5.6 Samson And Delilah (Judges 16:4-21)
The purpose of this final tragic incident was to bring Samson to
a final realization that there was no third way in the service of
Yahweh: it's all or nothing. The Lord worked through Samson's 'little
of both' syndrome. The Lord Jesus read the Samson record this way:
He recommended that we too tear our eyes out to stop us stumbling
from the path of total devotion (Mk. 9:47). We all know how the
story turns out. And it's one of those parts of Scripture which
I for one don't reading. I don't want to go on from chapter 15 to
chapter 16. I know what's coming, and I'd rather not be reminded
of the whole tragic sequence. And yet it's there, absolutely for
our learning. And Samson should have already learnt. As
his first wife had vexed her with her words to tease his secret
from him, so Delilah did. As the Philistines laid wait for Samson
as he lay with the whore in Gaza (16:2), so they laid wait in Delilah's
bedroom (16:9). He had already repented of using God's service as
an excuse for satisfying his own flesh in the incident with the
Gaza prostitute. He had bitterly walked away from his first Philistine
wife. He burnt down the vineyards, recalling how he had foolishly
strolled in them as a Nazarite. He must have looked back and seen
how he had played with fire. And now, he goes and does it all again.
He goes to the valley of Sorek, 'choice vines', and Samson falls
for Delilah, 'the vine'. He went down to the vineyards again; the
Nazarite tried to take fire into his bosom again. It has been suggested
from the way the Philistine lords are described as coming up to
her, and the way in which she speaks of " the Philistines"
(16:18-20), that she was in fact an apostate Israelitess. And thus
he justified himself.
And yet there was a fire within Samson at this time. The thongs
burst from him as when string comes close to a flame (16:9). This
is similar to the scene in 15:14 , where because the Spirit was
upon him, Samson became like a burning fire which snapped his bonds.
In the next two occasions when Samson broke his bands (16:12,14),
this description doesn't occur. It may be that although the fire
of the Spirit was within him, Samson came to feel that he, of his
own ability, was doing the miracles: " he
snapped the ropes off his arms..." (16:12). There is even a
sense of unjustified, egoistic sarcasm in the way he gets the Philistines
to tie him with flimsy pieces of grass and then breaks them off
and kills them. Likewise when he kills the thirty Philistines and
brings their armour (14:19 " spoil" only s.w. 'armour'
2 Sam. 2:21-23) as well as their clothes to the young men. He did
the outward actions, but the inner awareness that all his ability
was only of God slipped away. And his tragic path can so easily
The Samson: Delilah Relationship
We have seen earlier that Samson was well into spiritual brinkmanship.
It had characterized his life, according to the selection of incidents
the record presents us with. The sequence of events is worth listing:
Delilah asked Samson to tell her his closest secret,
then Delilah bound Samson as he asked
Samson awakes from a deep sleep with Delilah
Delilah playfully afflicts Samson while he is bound and Samson
overcomes Delilah (16:19 implies this happened each time)
then Samson realizes Delilah has betrayed him
and the Philistine warriors were there waiting in the bedroom.
Then Samson goes out of the bedroom, shakes himself and kills
Then Delilah says Samson doesn't really love her
and they repeat the experience.
This is the classic material for love:hate relationships. At first
sight, Samson appears an incomprehensible fool. But more extended
meditation reveals the human likelihood of it all. She would've
convincingly repented and asked for one last chance- time and again.
It is hard not to interpret his sleeping exhausted with her and
then the bondage session as some kind of sex game. And yet Samson
thought he was strong enough to cope with it, as did Solomon years
later. He may even have had some kind of desire to simply mock the
Philistines when he suggested they should tie him up with seven
pieces of grass. He seems to somehow have known that his first wife
would wangle his secret from him and betray him, and thus he would
have the opportunity to kill Philistines- even though he didn't
intend to open his heart to her (14:16). And now the same happened.
He seems to have known that she would betray him, although he evidently
thought better of her; for he was deeply in love with her. He initially
says: " If they bind me..." (16:7), but changes
this to " If thou..." (16:13); he knew beforehand
that she would betray him, although couldn't admit it to himself.
And so we see the complexity of Samson's situation. It was not that
his telling of the secret to Delilah was necessarily a sin in itself.
He trusted her and yet knew on another level she would betray him.
