Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
THE TRAGIC STORY ENDS WITH THE DEATH OF SAMSON
We are annoyed by the RIDICULOUS assertions of some scholars, claiming that: "The Samson story terminated in Judges 15:19, and that in Judges 16 is a `later addition'"; or that, "The attitude of the Deuteronomic editor is reflected here in what he did not say." Neither comment can be accepted because, "Whoever heard of the story of any man, much less that of a hero like Samson, ending BEFORE his death?" As for that alleged Deuteronomic editor, no such person is known. The author of the Samson story was inspired of God, and a possessor of God's Spirit, and if that had not been the case, we could never have received the exact words of Samson's prayer as recorded upon the occasion of his death. As we go further and further into this remarkable narrative, the opinion of Sir Isaac Newton appears more and more attractive - that the inspired Samuel must be received as the author of it.
This narrative of Samson is an unmitigated tragedy. "No potential saviour-figure offered MORE promise than Samson, or delivered LESS. Israel had sunk to a new low; and these two final incidents fully expose Israel's plight."
It is difficult indeed to imagine a more shameful situation for God's Chosen People than that in which their Judge and accepted leader was blinded and made to do the work of a donkey, grinding wheat in the mill of the Philistines, and suffering the humiliation of being compelled to entertain his captors at the very festival where they were celebrating Samson's defeat.
With the story of Samson, the era of the Judgeship in Israel was concluded. Samuel indeed judged Israel for awhile, but it was he who anointed Saul as Israel's first king, thus bringing in the institution of the monarchy. It is not hard to understand why many in Israel began to clamor for a king.
Many writers of Biblical commentaries have spoken of Samson, and even John Milton, the great English poet, wrote "Samson Agonistes," which, is in general an excellent commentary on this remarkable character. "Just as Samson's love for a daughter of the Philistines had furnished Samson with his great opportunity to show God's superiority over the pagan deities of the Philistines, just so, it was the degradation of that love into animal lust that supplied the occasion for his fall and death." It is this shameful development which the sacred author narrates in this chapter.
SAMSON CARRIES AWAY THE GATES OF GAZA
"And Samson went to Gaza, and saw there a harlot, and went in unto her. And it was told the Gazites, saying, Samson is come hither. And they compassed him in, and laid wait for him all night in the gate of the city, and were quiet all night, saying; Let be till morning light, then we will kill him. And Samson lay till midnight, and laid hold of the doors of the gate of the city, and the two posts, and plucked them up, bar and all, and put them upon his shoulders, and carried them up to the top of the mountain that is before Hebron."
"Samson went down to Gaza" (Judges 16:1). "Gaza was the last coast town on the way down to Egypt and was about thirty miles from Samson's home." The city is still there, sustaining a population in excess of 10,000. "It is located two miles from the Mediterranean coast." "
We agree with Hervey that this episode "came many years after Samson's victory at Lehi, near the latter part of Samson's twenty-year judgeship." This appears to be evident from the mention of that 20-year interval in the last verse of Judges 15, that being the purpose of its mention there, and not the indication of "separate sources," as some vainly suppose. As Keil said regarding Judges 15:20, "It is impossible to draw any critical conclusions from the position in which this remark occurs, as to a plurality of sources for the story of Samson."
The alleged "confusion" and "improbabilities" spoken of by some writers are non-existent here. Strahan stated that, "Judges 16:2b does not agree with Judges 16:2a, because there would be no need to keep watch by night when the gates were closed." Hervey explains what is said here. "`Laid wait for him all night' is merely a reference to the ambush they planned in the city gates." These liers-in-wait did not stay awake all night, supposing it to have been unnecessary. The text clearly states that, "They were quiet all night," meaning that they went to sleep, of course. They no doubt slept, "In the guardroom by the side of the gate." The ambush had been planned the previous evening in anticipation that Samson would leave early the next day.
"Samson arose at midnight" (Judges 16:3). We are not told just why Samson decided to leave at midnight. We might suppose that he had become suspicious of the harlot he visited, and that he suspected her of telling the Gazites of his presence in that city, but Samson, as we may judge from the rest of the narrative, was incapable of suspecting his various female companions. It could be that this particular harlot warned him of his danger. "The doors of the gate of the city, the two posts, bars and all" (Judges 16:3). Superhuman strength indeed would have been required to load such a mass upon one's shoulders and carry it away.
