Many Bible students are familiar with the concept of types and figures of Christ in the Old Testament.
There is the First-Created man Adam. Just as he is the father of all men according to the flesh so Jesus, the Second Adam, is the spiritual father of all the faithful.
Consider Job who in his suffering and profound grief, saw nothing before him but a miserable death bereft of human consolation fell down to the ground and prayed, humbling himself to God’s will. Then see Christ praying in anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Then there is Noah. Just as he was the only just man in a sinful world, Christ alone is the true just Man in a sinful world. As Noah built a wooden ark to save the human race, so Christ built the Church out of the wood of the cross so that in her men might find salvation. Noah preached repentance and foretold the Deluge, our Lord preached repentance and foretold the Last Judgement.
Similar parallels are seen when we think of Melchisedech, Isaac, the Paschal Lamb, Joseph, Joshua, Gideon, David and Jonah to name a few.
But perhaps few Biblical types of Christ are as surprising as Samson. A cursory reading of his story in Judges 13-16 reveals very little of the character of Christ. Indeed, at first glance he strikes us as nothing more than a hard drinking, womanizing jock on an ego trip. Raised to be a Nazirite (see Numbers 6), he was consecrated unto God to keep three promises his whole life: do not touch anything unclean like the dead, abstain from all intoxicating drink, and never to cut his hair. Yet, in the four chapters that tell his story we see him touching dead things like lions and jawbones, going to drinking parties, carousing with Philistine prostitutes and marrying pagan women (both also forbidden by the Law), and finally allowing his hair to be cut by revealing the secret to his strength. We don’t see Samson as a type of Christ at all. If anything he is a cautionary tale of the high cost of low living.
However, both New Testament and the Church Fathers saw things differently. There is more to this Hebrew Hercules than meets the eye at a first reading of his story. The author of Hebrews names Samson among the great heroes of faith in salvation history, “And what more shall I say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of SAMSON, and of Jephthae; of David also, and of Samuel, and of the prophets:” (Hebrews 11:32, KJV).
Church Fathers such as St. Ambrose praised him for being filled with the Holy Spirit and even found in his various predilections the guiding of this anointing in spite of Samson’s guilt for his sins. The bishop of Milan begins his extended meditation on Samson with this paragraph, “Samson, born by the divine promise, had the Spirit accompanying him, for we read: ‘
he Lord blessed him, and the Spirit of the Lord began to be with him in the camp. (Judges 13:25) And so foreshadowing the future Mystery, he demanded a wife of the aliens, which, as it is written, his father and mother knew not of, because it was from the Lord. And rightly was he esteemed stronger than others, because the Spirit of the Lord guided him, under Whose guidance he alone put to flight the people of the aliens, and at another time inaccessible to the bite of the lion, he, unconquerable in his strength, tore him asunder with his hands. Would that he had been as careful to preserve grace, as strong to overcome the beast!” (On the Holy Spirit, Book 2.5).
So we see from St. Ambrose that many of the details of Samson’s life was a “foreshadowing of the Mystery” of Christ. Let’s compare his life with that of Christ and see what other types we can find.
Samson’s birth was foretold by the Angel of the Lord (Judges 13:3); Jesus’ birth was foretold by an angel as well (Is. 7:14, Lk. 1:31). Samson was sanctified unto God from the womb (Judges 13:5); Jesus was as well (Lk. 1:31-32).
Samson began to deliver Israel out of the hands of the Philistines (Judges 13:5); Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, shall delivers the New Israel from its oppressors and from sin and death (Lk. 1:32-33).
Samson was blessed of the Lord as he grew and the Spirit began to move him (Judges 13:24); Jesus “grew and waxed strong in Spirit” (Lk. 1:80).
Samson’s first great test of strength was that he rent barehanded a lion that roared against him (Judges 14:6); Jesus’ first test was His temptation in the Wilderness for 40 days when He defeated the Devil who like a roaring lion sought to devour Him (Mt. 4:1-11; 1 Peter 5:8). Just as sweet honey came from Samson’s lion later so our Lord has provided us the sweet honey of His victory over the Devil.
Samson desired to take a wife of the uncircumcised Philistines (Judges 14:2-3); Jesus has taken a Bride from the uncircumcised Gentiles in the Church (Jhn. 1:11-12).
Samson “sought an occasion” against the Philistines ( Judges 14:4); Jesus “sought an occasion” against Satan and Sin; so He might subdue and destroy them both.
The Jews came to Samson desiring that he allow them to bind him and deliver him to the Philistines; their reasoning: “Knowest thou not that the Philistines are rulers over us? what is this that thou hast done unto us?” (Judges 15:11); the Jews wished to bind Jesus that they might save themselves from the Romans (John 11:48). Samson allowed himself to be bound by the Jews, although no cords could hold him if he desired to break free. In Gethsemane, Jesus went forth to meet the Jews and willingly allowed them to bind Him although He could have called legions of angels to His aid (Mt. 26:53).
