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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Judges 16

 

 

Verse 1

SAMSON’S EXPLOIT AT GAZA, Judges 16:1-3.

1. Gaza — A very ancient city, mentioned as early as Genesis 10:19, and situated in the extreme southern portion of the Philistine plain. It stood upon a low round hill that rises some fifty or sixty feet above the surrounding plain. Its modern name is Ghuzzeh. It was the most celebrated city of the Philistine pentarchy, and was the scene of Samson’s last triumph and death.


Verse 2

2. Samson is come hither — Samson may have thought to pass unrecognized in that large town, but his fame was too extended, and too many Philistine eyes had seen him before. His stalwart form and long growth of hair would also, probably, anywhere attract attention.

Compassed him in — Probably, compassed the city about with spies to guard against a sudden and sly departure of their foe.

Quiet all the night — After night set in they supposed he would not be likely to leave the harlot before the morning, and so the watchmen gave so little heed to the gate of the city that Samson carried it off without their knowledge.


Verse 3

3. Lay till midnight — He, perhaps, knew or suspected what his enemies were doing, and his humour took occasion again to make them the butt of ridicule.

Doors of the gate — The two leaves, or double folding doors.

Two posts — The two sideposts to which the doors were hung, being fastened either by hinges or by sockets.

Bar and all — Better, as in the margin, with the bar. The bar was a large heavy crosspiece or bolt of wood or iron, sometimes reaching across the entire breadth of the two doors, and fastened in sockets in the sideposts or walls, and sometimes merely sliding backward and forward like an ordinary bolt. Samson tore away the whole gateway — doors, posts, and bar — and put them upon his shoulders, and carried them up to the top of a hill that is before Hebron. “The present town of Gaza has no gates, being like an open village; yet the places of the former ones remain, and are pointed out around the hill. One of these, at the foot of the slope on the southeast, is shown as the gate whose doors and bars were carried off by Samson.” — Robinson. About half an hour’s walk southeast of the town is a partially isolated hill, (el-Muntar,) from which the mountains of Hebron are visible, and also a wide view over all the surrounding country. An old tradition calls it “Samson’s Mount,” and points it out as the hill to which he carried the gates of Gaza; and Dr. Robinson says, “There is nothing improbable in the supposition.” The expression before Hebron does not mean in the immediate vicinity of Hebron, but is better rendered towards or over against, as in Deuteronomy 32:49, where Mount Nebo is said to be over against Jericho, though it was many miles away, and on the other side of Jordan.

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Verse 4

SAMSON AND DELILAH, Judges 16:4-20.

4. Loved a woman… Delilah — She was, doubtless, a Philistine woman, and it comports well with Samson’s history that among the daughters of that people he found his earliest and his latest love. The name

Delilah languishing, or enfeebling — suggests, says Cassel, how “sensuality sings and lulls the manly strength of the hero to sleep.”

The valley of Sorek — Sorek means a vine or vine plantation, and probably took its name from the extensive cultivation of the grape. No trace of any town of this name has been found; but just south of Zorah runs the Wady-es-Surar, a wide and fertile valley, which, at least, bears some resemblance to the name, and is admirably adapted to the cultivation of the vine.


Verse 5

5. Entice him — The same demand put upon his first female betrayer.

Judges 14:15. The lords of the Philistines well knew wherein Samson’s great weakness lay, and by taking advantage of that knowledge they at last found out wherein his great strength lay; but the secret of his strength was yet to them a mystery. They thought, perhaps, that it arose from some amulet or charm which he wore about him.

Eleven hundred pieces of silver — The silver shekel was worth about sixty-two cents of our currency, and eleven hundred shekels would be six hundred and eighty-two dollars. This amount from each of the five lords would make three thousand four hundred and ten dollars. Surely a tempting bribe.


Verse 6

6. Tell me, I pray thee, wherein thy great strength lieth — We shall better understand both the words and conduct of Delilah and Samson if we regard her questions and persuasion touching the secret of his strength as the price she laid on Samson for the privilege of intercourse with her. Instructed by the Philistine lords, she demands of Samson that he shall, before he gratifies his love with her, tell her this great secret of his life.


