🔼The name Samson: Summary
- Sun Man
- From the noun שמש (shemesh), sun.
🔼The name Samson in the Bible
There is only one Samson in the Bible. He was the only son of the Danite Manoah of Zorah, whose miraculous conception was foretold by an angel who appeared to his unnamed mother (Judges 13:3). The angel told her that her son would be a Nazirite who would begin to deliver Israel from the Philistines (Judges 13:5).
Samson grew up in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol, but we know nothing of that time or when he began to display his proverbial powers. We also don't know what drove him to travel down to Philistine country (although the author states that YHWH enticed him to look for trouble — Judges 14:4), but there, in Timnah, he saw a woman he asked his parents to get for him (Judges 14:1). He and his parents travelled back to Timnah, and while on the road, he famously killed an attacking lion (Judges 14:6), and its carcass would later home a swarm of honey-producing bees (see for a surprising connection between Samson's bees and the Christmas story our Introduction to Scripture Theory).
The woman slipped through Samson's fingers due to trickery of her people, and Samson embarked on a series of wildly violent campaigns against the Philistines (which also resulted in the lynching of the woman and her father — Judges 15:6). As he took up residence in the cleft of the Rock of Etam, the Philistines retaliated by invading Judah. The men of Judah decided to hand Samson over to their enemies at Lehi, and Samson responded to that endeavor by picking up a donkey's jawbone and pummeling a thousand Philistines to death with it (Judges 15:15). To commemorate this event, he named the place Ramath-lehi and an adjacent spring he named En-hakkore.
At the end of his twenty year career as judge of Israel and Philistine-slayer, Samson took interest in a woman he saw in the Philistine stronghold of Gaza. The towns-folk of Gaza fixed to kill Samson, but instead saw their town's gates getting hoisted up a mountain opposite Hebron (Judges 16:3). Still craving a woman, Samson went to the valley of Sorek and met Delilah.
Delilah was exceptionally gifted in the art of whining, and she drove Samson to the point of death (Judges 16:16). He finally told her that his Nazirite blessing might be compromised if his hair would be cut, which she promptly did (Judges 16:17). Powerless, Samson was delivered over to the Philistines, who blinded him and transported him to the prison in Gaza (Judges 16:21). When the Philistines brought Samson to the temple of their deity Dagon, the fallen judge prayed to the Lord, regained his strength and destroyed the temple, killing 3,000 Philistines and himself in the process (Judges 16:30).
The apostle Paul demonstrates that faith in the Lord does not always go hand in hand with elegance and subtlety when he lists Samson among the heroes of the faith (Samson in Greek is spelled Σαμψων, Sampson; Hebrews 11:32).
For a close look at the function and meaning of the hair of Samson, read our article on Hair in the Bible.
🔼Etymology of the name Samson
The name Samson comes from the word שמש (shemesh), meaning sun:
The noun שמש (shemesh) is the Biblical word for sun. Many ancient societies recognized that the sun rules life on earth, but few understood that even the sun is a mere creature, also firmly subjected to the laws of nature and ultimately the unchallenged sovereignty of the Creator. Hence to many societies the sun became the symbol of divine supremacy and the divinity of human kings, and to few it became the symbol of satanic grand delusion and existential deceit. Pretty much all great empires identified in some way or form with the sun, but the periods of humanity's deepest darkness were triggered by folks who imagined the sun to be supreme.
The name Samson is the word shemesh post-fixed with the waw-nun extension. This extension personifies or localizes the root: the name Samson literally means Sun Man.
For a meaning of the name Samson, NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads a modest Sun-like. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names, swinging from the rafters as usual, exclaims Splendid Sun, i.e. great joy and felicity! But neither the like-part of NOBSE nor the felicity of Jones are truly expressed in the name Samson.