sam´sun (שׁמשׁון, shimshōn).
Derived probably from שׁמשׁ, shemesh, “sun” with the diminutive ending ון-, -on, meaning “little sun” or “sunny,” or perhaps “sun-man”; Σαμψών, Sampsṓn; Latin and English, Samson: His home was near Bethshemesh, which means “house of the sun.” Compare the similar formation שׁמשׁי, shimshay (Ezr_4:8, Ezr_4:9, Ezr_4:17, Ezr_4:23).
Samson was a judge, perhaps the last before Samuel. He was a Nazirite of the tribe of Dan (Jdg_13:5); a man of prodigious strength, a giant and a gymnast – the Hebrew Hercules, a strange champion for Yahweh! He intensely hated the Philistines who had oppressed Israel some 40 years (Jdg_13:1), and was willing to fight them alone. He seems to have been actuated by little less than personal vengeance, yet in the New Testament he is named among the heroes of faith (Heb_11:32), and was in no ordinary sense an Old Testament worthy. He was good-natured, sarcastic, full of humor, and fought with his wits as well as with his fists. Milton has graphically portrayed his character in his dramatic poem Samson Agonistes (1671), on which Handel built his oratorio, Samson (1743).
3. Story of His Life:
The story of Samson’s life is unique among the biographies of the Old Testament. It is related in Judges 13 through 16. Like Isaac, Samuel and John the Baptist, he was a child of prayer (Jdg_13:8, Jdg_13:12). To Manoah’s wife the angel of Yahweh appeared twice (Jdg_13:3, Jdg_13:9), directing that the child which should be born to them should be a Nazirite from the womb, and that he would “begin to save Israel out of the hand of the Philistines” (Jdg_13:5, Jdg_13:7, Jdg_13:14). The spirit of Yahweh first began to move him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol (Jdg_13:25). On his arriving at manhood, five remarkable circumstances are recorded of him.
(1) His marriage with a Philistine woman of Timnah (Judges 14). His parents objected to the alliance (Jdg_14:3), but Samson’s motive in marrying her was that he “sought an occasion against the Philistines” At the wedding feast Samson propounded to his guests a riddle, wagering that if they guessed its answer he would give them 30 changes of raiment. Dr. Moore felicitously renders the text of the riddle thus: ‘Out of the eater came something to eat, And out of the strong came something sweet’ (Jdg_14:14).
The Philistines threatened the life of his bride, and she in turn wrung from Samson the answer; whereupon he retorted (in Dr. Moore’s version):
‘If with my heifer ye did not plow, Ye had not found out my riddle, I trow’ (Jdg_14:18).
Accordingly, in revenge, Samson went down to Ashkelon, slew some 30 men, and paid his debt; he even went home without his wife, and her father to save her from shame gave her to Samson’s “best man” (Jdg_14:20). It has been suggested by W. R. Smith (Kinship and Marriage in Early Arabia, 70-76) that Samson did not from the first intend to take his bride to his home, his marriage being what is known among the Arabs as a cadı̄ḳat, or gift marriage, by which is meant that the husband becomes a part of the wife’s tribe. This assumes that the social relations of the Hebrews at that time were matriarchate, the wife remaining with her family, of which custom there are other traces in the Old Testament, the husband merely visiting the wife from time to time. But this is not so obvious in Samson’s case in view of his pique (Jdg_14:19), and especially in view of his parents’ objection to his marrying outside of Israel (Jdg_14:3). Not knowing that his bride had been given by her father to his friend, Samson went down to Timnah to visit her, with a kid; when he discovered, however, that he had been taken advantage of, he went out and caught 300 jackals, and putting firebrands between every two tails, he burned up the grain fields and olive yards of the Philistines. The Philistines, however, showed they could play with fire, too, and burned his wife and her father. Thereupon, Samson smote the Philistines in revenge, “hip and thigh” (Jdg_15:1-8).
(2) When he escaped to Etam, an almost vertical rock cliff in Judah (by some identified with ‛Araḳ Ismain) not far from Zorah, Samson’s home, the Philistines invaded Judah, encamped at Lehi above Etam, and demanded the surrender of their arch-enemy. The men of Judah were willing to hand Samson over to the Philistines, and accordingly went down to the cliff Etam, bound Samson and brought him up where the Philistines were encamped (Jdg_15:9-13). When Samson came to Lehi the Philistines shouted as they met him, whereupon the spirit of Yahweh came mightily upon him, so that he broke loose from the two new ropes with which the 3,000 men of Judah had bound him, and seizing a fresh jawbone of an ass he smote with it 1,000 men of the Philistines, boasting as he did so in pun-like poetry, ‘With the jawbone of an ass, m-ass upon m-ass’; or, as Dr. Moore translates the passage, ‘With the bone of an ass, I ass-ailed my ass-ailants’ (Jdg_15:16). At the same time, Samson reverently gave Yahweh the glory of his victory (Jdg_15:18). Samson being thirsty, Yahweh provided water for him at a place called En-hakkore, or “Partridge Spring,” or “the Spring of the Caller” – another name for partridge (Jdg_15:17-19).
(3) Samson next went down to Gaza, to the very stronghold of the Philistines, their chief city. There he saw a harlot, and, his passions not being under control, he went in unto her. It was soon noised about that Samson, the Hebrew giant, was in the city. Accordingly, the Philistines laid wait for him. But Samson arose at midnight and laid hold of the doors of the gate and their two posts, and carried them a full quarter of a mile up to the top of the mountain that looketh toward Hebron (Jdg_16:1-3).
(4) From Gaza Samson betook himself to the valley of Sorek where he fell in love with another Philistine woman, named Delilah, through whose machinations he lost his spiritual power. The Philistine lords bribed her with a very large sum to deliver him into their hands. Three times Samson deceived her as to the secret of his strength, but at last he explains that he is a Nazirite, and that his hair, which has never been shorn, is the secret of his wonderful power. J. G. Frazer (Golden Bough, III, 390 ff) has shown that the belief that some mysterious power resides in the hair is still widespread among savage peoples, e.g. the Fiji Islanders. Thus, Samson fell. By disclosing to Delilah this secret, he broke his covenant vow, and the Spirit of God departed from him (Jdg 16:4-20). The Philistines laid hold on him, put out his eyes, brought him down to Gaza, bound him with fetters, and forced him to grind in the prison house. Grinding was women’s work!
