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SAMSON’S FALL, CAPTIVITY AND DEATH
CRITICAL NOTES.— Judges 16:1. Then.] And—without fixing the time. A long gap stands between the events of the two previous chapters and those of the present one. Those refer to the early public life of the hero, afterwards many stirring events may have taken place which are not recorded, and now we have (certainly from Judges 16:4) in this chapter an account of the closing scene. We are to understand him as reappearing after a term of silence, but not inactivity, as Israel’s “saviour,” the same in his strength and in his weakness, and more than ever the terror of the Philistines, and a check on their oppression of Israel. Went to Gaza] It is not said he went by a call from God (comp. Judges 14:4). Nor does it appear to have been on account of any previous relations he had to Gaza, for his being there was something of a novelty, being the town farthest removed of any from his usual home at Zorah. Probably, his reason for going was the same with that which took him to Timnath namely to discharge his duty as a scourge of the Philistines, by mingling with them and waiting opportunities to do as God might direct him. The word “Gaza,” or “Azzah,” means the strong, fortified city. It was the most powerful border-city, and the capital of the Philistines; one of the few places where some of the giants remained (Joshua 11:22). The hero was not afraid to go into this stronghold of the enemy. Already they had often measured swords, and it was clear that his single arm was more than a match for the whole uncircumcised race around him.
We wish we could draw a veil over what follows, both in Judges 16:1 and Judges 16:4-20, where we find flagrant breaches of God’s holy commandment, as given in the seventh word of the Decalogue. But we must accept the record. Scripture is faithful in drawing the exact character as it stands, and we must take what is given without attempting either to soften or to magnify the features. The word zonah, here translated harlot, some would interpret to mean “a female innkeeper,” the keeper of a general lodging house where strangers might be accommodated, and so they render it in Rahab’s case (Joshua 2:1), for the spies simply wished accommodation for the night. But the truth is, the zonah in those corrupt communities, acted both in the one character and the other; and in the present case it is the evil sense that must be taken from the last lause of the verse. What a pity that this unsuspecting Israelite had not Job’s example before him! (Job 31:1).
Two things are to be noticed
(1.) He did not come to Gaza to see this person. He did not know of her existence until he entered the city, but seeing her, he was attracted.
(2.) He does not seem to have been habitually licentious, but being impulsive and ardent in temperament, he the more readily fell before temptation.
Judges 16:2. They compassed him in.] By patrols, and liers in wait. They were afraid to attack him directly, and they felt they must all do it together with united strength. The gates especially were securely locked and barred, while sentinels were placed over them, and then they remained quiet all the night, purposing in the morning to kill him. Why this purpose was not carried out at once is strange, for it was as easy to do so at night as in the morning. But they were nervous about the task, and put it off till morning should dawn.
Judges 16:3. Samson arose at midnight, etc.] He had come to know what was going on without, probably from his hostess, or as the poet suggests—
“He heard a whispering, and the trampling feet
Of people passing in the silent street.”
Impulsive and high spirited as he always was, he felt indignant that an attempt should be made to confine him within either walls or gates. He therefore resolved to show the futility of such schemes. Proceeding to the gate, where the watchers were either asleep or glad to skulk out of the way as they saw him approach, he firmly grasped the doors, or folding wings of the city gate along with the two posts, tore them out of the ground with his herculean strength, with the cross-bar on them, put them on his shoulders and carried them up to the top of a mountain that is before Hebron. Instead of forcing the door open he tore up the posts by the roots, with the barred doors attached to them (comp. the shutting of the gate, the town wall, etc., in Joshua 2:5; Joshua 2:7; Joshua 2:15). Gaza was then a walled town—it is not so now. He put the whole mass on his back and “carried it up to the top of a hill that is before Hebron.” Some read it, to a hill in the chain that runs up to Hebron. For Hebron was at a distance of ten miles or more from Gaza, and much too far to carry such a load. It might be rendered—that looketh towards Hebron—and not a few name El Montar as the place in question, which is only forty minutes’ distance from Gaza on the road to Hebron.
Hebron is mentioned for the special reason, that it was a centre or rallying point in the tribe of Judah. Samson’s practical jest meant much more than the assertion of his own personal liberty. It implied the greatest dishonour that could be inflicted on any town of the enemy, for its mastery was symbolised by its gates (Genesis 22:17; Genesis 24:60), and on this occasion to have the gates of the chief city of the Philistines brought even within sight of the central town of Judah was to imply the humiliation of subjection to Judah.
Judges 16:4. He loved a woman in the valley of Sorek.] A place supposed to be near to Zorah or Eshtaol, but in the land of the Philistines. It is a pity he had not got married into one of the families of Israel, for thereby much temptation would have been removed, his character stood high, many miseries been avoided, and his days been prolonged. He was still young, or scarcely up to middle life, and had time and strength to complete the redemption of his people but for his sin and folly, which brought him to an untimely end. Delilah] the weak or languishing one; but some make it the weakening, or debilitating one. In either case the name is appropriate, as names in those times were intended to be. Sorek, for example, signifies vineyard, for that was the character of the whole district. And it is called the valley (Heb. nachal) of Sorek, for valleys were noted for their fertility.
Judges 16:5. Entio him and see wherein his great strength lies.] “They knew already where his weakness lay, though not his strength.” Such strength had never been heard of, not even in the country of giants. Yet Samson was no Cyclops. He was not a man of preternatural size, of towering height, and abnormal strength of bone and muscle; or, if to some extent so, it was not such in appearance as to account for the extraordinary feats which he performed. This led them to suppose, that he carried about with him some amulet or charm, and that if that could be taken from him, he would then become weak and be as another man. Hence these princes consulted together, and agreed to offer a large bribe to the woman who had acquired a great influence over him, that she might find out the secret of his power. The sum mentioned was eleven hundred pieces of silver (shekels probably) amounting in all to over £600—a much greater sum then than the same amount would be now. The person who gained it might be said to be affluent.
