Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Samson & Delilah (Judg 16:4-31)

Infamous Couples in the Bible
SAMSON & DELILAH (Judg 16:4-31)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2018

There is a saying that "practice makes perfect," but repetition does not always yield a favorable result.
Jean decided to trim her household budget, so, instead of having a dress dry-cleaned, she washed it by hand. Proud of her savings, she boasted to her husband, "Just think, we are five dollars richer because I washed this dress by hand." "Good," he replied.... "Wash it again!"
Repetition does not always yield a favorable result. There is also a saying that insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting different results. Delilah asks Samson the same question over again expecting a different answer, not because she is insane but because she hopes to cajole him into revealing the secret of his great strength.

It has been about 400 years since Israel's exodus from Egypt (1450 BCE). A series of judges is currently ruling the people, one of whom is Samson (1118-1078 BCE). Israel's primary enemy is a group of foreign invaders called Philistines, who migrate into the area from the west sailing across the Mediterranean Sea. They settle along the coastal plain and are a constant thorn in Israel's side, raiding settlements and destroying crops. They remain unopposed until a deliverer arises, a Nazirite who is also a man of great physical strength, and he single-handedly challenges their reign of terror. After some high-profile victories, Samson falls for a local prostitute named Delilah, who is in the employ of the Philistine rulers. She is the Mata Hari of her day, who attempts to seduce Samson, neutralize his advantage, and turn him over to the Philistine leaders. As a pair, "Samson & Delilah" is one of the Infamous Couples in the Bible and serves as a bad example of how a relationship should function.

I. Delilah researches Samson's strength.
Judg 16:4 [SamsonI fell in love with a woman in the Valley of Sorek whose name was Delilah. 5 The rulers of the [five Philistine cities] went to her and said, "See if you can lure him into showing you the secret of his great strength and how we can overpower him so we may tie him up and subdue him. Each one of us will give you eleven hundred shekels of silver."
Delilah is not an Israelite, so she has no loyalty to God's people. She is an independent contractor, solely committed to advancing her own interests, which at the moment coincide with those of her Philistine employers: Find the source of Samson's great strength. The coalition is promising her a tidy sum for this information—55 hundred shekels of silver, about $90,000 in today's market, not a bad wage for a night's work. Still, "the risk was considerable, therefore the bribe had to outweigh the personal danger involved" (Cundall 1967:176). As it turns out, the job is a little more difficult than it first appears.
A. She fails to overcome it with damp cords (Judg 16:6-9).
Judg 16:6 So Delilah said to Samson, "Tell me the secret of your great strength and how you can be tied up and subdued." 7 Samson answered her, "If anyone ties me with seven fresh thongs that have not been dried, I'll become as weak as any other man." 8 Then the rulers of the Philistines brought her seven fresh thongs that had not been dried, and she tied him with them. 9 With men hidden in the room, she called to him, "Samson, the Philistines are upon you!" But he snapped the thongs as easily as a piece of string snaps when it comes close to a flame. So the secret of his strength was not discovered.
Delilah does not try to conceal her goal, and she has no reason to doubt Samson's answer to her first query, although the remedy he proposes does resemble some magical solution. The Philistine rulers are probably cautious and do not confront him right away, adopting a wait-and-see attitude. Nothing happens. Samson might not have been asleep during this initial attempt to restrain him. In any case, Delilah's cry—"The Philistines are upon you"—startles him to action, but the threat is a false alarm. In any case, Delilah., will have to try again.
B. She fails to overcome it with new cords (Judg 16:10-12).
Judg 16:10 Then Delilah said to Samson, "You have made a fool of me; you lied to me. Come now, tell me how you can be tied." 11 He said, "If anyone ties me securely with new ropes that have never been used, I'll become as weak as any other man." 12 So Delilah took new ropes and tied him with them. Then, with men hidden in the room, she called to him, "Samson, the Philistines are upon you!" But he snapped the ropes off his arms as if they were threads.
The second attempt is much like the first and has the same result. "Evidently the Philistines did not know, or else had overlooked, the fact that the men of Judah already tried this method." Delilah awakens him, but this too is a false alarm.
C. She fails to overcome it with braided hair (Judg 16:13-14).
Judg 16:13 Delilah then said to Samson, "Until now, you have been making a fool of me and lying to me. Tell me how you can be tied." He replied, "If you weave the seven braids of my head into the fabric [on the loom] and tighten it with the pin, I'll become as weak as any other man." So while he was sleeping, Delilah took the seven braids of his head, wove them into the fabric 14 and tightened it with the pin. Again she called to him, "Samson, the Philistines are upon you!" He awoke from his sleep and pulled up the pin and the loom, with the fabric.
Delilah attempts to shame Samson into revealing his secret: "You have been making a fool of me and lying to me" (v. 13). This third effort is closer to the real source of his strength, having to do with his hair. That he could sleep through such a process may signal his consumption of alcohol, which would be a violation of his Nazirite vow. Delilah raises the alarm again— "Samson, the Philistines are upon you!"—but nothing happens.

