Judges 16:21
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.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(21) Put out his eyes.—the margin, “bored out,” is more correct. The Arabic version has the curious gloss that they burnt out his eyes with the red-hot style with which stibium (see Job 42:14) is applied to the eyes. To blind a man was the most effectual humiliation (2Kings 25:7). The story of Evenius, a priest of the sun-god, who is blinded by the people of Apollonia, who thereby incur the anger of the gods, seems to move in a similar circle of ideas to this.

Fetters of brass.—Literally, two brassesi.e., pairs of brazen fetters (nechushtarim).

He did grind in the prison house.—This was the degrading work of slaves and females (Exodus 11:5; Isaiah 47:2). Grotius in a curious note says that slaves thus employed were blinded by the Scythians to save them from giddiness (see Herod. iv. 2). The end of Samson was mournful; his whole powerful life was only like a light, blazing up brightly at moments, and shining afar, but often dimmed, and utterly extinguished before its time” (Ewald).

Judges

STRENGTH PROFANED AND LOST

Jdg 16:21 - Jdg 16:31
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Nobody could be less like the ordinary idea of an Old Testament ‘saint’ than Samson. His gift from ‘the spirit of the Lord’ was simply physical strength, and it was associated with the defects of his qualities. His passions were strong, and apparently uncontrolled. He had no moral elevation or religious fervour. He led no army against the Philistines, nor seems to have had any fixed design of resisting them. He seeks a wife among them, and is ready to feast and play at riddles with them. When he does attack them, it is because he is stung by personal injuries; and it is only with his own arm that he strikes. His exploits have a mixture of grim humour and fierce hatred quite unlike anything else in Scripture, and more resembling the horse-play of Homeric or Norse heroes than the stern purpose and righteous wrath of a soldier who felt that he was God’s instrument. We seem to hear his loud laughter as he ties the firebrands to the struggling jackals, or swings the jaw-bone. A strange champion for Jehovah! But we must not leave out of sight, in estimating his character, the Nazarite vow, which his parents had made before his birth, and he had endorsed all his life.

That supplies the substratum which is lacking, The unshorn hair and the abstinence from wine were the signs of consecration to God, which might often fail of reaching the deepest recesses of the will and spirit, but still was real, and gave the point of contact for the divine gift of strength. Samson’s strength depended on his keeping the vow, of which the outward sign was the long, matted locks; and therefore, when he let these be shorn, he voluntarily cast away his dependence on and consecration to God, and his strength ebbed from him. He had broken the conditions on which he received it, and it disappeared. So the story which connects the loss of his long hair with the loss of his superhuman power has a worthy meaning, and puts in a picturesque form an eternal truth.

We see here, first, Samson the prisoner. Milton has caught the spirit of the sad picture in Jdg 16:21 - Jdg 16:22, in that wonderful line,

‘Eyeless, in Gaza, at the mill, with slaves,’

in which the clauses drop heavily like slow tears, each adding a new touch of woe. The savage manners of the times used the literal forcing out of the eyes from their sockets as the easiest way of reducing dangerous enemies to harmlessness. Pitiable as the loss was, Samson was better blind than seeing. The lust of the eye had led him astray, and the loss of his sight showed him his sin. Fetters of brass betrayed his jailers’ dread of his possibly returning strength; and the menial task to which he was set was meant as a humiliation, in giving him woman’s work to do, as if this were all for which the eclipsed hero was now fit. Generous enemies are merciful; the baser sort reveal their former terror by the indignities they offer to their prisoner.

In Samson we see an impersonation of Israel. Like him, the nation was strong so long as it kept the covenant of its God. Like him, it was ever prone to follow after strange loves. Its Delilahs were the gods of the heathen, in whose laps it laid its anointed head, and at whose hands it suffered the loss of its God-given strength; for, like Samson, Israel was weak when it forgot its consecration, and its punishment came from the objects of its infatuated desires. Like him, it was blinded, bound, and reduced to slavery, for all its power was held, as was his, on condition of loyalty to God. His life is as a mirror, in which the nation might see their own history reflected; and the lesson taught by the story of the captive hero, once so strong, and now so weak, is the lesson which Moses taught the nation: ‘Because thou servedst not the Lord thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, by reason of the abundance of all things: therefore shalt thou serve thine enemies which the Lord shall send against thee, in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in want of all things, and He shall put a yoke of iron upon thy neck’ {Deuteronomy 28:47 - Deuteronomy 28:48}. The blind Samson, chained, at the mill, has a warning for us, too. That is what God’s heroes come to, if once they prostitute the God-given strength to the base loves of self and the flattering world. We are strong only as we keep our hearts clear of lower loves, and lean on God alone. Delilah is most dangerous when honeyed words drop from her lips. The world’s praise is more harmful than its censure. Its favours are only meant to draw the secret of our strength from us, that we may be made weak; and nothing gives the Philistines so much pleasure as the sight of God’s warriors caught in their toils and robbed of power.