Verse 7

7. Seven green withs — Or, seven moist cords. The rendering withs comes from Josephus’s statement that these cords were twisted of a vine, and the well-known fact that strings were often made of tough and pliant wood twisted in the form of a rope. Samson was too shrewd not to see Delilah’s possible designs, and he thrice deceived her. The question of his veracity and morality need not be entertained, for if he was not too good to go in unto a harlot, he was not too good to practice deception on his wily mistress.


Verse 9

9. Men lying in wait — Hebrew, the lier in wait. She had a spy lying in ambush in an adjoining apartment, ready to take care of the fettered giant when it became evident that he was helpless. It is not likely that she went so far as to betray her real purposes by having this spy rush out upon Samson when she uttered her alarm cry.

The Philistines be upon thee, Samson — This she uttered to awake him in fright, and see what he would do.


Verse 10

10. Told me lies — This charge would have little effect coming on one from the lips of a harlot. My moral character, Samson might have said, will compare well with yours.


Verse 11

11. New ropes that were never occupied — Never used for any other purpose; ropes of the very firmest description.

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Verse 13

13. The seven locks — He probably wore his long Nazarite hair in seven braids or flowing tresses.

If thou weavest… with the web — The meaning is, that she should weave his seven braids of hair fast into the warp of the cloth which was upon her loom. “This time,” says Kitto, “he approached dangerously near his great secret. His infatuation was like that of the moth, approaching gradually nearer and nearer to the flame which destroys it at last. This device was suggested by the presence of the small loom in which the women of these days wove their household stuffs — a kind of industry from which it would seem that females even of Delilah’s stamp did not hold themselves exempt. These looms, as shown in Egyptian sculptures, and as still subsisting in the East, are very simple and comparatively light, and must by no means be confounded with the ponderous apparatus of our own hand-loom weavers.”


Verse 14

14. She fastened it with the pin — This was an effort to make him still more secure. Not only did she weave his hair fast in her woof and warp, but made it faster still in some way by the pin of the beam. The meaning of this latter expression is doubtful. Some think that this pin was a large nail by which she fastened the web to the wall or floor; others, that it was the roller or beam to which the threads of the warp were fastened, and round which the cloth was rolled when woven. Keil thinks it was “the comb or press itself, which was fastened to the loom, so that it could only be torn out by force.” Whatever it was, when he was again suddenly aroused by the startling cry, The Philistines be upon thee! he tore out with his hair both the web and the pin, and went off with them. Perhaps, as Bush suggests, “he took away the whole apparatus together.”


Verse 16

16. She pressed him daily — We are not to suppose that her efforts to find out his secret and the three acts of binding him followed close upon one another on a single day. Weeks, perhaps, intervened between his visits to her, and now, after having been mocked three times, she will not admit him to her embrace unless he tells her all his heart. Daily he comes, and vainly says, I love thee. She refuses to receive him, and torments him by such words as are given in Judges 16:15, yet still urging him to reveal his secret, and so, being long hindered from indulging his lustful love with her, his soul was vexed unto death. So fierce was the conflict between his passions and his better sense.


Verse 17

17. Told her all his heart — Lust and love conquered at last. “Samson, when strong and brave,” says St. Ambrose, “strangled a lion, but could not strangle his own love. He burst the fetters of his foes, but not the cords of his own lust. He burned up the crops of others, and lost the fruit of his own virtue when burning with the flame enkindled by a single woman.”


Verse 18

18. Delilah saw — She perceived from the character of what he said, and his solemn behaviour, and perhaps agitation, that now he had told her the fatal secret.


Verse 19

19. She called for a man — “Probably a barber. The business of eastern barbers lies in shaving the head rather than the beard, and they do it so skilfully and gently that, so far from a sleeping man being awaked, a waking man is lulled to sleep under the operation. Considering the great mass of hair of which Samson had to be deprived, he would probably have been roused by inexperienced hands, which may be the reason why Delilah herself did not operate upon the recumbent Nazarite, as painters falsely represent that she did.” — Kitto.

