Matthew Poole's Commentary
Then went Samson to Gaza, and saw there an harlot, and went in unto her.Samson goeth in to a harlot; is hemmed in; riseth at midnight; taketh the city gates, posts, and bars on his shoulders, and carrieth them up into a mountain, Judges 16:1-3. Is in love with Delilah; she enticeth him to discover wherein his strength lay; is thrice deceived; at last she overcomes him, Judges 16:4-20. They put out his eyes, and cast him into prison, Judges 16:21. His hair grows again, Judges 16:22. The lords of the Philistines and the people gather together to make sport with him to the honor of their idols; and sacrifice, Judges 16:23-25. Samson getteth them to place his hands on the two pillars of the house; he prays to God; pulls down the house; and dieth: but more slain at his death than in his life, Judges 16:26-30. He is buried, Judges 16:31.
Samson went to Gaza, a chief city, to make some new attempt upon the Philistines, whom he feared not either in their cities or in their camps, having had such large experience of his own strength, and of God’s assistance; possibly he came in thither by night, unknown and unobserved till afterwards.
Saw there an harlot; going into a house of public entertainment to refresh himself, as the manner was, Joshua 2:1. He there saw this harlot; which implies that he did not go thither upon so evil a design, but accidentally saw her there, and by giving way to lustful looks upon her, was ensnared by her.
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.This they chose to do, rather than to seize upon him in his house and bed by night; either because they knew not certainly in what house or place he was; or because they thought that might cause great terror, and confusion, and mischief among their own people; whereas in the day time they might more fully discover him, and more unexpectedly surprise him, and more certainly direct their blows and use their weapons against 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.Arose at midnight; being either smitten in conscience for his sin, when he first awaked, and thence fearing danger, as he had just cause to do; or being secretly warned by God in a dream, or by an inward impulse, for the prevention of his designed destruction.
The doors of the gate of the city; not the great gates, but lesser doors made in them, and strengthened with distinct posts and bars.
Went away with them; the watchmen not expecting him till morning, and therefore being now retired into the sides or upper part of the gate-house, as the manner now is, to get some rest, whereby to fit themselves for their hard service intended in the morning; or if some of them were in his way, he could easily and speedily strike them dead, and break the door, whilst the rest were partly astonished with the surprise, and partly preparing themselves for resistance: nor durst they pursue him, whom they now again perceived to have such prodigious strength and courage; and to be so much above the fear of them, that he did not run away with all speed, but went leisurely, having so great a weight on his shoulders, wherewith they knew he could both defend himself and offend them.
Up to the top of an hill that is before Hebron; either,
1. To a hill near Hebron, which was above twenty miles from Gaza; or,
2. To the top of a high hill not far from Gaza, which looked towards Hebron, which also stood upon another high hill, and might be seen from this place, though it was at a great distance from it. And Samson did this not out of vain ostentation, but as an evidence of his great strength, for the encouragement of his people to join with him more vigorously for their own deliverance than yet they had done, or durst do, and for the greater terror and contempt of the Philistines. It may seem strange that Samson immediately after so foul a sin should have the courage in himself, and the strength from God, for so great a work. But,
1. It is probable that Samson had in some measure repented of his sin, and begged of God pardon and assistance, which also he perceived by instinct that God would afford him.
2. This singular strength and courage was not in itself a grace, but a gift, which might have been in a graceless person, and therefore might continue in a good man, notwithstanding a heinous act of sin; and it was such a gift as did not depend upon the disposition of his mind, but upon the right ordering of his body, by the rule given to him, and others of that order.
And it came to pass afterward, that he loved a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah.He loved a woman; either, first, With conjugal love, so as to marry her, as divers both Jews and Christians have thought. Or, secondly, With lustful love, as a harlot; which though not certain, because the phrase is here ambiguous, she being neither called a harlot, as she of Gaza was, Judges 16:1, nor yet his wife, as she of Timnath was, Judges 14:2,3,20, yet it may seem more probable; partly, because the dreadful punishment now inflicted upon Samson for this sin, whom God spared for the first offence, is an intimation that this sin was not inferior to the former; partly, because the confidence which the Philistine lords had in her, and their bold and frequent treating with her, and the whole course of her carriage towards Samson, show her to be a mercenary and perfidious harlot, and not a wife, whose affection and interest would have obliged her to better things; and partly, because Samson did not carry her home to his house, as husbands use to do their wives; but lodged in her house, as appears from the whole story.
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.The lords of the Philistines; the lords of their five principal cities, who seem to have been united together at this time in one aristocratical government; or at least were leagued together against him as their common enemy. To afflict him; to chastise him for his injuries done to us. They mean to punish him severely, as they did; but they express it in mild words, lest the horror of it might move her to pity him.
Pieces of silver, i.e. shekels, as that phrase is commonly used, as Numbers 7:13,85 2 Samuel 18:12 2 Kings 6:25.
And Delilah said to Samson, Tell me, I pray thee, wherein thy great strength lieth, and wherewith thou mightest be bound to afflict thee.Wherein thy great strength lieth; what is the cause of this prodigious strength, or wherein doth it consist? She seems to ask merely out of curiosity, to understand the state of a person whom she so highly values.
