Judges 16 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Judges 16
Pulpit Commentary
Then went Samson to Gaza, and saw there an harlot, and went in unto her.
Verse 1. - Then. It should be and. There is nothing to show when the incident occurred. It may have been many years after his victory at hal-Lechi, towards the latter part of his twenty years' judgeship. Gaza, now Ghuzzeh, one of the five chief cities of the Philistines, once a strong place, but now a large open town. It was the last town in South-West Palestine on the road from Jerusalem to Egypt (Acts 8:26, 27). It played an important part in history in all ages - in the times, of the Pharaohs, the Seleucidae, the Maccabees, the Romans, the Khalifs, and the Crusaders. It was within the limits of the tribe of Judah (Joshua 15:47). It is first mentioned in Genesis 10:19, as the south-west border of the Canaanites. Its real transliteration from the Hebrew is Azzah, as it is actually expressed in the A.V. of Deuteronomy 2:23, and 1 Kings 4:24. Gaza is the Greek form.
And it was told the Gazites, saying, Samson is come hither. And they compassed him 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.
Verse 2. - And it was told. These words have no doubt accidentally fallen out of the Hebrew text, but they are necessary to the sense, and are expressed in all the ancient versions. We have no clue as to the motive of Samson's visit to Gaza, whether he was meditating its conquest, or an assault upon its inhabitants, or whether he came merely in the wild spirit of adventure, or upon civil business. We only know that he came there, that, with his usual weakness, he fell into the snare of female blandishments, that the Philistines thought to have caught him and killed him, but that he escaped by his supernatural strength. Gaza is about thirteen hours' march from Thimnathah. They compassed him in. The Hebrew does not express this idea, nor is it what the Gazites did. It should be rendered, They went about and lay in wait for him. Instead of attacking him directly, they took a round-about course, and set an ambush for him in the city gates, probably in the guard-room by the side of the gate, intending when he came forth unsuspectingly in the morning, at the hour of opening the gates, to rush upon him and kill him.
And Samson lay till midnight, and arose at midnight, and took the doors of the gate of the city, and the two posts, and went away with them, bar and all, and put them upon his shoulders, and carried them up to the top of an hill that is before Hebron.
Verse 3. - Samson arose at midnight. Possibly the woman had learnt the plot, and gave Samson warning, after the manner of Rahab; or she may have been his betrayer, and reckoned upon retaining him till the morning; anyhow he arose at midnight, when the liers in wait were sleeping securely, and tearing up the two gate-pests, with the gates and the cross-bar attached to them, walked off with them "as far as the top of the hill that is before Hebron." Took the doors, etc. Rather, laid hold of. For went away with them, translate plucked them up. It is the technical word for plucking up the tent pins. Bar and all, or, with the bar. The bar was probably a strong iron or wooden crossbar, which was attached to the posts by a lock, and could only be removed by one that had the key. Samson tore up the posts with the barred gates attached to them, and, putting the whole mass upon his back walked off with it. The hill that is before Hebron. Hebron "was about nine geographical, or between ten and eleven English, miles from Gaza, situated in a deep, narrow valley, with high hills on either side." It is approached from Gaza over a high ridge, from the top of which Hebron becomes visible, lying in the valley below at fifty minutes' distance. This spot would suit very well the description, "the hill that is before Hebron." Some, however, think that the hill called el Montar, about three-quarters of an hour from Gaza, on the road to Hebron, is here meant, and that the plain before Hebron merely means towards, as in Genesis 18:16; Deuteronomy 32:49.
And it came to pass afterward, that he loved a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah.
Verse 4. - Sorek. See Judges 14:5, note. The name has not yet been discovered as applied to any existing spot; but Eusebius in the 'Onomasticon' speaks of a village Caphar-sorek as still existing near Zorah. The term valley (nachal) describes a wady, i.e. a narrow valley with a stream.
And the lords of the Philistines came up unto her, and said unto her, Entice him, and see wherein his great strength lieth, and by what means we may prevail against him, that we may bind him to afflict him: and we will give thee every one of us eleven hundred pieces of silver.
Verse 5. - Lords. See Judges 3:3, note,' His great strength lieth - literally, wherein (or by what means) his strength is great. They guessed that it was through some charm or secret amulet that his Herculean might was nourished. Eleven hundred pieces, or shekels, of silver. The whole sum promised by the five lords would be no less than 5500 shekels, equal to about £620 of our money. The curious notation, eleven hundred pieces, occurs again Judges 17:2. The reason of it is unknown.
And Delilah said to Samson, Tell me, I pray thee, wherein thy great strength lieth, and wherewith thou mightest be bound to afflict thee.
And Samson said unto her, If they bind me with seven green withs that were never dried, then shall I be weak, and be as another man.
