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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Judges 16

 

 

Introduction

Samson the Deliverer

God’s Sixth Lesson - the Rise of the Philistines - God Raises Up Samson (Judges 13:1 to Judges 16:31).

The story of Samson is one of the most remarkable in the Bible. It demonstrates quite clearly that God can use the inadequacies of a man within His purposes. When God raised up Samson from birth He knew the propensities that he would have for good or evil. He gave him every opportunity for success but knew that he would eventually fail. Yet from that failure He purposed to produce success. Samson is an encouragement to all, that if the heart is right, God can use a man, even in his weakness, in His purposes.

Chapter 16. Samson’s Decline, Downfall and Final Triumph.

By including Judges 15:20 the writer deliberately divided his story into two halves. The first part was, as we have seen, a story mainly of triumph against the odds, the second will be one of triumph in the face of disaster. The first began with him going in to a respectable Philistine woman with a view to responding to the Spirit of Yahweh (Judges 14:1 with Judges 13:25), and constantly speaks of His activity by the Spirit. The second begins with him going in to a prostitute with a view to following the lusts of the flesh (Judges 16:1). There is no mention of the Spirit of Yahweh in this section, only of the final departure from him of Yahweh (Judges 16:20). But in the end it is ‘Yahweh’ Who acts through him for he is partially restored to his vow.

Furthermore Judges 16:1 can be seen as parallel to previous times when ‘Israel went a-whoring after strange gods’ (Judges 2:17) and ‘did evil in the sight of Yahweh’ with the Baalim and Ashtaroth (Judges 2:11; Judges 3:7). This would then signify good times followed by bad. But Samson’s gods were women. Samson had lost his effectiveness.

The account begins with his going in to a harlot in Gaza, and his subsequent removal of the gates of Gaza, followed by his dalliance with Delilah who tempts him to divulge the secret of his strength. This is followed by his subsequent arrest and blinding, and his being committed to hard labour in the prison mill. But the regrowth of his hair strengthens his faith and he finally destroys a packed Philistine Temple killing many of the enemy hierarchy.


Verse 1

Chapter 16. Samson’s Decline, Downfall and Final Triumph.

By including Judges 15:20 the writer deliberately divided his story into two halves. The first part was, as we have seen, a story mainly of triumph against the odds, the second will be one of triumph in the face of disaster. The first began with him going in to a respectable Philistine woman with a view to responding to the Spirit of Yahweh (Judges 14:1 with Judges 13:25), and constantly speaks of His activity by the Spirit. The second begins with him going in to a prostitute with a view to following the lusts of the flesh (Judges 16:1). There is no mention of the Spirit of Yahweh in this section, only of the final departure from him of Yahweh (Judges 16:20). But in the end it is ‘Yahweh’ Who acts through him for he is partially restored to his vow.

Furthermore Judges 16:1 can be seen as parallel to previous times when ‘Israel went a-whoring after strange gods’ (Judges 2:17) and ‘did evil in the sight of Yahweh’ with the Baalim and Ashtaroth (Judges 2:11; Judges 3:7). This would then signify good times followed by bad. But Samson’s gods were women. Samson had lost his effectiveness.

The account begins with his going in to a harlot in Gaza, and his subsequent removal of the gates of Gaza, followed by his dalliance with Delilah who tempts him to divulge the secret of his strength. This is followed by his subsequent arrest and blinding, and his being committed to hard labour in the prison mill. But the regrowth of his hair strengthens his faith and he finally destroys a packed Philistine Temple killing many of the enemy hierarchy.

Judges 16:1

And Samson went to Gaza and there he saw a prostitute and went in to her.’

Gaza was the southernmost of the five major cities of the Philistine confederacy, near the coast to the south. Some years had possibly passed since the previous incidents, and many Israelites would visit the city, so that he was not necessarily expecting problems, although it was always going to be risky. Again he ‘saw a woman’. But this time she was a prostitute and he went in to her.

Perhaps he was now a disillusioned man as far as women were concerned so that all that they meant to him now was sex. It was a sign that his dedication to Yahweh had dimmed and that he now felt that he could do as he wished, although his strong sexual desires may have been overruling his will. But if so, that could only happen because of the dimming of his dedication. This time it would appear that the wrong spirit was moving him. He was no longer the man he was. Possibly it was the middle-age syndrome.