"He carried them up to the top of the mountain that is before Hebron" (Judges 16:3). There are two ways of looking at this. "That is before Hebron" can be interpreted as, "in the direction of Hebron," or as meaning one of the foothills of the mountain near Hebron. Accordingly, Keil gave the distance that Samson carried the gates as about "Nine geographical miles," but Strahan gave it as "Forty miles"; Armerding made it "Thirty-eight miles"; and Kyle Yates wrote that, "Samson was able to lift the gates of the city, with their posts and the bar which fastened them, and carry them forty miles to the vicinity of Hebron."
SAMSON'S INFATUATION WITH DELILAH
"And it came to pass afterward, that he loved a woman in the valley of Sorek; whose name was Delilah. And the lords of the Philistines came up unto her, and said unto her, Entice him, and see wherein his great strength lieth, and by what means we may prevail against him, that we may bind him to afflict him: and we will give thee every one of us eleven hundred pieces of silver. And Delilah said to Samson, Tell me, I pray thee, wherein thy great strength lieth, and wherewith thou mightest be bound to afflict thee."
"The valley of Sorek" (Judges 16:4). This place was quite near Samson's home. The Valley of Sorek was named after a favorite variety of grape and has the meaning of "Grape Valley." It begins about thirteen miles southwest of Jerusalem. "The Jaffa-Jerusalem railway now runs through this valley."
"Delilah" (Judges 16:4). "This name means either `flirtatious' or `devotee,' the latter designation suggestion religious prostitution as her profession." The fact that she was also apparently of high social status and actually honored by the lords of the Philistines by their employment of her in their efforts to take Samson also support the idea that she was a temple prostitute attached to the temple of Dagon.
"Eleven hundred pieces of silver" (Judges 16:5). According to Strahan, this was, "The equivalent of $150 English pounds, as of 1925." On that date the English pound was valued at about $5.00, meaning that the price the lords of the Philistines agreed to pay Delilah was about $3,750.00, which was a major fortune in antiquity.
Delilah, of course, needed no further inducement. The money smothered all thoughts of love or friendship, and she went to work on Samson at once with the purpose of betraying him. One may only pity the foolish willingness of Samson in allowing himself to be deceived and betrayed by Delilah.
THE THREE FALSE "SECRETS"
There were three times that Samson pretended to confide in Delilah, without, in any sense, revealing the real secret of his strength.
(1) BINDING HIM WITH FRESH BOWSTRINGS
"And Samson said unto her, If they bind me with seven green withes that were never dried, then shall I become weak, and be as another man. Then the lords of the Philistines brought up to her seven green withes which had not been dried, and she bound him with them." Now she had liers-in-wait abiding in the inner chamber. And she said unto him, The Philistines are upon thee, Samson. And he brake the withes, as a string of tow is broken when it toucheth the fire. So his strength was not known."
"Seven green withes" (Judges 16:7). Moore understood this to be a reference to "fresh bowstrings, not yet dried." The cooperation of the lords of Philistia shows how closely they were working with Delilah.
"The Philistines are upon thee, Samson" (Judges 16:9). Delilah was only pretending in this exclamation in order to find out if Samson had really told her the truth. The liers-in-wait were not called until she knew that she had Samson in her power. Samson was only playing games with her, but it was a deadly game that eventually cost him his eyesight and his life.
(2) BINDING HIM WITH NEW ROPES
"And Delilah said unto Samson, Behold, thou hast mocked me, and told me lies: now tell me, I pray thee, wherewith thou mightest be bound. And he said unto her, If they only bind me with new ropes wherewith no work hath been done, then shall I become weak; and be as another man. So Delilah took new ropes, and bound him therewith, and said unto him, The Philistines are upon thee, Samson. And the liers-in-wait were abiding in the inner chamber. And he brake them off his arms like a thread."
