If you listened to the latest episode of the Cinematic Doctrine podcast on Samson, this will come as no surprise: Pureflix’s Samson takes a lot of liberties from Judges 13-16. While there are appropriate times for artistic liberty in adapting a historical narrative, I believe there must be special care in handling a story that is a part of God’s word. By neglecting to carefully adapt a story like this, we can miss out on some rich and heavy truths that have meaning for our lives.
With that in mind, I want to take this opportunity to give some Biblical insight and help us understand the differences between what we are told in Scripture about Samson, what PureFlix tries to present to us in their adaptation of this story, and how this can lead us away from the bigger point of the story of Samson.
Samson is not a “Superhero”
The Samson of the Bible is a man that has some supernatural traits and an extraordinary origin story, but he is not a superhero. Samson considers his strength to be connected to his keeping of the Nazirite vow (Judges 16:17), but we see God continuing to strengthen Samson even after he tests the limitations of his vow by eating and touching unclean things (Judges 14:8-9, 15:15). Samson’s strength is never his own, despite him attributing it to how “law-following” he is. It is always by the Spirit of the Lord that Samson can strike down the enemy. God was the one that appointed Samson as judge from birth through a prophetic visitation (Judges 13), and God dedicated Samson to himself and anointed Samson with strength at key points in his life (Judges 14:6, 14:19, 15:14, 16:28).
Unlike the humble, just, and love-struck man we see in PureFlix’s Samson movie, the biblical Samson is a rash, vengeful, opportunistic man whose motives serve himself. This Judge does not wage war against the Philistines to deliver his people, instead he wants to assimilate into their culture and marry a woman from among his enemies (Judges 14:1-4). He denies God’s instructions on keeping Israel holy and separate from pagan culture and instead chooses women based on how pleasing they are to him (Judges 14:3, 16:1, 16:4). When he goes up against the Philistines it is only to get revenge for himself and not to bring justice to Israel. We see this most clearly at the end of his life when he asks God to strengthen him one last time, so he can “get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes” (Judges 16:28).
PureFlix’s Samson chooses to paint its titular character as a spectacular messiah figure that always relies on God for his strength and power, while in the Bible we have a clear picture of a man that relies on himself and is primarily concerned about doing “what is right in his own eyes”.
Israel Does What is Right in Their Eyes, Too
In the PureFlix Samson movie, we are presented with a story that is very Philistine-heavy and we are given a new character in the Pharoah-like Philistinian prince Rallah (Jackson Rathbone). The tone of the movie and much of the conflict shown in the film centers around the idea that Israel is under harsh oppression and unfair rule, and that Israel is suffering the same level of mistreatment they experienced in Egypt. We are shown an Israel that still has a heart concerned with honoring the Lord, we are given a nation that did not forget to tell their children of God’s great deeds and held close to the promises made by God to their forefathers. Unfortunately, the actual position of Israel could not be further from the truth!
During the time of Samson, Israel was in a place of conflict due to its disobedience. It was not coincidental that Israel was under the rule of the Philistines (Judges 13:1). In the beginning of the book of Judges, we are left with an Israel that still is in the process of defeating the foreign nations residing in the land of their inheritance. All the tribes of Israel are either partially or entirely unsuccessful with the task the Lord has given them, and because of that the Lord leaves the foreign nations among them as a consequence of their disobedience, calling them “traps and snares” (Judges 2:1-4).
Throughout the book of Judges we see a cycle happen where Israel slips into idolatry, then they are oppressed by other nations until they eventually cry out to the Lord, and once that happens the Lord answers in compassion by raising a judge and delivering his people. This happens multiple times with multiple judges, and each time we see Israel’s holy identity slipping further away into the cultural context of its ruling nation. Whether it is when Gideon builds an idolatrous ephod using the spoils from defeating Midian (Judges 8:22-27), or when Jepthath makes a tragic vow and does what is detestable to God by sacrificing his daughter (Judges 11:30-34), or when we witness Israel turning against Samson, their appointed deliverer, capturing him and then turning him over to the Philistines to keep the peace with their oppressors (Judges 15:10-13).
In the biblical account of Samson we are left with a nation wholly indifferent to the same God they cried out to in Exodus 2:23-25, most notably we have a nation that did not even cry out to God after the death of their previous Judge. We have a nation that is willing to hand over their deliverer to enjoy the idolatrous pleasures of the enemy.
Samson is Not Jesus, He Points Us to Him
When we read the story of Samson, we are given a picture of an imperfect Judge that should ultimately point us to the perfect deliverer we long for, Jesus Christ. Samson was not a man that walked blamelessly; he partnered with foreign women when he was called to be set apart and holy, he disregarded the Nazirite guidelines God gave him and yielded himself to the enemy, he considered his strength to be wielded as he pleased, he sought out selfish vengeance even when it put his entire nation in peril.
When we look at Samson, our hearts should cry out for someone better! A true hero that selflessly puts down their life to save their people and is not led astray by rotten desires and pride.
Because the movie portrays Samson as a muscular precursor to Christ that almost lives perfectly, we lose the true impact of the story of Samson. Any level of success Samson had in delivering his people was purely by the grace of God, not by his own works. Besides, Israel is not left in a peaceful place with their inheritance at the end of Samson’s reign, they were left waiting for permanent peace and a perfect savior to deliver them. Like the generations before them, they are left with “traps and snares”. And still today we, like Israel, cling all too often to these self-serving schemes and idols of our choosing.
Scripture tells us that, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:11-12) In every imperfection and slimy detail of the life of Samson, we painfully see what it looks like when we choose to turn away and live life as our own god. And I am sure that when we honestly examine our own lives, we see evidence of our sin leaving us blind and enslaved, just like Samson. (Judges 16:20-21).
But, we can rejoice because we are not without hope! God is faithful, even when we are not. We have a perfect deliverer from our sin, and we are treated with preferential love and grace, entirely better than we deserve, because of Christ. Our old self is crucified with Christ, and we are no longer slaves to our sin. (Romans 6:1-14) When we see Samson, we should be thankful that our hope is placed on a savior that fully delivers us from all our sin and leads us into a gracious inheritance spent forever with him.
So, Why Do These Matter?
By not having an accurate representation of Samson’s character, Israel’s disobedience, or Samson’s fallen nature, we are left with a story that does nothing to address the reality of our broken condition. The Biblical account of Samson points us to a place where we can recognize our sinful hearts and cry out for a perfect savior. In witnessing Samson’s failures we inevitably long for Jesus. In Judges 13-16, we have that. In this movie? We don’t. And because the movie neglects these key points of the story, we are left with a tale that is spiritual fluff and not the solid food that mature Christians need.
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Kathryn Benson is a certified nerd and follower of Christ. She enjoys weird fiction, reading comics, and taking care of all the succulents and cacti she’s collected over the years. Kathryn loves seeing people grow in their understanding of the Bible and has been especially blessed to be a part of the women’s ministry at her church. When she’s not busy reading Lovecraft or watering plants, she can usually be found watching movies with her husband, Melvin.
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