It may be that he used the woman in order to gain information about the city, or his intention may from the start have been to destroy the gates about which he needed knowledge, but there was no excuse for his behaviour, which was contrary to his vow. On the other hand any who have known strong sexual desire will understand the temptation, and appreciate her drawing power to him if she was very desirable. Even Nazirites were men, and the constant nagging of sexual desire has led many good men astray. But he knew his own weaknesses and it was something that he should have guarded against, as should we.


Verse 2

And it was told the Gazites, saying, “Samson has come here!” And they compassed him in and laid wait for him all night in the gate of the city, and were quiet all night, saying, “We will wait for morning light. Then we will kill him.” ’

The leading men of Gaza learned that Samson was there. Possibly he had been spotted, or perhaps the prostitute had sent a message informing them of his presence, hoping for a reward. He may well have boasted about who he was, for he had lost his humility. Either way they decided that they would wait until morning, when approaching him might be less dangerous because then they could see what they were doing. They knew that there was only one way out of the walled city, through the huge city gates, and those would not be opened until the morning. And so they knew that they had him safe. They knew that they would be able to take him when they wanted and in a place where they themselves had set an ambush.

So in order to ensure success they gathered men in and around the gateway, trapping him in the city, ready to take him the next day when he came at the time of the opening of the gate. He could not after all kill the whole town. They ‘were quiet all night.’ That is, they did not seek to disturb him and themselves took the opportunity of resting.

“The Gazites.” This may have been the official name of their council, or they may have been so proud of their city that that was how they liked to be known. Each large Philistine city was semi-independent and had pride in its own status. They did not think of themselves as ‘Philistines’ and some, those for example in Beth-shan, were in fact Tjekker and not strictly Philistines, although of similar stock (they used different pottery).


Verse 3

And Samson lay till midnight, and arose at midnight, and took the doors of the gate of the city, and the two posts, and plucked them up, bar and all, and put them on his shoulders and carried them up to the top of the mountain which is before Hebron.’

Samson, however, probably had a good idea of the situation, and took them by surprise. He finished his ‘adventures’ at midnight and then he left the house where he was and made for the city gates.

Probably most of the liers in wait were asleep, not expecting him to come at that time, for it would be pointless in view of the fact that the gates were fastened and would not be opened until the morning, and if anyone did spot him they seemingly waited to see what he would do. They knew that he could not possibly escape, and he was not a man to tamper with. None of them expected what actually did happen. For with his huge strength Samson quietly demolished the outer gate and the two gateposts and then lifted the whole on his shoulders and carried them off into the night. They may well have been nail studded with metal coverings which would have added to their weight.

No doubt the sight stunned the watchers to silence and wonder, so that they did nothing. They could probably not believe their eyes. They were probably also unnerved in the darkness, for his fearsome reputation was well known, although they had never seen it at first hand. Perhaps they heard the clatter and noise but were not sure what he was doing. Nor were they going to interfere. The last thing they had expected was for the gates to disappear. And now it was accomplished before their eyes. They must have wondered what powers of darkness were at work. Certainly they would consider that were to be avoided.

And he carried the gates ‘to the top of the hill which is before Hebron’. Hebron was thirty eight miles (sixty kilometres) from Gaza, but this hill may have been a few miles from Gaza going towards Hebron, with Hebron seen in the distance. The feat however was stupendous and left Gaza open to attack. Perhaps that was part of the plan, but if so it would seem to have come to nothing. Alternately it may be that he was expecting them to attack him so that he could use his strength and fighting ability to dispose of a good few more Philistines.

Furthermore he may have intended it as a portent. The gates of cities would often be carried in triumphal processions and that may be what Samson was hinting at here, that this was an omen that the Philistines were doomed. He was preparing the way for Samuel’s ultimate victory.

(It was commonplace in those days for trials of strength to take place before main battles, between selected men or between champions, compare for example David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17:4). Great importance was put on the final result. It may be that Samson saw this in the same way).

This event suggests that Samson was naturally hugely strong for there is no thought of the activity of the Spirit of God here, nor would we expect it. His activities with the prostitute, following his connection with death through the use of the jaw of the ass, serves to demonstrate that his dedication as a Nazirite was waning. Pride and arrogance had taken over. All that was left of his vow was his long hair. That would go next.