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.Samson is guilty both of the sin of lying, though he dress up the lie in such circumstances as might make it most probable; and of great folly, in encouraging her inquiries, which he should at first have checked: but as he had forsaken God, so God had now forsaken him, and deprived him of common prudence; otherwise the frequent repetition and vehement urging of this question might easily have raised suspicion in him.
Then the lords of the Philistines brought up to her seven green withs which had not been dried, and she bound him with them.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.With her in the chamber; with her, i.e. in the same house, in a chamber, i.e. in a secret chamber within her call. Nor is it strange that they did not fall upon him in his sleep; partly because they feared to awake a sleeping lion; and partly because they expect an opportunity for doing their work more certainly, and with less danger.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.Or, thread which is woven about a weaver’s loom; or,
with a weaver’s beam. If my hair, which is all divided into seven locks, be fastened about a weaver’s beam, or interwoven with weavers’ threads; understand out of the foregoing verses, then I shall be weak as another man.
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.Having done what Samson directed, she adds this for sureness’ sake; she fastened the hair thus woven with a pin.
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.When thine heart is not with me; when thy love consists only in outward expression, not in affection, and thou wilt not open thy heart to me, as one true friend doth to another.
And it came to pass, when she pressed him daily with her words, and urged him, so that his soul was vexed unto death;Being tormented by two contrary and violent passions; desire to gratify her whom he so much doted upon, and fear of betraying himself to utmost hazard. But being deserted by God, it is no wonder that he chooseth the worst part.
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.Not that his hair was in itself the seat or cause of his strength, but because it was the chief condition of that vow or covenant, whereby as he stood obliged to him, so God was pleased graciously to engage himself to fit him for, and assist him in, that great work to which he called him; but upon his violation of his condition, God justly withdraws his help, and leaves him to himself.
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.It was not hard for her to discover that he had told her all his heart by the change of his countenance, and the matter of his discourse, and the whole carriage of the business.
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.She made him sleep, by some sleepy potion, which it is like she gave him upon other pretences, agreeable enough to his present and vitiated inclination.
Upon her knees; resting his head upon her knees.
She caused him to shave off, with a gentle hand, as if she herself had been but sporting with him. She did this more securely, partly because she had cast him into a deep sleep, and partly because if he had discovered it before it was finished, she would have said it was only an innocent intention to try the sincerity of his affection to her, and the truth of this last relation, which she had so just reason to doubt of, from his frequent dissimulation and lies.
She began to afflict him, i.e. to disturb, and awaken, and affright him, as by other ways, so particularly by crying out in a terrible manner,
The Philistines are upon thee, as she had done before, and as it follows, Judges 16:20.
His strength went from him; which, as is here implied, she perceived, because he could not now shake himself as he did before, i.e. with equal rigour and might, as is intimated in the next verse; or because she had bound him, though it be not here expressed, and found him unable to break his bands.
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.He awoke out of his sleep, and said within himself, i.e. he purposed and attempted it.
Shake myself, i.e. put forth my strength to crush them, and to deliver myself.
He wist not; being not yet well awake, and not distinctly feeling the loss of his hair, or not duly considering what would follow upon it.
The Lord was departed from him; in respect of the strength and help he had formerly given him.
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.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.
Howbeit the hair of his head began to grow again after he was shaven.This circumstance, though in itself inconsiderable, is noted as a sign of the recovery of God’s favour, and his former strength, in some good degree, upon his bitter repentance, and his renewing of his vow with God, which was allowed for Nazarites to do, Numbers 6:9, &c., and which it is here supposed he did, and by the effects proved.
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.The lords of the Philistines gathered them together; either upon some annual or customary solemnity; or rather, upon this special occasion, to praise Dagon for this singular favour. And they did not appoint this solemn service as soon as Samson was taken, but some considerable time after, as appears by the growth of Samson’s hair in the mean time, because they would give sufficient time and warning for all their friends and allies to come thither, and for the making of all necessary preparations for so great an occasion.
Dagon is by most supposed to be an idol, whose upper part was like a man, and whose lower part was like a fish; whence there is mention of Dagon’s hands, but not of his feet, in 1 Samuel 5:4. And this place being near Egypt, where some of their gods were worshipped in the form of fishes, and being near the sea, it seems most probable that it was one of the sea gods of the heathens, and that it had in some part the resemblance of a fish.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.He made them sport; either, first, Passively, being made by them the matter of their sport and derision, and of many bitter scoffs, and other indignities or injuries; or, secondly Actively, by some ridiculous actions, or some proofs of more than ordinary strength yet remaining in him, like the ruins of a great and goodly building; whereby he halted them asleep in security, until by this seeming complaisance he prepared the way for that which he designed; otherwise his generous soul would never have been forced to make them sport, save in order to their destruction.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.The roof, after the manner of the times, was flat, and had windows through which they might see what was done in the lower parts of the house.