Judges 16:7. If they bind me with seven green withs, etc.] Allured by the prospect of so much wealth, this false-hearted woman begins to try her arts. Her request in Judges 16:6 probably states only the object she had in view, but not the actual manner in which she addressed her friend. She would bring it before him in the way of playful toying, as if she never meant to be serious, and yet as if she wished her woman’s curiosity to be gratified. And he seems to have responded in the same half serious, half jocular mood. The “withs” refer to strings, perhaps bow-strings, or strings made of catgut (Psalms 11:2). It might be tendrils, the tough fibres of trees, or pliable twisted rods. These are stronger than common ropes. It is common in some places to tie the legs of wild elephants and buffaloes newly caught with bonds of this sort. But the Septuagint supposes these bonds to be made of the sinews of cattle.
Judges 16:9. Men lying in wait, etc.] Spies; men ready to fall on Samson, the moment that his weakness was discovered. Not in the same chamber, but in an inner chamber, hidden there. He snapped the strings as one would snap a cord of tow “when it smells fire.”
Judges 16:11. Bind my feet with new ropes.] In her playful dalliance, she accuses him of telling her untruths, and again urges the question as to where his strength lies, “with al the brazen effrontery characteristic of women, whose charms are great and whose hearts are bad.” He still feels that he must not tell her the real secret, and so gives an evasive answer as before. These ropes were probably twisted twigs but thick and strong.
Judges 16:13. If thou weavest the seven locks, etc.] Braids, or plaits. He wore his hair plaited into seven tresses. In these suggestions, at each step he approaches nearer the point of divulging his secret. The bow-strings which he first mentions are further away from the mark. The new cords with which no work has ever been done were the image of his strength, and so a step nearer the truth. But now he speaks of the locks of his hair, which come dangerously near, the point of revealing his Nazarite character. “His infatuation was like that of the moth approaching gradually nearer and nearer to the flame, which at last destroys it.”
Judges 16:14. And she fastened it with the pin.] It would appear that Delilah was a weaver, and had a loom in her apartment at which she wrought. It was an upright, after the Egyptian model, and the woof was inserted not from below upward, but from above downward. There was a web on the loom at the time, and Samson asked the woman to weave his locks into the web as woof. This she did, but as an additional security she fastened the web (with the hair woven into it) with a tent pin to the floor, or to the wall. The locks were, no doubt, strong enough to make a perfect web, and he must have laid himself down close to the loom, that the process might be properly gone through. But it was of no avail. The word “Philistines,” acted as an alarm bell. He awoke in a moment, and with one wrench tore up the web, unloosed the pin, and shook his locks free of all encumbrances. Several days probably elapsed while this endeavour was being made to ensnare the too heedless victim, and it might well be asked, why one that was usually so shrewd did not discern at once that there were evil designs meditated against him. The proverb says, love is blind. That probably is the principal explanation to be given. But it is also to be noticed that Samson thought his temptress was all the while in sport, and that had to do with his allowing her to go on so long pestering him with the subject. To this it must be added that love is not only a blindness, it is also a slavery, so that when one does see a course to be wrong he still pursues it. When it reaches this length, it becomes illegitimate, for reason should never be made captive to feeling, far less should conscience. Affection for the creature should never overrule our sacred obligations of duty to our God. But this is only one aspect of the case. Samson’s whole conduct in having such interviews with one that was not his wife was flagrantly wrong, and leaves a deep stain on his name.
Judges 16:16. His soul was vexed unto death.] Her reproaches now became sharp and incessant. The bribe of over £600, which had been floating before her eyes seemed to be vanishing out of sight; so with all the earnestness of one who was expecting to gain a fortune for life, she devoted herself to the use of every art and blandishment to gain her purpose. She was mocked, his heart was not given to her, he had not told her that which she was so desirous to know. Every day she returned to the charge, and with cutting, stinging words continued the persecuting ordeal. It was a vexation unto death. And yet he had but to break off the fellowship, and he should be free. This, however, he would not do. At last he gave up the battle. Probably, under some hypocritical promise on her part, that she would not make any improper use of the knowledge communicated, he told her all his heart—he let her into the secret. In doing this, he was tampering with that which was sacred, and he was selling away a power which God had especially given him for accomplishing, a work that was to be for the honour of His great name in the world. The only palliating feature in this act of great wickedness was, that there was much struggling of conscience before he capitulated.
Judges 16:19. And his strength went from him.] The traitress, with true Philistine nature, now cast every promise she may have made to the winds, and, without scruple, at once proceeded to the execution of her diabolical purpose. She calls to the princes to come, for at last she had entrapped the bird in her snare; and, when they made their appearance with the money in their hands, she gets him to sleep on her knees, and calls for a man to shave off the seven locks of his hair. Then, we are told, she begun to afflict him. His strength began to fail as he began to lose his locks. His real strength indeed did not lie in his hair, but his hair was the sign of his consecration to God, so that when it was gone, it was a proof that God no longer was with him to acknowledge him as His servant.
Judges 16:20. He wist not that the Lord was departed from him.] He had said (Judges 16:17) if my hair is taken, my strength is taken; but now that his hair is cut off, it is said, the Lord had departed from him. The fact that Jehovah was specially with him constituted his great strength, and that depended on his keeping the sign sacred, namely, his hair. That gone, his vow as a Nazarite was broken.