It is not accidental that the incident of the jaw bone when he came in contact with dead matter, his behaviour with the prostitute, and the shaving of his hair come in sequence. They were the downward steps he took, resulting finally in the destruction of his consecration to Yahweh. First he was careless about touching dead matter, then he sank into sexual misconduct and finally he played fast and loose with his ‘holy’ hair. He had become complacent.


Verse 4

And it was so afterwards that he loved a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah.’

The Valley of Sorek lay between Jerusalem and the sea, commencing twelve miles (twenty kilometres) from Jerusalem. It was a valley famous for its vines (sorek is a type of vine). Delilah was probably an Israelite, otherwise we would have been told that she was a Philistine. On the other hand some think that she must have been a Philistine because if she had been an Israelite she must at some stage have realised that his long hair indicated that he was a Nazirite, and would have guessed his secret. Either way she proved a strong attraction to Samson with his waning dedication to Yahweh.

He seems especially to have been attracted by Philistine women, and certainly he was completely besotted with her. On the other hand she may simply have been very sexually desirable, or very beautiful. To all appearances they were having an affair using her home as the base, although the ease with which the writer speaks of it may suggest that it was simply just a courtship. Either way she was the final trap. She may well have been a high class prostitute for what other kind of woman of the time would have offered the use of her home and boudoir like she did? Or she may have been a widow with her eyes fixed on marrying someone influential. Either way she was open to bribery.


Verse 5

‘And the lords of the Philistines came up to her, and said to her, “Entice him and discover in what his great strength lies, and by what means we may prevail against him, so that we may bind him to afflict him. And we will each one of us give you eleven hundred pieces of silver.” ’

Probably the destruction of the gates of Gaza had been the last straw. If he could do that nowhere was safe. So the five Tyrants of the Philistines were probably initially determined to kill him. But they put it more gently to Delilah as though they only wanted to punish him. They did not want it to appear unpalatable to her.

Although he was a powerfully made man they recognised that there was some extra secret to his amazing strength and they wanted to discover it. Then they would be able to overcome him and do what they wished with him. So they offered her five thousand five hundred pieces of silver in return for the secret. This was a huge sum. (Ten pieces of silver was a year’s wage for the Levite who was being enticed to act as a priest for Micah - Judges 17:10). It demonstrated how seriously they saw him as a threat. And she was probably impressed by, and fearful at, the presence of these five hugely important men. It is possible, however, that they sent five lesser representatives, but even they would have been seen as important men by Delilah.

“Entice him.” As men themselves they knew the impact of a beautiful woman and what she could learn from a man, especially in bed.


Verse 6

And Delilah said to Samson, “Tell me, I pray you, wherein your great strength lies, how you may be bound to afflict you.” ’

This was the essence of the question but it would have been put in a fine and innocent context so as to allay his suspicions. He had no doubt boasted about his great exploits, as men will to women from whom they seek admiration and love, and she may have brought up his exploits and then asked this seemingly innocent question. What was the secret of his strength? Was there any way that those evil men could have bound and afflicted him?


Verse 7

And Samson said to her, “If they bind me with seven fresh (green) withes that were never dried, then I will become weak, and be as another man.” ’


Verse 8

Then the lords of the Philistines brought up to her seven fresh (green) withes, which had not been dried, and she bound him with them.’

When he next came to see her he was probably amused to see that she had some fresh withes in her room. Little did he realise that they had been supplied by the Philistine Tyrants. And as they lay and made love and caressed she probably playfully bound them round him and let him sleep, joking that he was her captive. Or she may have done it while he was asleep. It says something for the fear that they had of him that the Philistines did not attempt to have their strongest men do it for her.


Verse 9

Now she had liers-in-wait waiting in her inner chamber. And she said to him, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson.” And he broke the withes as a string of tow is broken when it touches the fire. So his strength was not known.’

It is clear that Delilah played it as a game. The Philistines dared not enter until they were sure the method would work, and thus Samson never knew of their presence, but rather Delilah cried out that the Philistines were there, to see his reaction and the result. This first time he may well have thought she meant it so he broke the withes but found no one there. And she no doubt laughed as though it were a game. But underneath her heart was beating rapidly and she was afraid. And she knew that he had not told her his secret, and that she did not know in what his strength lay.