This is just a psychological condition. It helps explain why the
Lord Jesus knew from the beginning that Judas would betray him (Jn.
6:64), and yet how He could really trust in Judas as his own familiar
friend, confide in him (Ps. 41:9), tell him that he would sit with
the other eleven on thrones in the Kingdom (Mt. 19:28). This was
ever a serious contradiction for me, until considering the Samson
: Delilah relationship in depth. A man can know something about
someone on one level, but act and feel towards them in a quite different
way than this knowledge requires. In the same way, it was in one sense true that the Jews “knew not whence I come” (Jn. 8:24,14 RV) and yet in another sense they knew perfectly well the Divine origin of Jesus (Jn. 7:28). David likewise must have known
Absalom’s deceit; but he chose not to see it, for love’s sake. “They
also that seek after my life lay snares for me: and they that seek
my hurt speak mischievous things [just as Absalom did in the gate]...but
I, as a deaf man, heard not” (Ps. 38:12,13). Paul surely knew how
Corinth despised him, how little they knew and believed, and as
he himself said, the more he loved them, the less they loved him.
And yet in all honesty he could say: “As ye abound in everything,
in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence and
in your love to us” (2 Cor. 8:7). Yet the more abundantly he
loved them, the less they loved him- not the more abundantly. Yet
he saw them as loving him abundantly. One also gets the sense that
the Gibeonites’ deception was somehow guessed by the elders of Israel,
but against their better judgment they disregarded the telltale
signs (Josh. 9:7). Or Amasa, taking no heed to the sword in Joab’s
hand...against his better judgment, surely (2 Sam. 20:10). This
is a feature of human nature; and for me so far, the contradictions
evident in the Jesus : Judas relationship and the Samson : Delilah
relationship are only explicable for me by realizing this. The whole
thing is an eloquent essay in the Lord's humanity and the depth
of His 'in-loveness' with Judas the traitor. And this Lord is our
Lord, the same yesterday and today. Our self-knowledge will be deepened
by realizing that we too have this spiritual schizophrenia: it's
not that we are spiritual one day and unspiritual the next. We are
both flesh and spirit at the very same moment. Appreciation of this
will help us cope with the more evident failures of our brethren.
It doesn't necessarily mean that they must be written off as totally
unspiritual and insincere because of acts and attitudes of evident
unspirituality. The Spirit is still there, at the very same moment.
Think of how Samson slept with a whore until midnight, and then
in faith rose up and was granted the Spirit to perform a great act
of Christ-like, cross-like victory over the enemies of God's people.
Samson retained his faith, for we have shown that all his victories
over the Philistines were a result of God responding to his faith.
And yet he was weak at the same time. Yet he seems to have come
to assume that he had faith, and that God would never leave
or forsake him. Samson tells Delilah that if he is bound with grass,
he will be weak " like one man" (16:7 Avmg.). This is
surely an allusion to passages like Lev. 26:8 and Josh. 23:10- that
one man would chase many. Samson implies that he fights like he
is many men; he appropriated those blessings to himself. He came
to assume he had faith. Lifetime Christians have the same tendency,
with the joy and vigour of first faith now far back in time. Samson
had been bound before and had burst those bonds (15:13); he seems
to have assumed that one past deliverance was an automatic guarantee
of future ones. His great zeal for the Lord's work seems to have
lead him to chose the single life; and yet he evidently was in the
habit of occasional affairs (14:3 " is there never...."
), using prostitutes and having on and off relationships with women
like Delilah. Samson thought his devotion and the appalling apostacy
of his brethren kind of justified it. Note how Timothy and Hezekiah
seem to likewise have stumbled in their commitment to the single
The way Samson asked Delilah to fasten the hair of his head with
a nail and then try to have mastery over him is a parody of what
would have been a well known incident: Deborah's mastery over Barak
(4:21). This would indicate that Scripture was never far from his
mind. In Samson's relationship with Delilah, he got closer and closer
to the edge. Samson tells Delilah to bind him, then he gets closer
to showing his hand: he asks her to do something to his hair. And
then, he falls to the final folly. It could even be that after the
previous teasings he left her completely (16:14 " he went away"
)- after the pattern of his previous twinges of conscience concerning
his first wife, his love of vineyards, his lying with the whore
in Gaza... But he evidently returned to her. The Philistines are
described as " abiding" in Delilah's house (16:9)- a word
normally used in the sense of 'permanently living'. It would seem
that Samson didn't permanently live with her, but occasionally visited
her, until at the end he was happy to live with her (she pressed
him " daily" ), co-habiting with her other Philistine
lovers. With his hair shaven, he 'went out, as at other times'-
deciding bitterly that he had really had enough, and once again
he would walk out on her, this time for good, and would 'shake himself'
and take a hold on himself. But this time it was too late.