But Samson’s misery was Samson’s blessedness. The ‘howbeit’ of Jdg 16:22 is more than a compensation for all the wretchedness. The growth of his hair is not there mentioned as a mere natural fact, nor with the superstitious notion that his hair made him strong. God made him strong on condition of his keeping his vow of consecration. The long matted locks were the visible sign that he kept it. Their loss was the consequence of his own voluntary breach of it. So their growth was the visible token that the fault was being repaired. Chastisement wrought sorrow; and in the bondage of the prison he found freedom from the worse chains of sin, and in its darkness felt the dawning of a better light. As Bishop Hall puts it: ‘His hair grew together with his repentance, and his strength with his hair.’ The cruelties of the Philistines were better for him than their kindness. The world outwits itself when it presses hard on God’s deserters, and thus drives them to repent. God mercifully takes care that His wandering children shall not have an easy time of it; and his chastisements, at their sharpest, are calls to us to come back to Him. Well for those, even if in chains, who know their meaning, and yield to it.

II. We have here Samson,-the occasion of godless triumph. The worst consequence of the fall of a servant of God is that it gives occasion for God’s enemies to blaspheme, and reflects discredit on Him, as if He were vanquished. Samson’s capture is Dagon’s glory. The strife between Philistia and Israel was, in the eyes of both combatants, a struggle between their gods; and so the men of Gaza lit their sacrificial fires and sent up their hymns to their monstrous deity as victor. What would Samson’s bitter thoughts be, as the sound of the wild rejoicings reached him in his prison? And is not all this true to-day? If ever some conspicuous Christian champion falls into sin or inconsistency, how the sky is rent with shouts of malicious pleasure! What paragons of virtue worldly men become all at once! How swiftly the conclusion is drawn that all Christians are alike, and none of them any better than the non-Christian world! How much more harm the one flaw does than all the good which a life of service has done! The faults of Christians are the bulwarks of unbelief. `The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you.’ The honour of Christ is a sacred trust, and it is in the keeping of us His followers. Our sins do not only darken our own reputation, but they cloud His. Dagon’s worshippers have a right to rejoice when they have Samson safe in their prison, with his eyes out.

III. We have Samson made a buffoon for drunkards. The feasts of heathenism were wild orgies, very unlike the pure joy of the sacrificial meals in Jehovah’s worship. Dagon’s temple was filled with a drunken crowd, whose mirth would be made more boisterous by a spice of cruelty. So, a roar of many voices calls for Samson, and this deepest degradation is not spared him. The words employed for ‘make sport’ seem to require that we should understand that he was not brought out to be the passive object of their gibes and drunken mockery, but was set to play the fool for their delectation. They imply that he had to dance and laugh, while three thousand gaping Philistines, any one of whom would have run for his life if he had been free, fed their hatred by the sight. Perhaps his former reputation for mirth and riddles suggested this new cruelty. Surely there is no more pathetic picture than that of the blind hero, with such thoughts as we know were seething in him, dragged out to make a Philistine holiday, and set to play the clown, while the bitterness of death was in his soul. And this is what God’s soldiers come down to, when they forget Him: ‘they that wasted us required of us mirth.’

Wearied with his humiliating exertions, the blind captive begs the boy who guided him to let him lean, till he can breathe again, on the pillars that held up the light roof. We need not discuss the probable architecture of Dagon’s temple, of which we know nothing. Only we may notice that it is not said that there were only two pillars, but rather necessarily implied that there were more than two, for those against which he leaned were ‘the two middle’ ones. It is quite easy to understand how, if there were a row of them, knocking out the two strongest central ones would bring the whole thing down, especially when there was such a load on the flat roof. Apparently the principal people were in the best places on the ground floor, sheltered from the sun by the roof, on which the commonalty were clustered, all waiting for what their newly discovered mountebank would do next, after he had breathed himself. The pause was short, and they little dreamed of what was to follow.