Verse 7. - As another man - literally, as one of men, i.e. of mankind, not different from other men. As regards the word rendered withs, it is not certain whether strings of cat-gut are not meant In Psalm 11:2 the same word is used of a bow-string. The word rendered green means fresh or new, and might be equally applied to catgut strings or withs.
Then the lords of the Philistines brought up to her seven green withs which had not been dried, and she bound him with them.
Now there were men lying in wait, abiding with her in the chamber. And she said unto him, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he brake the withs, as a thread of tow is broken when it toucheth the fire. So his strength was not known.
Verse 9. - There were men lying in wait - literally, and the liers in wait were abiding for her in the chamber. She had hid some three or four men in the chamber unknown to Samson, that they might be ready to fall upon him should his strength really have departed from him. The word for liers in wait is in the singular number, but is to be taken collectively, as in Judges 20:33, 36-38. In Judges 20:37 it is joined to a plural verb. It is to be presumed that through some concerted signal the liers in wait did not discover themselves.
And Delilah said unto Samson, Behold, thou hast mocked me, and told me lies: now tell me, I pray thee, wherewith thou mightest be bound.
Verse 10. - Wherewith, or rather, as in ver. 8, by what means.
And he said unto her, If they bind me fast with new ropes that never were occupied, then shall I be weak, and be as another man.
Verse 11. - Ropes - literally, twisted things; hence cords or ropes, as Psalm 2:3; Isaiah 5:18. Occupied - an old obsolete phrase, for which we should now say used.
Delilah 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. And he brake them from off his arms like a thread.
Verse 12. - Took new ropes. She had them by her, apparently, or could easily procure them, as it is not said that the lords brought them to her. And there were liers. Rather, as before, and the liers in wait were abiding, etc. Each time she had persuaded the lords that Samson had divulged his secret, and that she would deliver him into the hands of the men whom they sent.
And Delilah said unto Samson, Hitherto thou hast mocked me, and told me lies: tell me wherewith thou mightest be bound. And he said unto her, If thou weavest the seven locks of my head with the web.
Verse 13. - The seven locks, by which we learn that his mass of hair as a Nazarite was arranged in seven locks or plaits. His resistance was becoming weaker, and he now approached the dangerous ground of his unshorn hair. With the web. This must mean the warp, which was already fastened in the loom, and across which Samson s locks were to be woven as the woof.
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 the pin of the beam, and with the web.
Verse 14. - And she fastened it with the pin. The Septuagint and many commentators understand that she used the pin (it is the common word for a tent pin) to fasten the loom or frame to the ground, or to the wall. But a good sense comes out if we understand the phrase to mean, So she struck with the shuttle, i.e. she did what Samson told her to do, viz., wove his locks into the warp which was already prepared. This was done by successive strokes of the shuttle, to which the hair was fastened. To strike with the peg or shuttle may have been the technical phrase for throwing the shuttle with the woof into the warp; and it is a strong argument in favour of this interpretation that it makes her action the simple fulfilment of his directions. He said, "Weave my locks into the warp. So she struck with the shuttle." With the pin of the beam, and with the web. The Hebrew word 'ereg cannot mean the beam, as it is here translated; it is the substantive of the verb to weave in ver. 13. Its obvious meaning, therefore, is the woof. The pin of the woof, therefore, is the shuttle with the woof attached to it, i.e. Samson's hair, which was firmly woven into the warp. He went away with. This is the same word as was applied in ver. 3 to his plucking up the gateposts. Now, with the strength of his neck, he tore up the shuttle which fastened his hair to the warp, and so dragged the whole solid frame along with it. However, as we do not know the technical term of the art of the weaving among the Hebrews and Philistines, nor the precise construction of their looms, some obscurity necessarily attaches to this description.
And she said unto him, How canst thou say, I love thee, when thine heart is not with me? thou hast mocked me these three times, and hast not told me wherein thy great strength lieth.
Verse 15. - Thy great strength lieth - as before, ver. 6, thy strength is great.
And it came to pass, when she pressed him daily with her words, and urged him, so that his soul was vexed unto death;
Verse 16. - So that. Omit so. The meaning is, that in consequence of her daily solicitation his soul was vexed (Judges 10:16) to death - literally, was so short, so impatient, as to be at the point to die.
That he told her all his heart, and said unto her, There hath not come a rasor upon mine head; for I have been 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, and be like any other man.
Verse 17. - That he told her. This begins a new sentence. Read, And he told her. Any other man. Rather, like all men. Man, though singular in the Hebrew, is collective as in ver. 7, and as the lier in wait in vers. 9 and 12, and is properly rendered men in English.
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 hath shewed me all his heart. Then the lords of the Philistines came up unto her, and brought money in their hand.
Verse 18. - He hath showed me. So the Keri; but the written text has her instead of me, which is favoured by the tense of the verb came up. If her is the true reading, these words would be the addition of the messenger, explaining why she told them to come up once more, or of the narrator, for the same purpose. Brought money. It should be the money, the stipulated bribe (ver. 5).