Howbeit, the hair of his head began to grow again; but his eyes did not! (Jdg_16:21, Jdg_16:22).
(5) The final incident recorded of Samson is in connection with a great sacrificial feast which the Philistine lords gave in honor of Dagon, their god. In their joyous celebration they sang in rustic rhythm: ‘Our god has given us into our hand The foe of our land, Whom even our most powerful band Was never able to withstand’ (Jdg_16:24).
This song was accompanied probably, as Mr. Macalister suggests, by hand-clapping (Gezer, 129). When they became still more merry, they called for Samson to play the buffoon, and by his pranks to entertain the assembled multitude. The house of Dagon was full of people; about 3,000 were upon the roof beholding as Samson made sport. With the new growth of his hair his strength had returned to him. The dismantled giant longed to be avenged on his adversaries for at least one of his two eyes (Jdg_16:28). He prayed, and Yahweh heard his prayer. Guided by his attendant, he took hold of the wooden posts of the two middle pillars upon which the portico of the house rested, and slipping them off their pedestals, the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people that were therein. “So the dead that he slew at his death were more than they that he slew in his life” (Jdg_16:29, Jdg_16:30). His kinsmen came and carried him up and buried him near his boyhood home, between Zorah and Eshtaol, in the family burying-ground of his father. “And he judged Israel twenty years” (Jdg_16:31).
4. Historical Value:
The story of Samson is a faithful mirror of his times: “Every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Jdg_17:6; Jdg_21:25). There was no king in those days, i.e. no central government. Each tribe was separately occupied driving out their individual enemies. For 40 years the Philistines had oppressed Samson’s tribal compatriots. Their suzerainty was also recognized by Judah (Jdg_14:4; Jdg_15:11). Samson was the hero of his tribe. The general historicity of his story cannot be impeached on the mere ground of improbability. His deeds were those which would most naturally be expected from a giant, filled with a sense of justice. He received the local popularity which a man of extraordinary prowess would naturally be given. All peoples glory in their heroes. The theory that the record in Judges 13 through 16 is based upon some “solar myth” is now generally abandoned. That there are incidents in his career which are difficult to explain, is freely granted. For example, that he killed a lion (Jdg_14:6) is not without a parallel; David and Benaiah did the same (1Sa_17:34-36; 2Sa_23:20). God always inspires a man in the line of his natural endowments. That God miraculously supplied his thirst (Jdg_15:19) is no more marvelous than what God did for Hagar in the wilderness (Gen_21:19). That Samson carried off the doors of the gate of Gaza and their two posts, bar and all, must not confound us till we know more definitely their size and the distance from Gaza of the hill to which he carried them. The fact that he pulled down the roof on which there were 3,000 men and women is not at all impossible, as Mr. Macalister has shown. If we suppose that there was an immense portico to the temple of Dagon, as is quite possible, which was supported by two main pillars of wood resting on bases of stone, like the cedar pillars of Solomon’s house (1Ki_7:2), all that Samson, therefore, necessarily did, was to push the wooden beams so that their feet would slide over the stone base on which they rested, and the whole portico would collapse. Moreover, it is not said that the whole of the 3,000 on the roof were destroyed (Jdg_16:30). Many of those in the temple proper probably perished in the number (R. A. S. Macalister, Bible Side-Lights from the Mound of Gezer, 1906, 127-38).
5. Religious Value:
Not a few important and suggestive lessons are deducible from the hero’s life: (1) Samson was the object of parental solicitude from even before his birth. One of the most suggestive and beautiful prayers in the Old Testament is that of Manoah for guidance in the training of his yet unborn child (Jdg_13:8). Whatever our estimate of his personality is, Samson was closely linked to the covenant. (2) He was endowed with the Spirit of Yahweh – the spirit of personal patriotism, the spirit of vengeance upon a foe of 40 years’ standing (Jdg_13:1, Jdg_13:25; Jdg_14:6 :19; Jdg_15:14). (3) He also prayed, and Yahweh answered him, though in judgment (Jdg_16:30). But he was prodigal of his strength. Samson had spiritual power and performed feats which an ordinary man would hardly perform. But he was unconscious of his high vocation. In a moment of weakness he yielded to Delilah and divulged the secret of his strength. He was careless of his personal endowment. He did not realize that physical endowments no less than spiritual are gifts from God, and that to retain them we must be obedient. (4) He was passionate and therefore weak. The animal of his nature was never curbed, but rather ran unchained and free. He was given to sudden fury. Samson was a wild, self-willed man. Passion ruled. He could not resist the blandishments of women. In short, he was an overgrown schoolboy, without self-mastery. (5) He accordingly wrought no permanent deliverance for Israel; he lacked the spirit of cooperation. He undertook a task far too great for even a giant single-handed. Yet, it must be allowed that Samson paved the way for Saul and David. He began the deliverance of Israel from the Philistines. He must, therefore, be judged according to his times. In his days there was unrestrained individual independence on every side, each one doing as he pleased. Samson differed from his contemporaries in that he was a hero of faith (Heb_11:32). He was a Nazirite, and therefore dedicated to God. He was given to revenge, yet he was ready to sacrifice himself in order that his own and his people’s enemies might be overthrown. He was willing to lay down his own life for the sake of his fellow-tribesmen – not to save his enemies, however, but to kill them. (Compare Mat_5:43 f; Rom_5:10.)