He wist not], perceived not, or was not conscious of it. The whole of these days of sin, for such we believe is the fair intepretation of the record, were to him as a troubled dream (Isaiah 29:8). It was as if he were under the influence of an intoxicating draught. His sense of the evil of sin was like that of a man who was looking through a mist. “The god of this world blinds the minds” of his dupes, that he may the more easily make them his prey. But the future shows that Samson was only for a time suffered to be his prey.
Judges 16:21. Took him] in a savage manner—as when Job said “mine enemy sharpeneth his eyes upon me.” He was made prisoner, and then “began the tempest” of his miseries. “Sin when it is finished (full grown—has gone its natural length) bringeth forth death.” He found he could no longer defend himself, and so he was laid hold of.
Put out his eyes.] The most cowardly and the most cruel of ancient customs, and sorry we are to add, the most common. There are not many instances in scripture history (2 Kings 25:7; Numbers 16:14), but it was very common in Eastern countries, especially when an enemy or rival was to be deprived of all power to do harm. Herodotus says, the Scythians put out the eyes of all their slaves. In many countries rivals to the throne had their eyes put out. In Persia, it is not uncommon for the king to punish a rebellions district by exacting so many pounds of eyes, and the executioners go and scoop out the eyes of those they met till they have the weight required. Sometimes the eyes were pulled or cut out; sometimes a red-hot iron was drawn before them. At other times the pupils were pierced, or destroyed, or they were taken out whole with the point of a dagger, and carried to the king in a basin. In some cases, when unskilful hands are employed, the mutilation is so great that the victim dies [Burden]. Here, the phrase put out means bored out.
The word nechushtaim (Heb.) here used implies double brass because both hands and feet were fettered. In ordinary cases leather was used.
He did grind in the prison house] i.e. grind corn with mill-stones worked by the hands—the employment of menials at which slaves were usually set to work. Women were also so employed (Luke 17:35), but it implied the lowest state of degradation (Isaiah 47:2). It was fatiguing as well as servile toil.
Judges 16:22. Began to grow again, etc.] This is important, as it implied that God had not finally left him. There was still hope. The hair was more important to a Nazarite than thews and sinews. He repented and his hair grew.
Judges 16:23. The lords gathered together to offer sacrifice unto Dagon.] The Philistines regarded the fish-shaped god-Dagon, as the god of the cities on the sea-coast, while the God of Israel was the god that had won the mainland. They regarded this decisive victory over Israel as the action of their deity, and therefore they wished to do sacrifice to Dagon, and to offer thanks. At Ashdod, and at Gaza, were great temples built to Dagon, Ekron and another sort of god (2 Kings 1:2; 2 Kings 1:16), and at Ashkelon was the far-famed temple of Ashtaroth, the Syrian Venus The word Dagon, according to some means the Fish-god, as the symbol of water, an all pervading element in nature; while others make it mean growth, as if the idol represented the fertility and productiveness of nature.
Judges 16:24. Our god hath delivered, etc.] “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.”
Judges 16:25. Call for Samson that he may make us sport.] He is brought in like a chained bear to be made the object of ridicule, and to be baited by the populace, to be reviled, buffeted and jeered at, as well as to dance to the sound of music (1 Samuel 18:7; 1 Chronicles 13:8; 1 Chronicles 15:29.) The Numidian warrior, Jugurtha, was dragged in Rome in the triumph of Marius, and became insane under his inhuman treatment. Bajazet, the Turkish Sultan, being enclosed by Tamerlane like a wild beast in an iron cage, dashed out his brains againt the sides of the cage. But the blind lion of Israel walks calmly on, in the consciousness that his sins are forgiven, and that his God is still with him after all that has happened.
And they set him between the pillars.] Without the slightest thought that he could do any harm there, or indeed anywhere, wherever they might place him. The pillars referred to were those “on which the house rests,” so that when they were removed, the whole structure must necessarily come down. If, for example, we suppose that the two pillars were placed in the centre (for it is likely Sampson would be put in the centre, so as to be visible to all) of the building, that from these pillars beams went out like the spokes of a wheel on to the sides of the building all round resting on smaller pillars there, and that on these beams all round the sides the galleries were placed, it is manifest that the removal of these two pillars in the centre would mean that all the beams would lose their support at the one end and fall to the ground, and involve the fall also of the galleries all round. The beams might be strong without being thick, so that the view would be little obscured. But however constructed, the fact is stated that the “house rested on the two pillars.” Samson came to know this.
Judges 16:28. Samson called unto the Lord.] The prayer would extend over more than a single sentence as spoken by him, but in the scripture record everything is extremely abbreviated, so that all we have here is the substance of what he prayed put into a single sentence; and it contains much. It implies—
(1) He has faith in the God of Israel to the last. Though Dagon seems to triumph, though the many thousands around him are, to a man, worshippers of Dagon, and he alone is left the solitary worshipper of Jehovah, and though Jehovah seems to have left him uncared for, the sport of cruel enemies—still his faith is unshaken in the God of Israel.
(2.) He lays claim to God as his own God. He says, “O my Lord God.” As if neither had he on his side given up Israel’s God, nor had he been ceased to be acknowledged by Him. It is like Jonah Judges 2:3-4. It was really a “fight” to own God as his God in such circumstances. Yet he acknowledges Him by his three names—Adonai, Jehovah, and Elohim. This last has the article—the true God.
(3.) He still has hope in God’s mercy. He does not give way to despair. Though he has sinned and grievously sinned he yet hopes to be remembered by his God, for His mercies are great. That mercy is his trust in the dark hour. If it but act, it will set Divine power in action. It is like the prayer of the penitent thief (Luke 23:42).