She began to afflict him — In what particular way is told in the next verse.


Verse 20

20. Shake myself — Alluding to his former shaking himself loose from fetters. She perhaps bound him in some way to ascertain if his strength had left him, and, not readily breaking himself loose, he proposes not to embarrass himself with apparently vain efforts in her presence, but to go out and do it. In the confusion and drowsiness of the time he was not conscious of the awful fact that the Lord was departed from him, and before he fully realized it he was a hopeless captive.


Verse 21

SAMSON’S IMPRISONMENT AND DEATH, Judges 16:21-31.

21. The Philistines took him — He probably was seized at once, and did not succeed in getting out of Delilah’s chamber free.

Put out his eyes — The Hebrew verb means to bore, and indicates that they thrust his eyes out by very violent means. This they did as soon as they had secured him, and thus rendered his case apparently helpless and hopeless.

Brought him down to Gaza — Because it was the chief city of the nation, and far removed from the vicinity of Israelites who might seek to rescue him, and there was their great State prison. How changed from that Samson who so recently departed in scoffing triumph from that city with its gates upon his shoulder! Then he left at midnight, when the eyes of the men of Gaza were closed in slumber; now he is brought back with a deeper than midnight darkness on his eyes, while is broad daylight they laugh at his calamities.

Bound him with fetters of brass — Literally, for the word is dual, with double brass, so called, perhaps, because both of his hands or feet were fettered. Fetters for both hands and feet are represented on the Assyrian monuments.

He did grind — Literally, he became a grinder. He was reduced to the basely low condition of a public slave, the most miserable of all the grades of slavery. Some may wonder that the Philistines did not at once kill their great enemy, and thus put him thoroughly out of the way; but to keep him alive in such a slavery, and with his eyes put out, was worse to him than death, and a magnifying of their triumph. “In itself grinding was very suitable for prison labour, being performed by hand-mills, the uppermost of which, called the rider by the Hebrews, was made to revolve upon the other by strength of hand. Being usually performed by females, the Philistines, studious of insult, regarded it as well suited to disgrace a man, and particularly such a man as Samson had been; while by providing stones of sufficient size and weight the work might be made laborious even for him.” — Kitto. See cut of mill and women grinding at Matthew 24:41.

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22. Hair… began to grow again — We must not suppose that Samson’s great strength lay in his hair, and yet beneath that hair was the secret of his power. Not the hair, but the Nazarite consecration which it represented, was his glory before God; and when his locks were shaven Jehovah was basely dishonoured, and at once departed from him. Judges 16:20. Nor would he return to bless the dishonoured Nazarite until the symbol of his Nazarite vow appeared again.


Verse 23

23. Dagon their god — The name is derived from the Hebrew דג, dag, a fish, and the diminutive ending on with the sense of endearment — “dear little fish,” (Gesenius.) According to Kimchi and most scholars this idol had a human head and arms and the body of a fish. He was the great national deity of the Philistines, but was worshipped under modified forms and names by other nations. He was the representative or symbol of all those life-giving forces of nature which produce their effects through the medium of water. Kindred to Dagon were the Atargatis of the Syrians and the Babylonian Oannes or Odakon, who, according to Berosus, had the body of a fish, but the head, hands, feet and voice of a man, (see cut and note on 1 Samuel 5:4,) and from the very beginnings of their history had taught the people arts, religion, law, and agriculture. Among the Assyrian ruins have been found several representations of this fish-god.


Verse 24

24. When the people saw him — In all his apparent misery and helplessness.

Praised their god — They ascribed to Dagon the glory of making this great national enemy a blind and helpless captive. They gazed and wondered at the spectacle of one who had been so great a terror to all Philistia brought to the low condition of a blind and insulted prison slave. None but a god could, in their view, have wrought a victory like this, and they very naturally recognised, with festal rejoicings, the superiority of their national marine god over Jehovah, the national god of the Hebrews.


