You ask an important question about the last moments of Samson’s life, a matter that is also relevant to us. The characterization of Samson in Judges 13-16 is complex. The assessment of his life by those who read his story is not encouraging. His behavior tends to be a sequence of failures, the results of self-indulgence. Yet the New Testament places him among the heroes of faith of the Old Testament (Heb. 11:32). He belongs among those who “out of weakness were made strong” (verse 34). Therein lays the paradox of Samson, whom we usually describe as traveling from strength to weakness.
1. FROM HIGH EXPECTATIONS TO DISILLUSIONMENT
The story began with a dialogue between a woman and an angel announcing the birth of a child who would be a lifelong Nazirite (Judges 13:2-7; cf. Num. 6:1-12). Through him the Lord would begin to defeat the Philistines. Instructions were given on how to rear the child— for example, not to drink wine, not to cut his hair. This had to be a special child through whom God would do wonders! Although Samson became physically strong, he was spiritually and morally weak. Controlled by the emotive side of his personality, he made decisions and acted in almost total independence from God. Yet not all was bad. One of Samson’s redeeming qualities was that, despite the alliances he made with the Philistines, he never worshipped idols. In this respect he was always loyal to the Lord. Additionally, in spite of his spirit of independence, the Lord used his problems with the Philistines to constantly defeat them. One could only imagine what the Lord could have achieved through Samson had he been faithful to Him.
2. FROM STRENGTH TO WEAKNESS
The story of Samson reached its negative climax when he violated the last element of his Nazirite vow— the cutting of his hair. At that moment the Spirit of the Lord was unable to use him, and he became physically weak. He was the victim of his enemies, who blinded, jailed, and treated him like a slave. The Philistines considered Samson’s experience to be both a defeat of Samson and of his God. The prison was a place to reflect about the quality of his life and his failure to Israel, his family, and his God. Samson was ready for another chance at life.
3. FROM WEAKNESS TO STRENGTH
Tragedies are transformed by the Lord into victories. The Philistines gathered to celebrate the victory of their god Dagon over Samson and his God (Judges 16:23, 24). The princes of the five Philistine kingdoms were present, with a crowd of more than 3,000 persons. They decided to invite Samson to entertain them—to gloat over their achievements. He was placed between the two pillars that supported the structure, leaning on them as if tired and weak. Then Samson prayed, asking the Lord to strengthen him to do what he should have already done: to inflict a major defeat on the Philistines (verse 30; cf. Judges 13:5). This is a prayer of total commitment to the Lord. He is handing over his life to God, expressing his willingness to die in His service. He wants to be vindicated—a request perhaps tainted by selfishness—but he also wants God to be vindicated by displaying His power over Dagon. He died as a soldier in the battlefield of a cosmic conflict. The end of life was for Samson a moment of absolute surrender to the Lord in an act of faith.