Judges 16
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Then went Samson to Gaza, and saw there an harlot, and went in unto her.
Ch. Jdg 16:1-3. Samson at Gaza

1. Gaza] The most southerly of the Philistine cities, and far from the scene of Samson’s other adventures. Long before the Philistines arrived Gaza is mentioned in Egyptian lists (e.g. in the time of Thothmes III), and in the Amarna letters. As it lay at the meeting-point of the caravan-routes from Egypt and the Arabian desert, it was always an important centre; the kind of place where bad characters might be found. In Hebr. the name is ‘Azza, with the hard ‘ayin represented in Assyr. by (hence Ḫazzatu), in Greek by g (hence Gaza); now Ghazze or Razze.

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.
2. And it was told the Gazites] The verb has fallen out by accident; the LXX read it in the text.

all night in the gate] The text makes the Philistines lie in wait all the night, and keep quiet all the night; but there would be no need to keep watch in the gate at night, for the gate would be shut. To relieve the confusion the simplest plan is either to omit the first all the night, or to read all the day. The Philistines patrolled the town and lay in wait [during the day], hoping to catch Samson at the city gate when he went out; at night they could only keep quiet until the morning, and then fall upon their enemy. The last cl. = lit. until the morning dawns and we kill him, until implying the verb wait; for the Hebr. idiom see Driver, Tenses, p. 135, and cf. 1 Samuel 1:22 etc. Hebrew coordinates clauses which are really subordinate. The marg. ‘or Before’ is not right.

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.
3. plucked them up] Cf. Jdg 16:14; the word is used of plucking up tent-pegs Isaiah 33:20, hence of setting out on a journey Genesis 35:5 and often.

The gate was probably in two leaves, turning upon pins in sockets, and secured by a bar (cf. 1 Kings 4:13, Amos 1:5 etc.) which was let into the posts on either side. Samson pulled up the whole framework of the gate, doors, posts and bar, and carried it off in one piece.

the mountain that is before Hebron] Hebron is at least 40 m. from Gaza, and before, if it does mean east of (cf. Deuteronomy 32:49, 1 Kings 11:7 etc.), may also denote overlooking (Numbers 21:20; Numbers 23:28 etc.). To make the prodigious feat more credible, some take the mountain to be the low hill of el-Munṭâr, half an hour outside the walls of Gaza on the E.; for a recent description in support of this view see Gautier, Souv. de Terre-Sainte (1898), 131 f. But can el-Munṭâr be said to face Hebron? Cheyne (Encycl. Bibl., col. 4432) makes the suggestion that Hebron is a mistake for Sharuhen (Joshua 19:6), otherwise Shaaraim = the two gates (1 Samuel 17:52), which may be the Egyptian fortress Sharaḥan on the road from Egypt to Gaza; the legend, then, was told to account for the name. Similarly Stahn (Die Simson-Sage, p. 31), who supposes that there was a rock or defile near Hebron called Shaar Gaza (i.e. gate of Gaza or strong gate); the story then will have had the same origin as that which accounted for the names Ramath-lehi and En-hakkore, Jdg 15:17; Jdg 15:19.

And it came to pass afterward, that he loved a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah.
4–31. Samson and Delîlah: his ruin and famous end

4. the valley of Sorek] Now Wâdi eṣ-Ṣarâr, a broad valley narrowing as it rises towards the Judaean highlands; the railway from Jaffa to Jerusalem ascends the lower part of it. Soreḳ denotes a choice kind of vine (Genesis 49:11, Isaiah 5:2, Jeremiah 2:21), which may have given its name to the valley. A ruined site near Ṣar‘a (Jdg 13:2 n.) is still called Sûrîk.

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.
5. his great strength lieth] his strength is great; render similarly in Jdg 16:6; Jdg 16:15.

eleven hundred pieces of silver] in uncoined metal, calculated by the scales (Genesis 23:16): a large bribe when multiplied by five (Jdg 3:3). The odd number means a full thousand, cf. Jdg 17:2. In Jdg 14:15 the Philistines work upon the woman’s fear; now they appeal to the cupidity of the courtezan.

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.
7. seven green withes] Follow marg.; similarly LXX and Vulgate The cords (cf. Psalm 11:2; Psalm 21:12) were to be made of fresh or moist gut. Elsewhere the adjective is applied to trees or fruit, hence the rendering of EV; withes = flexible twigs, esp. of willow; Josephus thinks of vine stalks. There may have been a magic charm in the number seven here and in Jdg 16:13.

