Samson’s hair becomes a mark of the Creator God’s covenant with him and with his parents. Like Israel’s covenant markers, not cutting his hair was to be taken as a signal of their collective faithfulness to the covenant that their God had taken the initiative to enter into with them. If Samson is a microcosm of Israel, then there should be other points of contact between his story, especially related to his covenant marker, and that of Israel. What happens when Samson’s hair is cut? The story reports that the Lord left Him, he had his eyes gouged out, he was bound in chains, and he was deported to the land of the Philistines.
How does this relate to Israel? The nation to which the Creator God referred as His firstborn son, that had been so improbably brought to birth through the events of the Egyptian exodus (as improbably as Abraham and Sarah having a child in their old age and as improbably as an infertile woman giving birth), was given instructions as to how to live so that they may appropriately represent their God to and in and for the world. Though there is a large number of specific instructions to Israel, the primary instructions that will mark them out as the people of the Creator God are recorded in Leviticus. There they are instructed: “You must not make for yourselves idols, so you must not set up for yourselves a carved image or a pillar, and you must not place a sculpted stone in your land to bow down before it, for I am the Lord your God. You must keep My Sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary. I am the Lord” (26:1-2).
As Samson’s hair was the response of his parents and himself to the Creator God’s covenant, so too was following these basic provisions laid out in Leviticus Israel’s response to God’s covenant with them. It demands to be noted that it is neither a refrain from hair cutting nor the adherence to what is detailed in Leviticus that brings one in to covenant with the Creator God of Israel, but rather, it is the keeping of these things that is the glad response to the covenant activity of that God.
What would happen to Israel if they failed to keep that which was their required response? What if they worshiped idols, violated the Sabbaths and did not reverence the sanctuary? Would their God cut them off and have nothing to do with them? No, such would not be the response. Rather, the Creator God promised that He would execute disciplinary judgment according to His covenant requirements and in accordance with the fact that He was recognizing them and establishing them as His covenant people.
This is detailed in the same chapter in Leviticus, wherein the Creator God promises that horror, consumption, and fever will be visited upon His covenant people if they fail to live up to their obligations. He promises that seed will be sown in vain and that enemies will eat whatever happens to be produced through that vain sowing. He promises to set His face against His people and to strike them down before their enemies, as they are ruled over by those who hate them (26:16-17). The afflictions go on and on and culminate with “You will perish among the nations; the land of your enemies will consume you” (26:38). Israel is also promised that the horrors that their God will inflict will serve to “diminish eyesight and drain away the vitality of life” (26:16b).
Is this not, along with the fact that Samson was ruled over by his enemies, almost precisely what is reported to have happened to Samson when he forsakes (though he did not actually cut off his own hair) the mark of his God’s covenant with him? However, that same God also promises that “I will remember for them the covenant with their ancestors whom I brought out from the land of Egypt” (26:45a), doing so “when they confess their iniquity and their ancestors’ iniquity which they committed by trespassing against Me” (26:40a).
In the end, Israel’s God promises to bring them back to their promised land. In much the same way, even though Samson has been bound, and even though the Levitical curses have devolved upon him, “His hair began to grow back after it had been shaved off” (16:22). As the Creator God would not forget His people, so He had not forgotten Samson. With words that hearken back to the Creator’s remembering of His covenant with Israel, Samson, having been placed before the Philistines, having apparently and to some extent realized his failures, and having devised a rather interesting “exit strategy,” cries out “O Master, Lord, remember Me! Strengthen me just one more time, O God, so I can get swift revenge against the Philistines for my two eyes!” (16:28)
With that, Samson brought the house down upon himself and the Philistines. Thus he perished among the nations, and was consumed within the land of his enemies; and thus, though a deliverance from the Philistines is brought about through his actions, the note of personal revenge has been struck, and Samson, though the symbol of his God’s covenant with him had begun to reappear (his hair growing back), dies along with the Philistines. He does not experience a return to the land, but dies in his bondage. Maddeningly and enigmatically, so ends the story of Samson.