And she made him sleep upon 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 afflict him, and his strength went from him.
Verse 19. - She called for a man. It is she called to the man - the man whom she had secreted in the chamber before she put Samson to sleep, that he might cut off the locks. She caused him to shave. In the Hebrew it is she shaved, but it probably means that she did so by his instrumentality. She began to afflict, or humble, him. His strength began to wane immediately his locks began to be shorn, and it was all gone by the time his hair was all cut off.
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. And he wist not that the LORD was departed from him.
Verse 20. - And shake myself, i.e. shake off the Philistines who encompass me; but when he said so he knew not that the Lord had departed from him, and that he was indeed become weak like other men (see a fine sermon of Robert Hall's from this text).
But the Philistines took him, and put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with fetters of brass; and he did grind in the prison house.
Verse 21. - Put out his eyes. One of the cruel punishments of those times (see Numbers 16:14; 2 Kings 25:7), and still, or till quite lately, practised by Oriental despots to make their rivals incapable of reigning. So King John, in Shakespeare, ordered Arthur s eyes to be put out with a hot iron (King John, Act IV. scene 1.). Herodotus (Melp. 4:2) says that the Scythians used to put out the eyes of all their slaves. He did grind - the most degrading form of labour, the punishment of slaves among the Greeks and Romans (see too Isaiah 47:2).

CHAPTER 16:23-31
Howbeit the hair of his head began to grow again after he was shaven.
Then the lords of the Philistines gathered them together for to offer a great sacrifice unto Dagon their god, and to rejoice: for they said, Our god hath delivered Samson our enemy into our hand.
Verse 23. - Gathered them, i.e. themselves. To rejoice. The Hebrew is for a festivity, or merry-making, or feast. There was to be a great feast upon the sacrifices offered to Dagon their God. Dagon (from dag, a fish in Hebrew), the national male god of the Philistines, as Atergatis, or Derceto, was their goddess. Both the male and female divinities seem to have had the head and breast and hands human, and the rest of the body fish-shaped (see 1 Samuel 5:5). The fish was a natural emblem of fertility and productiveness, especially to a maritime people. The fish-shaped idol is found upon old Phoenician coins, and also on the monuments of Khorsabad, and on some Assyrian gems in the British Museum. One of the chief temples of Dagon was at Gaza. Several towns bore the name of Dagon, as Beth-dagon in Judah (Joshua 15:41) and in Asher (Joshua 19:27), Caphar-dagon near Diospolis, etc., showing that the worship of Dagon was widespread.
And when the people saw him, they praised their god: for they said, Our god hath delivered into our hands our enemy, and the destroyer of our country, which slew many of us.
Verse 24. - And when the people, etc. The .people, as distinguished from the lords in the preceding verse, to show how universally the capture of Samson was ascribed to Dagon. Rulers and people alike praised Dagon. Saw him. Not on the occasion of his being brought into the temple as mentioned in ver. 25, but after his capture, and whenever they saw him grinding or elsewhere. It was this universal ascription of praise to Dagon that led to the celebration of this great feast. This praise of Dagon is also dwelt upon to show that God, in what happened, vindicated the glory of his own great name, which was blasphemed by the servants of Dagon when they thus made him superior to Jehovah. So Milton makes Samson say, "All the contest is now 'Twixt God and Dagon .... He, be sure, will not connive or linger, thus provoked, but will arise, and his great name assert." Generally, the 'Samson Agonistes' is an excellent commentary on the history of Samson.
And it came to pass, when their hearts were merry, that they said, Call for Samson, that he may make us sport. And they called for Samson out of the prison house; and he made them sport: and they set him between the pillars.
Verse 25. - When their hearts were merry. They would not have acted so imprudently as to bring Samson out of his prison had not their judgment been clouded with drink. That he may make us sport. And he made them sport. The two verbs are not the same in Hebrew, but they have much the same meaning. It is not certain whether the idea conveyed is that of the A.V., that Samson was brought there to be as it were baited by the populace, jeered and jested at, reviled and reproached, perhaps struck or pelted; or whether the words do not simply mean to dance with music, which is certainly the meaning of the latter verb (he made sport before them, A.V. and margin) in 1 Samuel 18:7 (played, A.V.; see ver. 6); 2 Samuel 6:5, 21; 1 Chronicles 13:8; 1 Chronicles 15:29. They set him between the pillars, i.e. when he had done dancing; because he must have been dancing outside the house for the people on the roof to see him.
And Samson said unto the lad that held him by the hand, Suffer me that I may feel the pillars whereupon the house standeth, that I may lean upon them.