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.This prayer was not an act of malice and revenge, but of faith and zeal for God, who was there publicly dishonoured; and justice, in punishing their insolences, and vindicating the whole commonwealth of Israel, which was his duty, as he was judge, to do. And this is manifest from hence, because God, who heareth not sinners, and would never use his omnipotency to gratify any man’s impotent malice, did manifest by the effect that he accepted and owned his prayer, as the dictate of his own Spirit. And that in this prayer he mentions only his personal injury, the loss of his eyes, and not their indignities to God and his people, must be ascribed to that prudent care which he had, and declared upon former occasions, of deriving the rage and hatred of the Philistines upon himself alone, and diverting it from the people. For which end I conceive this prayer was made with an audible voice, though he knew they would entertain it only with scorn and laughter, which also he knew would quickly be turned into mourning.
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.Quest. How could so great a building, containing so many thousands of people, rest upon two pillars so near placed together? Here infidels triumph, as if they had got an unanswerable argument against the truth of the Scriptures. But it is a far more incredible and ridiculous thing to imagine that the penman of this book should feign such a circumstance as this is, if it had been false, whereby he would have utterly overthrown the credit of the whole book; and that he should do this before a people that could easily have confuted him; and that people should have so high a veneration for that book in which they knew so notorious a falsehood to be: these things, I say, are for more absurd to believe, than the truth of this relation. But to this I shall add two answers. First, It is no sufficient argument to prove that this was not true, because we do not at this day understand how it was done. There were many great works and excellent pieces of art, some footsteps whereof are left in ancient writers; but the exact way and particular manner of them is wholly, or in a great measure, unknown and lost; so that Pancirollus hath written a whole book of such things. Particularly, the old way of architecture is much in the dark, as is confessed by the learned. It may be pretended, that though there might be curious arts of building in the learned and ingenious part of the world, it is not probable they were among such a rude and barbarous people as the Philistines. But this is certainly a very great mistake; for these people were either in part of, or very near neighbours to, the Phoenicians, from whom it is confessed the arts came to the Grecians. And forasmuch as many things which were concluded by the ancients to be impossible, are by the wit and industry of later ages found to be possible, and certainly true; it cannot be strange if some things now seem impossible to some men, which were then known to be practicable. And he that will venture his faith and salvation upon this proposition, that such a building as this was simply impossible, because he doth not see the possibility of it; or, which is all one, That no man understands more than he doth; will find few admirers of his wisdom. And to question the truth and divinity of the Holy Scriptures, which is so fully and clearly proved by sundry arguments, upon such a nicety as this, is but a more learned kind of doting.
Answ. 2. Instances are not wanting of far more large and capacious buildings than this, that have been supported only by one pillar. Particularly, Pliny, in the 15th chapter of the 36th book of his Natural History, mentions two theatres built by one C. Curio, who lived in Julius Caesar’s time, each of which was supported only by one pillar, or pin, or hinge, though very many thousands of people did sit in it together. And much more might two pillars suffice to uphold a building large enough to contain three thousand persons, which is the number mentioned, Judges 16:27. Or the pillars might be made two in the lower part merely for ornament sake, which might easily be so ordered as to support a third and main pillar in the middle, which upheld the whole fabric.
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.Let me die with the Philistines, i.e. I am contented to die, so I can but therewith contribute any thing to the vindication of God’s glory, here trampled upon, and to the deliverance of God’s people. This is no example nor encouragement to those that wickedly murder themselves; for Samson did not desire nor procure his own death voluntarily, but only by mere force and necessity, because he did desire, and by his office was obliged to seek, the destruction of these enemies and blasphemers of God, and oppressors of his people; which in these circumstances he could not effect without his own death: and his case was not much unlike theirs, that in the heat of battle run upon the very mouth of the cannon, or other evident and certain danger of death, to execute a design upon the enemy; or theirs, who go in a fire-ship to destroy the enemy’s best ships, though they are sure to perish in the enterprise. Moreover, Samson did this by Divine instinct and approbation, as God’s answer to his prayer manifests, and that he might be a type of Christ, who by voluntarily undergoing death destroyed the enemies of God, and of his people.
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.His brethren; either, first, Largely so called, his kinsmen. Or, secondly, Strictly so called; Samson’s parents having had other children after him; as it was usual with God when he gave an extraordinary and unexpected power of procreating a child, to continue that strength for the generation or conception of more children, as in the case of Abraham, Genesis 25:1,2; and Hannah, 1 Samuel 2:21. They adventured to bury him; partly, because the most barbarous nations allowed burial even to their enemies, and would permit this ofttimes to be done by their friends; partly, because Samson had taken the blame of this action wholly to himself, for which his innocent relations could not upon any pretence be punished; and principally, because they were under such grief, and perplexity, and consternation for the common calamity, that they had neither heart nor leisure to revenge themselves of the Israelites, but for their own sakes were willing not to disquiet or offend them; at least, till they were in a better posture to resist them.
He judged Israel twenty years: this was said before, Judges 15:20, and is here repeated, partly to confirm the relation of it, and partly to explain it; and to show when these twenty years ended, even at his death, as is here noted.