The Importance of Antecedent Theology: What is the deal with Samson’s hair?

Okay … that is a fancy title. You have probably heard the phrase “Scripture interprets Scripture”. That means that reading the Bible helps you read the Bible. The Bible is such an interconnected story that reading one part inevitably draws your mind to another part.  When you see how the parts fit, the story becomes even more amazing. So let’s look at one little example.

Samson and his hair

You remember the story of Samson. He was born during the time of the Judges; a time when everyone was doing what was right in their own eyes. The nation is in complete chaos. Different parts of the country are experiencing different circumstances … one area could be free while another is in bondage. It was a timeframe unlike any of us have ever known. God chose to give Manoah and his barren wife (whose name we are not given) a son who is set apart by God as a Nazirite (Judges 13:5).

Samson is known for his unbelievable strength and power. No man, no army even, was a match for Samson when the Spirit of God was upon him. Yet we all know that once his hair was cut, his strength left and he was reduced to the strength of a normal one-man fighting force. But, it is interesting that Judges 16:22 makes this comment, “the hair of his head began to grow again”. Judges 16:22 comes after Samson is captured, blinded, and made fun of by the Philistines. It is right before his final burst of strength. What on earth does his hair have to do with anything? What is the purpose of this editorial comment? We already know that God gave strength to Samson before his hair was cut, and immediately preceding Samson’s death; but why does the narrator make a huge deal about the hair?

As you read the larger story, don’t you find it somewhat humorous that the vast majority of Judges 16 (the part about Delilah) is devoted to the source of Samson’s strength, and every episode is about his hair! Surely, God cares about cosmetology, because God cares about everything, but should Judges 16 be the cornerstone passage for all Christ honoring businesses that care about hair?! Okay, I am being a bit ridiculous, but I hope that you see my point. On the one hand, we know the story is about God, but, on the other, God chose to give us that story with an emphasis on hair.

How can we possibly understand that?

Nazirite Vow and Numbers 6

Enter antecedent theology … enter Scripture interprets Scripture. Back in Numbers 6, we learn that there was a Nazirite vow. The vow was voluntary and it included the provisions of (1) no razor; (2) no product of the vine; and (3) no corpses. The latter two seem to be simple enough … the vine was a source of enjoyment both in alcohol and in the tastiness of grapes themselves, and God is the God of the living not the dead. But the razor part is still a bit puzzling, until you keep reading. It turns out that the hair on the head of the Nazirite was symbolic of the fact that he or she was separated for the things of the Lord. The hair was the visible symbol that this person was wholly dedicated to the Lord.

To give a crude analogy, my wedding ring has little intrinsic value. My ring is probably worth $200-$300 in today’s market. But what my ring symbolizes is far more significant. It says I belong, in a special way, to my wife. It symbolizes our one flesh relationship. It symbolizes our joint effort and commitment to care for one another, protect one another, and provide for one another.

To a Nazirite the hair symbolized EVERYTHING. That is why the hair was shaved if the vow was broken accidently (see Numbers 6:9-12), and why the hair was shaved if the vow was completely fulfilled (see vv. 13-20). The hair was the key to whole deal.

How Numbers 6 helps us Understand the Story of Samson

Let’s come back to Samson … remember Judges 13:5. Samson is set apart as a Nazirite by God. Samson does not make the vow voluntarily; instead God is the one who makes the vow. He decides that Samson is set apart. This means that Samson’s hair is the visible symbol of the commitment which God made to him. That is why the drama surrounding his hair. The hair was the symbol of what God has set Samson apart to be, and to do. I believe that is the reason why we see Samson breaking the other parts of the Nazirite vow (corpses and fruit of the vine, see chapters 14-15) and he still has his strength… the symbol remained intact. It is also why we read the puzzling comment of 16:22. His hair is back … his symbol has returned. His hair was the symbol that God made Samson a Nazirite. So it is not surprising that God gives Samson one last bit of strength. Samson’s final burst of strength is not a reward for Samson’s faithfulness of what he was given. Instead, the symbol returned and God kept his vow, because God always keeps his vows.

The writer of Hebrews (11:32) seems to suggest that Samson understood that God gave him his strength. He acknowledged that God was the author of Samson’s role … a judge set apart to be wholly devoted to the service of the Lord. Even though it is clear that Samson greatly struggled with appreciating and valuing all that the Lord had done, he still exercised a faith that warranted inclusion in Hebrews 11.

What about us?

Samson is an example of faith, even with all of his many faults, one that we are to emulate (Hebrews 12:1-3). Samson believed in his Nazirite status … he believed that God designed him for something. We know more. We have the privilege of fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, the one who took our sin, and the one who endured the punishment that was rightfully ours.

God, through Jesus, has promised us so many things. Unlike Samson, let us learn to value, appreciate, and treasure those promises all through our lives. After all, the story of Samson reminds us that the vows God made, God keeps. And sometimes He even uses a symbol, like hair, to prove it.

Rob Green
Pastor Rob Green oversees Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries. A seasoned counselor, Rob also teaches others how to counsel--through FBCM's training conferences and Faith Bible Seminary's MABC program.