(“awe inspiring”.) (Jdg_13:6; Jdg_13:18-20) or else “sunlike” (Gesenius): compare Jdg_5:31, “strong” (Josephus Ant. 5:8, section 4). Judge of Israel for 20 years (Jdg_15:20; Jdg_16:31), namely, in the Danite region near Philistia. Judah and Dan, and perhaps all Israel, were subject then to the Philistines (Jdg_13:1; Jdg_13:5; Jdg_15:9-11, “knowest thou not the Philistines are rulers over us?” Jdg_15:20). His 20 years’ office was probably included in the “40 years” of Philistine rule. At the time of the angel’s announcement to his mother (Jdg_13:5) they ruled, and as his judgeship did not begin before he was 20 it must have nearly coincided with the last 20 years of their dominion. However their rule ceased not until the judgeship of Samuel, which retrieved their capture of the ark (1Sa_7:1-14). So the close of Samson’s judgeship must have coincided with the beginning of Samuel’s, and the capture of the ark in Eli’s time must have been during Samson’s lifetime. Correspondences between their times appear.
(1) The Philistines are prominent under both.
(2) Both are Nazarites (1Sa_1:11), Samson’s exploits probably moving Hannah to her vow. Amos (Amo_2:11-12) alludes to them, the only allusion elsewhere to Nazarites in the Old Testament being Lam_4:7.
(3) Dagon’s temple is alluded to under both (1Sa_5:2; Jdg_16:23).
(4) The Philistine lords (1Sa_7:7; Jdg_16:8; Jdg_16:18; Jdg_16:27).
Samson roused the people from their servile submission, and by his desultory blows on the foe prepared Israel for the final victory under Samuel. “He shall begin to deliver Israel” (Jdg_13:5) implies the consummation of the deliverance was to be under his successor (1Sa_7:1-13). “The Lord blessed him” from childhood (Jdg_13:24); type of Jesus (Luk_2:52, compare Luk_1:80, John the Baptist the New Testament Nazarite). “The Spirit of the Lord” is stated to be the Giver of his strength (Jdg_13:25; Jdg_14:6; Jdg_14:19; Jdg_15:14). Samson was not of giant size as were some of the Philistines (1 Samuel 17); his strength was not brute natural strength, but spiritual, bound up with fidelity to his Nazarite vow. An embodied lesson to Israel that her power lay in separation from idol lusts and entire consecration to God; no foe could withstand them while true to Him, but once that they forsook Him for the fascinations of the world their power is gone and every enemy should triumph over them (1Sa_2:9).
Still even Samson’s falls, as Israel’s, are in God’s wonderful providence overruled to Satan’s and his agents’ confusion and the good of God’s elect. Samson slays the lion at Timnath, and through his Philistine wife’s enticement they told the riddle; then to procure 30 tunics he slew 30 Philistines, the forfeit. His riddle “out of the eater came forth meat (carcasses in the East often dry up without decomposition), and out of the strong (Mat_12:29) came forth sweetness,” is the key of Samson’s history and of our present dispensation. Satan’s lion-like violence and harlot-like subtlety are made to recoil on himself and to work out God’s sweet and gracious purposes toward His elect. Deprived of his wife, Samson by the firebrands attached to 300 “jackals” (shual), avenged himself on them. The Philistines burnt her and her father with fire; then he smote them with great slaughter at Etam. Then under the Spirit’s power with an donkey bone (for the Philistines let Israel have no iron weapons: 1Sa_13:19) he slew a thousand Philistines.
This established his title as judge during the Philistine oppression (“in the days of the Philistines”: Jdg_15:20). (See DELILAH for his fall.) By lust Samson lost at once his godliness and his manliness; it severed him from God the strength of his manhood. Samson set at nought the legal prohibition against affinity with idolatrous women (Exo_34:15-16; Deu_7:3). Parting with the Nazarite locks of his consecration was virtual renunciation of his union with God, so his strength departed. Prayer restored it. The foes’ attribution of their victory over “Samson the destroyer of their country” to their god Dagon provoked God’s jealousy for His honour. A Philistine multitude, including all their lords, congregated in the house, which was a vast hall, the roof resting on four columns, two at the ends and two close together at the center; 3,000 men and women on the roof beheld while Samson made sport. Samson by pulling down the house slew at his death more than in his life. Type of Christ (Col_2:15; Mat_27:50-54).
Fulfilling Jacob’s prophecy of Dan, his tribe (Gen_49:16-17). A token that Israel’s temporary backslidings, when repented of, shall issue in ultimate victory. Samson, the physically strong Nazarite, prepared the way for Samuel, the spiritual hero Nazarite, who consummated the deliverance that Samson began. Samson wrought what he did by faith, the true secret of might (Heb_11:32; Mat_21:21). The Phoenicians carried to Greece the story of Samson, which the Greeks transferred to their idol Hercules. The Scholion on Lycophron (Bochart Hieroz. 2:5, section 12) blends the stories of Samson and Jonah, and makes Hercules come out of the belly of the sea monster with the loss of his hair. Hercules was “son of the sun” in Egypt (shemesh) related to Sam-son). Ovid (Fasti 54) describes the custom of tying a torch between two foxes in the circus, in memory of damage once done to a harvest by a fox with burning straw. Hercules dies by the hand of his wife; but every fault is atoned by suffering, and at last he ascends to heaven. His joviality and buffoonery answer to the last scene in the life of Samson. The history is taken probably from the tribe of Daniel.
Called his name Samson. No doubt the name was significant of what the child should be (see note to Jdg_13:17), but the etymology and meaning of the name are doubtful. Josephus (‘Antiq.,’ Jdg_8:4) says the name means “a strong one,” but he does not say in what language, and it does not appear to have such a meaning in any Semitic dialect. It is commonly interpreted to mean like the sun, from shemesh, the common word for the sun; and so Jerome in his ‘Onomasticon’ expounds it as the sun’s strength,’ possibly with an allusion to Jdg_5:31. Others make it equal shimshom, from the Pilpel conjugation of shamem, to devastate. Another possible derivation is from the Chaldee shemash, to minister, specially in sacred things, a root from which the Nestorian, Syriac, and Arabic names for a deacon are derived. If this were the derivation, it would be a reference to his dedication to God as a Nazarite from his mother’s womb, the only thing his mother knew about him when she gave him the name.