(4.) He prays for the accomplishment of his life’s object—the destruction of God’s enemies. They had deprived him of sight, and so rendered him unfit to accomplish that object. He prays to be remembered as to what he was in the past, the scourge of the oppressors of God’s Israel, specially raised up for that purpose, but now made unable to fulfil his vocation. He means, let my strength return once more that I may avenge the injury done to me as thy servant.
Judges 16:29. Samson took hold of the middle pillars.] Though blind he had got from others a knowledge of what the consequence would be. “The very conception of his deed is extraordinary.”
Judges 16:30. Let me die with the Philistines.] Not that he wished to commit suicide, but “since it cannot happen otherwise than with the loss of my own life, I shall yield up that, to get the great end of my mission accomplished.” It is the language of a brave soldier in the thick of battle. His prayer is answered. He feels his strength return as before. He grasps the massy pillars, as when he tore up the gate of Gaza. He drags them with all his force from their position. They bend—totter—fall! The roof with its vast load of spectators comes down with a mighty crash. In a moment the whole building becomes a pile of ruins. When laughter, and shout, and drunken revel are at their highest, sudden destruction overtakes the entire mass of spectators. The sounds of revelry are exchanged for dying groans and agonizing shrieks—Samson himself falls, with traitors, tormentors, tyrants, and enemies all at his feet, or heaped up over him as his grave mound.
Judges 16:31. His brethren—came down.] The Philistines were too terrified to hinder them. His father was dead, for his burying place is spoken of; but the relatives of the family, and many of the men of Dan to which tribe he belonged came down, and without any opposition took up the dead body of their leader and gave it an honourable burial. God takes care of the dust of His people; for “precious in His sight is the death of His saints.”
LESSONS ON THE GUILT AND DANGER OF WILFUL SIN
I. It is dangerous for one in God’s service to take the shaping of his course into his own hand.
It is singular that in the case of a mission at once so important and dangerous as that with which Samson was entrusted, we never hear of any prayer he offered up for Divine guidance. In David’s case we often hear of inquiry made for Divine direction (1 Samuel 23:4; 1 Samuel 23:10-12; 1 Samuel 30:8; 2 Samuel 1:1; 2 Samuel 5:23; Psalms 5:8; Psalms 25:4; Psalms 119:4-5; Psalms 143:8). Samson’s case was pre-eminently one where a similar course should have been taken. He ought in all his visits to have asked counsel of God, Jeremiah 10:23; Acts 9:6; Psalms 32:8; Proverbs 3:6. To take the matter into one’s own hand is to fail in giving to God the glory which is due. We cannot expect God’s presence to direct us, when His presence is not asked. The dangers in such a case are manifold, and we do not wonder if, when there was no prayer, there should be much turning aside into forbidden paths. When the Israelites were about to leave Egypt, God took them by the hand (Hebrews 8:9). He led them shepherd-like (Isaiah 63:11-13) more tenderly still, as a nurse (Hosea 11:3-4). He judged for them what was best (Exodus 13:17; Psalms 107:7). All God’s children are led by the good Spirit (Romans 8:14). Not a step should be taken without asking our heavenly Father—where next? His hand in ours and ours in His—so shall we avoid the snares of the enemy.
II. Constant exposure to temptation naturally leads to sin.
(Comp. p. 167, &c.) We constantly hear of Samson as being among the Philistines, and scarcely at all of his being with the Israelites. It is most unsafe to be always breathing an atmosphere that is full of contagion. The temptation has got a friend in our own bosom. “Temptation itself is but a spark, and if the spark fall upon ice, or snow, or water, no harm is done. But if it fall on powder, there is an explosion at once.” “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise, but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.” Sin is a contagious disease, and every man is more or less liable to catch the infection. The most difficult part of Samson’s work was to avoid temptation while doing his duty. Where a man can, it is much safer to flee from temptation than to fight it. “The best way to conquer sin is by Parthian war—to run away.” [Adams]. All exposure to sin is perilous. “More than if they had the plague or fever, avoid the company of the infected. Abjure every scene, abstain from every pleasure, abandon every pursuit which tends to sin, dulls the fine edge of conscience, unfits for religious duties, indisposes for religious enjoyments, sends you prayerless to bed, or drowsy to prayer. Give these a wide berth, and hold straight away under a press of canvas in your course to heaven.” [Guthrie].
III. God’s people are liable to fall into the greatest sins when left to themselves.
The native state of the heart of every good man in this world is to be corrupt. Even Paul made the admission, “in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing.” All that is good has to be imported, and whatever seeds are put in require time to grow, so that the old weeds still take away much of the strength of the soil, and do occasionally show very noxious fruit. Whatever good a man has he owes it to the grace of God, so that if that grace were but a little withdrawn, he is liable to be thrown over, as a child would be before a strong wind, when out of the grasp of his father’s hand. Thus it was with Noah, Lot, Jacob, Aaron, Judah, David, Solomon, and many others. So it was with Samson, when, as too often, he was off his guard (see Notes on p. 322, etc.) The enemies of the Lord have but too often reason to blaspheme, owing to the heinous sins of God’s professedly holy people.