IV. We have the last cry and heroic death of Samson. It is not to be supposed that his prayer was audible to the crowd, even if it were spoken aloud. It is not an elevated prayer, but is, like all the rest of his actions at their best, deeply marked with purely personal motives. The loss of his two eyes is uppermost in his mind, and he wants to be revenged for them. Instead of trying to make a lofty hero out of him, it is far better to recognise frankly the limitations of his character and the imperfections of his religion. The distance between him and the New Testament type of God’s soldier measures the progress which the revelation of God’s will has made, and the debt we owe to the Captain of the host for the perfect example which He has set. The defects and impurity of Samson’s zeal, which yet was accepted of God, preach the precious lesson that God does not require virtues beyond the standard of the epoch of revelation at which His servants stand, and that imperfection does not make service unacceptable. If the merely human passion of vengeance throbbed fiercely in Samson’s prayer, he had never heard ‘Love your enemies’; and, for his epoch, the destruction of the enemies of God and Israel was duty. He was not the only soldier of God who has let personal antagonism blend with his zeal for God; and we have less excuse, if we do it, than he had.

But there is the true core of religion in the prayer. It is penitence which pleads, ‘Remember me, O Lord God!’ He knows that his sin has broken the flow of loving divine thought to him, but he asks that the broken current may be renewed. Many a silent tear had fallen from Samson’s blind eyes, before that prayer could have come to his lips, as he leaned on the great pillars. Clear recognition of the Source of his strength is in the prayer; if ever he had forgotten, in Delilah’s lap, where it came from, he had recovered his conscious dependence amid the misery of the prison. There is humility in the prayer ‘Only this once.’ He feels that, after such a fall, no more of the brilliant exploits of former days are possible. They who have brought such despite on Jehovah and such honour to Dagon may be forgiven, and even restored to much of their old vigour, but they must not be judges in Israel any more. The best thing left for the penitent Samson is death.

He had been unconscious of the departure of his strength, but he seems to have felt it rushing back into his muscles; so he grasps the two pillars with his mighty hands; the crowd sees that the pause for breath is over, and prepares to watch the new feats. Perhaps we may suppose that his last words were shouted aloud, ‘Let me die with the Philistines!’ and before they have been rightly taken in by the mob, he sways himself backwards for a moment, and then, with one desperate forward push, brings down the two supports, and the whole thing rushes down to hideous ruin amid shrieks and curses and groans. But Samson lies quiet below the ruins, satisfied to die in such a cause.

He ‘counted not his life dear’ unto himself, that he might be God’s instrument for God’s terrible work. The last of the judges teaches us that we too, in a nobler cause, and for men’s life, not their destruction, must be ready to hazard and give our lives for the great Captain, who in His death has slain more of our foes than He did in His life, and has laid it down as the law for all His army, ‘He that loseth his life for My sake shall find it.’

How beautifully the quiet close of the story follows the stormy scene of the riotous assembly and the sudden destruction. The Philistines, crushed by this last blow, let the dead hero’s kindred search for his body amid the chaos, and bear it reverently up from the plain to the quiet grave among the hills of Dan, where Manoah his father slept. There they lay that mighty frame to rest. It will be troubled no more by fierce passions or degrading chains. Nothing in his life became him like the leaving of it. The penitent heroism of its end makes us lenient to the flaws in its course; and we leave the last of the judges to sleep in his grave, recognising in him, with all his faults and grossness, a true soldier of God, though in strange garb.Jdg 16:21. The Philistines put out his eyes — Which was done both out of revenge and policy, to disable him from doing them harm, in case he should recover his strength; but not without God’s providence, punishing him in that part which had been instrumental to his sinful lusts. Brought him to Gaza — Because this was a great and strong city, where he could be kept safely; and upon the sea coast, at a sufficient distance from Samson’s people, and to repair the honour of that place, upon which he had fastened so great a scorn. God also ordered things thus, that where he first sinned, (Jdg 16:1,) there he should receive his punishment. Grind — As slaves used to do. He made himself a slave to harlots, and now God suffers men to use him like a slave. Poor Samson, how art thou fallen! How is thine honour laid in the dust! Wo unto him, for he hath sinned! Let all take warning by him, carefully to preserve their purity. For all our glory is gone when the covenant of our separation to God, as spiritual Nazarites, is profaned.16:18-21 See the fatal effects of false security. Satan ruins men by flattering them into a good opinion of their own safety, and so bringing them to mind nothing, and fear nothing; and then he robs them of their strength and honour, and leads them captive at his will. When we sleep our spiritual enemies do not. Samson's eyes were the inlets of his sin, (ver. 1,) and now his punishment began there. Now the Philistines blinded him, he had time to remember how his own lust had before blinded him. The best way to preserve the eyes, is, to turn them away from beholding vanity. Take warning by his fall, carefully to watch against all fleshly lusts; for all our glory is gone, and our defence departed from us, when our separation to God, as spiritual Nazarites, is profaned.Put out his eyes - Thus effectually, as they thought, preventing any future mischief on his part, while they prolonged their own triumph and revenge. (Compare Numbers 16:14; 2 Kings 25:7; Jeremiah 39:7.)