Jdg_13:24. And called his name Shimshon. The Septuagint has Σαμψών, Samson; Josephus also, (Antiq. v. 8, 4). This pronunciation refers to the ancient derivation of the name from שֶׁמֶשׁ, the sun, just as שִׁמְשַׁי (Shimshai, Ezr_4:8) is pronounced Samsai (Σαμσαί; according to the Vat. God. Σαμψά), and as we hear in later times of Sampsæans, a sun-sect.8 The Masora seems to have pointed Shimshon after the analogy of Shimeon (Simeon), and to have had the word שָׁמַע, to hear, in view. The derivation from shemesh, the sun, is, however, of long standing among the Jewish expositors also, and offers the best grounds for acceptance. Other explanations, “mighty,” “bold,” “desolator,” proposed by various expositors, from Serarius to Keil, appear to be without any historical motive. The name may be brought into connection with the announcement to the parents, that their son would “begin to deliver Israel.” To Hebrew conceptions, the rising of the sun is an act of victory. In this spirit Deborah sings: “So fall all thy foes, O God; but אֹהְבָיו כְּצֵאת הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ בִּגְבוּרָתוֹ, those who love thee are as the rising of the sun in his strength” (geburatho, as Samson was a gibbor). The Jewish expositors (cf. Jalkut, Judic. n. 69) said, that “Samson was named after the name of God, who is called Sun and Shield of Israel” (Psa_84:12). The symbol of servitude is night, and accordingly the tyranny of Egypt is so called; but the beginning of freedom is as the dawn of day or the rising of the sun. The interpretation of our hero’s name as ἰσχυρός, mighty, by Josephus, is only a translation of gibbor, for the sun also is called a hero (Psa_19:5-6). It is an allegorical, not etymological interpretation, and gives no warrant for charging Josephus with philological error, as Gesenius does (Gesch. der hebr. Spr. p. 82). That some writers find a sun-god in this interpretation, is no reason for giving it up;9 especially when this is done, in a manner as bold as it confused, as by Nork (Bibl. Myth., ii. 405), who goes so far as to compare a father of Adonis, “Manes” (?!?), with Manoah, and drags in the “Almanack” besides. The Mosaic law forbade to make idol images of wood and stone as representations of nature; but the use of spiritual, figurative images drawn from sun and moon, is constantly characteristic of Scripture.
Notwithstanding all nature-worship as connected with the sun, and its censure in Scripture, God Himself is called the “Sun of Righteousness.” The false syncretisms to which more recent times are inclined, have their origin in the failure to separate rightly the fundamental ideas of Biblical and of heathen life.
Keil and Delitzsch
When he had grown up, the Spirit of Jehovah began to thrust him in the camp of Dan. פָּעַם, to thrust, denoting the operation of the Spirit of God within him, which took possession of him suddenly, and impelled him to put forth supernatural powers. Mahaneh-dan, the camp of Dan, was the name given to the district in which the Danites who emigrated, according to Jdg_18:12, from the inheritance of their tribe, had pitched their encampment behind, i.e., to the west of, Kirjath-jearim, or according to this verse, between Zorea and Eshtaol. The situation cannot be determined precisely, as the situation of Eshtaol itself has not been discovered yet (see at Jos_15:33). It was there that Samson lived with his parents, judging from Jdg_16:31. The meaning of this verse, which forms the introduction to the following account of the acts of Samson, is simply that Samson was there seized by the Spirit of Jehovah, and impelled to commence the conflict with the Philistines.
The Spirit of the Lord, etc. See Jdg_3:10, note. To move him—to urge and impel him to strange actions by fits and starts. It is an uncommon expression. In Gen_41:8 the passive of the verb means to be troubled or agitated, and the substantive is the common word for a time in the phrases time after time, twice, thrice (according to the number specified), other times, etc.; also a footstep; and its derivatives mean an anvil, a bell. The idea is that of sudden, single impulses, such as are described in the following chapters. In the camp of Dan, or, as in Jdg_18:12, Mahaneh-Dan, where the reason of the name is explained. For Zorah see Jdg_18:2, note. Eshtaol has not hitherto been identified with any existing place, but it ought to lie east or north of Mahaneh-Dan, since this last was between Zorah and Eshtaol (see note on Jdg_18:12). Kustul, a conical hill one hour west of Jerusalem, has been suggested.
Jdg_13:25. And the Spirit of Jehovah began to move him. The fulfillment had taken place. The son had been born. He grew up under the blessing of God. His flourishing strength, his greatness of spirit, are the consequences of this blessing. But the consecration which was on his head, and which through the abstinence of his mother he had already received in the earliest moments of corporal formation and growth, was a power which imparted to him not only physical strength, but also spiritual impulses. No angel ever comes to Samson; God never talks with him; no appearances, like those to his parents, occur to him. Whatever he carries in his soul and in his members, he has received from the consecration that is upon his head. It is from this source that he derives that elevation of spirit which raises him above the level of common life, and urges him on to deeds of heroism.