There is a type of the Resurrection once Samson is handed over to the unbelievers: his bonds melt away and he slays his enemies (Judges 15:14). In the same way, when Jesus was handed over to Death it was unable to hold Him, He rose victoriously and the graveclothes fell from Him.
Just as Samson slew his enemies with the Jawbone so Jesus conquered with the Word of His mouth. Having achieved a great deliverance in slaying the Philistines Samson cried out unto God, “I thirst” (Judges 15:18-19); Jesus, having achieved a great deliverance, cried unto God, “I thirst” (Jhn. 19:28). Samson’s thirst was quenched when water sprang from the ass’ Jawbone (Judges 15:19 Septuagint); Christ’s thirst was quenched by the Living Waters that resulted from the instrument of His victory, “When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed. He shall see the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied.” (Isaiah 53:10,11).
Another metaphor of Christ’s victory over Death, Hades, and the Grave are found in Judges 16:1-3, “And Samson went to Gaza, and saw there an harlot, and went in unto her. 2And it was told the Gazites, saying, Samson is come hither: and they compassed him, and laid wait for him all night in the gate of the city, and were quiet all the night, saying, Let us wait until the sunrising appear, and we shall kill him. 3And Samson slept till midnight, and arose at midnight, and took hold of the doors of the gate of the city, with the two posts, and lifted them up with the bar, and laid them upon his shoulders, and went up to the top of the mount that is before Hebron, and laid them there.” They “compassed him” and said, we shall kill him” as the Jews did to Christ. But then “Samson slept till midnight, and arose at midnight” just as Jesus slept in the tomb but arose in the early dawn on Pascha morning. What does Samson do then? He breaks down the gates meant to hold him captive- posts, bar, and all- and carries them to Hebron where Abraham had built an altar, a dwelling place for Isaac and Jacob, a royal residence of the ancestor of Christ King David. When Jesus He “led captivity captive” (Eph. 4:8), He “spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” (Col. 2:15). Having born the cross on His shoulders as Samson had the gates Jesus shows His victory on a hill of sacrifice.
Samson was betrayed by Delilah who had pretended to love him with her kisses; Jesus was betrayed by one who pretended to love Him with a kiss. Delilah conspired with the Philistine lords and betrayed her husband for silver; Judas conspired with the lords of the Jews and betrayed the Bridegroom for silver.
Samson foreshadowed Christ’s suffering before Golgotha: The purpose of the Philistine lords was to “prevail against him; to bind him to afflict him.” (Judges 16:5). As for Jesus, “the Jews took Jesus, and bound him.” (John 18:12). “Pilate therefore took Jesus and scourged Him. The soldiers smote Him with their hands.” (John 19:1-3).
Samson reminds us of the God forsaken cry of Jesus upon the Cross: “Delilah. . .began to afflict him. . .he wist not that the Lord was departed from him” (Judges 16:16-20). Jesus cried, “My God. . ….why hast Thou forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46).
Samson is led before the shearers; the locks of his hair are shaven off (Judges 16:19): Jesus is led before the shearers, willingly allowing Himself to be shorn and afflicted. Christ became “Sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21). “He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb“ (Isaiah 53:7).
Samson’s strength went from him (Judges 16:19); Jesus, speaking prophetically through the Psalmist also said, “My strength faileth me” (Psalm 37 :10a). The Philistines “put out his eyes” (Judges 16:21); Jesus, again through the Psalmist, declares, “as for the light of mine eyes, it is also gone from me” Ps.37 :10b and “Mine eyes fail while I wait for my God.” Ps.68 :3.
Samson was bound “with fetters of brass” (Judges 16:21); Jesus was “bound” with the fetters of the nails of the Cross.
Samson is placed between two pillars (Judges 16:26); Jesus, on the Cross, is placed between two thieves (Mt. 27:38).
Samson was mocked and reviled as the unbelievers gloried in their apparent victory (Judges 16:23-25); Jesus also is mocked and reviled (Lk. 22:63).
Samson extended his two hands to the pillars as Christ would do on the beams of the Cross and he prayed, “Let me die with the Philistines.” as he wrought one last deliverance for Israel (Judges 16:30); the prophet Isaiah foretold of Jesus, “And he made his grave with the wicked.” (Isaiah 53:9) thereby giving His life as a ransom for many (Mt. 20:28).
Samson’s “brethren and all the house of his father came down, and took him, and brought him up, and buried him” (Judges 16:31); Nicodemus and Joseph, Jesus’ brethren in faith, come and take the body of Christ to bury it (Jhn. 19:38-42).
Christ is risen from the dead while Samson sleeps in his tomb at Tel Tzora in Israel. Now the typology has changed. With the Resurrection, Jesus now becomes a type of Samson- and not only of Samson- but of all believers…..
“But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.”
(1 Corinthians 15: 20-23)