Verse 10

And Delilah said to Samson, “Behold, you have made fun of me, and told me untruths. Now tell me, I pray you, how you might be bound.” ’

On another visit Delilah tried the same tack, although this time ‘lovingly’ pretending to be a little hurt and chiding him. Now she urged him, if he loved her, really to tell her the truth.


Verse 11

And he said to her, “If only they bind me with new ropes which have never been used, then shall I become weak and as another man.”

By now Samson in his innocence was probably enjoying himself as he thought out new ways by which to make gentle fun of his beloved mistress. This time he suggested that new ropes would do what she wanted. But we know that the men of Judah had already tried that and it had been unsuccessful (Judges 15:13). However, the present company did not know that.


Verse 12

So Delilah took new ropes, and bound him with them, and said to him, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson.” (And the liers-in-wait were waiting in the inner chamber). And he broke them from off his arms like a thread.’

Once again she took advantage of love play and sleepiness to bind him, and then when he was drowsing told him that the Philistines were upon him. This time he probably did not believe it, but wishing her to enjoy her game, and wanting to impress her, he easily broke them off in front of her.

She did not show it but by now Delilah was getting somewhat annoyed as she thought of all that money within her grasp which she could not get because of this silly man. And she must also have been wondering what the Philistines might do to her after he was gone. And there was always the fear that Samson himself might find out what she was doing. She must have been in quite a state. But she hid it well. She was used to playing with men and was totally hardened.


Verse 13

Judges 16:13 a

‘And Delilah said to Samson, “Up to now you have made fun of me and told me untruths. Tell me in what way you might be bound.” ’

These words were no doubt hidden in much love play and tender caressing, and said with gentle chiding as from one amused by her lover’s jesting. But underneath she was deadly serious.

Judges 16:13 b

‘And he said to her, “If you weave the seven locks of my head with the warp threads.” ’

This was either put as a very pithy answer or, as is more likely in the light of verse 14, for it does not seem to make sense on its own (unless it was a technical description using technical words whos emeaning was lost prior to the LXX translation), some letters may have dropped out of the text in copying. LXX has a much longer version, probably based on a Hebrew text, ‘if you weave the seven locks of my head with the warp threads, and fasten them up to the beam with the pin, then I will be weak like other men.’ The idea would seem to be that she would need to use her loom to weave his hair together with the warp threads of the loom and then pin it to the beam of the loom.


Verse 14

And she fastened it with the pin, and said to him, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson.” And he awoke from his sleep and plucked away the pin of the beam and the warp threads.’

While he was asleep Delilah carried out the process he had described, finally fastening his hair to the beam with the pin. Then she gave him warning of the presence of Philistines and he woke up and freed his hair, possibly breaking the loom in the process. He thought it was all part of the continuing game. He did not dream that previously Philistines had actually been present, just in case it worked.

Ominously ‘fastened the pin’ are the same words as ‘drove the nail’ in Judges 4:21. The blows were just as deadly for both had the same purpose in mind, the destruction of a man.

LXX has here, ‘and it came about that when he slept, Delilah took seven locks of his head, and wove them in the warp threads, and fastened them with a pin to the beam." Note that even in LXX there is no mention this time of Philistines actually being present. Perhaps this time she had decided to try to find his secret without the Philistines being present. It would be getting somewhat difficult having to explain to them each time why she had failed. She could then pass on the secret later and arrange to do it another time. That is certainly what she did in the end.


Verse 15

And she said to him, “How can you say, I love you, when your heart is not with me? You have made fun of me these three times, and have not told me in what your great strength lies.” ’

Now she was getting very angry, but disguised it as hurt love. Always beware of a man or woman who says, “If you loved me you would --.” They are using deceitful tactics as Delilah was here. She accused him of not loving her with all his heart. “These three times.’ A complete set of jests. And still she did not know the answer.


Verse 16-17

Judges 16:16-17 a

‘And it came about that when she pressed him daily with her words, and urged him, his soul was vexed to death, and he told her all his heart.’

What sad words these are. Pressed and urged day after day by a woman who professed deep love for him, while all the time her only aim was betrayal, until he could stand against her no longer because of his deep love for her, he opened his heart and told her the truth, the truth that would destroy the remainder of his life.

