Judges 16 – “Delilah’s Betrayal; Samson’s Death”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
Samson falls in love with a Philistine named Delilah. She persuades him to reveal the source of his strength and then double-crosses him. He is tortured in a Philistine arena but manages to destroy the edifice. In doing so, he kills himself and the enemy in attendance.

II. Photo
Samson’s eyes are gouged and he burns for revenge: “O Lord GOD! Please remember me, and give me strength just this once, O God, to take revenge of the Philistines, if only for one of my two eyes!” (v 28)

III. Important Verses
1:  Once Samson went to Gaza; there he met a whore and slept with her.
4-5: After that, he fell in love with a woman in the Wadi Sorek, named Delilah. The lords of the Philistines went up to her and said, “Coax him and find out what makes him so strong, and how we can overpower him, tie him up, and make him helpless; and we’ll each give you eleven hundred shekels of silver.”
15-17: Then she said to him, “How can you say you love me, when you don’t confide in me? This makes three times that you’ve deceived me and haven’t told me what makes you so strong.” Finally, after she had nagged him and pressed him constantly, he was wearied to death and he confided everything to her. He said to her, “No razor has ever touched my head, for I have been a nazirite to God since I was in my mother’s womb. If my hair were cut, my strength would leave me and I should become as weak as an ordinary man.”
21: The Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes. They brought him down to Gaza and shackled him in bronze fetters, and he became a mill slave in the prison.
22: After his hair was cut off, it began to grow back.
28-30: Then Samson called to the LORD, “O Lord GOD! Please remember me, and give me strength just this once, O God, to take revenge of the Philistines, if only for one of my two eyes.” He embraced the two middle pillars that the temple rested upon, one with his right arm and one with his left, and leaned against them; Samson cried, “Let me die with the Philistines!” and he pulled with all his might. The temple came crashing down on the lords and on all the people in it. Those who were slain by him as he died outnumbered those who had been slain by him when he lived.
31: His brothers and all his father’s household came down and carried him up and buried him in the tomb of his father Manoah, between Zorah and Eshtaol. He had led Israel for twenty years.

IV. Outline
1-3. A midnight tryst with a prostitute; Samson escapes death
4-17. Delilah cajoles Samson into revealing the source of his strength
18-21. Samson’s hair is cut, he is imprisoned, and his eyes are gouged out
22. Samson’s hair grows back
23-25. Samson is humiliated
26-30. Samson kills himself with many Philistines
31. Samson’s family buries him

V. Comment
Chapter 16 is the last of the Samson chapters. It tells the story of Samson’s downfall and death. When dealing with Samson’s portrayal, many scholars focus on what seems to be the two conflicting sides of Samson: he is either a pious holy-man or a mythic hero driven by honor, lust, and revenge. The latter can be seen in verses 1-3: Samson sleeps with an unnamed prostitute and storms off in the middle of the night. It can also be seen in v. 22 which explains the reason for Samson’s reinvigorated strength: “After his hair was cut off, it began to grow back” – his strength seems to be a natural phenomenon, not a divine gift. Yet, the pious Samson is depicted in v. 28: “Then Samson called to the LORD, ‘O Lord GOD! Please remember me, and give me strength just this once, O God, to take revenge of the Philistines, if only for one of my two eyes.’” Thus, according to v. 28 it is his prayer – not his hair – which allows him to kill the Philistines. Yet, according to scholars, even his prayer is egotistical: Samson asks for revenge for what was done to him, not what was done to his people.

With this in mind it is easy to understand the following comment of Collins: “The story of Samson is a popular folktale about a legendary strong man, not unlike the Greek tales about the labors of Heracles (Hercules is the Latin form of the name). At no point is Samson motivated by concern for Israel. He shows no awareness of a covenant or of the exodus tradition. He honors his bet, in a way, but he does not seem to be constrained by any moral code, except honor and vengeance. His story is preserved in the Bible as part of the lore of Israel, and it is a gripping and entertaining story. The [editor] gives it only a light sprinkling of piety, and never suggests that Samson is a moral exemplar. Rather, he is a tragic hero; a person of extraordinary (if brutish)talent who has a fatal weakness in his attraction to Philistine women. The story could easily serve to discourage marriage with foreign women, a favorite [biblical] theme, but the readers are left to draw their own inferences in this regard.” (212) While Samson is frequently painted as a pious man, at his core he is driven by lust and revenge.

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Trent C. Butler, “Judges” (Word Biblical Commentary vol. 8; Nashville: Nelson, 2009).
Collins, John J. “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 15 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
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