IV. The unseen dangers which surround those who are guilty of great sins.
Here was Samson all alone in the very stronghold of his bitter enemies. A whole city was arrayed against him; he could not count on a single friend within its walls, and as one man they all compassed him in to effect his ruin. “His soul was among lions.” Heavy iron gates closed him in, and every man inside the walls breathed vengeance against him. Yet all the while, the object of so much danger was guilty of gross sins, and was turning God Himself to be his enemy. Could anything be conceived more widely opposite to all true wisdom of conduct, or a more daring provocation of the divine wrath, than for a professedly holy man to be indulging in sinful abominations at the moment when he was in the greatest peril of his life all round? If at first sight he did not know his danger, sin itself, through his conscience, might have awakened many a dark whisper of evil, and suggested that the very air all over was full of the mutterings of offended justice. The conscience of every man guilty of daring sin, is as a Urim and Thummim set in the heart, to give warning that a thousand dangers might burst on the soul at any moment.
Unseen dangers were around Lot all the time that he clung tenaciously to Sodom for the sake of gain, notwithstanding of its outrageous sins against God and man. What whispers of evil must have long been heard in the home of Ahab and Jezebel, because they banished the worship of Jehovah out of His own land, and set up a hideous system of idol-worship in its stead! A dreadful sound of present, as well as coming danger, must have ever been in the ear of the unhappy Saul, who was so often transgressing the commandment of the Lord. And thus it is with all who are guilty of known and wilful sin, where there is no penitence.
V. The error of misinterpreting God’s forbearance.
Samson was not robbed of his strength through his sin, but on the contrary he was enabled to perform a feat such as even he was not supposed to be able to accomplish. But it would be fatally wrong to conclude from that, that God was indifferent to his sin. It is His manner to give time and place for repentance. Nor is it consistent with the ever calm majesty of all His movements in Nature and Providence, to rush forward the moment that any sin is committed, and execute summary vengeance. Especially is it His glory to be slow to wrath, and to make it clear, that “Fury is not in Him—that judgment is His strange act (something foreign to Him to do spontaneously, or for its own sake)—that his instinctive tendency is to show mercy.” Yet being essentially holy, all sin must be accounted for under his perfect moral government; all the sins a man commits stand before him in greater or less accumulation, until the proper time comes for His dealing with them. And this sin of which Samson was now guilty, might be said to be a serious addition to the mass already existing. A few more additions, as in the case of his intercourse with Delilah, brought round the day of reckoning.
“Samson comes off from his sin with safety. He runs away lightly with a heavier weight than the gates of Azzah, the burden of an ill act. Present impunity argues not an abatement of the wickedness of his sin, or of the dislike of God. Nothing is so worthy of pity as a sinner’s peace. Good is not therefore good because it prospers, but because it is commanded; evil is not evil because it is punished, but because it is forbidden.” [Hall.]
VI. The heinous offence given by adding sin to sin.
The sin at Gaza not being repented of leads to the sin at Sorek; for sin unrepented of always leads to deeper sin. The tendency of sin is to grow, to develop itself, or wax stronger if it is not checked; and in this case there is no evidence of any check. If it is wrong to sin at all, it is more than doubly wrong to commit sin a second time. For it is not only to commit two sins in place of one, but it is to sin in the face of warning, remonstrance, and the mercy shown in forbearing with the first sin, so that the wonder of the Divine forbearance with it increases not so much in arithmetical as in geometrical progression. In the same progression does the guilt increase.
“One sin makes way for more; it keeps up the devil’s interest in the soul; it is like a nest egg left there to draw a new temptation.” [Manton] We are “not to give place to the devil.” “The little wimble once entered, we can then drive a great nail. If one thief be allowed to get into the house he will let in others. Every degree of entrance is a degree of possession.” These two evils arise when sin is not checked at once by penitence. Sin itself multiplies, and its guilt increases. (See Romans 2:5-6; 1 Kings 16:31-33? 2 Chronicles 33:2-10; 2 Chronicles 28:22-25). (Comp. pp. 311–317).
VII. The infatuation of sin.
By infatuation we mean, a wilful blinding of the reason, and rushing on without thought or concern to indulge in sin. The cause of this is a certain power of fascination in the object beloved. Was there ever more brazen effrontery shown to any man than in the question put in Judges 16:6? Any sane man, or one who was not spell-bound, would have resented it in a moment. To put such a question, was to tamper with his life and with the great mission he had in life. But he was enslaved. Sins of presumption waste the conscience more than any other sins. Guilt upon the conscience, like rust upon iron, both defile and consumes it. The tenderness of the conscience becomes lost, and its faculty of moral vision becomes blind. Its sensibility is destroyed, and by and bye it is “past feeling,” so that “seeing, a man does not see, and hearing he does not hear—neither does his heart understand.”
“Though he saw so apparent treachery, he yet wilfully betrays his life by this woman to his enemies. All sins and passions have power to infatuate a man, but lust most of all. Many a one loses his life, but this casts it away. We wonder that a man could become so sottish. Sinful pleasures, like a common Delilah lodge in our bosoms; we know they aim at nothing but the death of our souls, yet we yield to them and die. Every willing sinner is a Samson. Nothing is so gross and unreasonable to a well-disposed mind, that temptation will not represent as fit and plausible. Thrice had Samson seen the Philistines in the chamber ready to surprise him, and yet he will needs be a slave to his traitor. What man not infatuated would play thus with his own ruin. This harlot binds him, and calls in executioners to cut his throat. Where is his courage, by which he slew 1,000 of them in the field, but now suffers them to seize him in his chamber unrevenged? His hands were strong, but he is fettered with the invisible bonds of a harlot’s love, and finds it more easy to yield, though it is the height of being unreasonable.” [Hall].
VIII. The utter worthlessness of those who lead an impure life.
They are said to be abandoned—Because—
(1.) They have abandoned all fear of God. They live in open opposition to His holy commandments (Exodus 20:14; Galatians 5:19, etc.; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Corinthians 6:18; Romans 13:12-14; Ephesians 5:3, etc.; 1 Peter 2:11). They care not for His authority. They make light of provoking Him to anger. They pollute the body which He at first made to be His temple. They present a spectacle of moral loathsomeness and corrupting example to all around them.