In the camp of Dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol. Zorah was Samson’s native place, always appears in juxtaposition with Eshtaol (Jos_15:33; Jos_19:41), and was inhabited by Danites and men of Judah. Its site is recognized in the Tell of Sur’a, from whose summit Robinson had a fine and extensive view (Bibl. Res. iii. 153). For Eshtaol no probable conjecture has yet been offered. The “Camp of Dan” (cf. Jdg_18:12) was a place between the two cities, both of which are located by the Onomasticon in the region north of Eleutheropolis. Eusebius in mentioning Eshtaol says, “’́Ενθεν ὡρμᾶτο Σαμψσών,” thence Samson set out, which Jerome corrected into, “ubi mortuus est Samson,” where Samson died. The “Camp of Dan,” if it were not a regular military post, must at all events have had warlike recollections connected with its name and hill-top situation (cf. Jdg_1:34). It was there that the passion for exploits against the Philistines first seized on Samson. The expression, וַתָּחֶל החַ, “the spirit began,” manifestly answers to the הוּא יָחֵל, “he shall begin,” of Jdg_13:5. The young man was first seized upon by the Spirit of God, לְפַעֲמוֹ. The operation which this word פָּעַם expresses is not an organic work of faith, such as Gideon or Jephthah perform. It is an impulsive inspiration; the sudden ebullition of a spiritual force, which, as in the case of the Seer it manifests itself in words, in that of Samson breaks forth into action. But yet it is no demoniac paroxysm, nor the drunken madness of a Bacchant or the frenzy of a rude Berserker but the sober movement of the Spirit of God, which, while giving heroic power, also governed it. How little mythical the history is, is evinced by the fact that, according to the narrator, the place is still known where the young man first became conscious that he had another calling than to assist his father at home in the field. The Spirit of God thrusts him out into public activity. His father’s house becomes too narrow for him. His public career begins. What that career is to be, is yet to be revealed to him. But he is driven out, and he goes. From the Camp of Dan he issues forth, a youthful hero, like Parcival, in quest of adventure. With what result, is related farther on.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
Jdg_16:4-14. Delilah corrupted by the Philistines.
he loved a woman in the valley of Sorek — The location of this place is not known, nor can the character of Delilah be clearly ascertained. Her abode, her mercenary character, and her heartless blandishments afford too much reason to believe she was a profligate woman.
Keil and Delitzsch
Samson and Delilah. – Jdg_16:4. After this successful act, Samson gave himself up once more to his sensual lusts. He fell in love with a woman in the valley of Sorek, named Delilah (i.e., the weak or pining one), to whose snares he eventually succumbed. With reference to the valley of Sorek, Eusebius affirms in the Onom. (s. v. Σωρήχ), that there was a village called Βαρήχ (l. Καφὰρ σωρήχ according to Jerome) near Zorea, and ἐν ὁρίοις (l. βορείοις according to Jerome, who has ad septentrionalem plagam); and also (s. v. Σωρήκ) that this place was near to Eshtaol. Consequently the Sorek valley would have to be sought for somewhere in the neighbourhood of Samson’s birthplace (Jdg_13:1), and the dwelling-place of his family (Jdg_16:31).
Jdg_16:4. And it came to pass that he loved a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. Let him who stands, take heed lest he fall. This is valid also for the powerful personality of Samson. It is true that the adventures, in which sensuality ensnared him, had hitherto been only occasions for acting as the hero of his people. But it is true also that his present love differs in many respects from that which he gave to the woman of Timnah. Then he was young, and for his people’s sake needed natural occasions for war against the Philistines—to say nothing of the fact that at that time he sought lawful matrimony. Now, he has long been a man. His strength and greatness need no more demonstration. Delilah was not his wife: if not a “zonah,” she was still but a weaver-woman, whom he saw and loved. Moral dangers, like all dangers, may, in the providence of God, serve to give experience to a man, and afford him opportunities for victory; but to run into them, in the confidence of winning new victories, is not permitted, even to a Samson. The “Nazir of Elohim” is not to be measured by common rules: everything is lawful for him; but only so long as he does not desecrate by means of itself the strength with which he is endowed.
By giving the name of the place where, and of the woman whom, Samson loved, the narrator already foreshadows the temptation into which he placed himself. The Nachal (Valley of) Sorek is evidently named after a variety of the grape—in appearance almost stoneless, yet provided with a soft stone, and productive of a precious red wine (cf. Jer_2:21; Isa_5:2)—which elsewhere gives the name Kischmi to an Arabian island (Ritter, xii. 452). Of the position of the Nachal Sorek we have no other tradition than that of Eusebius, who knew a place named Sorech (al. l. Barech), north of Eleutheropolis, in the vicinity of Zorah, the home of Samson. But this tradition can scarcely be accepted. For the place, judging from the connection of the narrative, cannot have been remote from Gaza (cf. Jdg_16:21). Nay, even the immediate connection of our narrative with the previous occurrence in Gaza, points to the vicinity of the latter city. Moreover, it is to be supposed that precisely in the region indicated by Eusebius, all Philistine supremacy was abrogated by the growing fear of Samson’s activity as Judge. Nor is it difficult to see that the tradition followed by Eusebius, connects itself with the exegesis of Jdg_13:25. It will therefore be an allowable conjecture, to assume as the theatre of the sad catastrophe which is now related, the present wretched village Simsim, whence the Wâdy (Nachal) Simsim, passed by the traveller on the way from Gaza to Ashkelon, where it debouches, derives its name (Ritter, vi. 68). It is remarkable that another, albeit in this respect erroneous tradition, led astray by the name Askulân, Ashkelon, has identified this wâdy with the brook Eshcol, which must indeed be sought near Hebron, but which likewise derived its name from the grapes of that region.
The name of the woman would not have been given by the narrator, had he not wished to intimate the same idea which R. Mair expressed (Sota, 9, 2; Jalkut, n. 70),11 when he remarked, that even if Delilah had not been her name, she might nevertheless properly be so called, because את כוהו דילדלה, “she debilitated his strength.” The form דלדל (from Chaldee דלל) has clearly also given rise to the name Δαλιδά, which is given to Delilah in the Septuagint and in many MSS. of Josephus, and which is therefore probably not a false reading. We meet also with a Greek female name Δαλίς, δαλίδος. The name Delilah reminds us readily of the onomatopoetic German word ein-lullen [English, to lull asleep], Greek βαυκαλάω (whence a proper name Βαύκαλος). Sensuality sings and lulls the manly strength of the hero to sleep.
Jdg_16:5. Persuade him, and see wherein his great strength lieth. Samson was no giant, coarse and elephantine, like a Cyclops; otherwise, they would have been at no loss to explain his strength. The shoulders on which he bore the gate-doors of Gaza were not sixty ells apart, as in the figurative expression of the Talmud. He was regularly built, although we may conceive of him as tall and stately; full of spirit, yet good-natured and kind, as the possessor of true divine genius always is.
