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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical
Judges 16

 

 

Verses 1-3

Samson visits Gaza. The Philistines meditate his destruction; but he escapes at midnight, carrying the gate of the city away with him.

Judges 16:1-3.

1Then went Samson [And Samson went] to Gaza [’Azzah], and saw there an harlot, and went in unto her.[FN1] 2And it was told[FN2] the Gazites [’Azzites], saying, Samson is come hither. And they compassed him[FN3] in, and laid wait for him all night in the gate of the city, and were quiet all the night, saying, In the morning when it is day we shall kill him.[FN4] 3And Samson lay till midnight, and [he] arose at midnight, and took [laid hold of] the doors of the gate of the city, and the two posts, and went away with them [pulled them up], bar and all, and put them upon his shoulders, and carried them up to the top of an [the] hill that is before Hebron.

TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL

1 Judges 16:1.—וַיָּבאֹ אֵלֶיהָ. Dr. Cassel, in accordance with his exposition (see below), renders, und kam zu ihr “and came (went) to her.” This rendering is certainly possible (cf. Genesis 6:20; Psalm 51:1, etc.); but as the expression is a standing euphemism, the writer of Judges would scarcely have employed it in its more proper sense here, where the context would inevitably suggest the least favorable interpretation.—Tr.]

2 Judges 16:2.—וַיֻּנַד (cf. Genesis 22:20) or וַיּאֹמְרוּ, has doubtless been dropped out of the text by some oversight of transcribers. The Sept, Targum, and other ancient versions, supply the deficiency, if indeed it existed in their day.—Tr.]

3 Judges 16:2.—וַיָּסֹבּוּ: the accusative (cf. Ecclesiastes 9:14) object of this verb is to be disengaged from לוֹ, the object of the immediately following verb. So Bertheau and Keil. Dr. Cassel takes the word in the sense “to go about,” to patrol, which would require the object עיר ( Isaiah 23:16) or בָּעִיר ( Song of Solomon 3:3) to be expressed.—Tr.]

4 Judges 16:2.—עַד־אוֹר הַבֹּקֶר וַהֲרַגנֻהוּ: literally, “Until morning light! then we kill him.” That Isaiah, “Wait (or, with reference to the preceding יִתְחָרְשׁוּ: Be quiet) until morning light,” etc. Cf. 1 Samuel 1:22 אוֹר is the infinitive construct, cf. Ges. Lex. s. v. עַד, B, 2, b.—Tr.]

EXEGETICAL AND DOCTRINAL

Judges 16:1. And Samson went to’Azzah. The heroic deeds of Samson have driven the Philistines back within their old boundary-lines. They no longer venture to come anywhere near him. Hebrews, however, with the fearlessness of genius, undertakes to visit them in their own fortified chief city. ’Azzah, the Gaza of the Greeks, was the most powerful border-city and capital of the Philistines. There, as in Gath and Ashdod, remnants of the Anakim are said to have remained ( Joshua 11:22). Concerning the etymology of the name עַזָּה (’Azzah), different opinions have been expressed. Hitzig’s derivation from עֵז, “she-goat,” has been justly called in question by Stark (Gaza und die philist. Küste, p46). But by the side of the view which, after the older authorities (from Jerome down) he adopts—which makes עַזָּה to be “the strong, fortified city,” in contrast with the open country, and appeals to such names as Rome and Valentia as analogous—I would place another, perhaps more accordant with the national spirit of the Philistines. The origin of the name must probably be sought in the worship of Mars-Typhon, the warlike Death-god. Movers has compared ̓Αζησία, the Trœzenian name of Persephone, with עַזָּה (Phönizer, i367). “Strong,” in the true sense of the word, may be appropriately predicated of death; accordingly it is said in the “Song of Solomon” ( Judges 8:6): “Strong (עַזָּה) as death is love.” To the name ̓Αζησία (Azesia) not only el-Asa, the idol of the ancient Arabians (Mars-Asiz) would correspond, but also and especially עֲיָאזֵל (Azazel), to whom the Mosaic law sent the goat laden with the sins of the people. The name ’Azzah had its origin in the service of subterranean, typhonic deities, peculiar to the coasts of the Mediterranean sea. Although the Greeks called the city Gaza, it is nevertheless clear that the Indo-Germanic etymology of this word (γάζα), which signifies “public treasure,” is not to be brought into comparison.

Samson comes not, alas! like the tribe of Judah ( Judges 1:18), to conquer the city. But it is a question whether the sensuality which at other times lulled his heroism to sleep, was also the occasion of his present visit to Gaza. The cultus of the Canaanitish nations, and the beauty of the Philistine women, were favorable to voluptuousness. Ancient expositors explained זוֹנָה to mean a female inn-keeper, a hostess. They were so far right, that the houses of harlots were those that stood open to all comers, including such strangers as had no relations of acquaintance and mutual hospitality with any one in the city. (Compare, in Latin, the transition into each other of caupo and leno, caupona and lena.) Hence, the Targum has everywhere (including Judges 11:1) translated זוֹנָה by פּוּנְדָקִיתָא, i. e., “female innkeeper,” πανδóκεια. On this account, the spies, also, whom Joshua sent out, and who were influenced by no sensual impulses, could quarter themselves nowhere in Jericho but in the house of a zonah ( Joshua 2:1). Samson did not come to Gaza for the purpose of visiting a harlot: for it is said that “he went thither, and saw there a zonah.” But when he wished to remain there over night, there was nothing for him, the national enemy, but to abide with the zonah. This time the narrative gives no occasion to tax him with sensuality. We do not read, as in Judges 16:4, “and he loved her.” His stay is spoken of in language not different from that employed with reference to the abode of the spies in the house of Rahab. The words, “he saw her,” only indicate that when he saw a woman of her class, he knew where he could find shelter for the night. The purpose of his coming was to give the Philistines a new proof of his fearlessness, which was such that he did not shun to meet them in their own chief city.

Judges 16:2. And when the ’Azzites were told, that Samson was come thither. He had been seen. It was probably towards evening when he entered the city. The houses in which the trade of a zonah was carried on, lay anciently and still lie on the walls of the city ( Joshua 2:15), not far from the gates. Although it is not stated whether the inhabitants knew where he was, it must be assumed that they did; for, being in the city, he had no choice as to his place of abode. The king of Jericho commands Rahab to deliver up the spies; but the description here given of the way in which the ’Azzites set to work to catch the dreaded foe, is highly amusing and characteristic. The most direct way would have been to have attacked him in the house of the zonah; but that course they avoid. They propose to lie in wait for him when he comes out. Our author’s use of the imperfects וַיָּסֹבּוּ and וַיֶּאֶרְבוּ is peculiar and interesting. That of which they speak, and say it must be done, as: “patrols must go about,” and “bands must lie in wait all night at the gate,” the graphic narrator relates as if it were actually done. They did nothing of the kind, however, but instead of patrolling and watching “all night,” they were afraid, and kept quiet “all night” (כָּל־הַלַּילָה, used twice in order to hint at the contrast between counsel and action which they exhibited). They should doubtless have been on their legs throughout the night, but in fact they יִתְתָרשׁוּ, kept themselves still, made no noise, and heard nothing, just as a timid householder, who is afraid of the burglar, feigns to be fast asleep, so as not to be obliged to hear the robbery going on. The gate, they say to each other, is firmly fastened, so that he cannot get out of the city, and to-morrow, at sunrise, we have certainly killed him (the narrator again represents the thing talked about as done, הֲרַגְנֻהוּ). “Ah yes, to-morrow!” To-morrow, to-morrow, only not to-day, is the language of all lazy people—and of the timorous as well.[FN5]

Judges 16:3. But Samson slept till midnight. He had been told that his presence in Gaza was known. How little fear he felt, appears from the fact that he slept till midnight. Then he arose, went calmly to the gate, and (as it was closed and barred) lifted out its posts, placed the doors on his shoulders, and tranquilly proceeded on his way home. Humor and strength characterized all his deeds. On this occasion, however, the mighty jest which he played off on the inhabitants of Gaza, was also the worst humiliation which he could inflict upon them. The gates of a place symbolized its civic and national strength, inasmuch as they represented ingress into it. Samson enacted literally, as it were, the promise made to Abraham: “Thy seed shall possess the gate of its enemies” ( Genesis 22:17). The fact that Rebecca is dismissed with the same blessing ( Genesis 24:60); “May thy seed possess the gate of those who hate it!” indicates the popular diffusion of the idea that to take possession of an enemy’s gate is to obtain a complete victory over him. Hence, in the East victorious princes have frequently literally carried away the gates of conquered cities (cf. Hammer, Gesch. des Osman. Reichs, i267). For the same reason, Almansor, when he took Compostella, caused the doors of the St. James’ Church to be lifted out, and to be carried on the shoulders of Christians, to Cordova, in sign of his victory (Ferreras, Gesch. von Spanien, iii145). The same idea presents itself in North-German legends, when giants are represented as carrying away churches from their places, in order to show their hostility against Christianity (Schambach and Müller, Nieders. Sagen, pp150, 151).