Verse 25

25. When their hearts were merry — By songs and dances, eating and drinking. “They were in high spirits over a victory for which they had not fought.” — Cassel.

Made them sport — Probably by exhibitions of strength, but especially by the awkward movements caused by his blindness, and exhibitions of his natural wit and buffoonery. “The closing scenes of his life,” observes Stanley, who gives special prominence to this characteristic of Samson, “breathe throughout the same terrible yet grotesque irony. When the captive warrior is called forth, in the merriment of his persecutors, to exercise for the last time the well known raillery of his character, he appears as the great jester or buffoon of the nation; the word employed expresses alike the roars of laughter and the wild gambols with which he made them sport; and as he puts forth the last energy of his vengeance, the final effort of his expiring strength, it is in a stroke of broad and savage humour that his indignant spirit passes away. ‘Strengthen me now, only this once, O God, that I may be avenged of the Philistines (not for both of my lost eyes — but) for one of my two eyes.’ That grim playfulness, strong in death, lends its paradox even to the act of destruction itself, and overflows into the touch of triumphant satire with which the pleased historian closes the story: ‘The dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.’”

Set him between the pillars — To rest awhile from the fatigue of his exertions.


Verse 26

26. The lad that held him — The blind man needs a lad to show him the way, and how humiliating this alone, leaving out other considerations, that the once mighty Samson is now led about by a lad!

The pillars whereupon the house standeth — This passage shows the existence in that early time of pillars or columns in Philistine architecture. In Egypt, Syria, and the farther East, they were doubtless common long before this, and not a few of the broken columns still found in the ruined cities of Palestine probably belong to the same period. It has been a question how such a large building could have been torn down by merely pulling out two pillars. But the possibility of such a thing is hardly to be questioned. The plan of the building and the style of its architecture are now unknown, but from the known plans of many partially ruined temples and palaces of the East we may at least infer that, whatever else it comprised, this house at Gaza had a spacious court or hall, on which rested several rows of columns, supporting an equally spacious roof above. The roof was covered and the great hall filled with men and women, and under such a pressure it is in the highest degree probable that the sudden removal of two central pillars would precipitate the whole house into a heap of ruins. Dr. Thomson, who made observations on the spot, finds a further explanation in the peculiar topography of Gaza. “Most of it,” he writes, “is built on hills, which, though comparatively low, have declivities exceedingly steep. The temple was erected over one of these beyond a doubt, for such was and is the custom in the East. There is such a steep declivity on the northeast corner of the present city, near the old dilapidated castle and palace, and the houses in that vicinity have fragments of columns wrought into the walls, and laid down as sills for their gates. I am inclined to believe,” he adds, “that the immense roof which rested upon these columns was sustained by arches. If this were so, and the centre columns stood on the brow of the declivity, near the old castle, the whole edifice would be precipitated down the hill merely by tearing away those centre supports.”


Verse 27

27. Upon the roof about three thousand — A roof one hundred and fifty feet square would afford a space of nearly a square yard for each one of these, and probably the roof of this building was still larger than this.


Verse 28

28. Only this once — Samson does, upon attempting this last act of his life, what he is not said to have done before when he undertook his great feats of strength — invokes the help of Jehovah. The ancient expositors raise the question whether Samson, by his last act, committed suicide. This prayer and its context answer in the negative. Samson no more committed suicide than does a brave general when, with certain death before him, he rushes into the thickest battle, confident that his fall will save his country from a hated foe.

For my two eyes — Hebrew: for one of my two eyes. See Stanley’s note above, on Judges 16:25. But instead of viewing, as he does, this expression as an instance of grim humour in the very moment of death, we may see a deeper meaning. Samson may have felt that the utmost vengeance could not requite him for the loss of both his eyes, and, with profoundest earnestness and emotion, he prayed that the present destruction might be great enough to measurably answer for the loss of at least one of his eyes.