Judges 16:17 b

‘And he said to her, “There has not come a razor on my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother's womb. If I am shaved, then my strength will go from me, and I will become weak, and be like any other man.” ’

At last he divulged his secret. His strength lay in the fact that he was a Nazirite, dedicated to Yahweh, which was why his hair was uncut. Should his hair be shorn then his vow would be broken and he would become like anyone else.

Yet there are grounds for thinking that he had become so arrogant in his strength that he did not really believe it. Consider the facts. Each time he had suggested some method to her he had woken to find that she had tried it out, whether with withes, with ropes or with loom. Could he then doubt that she would also cut his hair? Possibly then he was fondly aware of what she would do but did not think that it would matter. His vow had become so unimportant to him, and his strength so natural, that he did not think that the vow mattered.

This is confirmed by the fact that when he woke up with his head shaven, and he must surely have realised the fact immediately, he still did not believe that Yahweh would have left him (Judges 16:20). After all, using the jawbone of the ass had done no harm, and sleeping with a prostitute in Gaza had done no harm, both acts contrary to his vows, why then should the cutting off of his hair? We must beware of treating God’s patience as an excuse for further sin.


Verse 18

And when Delilah saw that he had told her all his heart, she sent and called for the lords of the Philistines, saying, “Come up this once, for he has told me all his heart.” Then the lords of the Philistines came up to her, and brought money in their hand.’

This time Delilah realised that he had really bared his heart, and she felt justified in again calling the Philistine Tyrants for one last attempt. And she convinced them too, for they came bringing the promised reward with them.

For ‘he has told me all his heart’ there is an alternative reading ‘he has told her all his heart’. If this be read then it signifies the words of the messengers whom she sent.


Verse 19

And she made him sleep on her knees, and she called for a man and she caused him to shave off the seven locks of his head, and she began to humble him, and his strength went from him.’

Here was the height of treachery. This woman who had pretended to love him lulled him to sleep on her knees, then she called for a man (this was servant’s work or women’s work - the Philistines had probably brought a barber with them) and directed him to shave off Samson’s seven locks of hair while he slept. The seven locks of hair symbolised the divine perfection of his vow. Now he would lose all that it had meant to him. He was no longer a Nazirite.

“And she began to humble him.” That is, at this stage she began the humbling of him, his total humiliation. It was a humbling that would go on and on. The same verb is found in Judges 16:5-6 (‘afflict’). What would follow would be humiliation and affliction, and it would be her work. These words are looking forward to his future. It was what the Philistines had been planning from the beginning. And here by her actions she had started off the process. This would be the result of his losing his special strength.

“And his strength went from him.” Not his natural strength but that special extra, that inspiration which had come from the Spirit of Yahweh. He would still be strong, but without that added extra that came at times of special need. Many men have known extra strength in time of need as adrenalin has worked overtime. Some have found in battle that their bodies seem to be taken over so that they fought almost mechanically in a ferocious and effective way. Others have worked themselves into a religious frenzy to achieve the same (consider the wild Norse warriors, the Berserkers). But this that Samson had known had been beyond this, for it was provided by the divine Spirit at work within. Now it would be no more.


Verse 20

And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson,” and he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times, and shake myself ”. But he did not realise that Yahweh had departed from him.’

Again she alerted him to the Philistine presence, and again he was unconcerned. What did it matter if they were there or not? He realised that his hair had been cut off, but what had changed? A quick shake and all would be well. What he failed to recognise was that he had lost not only his hair but his consecration. In a sense it had already been happening, slowly, but his readiness to allow her to shave his locks was the final fall. He was no longer Yahweh’s man. He no longer had the extra strength provided by Yahweh.

“But he did not realise that Yahweh had departed from him.” This was it. The final departure of Yahweh from his life. This was what his sin, and his continuing arrogance and his final contempt for his vow had brought him to. He had exchanged God for a deceitful woman. But it was really the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13; 2 Corinthians 6:18-18; 2 Timothy 2:21-22). And why did he not realise it? Because he was now so self-sufficient that he did not look to Him for empowering. It was not that he sought but did not find. It was that he no longer sought. It was not only his hair that he had lost, but his whole attitude of consecration. That is why he had not been bothered about his hair.

