Samson Removes Gaza's Gates

Judges 16:1-3
Sunday, 07 October 2012

Sermon Notes

Please note that these are only notes, not transcripts, and as such are not identical to the recorded sermons. They also contain frequent abbreviations.


    1. After the great slaughter at Lehi recorded in Judg. 15, Samson judged Israel 20 yrs.

      1. Remember that the Judges were the predecessors of the kings

        1. They were deliverers of God’s people from enemies who caused them misery.

        2. They defended, ruled and even acted as lawgivers and deciders of controversy.

        3. Above all they were God’s officebearers, occupying a position of authority, and representing God Himself to the people of Israel.

      2. Samson (acc. to Judg. 15:20 & 16:31) judged for 20 years: if we assume he was 18/20 years old when he began, he must have been about 38/40 when he died.

        1. That twenty year period is not recorded for us in detail we have the highlights.

        2. We saw his tearing a lion in pieces, his slaughter of 30 men of Ashkelon, his destruction of the Ph harvest, his merciless slaughter (“hip and thigh”) of an unknown number of Ph and his great battle at Lehi where he killed 1,000 men with the jawbone of a donkey.

    2. It appears that after the great slaughter at Lehi the Ph left the Israelites alone for a while. The Ph were subdued and seemingly too afraid openly to attack Israel while Samson was around.

      1. This meant part of Samson’s work as a judge was to maintain peace in Israel.

        1. With Samson as protector (even as an unappreciated protector) Israel did not need to worry.

        2. One would hope that Israel learned from this and learned to appreciate their champion Samson.

      2. Samson, on his part, does not appear to have sought further occasions against the Ph. Keeping the Philistines at bay seemed to satisfy him.

        1. This was an error on Samson’s part: as long as the Philistines lived in the land they were a threat to the well-being and especially the purity of Israel. That was the reason God had commanded Israel to remove the Canaanites.

        2. But along with that serious weakness in Samson’s judgeship we find in chapter 16 the beginning of Samson’s decline. Samson’s decline is found in his presumption: he began to take God’s gifts for granted; he assumed that he could play fast and loose with the grace of God; he began to imagine that he could use his gift of strength for his own pleasure.

        3. But God loved Samson too much to allow him to go down path of destruction. God gives Samson great victory in this text but it will come at great spiritual cost.



I. The Miraculous Event

II. The Significant Victory

III. The Moral Weakness



    1. Samson goes to the city of Gaza.

      1. Gaza was one of the five main cities of the Philistines, the pentapolis of Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron, Gath and Gaza.

        1. Gaza was a prominent Ph city: it was no little village; one of the “big five.”

          1. Remember Ph were ruled at this time by 5 lords: Gaza was a center of power.

          2. Gaza was therefore a walled and heavily fortified city, and it boasted a prison house and a great temple of Dagon, the god of the Philistines.

          3. If you look at a map of the area you will see that Gaza was some distance from where Samson lived; indeed, it was 80km SW of Zorah.

        2. To get to Gaza Samson traveled across the whole land of the Ph from Israel.

          1. This is significant: here is Samson, public enemy #1 and he is free to walk where he pleased throughout the land of the Ph.

          2. There is no indication that Samson went there incognito or in disguise. After his victory at Lehi the Ph knew who he was, but they were afraid of him.

          3. Perhaps Samson regularly walked thru the land of the Ph to remind them of his formidable presence lest they be tempted to rise up again against Israel.

      2. When Samson arrived at the city of Gaza he encountered Gaza’s gates. This was an impressive structure at the entrance of the city.

        1. Verse 3 describes the general design of Gaza’s gates.

          1. There were two doors: one assumes that they were made of solid wood and were impregnable to arrows and other weapons. They were also well guarded. Through these doors people were admitted into the city, or kept outside the city; they were kept inside the city and through the gates they exited the city.

          2. The two gates were attached to two posts. These were probably made of stone or hewn rock and supported the gates. They were embedded into the ground attached to the wall. They prob. also include watchtowers & rooms for guards.

          3. And there was a bar perhaps made of metal or wood to reinforce the gates.

        2. The gates of Gaza opened to Samson. Clearly, the gatekeeper (who must have recognized Samson) did not attempt to keep Samson from entering.

          1. The gatekeeper of Gaza determined who might enter and who must stay outside. And the gates were closed at night to keep out enemies.

          2. But Samson enters through the open gates without harassment and later he determines to leave in the middle of the night while it was still dark.

