Thursday, July 03, 2008

Judges 16:1–22

Judges 16:1–22: Samson and Delilah

Synopsis

In this passage we get to the story for which Samson is famous. In fact, you don’t normally even hear Samson’s name without hearing “and Delilah” right after it. But the passage starts with Samson visiting a prostitute.

He goes to Gaza, and visits with a prostitute. While he’s there, the people of Gaza realize that he’s in their city, and surround it to wait for him to come out. The plan is to wait for dawn to kill him, when they’re assuming that he will come out. However, Samson gets up in the middle of the night, tears down the doors and posts of the city gate, and carries them off with him.

After this, Samson falls in love with a Philistine woman, named Delilah. (At least, I think she’s a Philistine; all the passage says is that she’s from the Valley of Sorek, but I don’t know my ancient Promised Land geography well enough to know what that means. Based on the rest of the story, I believe she’s a Philistine, although she could just be working with them.) The Philistines decide to take advantage of this situation, and they ask Delilah to “lure” him into showing her the secret to his strength (verse 5). If she does, they will give her a bunch of silver. (It says that each of the Philistine rulers will give her 13 kilograms of silver, although the passage doesn’t say how many rulers there are.)

So she asks him, and he tells her that if anyone ties him with seven fresh thongs (or bowstrings), ones that haven’t been dried, he’ll become as weak as anyone else. So the Philistines supply Delilah with such thongs, and she ties Samson with them. (One would assume that he is asleep at the time.) She then calls out to him, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” But he snaps the thongs “as easily as a piece of string snaps when it comes close to a flame,” and, one assumes, overpowers the Philistines (verse 9).

After this, Delilah says a very interesting thing to Samson:

Then Delilah said to Samson, “You have made a fool of me; you lied to me. Come now, tell me how you can be tied.” (verse 10)

See below for my (rather obvious) thoughts on this; I don’t know what Samson’s thoughts are, but he tells her another fake version of where his strength comes from: if anyone ties him with seven new ropes, it will rob him of his strength. And the same thing happens again: She ties him with seven ropes, calls out that the Philistines are upon him, he easily snaps the ropes, and, one assumes, overpowers the Philistines.

So Delilah becomes even more forceful with Samson; she tells him that he’s been making a fool of her, and lying to her, and demands that he tell her how he can be tied up. So he gives her another false story, and tells her that if his hair is woven into the fabric on a loom, and tightened with the pin, he’ll be as weak as any other man. And then, surprise surprise, she weaves his hair into the loom, “the Philistines are upon you,” he pulls his hair out from the loom and overpowers them.

So Delilah gets even more forceful in trying to get the information from him:

Then she said to him, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when you won’t confide in me? This is the third time you have made a fool of me and haven’t told me the secret of your great strength.” With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was tired to death.

So he told her everything. “No razor has ever been used on my head,” he said, “because I have been a Nazirite set apart to God since birth. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.”

(verses 15–17)


Delilah realizes that he has told her the truth this time, and once more she sends word to the Philistines, telling them that this time he’s told her everything. They show up, silver in hand, and get ready.

Delilah gets Samson to fall asleep on her lap, and then she calls in one of the Philistines, to shave the seven braids of Samson’s hair from his head. One last time she calls to him that the Philistines are upon him, and he gets up, assuming that he’ll be able to shake himself free. But this time, there is nothing to shake himself free from, and because his hair is gone, the LORD has left him. The Philistines seize him, gouge out his eyes, and put him in their prison. Verse 21 says that they “set him to grinding in the prison,” so I assume that this is some type of manual labour that they get their prisoners to do.

The passage ends with a verse that sounds very much like foreshadowing:

But the hair on his head began to grow again after it had been shaved. (verse 22)

We’ll have to see how this plays out in the next passage.

Thoughts

When Delilah asks Samson for the secret of his strength the first time, one could see why he would tell her. He does love her, after all, and it’s a natural question for her to ask. Then again, even the first time, he gives her a false answer, so he’s either suspicious from the beginning, or he’s being uncharacteristically careful. But after this, the situation becomes very confusing. Delilah is obviously working with the Philistines—especially since she says that his lies are “making a fool of her” (verse 13)—and I’m sure Samson realizes it, even if he is somewhat blinded by love. (People can ignore a lot when it comes to the one they love.) He seems to be playing with her, by telling her all of these false secrets to his strength, and it’s possible that he’s enjoying himself, and simply inventing new reasons to engage the Philistines in battle. I wonder about the last time that she asked him, though, when he gave her the real answer. The passage says that he was “tired to death” (verse 16), but I wonder if he was also assuming that his strength wouldn’t leave him, even without his hair. When you’ve been supernaturally strong for your whole life, it might be hard to understand a life in which you’re as weak as any other man. (The passage specifically says that he assumes he’ll still have his strength, but that could be because he doesn’t realize his hair is gone, or it could be because he doesn’t believe shaving his hair will rob him of his strength.)

This might serve as a metaphor for Israel’s relationship with God, too: Samson might have assumed that he’d keep his strength, even without his hair; the Israelites, later in their history, will always assume that the LORD will be there for them, even after they’ve abandoned His precepts and ways.

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