Then the lords of the Philistines brought up to her seven green withs which had not been dried, and she bound him with them.
8. she bound him] When he was asleep, as we may infer from Jdg 16:14; Jdg 16:19. What Samson proposed in jest, Delîlah carried out in earnest.

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.
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.
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.
11. new robes] As in Jdg 15:13-14.

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.
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.
13. If thou weavest the seven locks … web] plaits … warp. Weaving was the work of women as well as of men; see the illustration from the Egyptian tombs at Beni Hasan dating from the Middle Kingdom, Benzinger, Hebr. Archäol.2, p. 151; Delîlah has a loom in her house. This was a horizontal loom fastened into the ground, as in the illustration referred to1[56]

[56] It looks as if it were upright; but this is due to the absence of perspective in Egyptian drawing.

; 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).

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. The seven locks may have something to do with solar mythology. The Babyl. Gilgămesh had seven locks; in later Greek art Helios is usually represented with the same number.

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.
14. the pin of the beam] The Hebrew is ungrammatical and gives the impression that the pin has been intruded. Instead of beam render loom (’ereg, Job 7:6). The general sense is clear: Samson pulled up the whole framework, warp and all, out of the ground by the hair of his head.

The Greek versions, understanding pin in its ordinary meaning of peg, construct a different arrangement of the apparatus: they imply that the end of the loom was fastened by pegs into the wall opposite, and that Samson’s hair was stretched horizontally with the warp. See the art. ‘Weaving’ by Prof. A. R. S. Kennedy in the Encycl. Bibl., upon which the foregoing notes are based.

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.
And it came to pass, when she pressed him daily with her words, and urged him, so that his soul was vexed unto death;
16. she pressed him] Cf. Jdg 14:17. When it came to testing the higher kind of strength, Samson failed. ‘I to myself was false ere thou to me’; Milton, Samson Agonistes, 824.

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.
17. all his heart] i.e. all that he knew about his supernatural secret, Jdg 13:5-7. The heart in the O.T. is the seat not merely of the affections, but of the mind and will; so in Jdg 16:15; Jdg 16:18.

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.
18. he hath told me] So the Hebr. marg. (Ḳerç); this is to be preferred to the Hebr. text (Kethîbh) which = RVm.

and brought] The verb is probably an insertion; read simply and, i.e. with. The previous verb came up requires a slight, alteration in the Hebr.

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.
19. she made him sleep] Cf. Jdg 16:14 LXX. cod. A. For a man the original has the man, i.e. who was waiting in readiness. For and shaved (subj. Delîlah) the context seems to require the reading and he shaved; the man was called in for this purpose.

she began to afflict him] Can this mean, by cutting off his hair? Moore suggests that D. bound him (cf. Jdg 16:5-6), as may be implied in the words I will shake myself in Jdg 16:20. The Greek reads he began to be afflicted or humbled; his strength began to ebb away as the hair fell. So many moderns.

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.
20. the Lord was departed from him] Cf. 1 Samuel 18:12; 1 Samuel 28:15-16. The unshorn locks were the secret of his strength, and these were a sign of consecration to Jehovah; so long as he preserved them the Lord was with him. For any exceptional feat, however, he needed a special access of Jehovah’s spirit; Jdg 13:25, Jdg 14:6; Jdg 14:19, Jdg 15:14, Jdg 16:28. Such seems to be the extent of the religious idea in the story.

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.
21. to Gaza] ‘His degeneration began at Gaza, therefore he was punished at Gaza,’ runs the Rabbinic comment, which also sees a just retribution for the sin of his eyes (Jdg 14:3 lit. ‘she is right in mine eyes’) in the loss of his eyes. Talm. Sota 9 b.

and he did grind] It was his continual task, as the tense indicates. Grinding corn for the household was the work of women (Ecclesiastes 12:3 RVm., St Matthew 24:41), of the housewife or of female slaves (Exodus 11:5, cf. Isaiah 47:2). Male prisoners and captives were sometimes condemned to this labour, as for example King Zedekiah in Babylon, according to the Gk. version of Jeremiah 52:11. Similarly among the Romans, minor offenders were set to work at the public mills.

Howbeit the hair of his head began to grow again after he was shaven.
22. began to grow again] and his strength simultaneously. The remark prepares the way for the supreme effort at the end. We must suppose a considerable interval to have passed between the capture and the closing scene.