Verse 30

30. More than they which he slew in his life — All that he slew in his life, as far as we know, were the thirty men of Ashkelon, (Judges 14:19,) the thousand at Lehi, (Judges 15:15,) and the unnamed number of the great slaughter mentioned Judges 15:8. He probably slew more than these, but all together would not amount to five or six thousand — the number that perished by the fall of this temple. If three thousand were on the roof, there were doubtless as many more below.


Verse 31

31. His brethren — The Danites.

House of his father — His immediate relatives.

Took him — For the terrible calamity of the Philistines rendered them unable or indisposed to hinder the removal of Samson’s body.

In the burying place of Manoah his father — There is nothing in all this narrative so full of pathos as this record of Samson’s burial. Amid those native hills, and near the spot where the Spirit first began to move him to his famous exploits, (Judges 13:25,) and by the side of that father who had watched with pride the growth and wondrous power of his son, but, probably, never lived to see his misery and shame — there they laid the great Danite hero in his dishonoured grave, and with mingled pride, reverence, and sorrow, remembered that he judged Israel twenty years.

Some writers find in Samson a type of Christ; others, the original from whom all the Egyptian, Grecian, and other fabulous myths of Hercules have sprung.

The union of great physical and mental powers are not to be looked for in one and the same individual. In Samson we find great strength united with wit and humour. No evidence of great wisdom and strong mental powers appears, but abundance to show that he was the slave of amorous lusts. He was rough and savage towards his enemies, yet coolly shrewd about it all; never showing sudden outbursts of fiery passion, but perpetrating some of his fiercest cruelties as if with a smile on his face. In these respects he is the most singular and eccentric character of the Old Testament history.

His prominence in the sacred history is to be explained, as in note on Judges 13:5, with special reference to his Nazariteship, and his divine commission as a deliverer of Israel. Stanley observes that the order of Nazarites was the nearest approach to a monastic institution that the Jewish Church affords us, and he calls attention to the fact “that the character of the Jewish chief who most nearly resembles the founder of a monastic order was the most frolicsome, irregular, uncultivated creature that the nation ever produced. Not only was celibacy no part of his Nazarite obligations, but not even ordinary purity of life. He was full of the spirits and the pranks, no less than of the strength, of a giant. But in all his wild wanderings and excesses amid the vineyards of Sorek and Timnath, he is never reported to have touched the juice of one of their abundant grapes.”

{It justifies the Divine administration in his case that his blended failure and success in fulfilling his mission corresponded with the blended traits of his character. For twenty years we may assume that his wildness grew grave, and he added to the character of a hero much of the just judge and wise ruler; but he scarce fulfilled the promise of the angel who announced his birth. An act of apostate debauchery, committed by this judge of Israel in the midst of his enemies, closed the honourable part of his career. Taken by his foes, no “Spirit of Jehovah” touched, as of old, the sinews of his strength, and he was abandoned to a just retribution. During those years that should have been laurelled with honours, he was left to grind out wisdom in his dark penitentiary. In his final hour his heart returned to Jehovah, and his prayer was heard. In the united facts of his death and his finishing his mission with the destruction of the foes of Jehovah, we find proofs of the honesty of the historian and the blended goodness and severity of God.}

CHAPTER 17

PART THIRD.

APPENDIX. Judges 17-21.

The remaining chapters of Judges have the form of two distinct appendices, one contained in chap. 17 and 18, the others in chap. 19-21, and though they record facts which probably occurred before the time of Samson, they may have been added by a later hand. But whether added by the same writer or another, they serve to show further the lawlessness and misrule that prevailed in those times when there was no central governing power in Israel. See Introduction.

{Milman suggests that the times of the Judges were indeed rude, but in general peaceful and happy. Individualism prevailed; but the very reason why there is so little history is, because there was so little of contention, war, turbulence, or misery. The cruel deeds narrated were not specimens of all the rest, but exceptional, and narrated because exceptional.}

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Judges 16:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/judges-16.html. 1874-1909.

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