Judges 16

The Word Made Fresh

1Samson went to Gaza where he saw a woman who was a prostitute, and he slept with her. 2Word got around that Samson had come to Gaza, so some of them gathered and lay in wait for him all night near the city gate and kept quiet, thinking that when daylight came they would kill Samson. 3But Samson had gotten up during the night, had dismantled the city gate and its post, bars and all, and carried them on his shoulders to the hilltop above Hebron.

4Later, he took up with a woman whose name was Delilah in the Sorek valley. 5Philistine leaders came to her and said, “Cuddle up to him and get him to tell you what makes him so strong and find out how we can master him and tie him up. Each of us will pay you eleven hundred silver coins.”

6So, Delilah said to Samson, “What makes you so strong? Is there any way to bind you so that you can’t get away?”

7Samson said, “Tie me up with seven new bowstrings that haven’t dried, and I’ll be weak like everybody else.”

8The Philistine leaders brought her seven fresh bowstrings, and she tied him up. 9With men hiding in another room she called out to him, “The Philistines are here, Samson!” He tore the bowstrings apart like a spiderweb in a flame. The secret of his strength was still a secret.

10Delilah said, “You were just teasing me! Come now, please tell me how you can be bound.”

11He said, “If I’m tied up with new ropes that have never been used, then I’ll be weak like everybody else.”

12So, Delilah tied him up with new ropes, and cried out, “The Philistines are here, Samson!” with men hiding in another room. But Samson ripped the ropes off his arms as if they were mere threads.

13Delilah said, “You’ve been teasing me and lying to me. Now, tell me the truth; how can you be bound?”

He said, “If you weave my hair into seven locks and tie them with a pin, then I shall be as weak as anybody.”

14So, when he was asleep, Delilah wove his hair into seven locks and tied them with a pin. Then she cried out, “The Philistines are here for you, Samson!” But he simply awoke and pulled all the knots she had pinned into his hair.

15Then she said to him, “How can you say you love me when your heart is so fickle? Three times you have made fun of me and lied to me about what keeps you strong.” 16She nagged him day after day, and pestered him until he was exhausted.

17So, he finally told her his secret. He said, “My hair has never been cut. I was dedicated to God before I was born. If my hair was to be shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would be weak like everyone else.”

18Then Delilah realized he had told her the truth, and she summoned the Philistine leaders and told them, “This time you can come, because I am certain he has given me his secret.” So, the Philistine leaders came to her house with the money they had promised. 19She let Samson fall asleep in her lap, then called a man to come and cut off the locks of his hair while he slept, and he became weak. 20She shouted, “The Philistines are here, Samson!”

He awakened, thinking he could get up as before because he did not know that the LORD had left him. 21The Philistines captured him. They gouged out his eyes and brought him to Gaza where they bound him with bronze chains. They put him in prison where he was forced to grind at the mill.

22But his hair began to grow back.

23The Philistine leaders gathered to offer sacrifices to their god, Dagon, and to celebrate, saying, “Dagon has given Samson to us!” 14When the people saw Samson, they praised Dagon. They said, “Dagon has given us the man who has been ravaging our country and killing our people!”

25When they had all gotten a little drunk they called out, “Get Samson! Let him be our entertainment!” They brought Samson out of the prison to entertain them. They stood him up between two of the pillars supporting the building.

26Samson said to the guard in charge of him, “Put my hands on the buildings’ columns so I can lean on them.” 27The building was filled with Philistines, men and women, and all the rulers were there. There were about three thousand more of them on the roof watching Samson flex and stretch.

28Then Samson prayed, “LORD God, remember me, and give me strength this one last time so I can take revenge on these Philistines for blinding my eyes!” 29Then he braced himself against the two central columns that supported the weight of the building and pressed his hands against them with all his might. 30He cried out, “Let me die with these Philistines!” Then, pushing with all his strength, the building collapsed on the leaders and the people who were gathered in it. He killed more people at his death than he had killed during his life.

31His brothers and the rest of his family came and claimed his body. They buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in his father Manoah’s tomb. He had been Israel’s judge for twenty years.

Commentary

1-3: The author(s) of the book of Judges has no compunction against openly depicting Samson’s rather loose morals. It’s a woman again, another Philistine (Gaza is a Philistine stronghold). Another feat of strength is demonstrated in the process, though, and perhaps that is the real point of the story.

4- 17 Then Samson falls in love with yet another woman, Delilah (the name means “flirtatious”). We are not told if she is Israelite, Canaanite or Philistine. Sorek was a settlement in the territory of Judah, so perhaps we are meant to think that Samson has finally chosen a wife from among his own people. The Philistines, who threatened his first wife, now bribe his second one (although the text never makes it clear that they are married) to find out the source of his great strength. The story makes for wonderful drama and comedy, as Samson thwarts their plot not once, not twice, but three times.

18-22: Finally, he tells her the secret – his Nazarite vow never to cut his hair. She puts him to sleep and has a barber come in and shave his head. Now he is weak, because “the LORD left him.”

It is the story of Israel in microcosm, you see. As long as he keeps his vow, God makes him strong against his enemies. When he breaks the vow, he becomes just an ordinary man and God lets him suffer the consequences. Still, I have to wonder if he knew what Delilah was up to all along.

They bring him to Gaza, where he had ripped the gates off their hinges at the start of this chapter, and gouge out his eyes, and put him to work grinding at a mill in the prison – perhaps treading grapes to make wine, an added insult to his Nazarite vows.

23-27: They bring him to the temple of their god Dagon in Gaza, and he “performs for them,” though we are not told what kind of performance it might be. Perhaps “put on display” is a better translation here than “perform,” because the story depends on their not knowing that his strength has returned. He takes advantage of their ignorance to position himself at a strategic place in the building, between the pillars.

28-31: Samson prays, for the first time in his life as far as we are told, for his strength to return so that he can pay them back for the loss of his eyes. In his last act, Samson again takes revenge on his enemies by collapsing the building and killing many of them.

Takeaway

Samson became something of a folk hero for many people, but he clearly represents the moral decline of Israel during the period of the judges. Consider: everything Samson does is done with a selfish motive. Even his final act is done for the purpose of taking revenge on the Philistines for blinding him. Samson is a reminder that God uses whom God chooses, sometimes without regard to that person’s moral standing.