But on this very account, because physically he did seem very different from themselves, and as they knew not the power of divine inspiration, they entertained the wide-spread superstition, still current in the East, that he had some occult means at his service, from which he derived his unusual strength. The expressions for amulets and charms for such and similar purposes, are still very numerous in the Persian and Arabic idioms. Rustem, according to the Iranian legend, could not have overcome Isfendiar, if he had not previously learned the charm which gave the latter his strength. Scandinavian mythology, also, puts Thor in possession of his highest strength, only when he puts on the girdle which assures it to him. Even in Germany, the superstition was prevalent until comparatively recent times, that persons had sometimes become “fearfully strong” through the use of demoniac flesh (Meier, Schwäb. Sagen, p. 111). In the year 1718 a person confessed that the devil had given him a receipt, in the possession of which he felt himself stronger than all other men (cf. Tharsander, Schauplatz unger. Meinungen, ii. 514 f.).
It was all important for the Philistines to learn Samson’s charm, in order to render it powerless. They hear of his love for Delilah. They were aware that before this the hero had failed to withstand the cajoleries of the woman he loved. In both earlier and later times, the orientals were conversant with the dangers which often arise to even the greatest heroes and kings, from their weakness toward women. Tradition and poetry are full of it. In the apocryphal Esdras (I. Esdras 4:26 f.) we read: “Many have gone out of their wits for women, and have become slaves on account of them. Many have perished, and erred, and sinned, by reason of women.” And the Turkish poet Hamdi says: “Brother, if thou comest to women, do not trust them. Women have deceived even prophets.” Though this be true, all women are not thereby defamed. Traitors like Delilah are only those who are such as she was, just as the only lovers of treason are cowardly men, like the Philistines, who dare not meet greatness openly.
And we will give thee eleven hundred pieces of silver each. It is a very mean trade that is here driven with the affections of Samson. It is an instance so deterrent, that it might well move deeply and instruct both young and old. The woman of Timnah betrayed Samson either from fear or from Philistine zeal: this one sells him for money; and the Philistines with whom she trades are very careful in making their promises. It is not enough, they stipulate, that she ascertains the secret; it must be such that use can be made of it, and that with the particular specified result. This carefulness shows that the cold-blooded Philistines knew with whom they had to do. So much the sadder is it to see Samson lavish caresses on such a woman. The sum for which Delilah consents to sell the hero is not insignificant. Since each of the princes promises 1,100 shekels of silver, and since, according to Jdg_3:3, the number of princes may be set down as five, the sum pledged amounted to 5,500 shekels, between 4,500 and 5,000 [Prussian] Reichsthaler [i. e., between 3,000 and 3,500 dollars].13—Had Curius, the Roman, been less niggardly towards Fulvia, his scortum, the Catilinian conspiracy might perhaps have been more successful (Sallust, Catilina, 23).
(Ten shekels was the annual wage of a worker. Thus 1100 shekels each from five Philistine princes is the equivalent of millions of dollars today. -CFG)
Jdg_16:15-16. And his soul was vexed unto death. If Samson remained, he must succumb. The national hero of Israel who cannot separate himself from a Philistine woman, must fall. In vain has he sought three times to put her off with a jest. The avarice and knavery of such women are not to be escaped from by witty turns. She knows that at last he cannot hide the truth from her. Precisely his greatness and fearlessness enable her to compass his destruction. He remains; and she does not cease her efforts, until at last he is wearied of her ceaseless teazing (וַתְּאַלֲצהוּ).17 She bored him to death (וַתִּקְצַר וַפִשׂוֹ) with tears and reproaches. He wished to have rest—and to remain; nothing was left, therefore, but to grant her wish. Such is the philosophy of many husbands who yield to women ambitious of rule. To be sure, they are their wives, before God and men, and the danger is not always so great as here. Samson, although he remains, finds himself so plagued, that in order to quiet Delilah, everything else is indifferent to him. He determines to tell her the true reason of his great strength. But will she not wish to test the truth of what he tells her? and will he not thereby lose his strength? He considers it not. But this strength which he puts in jeopardy, it is not his own possession? He does not reflect. It was given him for the freedom of his people against the Philistines. But he will tell her the truth, come what may, in order to have peace. Delilah had doubtless promised him not to abuse his secret. He believes her promise, if only he can silence her. He was wearied to death, so that his courage, the freshness of his mind, and his passion for victory were benumbed—and all that, when one step out of her house would have set him free! Abstinence unfolded his strength: Delilah in the Wine-Valley (Nachal Sorek) put it to sleep. When he killed lions, he was full of happiness and relish for life: now, he is wearied unto death. In Timnah, his wife betrays him, and affords him an opportunity for a glorious victory: now, he betrays himself, and falls.
If I be shaven, then my strength will go from me – The miraculous strength of Samson must not be supposed to reside either in his hair or in his muscles, but in that relation in which he stood to God as a Nazarite, such a person being bound by a solemn vow to walk in a strict conformity to the laws of his Maker. It was a part of the Nazarite’s vow to permit no razor to pass on his head; and his long hair was the mark of his Nazirate, and of his vow to God. When Samson permitted his hair to be shorn off, he renounced and broke his Nazir vow; in consequence of which God abandoned him, and therefore we are told, in Jdg_16:20, that the Lord was departed from him.
Keil and Delitzsch
“Then she made him sleep upon her knees, and called to the man,” possibly the man lying in wait (Jdg_16:9 and Jdg_16:12), that she might not be alone with Samson when cutting off his hair; and she cut off the seven plaits of his hair, and began to afflict him, as his strength departed from him now.
She called for a man. It is she called to the man—the man whom she had secreted in the chamber before she put Samson to sleep, that he might cut off the locks. She caused him to shave. In the Hebrew it is she shaved, but it probably means that she did so by his instrumentality. She began to afflict, or humble, him. His strength began to wane immediately his locks began to be shorn, and it was all gone by the time his hair was all cut off.