It is evident here that Samson was not living in Delilah's home, or else he would have known about the liers-in-wait. Apparently, he was visiting her frequently and using her services as a religious prostitute. It also appears that Samson never had the slightest inkling of the mortal danger in which he was placed by this shameful relationship with the treacherous Delilah.
(3) WEAVING THE LOCKS OF HIS HAIR IN THE LOOM
"And Delilah said unto Samson, Hitherto thou hast mocked me, and told me lies: tell me wherewith thou mightest be bound. And he said unto her, If thou weavest the seven locks of my head with the web. And she fastened it with the pen, and said unto him, "The Philistines be upon thee, Samson." And he awaked out of his sleep, and plucked away the pin and the beam of the web."
This time, Samson had come nearer to the truth than in the two previous occasions of his lies to Delilah, indicating, perhaps, that he would eventually succumb to her solicitations, backed up by her cajoling, petulance, and pretensions of love for this weak and unfortunate Judge of Israel.
We shall avoid explaining exactly what is meant by this particular episode. We may note only that Samson wore his hair in seven "locks" or "braids," that there was a loom, probably with an unfinished cloth already in it; and apparently Samson's hair was woven into that cloth. We do not understand what is meant by the mention of the "pin." Significantly, Samson was asleep while all this happened. This may indicate either a drunken stupor or the fact that Delilah may have drugged him. We can only marvel at Samson's failure to catch on to what was happening.
SAMSON REVEALS THE TRUE SECRET OF HIS STRENGTH TO DELILAH
"And she said unto him, How canst thou say, I love thee, when thy heart is not with me? thou hast mocked me these three times, and hast not told me wherein thy great strength lieth. And it came to pass that she pressed him daily with her words, and urged him, that his soul was vexed unto death. And he told her all his heart, and said unto her, There hath not come a razor upon my head; for I have been a Nazarite unto God from my mother's womb: if I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak; and be like any other man."
"Samson's treason here was in betraying state secrets and the tragic squandering of his great strength, only because he could not believe, as in the wedding story, that the woman would betray him."
DELILAH DELIVERS SAMSON TO THE PHILISTINE LORDS
"And when Delilah saw that he had told her all his heart, she went and called for the lords of the Philistines, saying Come up this once, for he hath told me all his heart. Then the lords of the Philistines came up unto her, and brought the money in their hand. And she made him sleep upon her knees; and she called for a man, and shaved off the seven locks of his head; and she began to afflict him, and his strength went from him. And she said, The Philistines are upon thee, Samson. And he awoke out of his sleep, and said, I will go out as at other times, and shake myself free. But he knew not that Jehovah had departed from him. And the Philistines laid hold on him, and put out his eyes; and they brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with fetters of brass; and he did grind in the prison-house. Howbeit the hair of his head began to grow again after he was shaven."
The heartless cruelty and deceit of the wicked Delilah, who thoroughly hated Samson, but pretended to love him, only for the sake of delivering him for a price to his bitterest enemies come sharply into focus in this paragraph.
She was a cold, unscrupulous, untrusting religious whore, who did not even trust the lords of her own people, but required of them to pay her the promised bounty "in hand," before she actually delivered Samson.
"And shaved off the seven locks of his head" (Judges 16:19). Grammatically, this seems to say that Delilah herself shaved off Samson's hair, but the calling of a man indicates that she did it by the instrumentality of that accomplice. Again, Samson was asleep, while the crucial deed was accomplished. It would be interesting to know just how that sleep was induced, whether by strong drink or drugs, or however.
"And she began to afflict him" (Judges 16:19). One cannot help wondering if Samson in this development really began to suspect the base treachery and hatred of Delilah. She did this only to be sure that Samson's strength was gone, and when she was sure, she again summoned the Philistines to be upon him.
"I will go out as at other times and shake myself free" (Judges 16:20). When Samson said this, he was not aware that Jehovah had departed from him, and he apparently thought, even at that late hour, that he would be able to escape. But the awful truth was quickly revealed to him. He was blinded, probably by having his eyes gouged out. His judgeship was ended. He was then the slave of the Philistines, assigned to the most humiliating menial labor, and the laughing-stock of his pagan enemies. No one who understands what happened can feel anything but pity for this weak and sinful Judge.
