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Bible Commentaries
Judges 16

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-3

The Gates of Gaza (16:1-3)

There is no effort on the part of the editor of Judges to gloss over Samson’s moral weakness, nor does he call in question the relation between Samson’s sexual misadventures and his possession of the Spirit. We have to remember, of course, that in these earlier times the idea of the Spirit of God had not received much moral content but was understood more in terms of physical strength and mental skill. The fact that the editor, himself under the moral influence of the prophetic testimony, should have included the details is a reminder that he sought to be fair to the tradition. Samson, heedless of past experience, got into the toils of another woman, and found himself beset by the Philistine inhabitants of Gaza. Waiting for him while he visited the harlot, they barred the gates of the city to prevent his escape. At midnight, Samson issued forth, carried away the gates of Gaza to the top of a distant hill, and left his enemies frustrated once more. Gaza was the outpost of the Philistine invasion and on the edge of the Israelite hill country.

Verses 4-22

Samson and Delilah (16:4-22)

Once again Samson showed his weakness for women. This time his charmer was probably an Israelite, for she had a Semitic name and lived in a village near his birthplace, Zorah. The name of the village, Sorek, suggests that it was a grape center offering a variety of grapes. Israelite or Philistine, this woman, Delilah, was certainly under Philistine influence, and prepared to accept a large bribe to do the work of Samson’s enemies. She undertook to discover the secret of Samson’s strength, evidently regarded as of magical origin and requiring the right magical treatment. Three times Delilah sought to inveigle Samson into betraying his secret, and three times he deceived her. Binding him with bowstrings and with new ropes did not prove of any avail. When he suggested that the seven locks of his hair be woven into the web on a loom and made tight with a pin, she tried again, and again found that she had been deceived. Then, in a moment of weakness and worn out by her importunity, Samson gave away his secret — his strength lay in his unshaven hair, kept long from birth by the Nazirite vow. Delilah swiftly betrayed him to the Philistines and had his locks of hair sheared off, thus taking away his strength. Samson’s enemies made sure of their foe this time. They put out his eyes, bound him with brazen fetters, and took him down to Gaza, depositing him in the prison. The practice of blinding captives appears also in 1 Samuel 11:2 and 2 Kings 25:7. After a time, the hero’s hair began to grow again and his phenomenal strength began to return.

Verses 23-31

The End of Samson (16:23-31)

The Philistines celebrated Samson’s capture at a religious festival, offering thanks to their god, Dagon, who had delivered them. Presumably there was some lapse of time before the feast was held, since Samson’s hair had grown again.

Dagon was originally a Semitic deity, associated with Baal and having a place in Mesopotamian religion from early days. He was worshiped by the Canaanites at Ugarit, and appears to have been adopted by the Philistines, who made him their chief god at Ashdod (1 Samuel 5:1-7). The temple of Dagon is described as resting on pillars. This kind of architecture characterized the palaces and temples of Crete, and its description here supports the idea that the Philistines came from that island.

The blinded hero was set between the twin pillars that supported the temple, and having been assisted in locating them by his youthful attendant, brought them down and with them the temple itself. Thus he involved himself and his captors in a common destruction, destroying more Philistines in his death than during his life.

The story is far from edifying. The origin of Samson’s strength is sought partly in the charismatic aspect of his personality, and partly in the quasi-magical idea of his unshorn hair. Samson is possessed by the Spirit of God and yet shows himself a weakling at the level of sexual temptation. Even his Nazirite vow seems to have been only partly sustained, since wine and strong drink flowed at the wedding feast and his slaying of the Philistines brought him into contact with dead bodies. Moreover, his final disaster is not ascribed to his moral failure but to his breaking a legal ordinance about his hair. It has well been said that the story is retained more as warning than example, for it does show the working out of judgment in man’s life. It is also a reminder that God can use even evil and sin to be executants of his judgment and the agents of his deliverance.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Judges 16". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/judges-16.html.
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