Michael Wilcock and Barry Webb on Samson’s atoning death

Webb’s recent commentary, along with Wilcock’s older Bible Speaks Today volume, help us navigate our way through a difficult but rewarding book of the Bible.

Insightful commentary and darn good writing, here’s Michael Wilcock, from his Bible Speaks Today commentary on Judges, commenting on Judges 16:1-3:

Samson was paying a visit to Gaza (whatever for? Even if Israelites generally now felt at home among their Philistine neighbours, how could Samson imagine that he would be welcome? Still, there he was), and he saw another girl he fancied; she was a prostitute, and ‘he went in to her’.

No doubt at the time it meant nothing in particular to him. Not that anything ever did, much. But then when he is not saving Israel, he is being Israel, and that is most of the time. Sometimes he represents God as Israel sees him; much more often it seems that he represents Israel as God sees her, and here is a cheerfully representative episode. It is no use being shocked. In this way we are all Samsons in some way or other, relishing the wrong thing in the wrong place, not least as we are persuaded that it doesn’t particularly matter.[1]

My sermon this Sunday on Samson will no doubt focus on the ways in which he represents Israel. He is her representative in a quasi-official capacity as judge. But more importantly, he’s her representative as sinner. His sins are her sins writ large. To be sure, when he dies, he dies for his own sins (foremost of which is forsaking the last vestige of his Nazirite vow: to keep his hair from being cut). Even more, he dies for Israel’s sins, a death by which God’s people will be saved—more or less. The Philistines will at least be less of an enemy, until a more decisive victory comes by way of David a couple of centuries later.

So we see in Samson’s suffering and cruciform death between two pillars a foreshadowing of Christ’s passion and atoning death on the cross. Jesus is without sin, but as Israel’s representative, he takes her sins upon himself and dies in order to save God’s people and defeat God’s enemies.

There plenty of other parallels to the gospel, as Barry Webb points out here:

Christian readers can hardly fail to notice a number of points of correspondence between the broad structure of Samson’s career and that of Christ: his annunciation by a divine messenger, his marvelous conception, his holiness as a Nazirite, his endowment with the Spirit, his rejection by his own people, his being handed over by their leaders, the mocking and scorn he suffered at their hands, and the way his calling was consummated in his death, by which he defeated the god Dagon and laid the foundation for a deliverance to be fully realized in a day to come. The correspondences are too numerous, and too germane to who Samson was, for what he achieved to be simply brushed aside as fanciful.[2]

1. Michael Wilcock, The Message of Judges (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1992), 146.

2. Barry G. Webb, The Book of Judges (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 418-9.

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