Strength And Hair
The question arises: why did Samson tell Delilah that if his hair
was cut, he would become weak? Surely he must have known within
him that she would do it, in line with past experience? He went
out as before to fight the Philistines, surely aware that he had
been shaved, and yet assuming God would still be with him. He had
come to realize that his long hair was not the real source of his
strength, on some kind of metaphysical level. He saw that his strength
was from the Spirit of God, not long hair or Nazariteship. He went
out knowing, presumably, that his hair had been shaven, and yet
still assumed he would have God's strength. And even when his hair
began to grow again, he still had to pray for strength (16:28).
He fell into the downward spiral of reductionism. He figured that
if his hair was shaved, well it was no big deal. He was supposed
to be a Nazarite all the days of his life, and yet perhaps he came
to reason that because he had touched plenty of dead bodies, he
therefore needed to be shaved anyway (Num. 6:9). He thought that
therefore God would accept him in principle as a Nazarite even though
he had broken the letter of Nazariteship, and therefore losing his
hair was only a surface level indicator of spirituality.
And yet there is also good reason to think that there was an association
in Samson's mind between his hair and his God-given strength. For
why did he " tell her all his heart" by saying that if
he were shaved, he would lose his strength? And of course, when
his hair was cut off, then his strength went. Samson saw a link
between being a Nazarite and having strength (16:17). When Samson
went outside from Delilah and shook himself as he usually did, was
he not shaking his hair free before attacking the Philistines, as
if he saw in his hair the source of his strength? However, this
must all be balanced against the evidence in the previous paragraph,
that Samson originally realized that his strength came from God,
not his hair. Whilst he even had this realization, theoretically,
when he gave Delilah the possibility of shaving him, he also at
this time had the conception that his strength was associated with
his hair length. I would suggest that this can be resolved by understanding
that although his strength was not in his hair, this is how Samson
came to see it. And therefore God went along with this view, and
treated Samson as if his strength was in his hair. And
therefore He departed from him when he allowed his hair to be shaved.
If Samson had really told Delilah the truth about the source of
his strength, he would have said: 'Faith, causing the Spirit of
God to come upon me to do His work'. Samson knew this, and therefore
he allowed her to shave him; and yet it was also true that in his
heart of hearts, he also at the same time believed that his hair
was the source of his strength. So he was the victim of reductionism,
as well as tokenism. He came to see the mere possession of long
hair as a sign of spirituality. And yet at the same time he reduced
and reduced the real meaning of Nazariteship to nothing. Difficult
as this analysis may be to grasp, I really believe that it has much
to teach us; for the latter day brotherhood is afflicted with exactly
these same problems.
The way Samson was so deeply sleeping on Delilah's knees that he
didn't feel them shave him, and then he went out and shook himself
(16:20; this seems a fair translation)- all this could suggest he
was drunk. There is no concrete evidence for this, but his love
of vineyards would suggest he had a yearning for the forbidden fruit.
He had broken the Nazarite vow by touching dead bodies, he obviously
thought that having unshaven hair was only tokenistic and irrelevant
to the real spirit of Nazariteship, and therefore he may have reasoned
that alcohol was also another tokenism. Thus his reductionism destroyed
him (almost). Perhaps it was brought about by a misunderstanding
of God's waiving of the Nazarite ban on touching dead bodies; for
after all, God had made Samson a Nazarite, and then empowered him
to go and kill Philistines in personal combat, thereby touching
dead bodies. So God waived one principle for a more important one;
and yet Samson abused this, taking the principle far further than
God intended, to the point that he ended up justifying sin as righteousness.