"They put out his eyes ... took him to Gaza ... bound him with brass fetters ... put him to work in the prison-house, grinding corn" (wheat) (Judges 16:21). We are not told the exact nature of the work assignment for Samson. There was in use at that time a mill usually powered by a donkey, as indicated in the marginal reading of Matthew 18:6 (ASV), and it is reasonable to suppose that, due to his great strength, Samson was utilized to turn the mill instead of an animal. In any event, that type of labor, when done by human beings, was allocated to the lowest class of slaves. Thus, the shame and humiliation of Israel's Superhuman Judge reached its terrible climax.
"Howbeit the hair of his head began to grow again after he was shaven" (Judges 16:22). God had not forgotten either the sinful Judge or his Chosen People of Israel. The fact stated here is an indication that there was yet a final episode to be related in the remarkable story of Samson.
THAT GREAT FESTIVAL IN THE TEMPLE OF DAGON
"And the lords of the Philistines gathered them together to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god, and to rejoice; for they said, Our god hath delivered Samson our enemy into our hand. And when the people saw him, they praised their god; for they said, Our god hath delivered into our hand our enemy, and the destroyer of our country who hath slain many of us. And it came to pass, when their hearts were merry, that they said, Call for Samson, that he may make us sport. And they called for Samson out of the prison-house; and he made sport before them. And they set him between the pillars: and Samson said unto the lad that held him by the hand, Suffer for me that I may feel the pillars whereupon the house resteth, that I may lean upon them. Now the house was full of men and women; and all the lords of the Philistines were there; and there were upon the roof about three thousand men and women, that beheld while Samson made sport."
"The lords ... gathered ... to offer ... sacrifice to Dagon" (Judges 16:23). "The god Dagon had been worshipped along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean long before the coming of the Philistines, but, like the Israelites who adopted the worship of the Baals, the Philistines adopted that of Dagon." There were temples erected to Dagon at Gaza and at Ashdod; and that deity was worshipped by the Philistines throughout their country. Margolis tells us that all of the ancient classical writers described this idol as, "half man and half fish." "He was a male deity, the corresponding female deity being Atargatis or Derceto." The superstition of the Philistines ascribed great honor to Dagon, whom they hailed as, "The father of Baal." The occasion mentioned here must have been attended by at least 10,000 persons, there having been three thousand on the roof alone. There were many towns throughout Palestine that were named after Dagon, including, "Beth-dagon in Judah (Joshua 15:42), and Caphar-dagon in Asher (Joshua 19:17), showing that the worship of Dagon was widespread.
"Our god hath delivered into our hand our enemy" (Judges 16:24). There are a number of lines in the Hebrew in this place which have the same ending, apparently indicating some kind of a chant or song which the multitude were singing in honor of Dagon. Dalglish has attempted an English equivalent of this in the following:
"He has given, the god of us,
Into our hands the enemy of us,
Ravager of the land of us,
Multiplier of the slain of us."
The great thing in this passage, as pointed out by Hervey, is that the true God was blasphemed by this huge festival in honor of Dagon, in which they, "Made Dagon superior to Jehovah." Milton picked up this tremendous significance in his immortal lines from "Samson Agonistes":
"All the contest is now twixt God and Dagon. He, be sure, will not connive, or linger, thus provoked, but will arise and his great name assert."
God did indeed assert his superiority immediately.
"And he made sport before them" (Judges 16:25). It has been supposed that Samson did this by performing unusual demonstrations of physical strength, but, as Jehovah had not yet come upon Samson, we are inclined to doubt that explanation. God would indeed use Samson again on that occasion, but it would come after Samson returned in his heart to the Lord and began to pray. Evidently, some kind of physical activity was involved in his entertaining the throng, inasmuch as he PRETENDED to be tired. His desire to rest upon the pillars was honored by the lad that led him.
"Now the house was full of men and women" (Judges 16:27). The purpose of this verse is to stress the size of the crowd. It was a "capacity" audience and then some. The three thousand people on the roof seems to have been a very unusual accommodation for such a number of people, and it no doubt contributed very substantially to the number of fatalities following the collapse of the temple.
