Chapter 16

JUDGES CHAPTER 16

Samson Carries Away Gaza’s Gates

        • Samson went to Gaza, saw a prostitute there, and went to bed with her. When the Gazites were told that Samson was there, they surrounded the place and waited in ambush all night at the city gate. They kept quiet all night saying, “Let’s wait until dawn, then we will kill him.”

        • Guzik writes, “Samson was in obvious sin here. This is a clear example of how a man so used of God can also sin and sin blatantly. Samson wanted to be used by God, but he also yielded to the deceitfulness of sin. He kept the external features of his Nazirite vow zealously, while at the same time sinning blatantly with a prostitute. Samson did what we nearly all do when deceived by sin. He put his life into categories, and figured that some categories God cared about, and some categories God did not care about. Understanding that Jesus has claim over our entire life is a radical change of perspective.”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible adds,”City gates of the period were locked during the night to prevent passage in or out, and the men of the city, having seen the gates locked, probably slept (kept quiet) in one of the gate houses, thinking that they could resume their vigil in the morning.”

        • But Samson stayed in bed until the middle of the night. At midnight he got up, took hold of the doors of the city gate together with the two door posts, and tore them out, bar and all. He put them on his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill across from Hebron.

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible puts this feat in proper perspective, “The gates of major fortifications had to be wide enough for chariots to drive through. The gates themselves consisted of double doors made of wood; to prevent easy entry by an enemy, they had to be made of thick boards. They were barred on the side by means of a heavy horizontal beam slid through slots in the doorposts. The doors were braced by wooden posts, the outside of which pivoted in stone sockets. The gates of Gaza that Samson pulled out of their sockets and hoisted on his shoulders must have weighed at least 400 or 500 pounds. As the crow flies, the distance from Gaza to Hebron is 40 miles. But if Samson followed the route along the Wadi Guvrin, as is most likely, the distance would have been even greater…”

        • The same source leaves open the possibility that Samson didn’t take the gates all the way to Hebron, “It is not clear how far Samson carried the gates. Since elsewhere the idiom simply means ‘in the direction of,’ it seems most likely that Samson headed off in the direction of Hebron, and when he reached the top of the hill- probably overlooking Gaza- he deposited the gates.”

        • Guzik writes, “Despite his sin, God still gave Samson supernatural strength to escape from the Philistines. God did this because God’s purpose was bigger than Samson himself, and because God used Samson despite Samson’s sin, not because of it.”

Samson and Delilah

        • After this, he fell in love with a woman named Delilah who lived in the valley of Sorek. The lords of the Philistines came to her and said, “Entice him and see where his great strength comes from and how we can overpower him, tie him up, and subdue him. We’ll each give you eleven hundred pieces of silver.

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible once again offers perspective. How many lords were there? “There were five…the Philistines…[formed] the Philistine Pentapolis, a federation of five major city-states: Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron, Gath, and Gaza…” How much was eleven hundred pieces of silver? “About 28 pounds of silver…The reward the Philistine rulers offer Delilah for betraying her husband is exhorbitant: 5,500 shekels of silver- 1,100 shekels per governor. Calculated according to the standard of ancient wages, if the average wage of a day laborer was ten shekels a year (cf 17:10), this amount is equivalent to 550 years’ wages.”

        • So, Delilah asked Samson, “Please tell me where your great strength comes from and how you could be tied up and subdued?” And Samson answered, “If I were tied up with seven fresh bowstrings that haven’t been dried, then I would become weak like any other man.”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “The desire for silver rather than self-preservation (cp 14:15) seems to have motivated Delilah; she apparently did not reciprocate Samson’s love.”

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible discusses the bowstrings mentioned above, “The meaning of this noun is uncertain, but the Hebrew word is used elsewhere of bowstrings (Job 30:11; Ps 11:2) and a tent peg (4:21), made from the tendons of a sheep or a cow. Normally these would have been laid out and dried, but in specifying that these were to be ‘fresh’ and ‘not…dried,’ Samson again trivializes his Nazirite vow. He assumes the Philistines will understand these unprocessed sinews to have magical powers, to counter the assumed magical source of his strength.”

        • So the Philistine lords brought her seven fresh bowstrings that hadn’t been dried, and she tied him up with them. Now, she had men lying in ambush in an inner chamber, and she said to him, “Samson, The Philistines are upon you!” But, he snapped the bowstrings as a flax thread snaps when it touches fire. The secret of his strength remained unknown.