They applied to the two feet fetters of brass 2 Samuel 3:34; Jeremiah 52:11, and made him "grind" - the special task of slaves and captives Exodus 11:5; Isaiah 47:2; Lamentations 5:13.

Jud 16:21, 22. The Philistines Took Him and Put Out His Eyes.

21. the Philistines took him, and put out his eyes—To this cruel privation prisoners of rank and consequence have commonly been subjected in the East. The punishment is inflicted in various ways, by scooping out the eyeballs, by piercing the eye, or destroying the sight by holding a red-hot iron before the eyes. His security was made doubly sure by his being bound with fetters of brass (copper), not of leather, like other captives.

he did grind in the prison-house—This grinding with hand-millstones being the employment of menials, he was set to it as the deepest degradation.

The Philistines now durst apprehend him, because they rested in the assurance which Delilah had given them, that now all was discovered and done.

Put out his eyes; which was done by them out of revenge and policy, to disenable him from doing them much harm, in case he should recover his strength; but not without God’s providence, punishing him in that part which had been greatly instrumental to his sinful lusts.

Brought him down to Gaza, because this was a great and strong city, where he would be kept safely; and upon the sea-coast, at sufficient distance from Samson’s people; and to repair the honour of that place, upon which he had fastened so great a scorn, Judges 16:3. God also ordering things thus, that where he first sinned, Judges 16:1, there he should receive his punishment.

He did grind in the prison-house, as captives and slaves use to do: see Exodus 11:5 Isaiah 47:2 Matthew 24:41. He made himself a slave to vile lusts and harlots, and now God suffers men to use him like a slave. But the Philistines took him,.... Being assured by Delilah that his strength was gone from him, of which perhaps she had made trial by binding him, and found he could not free himself from the bonds till she loosed them; or otherwise they would have been afraid to have ventured to lay hold upon him:

and put out his eyes; that should his strength return to him, be might not be able to see where and whom to strike, and so be incapable of doing much mischief any more; the word signifies, they "dug" or "bored them" (i) out; they plucked or cut out his eye balls, so that it was impossible his sight should ever be recovered; according to the Arabic version, they blinded him by putting fire to his eyes; the Jews observe, that this was done in just retaliation, measure for measure; Samson, they say (k), went after his eyes; that is, by taking one harlot after another; therefore the Philistines put out his eyes:

and brought him down to Gaza: which lay on the sea coast, and therefore they are said to bring him down to it; here he had been before of his own will, now against it; for in one instance he had acted to his own shame, by going in to an harlot; and in another, to the shame and disgrace of the city, and the inhabitants of it, by carrying off their city gates; through which they now brought him in triumph, in order to repair the dishonour done them: though, perhaps, the true reason of carrying him thither was, that he might be at the greater distance from the Israelites, should they think of rescuing him out of their hands; and especially because it was a very strong fortified city, it had its name from strength; hence Mela (l) calls it "Munita admodum Gaza", and says, that when Cambyses made war in Egypt, he carried his wealth and money to this place:

and bound him with fetters of brass; the Targum calls them chains of brass, and the word being of the dual number, it is probable there were two of them, with which he was bound the greater security:

and he did grind in the prison house; the motion of mills by water or wind was as yet not invented, but it was usual, as it is still in the eastern countries, to grind with hand mills, at which one or more worked; or with mills moved around by beasts or slaves, and was a work prisoners were employed in, Exodus 11:5 and Samson being a strong man, they might expect much service from him this way. The Talmudists (m) understand this in a criminal sense, as they do Job 31:10 but this is justly rejected by Kimchi.

(i) "effoderant", Pagninus, Montanus, Tigurine version, Junius & Tremelius, Piscator (k) Misn. Sotah. c. sect. 8. (l) De Situ Orbis, l. 1. c. 11. (m) T. Bab. Sotah, fol. 10. 1.

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.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
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.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 This last step was very speedily to follow - Judges 16:15 After this triple deception, Delilah said to him, "How canst thou say, I love thee, as thine heart is not with me" (ie, not devoted to me)?
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