          3. This was highly unusual. People did not normally travel at night: it was too dangerous; there were wild animals; there were robbers; it was dark and there were no street lights. But those kinds of dangers were nothing to Samson.

    2. The gates of Gaza were a formidable barrier to any man, but not to Samson, the servant of Jehovah. Samson did not wait for the gatekeeper to open the gates. He did not ask the gatekeeper to open the gates. He simply left taking gates with him!

      1. At midnight there was a crashing, cracking sound heard in the city of Gaza. It was the noise of cracking stone, splintering wood and breaking metal. It was the sound of Samson removing Gaza’s gates.

        1. The text says Samson took hold of the doors and “went away with them.”

          1. The idea is that Samson seized the gigantic structure and uprooted it as you would pull a little flower out of the ground and leave a hole behind.

          2. Samson did not even bother to demolish the gate; he simply removed it intact in one piece [“the doors of the gate of the city and the two posts and went away with them, bar and all”].

          3. Imagine the scene: one man removing a structure in the middle of the night, a structure which weighed several tonnes and doing it all without a battering ram, without siege engines and without any tool or weapon of any kind!

        2. This is, of course, impossible for any man to do. But Samson did it by the power of Almighty God.

          1. We are not told specifically that the Spirit came upon Samson but we know that this was the source of Samson’s strength: the Spirit of God.

          2. God gave Samson the power to do this out of love for Samson, out of love for Samson’s people, the Israelites and in order to glorify His own name.

          3. Let both Israel and the Philistines know that there is a God in Israel and that He empowers His servant to do great deeds of supernatural strength.

      2. Having lifted the heavy gates of Gaza upon his shoulders, Samson begins to walk away. This too was an amazing feat of supernatural strength.

        1. Samson carried the heavy load on his back from Gaza to the top of a hill which is before Hebron.

          1. Some understand the word “before” to be “opposite” (lit., “on the face of”) Hebron. Therefore this hill was somewhere which could be seen from Hebron.

          2. But why mention Hebron if the place was a short distance from Gaza itself? The meaning is this: Samson carried the gates of Gaza from Gaza through the land of the Ph and into the territory of Judah up a hill near the city of Hebron.

          3. Hebron is some 60 km East from Gaza; Samson did not dump the gates close by: he carried them all the way to Israel.

        2. Try to picture the scene for a moment: do not let the wonder of it escape you.

          1. One man, Samson, goes to Gaza, gets up at midnight, lifts gates of Gaza (they weighed tonnes) and carries them from Gaza to hill in the vicinity of Hebron.

          2. Samson must have walked through many Ph villages on his way to Hebron: what terror must have struck the Philistine hearts. Who is this man? And who are the Israelites that they can produce a man like this? And who is Jehovah God that He can give a man power to do this?

          3. And as Samson enters Israel what must the Israelites have thought: Samson carrying the gates of Gaza, and depositing them as a kind of trophy on a hill near Hebron! There they stood for all to see! It must have been the talk of every village and city in the area. People must have come with their children to see what great thing Samson (Jehovah’s servant) had wrought.


    1. This event was very humiliating for the Ph and a great victory for God’s covenant.

      1. Consider the meaning or significance of Gaza’s gates.

        1. Gaza’s gates were her glory and her protection. Gaza was one of the most prominent cities in the kingdom of the Ph. It may even have been her capital.

          1. About Gaza the Philistines could have paraphrased Psalm 48:12-13, “Walk about Gaza and go round about her. Tell the towers thereof. Mark ye well her bulwarks. Consider he palaces.”

          2. Gaza undoubtedly boasted about her defenses. Her city was impregnable. But her boast was in vain when Jehovah’s servant could simply come in and physically remove the gates without a weapon.

          3. What a laughing stock Gaza was when word spread that there was a gaping wide hole in the wall where once her gates had been. Gaza was defenseless.

        2. The gates of a city were also the place of business and concourse. The elders met in the gates to make political decisions; and the businessmen met in the gates to strike business deals (c.f. Ruth 4:1; Psalm 127:5; Prov. 31:23)

          1. Therefore for Samson to remove the gates was a blow to the security, the commerce and the politics of the city.

          2. It would be like enemy coming into a major city and singlehandedly destroying parliament, business sector and security service at the same time.

          3. Last time we saw that Samson by burning the Ph fields devastated their economy. Now in one night he brings one of the prominent cities to its knees.

      2. It was all the more humiliating for the Philistines because Samson turned the tables on them and overturned the plot they had made to capture and kill him.