Samson’s life was a mirror of what had happened to Israel. They too had been dedicated to Yahweh under the covenant. They too had been separated to a holy life. They too had known the Spirit of Yahweh working through them. They too had slowly declined and allowed themselves to drift from the covenant. They had whored after false goddesses. And that was why they were as they were this day, tributaries and servants instead of being the masters.

Sadly someone who reads these words might be in the same situation. Once wholly dedicated to God, and separated to a holy life, experiencing the work of the Spirit, but now having declined, and even having reached rock bottom, being totally enslaved by sin or indolence.


Verse 21

Judges 16:21 a

‘And the Philistines laid hold of him.’

He saw the Philistines enter the room, their strongest and their best. He exerted himself anticipating that his battle strength would be there for him. But though he fought bravely they had him down and bound him, for Yahweh was no longer with him, and he had ceased to look to Him. He had become dependent on himself. His ‘battle Spirit’ no longer came.

Judges 16:21 b

‘And they put out his eyes, and they brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with fetters of bronze, and he did grind in the prison house.’

We can compare Zedekiah in 2 Kings 25:7. The putting out of the eyes was the final punishment from which there was no return. Its purpose was total humiliation and degradation. From then on men to whom this had happened stumbled in darkness. It was also here possibly a safeguard because the Philistines were still a little unsure of Samson. It was a symbol of what had happened to him. He had become blind and enfettered spiritually. Now it had happened literally. The word means ‘bored out’. Compare Numbers 16:14.

“And they brought him down to Gaza.” To Gaza where he had known his greatest feat. To Gaza where his decline had first become apparent (Judges 16:1-3). It was ‘down’ because it was on the coastal plain below the hills, but it was also down because that was the direction of his spiritual journey. He had reached rock bottom.

“And bound him with fetters of bronze.” They wanted no risk of his escaping or causing trouble. They were fetters that would never be moved. Every clink of the metal was a reminder of what he had lost. And they were very painful causing chafing, wounds and sores (Psalms 105:18). Note that the fetters were of bronze. They were still in their early stages of using iron.

“And he did grind in the prison house.” It may be that he was called on to push or pull round the great grinding stone in the prison mill, a job usually reserved for oxen, but more probably he ground a hand mill in his cell. Grinding a hand mill was the lowest kind of slave prison labour (see Exodus 11:5 with Exodus 12:29). For a man it was menial and humiliating, for it was woman’s work. And possibly he lived in squalor and never left his airless prison.

We must not overemphasise this but it is interesting that in Scripture sexual activity is spoken of in terms of the grinding of grain. ‘If my heart has been enticed to a woman, and I have laid wait at my neighbour’s door, then let my wife grind to another, and let others bow down on her’ (Job 31:9-10; possibly also Isaiah 47:2; Jeremiah 25:10). This may thus be seen as a suitable punishment for one who had sinned like Samson had. Does he like ‘grinding’ with the Gazite prostitute and with Delilah? Then let him now grind in the prison house.


Verse 22

However, the hair of his head began to grow again after he was shaven.’

“However.” The word is full of significance. It was a reminder that there was hope because God was observing the situation. ‘The hair of his head began to grow again.’ And who among them noticed? The Philistines did not. But Samson noticed. And we need not doubt that it reminded him of his vow, and of his glory days, and that he bitterly regretted how he had failed God, and that in his heart he repented. And need we doubt that he found forgiveness and possibly even called on God to renew his vow, even though now that he was blind he could not be fully sanctified to Yahweh (Leviticus 21:18; Leviticus 22:20; Leviticus 22:22).


Verse 23

And the lords of the Philistines gathered themselves together in order to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god, and to celebrate, for they said, “Our god has delivered Samson our enemy into our hand.”

The taking of Samson was seen as a cause for great celebration. So at their next great festival at which great sacrifices would normally be offered to Dagon, the god that they had adopted from the Canaanites, they declared a celebration. He it was, they believed, who had handed Samson over to them.