Keil and Delitzsch
She then cried out, “Philistines upon thee, Samson!” And he awaked out of his sleep, and thought (“said,” i.e., to himself), “I will go away as time upon time (this as at other times), and shake myself loose,” sc., from the fetters or from the hands of the Philistines; “but he knew not that Jehovah had departed from him.” These last words are very important to observe in order to form a correct idea of the affair. Samson had said to Delilah, “If my hair were cut off, my strength would depart from me” (Jdg_16:17). The historian observes, on the other hand, that “Jehovah had departed from him.” The superhuman strength of Samson did not reside in his hair as hair, but in the fact that Jehovah was with or near him. But Jehovah was with him so long as he maintained his condition as a Nazarite. As soon as he broke away from this by sacrificing the hair which he wore in honour of the Lord, Jehovah departed from him, and with Jehovah went his strength.
(Note: “Samson was strong because he was dedicated to God, as long as he preserved the signs of his dedication. But as soon as he lost those signs, he fell into the utmost weakness in consequence. The whole of Samson’s misfortune came upon him, therefore, because he attributed to himself some portion of what God did through him. God permitted him to lose his strength, that he might learn by experience how utterly powerless he was without the help of God. We have no better teachers than our own infirmities.”-Berleb. Bible.)
And Samson called unto the Lord. This is the first mention we have of Samson praying since the memorable occasion when he gave the fountain the name of En-hakkoreh (Jdg_15:19, note). Perhaps we may see in this an evidence that his affliction and shame had not been without their effect, in bringing him back to God humbled and penitent. The language is very earnest. “O Lord, Jehovah, remember me strengthen me only this once, O God!” The threefold name by which he addresses the Almighty implies great tension of spirit. That I may be at once avenged. Meaning at one stroke—he would take one vengeance so terrible that it would be sufficient for his two eyes, which makes very good sense if the Hebrew will bear it. The literal translation would be, that I may be avenged with a vengeance of one stroke. Others take it, that I may be avenged with a vengeance for one of my two eyes, which it is not easy to understand the meaning of.
Jdg_16:28. And Samson called unto Jehovah. This shows that he had fully recovered himself. As soon as he can pray again, he is the hero again. The prayer he now offers is full of fervor and intensity, rising heavenward like smoke from the altar of incense. It is the deep and vast complaint which, after the awful experiences of the last days, grief and hope have caused to gather in his soul. He uses all the names of God with which he is acquainted, and confesses Him, in the darkness which surrounds him, more deeply and fervently than formerly when enjoying the light of the sun. And withal, his thoughts are beautifully arranged. For fervor excels all homiletical art. The prayer divides into three parts, and makes use of three names of God. Each part contains three nicely separated thoughts. He begins: “Lord (אֲדֹני) Jehovah (יְהוֹהָ), remember me.” In the midst of servitude, chained and fettered by the Philistines, who lord it over him, bring him in and send him out as they choose, his spirit calls upon Adonai, the Lord who is in heaven. In the midst of Philistine jubilations over the victory of their idol, the seeming triumph of their Dagon, he calls on Jehovah, the great God of Israel, for He alone is the Lord. Alone and forsaken, surrounded by raging foes, he cries to God: “Do thou remember me.” The word זָכַר is most frequently used of God’s gracious mindfulness of any one, expressing itself in caring for him. It is with a heart full of penitence that he makes this petition. For formerly God had departed from him, and he had been deprived of God’s care over him. If now God but takes thought of him, he will once more be received into divine favor.
And strengthen me, only this once, O God. “Strengthen me.” He no longer puts his trust in himself, nor yet in his growing hair. The source of the consecration and strength which formerly adorned him, and for the return of which he pleads, is in God. For this reason, he invokes God anew,—this time as הָאֱלהִֹים. Elohim, with the article, is the true, the only Elohim, namely, the God of Israel (cf. above, on Jdg_6:20; Jdg_6:36; and on Jdg_8:3; Jdg_13:18). While all around him, the enemies praise their god as the victor (Jdg_16:24), he prays to the God of Israel, that He, the real Elohim, the true strength, would strengthen him “yet this once.” He does not ask to be the former Samson again. He has done with life. After such disgrace, he would not wish to return to it. Only for “this time,” he prays for strength, which God gives and takes as He will, allowing no one to suppose, as Samson formerly did, that it is an inalienable possession, whether used or abused. In the third place, he declares the purpose for which he desires the strength:—
That I may yet once take vengeance on the Philistines, by reason of my two eyes. Is it right to pray thus? For Samson it is. For he was called to recompense the Philistines; his whole task was directed against the tyrants. He fell only because instead of avenging the wrongs of his people on their oppressors, he squandered his strength with the Philistine woman. If now he desires the restoration of his lost strength, he can lawfully do so only for the purpose for which it was originally given. To rend cords in pieces for sport was not his business, but to make the enemy acquainted with the power of the gracious God of Israel.
But may he then demand recompense for his “two eyes?” As Samson, he may. In his prayer, it is true, he did not plead his consecration as a “Nazarite of God;” in his humility he dares not use this plea, since a razor has passed over his head. But it was nevertheless on this account that he had his strength. It resided in him, not as man, but as Nazarite. It was not his, although he misused it; it was lent him, for his people, against the enemy. But now, his strength, even if fully restored, would avail him nothing. The loss of both his eyes rendered it useless. He could not, like a blind chieftain,—like Dandolo, the doge of Venice, and Ziska, the Bohemian,—lead his people to battle, for he is no chieftain, but a hero, who stands and fights alone. The loss of his eyes therefore, closes his career. Blindness disables him from serving longer as the instrument of the God of Israel. Hence, he desires vengeance, not for the scorn, dishonor, chains and prison, to which he has been subjected, but only for his two eyes—had they left him but one! The vengeance he seeks is not for himself, but for his people and the God who chose him.
