Judges 16

Judges 16,
Thursday, May 17, 2018

After all this, would you expect Samson to keep taking side-trips to Gaza for casual patronage of their prostitutes? Of course, the locals try to ambush him in the morning.   Of course, he rises early, and with superhuman strength he rips up the town gates and walks away with them.  He’s a tough one to tie down, this Samson – or these are etiological legends explaining place names and border points.

Finally, we get to Delilah, not to be confused with his first Philistine wife, or generalized as a type for her gender, as unfaithful seductress.  She is asked by the Philistines to act as their spy and agent, in the conflicting interest of blood and partnership, in variation from the first story cycle.  

This is straight folklore, with a pattern of 3 incorrect solutions to the challenge of taking Samson’s strength, then a successful close shave.  This story stuck in our Sunday schools – with a Victorian twist of inhibition, and warning that sexual activity leads to blindness and weakness.  

Samson’s vindication responds to the idolatry of Dagon, and the image of blind Samson, hair grown back, sobriety imposed from involuntary abstinence, wreaking havoc by pulling down the pillars and the stone building on his heads along with all others, a pile of dead bodies.  

The literary symbols of pillars holding a house invite elaboration.  The imposing pillars are more suggestive of Greek columns than 2nd millennium BCE Gaza.  What oppressors’ power and symbols intimidate us, and what self-sacrificing terrorist act is demanded from the penitent?  

I stick with the suggestion that the whole text, in Solomon’s court, Josiah’s reform, and Second Temple restoration, addresses the risks and temptations of doing what is ‘right in your own eyes’, of assimilation and conflicting loyalties.  However, I don’t think that Samson is credible as a judge, despite the repeated editorial claim of 20 years of his rule over Israel.  

That ends what I read as the core of Judges – the remaining chapters have been called an appendix, a quarter of the whole book, giving up on the attempt to collect stories of heroes relieving anarchy.  I’d rather just say it continues a trajectory begun with Samson, of degeneration of the promise and unity of Deuteronomy and Joshua into increasing anarchy.  See what you think, this weekend and early next week.

Once Samson went to Gaza, 
where he saw a prostitute
and went in to her.
 2The Gazites were told, 
‘Samson has come here.’ 
So they encircled the place
and lay in wait for him
all night
at the city gate. 
They kept quiet
all night, 
 ‘Let us wait
until the light
of the morning; 
then we will kill him.’
 3But Samson lay only until midnight. 
Then at midnight he rose up, 
took hold of the doors of the city gate
and the two posts, 
pulled them up, 
bar and all,
 put them on his shoulders,
 and carried them
to the top of the hill
that is in front of Hebron.
4 After this
he fell in love with a woman
 in the valley of Sorek, 
whose name was Delilah.
 5The lords of the Philistines came to her
 and said to her, 
‘Coax him, 
and find out
 what makes his strength so great,
 and how we may overpower him,
 so that we may bind him
 in order to subdue him;
 and we will each give you
eleven hundred pieces of silver.’
 6So Delilah said to Samson,
 ‘Please tell me
what makes your strength so great, 
and how you could be bound,
 so that one could subdue you.’
 7Samson said to her,
 ‘If they bind me
with seven fresh bowstrings
 that are not dried out,
 then I shall become weak,
 and be like anyone else.’
 8Then the lords of the Philistines brought her
 seven fresh bowstrings
that had not dried out,
 and she bound him with them.
 9While men were lying in wait
in an inner chamber,
 she said to him,
 ‘The Philistines are upon you, 
But he snapped the bowstrings, 
as a strand of fibre snaps
when it touches the fire. 
So the secret of his strength
was not known.
10 Then Delilah said to Samson, 
‘You have mocked me
 and told me lies; 
please tell me
 how you could be bound.’
 11He said to her, 
‘If they bind me
with new ropes
 that have not been used, 
then I shall become weak, 
and be like anyone else.’
 12So Delilah took new ropes
and bound him with them, 
and said to him, 
‘The Philistines are upon you, 
 (The men lying in wait
were in an inner chamber.) 
But he snapped the ropes
off his arms
 like a thread.
13 Then Delilah said to Samson,
 ‘Until now you have mocked me
and told me lies; 
tell me how
you could be bound.’
 He said to her,
 ‘If you weave
the seven locks of my head
with the web
 and make it tight
 with the pin, 
then I shall become weak,
 and be like anyone else.’ 
14So while he slept, 
Delilah took the seven locks of his head
 and wove them into the web,
 and made them tight
 with the pin.
 Then she said to him, 
‘The Philistines are upon you,
But he awoke from his sleep, 
and pulled away the pin, 
the loom, 
and the web.
15 Then she said to him,
 ‘How can you say
, “I love you”, 
when your heart is not with me?
 You have mocked me three times now
and have not told me
what makes your strength so great.’
 after she had nagged him
with her words
day after day, 
and pestered him,
 he was tired to death.
 17So he told her his whole secret, 
and said to her,
 ‘A razor has never come upon my head;
 for I have been a nazirite to God
from my mother’s womb. 
If my head were shaved, 
then my strength would leave me;
 I would become weak,
 and be like anyone else.’
18 When Delilah realized
that he had told her his whole secret, 
she sent and called the lords of the Philistines, 
 ‘This time come up,
 for he has told his whole secret
 to me.’ 
Then the lords of the Philistines came up to her, 
and brought the money in their hands.
 19She let him fall asleep on her lap;
 and she called a man,
 and had him shave off the seven locks of his head.
 He began to weaken,
 and his strength left him.
 20Then she said,
 ‘The Philistines are upon you,
 When he awoke from his sleep,
 he thought,
 ‘I will go out
 as at other times, 
and shake myself free.’ 
But he did not know
that the Lord had left him.
 21So the Philistines seized him
and gouged out his eyes. 
They brought him down to Gaza
and bound him with bronze shackles;
 and he ground at the mill in the prison.
 22But the hair of his head began to grow again
after it had been shaved.
23 Now the lords of the Philistines gathered
 to offer a great sacrifice to their god Dagon,
 and to rejoice; 
for they said,
 ‘Our god has given Samson
 our enemy into our hand.’
 24When the people saw him,
 they praised their god;
 for they said,
 ‘Our god has given
our enemy into our hand, 
the ravager of our country,
 who has killed many of us.’
 25And when their hearts were merry,
 they said,
 ‘Call Samson,
 and let him entertain us.’ 
So they called Samson out of the prison, 
and he performed for them. 
They made him stand between the pillars;
 26and Samson said to the attendant
who held him by the hand, 
‘Let me feel the pillars
on which the house rests,
 so that I may lean against them.’
 27Now the house was full of men and women;
 all the lords of the Philistines were there, 
and on the roof
there were about three thousand men and women, 
who looked on while Samson performed.
28 Then Samson called to the Lord and said,
 ‘Lord God, remember me
and strengthen me
only this once, 
O God, 
so that with this one act of revenge
 I may pay back the Philistines
for my two eyes.’
 29And Samson grasped the two middle pillars
 on which the house rested, 
and he leaned his weight against them,
 his right hand on the one
 and his left hand on the other.
 30Then Samson said,
 ‘Let me die with the Philistines.’
 He strained with all his might; 
and the house fell
on the lords
and all the people
who were in it. 
So those he killed at his death
 were more than those he had killed during his life.
 31Then his brothers
and all his family
came down
and took him
and brought him up
and buried him
between Zorah and Eshtaol
 in the tomb of his father Manoah. 
He had judged Israel for twenty years.