(2.) They have abandoned all sense of shame. Shame is vitally associated with respect for one’s own character, so that to lose shame, is to trample character in the dust, and to become reckless. “She forgetteth the covenant of her God.”
(3) They have abandoned respect for human society. They wear the brazen face, and affect the regardless attitude of those who despise the ban which society puts upon them.
(4.) They have abandoned all regard for moral principle in the general actions of life. Sin is steep and slippery, and they who have fallen deeply on one side of the hill, have come to the bottom on every side. The conscience is vitiated for the whole conduct. “She who lies can steal; one who is a thief can kill; a cruel man can be a traitor; a drunkard can falsify;” and an impure woman can be perfidious, as Delilah’s conduct to Samson emphatically proves. That character is to be trusted in nothing that leaves out conscience in everything.
But while that class occupies so low a place in the scale, those who come next in degree are the persons of either sex, who care little, and do nothing for their reformation; who gather up their robes to free themselves from the contaminating touch; who, instead of using prayers and exertions for their recovery, are only anxious how orthodoxly they can speak of the evil of such conduct, and with what infallible certitude they can consign that portion of their fellow creatures to hopeless perdition. It is no wonder, if such persons, not satisfied with denouncing the openly vicious, should turn their attention to tale-bearing and evil-speaking, criminating those who may be purer than themselves, and imputing to them thoughts which exist only in their own imagination.
IX. Severe chastisement ever follows high-handed sin, sooner or later.
Delilah was but the instrument of Samson’s punishment, just as she was the instrument that ministered to his unlawful pleasures. The unmitigated perfidy of that wicked woman, and her heartless betrayal of a confiding nature into the hands of relentless enemies for the purpose of torture and death, will cover her name with execration to all future ages.
But looking at God’s dealings with Samson’s sin, we see Him fulfilling His own threatening, or rather His promise, for His threatenings are in some sense promises to His own people, being always intended to have a merciful issue (Psalms 89:30-32). For his sin, the hero who had never lost a battle for 20 years, though his single arm was pitted against a whole nation, was at last delivered up into the hands of his enemies, just “as a wounded lion succumbs to a pack of yelping hounds.” “Not only is he fettered heavily, but as the most cruel thing which the body can suffer, his eyes were gouged out, and he was made hopelessly blind.” Yet now when he had lost his eyesight he saw more clearly than ever these things:
(1.) The greatness of his folly; in having broken his Nazarite vow of consecration to the Lord; in having fraternised with the people whom he was sent to destroy; and in having repeatedly been guilty of flagrant sin like the heathen, notwithstanding his sacred position as the appointed saviour of Israel.
(2.) The depth of his fall. Great Samson fell! O what a fall was there! From what strength to what weakness! From the hill-top to the deepest valley! From freedom to slavery! From glory to humiliation! From the brightest prospects to the darkest gloom! “Tell it not in Gath, etc.” The man who gave liberty to Israel now himself grinds at the mill. As he passes along the street every boy can throw stones at him, every woman can laugh and shout, and anyone of either sex can lash him at pleasure.
(3). He saw also the abiding mercy of his God. Quickly He made the hair of his head begin to grow again, which was the first streak of dawn appearing after a dark and tempestuous night. God was not like the men of Israel. He did not forsake His erring servant; He did not allow the waters to overflow, nor were the flames permitted to kindle on his person. Never is the correcting discipline permitted to destroy.
X. There is a point in the sinner’s course when the Lord departs from him.
(Chap Judges 16:20; 1 Samuel 16:14; Ezekiel 10:18; Ezekiel 11:23.)
XI. God’s departure from a man is the signal for his ruin.
What a difference that departure makes! He might in some respects say with the poet—
“My days are in the yellow leaf,
The flowers, the fruits of love are gone,
The worm, the canker, and the grief
Are mine alone.”
It was a most touching sight to see him saying, “I will go out as at other times, and shake myself,” and then to hear it added, “he wist not that the Lord was departed from him.” He now found that Proverbs 29:1. I was but too true. “He bad ruined himself beyond repair for this life; he could never be the man he was; in that dark prison his remorseful thoughts were his companions, his own past life his only view. He saw his ruinous folly, his betrayal of the trust his God had reposed in him, how out of the best material for a life of glory he had wrought for himself a life of shame and a degrading end. The strong man was crushed, and like the weakest sinner he cried to God for the light and joy of His own presence, and to be remembered with the old love. And he prayed not in vain.”
XII. None of God’s people are ever lost.
(John 10:28-29; John 6:39; Isaiah 54:8-10; Psalms 34:19-20; Psalms 66:12; 2 Timothy 4:18.)
XIII. Men’s sins are seen in their punishment.
His eyes were the first offenders in Samson’s case, and there especially he suffers. Thus it was with Adonibezek (Jude 1:7). Lot’s sin was worldly mindedness, and he lost all in the end. Eve listened to the serpent, and her lot was that there should be perpetual war between the serpent’s seed, and her seed. Jacob deceived Esau, and was deceived in turn by Laban. There was polygamy in the households even of the good in early times, and the chastising rod was seen in the strifes that were ever breaking out in their family circles.
