Oh, that hair. We don't know for sure whether Samson was a blonde, a brunette, or a redhead, but whatever its hue, we're obsessed with the guy's mane. As the source of Samson's strength, his hair is an easy-to-understand symbol of God's power—and the loss thereof that comes from giving in to temptation (cough, Delilah, cough).
Before Samson's birth, we'll remind you, an angel commanded his mom, "No razor is to come on his head, for the boy shall be a Nazarite to God from birth. It is he who shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines" (13:5). Translation: Don't cut his hair, and he'll start to overcome the Philistines. And that's just what happens. Because of his status as the chosen one, Samson is as strong as his hair is long, and he gives all kinds of heck to the Philistines. He might have continued to smack them around indefinitely, but they exploited his greatest weakness: "[Samson] fell in love with a woman […] whose name was Delilah. The lords of the Philistines came to her and said to her, 'Coax him, and find out what makes his strength so great […] and we will each give you eleven hundred pieces of silver.' So Delilah said to Samson, 'Please tell me what makes your strength so great" (16:4-6).
Samson holds out for a while, but he finally gives in to Delilah's tempting, and coo coo ca choo, he's bald, bound, and blind: "She let him fall asleep on her lap; and she called a man, and had him shave off the seven locks of his head. He began to weaken, and his strength left him […] So the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes. They brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze shackles" (16:19, 21).
This is by far the most well-known episode in Judges, and the symbol of Samson's hair is an almost universally recognized part of our cultural hair-itage. Samson is the quintessential symbol of how the mighty can fall from grace. Countless artists, musicians, and authors have worked with this motif (be sure to check out our "Analysis" and "Best of the Web" sections for more details)—from Rembrandt to Milton to Handel to Regina Spektor—exploring Samson's tragic fall, as audiences gobble it up. There are probably many reasons for this, but maybe one of them is that it's so easy for us to put ourselves in Samson's sandals. Although there probably aren't a ton of Nazarites out there anymore, all of us try to live by some kind of religious or moral or legal code. But there are so many Delilahs enticing us to break the rules. So often we indulge in a little bit of dalliance, only to find ourselves figuratively weakened, blinded, and/or enslaved.
Beyond its ready application to our own lives, Samson's hair-esy symbolizes—like so much in Judges—Israel itself. Both Samson and Israel were chosen by God (see 13:5 and Genesis 17:7); both were under strict command to behave a certain way (see Numbers 6:1-8 and Exodus 20:1-17, just for starters); and both just couldn't seem to stay out of trouble. Samson's main vice was lust for women, while Israel "lusted after other gods and bowed down to them" (2:17; see also 8:27, 33).
In Samson's case, succumbing to temptation led to his enslavement (16:21) and eventual destruction (16:30-31). Israel's disobedience leads to multiple enslavements in Judges (see 3:8; 4:2; 6:1; 13:1), and although they manage to avoid utter destruction, they must have wondered sometimes whether their number was up when "the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers who plundered them, and he sold them into the power of their enemies all around, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them to bring misfortune, as the Lord had warned them and sworn to them; and they were in great distress" (2:14-15).