that the couple will soon have a son who will begin to deliver the Israelites from the Philistines. The wife believed the Angel of the Lord, but her husband wasn't present, at first, and wanted the heavenly messenger to return, asking that he himself could also receive instruction about the child who was going to be born.
Requirements were set up by the Angel of the Lord that Manoah's wife (as well as the child) were to abstain from all alcoholic beverages, and her promised child was not to shave or cut his hair. He was to be a "Nazirite" from birth. In ancient Israel, those wanting to be especially dedicated to God for a while could take a nazarite vow, which included things like the aforementioned as well as other stipulations. After the Angel of the Lord returned, Manoah soon prepared a sacrifice, but the Angel of the Lord would only allow it to be for God, touching his staff to it, miraculously engulfing it in flames. The Angel of the Lord then ascended up into the sky in the fire revealing that it had been God in angelic form, as the Angel of the Lord and "an" angel are two different things. This was such dramatic evidence as to the nature of the Messenger, that Manoah feared for his life, as it has been said that no-one can live after seeing God; however, his wife soon convinced him that if God planned to slay them, he would never have revealed such things to them to begin with. In due time the son, Samson, is born; he is reared according to these provisions.
When he becomes a young adult, Samson leaves the hills of his people to see the cities of the Philistines. While there, Samson falls in love with a Philistine woman from Timnah whom he decides to marry, overcoming the objections of his parents who do not know that "it is of the Lord". The intended marriage is actually part of God's plan to strike at the Philistines. On the way to ask for the woman's hand in marriage, Samson is attacked by an Asiatic Lion and simply grabs it and rips it apart, as the spirit of God moves upon him, divinely empowering him. This so profoundly affects Samson that he just keeps it to himself as a secret. He continues on to the Philistine's house, winning her hand in marriage. On his way to the wedding, Samson notices that bees have nested in the carcass of the lion and have made honey. He eats a handful of the honey and gives some to his parents. At the wedding-feast, Samson proposes that he tell a riddle to his thirty groomsmen (all Philistines); if they can solve it, he will give them thirty pieces of fine linen and garments. The riddle ("Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet") is a veiled account of his second encounter with the lion (at which only he was present). The Philistines are infuriated by the riddle. The thirty groomsmen tell Samson's new wife that they will burn her and her father's household if she does not discover the answer to the riddle and tell it to them. At the urgent and tearful imploring of his bride, Samson tells her the solution, and she tells it to the thirty groomsmen.
Before sunset on the seventh day they said to him,
- "What is sweeter than honey?
- and what is stronger than a lion?"
Samson said to them,
He flies into a rage and kills thirty Philistines of Ashkelon for their garments, which he gives his thirty groomsmen. Still in a rage, he returns to her father's house and finds out that his bride has been given to another man as wife. Her father refuses to allow him to see her and wishes to give Samson the younger sister. Samson attaches torches to the tails of three hundred foxes, leaving the panicked beasts to run through the fields of the Philistines, burning all in their wake. The Philistines find out why Samson burned their crops and they burn Samson's wife and father-in-law to death. In revenge, Samson slaughters many more Philistines, smiting them "hip and thigh".
Samson then takes refuge in a cave in the rock of Etam. An army of Philistines goes up and demands that 3000 men of Judah deliver them Samson. With Samson's consent, they tie him with two new ropes and are about to hand him over to the Philistines when he breaks free. Using the jawbone of an ass, he slays one thousand Philistines. At the conclusion of Judges 15 it is said that Samson had "judged" Israel for twenty years.
Later, Samson goes to Gaza, where he stays at a harlot's house. His enemies wait at the gate of the city to ambush him, but he rips the gate up and carries it to "the hill that is in front of Hebron".
He then falls in love with a woman, Delilah, at the Brook of Sorek. The Philistines approach Delilah and induce her (with 1100 silver coins each) to try to find the secret of Samson's strength. Samson, not wanting to reveal the secret, teases her, telling her that he will lose his strength should he be bound with fresh bowstrings. She does so while he sleeps, but when he wakes up he snaps the strings. She persists, and he tells her he can be bound with new ropes. She ties him up with new ropes while he sleeps, and he snaps them, too. She asks again, and he says he can be bound if his locks are woven together. She weaves them together, but he undoes them when he wakes. Eventually Samson tells Delilah that he will lose his strength with the loss of his hair. Delilah calls for a servant to shave Samson's seven locks. Since that breaks the Nazirite oath, God leaves him, and Samson is captured by the Philistines, who blind him. After being blinded, Samson is brought to Gaza, imprisoned, and put to work grinding grain.
One day the Philistine leaders assemble in a temple for a religious sacrifice to Dagon, one of their most important deities, for having delivered Samson into their hands. They summon Samson so that people can gather on the roof to watch. Once inside the temple, Samson, his hair having grown long again, asks the servant who is leading him to the temple's central pillars if he may lean against them (referring to the pillars).
- "Then Samson prayed to God, "remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes" (Judges 16:28)". "Samson said, 'Let me die with the Philistines!' (Judges 16:30) He pulled the two pillars together (or possibly pushed them apart), and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it Thus he killed many more as he died than while he lived." (Judges 16:30).