But precisely because the removal of the gate of Gaza was expressive of the national humiliation of the Philistines before Israel—Israel having, as it were, in the person of its representative, taken their chief city by storm—it is necessary to take the statement that Samson carried the gate “up to the top of the mountain before (עַל־פְּנֵי) Hebron,” in a more literal sense than Keil feels himself bound to do. Hebron was the centre and chief seat of the tribe of Judah. It was probably the abode of Samson also during the twenty years of his judgeship. Israel’s triumph and the Philistines’ ignominy were both most plainly expressed when the gate of Gaza was lying before Hebron; for it was found appropriate to carry the gates of the chief city of the enemy to the chief city of the conqueror, otherwise Hebron would not have been mentioned at all. As to the difficulty of carrying the gate so far as Hebron, it is unnecessary to waste a word upon it. He who wrenched the gate from its firm security, could also carry it to Hebron. Besides, as soon as he was in Judæa, he had time enough. In Hebron the evidences of the great hero’s triumph and the Philistines’ humiliation were probably exhibited long after the event took place. Even when nations seem least capable of doing great things, it is yet a cheering sign, promissory of better days, if they take pleasure in the great deeds of former times. Israel was in servitude for the very reason that it no longer knew the greatness of its ancestors ( Judges 2:10). Whoever takes pleasure in Samson, affords some ground to hope for freedom.

HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL

The ancient church used the gate of Gaza, as a type of the gates of hell destroyed by Christ. A modern art-critic, it is true, has remarked that most of the pictures which were supposed to be representations of Samson, carrying away the gates of Gaza, are not such, but represent the paralytic of the gospels, who took up his bed and walked (Martigny, Dictionnaire, p599). But the essential matter Isaiah, not the pictures, but the spirit. Gaza Isaiah, as it were, the stronghold of the enemy. Samson, who enters it, resembles Christ, who is laid in the grave. But the enemy cannot bind the living Word. He not only rises from the dead, but He deprives the fortress of its gates, so that it can no longer detain any who would be free. Only he remains a captive, in whom sin reigns, and passion is supreme—who would be free from Christ.

Footnotes:

FN#1 - Judges 16:1.—וַיָּבאֹ אֵלֶיהָ. Dr. Cassel, in accordance with his exposition (see below), renders, und kam zu ihr “and came (went) to her.” This rendering is certainly possible (cf. Genesis 6:20; Psalm 51:1, etc.); but as the expression is a standing euphemism, the writer of Judges would scarcely have employed it in its more proper sense here, where the context would inevitably suggest the least favorable interpretation.—Tr.]

FN#2 - Judges 16:2.—וַיֻּנַד (cf. Genesis 22:20) or וַיּאֹמְרוּ, has doubtless been dropped out of the text by some oversight of transcribers. The Sept, Targum, and other ancient versions, supply the deficiency, if indeed it existed in their day.—Tr.]

FN#3 - Judges 16:2.—וַיָּסֹבּוּ: the accusative (cf. Ecclesiastes 9:14) object of this verb is to be disengaged from לוֹ, the object of the immediately following verb. So Bertheau and Keil. Dr. Cassel takes the word in the sense “to go about,” to patrol, which would require the object עיר ( Isaiah 23:16) or בָּעִיר ( Song of Solomon 3:3) to be expressed.—Tr.]

FN#4 - Judges 16:2.—עַד־אוֹר הַבֹּקֶר וַהֲרַגנֻהוּ: literally, “Until morning light! then we kill him.” That Isaiah, “Wait (or, with reference to the preceding יִתְחָרְשׁוּ: Be quiet) until morning light,” etc. Cf. 1 Samuel 1:22 אוֹר is the infinitive construct, cf. Ges. Lex. s. v. עַד, B, 2, b.—Tr.]

FN#5 - The above explanation of Judges 16:2 is more ingenious than satisfactory. The text does not speak of what the Philistines said ought to be done, but of what was done. It is true, that this view meets with the difficulty of explaining how Samson could carry off the gate, and the watchers be apparently none the wiser. The answer is probably that after the guards and liers-in-wait were posted, these rendered sleepy by inaction (יִתְחָרְשׁוּ), and confident that Samson would not leave the zonah until morning, became “quiet” in a sense beyond that intended by the instructions they had received—in other words, allowed themselves to fall asleep. Cf. Bertheau and Keil—Tr.]


Verses 4-20

Samson’s fall. He loves a Philistine woman, and, confiding to her the secret of his strength, is betrayed into the hands of his enemies.

Judges 16:4-20.

4And it came to pass afterward [after this], that he loved a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah 5 And the lords [princes] of the Philistines came up unto her, and said unto her, Entice [Persuade] him, and see wherein his great strength lieth, and by what means we may prevail against him, that we may bind him to afflict [lit. humble, i. e, subdue] him: and we will give thee every one of us eleven hundred pieces of silJudges Judges 16:6 And Delilah said to Samson, Tell me, I pray thee, wherein thy great strength lieth, and wherewith thou mightest be bound to afflict [subdue] thee 7 And Samson said unto her, If they bind me with seven green withs [moist cords],[FN6] that were never [have not been] dried, then shall I be weak, and be as another8[any other] man. Then the lords [princes] of the Philistines brought up to her seven green withs [moist cords], which had not been dried, and she bound him 9 with them. (Now there were men lying in wait, abiding with her in the chamber.)[FN7] And she said unto him, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he brake the withs [cords] as a thread of tow is broken when it toucheth [smelleth] the fire. his strength was not known 10 And Delilah said unto Samson, Behold, thou hast mocked [deceived] me, and told me lies: now tell me, I pray thee, wherewith thou mightest be bound 11 And he said unto her, If they bind me fast [omit: fast] with new ropes that never were occupied [with which no work was ever done], then shall I be weak, and be as another [any other] Prayer of Manasseh 1:12Delilah therefore took new ropes, and bound him therewith, and said unto him, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. (And there were liers in wait abiding in the chamber.)2And he brake them from off his arms like a thread 13 And Delilah said unto Samson, Hitherto thou hast mocked [deceived] me, and told me lies: tell me wherewith thou mightest be bound 14 And he said unto her, If thou weavest the seven locks of my head with [i. e, into] the web [i. e, the warp]. And [she did Song of Solomon, and] she fastened it with the pin, and said unto him, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he awaked out of his sleep, and went away with [pulled out] the pin of the beam [loom], and with [omit: with] the web [or, warp]. 15And she said unto him, How canst thou say, I love thee, when thine heart is not with me? Thou hast mocked [deceived] me these three times, and hast not told me wherein thy great strength lieth. 16And it came to pass when she pressed him daily with her words, and urged him, so that his soul was vexed unto death; 17That he told her all his heart, and said unto her, There hath not come a razor upon mine head; for I have been [am] 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, 18and be like any [all] other man [men]. And when [omit: when] Delilah saw that he had told her all his heart, [and] she sent and called for the lords [princes] of the Philistines, saying, Come up this once, for he hath shewed me[FN8] all his heart. Then the lords [princes] of the Philistines came up unto her, and brought [the] money in their hand 19 And she made him sleep upon her knees; and she called for a Prayer of Manasseh, and she caused him to shave [and she shaved][FN9] off the seven locks of his head; and she began to afflict [subdue] him, and his strength went from him 20 And she said, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he awoke out of his sleep, and said, I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself [free].[FN10] And he wist not that the Lord [Jehovah] was departed from him.

TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL

1 Judges 16:7.—יְתָרִים לַחִים: literally, “moist cords or strings.” Keil: “יֶתֶר means string, e. g., of a bow, Psalm 11:2, and in Arabic and Syriac both bow-string and guitar-string. Now since the יְתָרִים are here distinguished from the עֲבֹתִים, ropes ( Judges 16:11). the former must be understood of animal tendons or gut-strings.” It is certainly in favor of this view that the יְתָרִים are to be “moist,” as also that it makes a strong and climactic distinction between וְתָרִים and עֲבֹתִים. Compare the rendering of the LXX.: νευραῖς ῦγραῖς.—Tr.]

2 Judges 16:9.—וְהָאִרֵב ישֵׁב לָהּ בָּחֶדֶר: “and the lurker sat for her in the apartment.” In itself considered, אֹרֵב might be collective, as rendered by the E. V. (cf. Judges 20:33); but, although other Philistines may have been near at hand, it would be difficult to conceal the presence in the room itself of more than one, and hence it would hardly be attempted, לָהּ is dat. commodi. The rendering, “with her,” adopted also by Cassel (and De Wette), is not indeed impossible, but gives to לְ a meaning which it rarely has, and which is here less suitable.—Tr.]

3 Judges 16:18.—The reading לִי of the keri is evidently the correct one, notwithstanding Keil’s remarks in favor of לָהּ. Keil would make the clause a remark inserted by the narrator: “for he had showed her (לָהּ) all his heart.”—Tr.]