          • Guzik adds, “Samson could have easily seen Delilah’s heart by the way she immediately tried to bind him with what he deceptively said he could be bound with. The fact that he did not tell her the truth proved that he knew she had a dangerous intention.”

        • Then Delilah said to Samson, “Look, you have made fun of me and lied to me! Now please tell me how you can be bound?” And Samson replied, “If I were tied up tightly with new ropes that had never been used, I would become weak like any other man.” So, Delilah tied him with new ropes and said, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” The men were lying in ambush in an inner chamber. But, he snapped the ropes off his arms like a thread.

        • Guzik writes, “It would seem that romantic attraction made Samson lose all sense. There was no good or rational reason Samson continued this relationship with Delilah or entertained her prying into the secret of his strength. Samson is a good example of how an ungodly relationship can warp thinking. Samson allowed this bondage because he refused to escape the situation. Many today are in similar places of sin, compromise, and bondage – and refuse to escape the situation.”

        • Then Delilah said, “You’ve been making fun of me and lying to me! Tell me how you may be tied up.” Then he told her, “If you weave seven braids of my hair into the web of a loom and fasten it tightly with the pin, I’ll become as weak as any other man.” So, while he was sleeping, Delilah took the seven braids of his hair, wove them into the web of a loom, and fastened it with the pin. Then she said, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you.” But Samson woke up and tore loose the pin, the loom, and the web.

        • Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges notes, “p. Weaving was the work of women as well as of men…Delîlah has a loom in her house. This was a horizontal loom fastened into the ground…hence it would be easy to weave the hair of a person lying asleep upon the floor into the warp, i.e. the horizontal threads which are intersected at right angles by the weft, in this case Samson’s hair. To form the web, i.e. the woven cloth, a further operation is necessary, the beating up of the weft with a flat rod or batten, here rendered pin (Jdg 16:14); the word usually means peg, esp. a tent-peg (see Jdg 5:26 mg.), but that it could also be used of a flat stick appears from Deuteronomy 23:13 (paddle or spade)…”

        • Additionally, comparing translations you will notice that some versions seem to leave out information included in others. The same source explains that the Hebrew text appears to be missing this information that is present in the Greek Septuagint, “The sentences needed to complete Jdg 16:13 and to provide the proper beginning of Jdg 16:14 have accidentally fallen out. With the help of the Greek versions the gap may be filled thus: “If thou weavest the seven plaits of my head with the warp, and beatest them up with the batten, then shall I become weak and be as any other man. So she made him sleep, and wove the seven plaits of his head with the warp, and beat them up with the batten.” It will be noticed that the existing text and the restored text both end in the same way. The eye of the copyist passed from the first with the warp to the second, and overlooked the intervening lines: a good instance of the source of textual mistakes known as homoioteleuton.”

        • And then she said to him, “How can you tell me ‘I love you’ when your heart is not with me? This is the third time you have made fun of me and not told me how your strength is so great.” Finally, because she nagged him day after day and prodded him until his soul was annoyed to death, he told her the whole truth. He said, “A razor has never touched my head because I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If my head is shaved, my strength will leave me and I will become weak like any other man.”

        • Guzik writes, “When Samson did this, it was a very sad scene. He had to know what was to come. He faced the choice between faithfulness to his God and continuing an ungodly relationship. In this we see the strongest man in the world weak under the power of an ungodly relationship. Perhaps Samson figured that because he was strong in one area of his life, he was strong in all areas. In this he was desperately wrong.”

          • Why the hair?

            • As NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible points out, “…Samson has violated his Nazirite vow many times by now…”

          • Matthew Poole’s Commentary notes, “Not that his hair was in itself the seat or cause of his strength, but because it was the chief condition of that vow or covenant, whereby as he stood obliged to him, so God was pleased graciously to engage himself to fit him for, and assist him in, that great work to which he called him; but upon his violation of his condition, God justly withdraws his help, and leaves him to himself.”

        • When Delilah realized that he had told her the whole truth, she sent for the Philistine lords saying, “Come one more time, because he has told me the whole truth.” So the Philistine lords returned, bringing their money with them.

        • She put him to sleep on her lap and called a man to shave off the seven braids of his hair. Then she began to subdue him and his strength left him. She said, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” He woke up and said, “I will escape as I did before and shake myself free.” But he didn’t know that Yahweh had left him.