Application: Are you ever tempted to see how close you can come to the line of some sin without actually crossing it? The goal is not just to skirt sin, skimming by it and not touching it, but to shirk it altogether: "Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness" (Eph 5:11). Moreover, you are not only to avoid sin yourself, you are to help others to avoid it. As Jude writes, "Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh" (Jude 22-23). Sin is like fire, and it will burn if you get too close.

Samson has contempt for his Nazirite status, perhaps thinking that his strength is his own to command. Nothing has occurred to make him question his ability. Thus far, he has probably just gone along with what his parents told him about the Lord's instruction when he was born: "No razor may be used on his head, because the boy is to be a Nazirite...and he will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines" (Judg 13:5)2 Besides, others in Israel have taken this vow, which includes cutting one's hair at the end, and they have suffered no ill effects.

II. Philistines repress Samson's strength.

Like Eve's naiveté in the Garden of Eden, it is difficult to understand how Samson could miss such an obvious attempt at deception, but he does.
A. They defeat him with shorn hair (Judg 16:15-20).
Judg 16:15 Then she said to him, "How can you say, 'I love you,' when you won't confide in me? This is the third time you have made a fool of me and haven't told me the secret of your great strength." 16 With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was tired to death. 17 So he told her everything. "No razor has ever been used on my head," he said, "because I have been a Nazirite set apart to God since birth. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man." 18 When Delilah saw that he had told her everything, she sent word to the rulers of the Philistines, "Come back once more; he has told me everything." So the rulers of the Philistines returned with the silver in their hands. 19 Having put him to sleep on her lap, she called a man to shave off the seven braids of his hair, and so began to subdue him. And his strength left him. 20 Then she called, "Samson, the Philistines are upon you!" He awoke from his sleep and thought, "I'll go out as before and shake myself free." But he did not know that the LORD had left him.
Delilah again tries to shame Samson into revealing his secret: "How can you say, 'I love you,' when you won't confide in me?" (v. 15). She pressures him repeatedly, "day after day" (v. 16). Finally, her persistence pays off, and this time something happens. "Rather than break his relationship with Delilah, he allowed it to break him" (Wolf 1992:476).

Samson knows better than to renege on his Nazirite commitment." He explains the connection between his hair and his strength, but his love for the woman blinds him to the danger of this admission. Then, if Samson had any doubts before about the real link between his hair and his strength, those doubts are gone when he awakens and tries to summon his ability: "His strength left him [and] the Lord left him" (vv. 19-20). Not only was his physical ability tethered to the length of his hair, so was his spiritual relationship to the Lord. His fellowship with God was dependent on his obedience to God, and his keeping the terms of his vow. By cutting the length of his hair he cut the linkage to his Lord, leaving Samson vulnerable to his enemies.
B. They denigrate him with slave labor (Judg 16:21-22).
Judg 16:21 Then the Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza. Binding him with bronze shackles, they set him to grinding in the prison. 22 But the hair on his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.
This time Delilah's assurances give the Philistines hope that she has at last found the source of Samson's strength, and they come ready with scissors and shackles (and presumably with silver). Not content with taking his strength, though, they also take his sight. This additional handicap ensures that he will remain in their custody. Unfortunately for the Philistines, their problem is not over.