4 Judges 16:19.—וַתְּגַלַּח: “and she shaved.” The piel is not causative here; compare the pual in Judges 16:17. The E. V. seems to accept the interpretation of the Vulgate and Alex. Sept, which translate לָאִישׁ by “barber.” “The man” (לְהָאִישׁ = לָאִיּשׁ) is probably the Philistine who was on duty at the time as “lurker;” and Delilah calls on him, in order to have somebody near to defend her should Samson wake during the shearing process. Cf. Keil.—Tr.]

5 Judges 16:20.—אִנָּעֵר: Dr. Cassel translates, will mich ermannen, “put on and assert my manhood.” He supposes Samson to see the Philistines, and to express his determination to give them battle as heretofore (see below). But not to say that נִנְעַר will not bear this sense, it seems clear that the “other times” refer to the previous attempts of Delilah to master his secret.—Tr.]

EXEGETICAL AND DOCTRINAL

Judges 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 Prayer of Manasseh, 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. Jeremiah 2:21; Isaiah 5:2)—which elsewhere gives the name Kischmi to an Arabian island (Ritter, xii452). 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. Judges 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 Judges 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, vi68). 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, n70),[FN11] 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. The voluptuous chiefs[FN12] of the Philistines know this full well, and therefore they say:

Judges 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, p111). In the year1718 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, ii514 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 promises1,100 shekels of silver, and since, according to Judges 3:3, the number of princes may be set down as five, the sum pledged amounted to5,500 shekels, between4,500,5,000 [Prussian] Reichsthaler [i. e., between3,000,3,500 dollars].[FN13]—Had Curius, the Roman, been less niggardly towards Fulvia, his scortum, the Catilinian conspiracy might perhaps have been more successful (Sallust, Catilina, 23).

Judges 16:6-9. If they bind me with seven fresh cords. Delilah accepts the offers held out by treason, and begins to insinuate herself into Samson’s favor[FN14] by inquiries about his strength. But Samson does not tell her the truth. Why not? Because from that moment he would have beer obliged to have nothing more to do with her. For her questions reminded him of the divine origin of his strength, which was not given for such a house, and which after a true answer could no longer be secure there. As soon as he told the truth, he must either depart or perish, separate from his charmer or suffer. The mediæval poetry in which heroes of superior origin live peaceably with women, but are obliged to separate from them as soon as these begin to inquire after their descent, represents the same thought in poetical garb. The wife’s questions, however, in these fictions, are not put with treasonable intent. They nevertheless drive the man away (cf. my work: Der Schwan, p21, etc.).

Want of confidence and national fellowship[FN15] do not permit Samson to give the true answer to Delilah. But if these be wanting, how can he consort with her, even leaving her questions out of view? That this is not impossible, is but too plain; but the explanation of it is unpleasing. Samson, in his sensual sports, lays no claims to morality, and the heroism, in which he feels himself secure, sleeps under the pleasing sensations of the play. He would continue to divert himself, and therefore prefers not to tell the truth. In the “seven cords,” however, he already hints at the “seven locks” of his head. Here is the germ of his fall. He seeks to quiet Delilah by some sort of answer. Seven cords of animal tendons, not yet stretched (cf. Saalschütz, Archäologie, i141, note8), are undoubtedly sufficient to render a strong man incapable of defending himself. It was an answer which Delilah might reasonably believe, while for himself it contained no danger; for who will put the cords on him, except by his own permission? Even when at a subsequent visit Delilah had the cords in readiness, and coaxed him to allow her to bind him with them, he could still consent to be passive. Had the Philistines actually attacked him, it would but have afforded him a desirable opportunity for an heroic feat. But the Philistines are careful, and keep at a distance until they see how the trial will end. When Delilah raises the cry of Philistines, Samson rends the cords asunder as so many threads of tow. He gave a proof of his strength, but gained no victory.

That which the principle of evil here attempts against the hero, Scandinavian mythology, in the Edda, represents inversely. The “Ases” (demigods) are afraid of the “Wolf” (the representative of evil). They persuade him to allow himself to be bound, in order to show his strength. He tears asunder one chain after another, until he is bound by means of a singular cord, whose symbolical sense makes it the same as that under which Samson succumbs: for it is the cord of sensuality.—It is a distorted form of our narrative which we find in the Slavic story of the strong Song of Solomon, who rends the rope in pieces, but succumbs under the thin string, which cuts into his flesh.

Judges 16:10-12. If they bind me with new ropes with which no work was ever done. Samson’s contempt of the Philistines is so great, that he does not even become angry with Delilah, whose behavior nevertheless could not but appear suspicious to him. And she knows her power over him so well, that, after the ancient manner of women, she seeks to escape the reproaches which he might be expected to make against her, by anticipating them with her own against him. And that with all the brazen effrontery characteristic of women whose charms are great and whose hearts are bad. “I saw Apame,” it is said in the apocryphal Esdras (I. Esdras4:29 ff.), “taking the crown from the king’s head, and striking him. If she laughs upon him, he laughs; if she is angry at him, he flatters her, that she may be reconciled to him.” Delilah, with treason in her heart, dares to tax Samson with falsehood. But she uses this feigned sensitiveness and her crocodile tears to renew her attempts to gain his secret and her reward. Still he does not tell her the truth; but yet she makes an advance towards her end. It could not be otherwise. For although Samson’s greatness only jests, it is nevertheless true that his godlike strength was not given for sport. The playfully received reproach that he had told her lies, drives him involuntarily a step nearer the truth which her demand profanes. Satan already draws his snares one stitch closer. For when he tells her that he can be bound by new cords “with which no work has been done,” the added qualification is not an empty and meaningless one. He was already once bound with “new cords” ( Judges 15:13), and set himself free. But the cords “with which no work has yet been done,” are an image of his strength; the hair of his head also is unprofaned—no razor has ever touched it. Strength and consecration were characteristic of the things yet uncontaminated by the uses and defilements of life. The vehicle on which the ark of God is transported must be drawn by animals never before yoked, and must itself be new. The Philistine diviners ( 1 Samuel 6:7) know this; the law of Israel also recognizes the principle, in its requirement that the red heifer of purification shall be one upon whom yoke never came[FN16] ( Numbers 19:2). Availing himself of this belief, Samson speaks of “new cords, which have never done service,” in order by this suggestion of special strength in them, to make his answer more credible, while it at the same time gives a reflection of the truth with regard to himself.

But the treason does not yet succeed. The Philistine spy, who is present but concealed (בֶּחָדֶר, in the inner apartment), must for the second time depart, disappointed and gloomy. The cords fall from his arms like threads. It was for him but a pleasant pastime thus to give Delilah one more proof of his strength, hoping perhaps to deter her from further questioning. If he did believe this, it could only be in consequence of his magnificent confidence, which in the consciousness of strength verged toward weakness. But natures like Delilah’s do not relax: avarice and vexation urge them on. In the Old-French romance of Merlin, that wise man says that such women are, “hameçonsa prendre poissons enrivière, reths a prendre les oiseaulx a lapipée, rasouers tranchans et affilez.”

Judges 16:13-14. If thou weavest the seven locks of my head into the web. He still conceals the truth; but also once more yields a step. The untruth constantly diminishes, the danger constantly increases. He thinks no longer of actual ropes; he speaks already of the locks of his head. Formerly, he hinted at them, under the figure of that which is untouched of labor, but named cords; now he names his hair, but does not yet speak of its untouched consecration. So organically does his own noble nature press him onward into the snares set for him by the reproaches and tears of the traitoress. As soon as he determined either to tell the truth, or not to tell it, he must break with the traitorous tempter, and part from her; and if he does not do this, it is precisely his ordinary, noble impulse toward truth, which even in jest and in the face of treason he cannot deny, that drives him on to destruction.