XIV. The mischievous effects of the sins of God’s people.
The world judges of the character of Christ’s religion, not as he explains it, but as Christ’s people show it in their lives. They are the world’s Bible; so that their inconsistencies are as so many blots in that Bible. Pre-eminently is this the case with a man high in place as Samson was, so that his fall gave large occasion to the enemies, both to think evil, and to speak evil of God’s cause. Thus with David, the Lord’s anointed, as in 2 Samuel 11:12. Thus with Moses in Numbers 20:12, and Deuteronomy 3:26. And the evil done in Samson’s case, as given in Judges 16:23-24, was to show to both Philistines and Israelites that God’s servant was not protected by Him who sent him, and as the result the enemy triumphed over the God of Israel.
XV. Genuine repentance and believing prayer may restore the greatest sinner.
XV. Death brings out a man’s real character.
XVII. The man who prays is stronger than those who scoff.
The prayers of Samson had a far greater effect on his enemies, than all the power which they wielded had against him.
XVIII. The wicked are sometimes signally defeated in the moment of their supposed triumph.
Colossians 2:15; Acts 12:18-19; Daniel 6:22-24; 1 Samuel 17:49; Esther 7:0. The Philistines regarded Samson as now hopelessly disabled from doing them any harm. Yet he, at that moment, was taking steps to secure a greater destruction among them than ever before.
N.B.—Was Samson a type of Christ?
We believe that to some extent all the judges were types of Christ, generally for the reason, that the whole history of Israel was in a proper sense symbolical. The people were brought into existence in a special manner, to serve the purpose of prefiguring Christ in many ways. There can be no doubt at all from the testimony of the New Testament, that the spirit of the Old Testament was a foreshadowing of Christ (John 5:39; John 5:46; Luke 24:27). The smitten Rock is expressly said to mean Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4). The lifting up of the serpent on the pole, is also expressly mentioned as an emblem of Christ being lifted up on the cross (John 3:14-15). Christ also intimates that He is the true bread which came down from heaven, of which the manna of old was but an emblem. Much of the language which David applies to himself in the Psalms, is applied by the inspired men of the New Testament to Christ.
We hold then that the whole history is full of the shadow of Christ, as our Saviour. The very name of judge is in the original, a saviour. Samson is supposed to have been typical of Christ in such respects as these:
The birth of both was miraculous. Jesus was born of a virgin, Samson of a barren woman.
Both were specially given to act the part of Saviours.
Both were consecrated to their work by the Divine Spirit.
All their work was done through the influence of that Spirit
The great need of the age in which each appeared was penitence
Both did their work alone, without an army, and even without arms.
It was God’s gracious thought to raise up such a Deliverer in either case.
Each appeared at first as a little child.
Each in death slew more than in their life.
Each had an encounter with a lion, at the beginning of their course.
Each was received with indifference by his own people.
Each was betrayed by his own people into the hands of enemies.
Each was faithful to the interests of his own people.
Each submitted to be bound without a murmur.
Each came a Light into the world, to reveal character.
The men of Judah preferred to continue under the Philistine yoke, rather than follow Samson to liberty. So the Jews cried aloud, We have no king but Cæsar.
Both were uniformly successful in every combat they had with their enemies, though they fought all alone.
Both endured much mockery from the world, while fulfilling their commission received from heaven.
Each proved himself able to destroy the gates of the enemy.
From first to last each stood faithful to his God amid surrounding treason.
With the death of Samson, the Book of Judges proper terminates. Eli and Samuel did both, indeed, act as judges, but the proper position of the former was to be the high priest, and that of the latter to be a prophet and a priest. Their public service was a sort of interregnum, between the period of the judges and that of the kings. What follows now is not a continuation of the history, but consists rather of two appendices, the first in Judges 17, 18, and the second in Judges 19-21. These are not composed of general materials loosely attached to the book, but form part of its organic structure, and are needed to illustrate the private life of Israel in a degenerate age.
They point out the true cause of the declensions of Israel, referred to in the history throughout, in the strong tendency of the human heart to go away from its God. This underlies the whole course of the history, and is set forth in these remaining chapters in two dark pictures. We see:—
I. The lapse into error of belief and worship.
We see in the case of Micah, how quickly and easily a family, and in the case of Dan, a tribe, may fall into the practice of image-worship. The time must have been shortly after Joshua’s days, for Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, was still alive (Judges 20:28), the tribe of Dan had not yet got its full inheritance mapped out, and it was only idolatry in its incipient form that Micah dared to indulge. Yet modified as this false worship was, that Micah should dare in his professed worship of Jehovah to make use of images, notwithstanding that the stern voice of Joshua still rung in his ears, as it must have done in the ears of many generations to come; notwithstanding, too, the solemn appeals of Moses, the express messenger of Jehovah, in revealing His character and will, and especially, notwithstanding the great voice that issued from amidst the thunders of Sinai, saying, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image”—shows the strong bent of the human heart to get away from the idea of a spiritual God, and to think of Him under some form of sense. A graven image implied the germ of idolatry, and was therefore not to be tolerated. Though it might begin, as in Micah’s case, merely as a form of worshipping the true God, it always ended in the worship of the image itself, under the name of some false god. Even while the true God was professedly worshipped, to conceive of Him as set forth by an image of any kind was infinitely degrading to His character, and already implied a great descent in the mind of the worshipper (Romans 1:21-23).
Thus, the case of Micah illustrates how easily and naturally, a man, whose heart was not right with God, might slide down into idolatry, deluded with the thought that He was worshipping Jehovah, and Him alone. The remembrance of the mighty God of Israel was too fresh in people’s mind at this time, for them to put Him aside as the One legitimate Object of Worship. Conscience, also, was too strong to allow a man peacefully to set aside all idea of religious worship whatsoever. It was therefore found to be a convenient compromise, to profess to worship the spiritual Jehovah under a material form.