As Samson's hair grows again so does his strength. It is odd they do not take steps to prevent this occurrence. The oversight will cost them dearly.
C. They demean him with Dagon worship (Judg 16:23-25b).
Judg 16:23 Now the rulers of the Philistines assembled to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god and to celebrate, saying, "Our god has delivered Samson, our enemy, into our hands." 24 When the people saw him, they praised their god, saying, "Our god has delivered our enemy into our hands, the one who laid waste our land and multiplied our slain." 25a-b While they were in high spirits, they shouted, "Bring out Samson to entertain us." So they called Samson out of the prison, and he performed for them.
At long last their enemy, "who laid waste [their] land and multiplied [their] slain" (v. 23), has been defeated and taken captive. He not only serves their interests, grinding their grain, he is a testimony to the superiority of their god Dagon over the LORD, the Israelite deity. It is no wonder that they celebrate their good fortune and that Samson is the entertainment for their festivities.

Application: Despite Samson's enslavement, God is not finished with him, as evinced by the regrowth of his hair "after it had been shaved" (v. 22). So too God will not be finished with you no matter how dire your situation may seem. As long as you are alive, God can use you to advance His plan and augment your reward. So Paul says, "God will give to each person according to what he has done" (Rom 2:6).'3 How might you advance His plan? What will your reward be?

Although Samson is at the end of his life, God uses him to advance His agenda and to secure a better future for His people.

III. God renews Samson's strength.
A. He prays to destroy Dagon's temple (Judg 16:25c-27).
Judg 16:25c When they stood him among the pillars, 26 Samson said to the servant who held his hand, "Put me where I can feel the pillars that support the temple, so that I may lean against them." 27 Now the temple was crowded with men and women; all the rulers of the Philistines were there, and on the roof were about three thousand men and women watching Samson perform.
The biblical author does not recount Samson's performance. There is no suggestion in the text that he knows how to dance or juggle. Because his physical powers are returning, perhaps he entertains the crowd with feats of strength. The temple of Dagon is certainly a fitting stage for his final act, and the packed audience doubtless expects quite a show.
B. He proceeds to destroy Dagon's people (Judg 16:28-30).
Judg 16:28 Then Samson prayed to the LORD, "O Sovereign LORD, remember me. O God, please strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes." 29 Then Samson reached toward the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other, 30 Samson said, "Let me die with the Philistines!" Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived.
The crowd certainly does not anticipate Samson's grand finale. God grants Samson's final wish, enabling him to exact his revenge. Samson brings the house down, kills a record number of Philistines, and takes his own life in the process. This event deals a crippling blow to Philistine leadership from which it will not recover, effectively frustrating Philistine aspirations for regional hegemony.

Application: Even at the end of one's life, it is possible to have a positive impact in God's plan. That is, the end of your sojourn does not necessarily mean the end of your service. The end of Samson's life, cut short and gruesome though it is, still yields a positive effect for God's people, providing relief from Philistine aggression. Likewise, your life, regardless of its length, can advance God's agenda if you take advantage of whatever opportunities you have to serve Him along the way. As Paul observes, God "works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will" (Eph 1:11). The key is to take a long view of your life and to consider events, as much as you can, from God's perspective.

"Samson & Delilah" is the second pair in this series of Infamous Couples in the Bible. They are certainly not a model twosome. Delilah's treachery is a bad ingredient for any relationship, and Samson's lack of discretion exposes him to great danger. Nevertheless, he leads Israel "forty years" (Judg 15:20) and succeeds in defeating the Philistines at the end of his life.

For the Footnotes and Bibliography see the pdf here.

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Relevant and civil comments are welcome. Whether there will be any response depends on whether Dr. Manuel notices them and has the time and inclination to respond or, if not, whether I feel competent to do so.
Jim Skaggs