Expositors find the answer of Samson very difficult to be understood, but needlessly. Delilah had in her apartment a weaver’s loom, at which she worked. It was doubtless of the upright, primitive form. It is probable that the technical terms connected with the weaver’s art in Egypt were also prevalent on the Phœnician coast. Weaving women have also been found depicted on Egyptian monuments. The word מַסֶּכֶת signifies the web on the loom. Hesychius (cf. Schleusner, Thes. iii529) has a form μέσακνον, which is explained to mean “weaver’s-beam.” It is then added: “Some make it mean ἀντίον, others μεσάκτων.” The latter word is manifestly מַסֶּכֶת, and the same as μεσάντων, which only the LXX. know, and is certainly not Greek, although ἀντίον occurs elsewhere. The Targum represents it by מַשְׁתֵּיתָא, which is evidently derived from the same technical expression. Delilah is to work the hair of Samson, who places himself near the loom, into her web as woof. This could only be done from above. Herodotus (ii35) informs us, that the Egyptians, unlike other nations, inserted the woof, not from below upward, but from above downward. Samson’s locks were long enough to form a close and perfect web; for it is added that she also struck in the יָתֵד, the batten, in order to show that it was a regular piece of weaving.יָתֵד is what Homer calls the κερκίς, staff, equivalent to our “batten.” The Greek κερκίς, also, means a pin, nail, just as the Hebrew יָתֵד does elsewhere. During the weaving, Samson had fallen asleep. Had he been unable to extricate his hair, he would at least have been unfree in his movements. But at the cry “Philistines!” he awakes. He gives one wrench, and the web tears, the batten shoots out, and the seven locks are free. They are called מִחְלָפוֹת, a word found only here. It comes from חָלַף, not, however, from that which means “to change,” but from the equivalent of πλέκω, with which, consonant changes being taken into account, it is identical (פלך = פלח = חלף = πλέκω). The πλόκαμοι, locks, are seven, in accordance with the sacred number of perfection and consecration. Delilah finds herself deceived for the third time. The Philistines become impatient and dubious. No mention is made this third time of a spy, awaiting the issue of the trial. Even the second time, it is not stated, as at the first attempt, that the Philistines brought her the cords. The woman sees herself defrauded of her large gains, and turned into a laughing-stock besides. She therefore brings everything to bear to overcome the hero. She employs all her arts to torment him. He does not love her—has no heart for her—has deceived her: such is the gamut on which her tears and prayers are pitched. In point of fact, the three-fold reproach is a threefold injustice. The three answers he has given, looked at carefully, form as it were an enigma, in which the truth lies concealed: in the first, the “seven;” in the second, the “consecration;” in the third, the “locks.” He is really too great to lie; and therefore he falls a victim. Had he only lied thoroughly, lied once more, he had been free. The Philistines would not have returned; Delilah would have ceased. But Samson’s history is a finished tragedy. He falls by reason of his greatness, which hinders him from avoiding the thrust of the serpent whom he has once suffered to approach his heel.

Samson’s pliableness has met with sufficiently frivolous apprehension. “Strong Samson,” says Rousseau (Emile, ed1782, iii. p200), “was not so strong as Delilah.” This is erroneous. It was because he was so strong and Delilah so weak, that he fell. He stumbled over an opponent who was too little to contend with. Rousseau compares him with Hercules in his relations to Omphale. This also is incorrect. That myth is nothing but a representation of the sun, who as hero descends into the lap of repose. It has no dramatico-historical interest. Omphale makes no demand of anything with which the prosperity and freedom of a nation are connected. Nor is it more correct to look for analogies among the tasks which, in tradition and poetry, are imposed on lover-heroes by their mistresses. Those are mere trials of strength, without moral character. The historian of the Incas says, panegyrically, of Huayna Capac, one of the last monarchs of Peru (died1525), that “he was never known to refuse a woman, of whatever age or degree she might be, any favor that she asked of him” (Prescott, Peru, i339, note). Samson had certainly refused Delilah, had he not been so great in his strength, so unique in his manifestation, so elevated above his time, so true even in evasion, so earnest in sport. The weakness of Pericles for Aspasia, even if not without influence on affairs of state, was not dramatic—for they mutually valued each other; but Samson’s love is tragic, because the play in which in his greatness he indulges, causes his feet to slide on account of it.

Judges 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).[FN17] 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.[FN18] 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.

Judges 16:17. If I be shaven, then my strength will go from me. Expositors, from the earliest ages down, have here made mention of the Greek myth of king Nisus of Megara, and have even regarded it as a disfigurement of what is stated here. But on closer inspection of the sources whence we derive our knowledge of the Greek myth, the greater part of the analogy which it seems to offer with our narrative falls away, and the idea from which it springs is seen to be very different. It is nowhere stated that Nisus would lose his dominion if his hair were shaved off; but only that on his gray head there grew a single purple hair, with which his fortune was connected (Apollod. xv. Judges 2 : πορφυρέαν ἐν μεσῃ τῇ κεφαλῇ τρίχα; cf. Ovid, Metam. viii. Judges 8 : “Splendidus (crinis) ostro inter honoratos medio de vertice canos.”)[FN19] It is true that his daughter betrayed him; but that was not his fault. Not Hebrews, but his daughter, was blinded by sensual love for the enemy. The principal idea, the weakness of Samson himself, is wholly unrepresented. Why only the purple hair contained this fiducia magni regni, we are not informed. But it must probably be explained by the assumption of some connection with the purple light of the Sun, and the vast knowledge which that deity was supposed to possess—thus making it a pledge of wisdom rather than strength; for Nisus was no Hercules. This view is corroborated by the different turn given to the idea in popular traditions. For just as Christianity portrayed the devil as one who arrogates the power and appearance of the light, and presents himself as an angel of light, so popular conceptions have represented him with a cock’s feather, as the symbol of light, and from a kindred point of view, have invented the charm of “golden devil’s-hairs” to attain to universal knowledge (cf. my Eddischen Studien, p86). In all this there is no resemblance to the life-like, historical picture here drawn of Samson. Still, it cannot be denied that the Biblical narrative has apparently furnished the basis of many superstitious distortions, however coarse most of them may be. Among these the case of Apollonius of Tyana, whom Domitian caused to be shaved, is not to be reckoned, however; for that was probably only designed to inflict dishonor. But it is not delusive to find one of them in the opinion that magicians and witches were insensible to torture, until the hair had been shaven from the whole body—an opinion which led to many detestable proceedings, but was also speedily condemned by many (cf. Martin Delrio, Disquis. Magicœ, lib. v. § 9, pp764 f, ed. Cöln1679; Paulini (1709), Philosoph. Luststunden, ii169; Schedius, De Diis Germanis (1728), p388).

Judges 16:18. And Delilah, saw that he had told her all his heart. Old Jewish expositors say that she knew this because “words of truth are readily recognizable,” and because she felt sure that he would not “take the name of God in vain.” She followed up her discovery with proceedings sufficiently satanical. She at once sent to the Philistine chiefs to request them to visit her once more. This time he had undoubtedly opened his heart to her. She did not, however, intoxicate him, and proceed to her work, before they came. They must first bring the money with them. As for them, they soon made their appearance, and, concealed from Samson, awaited her call.

Judges 16:19. And his strength went from him. As soon as the seven locks of his head had fallen, he ceased to possess the superhuman strength which had hitherto resided in him. But in the beginning of his history, in the annunciation of his birth and character to his parents, it is not intimated that by reason of the hair which no razor was to touch, he should possess such strength. Nor is it anywhere mentioned that Samson, the child, was already in possession of this giant strength, as soon as his hair had grown long. On the contrary, it is said, “And Jehovah blessed him.” Had it been his long hair that made him so strong, there would have been no necessity for the Spirit of Jehovah to “come upon him,” when he was about to perform some great deed for which the occasion presented itself. What sort of strength his long locks, as such, could give him, is clearly seen when nothing but God’s intervening help saves him from perishing through thirst. The growth of the unshaven hair on the head of a Nazarite, was only a token of his consecration, not the consecration itself. Similarly, the seven locks of Samson were only the sign of his strength, not the strength itself.[FN20] The strength of Samson depended, not on the external locks, but on the consecration of which they were the symbol. Hence, he needed God’s help and Spirit, and received his strength not because of his long hair, but because of his vocation.[FN21] For God’s nearness is granted not to all whose hair is long, but only to those devoted to his service. But just as in Israel he ceased to be a Nazarite who shaved his hair, so Samson’s consecration departed from him when he removed its sign. When he failed to withstand Delilah, he surrendered not so much his hair, as his divine consecration. He denies his election to be a “Nazir of God,” when he gives his hair to profanation. His consecration was broken, for he voluntarily allowed it to be profaned by the hands of the Philistine woman; his courage was broken, for he had done what he would not do; his joyousness was broken, when he yielded with half his heart, wearied, and in conflict with himself; his conscience was broken, and would not be drowned in the intoxication of Sorek-grapes; his manhood is broken, for he is no longer a whole man who, in a waking dream, betrays the sanctuary and glory of his life to the enemy: in a word, his strength is broken; and of all this, his fallen locks are not the cause, but the sign. The departure of his strength is not an externally caused, but an inwardly grounded moral result. Virgil says (Æneid, iv705) that the real life flame (calor) of the deceased Dido ceased to exist only with the severing of the hair from her head. This idea, raised into the sphere of moral truth, applies to Samson. His long hair was no amulet, conditioning the enjoyment of the Spirit of God—for without it the Spirit rested on Gideon and Jephthah, filling them with heroic virtue; but when, with a restless heart, he consciously threw himself and his people, for wine and love, into the power of the harlot, he became a broken hero. Since he himself says, and fully believes, that his strength is in his hair, and nevertheless gives himself up, it is evident that a breach has opened between his passions and his reason; and this breach made him a broken man. This moral rupture distinguishes Samson’s fall from similar histories. The legend concerning Sheikh Shehabeddin, in the “Forty Viziers” (ed. Behrnauer, p25) is in many respects shaped after the catastrophe of Samson; but the arts by which he escapes from the Sultan who persecutes him, are those of magic. When a woman finally persuades him to betray his secret, it turns out that it consists only in certain external washings. All moral interest is wanting, both in the attack and in the defense. The Siegfried legend in the Nibelungen is more beautiful. The wounded part of the hero is also entirely external; but its betrayal is wrought by love, not by malice. Chriemhild, from love to her husband, becomes the discloser of his weakness, which a man betrays. In Slavic (cf. Wenzig, p190) and North German legends (cf. Müllenhoff, p406) magicians and strong persons do not carry their hearts about with them, but keep them wonderfully concealed. It is only by women’s arts that opponents ascertain where it is. The primitive, moral ideas contained in these legends, are disfigured under the wrappings of childish distortions.