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.
23. a great sacrifice unto Dagon] at Gaza, as the context suggests (Jdg 16:21). Dagon was the god specially honoured by the Philistines; he had a temple at Ashdod (1 Samuel 5:2-7, 1Ma 10:83 f., Jdg 11:4) and elsewhere; there was a Beth-dagon in the Shephçlah (Joshua 15:41? = Beit-dejan 6 m. S.E. of Joppa, or Dejan 1½ m. further south1[57]) and on the boundary of Asher (Joshua 19:27). But the name also occurs outside the territory once held by the Philistines; it survives in Beit-dejan 7 m. E. of Nâblus; and we may infer that the worship of Dagon was not confined to the Philistines. Most likely he was a Canaanite god adopted by the Philistines when they settled in the country, just as they adopted Ashtoreth (1 Samuel 31:10). The name of the Canaanite letter-writer Dagan-takala in the Amarna tablets (Nos. 215, 216) carries us back to the age when Babylonian influences prevailed in Canaan; and Dagan is met with as the name of a deity from the early Babylonian down to the Assyrian period, both in proper names and in conjunction with Anu; the latter fact points to a god of heaven. But whether he was a native Babylonian god is not certain; it seems probable that he was introduced from outside, perhaps from Canaan; most authorities identify him with the Philistine Dagon2[58]. Of his nature nothing definite is known. Philo of Byblus derives the name from dâgân = corn, and regards him as an agricultural deity; Ḳimḥi (xiiith century a.d.) in his commentary on 1 Samuel 5:4 mentions a tradition that Dagon’s image was shaped as a man above the waist and a fish below (dâg = fish). These, however, are only etymological guesses. It may be questioned whether the god, half man and half fish, represented on the coins of Ascalon and Arvad, was intended for Dagon3[59].

[57] One of these was probably the Bit-daganna mentioned in the Prism Inscr. of Sennacherib, KB. ii. 93.

[58] See Dhorme, La Rel. Assyro-Babylonienne (1910), 17, 35, 165; Zimmern, KAT.3, 358.

[59] As Lagrange considers, Ét. sur les Rel. Sémitiques2, 131 f.

for they said … our hand] looks like a gloss founded on the song in the verse which follows.

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.
24. saw him] As Samson does not appear till the next verse, Lagrange suggests that him refers to Dagon, whose image was uncovered at this moment or carried out in procession. It is more likely that the order of the narrative has been disturbed; if we place Jdg 16:24 after Jdg 16:25 everything falls into natural sequence.

Our god hath delivered] The song is constructed of four lines, each ending with a rhyming suffix -çnu = our. The last line runs lit. ‘and who multiplied our slain.’ Other specimens of this kind of rhyme, common in Arabic poetry but rare in the O.T., may be seen in Jdg 14:18 b (‘my heifer … my riddle’); Genesis 4:23; 1 Samuel 18:7. It will be noticed that all these are popular, traditional verses.

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.
25. he made sport before them] in the court, we may suppose, in front of the house, i.e. the temple of Dagon. When the sport was over, Samson was set among the pillars of the open hall or porch of the temple, where the crowd could satisfy their curiosity by a nearer view.

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.
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.
27. and all the lords … three thousand men and women] No doubt an insertion to heighten the effect; grammatically full of men and women is carried on by that beheld, shewing that the intervening words are not original. No mention of the people on the roof is made in Jdg 16:30. The LXX. cod. B has 70 for 3000.

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.
28. that I may be at once avenged] A questionable rendering; follow the mg., that I may be avenged … for one of my two eyes. The grim humour of the words, as Moore points out, is altogether in character. The utmost vengeance would barely compensate for the loss of one eye alone.

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.
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.
30. Let me die] lit. ‘let my soul die.’ In the O.T. the soul is not the immortal, but the mortal, element in man: it is that which breathes, the principle of life. When a person dies the soul goes out (Genesis 35:18, cf. Jeremiah 15:9) and exists no more.

the dead which he slew]

‘Samson hath quit himself

Like Samson.’—Milton, S. Agonistes, 1709 f.

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.
31. came down] Gaza lay near the sea; Samson’s home was on the slopes of the Central Range. The Philistines’ quarrel was not with the kinsmen; they were not refused the right of sepulture. Contrast 1 Samuel 31:10 f.

Manoah his father] Strictly speaking, the ancestor of the family. See notes on Jdg 13:2; Jdg 13:25.

The usual formula closes the narrative in the manner of Rd. See on Jdg 3:10.

For the exploit of Shamgar against the Philistines see note on Jdg 3:31.

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