His language, it is true, contains the contrast of of one recompense (נקם־אחת) for his two eyes. The explanation is that he can strike but one blow more; but that one, in his mind and within his reach, will suffice for both eyes. He will inflict this blow on the Philistines, who all around him praise the idol who gave them victory, whereas it was only his former mental blindness that caused his fall, and his present physical blindness that gives them their sense of security.
Three times he attempted to withstand Delilah—three times he played with his strength,—and fell. Now, he prayed three times, to the thrice-named God, the triunity of Jehovah, for understanding and strength.
Keil and Delitzsch
After he had prayed to the Lord for strength for this last great deed, he embraced the two middle pillars upon which the building was erected, leant upon them, one with his right hand, the other with the left (viz., embracing them with his hands, as these words also belong to יִלְפֹּת), and said, “let my soul die with the Philistines.” He then bent (the two pillars) with force, and the house fell upon the princes and all the people who were within. So far as the fact itself is concerned, there is no ground nor questioning the possibility of Samson’s bringing down the whole building with so many men inside by pulling down two middle columns, as we have no accurate acquaintance with the style of its architecture. In all probability we have to picture this temple of Dagon as resembling the modern Turkish kiosks, namely as consisting of a “spacious hall, the roof of which rested in front upon four columns, two of them standing at the ends, and two close together in the centre. Under this hall the leading men of the Philistines celebrated a sacrificial meal, whilst the people were assembled above upon the top of the roof, which was surrounded by a balustrade” (Faber, Archäol. der. Hebr. p. 444, cf. pp. 436-7; and Shaw, Reisen, p. 190). The ancients enter very fully into the discussion of the question whether Samson committed suicide or not, though without arriving at any satisfactory conclusion. O. v. Gerlach, however, has given the true answer. “Samson’s deed,” he says, “was not suicide, but the act of a hero, who sees that it is necessary for him to plunge into the midst of his enemies with the inevitable certainty of death, in order to effect the deliverance of his people and decide the victory which he has still to achieve. Samson would be all the more certain that this was the will of the Lord, when he considered that even if he should deliver himself in any other way cut of the hands of the Philistines, he would always carry about with him the mark of his shame in the blindness of his eyes-a mark of his unfaithfulness as the servant of God quite as much as of the double triumph of his foes, who had gained a spiritual as well as a corporeal victory over him.” Such a triumph as this the God of Israel could not permit His enemies and their idols to gain. The Lord must prove to them, even through Samson’s death, that the shame of his sin was taken from him, and that the Philistines had no cause to triumph over him. Thus Samson gained the greatest victory over his foes in the moment of his own death. The terror of the Philistines when living, he became a destroyer of the temple of their idol when he died. Through this last act of his he vindicated the honour of Jehovah the God of Israel, against Dagon the idol of the Philistines. “The dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.”
Jdg_16:30. Let me die with the Philistines. The very conception of the deed is extraordinary. While the Philistines rejoice, drink, and mock, worse than Belshazzar, and fancy the blinded hero deeply humiliated and put to shame, he, on the contrary, is about to perform the deed of a giant, and stands among them in the capacity of a warrior about to enter battle, who only tarries to commend his cause to God. It is true, he cannot do what he intends to do without losing his own life; but he lived only to conquer. Victory is more than life. To talk here of suicide is wholly unsuitable. He did not kill himself when plunged in the deepest dishonor. He is too great for cowardly suicide; for it is a species of flight, and heroes do not flee. No: the blinded man perceives that the present moment holds out an occasion for victory, and avails himself of it, notwithstanding that it must cost him his own life. It is not as if he would have killed himself, had he escaped. He knows that if his deed be successful, he cannot escape. But he is also ready to die. He is reconciled with his God: his eyes have again seen Him who was his strength.
The tragedy ends terribly. Laughter and shout and drunken revel are at their highest, when Samson bends the pillars with great force: they break, the building falls,—a terrific crash, and the temple is a vast sepulchre. O Dagon, where is thy victory? O Gaza, where is thy strength? Princes and priests, together, with cups at their lips, and mockery in their hearts, are crushed by the falling stone. With piercing cries, the vast crowds are pressed together. The galleries, with their burdens, precipitate themselves upon the heads of those below. Death was swifter than any rescue; the change from the sounds of rejoicing to groans and the rattle of death, terrible as the lightning. In the midst of them, great and joyous, stood the hero, and met his death. Not now with the bone of an ass, but with pillars of marble, had he conquered the foe. Dagon’s temple, with its thousands, had been heaped up as his grave-mound. Since Samson must die, he could not have fallen greater. Traitors, tormentors, mockers, enemies, tyrants, all lay at his feet. The blind hero died as the great victor, who, in penitence and prayer, expiated, by suffering and death, the errors of which he had been guilty.
The history of Samson excels all poetry. The simple narrative of it is at the same time adorned with the highest art. Its fidelity and truth are testified to by the heart of every reader. Without magic arts, with only natural grief and death, it is nevertheless full of spiritual marvels.
But who furnished the report of the last hours of the hero’s life? Who escaped, so as to set forth his praying and acting? It would seem as if this also were not left quite unhinted by the brief narrative. A lad, an attendant (נַעַר), leads him, when the Philistines call him in from the prison (Jdg_16:26). It may be plausibly conjectured that this was no Philistine. It seems not improbable that Samson, the Judge, was followed into his prison by an attendant, whose fidelity continued unshaken. It enhanced the triumph of the Philistines to allow this. Upon this supposition, many points explain themselves. This attendant, then, may have furnished him with a description of the festive scene into the midst of which he was introduced, and informed him in what part of the building he was placed. From him he could also obtain guidance to the spot which he deemed it necessary to occupy. This attendant was in the secret of his prayer and purpose; and if we assume that he dismissed him before the catastrophe, we are at once enabled to explain how he could take up his peculiar position by the pillars without exciting attention. Thus the faithful follower escaped death, and quickly reported the event at home.