Judges 16:20. And she said, The Philistines are upon thee! In previous trials, cords and weaver’s loom had shown Delilah and her confederates the unimpaired condition of Samson’s strength. This time, rendered confident by Delilah’s word, the Philistine chiefs are themselves present. Samson rises, reeling, from sleep, sees the thick crowd, and, thinking that everything is as formerly, says: “I will go out to battle as at other times!” He suits the action to the word—but—

He wist not that Jehovah was departed from him. Appropriately does the narrator substitute “Jehovah” here for “strength,” thus confirming what has been remarked above. The Spirit of strength, consecration to God, integrity of soul, the fullness of enthusiasm, the joyousness of the unbroken heart, were no longer his. This is already apparent from the fact that he did not know that God had left him. Whoever has God, knows it; whomsoever He has left, knows it not. When he was near his end, he could pray; but now, in his state of semi-intoxication and intellectual obscuration, he can neither fight as formerly, nor call on God, and so—he falls.

HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL

Samson was a Nazarite. He bore the sign of the general priesthood. The consecration of God was upon his head. It fired his will, gave his strength, and guided his error into the way of salvation. But when he profaned it, and in weakness allowed Delilah’s unholy hand to touch it, he lost both strength and victory. God left him, because he held the honor of his God cheaper than his own pleasures. Because he gave up that which he knew was not his own, God left him in dishonor to find his way to penitence. He who could not withstand the allurements of a woman, even when they demanded the surrender of his vocation, was not worthy any more to withstand the enemy. His eyes, blinded by sensuality, saw not the treason: soon, blinded by the enemy, he should see neither sun, nor men, but only God. That done, he turned back, and God came back to him.

It is not a beautiful comparison which is sometimes instituted between Delilah and Judas the traitor. For Samson was in fault, and Delilah was a Philistine. The woman is more excusable than the disciple who rose against his pure Master. But Samson is the type of all such children of men as know God, praise his grace, pray to Him, derive strength and love from Him, and yet fall. Sin is the ever present Delilah, who caused David, the Singer, to fall, and brought him to tearful repentance. Samson himself, rather than Delilah, was for a moment the traitor, who delivered the honor of his Lord to the insults of the enemy. Let no one think that he can safely enter danger. Pride goes before a fall. Self-confidence comes to a bad end; only confidence in God conducts through temptation. It is very proper to pray: Lord, lead me not into temptation; but very far from proper to enter into it of one’s own free-will.

The lust of the eyes is not guiltless. It is the gate to the most carnal desires. Sin always tortures, even as Delilah tortured Samson. It is never wearied in its efforts to induce virtue to betray itself. Flee, if thou canst not withstand! To flee from sin is heroism. Had Samson but run away from Delilah, as a coward runs, he had surely smitten the Philistines. Every lapse into sin must be repented of. None of us have aught wherein to glory, but all stand in need of repentance. When Saul recognized his sin in having persecuted Jesus, he became blind. But soon he saw, like Samson, no one but his Saviour.

“Make me blind,

So I but see thee, Saviour kind.”

Starke: Even great and holy persons may fall into gross sins, if they do not watch over themselves.—The same: To uncover our whole heart to God is our duty, but we are not bound to do it to our fellow-men.—The same: In the members with which men sin against God, they are also usually punished by God.—Gerlach: Samson thinks to hold as his own, and to use as he pleases, that which was only lent to him, and of the borrowed nature of which his Nazaritic distinction continually reminded him. It is thus that he prepares his deep fall for himself.—[Wordsworth: Samson replied to Delilah’s temptations by three lies; Christ replied to the devil’s temptation by three sayings from the Scripture of truth.—Tr.]

Footnotes:

FN#6 - Judges 16:7.—יְתָרִים לַחִים: literally, “moist cords or strings.” Keil: “יֶתֶר means string, e. g., of a bow, Psalm 11:2, and in Arabic and Syriac both bow-string and guitar-string. Now since the יְתָרִים are here distinguished from the עֲבֹתִים, ropes ( Judges 16:11). the former must be understood of animal tendons or gut-strings.” It is certainly in favor of this view that the יְתָרִים are to be “moist,” as also that it makes a strong and climactic distinction between וְתָרִים and עֲבֹתִים. Compare the rendering of the LXX.: νευραῖς ῦγραῖς.—Tr.]

FN#7 - Judges 16:9.—וְהָאִרֵב ישֵׁב לָהּ בָּחֶדֶר: “and the lurker sat for her in the apartment.” In itself considered, אֹרֵב might be collective, as rendered by the E. V. (cf. Judges 20:33); but, although other Philistines may have been near at hand, it would be difficult to conceal the presence in the room itself of more than one, and hence it would hardly be attempted, לָהּ is dat. commodi. The rendering, “with her,” adopted also by Cassel (and De Wette), is not indeed impossible, but gives to לְ a meaning which it rarely has, and which is here less suitable.—Tr.]

FN#8 - Judges 16:18.—The reading לִי of the keri is evidently the correct one, notwithstanding Keil’s remarks in favor of לָהּ. Keil would make the clause a remark inserted by the narrator: “for he had showed her (לָהּ) all his heart.”—Tr.]

FN#9 - Judges 16:19.—וַתְּגַלַּח: “and she shaved.” The piel is not causative here; compare the pual in Judges 16:17. The E. V. seems to accept the interpretation of the Vulgate and Alex. Sept, which translate לָאִישׁ by “barber.” “The man” (לְהָאִישׁ = לָאִיּשׁ) is probably the Philistine who was on duty at the time as “lurker;” and Delilah calls on him, in order to have somebody near to defend her should Samson wake during the shearing process. Cf. Keil.—Tr.]

FN#10 - Judges 16:20.—אִנָּעֵר: Dr. Cassel translates, will mich ermannen, “put on and assert my manhood.” He supposes Samson to see the Philistines, and to express his determination to give them battle as heretofore (see below). But not to say that נִנְעַר will not bear this sense, it seems clear that the “other times” refer to the previous attempts of Delilah to master his secret.—Tr.]

FN#11 - Cf. Bamidbar Rabba, § 9, p194 b.

FN#12 - סֶרֶן, סְרָנִים: probably etymologically connected with the Greek θ́ρανν-ος. The Targum translates טוּרְנֵי.

FN#13 - The Targum speaks of1,100 silver silin (סִלְעִין, from סֶלָע). On the relation of the sela to the shekel, cf. my “Jüdische Geschichte,” in Ersch and Gruber’s Encyklopadie, p30.

FN#14 - Compare Joshua, Ant. v8, 11—Tr.]

FN#15 - Dr. Cassel assumes all through the present discussion that Delilah was a Philistine woman. He is probably correct, cf. Smith’s Bible Dict., art. “Delilah.” Wordsworth, however, who regards her as “a light, venal woman of Samson’s own tribe,” makes a suggestion worthy of consideration on the other side. “Hence,” he says (namely, she being an Israelitess), “she professed love for Samson, when she said, ‘The Philistines’ (mine enemies as well as thine) ‘are upon thee, Samson.’ He was the more easily caught in the snare because he could not imagine that a woman of Israel would betray him.”—Tr.]

FN#16 - Mediæval superstition reproduces this also. Cloths are required for alchemistic purposes which have been finished by “undefiled persons.”

FN#17 - אָלַץ occurs only here; cf. ἅλγος, ἀλγύνω. Similar is אוּלְצָן, hunger.

FN#18 - In the Middle Ages it was believed that she had stupified him by means of opium. This view transmitted itself even into the “Chronicon Engelhusii,” in Leibnitz, Script. Rev. Brunsvic. Illustr. Inserv. ii. Judges 989: “Samson opio potatus,” etc.

FN#19 - Cf. Hyginus, Fab. Judges 198: purpureum crinem. Virgil, Ciris, 16:121: Candida cæsaries.… et roseus medio fulgebat vertice crinis. The “golden hairs” of Schwarz (Urspr. der Mythol. p144) are therefore to be corrected as also Bertheau’s “protecting hair.”

FN#20 - Such is also the Roman Catholic representation found in Bergier, Dict. Theologique, p. Judges 635: “La conservation de ***ves cheveux était la condition de ce privilège comme la marque de son nazaréat, mais nullement la cause de sa force surnaturelle.”

FN#21 - Cf. Bamidbar Rabba, § 14. p214 d.