Dagon was possibly a corn god from which came the Hebrew dagan (‘grain, corn’). He was worshipped in Mesopotamia from at least 2500 BC and had a temple at Mari (18th century BC) adorned with bronze lions. In 14th century BC there was a temple to him at Ugarit and their texts depicted him as the father of Baal. The mention of more than one Beth-dagon (‘house of Dagon’ - found in two areas - Joshua 15:41; Joshua 19:27) demonstrates that there were also at some time temples to him in Canaan. Raamses II mentions a Bth-Dgn in his Palestinian lists (around 1270 BC). (There are no genuine grounds for seeing him as a fish god. That was an invention of a later post-Christian age). Saul’s head would later be displayed in the house of Dagon (1 Chronicles 10:10).

Dagon was not their only god (1 Chronicles 10:9-10), they also worshipped Ashtaroth (at Beth-shan - 1 Samuel 31:10 - but these would strictly be a confederate Sea People called the Tjekker) and Baalzebub (at Ekron - 2 Kings 1:1-6; 2 Kings 1:16) among others, but at this time he appears to have been the prime favourite with a temple at Ashdod (1 Samuel 5:1-2) and this one in Gaza (Judges 16:27). It was at Ashdod that Dagon would shortly fall before the Ark of Yahweh (1 Samuel 5:3).


Verse 24

And when the people saw him, they praised their god for they said, “Our god has delivered into our hand our enemy, and the destroyer of our country who has killed many of us.” ’

The order in which the verse comes is not strictly chronological. They would see him first when he was led bound through the streets in triumph, and then when they visited the prison house to gloat over him, and finally when they called for him to be brought to the temple of Dagon. Blinded and fettered he appeared to be a triumph for them and for their god, for they remembered how he had burned their crops and olive orchards and how he had slain their dead. Note how the rejoicing and celebration is stressed. They made a great show of it and this is in fact a victory song which we might render:

“He has given, our God,

Into our hands, our enemy,

Ravager, of our land,

Multiplier, of our slain.


Verse 25

‘And so it was that when their hearts were merry, they said, “Call for Samson, that he may make us sport.” And they called for Samson out of the prison house, and he made sport before them, and they set him between the pillars.’

Drunk with wine and success they brought Samson out, dirty and in rags, blind and fettered, with hair beginning to grow unnoticed, led by a small boy. A sight of total pathos. How they must have cheered as they made a mockery of him in the courtyard in front of the sanctuary. We do not know what sport they had with him but the great jester had become the laughingstock, a butt for humour and probably a target for rubbish and spittle. The Philistines had brought their keenness for ‘sport’ from the Aegean. Now deriding Samson was their sport. Then they set him between the two main supporting pillars where all could see him, apart from those on the roof, especially the nobles in the covered section directly under the roof.

Three successive temples have been discovered at Tel Qasile which have similarities with temples found in the Aegean and in Cyprus. It is possible that the temple of Gaza was of a similar pattern. In all probability the Tyrants and officials were in a covered portion looking out on the courtyard where Samson was made a spectacle, separated from the courtyard by a series of wooden pillars set on stone bases, which supported the roof on which the large crowd was gathered for a good view. Once Samson was taken between the pillars the spectators on the roof, pressing forward to gain a good vantage-point, would make the whole structure, already overcrowded, dangerously unstable.


Verse 26

And Samson said to the lad who held him by the hand, “Allow me to feel the pillars on which the house stands so that I may lean on them.” ’

He may have looked an abject picture, a figure of ridicule, but his mind was busily working on the question as to how he could take advantage of the situation, and his heart was reaching up to God. So he made an excuse for being able to feel the pillars. He was ready for one last attempt to fulfil his mission.


Verse 27

Now the house was full of men and women, and all the lords of the Philistines were there, and there were on the roof three thousand men and women who watched while Samson made sport.’

This was a special occasion and it is stressed that the temple was dangerously packed. The crowded roof, with the crowds peering over to watch Samson, was probably already affecting the temple’s structure, especially when he was led to the pillars and they had to lean over to see him. Everyone was there to see him, including the five great Tyrants of Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron, Gath and Gaza.

“Men and women.” The mixing of the sexes like this was not a Semitic custom, but was well accepted in Crete from where the Philistines came.

“Three eleph.” Three large groups. The number is probably a rough approximation, based on divisions of the crowd. An ‘eleph’ is a large group.


Verse 28

And Samson called to Yahweh, and said, “Oh Lord Yahweh, remember me, I pray you, and strengthen me, I pray you, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.”