          • Guzik says, “Samson didn’t know things were different. He lived in compromise for so long that he thought it would never make a difference…This is a tragic example of wasted potential and rejection of God’s warnings. Samson thought he could “get away” with sin and escape its consequences. He misinterpreted the merciful delay of God’s judgment or correction as a sign that He really didn’t care. He therefore presumed on God’s mercy and continued on in his sin, making things far worse. Samson’s strength was not in his hair, it was in his relationship with God. He worked against that relationship to the point where God finally departed from him, in the sense that He no longer blessed Samson with supernatural strength.”

The Death of Samson

        • The Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza. They bound him with bronze shackles and he became a grinder in the prison. However, his hair began to grow back after it had been shaved.

          • On the gouging out of his eyes, the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible notes, “A common ancient Near Eastern custom. In Mesopotamia, defeated enemies were often blinded by having their eyes gouged and then humiliated by being forced to perform the most menial of tasks, customarily assigned to slaves and women. Hittite sources report that captors blinded particularly dangerous captives to prevent them from taking up arms or trying to flee.”

        • Guzik writes, “God gave Samson hope in the midst of a dungeon. His hair began to return, and we can suppose that his heart also began to return.”

        • Now the Philistine lords assembled together to offer a great sacrifice to their god, Dagon, and to rejoice because, they said, “Our god has given Samson, our enemy, into our hand.” When the people saw him, they praised their god saying, “Our god has handed over to us our enemy who devastated our land and killed many of us.”

          • Guzik writes, “When Samson pursued his ungodly relationships, he might have justified it to himself by thinking that the only harm was done to himself. Yet here we see that his disobedience led to giving glory to false gods. Samson became a trophy for worshippers of false gods. The message preached by the followers of Dagon was clear. They said, “Our god is stronger than the God of Israel, because we have conquered Samson.” Often the disobedience of God’s leaders leads others to deny God.”

        • When they were in high spirits, they said, “Call for Samson so that he can entertain us.” So, they brought Samson from the prison and he entertained them. They made him stand between the pillars. Then Samson said to the servant who was leading him by his hand, “Lead me where I can feel the pillars supporting the house so that I can lean against them.”

          • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible explains, “While no Philistine temple to Dagon has been discovered in Gaza, excavations further north at Tel Qasile have revealed a Philistine building that illuminates this text. The temple was a complex structure 40 feet long and 25 feet wide. Two cedar pillars slightly less than 10 feet apart set on round stone bases supported the roof and upper story of this large temple. In the temple in this account, the pillars must have been closer together than that.”

        • Now the house was full of men and women and all the Philistine lords were there. About 3,000 men and women were on the roof watching Samson entertain them.

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible writes, “Here the Hebrew word that usually means ‘roof’ may actually refer to a balcony or terrace surrounding the central courtyard where Samson was standing. Ancient public buildings, including temples, often included central courtyards, surrounded by rooms and balconies on the second floor. It seems that all the rulers and undoubtedly the temple functionaries, were on the ground floor, where Samson was entertaining them, while 3,000 spectators looked on from above.”

        • And Samson called out to Yahweh saying, “My Lord Yahweh, please remember me! Please give me strength this one time, O God, so that I can pay the Philistines back for my two eyes, with one act of vengeance.” Samson reached out and grasped the two middle pillars supporting the house, and pushed his weight against them, one with his right hand and one with his left. Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” Then he pushed with all his might, and the house fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. The dead that he killed in his death outnumbered those he had killed in his life.

          • Guzik notes, “Samson was a hero, even mentioned among the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 (Hebrews 11:32). Yet there is no glorification of Samson and his end; he was not a glorious hero to be emulated, as modern suicide bombers are glorified by some. Instead, Samson was a tragic hero, whose life should have ended much differently.”

        • Then his brothers and all his family came down, took him, brought him up and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of his father, Manoah. He had judged Israel twenty years.

        • Guzik closes with Spurgeon’s words on Samson, “The Old Testament biographies were never written for our imitation, but they were written for our instruction. Upon this one matter, what a volume of force there is in such lessons! ‘See,’ says God, ‘what faith can do. Here is a man, full of infirmities, a sorry fool; yet, through his childlike faith, he lives. ‘The just shall live by faith.’ He has many sad flaws and failings, but his heart is right towards his God; he does trust in the Lord, and he does give himself up as a man consecrated to his Lord’s service, and, therefore, he is saved.’ I look upon Samson’s case as a great wonder, put in Scripture for the encouragement of great sinners.”

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