Verses 21-31

Samson’s end. He slays more Philistines in his death than he had done in life

Judges 16:21-31

21But [And] the Philistines took him, and put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza [’Azzah], and bound him with fetters of brass;[FN22] and he did grind in the prison-house 22 Howbeit the hair of his head began to grow again after[FN23] he was 23 shaven. Then [And] the lords [princes] of the Philistines gathered them [themselves] together, for to offer a great sacrifice unto Dagon their god, and to rejoice: 24for they said, Our god hath delivered Samson our enemy into our hand. And when [omit: when] the people saw him, [and] they praised their god: for they said, Our god hath delivered into our hands our enemy, and the destroyer [devastator] of our country [land]; which slew many of us [who multiplied our slain]. 25And it came to pass, when their hearts were merry, that they said, Call for [omit: for] Samson that he may make us sport.[FN24] And they called for [omit: for] Samson out of the prison-house; and he made them sport: and they set him between the pillars 26 And Samson said unto the lad that held him by the hand, Suffer me that I may feel [touch][FN25] the pillars whereupon the house standeth, that I may lean upon them 27 Now the house was full of men and women: and all the lords [princes] of the Philistines were there: and there were upon the roof about three thousand men and women, that beheld [looked on] while Samson made sport 28 And Samson called unto the Lord [Jehovah], and said, O Lord God [Jehovah], remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged[FN26] of the Philistines for my two eyes 29 And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up [and he leaned upon them], of [on] the one with his right hand, and of [on] the other with his left 30 And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his [omit: all his] might; and the house fell upon the lords [princes], and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death 31 were more than they which he slew in his life. Then [And] 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.

TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL

1 Judges 16:21.—Dr. Cassel translates, “put him in fetters (Ketten);” and adds the following foot-note: “נְחֻשְׁתַּיִם, as at 2 Kings 25:7, etc, are iron fetters (eiserne Ketten), compare our expression to lie in irons. The fetter consisted of two corresponding parts, hence the dual.” The word “iron” in this note is probably to be taken in the general sense of “metal,” for נְחֻשְׁתַּיִם unquestionably means “brazen fetters.”—Tr.]

2 Judges 16:22.—כַּאֲשֶׁר: “about the time that,” or “as soon as.” The word intimates that Samson was not long in the wretched condition of prisoner. As soon as his hair began measurably to grow, the events about to be related occurred. So Bertheau and Keil.—Tr.]

3 Judges 16:25.—וִישַׂחֶק־לָנוּ. Like the E. V, Dr. Cassel, De Wette, and Bunsen (Bibelwerk), adopt general renderings, which leave the kind of sport afforded by Samson, and the way in which he furnished it, undetermined. Bush remarks that “it is quite improbable that Samson, a poor blind prisoner, should be required actively to engage in anything that should make sport to his enemies.” But the decidedly active expression in the next clause, וַיְצַחֵק לִפְניהֶם, can scarcely be interpreted of a mere passive submission to mockery on the part of Samson (cf. also Judges 16:27). The word צִחֵק (שִׂחֵק is a softening of the same form) is used of mimic dances, cf. Exodus 32:6; 1 Samuel 18:7; 2 Samuel 6:5; 2 Samuel 6:21, etc. There is surely no great improbability in supposing that the Philistines in the height of their revels should call upon “a poor, blind prisoner” to execute a dance, for their own delectation and for his deeper humiliation; while, on the other hand, Samson’s acquiescence may be explained from his desire to gain a favorable opportunity for executing his dread design. After the fatiguing dance, his request to be permitted to “lean upon” the pillars would appear very natural.—Tr.]

4 Judges 16:26.—הֲמִישֵׁנִי (instead of the erroneous Kethibh הֵימִשֵׁנִי, from a root יָמשׁ, which does not occur): from מוּשׁ,מָשַׁשׁ, μάσσω, to touch; onomatopoetic, like palpare.

5 Judges 16:28.—וְאִנָּקְמָה נְקַם־אַחַת. Dr. Cassel’s rendering is very similar to that of the E. V.: Dass ich noch einmal Vergeltung nehme um meiner zwei Augen willen—“let me once more take vengeance, this time for my two eyes.” But unless נָקָם is here feminine, contrary to rule, this rendering is against the consonants, to say nothing of the vowel points. The text, as it stands, must be read: “that I be avenged with the vengeance of one (ss. eye, which is fem.) out of my two eyes.” Compare the exegesis below.—Tr.]

EXEGETICAL AND DOCTRINAL

Judges 16:21. And the Philistines laid hold of him. The catastrophe is terrible. The fall of a hero is sorrowful and lamentable beyond anything else. Wretched enemies make themselves master of one who for twenty years had been victorious. In the giddiness of a broken spirit he succumbs to the multitude, as a wounded lion succumbs to a pack of yelping hounds. But even in this extremity, he must have given proof of the strength of his arm. The cruel precaution of the Philistines indicates this. They do not kill him, for they hate him too intensely; but even before they bring him to Gaza, they put out his eyes. He must be made powerless by blindness; not until then, they think, will it be wise to lay aside all fear of him. Well does the Jewish expositor remark on this infliction, that Samson now loses his eyes, and is fettered with chains, because heretofore he followed his eyes too much, and allowed himself to be fettered by the allurements of the senses. In what horrible sins will not the savage hatred of men engage! All cruelty is a frenzy of unbelief; but sin is raving mad when it offends against the eye, and stops up the fountain of light, life’s source of joy and freedom. It does not excuse the Philistines that they are not the only ones who have resorted to this Satanic practice. The practice, like every other sin, has its world-wide history. A profound and thoughtful myth concerning this matter is found in Herodotus (ix93), according to which the blinding of Evenius, a priest of the Sun-god, is punished on the false zealots who inflicted it. Nevertheless, this infernal fury has been familiar to men in every land on which the sun shines.[FN27] The monuments of Nineveh show us a king, who with his lance puts out the eyes of his prisoners, as Nebuchadnezzar caused to be done to Zedekiah, the fallen king of Judah. There existed even different theories of this cruel art. Among the Persians, as Procopius informs us (in his Persian Memorabilia, i6), it was usual either to pour red-hot oil into the eyes, or to dig them out with red-hot needles. The latter mode is probably expressed by the Hebrew נִקַּר, to bore out the eye, oculum effodere (cf. my Schamir, p86). The terrible method of passing over the eye with a glowing iron, was not considered to be always effective, and left in many cases some slight power of enjoying the light (cf. Desguigne’s Gesch. der Hunnen, iv93, etc.). The Middle Ages called it abbacinare (so the Italian still); for Christian nations have not kept themselves free from this abomination. It was practiced not only among the Byzantines (where Isaak Comnenus is a celebrated example), but also among the Franks (cf. Chilperich’s laws, in Gregor. Turon, Hist. Franc., vi46); likewise among the Normans, where, to be sure, Robert of Belesme (the Devil) did not content himself with it. German popular law also placed it among its penalties. In the sedition of Cologne (1074), it was, as Lambert relates, inflicted on his enemies by the ecclesiastical prince of the city. Reminiscences of it are preserved in the popular legends of North Germany. We may cite the story of the man who derived great strength by means of a blue band which he wore, and who, after a woman had betrayed him, was deprived of his eyes (Müllenhoff, p419).

The story which represents Belisarius, the great hero of Justinian’s reign, as deprived of his eyes, and begging for oboli in the streets of Constantinople, is a fiction of later times; but it falls far short of the unspeakable misery actually endured by Samson. The consciousness of the treason of which he had been guilty towards God, and which had been so terribly practiced toward himself; the fall from a height so glorious and prosperous, into an indescribable dishonor; the impotence of the formerly victorious freeman, the blindness of one so sharp-witted, the chains on his consecrated body, the yells of triumph of the cowardly foe,—all this overwhelmed his soul so powerfully, that one less great than he had died for grief. And his people kept silence. But the Philistines still feared him, even in his blindness. They fettered him with iron chains, and made him turn a mill in the prison.[FN28] Deeper dishonor could not be inflicted. For the hero of divine freedom was made to perform the work of a slave. It is well known that in antiquity the work of grinding was done by slaves ( Exodus 11:5; Exodus 12:29). The slaves thus employed were moreover considered the lowest,[FN29] worth less money than any others, and as such found themselves in the worst situation (cf. Böckh, Staatshaushalt der Athener, i95, ed 2 d). The depth of Samson’s humiliation is as great as his former elevation. But in the midst of his untold sufferings,—

Judges 16:22. The hair of his head began to grow again. With blinded eyes he began spiritually to see—fettered with chains he became free—under slavish labor he ripened for the freedom of God. While he was yet prosperous, the person of Delilah interposed between his sight and his calling and duty for his people; now, though blind and within prison walls, he saw the power and greatness of his God. He recognized his error, and repented. The greatness of the fallen Samson consisted in this, that, like all noble natures in similar circumstances, he became greater and freer in the deepest suffering than he had been before.