This is the only record we have of Samson praying, although like all true Israelites he would regularly have participated in covenant worship. But that lack may only be because of the nature of the narrative. Previously it was assumed because he was the dedicated of Yahweh. The record of his prayer here was necessary to explain why God acted powerfully for one who had forfeited the right to expect it.

The sight must have had its own magnificence. The excitement and baying of the crowd, the sense of expectation as the main acts of worship approached, then suddenly that bent, defeated, pathetic, blind figure between the pillars from whom they had obtained such entertainment straightening himself up and crying out in the Hebrew tongue. And some around would recognise his words.

His plea was impassioned. They would hear him refer himself to the ‘Lord Yahweh’ and then to ‘God’. He was calling on Him both as Covenant Lord and Creator.

First he prayed to be remembered. As a vow breaker he was concerned lest God would not ‘remember’ him, that is acknowledge him and be responsive to him in the way that He used to be. Then he prayed for strength. The strength that he could once have relied on but had lost by his disobedience. Humbly he asked for it just once more. He recognised his own undeserving and threw himself on the mercy of God. Finally he prayed for revenge for his two eyes that they had taken from him, thereby deforming him and preventing him from being again dedicated to Yahweh as a Nazirite or being fully acceptable to Yahweh ( Leviticus 21:18; Leviticus 22:20; Leviticus 22:22). The phrase may have included the idea that as judge he was ‘the eyes’ of his people (Job 29:15; compare Psalms 32:8) and that they had taken them away thereby taking away his people’s hope. Or perhaps his thought was that he could no longer lift up his eyes to Yahweh (Psalms 123:1).

“At once for my two eyes” could be translated ‘for one of my two eyes’ (either is possible as a translation). The significance of the latter would then be that their sin was so heinous that what he aimed to do would only be sufficient to avenge him for one eye, so great was their sin in blinding him.


Verse 29

And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars, on which the house rested, and leaned on them, the one with his right hand and the other with his left.’

The pillars were probably wooden pillars on stone bases. Thus they could be slid off their bases and would then cease to satisfactorily fulfil their function of holding up the roof which was already overloaded and unstable, and on which were large numbers of excited people. Samson apparently took hold of both with the intention of dragging them off their bases.


Verse 30

Judges 16:30 a

‘And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” And he bowed himself with all his might, and the house fell on the lords, and on all the people who were in it.’

It was an act of war and revenge. He gave his life to destroy the Philistine power. For by dragging the pillars off their bases, with part of the roof, already unstable because of the hundreds of people on it, collapsing on those below, the weight of the people would bring down further parts of the roof, especially as many desperately tried to scramble for safety before falling to their deaths, crushing also those hopelessly seeking safety below.

Judges 16:30 b

‘So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.’

The writer does not exaggerate by claiming too much, for he did not have the statistics. He merely stated the obvious that a large number died, certainly more than those slain by Samson in his lifetime. And many others were badly injured. It may or may not have included all the Tyrants, and their heirs. In such disasters some do escape, seemingly almost miraculously. But it was certainly devastating for the future of their military power and they would certainly take a long time to recover from the disaster. It would ease the pressure on Israel for years to come.


Verse 31

Then his brothers, 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.’

Samson’s body was collected by his near kin and was given a respectable burial, and he was gathered to his fathers in the family tomb. It was to the Philistines credit that his body was released. Possibly it was due to the great respect that they had for him as a notable enemy once he was dead. Or it may have been due to the chaos while new Tyrants were appointed. But more likely it was a fear in view of his terrible cry that they had been punished by the God of Israel for their treatment of Samson and did not want any more of it. Respectable burial was considered very important in ancient days, and they wanted him buried and out of the way and at rest where he could do no more harm.

“And he judged Israel twenty years.” Repeated from Judges 15:20 this summed up his life, cut short in its prime. For most of his life he was seemingly faithful to his vow as a Nazirite, and after his vivid beginning he appears to have ruled soberly until he went astray towards the end when his sexual proclivities proved too much for him. Possibly his ventures with women at the end were an attempt to revive the glories of his youth, and were intended to result in further activity against the Philistines, but if so they backfired dreadfully for he was no longer a vibrant man of faith. However on his repentance God did turn them to good so that Samson retained his reputation as a man of faith and achieved a remarkable final contribution towards the deliverance of Israel.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Judges 16:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/judges-16.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, December 10th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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