        1. When Samson entered Gaza the Ph saw their chance. They closed the gates and surrounded Samson planning to kill him in the morning.

          1. It is very likely that the woman in verse 1, with whom Samson spent the night, informed the men of Gaza of Samson’s whereabouts.

          2. All the men of Gaza had to do, they thought, was wait until morning and when it was light they would kill him. To that end they laid wait for him in the gate.

          3. This operation “Kill Samson” required secrecy so they remained quiet all night. It is strange, however, that they did not kill him while he slept; probably they fell asleep in the guard rooms of the towers of the gate.

        2. Certainly, nobody expected Samson to rise at midnight, but Samson was the kind of man who did what he pleased. And the woman seems to have failed to give warning to the men of Gaza.

          1. If the men of Gaza really did plan to kill him and it was not some empty boast (remember he had killed 1,000 men with the jawbone of an ass. Did they really want to risk a violent confrontation with Samson?) they lost their resolve when he woke up early.

          2. It must have been a rude awakening to find gate in which they had been hiding being lifted off the ground and hoisted on to the shoulders of Samson.

          3. Certainly, none attempted to resist Samson in anything. They were powerless.

    2. Samson is a type of Christ in his work as judge. As a type he is a dim reflection of Christ and His work, but what does this extraordinary event tell us about Christ?

      1. First, Samson’s taking away the gates of the enemy is a partial fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. And remember that Christ is the Seed of Abraham.

        1. Just after Abraham passed the trial of his faith in sacrificing Isaac God made the promise recorded in Gen. 22:17 [read].

          1. Samson, a descendant of Samson, possessed and spoiled the gates of his enemies. Jesus Christ did so in a greater way than Samson did.

          2. Samson was unafraid to enter the citadel of the enemy and the gates of Gaza could not prevail against him. Jesus Christ was unafraid to enter Satan’s lair and the gates of hell did not prevail against Him.

          3. In entering into battle with Satan, Christ triumphed over him; he destroyed hell’s gates, freed hell’s captives and spoiled hell’s defenses. In fact, He made open show of hell’s forces; left the devil a laughing stock before heaven.

        2. And b/c Christ defeated the gates of the kingdom of darkness He can assure us that in building His church the gates of hell will not prevail against us.

          1. If Samson overcame an impossible obstacle in the strength of Jehovah’s Spirit, and if Jesus Christ overcame the powers of death, hell, the devil and sin, what do we need to fear?

          2. Nor do we need to worry about Gaza’s gates today: the defenses of the enemy seem impregnable, but his gates have already been destroyed. There is a gaping hole in his defenses.

          3. And now, we who were in the kingdom of darkness, whose gates Christ has smashed down, are free to live in the kingdom of God where we and our children are safe.

      2. Second, Samson’s carrying away the gates of Gaza reminds us of the awful burden of the cross.

        1. You might be impressed (and you should be) by Samson’s ability to carry the gates of Gaza.

          1. The weight of such a burden would crush a man not endowed with supernatural strength but Samson was empowered by the Spirit of Jehovah, the same Spirit who brought the world into being, and the same Spirit who brings dead sinners to life.

          2. Therefore, we are not at all worried by unbelieving critics of Scripture who call this Jewish folklore or legend. Nothing shall be impossible with God!

          3. But we are much more impressed by the greater weight which the greater Samson bore for us.

        2. Samson carried several tonnes a maximum of about 60 miles. Jesus Christ carried a wooden cross through the city of Jerusalem and up the hill of Calvary, but the wood of the cross was not the crushing burden.

          1. The burden Christ bore was the crushing, well nigh overwhelming burden of sin and guilt.

          2. As Christ walked up Calvary and as He hung on the cross the awful weight of the guilt of Samson’s sins and the sins of all God’s people bore down on him; and the awful weight of God’s wrath pressed down upon Him.

          3. Compared to that, carrying Gaza’s gates is nothing. And in carrying that burden Christ did not deposit our sins on a hill before Hebron. He removed our guilt completely. It is gone, forever removed from our account and God will never hold it against us.


    1. In the midst of victory there is shameful defeat. Samson sleeps with a prostitute!

      1. Samson’s sin here is much worse than his previous sin. Before he had married a Ph woman (which was a terrible sin because he married an unbeliever) but here he is sleeping with a woman he meets on the streets of Gaza. And she is a harlot!

        1. A prostitute or a harlot is a woman who sleeps with men for money, who sells her body to men for sex in exchange for financial reward.