Judges 16:23-24. And the princes of the Philistines assembled themselves. A general feast of thanksgiving and sacrifices was to be celebrated in Gaza. This shows that Gaza was at that time the leading Philistine city, and that Dagon, the fish-shaped god (דָּג, fish), was regarded by them as the embodiment of the religious antithesis between them and Israel. Dagon, the sea-god, as it were, who protects the cities on the coast, over against the God of Israel, who has won the main land. The celebration arranged by the Philistines, attended by all their tribes and princes, testifies to the unheard-of terror inspired by Samson. The circumstance that they express their joy in the form of thanksgivings and sacrifices to their god, Isaiah, in itself considered, singular, seeing that they well knew by what foul means the victory had been gained; but it is none the less instructive. Israel could learn from it that the Philistines regarded every victory over one of their number as at the same time an act of their deity,—being better in this respect than the Israelites, who continually forgot the great deeds of their God.

Judges 16:25-27. Call Samson that he may make us sport. The Philistine thanksgiving was like themselves. Men may be known by their feasts. Here there was no thought of humility. Seriousness also is wanting, although they remind themselves of their losses. The truth Isaiah, repentance, most attractive in prosperity, is unknown to heathen. They praise their god, it is true, but they do not pray. They celebrate a popular festival, characterized by eating, drinking, and boasting. They were in high spirits over a victory for which they had not fought. Their joy reaches its acme when they send for Samson. He is brought in, chained like a bear. A people shows its worst side when it heaps mockery and insult on a defenseless foe. How would the Romans have treated Hannibal had they taken him prisoner? How was Jugurtha treated, when he was dragged into Rome in the triumph of Marius? But this Numidian fox was rendered insane over the disgrace inflicted upon him (Plut, Vita Mark, 12). The blind lion of Israel, on the contrary, walks calmly on, already conscious of the restored consecration of God on his head. His appearance afforded the highest sport; and the circumstance that every Philistine could dare to touch and mock, and otherwise abuse the blind hero, raised their mirth to the highest pitch. But pride goes before a fall; and they did not yet sufficiently know the man whom they derided.

And they placed him between the pillars. Much has been written concerning the architectural style of the building in which the occurrence took place. Bertheau is not wrong in saying that it is impossible to come to any particular determination in this matter. It was not essential to our narrator’s purpose to give an architectural description. Nevertheless, his language affords the materials for an intelligible conception. The design of placing Samson between the pillars was evidently to enable all to see him; in other words, to put him in the midst of the assembly. Now, according to ancient conceptions, Heaven and Atlas are keepers of pillars; and whether they hold fast[FN30] both pillars, or with their shoulders themselves constitute the pillars, they cannot leave their places without causing the heavens to fall. This poetical view is also found in Job 26:11, where the pillars of the heavens reel at God’s reproof. Of this conception the temple-building at Gaza was a representation. Two mighty pillars supported the chief beams of the vast building. Round about the house there ran a gallery, where the populace found a place. This was called גָּג, the same term which is applied to the flat roofs of oriental houses, which, properly speaking, are only open galleries, surrounded by trellis-work. These estrades or galleries cannot have been supported by the main pillars;[FN31] for in that case many would not have been able to see Samson. The hero would be visible to all, only if he stood in the lower space, between the pillars on which the house was supported, the gallery extending around the sides of the, house, and fastened to them; and there is nothing at variance with this in his request to the lad to be allowed to lean upon the pillars. On closer inspection, our narrator tells much more than is at first apparent. Samson was evidently previously acquainted with the arrangement of the building. He knew, too, that he had been placed in the centre, or it may have been told him by the lad. There were other pillars: perhaps a portico extended around the building. But Samson requests expressly to be led to the principal pillars, “on which the house rests.” The lower part of the house was filled with אַנָשִׁים and נָשִׁים, men and women of distinction, together with the princes, and was called בַּיִת; the gallery (גָּג) contained three thousand persons, אִישׁ וְאִשָּׁה, i. e., the common people. That this gallery was in the house, that Isaiah, under the covering upborne by the pillars, and hence fell with the house, is evident from Judges 16:30, where we read that the “house fell” upon all “that were therein.”

Judges 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 Judges 6:20; Judges 6:36; and on Judges 8:3; Judges 13:18). While all around him, the enemies praise their god as the victor ( Judges 16:24), he prays to the God of Israel, that Hebrews, 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 Prayer of Manasseh, 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[FN32]—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.

Judges 16:29. And Samson took hold of the middle pillars. He shows himself in all his old greatness again. For the first time he stood again in a crowd of Philistines, and at once began to think of battle. And notwithstanding the wretched condition in which he found himself, he fixed at once on the point where he intends to execute his deed. His blindness becomes a means of victory. He stands between the central pillars, on which the building rests, and between which the distance is not great. Being blind, it may be allowed him to take hold of them, in order to support himself by them. (That לָפַת may mean to take hold of, although found in that sense only here, is shown by the analogy of the Sanskrit labh, Greek λαμβάνειν, λαβεῖν.) He presses them firmly with both arms, and says:—

Judges 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, Hebrews, 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.[FN33] 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:[FN34] they break, the building falls,[FN35]—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 ( Judges 16:26). It may be plausibly conjectured that this was no Philistine. It seems not improbable that Samson, the Judges, 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.

Judges 16:31. And his brethren and all his father’s house came down. This is the first hint we have of interest in Samson on the part of his brethren, and the house of his father. The haste, however, with which they proceeded to Gaza, and the great fellowship in which they did it, speak well for them. They may have arrived soon enough to see the heap of ruins, with its countless dead bodies, just as it fell. They took Samson and carried him up in solemn funeral procession (such is probably the meaning of וַיִּשְׂאוּ אֹתוֹ), to the burial-place of his father, who had not lived to see the sorrow of his great son.[FN36] The terrified Philistines permitted everything. Anguish and mourning reigned among them. Everything was in confusion—their princes were dead. And so the corpse of the hero who smote them more fearfully in death than in life, was borne in silent procession along their borders.

And he judged Israel twenty years. This statement is here repeated in order to intimate that Samson’s official term had not come to a close before the events just related, but terminated with it.

Samson lived and died in conflict with the national enemies, the Philistines. The same fate has befallen his history and its exposition, from the time of Julian the imperial Philistine to that of many writers of the last centuries. It was especially in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that irreverence was too often called criticism, and that frivolous insipidity was considered free inquiry. The æsthetic vapidness which was in part banished from the field of classical and German literature, continued to nestle in the exegesis of the Old Testament.[FN37] Joh. Philipp Heine may indeed have been right in saying (Dissertat. Sacrœ, p259), that the mockery at Samson’s jaw-bone and foxes, had an ulterior object in view; but it was for the most part the Philistine-like, prosaic character which ordinarily marks genuine unbelief, that was unable to comprehend and rightly estimate the wonderful drama of Samson’s life. An unfruitful comparison with Hercules was constantly iterated, although deeper insight clearly shows that, apart from the lion-conquest common to both, Hercules is of all Greek heroes the least suitable to be compared with Samson. The ingenuity of the earlier ecclesiastical teachers might, nevertheless, have led them to this comparison. But according to Piper (Myth, der Christl. Kunst., i131), primitive Christian art never represented even so much as the conflict of Samson with the lion; and later works of art connected Hercules with David as well as with Samson. Menzel (Symbolik, ii380), is of opinion that the representation of Samson, in the act of tearing open the jaws of the lion, over French and German church-doors of the Middle Ages, is an imitation of similar Mithras pictures. The representation of Samson with one foot on the lion, while with his hands he throttles him, typical in Byzantine pictures, is essentially the same conception (Schäfer, Handbuch der Malerei, p127). The noblest conception of him in modern poetry, is that of Milton’s Samson Agonistes; but that drama treats only the end of Samson’s life, and notwithstanding its lofty thoughts and Christian fervor disfigures the beautiful simplicity of Scripture by operatic additions. Händel’s oratorio, Samson (performed for the first time in London, October12, 1742), the text of which is by Milton, but not worthy of the great subject, is celebrated. The esteemed composer, Joachim Raff, intended to prepare a Samson opera; but whether it was ever performed I do not know. At what a low ebb the appreciation of the Book of Judges and of Samson stood in the last century, is shown by Herder’s dialogue (Geist der Ebräisch. Poesie, Werke, ii204), in which the poet endeavors indeed to elevate the narrative, but can only find its “most characteristically peculiar and beautiful features,” in matters incidental to the main story.

It is not quite clear how the Roman Catholic legend made a physician of Samson;[FN38] and it was certainly far from appropriate when a jurist of the seventeenth century (La Mothe le Bayer, died1672) represented him as the model of a skeptical thinker.[FN39] He is a type of the ancient people Israel itself (cf. the Introduction), which is everywhere victorious, so long as it preserves its consecration intact, but falls into servitude and bondage as soon as it profanes its own sacred character. The types of the ancient Church fathers, in which they compare the life and sufferings of Samson with Christ, are very ingenious; and the pure and elevated disposition they manifest therein, finding spirit because they seek it, is greatly to be admired. A wood-carving over the choir-chairs in the Maulbronn monastery represents Samson with long waving hair, riding on the lion, the symbol of death, whose jaws he tears apart; while, on the opposite side, the unicorn lies in the lap of the Virgin,—together symbolizing the birth and resurrection of Christ. For to him applies the saying of the Apostle ( Hebrews 11:32-33), that by faith he stopped the mouths of lions.