The other picture brought before us is:—
II. The lapse into flagrant wickedness of conduct.
See chaps. 19–21. Here we have an exhibition of the extent to which the flood of immorality overflowed some parts of the land, when all check on the outburst of evil passions was removed. The proof is made out that were all restraint taken away, and the heart left free to follow its own inclinations, in place of becoming virtuous and good, it would soon become the opposite of all that God would have it to be, and present the spectacle of falling from the greatest heights to the very lowest depths. It is most instructive too that this picture comes in alongside of the other, as if to show, how a loose morality and loose belief go hand in hand together, and that until there be a correct conception established in men’s minds of the sin-hating character of God, there cannot be any pure and high-toned excellence of conduct prevalent upon the earth. It is a conveniently-worded motto to say—
“For modes of faith let graceless zealots fight,
He can’t be wrong whose life is in the right.”
But the argument is slender as a gossamer thread. Who ever knew of a man having his life steadily in the right, while his faith was in the wrong? When put to the test, he is uniformly found wanting. The evidence here is clear that the human heart, when released from all restraint, would go by leaps and bounds into the commission of the foulest sins. The inference is, that checks of a stringent character must be applied to it meantime, until the period arrive when the only effective check can be brought forward (Hebrews 8:10).
To account for the serious errors in Divine Worship, and the enormities of sinful conduct, which characterised that age, we are repeatedly told of—
III. The great want of those times.
“In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” four times this statement is repeated, and in such a way as to lead us to believe that, if there had been such a functionary, we should not have had such melancholy accounts to read. (See Judges 17:6; Judges 18:1; Judges 19:1; Judges 21:25.)
There was none to take the helm. While Moses lived, there was always a finger lifted up to point out the path of duty, and a voice heard, saying, “This is the way, walk ye in it.” While Joshua lived, the privilege was still continued, and Israel wanted not for counsel to direct, and for authority to enforce what was good and right. But now there was no longer a public guide to lead the nation on, nor any power to act as a national conscience to cause the Divine laws to be observed.
Not that there was any absence of plan in their being thus left without a head, or that there was any defect in the arrangement. Nothing was more marked than definiteness of plan, in all God’s course of dealings with His people throughout their history. But now they had come to a new stage of their history. They had had a course of instruction under Moses and Joshua, coupled with God’s own direct teaching by the wonderful acts of His power and grace wrought on their behalf, that might by this time have enabled them to judge for themselves, without being taught by a leader, that it was their wisdom and their solemn obligation alike, to fear their God under all circumstances, and with all good conscience to keep His commandments. A pause, therefore, takes place to try them on this point, and ascertain how they would act when left to themselves; without a King, a Father, a Guide; or, at first, even a Judge, or temporary Saviour. Had they, or had they not, really profited by the enjoyment of all this Divine care-taking and wonder-working. If there had been the least disposition in their heart to obey, nothing could have been more easy and grateful than to obey. The very dimmest mental eye could see what a magnificent privilege it was, for them to be at liberty to say, that the God that had wrought all these wonders was their God. Now, therefore, was the solemn moment when the heart of Israel was called on to say—“Accept or reject Jehovah!” God waited for a reply.
That reply was not long in being given. It soon appeared that the tendency of the Israelitish heart was to depart from the living God, and, when left to itself, to prefer rather those substitutes for the true God, which the heathen around them set up as objects of worship. The proof was fully made out, that they were not in a fit state to be left to themselves. They had indeed a law, a most complicate and comprehensive law, adapted to all the varieties of human experience and human conduct, and this law was laid down by God himself (Galatians 3:19). But it was one thing to know what the law required, and another thing to be disposed to keep it. Hence there required to be some authority established, by which obedience to Jehovah would be enforced. The lack of a disposition to observe the holy, just, and good laws of the Great Supreme, has been sorrowfully acknowledged in all ages. Even a heathen could say—
‘I see the good, but I follow the evil.”
Israel then required a king, or ruling authority, to enforce the carrying out of the laws and commandments appointed by its covenant God. There was no such ruling authority now in the land. Hence the people were fast turning to idolatry in worship, and to immorality in practice.
But the idea in this descriptive text, is not so much, that there was no supreme civil authority in Israel, or principle of law recognised, as opposed to a state of anarchy and chaos. If there had been that, some good result would have followed. For law, viewed simply as a chart defining the lines of right and wrong, is a great blessing to a community, when justly and wisely framed and impartially administered, when violence and evil passion are repressed, and when order and righteous dealing between man and man are duly upheld. Something more important, however, is meant here. The king of Israel was not an ordinary king. As king he held a sacred office. God Himself was the real King of Israel, and every legitimate occupant of the throne was his vicegerent. The nation itself was a “holy nation.” They were a church, the only church of God on the earth, and to be a king to God’s church was to hold a sacred office. Hence his duties covered the whole area of religion, and it was his special duty to see that God’s existence, and God’s authority were universally acknowledged, that the laws He appointed for His worship should be faithfully adhered to, and that the rules He had laid down for daily life should be reverently observed.
The ordinary office of king was confined to things civil, and he became a usurper when he intruded into the sacred ground of conscience (Matthew 22:21). But the King of Israel was only about his proper work, when jealously seeing to it, that all the laws and ordinances of God were duly observed by his subjects. The whole history of the kings goes on the assumption, that the king was responsible for the Divine laws being respected by his people. Accordingly, in so far as was necessary, express instructions were given to him for the guidance of the people, and he ever acted by Divine direction. Even rules for guidance in civil and social life, which are permitted among other nations to be carried out according to the judgments of men were, in the case of the “peculiar people,” all directly laid down by God himself. Hence the great significance of the statement, “there was no king,” as applied to Israel.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Judges 16". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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