          1. This woman was probably waiting at the street corner in the “Red Light District” of Gaza, made up and dressed to seduce men who passed by.

          2. This is a gross violation of the 7th Comm. and it is simply inexcusable.

          3. Some have tried, in vain, to excuse Samson: they say he simply lodged in her house as Joshua’s spies had done in Jericho but v. 1 says “he saw there an harlot and went in unto her.” That phrase “went into her” means almost always (and in this context) a man sleeping with woman sexually.

        2. It may have been that Samson was not looking for a harlot but he lingered too long and was ensnared by her charms.

          1. Since Gaza was some 80km from home it is unlikely Samson went that far to look for a prostitute but he should not have been lingering in the city of the enemy near dark. What was he doing there anyway?

          2. Samson saw the harlot and he did not turn his eye away from her; he did not shut his ears to her seductive, flattering words; he did not flee from her house.

          3. Samson walked right into temptation: he knew she was a harlot; he knew the law of God; he knew as a good Jew what Joseph had done when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him. Instead of fleeing he followed her into her bedroom.

        3. Perhaps he tried to excuse himself as all those infatuated with sin try to do.

          1. It does not mean anything: it only happened once, and, no one will know. God knew and God recorded it in Scripture so that we know and are warned.

          2. Perhaps he said, “I can stop when I want to. I can handle it. It won’t affect me. I am stronger than my sin. And besides God will forgive me later.”

          3. Samson was wrong: sin was wrapping its coils around him, and he was not able to escape. Remember that when you are tempted to sin. James 1:14-15.

      2. Samson’s sin was aggravated by several factors.

        1. Samson was not only an Israelite but a judge, an officebearer in Israel.

          1. If an ordinary church member commits a gross public sin we are rightly shocked. How much more when a pastor, elder or deacon does it?

          2. Reading this ought to have made Israel blush: has it come to this? A judge of Israel sleeping with a prostitute?

          3. And, while the carrying away of Gaza’s gates glorified God, this brought shame upon the name of Jehovah. God’s name blasphemed among heathen.

        2. And, more serious, Samson was a Nazarite, a man dedicated as holy unto Jehovah. A Nazarite sleeping with a prostitute! Beloved, it is not the carrying away of Gaza’s gates that is hard to understand. It is Samson’s conduct!

          1. Samson seemingly was still abstaining from wine; Samson’s hair was still uncut, but Samson’s life is unholy, scandalously unholy.

          2. What a laughing stock: the holy Nazarite in bed with a whore!

          3. But there is a much more serious issue here. Samson is a mirror for Israel. By raising up Samson God shoves a mirror in Israel’s face. Do you see yourself, Israel? You are my holy people; I love you; I show mercy to you, and do you see how you live? Repent, return to me, put away your idols!

    2. But did you notice, beloved, that Samson got away with it? Samson slept with a prostitute but still prospered. Samson sees no immediate consequences and Samson does not repent. In fact, God enables him to carry away Gaza’s gates in triumph!

      1. That is a grave danger for Samson: he believes that God is blessing him in his sin; that God is turning a blind eye, and that there will be no consequences for his actions

        1. In a word, Samson is becoming presumptuous.

          1. To presume on God’s mercy is to take God for granted and to use God’s mercy as an excuse to sin.

          2. Samson enjoys being judge. He is having fun, humiliating the Philistines, showing his great strength and even sleeping with a prostitute because he can.

          3. And he makes no effort whatever to curb his lusts. He looks to God for physical strength but he does not pray “Lead me not into temptation.”

        2. But things are going to change for Samson very soon when he meets Delilah. Then he will not be able to resist her wiles and then there will be severe consequences.

          1. A child of God must never think because he got away with sin once that God will allow him to go on it sin forever. It is better to repent early.

          2. Samson sinned once in marrying the Philistine; he should have learned his lesson; now he has sinned even more grievously. And the more Samson sins the heavier will be God’s chastisement when it finally falls.

          3. And, make no mistake, beloved: God will chastise Samson and he will chastise all his children. Discipline is part of God’s fatherly goodness.

      2. That is the tragedy of Samson’s life: he could carry away the strong gates of Gaza but he could not control himself.

        1. Prov. 16:32, “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.”

        2. Prov. 25:28 He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.”

        3. But we look to one greater than Samson who did not have Samson’s flaws, to Jesus Christ for whom sin held no attraction. Let Samson be a warning to us, and when we are tempted, let us flee temptation and trust in Christ. Amen! 

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