It is worthy of mention that while the names of the other Judges, Othniel, Ehud, Barak, Gideon, Jephthah, scarcely ever recur among the Jews, that of Samson was frequently used, both anciently and in modern times.

In the address of Samuel ( 1 Samuel 12:11), the name of a hero Bedan is inserted between Jerubbaal and Jephthah, who can be none other than Samson. The reading Βαράκ of the LXX. is without any probability in its favor. Bedan is Ben Dan (literally, “Son of Dan”), i.e., “the Danite.” The familiar use of this name in honor of the tribe, was undoubtedly connected with the blessing of Jacob on Daniel, which after the life of Samson must have seemed to have special reference to him: “Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel.” The primitive consciousness of the prophecy of Jacob reveals itself herein; and nowhere could it be said with more profound significance than here,—“I wait for thy salvation, O Jehovah” ( Genesis 49:18).

HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL

Samson, having found his God again, died as a hero. His brethren carried him into his father’s grave. His victory was greater in death than in life.

Ancient expositors compare his death with that of Christ. But Samson gave up his life in order to cause his enemies to die: Christ in order to give them life. Samson died gladly because he had found his God again; in Christ God was never lost. It Isaiah, however, a good death, when one sees himself restored to communion with God. If the Christian, in the last brief hour of the cross, holds fast his faith, the thousand foes let loose against him by sin and temptation fall before him. When a Christian suffers, the representatives of evil place themselves round about him with laughter and mockery; and if he endures, his victory in death is greater than in life. Strong as Samson, was the weak woman Perpetua (in the second century); in the midst of tortures she said, “I know that I suffer, but I am a Christian.” Thousands of martyrs have died as Samson died. They have conquered through the cross, and have heaped mountains of dishonor upon their enemies. But they were not all buried by their brethren. They found no places in their fathers’ graves. Only He from whom nothing is hidden knows where they lie. At the last day they shall rise, and the eyes of them all shall be free from tears. Samson was alone; he also died alone. For his people he fought alone and suffered alone. After his death, the tribe of Judah raised itself again to faith. The remembrance of Samson preceded the deeds of David. Let no one fear to stand alone, whether in suffering or in conflict. The words of a faithful heart are not spoken in vain. The seed falls, not into the blue sky, but into God’s living kingdom, and in its spring time will surely rise.

Starke: The eyes of the mind are better than the eyes of the body. We can better spare the latter than the former.—The same: For God and native land life itself is not to be accounted dear, but should gladly be surrendered; and he alone who does this is truly entitled to the name of a valiant hero. Thus, also, didst thou, O Saviour, our better Samson, conquer in dying.—Gerlach. Samson sported before the Philistines, not as one who, fallen from a merely human height, endeavors with smiling scorn to maintain his self-consciousness amid the downfall of the perishable things of this world, but deeply impressed with the vanity of everything that seeks to set itself up against the Lord—of “the vain war of the earthen pots against the rock” of which Luther speaks—and therefore seizing with faith on the renewed promises of divine grace.—The Same: He becomes thoroughly convinced that, mutilated in his face, he could never again live among men, exposed to the scorn of the enemies of the Lord, and that therefore his work is done; his play is turned into bitter earnestness, and while he falls and dies, he gains the greatest victory of his whole life.

Footnotes:

FN#22 - Judges 16:21.—Dr. Cassel translates, “put him in fetters (Ketten);” and adds the following foot-note: “נְחֻשְׁתַּיִם, as at 2 Kings 25:7, etc, are iron fetters (eiserne Ketten), compare our expression to lie in irons. The fetter consisted of two corresponding parts, hence the dual.” The word “iron” in this note is probably to be taken in the general sense of “metal,” for נְחֻשְׁתַּיִם unquestionably means “brazen fetters.”—Tr.]

FN#23 - Judges 16:22.—כַּאֲשֶׁר: “about the time that,” or “as soon as.” The word intimates that Samson was not long in the wretched condition of prisoner. As soon as his hair began measurably to grow, the events about to be related occurred. So Bertheau and Keil.—Tr.]

FN#24 - Judges 16:25.—וִישַׂחֶק־לָנוּ. Like the E. V, Dr. Cassel, De Wette, and Bunsen (Bibelwerk), adopt general renderings, which leave the kind of sport afforded by Samson, and the way in which he furnished it, undetermined. Bush remarks that “it is quite improbable that Samson, a poor blind prisoner, should be required actively to engage in anything that should make sport to his enemies.” But the decidedly active expression in the next clause, וַיְצַחֵק לִפְניהֶם, can scarcely be interpreted of a mere passive submission to mockery on the part of Samson (cf. also Judges 16:27). The word צִחֵק (שִׂחֵק is a softening of the same form) is used of mimic dances, cf. Exodus 32:6; 1 Samuel 18:7; 2 Samuel 6:5; 2 Samuel 6:21, etc. There is surely no great improbability in supposing that the Philistines in the height of their revels should call upon “a poor, blind prisoner” to execute a dance, for their own delectation and for his deeper humiliation; while, on the other hand, Samson’s acquiescence may be explained from his desire to gain a favorable opportunity for executing his dread design. After the fatiguing dance, his request to be permitted to “lean upon” the pillars would appear very natural.—Tr.]

FN#25 - Judges 16:26.—הֲמִישֵׁנִי (instead of the erroneous Kethibh הֵימִשֵׁנִי, from a root יָמשׁ, which does not occur): from מוּשׁ,מָשַׁשׁ, μάσσω, to touch; onomatopoetic, like palpare.

FN#26 - Judges 16:28.—וְאִנָּקְמָה נְקַם־אַחַת. Dr. Cassel’s rendering is very similar to that of the E. V.: Dass ich noch einmal Vergeltung nehme um meiner zwei Augen willen—“let me once more take vengeance, this time for my two eyes.” But unless נָקָם is here feminine, contrary to rule, this rendering is against the consonants, to say nothing of the vowel points. The text, as it stands, must be read: “that I be avenged with the vengeance of one (ss. eye, which is fem.) out of my two eyes.” Compare the exegesis below.—Tr.]

FN#27 - If Herodotus is to be believed, the Scythians blinded every slave (iv2). Alexander Severus is reported to have said, that whenever he saw a bad judge he felt inclined to dear his eye out with his finger (Lampridius, 17; cf Salmasius on the passage.)

FN#28 - Later writers, in putting king Zedekiah at the same labor, intended doubtless to conform his fate to that of Samson (cf. Ewald, Gesch. Israels, iii748, 2d edition).

FN#29 - Which fact explains the anecdote in Ælian, Variœ Historiœ, xiv18

FN#30 - As implied in the words: ἔχει δέ τε κίονας, Odys., i53.

FN#31 - As Stark thinks (Gaza, p332) whose conception is for all that by no means clear. Nor is it necessary to suppose that the pillars were wooden posts. In a building of such size, they were most likely of stone.

FN#32 - Consequently, I cannot follow the unsuitable exegesis which makes Samson ask to be avenged for one of his two eyes. That would be simple vindictiveness. The מִן in מִשְּׁתֵי is comparative. He desires a vengeance greater than his two eyes, and taken on account of them. The Jewish exegesis only follows a special homiletical idea, which at bottom understands “two eyes.”

FN#33 - Augustine, De Civit. Dei, 1, Judges 26: Quid si enim hoc fecerunt non humanitus deceptœ sed divinitus jussœ, nec ertantes, sed obedientes, sicut de Samsone aliud nobis fas non est credere.

FN#34 - The occurrence in Paus. Judges 6:9 is not well adapted to be brought into comparison.

FN#35 - The terrors of a similar calamity, although on a smaller scale, were experienced by King Henry, the son of Barbarossa, in1183, when the pillars and floor of the “Probstei,” at Erfurt, gave way. Many perished. Only the king and the bishop, who sat in a niche, escaped (cf. Chron. Mont. Sereni, under1183, p48, ed. Mader). On the 21 st of July, 1864, one of the granite pillars, which supported the dome of the Church of the Transfiguration, at St. Petersburg, broke. A frightful catastrophe ensued, as the church crumbled to pieces over the masses whom curiosity had drawn together.

FN#36 - It is therefore only poetically that Milton represents Manoah as still alive at the time of Samson’s catastrophe.

FN#37 - In a writing against the Jews (Berlin, 1804), Samson’s action is styled “scheusslich” (abominable).

FN#38 - If indeed Samson be meant. Cf. Raynandi, Tituli Cultus Lugdunensis, Works, viii571.

FN#39 - Cf. Bayle, Dict. iii2658.

 


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Bibliography Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Judges 16:4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lcc/judges-16.html. 1857-84.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, August 24th, 2019
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20
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