DAGON'S TEMPLE DEMOLISHED; SAMSON'S DEATH AND BURIAL
"And Samson called unto Jehovah, and said, O Lord Jehovah, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes. And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house rested, and leaned upon them, the one with his right hand, the other with his left. And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and 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. Then his brethren and all the house of his father came down and took him, and brought him up, and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the burying-place of Manoah his father. And he judged Israel twenty years."
"And Samson called unto Jehovah" (Judges 16:28). This is the first record of a prayer by Samson since he had prayed God to save him from death by thirst at Lehi, signifying a wholesome and glorious change in Samson. The awful punishments for his sins had, at last, brought him to his senses, and in the extremity of his shame and humiliation he cried out for God to remember him.
"Lord ... Jehovah ... God" (Judges 16:28). All three of these names for God were used in Samson's appeal, the same being another proof, along with a thousand others, that multiple names of God are not an indication of multiple sources. "The three-fold name by which Samson addresses God implies great tension of spirit. The language is very serious."
The liberal writers who glibly assign this narrative to "editors," "redactors," or "compilers," should explain to us how anyone except an inspired writer in possession of the Spirit of God could have revealed this dying appeal of Samson. The inspired Samuel could have done it, but who else?
"That I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes" (Judges 16:28). Keil preferred the marginal reading here, which is, "that I may be avenged for one of my two eyes." "This shows how painfully Samson felt the loss of his two eyes, a loss, the severity of which even the terrible vengeance he was about to execute could never outweigh." If Samson could have kept those precious eyes off of the immoral women that he met, he might have been able to keep them until life's end.
"Let me die with the Philistines" (Judges 16:30). This was Samson's prayer for God to allow him to die, that being the only way out of the terrible disgrace into which he had fallen. God did hear Samson, and God answered his prayer. Samson should not be classified as a suicide. "He was not a suicide, but a hero, who saw that it was necessary for him to plunge into the midst of his enemies with the inevitable certainty of death, in order to effect his deliverance of God's people and to demonstrate the superiority of Jehovah."
If Samson had survived, he would have still been a slave of the Philistines, grinding at the mill, led around by the hand, the laughing-stock of his enemies. The mercy of God granted deliverance from the continuation of that fate to Samson.
With regard to the type of construction in that temple of Dagon, recent archaeological discoveries have confirmed all of the details of it mentioned in the Book of Judges. In 1973, an expedition excavated such a temple in the Philistine city of Tel Quasile. "What makes it so interesting is its unusual construction. Two large wooden columns on stone bases only a few feet apart in the center of the temple next to the place of the idol supported the rest of the mud-brick building."
"The dead that he slew at his death were more than they that he slew in his life" (Judges 16:30). We are not informed of the number of fatalities resulting from the destruction of Dagon's temple, probably because nobody knew how many died. With regard to who might have been among the casualties, we have a natural curiosity regarding Delilah.
Was Delilah among those whom Samson "liquidated" by this feat? We feel that only an affirmative answer is possible. Would the lords of the Philistines have staged such a tremendous celebration of their victory over Samson, in which their favorite prostitute had played such an important part, without inviting her?
Certainly not! There sat Delilah with her benevolent "customers," the lords of the Philistines; and when the slain were removed, we feel a positive certainty that Delilah, along with the lords who bribed her, received the just reward of her deeds.
"His brethren ... came and took him and buried him in the burial-place of his father" (Judges 16:31). It is evident, of course, that Manoah was deceased at that time. Despite all of Samson's sinful escapades, Israel continued to honor his memory, and in the N.T., the author of Hebrews inscribed his name among the heroes of faith (Hebrews 11:32).
The very fact that Samson's body was recovered from the Philistine temple is proof of the enormous casualties that had marked its collapse. Under normal conditions, the Philistines would have abused the body of Samson as they did that of King Saul, but on this occasion, "The Philistines were in such a state of confusion following the collapse of their temple and the death of their lords and thousands of others that the brothers and family of Samson were allowed to remove the body and bury it in the hill-country overlooking the Valley of Sorek."
Sunday, February 19th, 2017
the Seventh Sunday after Epiphany
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