Verse 26. - Suffer me, or it may be rendered, Let me rest. He pretended to be tired, and asked to be allowed to rest a few minutes and lean against the pillars. That I may feel, or, literally, and make me feel. He adds his motive for making the request - that I may lean upon them - to rest himself after the severe exercise of dancing.
Now the house was full of men and women; and all the lords of the Philistines were there; and there were upon the roof about three thousand men and women, that beheld while Samson made sport.
Verse 27. - Now the house was full, etc. We do not know what was the construction of Philistine temples or houses of amusement; but from the description here given it seems that the interior was ranged like an amphi- theatre, with seats for the lords and principal people, and with an open front, so as to command a view of the stage just outside, and that front supported by pillars on which the beams of the roof, both the transverse beam and the longitudinal ones running into it, rested. The roof itself was fiat, and had the weight of 3000 people upon it, throwing a great strain upon the beams which rested upon the pillars. The sudden removal of the pillars would bring the roof down at that end, crowded as it was with the people, and would inevitably drag the whole mass in the same direction one over another, while the swaying of the people would bring the whole roof down upon the heads of those beneath, who would be crushed by the heavy timbers and stones and bodies of men falling upon them.
And Samson called unto the LORD, and said, O Lord GOD, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.
Verse 28. - And Samson called unto the Lord. This is the first mention we have of Samson praying since the memorable occasion when he gave the fountain the name of En-hakkoreh (Judges 15:19, note). Perhaps we may see in this an evidence that his affliction and shame had not been without their effect, in bringing him back to God humbled and penitent. The language is very earnest. "O Lord, Jehovah, remember me strengthen me only this once, O God!" The threefold name by which he addresses the Almighty implies great tension of spirit. That I may be at once avenged. Meaning at one stroke - he would take one vengeance so terrible that it would be sufficient for his two eyes, which makes very good sense if the Hebrew will bear it. The literal translation would be, that I may be avenged with a vengeance of one stroke. Others take it, that I may be avenged with a vengeance for one of my two eyes, which it is not easy to understand the meaning of.
And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left.
Verse 29. - The two middle pillars. There may have been, say, four pillars in the front; the two middle ones standing near together, and the other two nearer the sides.
And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.
Verse 30. - Let me die, or, my life shall perish with the Philistines. He knew it was certain death to himself, but he did not shrink from it. His last act should be to destroy the oppressors of his country. So the dead which he slew, etc. The words sound like the snatch of some song or proverb in which Samson's death was described.
Then 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 buryingplace of Manoah his father. And he judged Israel twenty years.
Verse 31. - His brethren, etc. Some infer from this that Samson's mother bare other children after the birth of Samson. But the Hebrew use of the word brethren is so wide, applied to cousins, or members of the same house of fathers, or of the same tribe, that it is by no means a certain inference. Here his brethren might mean the Danites generally, and all the house of his father those who were more nearly related, as belonging to the house of his father. His father was probably dead, and indeed the mention of his father's burying-place, or rather sepulchre, makes it certain that he was, so that Milton was in error in making him alive. Zorah and Eshtaol. See above, Judges 13:2, 25, note. And he judged Israel. See Judges 15:20. The parallel between Samson and Hercules is in many respects very remarkable, and has been drawn out by Serdrius and others. The supernatural strength of each, the slavery to women ("Quem non mille for, quem non Sthenellius hostis, Non potuit Mayors vincere, vicit amor." Ovid), the tearing asunder of the lion, the violent death of each, partly voluntary and partly forced, are all points of strong general resemblance. But one of the most remarkable is the connection of Hercules with two pillars. The "pillars of Hercules" on each side the straits of Gibraltar, Mount Abila and Mount Calpe, were said to have been rent asunder by the strength of Hercules' arms. And Herodotus relates that in the temple of Hercules at Tyre were two remarkable pillars, one of refined gold, the other of smaragdus, some green stone like an emerald (2:44). But the account given of a visit of Hercules to Egypt is still more remarkable, as compared with the history of the binding of Samson and the slaughter of the Philistines, as related in ch. 15. The following are the words of Herodotus: - "The Greeks say that when Hercules went down to Egypt, the Egyptians surrounded him, and led him in a procession to sacrifice him to Jupiter; that he kept quite still for a time, but that when they were commencing the sacrifice at the altar" (the first act of which was cutting off the hair) "he turned in self-defence, and by his prowess slew them all." On which Herodo. tus remarks, "How was it possible for him, being but one, and being only a man, to slay many myriads?" The prevalence of the worship of Hercules among the Phoenicians, as, e.g., at Tyre and Thasos, a Phoenician colony, and the close connection of Egypt with Gaza, where the prowess of Samson was so well known, are points not to be omitted in considering the probability of some of the legends of Hercules being drawn from the history of Samson. So also is the title of the Phoenician Hercules, the saviour or deliverer, as compared with Judges 2:16, 18; Judges 13:5.

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