The Shame Of Rejection
" He did not know that the Lord had left him" (16:20)
is the depth of spiritual tragedy. The Lord Jesus may have had this
in mind when He spoke of how the rejected would not know what hour
He would come upon them (Rev. 3:3). Samson went through the experience
of rejection at the Lord's hands in advance of the actual judgment
seat. He was set grinding in the prison- a figure which was later
picked up as representative of the unbeliever generally (Is. 42:7;
61:1; 1 Pet. 3:19). He was as it were delivered to satan, that he
might learn (1 Tim. 1:20); his own wickedness corrected him (Jer.
2:19). And this finally brought him to himself. His experience was
a pattern for the apostate Israel whom he loved. Yahweh forsaking
His people is associated with them cutting off their hair in Jer.
7:29- an evident allusion to Samson's shame. As the Philistines
rejoiced over Samson and praised their god for their victory, so
Babylon was to do years later, as Zedekiah like Samson had his eyes
The shame of the final fight is graciously unrecorded. The events
of 16:19-21 seem a little out of sequence. It would seem that Delilah
awoke Samson, and he thought he would go outside, shake himself
and kill the Philistines whom he was sure were in wait. But she
started to tease him as before in their games of bondage; but this
time, " she began to subdue him, and he began to weaken"
(16:19 LXX; one meaning of 'Delilah' is 'the one who weakens').
" Began" is a strange translation; it is often translated
to profane / humble. She spiritually abused him. And then she called
the Philistines. He was powerless, physically, beneath that woman,
and was therefore no match for them. The fact she was physically
stronger than him when the Spirit of the Lord left him is proof
enough that he was not a physically strong man in his own right.
The way the apostate woman subdued him physically, in the name of
a love / sex game, would have remained in his memory. He, the strong
man of Israel, had been conquered by a worthless woman. His humiliation
was to be typical of Israel's: " children are their oppressors
(cp. the young lad at the feast?), women rule over them"
(Is. 3:12). It is quite possible that Peter had Samson in mind,
when he wrote of how " they allure through the lusts of the
flesh, through much wantonness...they themselves are the servants
of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is
he brought in bondage. For if after they have escaped the pollutions
of the world...they are again entangled therein, and overcome..."
(2 Pet. 2:18-20). Samson had been spiritually overcome, and therefore
physically he was overcome and brought in bondage.
Eyeless in Gaza
Joshua's prophecy that those who married the surrounding women
would find them " a snare and a trap for you, a scourge in
your sides, and thorns in your eyes" (Josh. 23:12,13 RSV) was
fulfilled in Samson's relationship with Delilah. But the similarity
is such that surely Samson must have been aware of it, when he asked
Delilah to tie him up with cords. Joshua's words were not too distant
history and surely Samson knew them. This is Samson at his darkest.
He was mixing up his sex game with Delilah with Joshua's words.
Joshua had said that these women would tie up the Israelite man
if they married them. Samson didn't marry her; it is possible that
she was a renegade Israelite, not a Gentile; and he wanted to show
that actually Samson could handle a bit of fun with Delilah without
really breaking the spirit of Joshua's words. And so as he broke
those bands each time to go out and kill some more Philistine warriors,
he doubtless felt he was still in spiritual control. Solomon made
exactly the same mistake; he took foreign wives. And the record
comments: " of the nations concerning which the Lord had said
unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither
shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn
away your heart...and his wives turned away his heart" (1 Kings
11:1-3). The implication is that Solomon took those wives thinking
'Well, I know the law says they will surely turn away my heart,
but actually they won't, I can handle it'; and he didn't handle
it. Solomon seems to have realized, in the bitterness of Ecclesiastes,
that he had made the same mistake as Samson: " I find more
bitter than death [i.e. it would be better to be dead than be in
this position] the woman, whose heart is snares and nets, and her
hands as bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the
sinner shall be taken by her" (Ecc. 7:26). These were surely
Samson's thoughts in those eyeless weeks in Gaza: better to have
died than to have been snared by Gentile women. He let her snare
him, conscious of the allusion to Joshua's words; and thought he
could break free from the relationship at will. But in the end,
he couldn't. Any form of sin is by nature addictive. The only way
of dealing with it is to break completely. The Lord taught this
when He spoke of the need to gouge out the eye that offends our
spirituality. And He was alluding to how Samson's eyes were 'picked
out' (Young), " gouged out" (16:21 RSV). We either do
it to ourselves, or the Lord will do it to us. He will have the
conquest over sin in our existence, ultimately. Either we work with
Him in this, and thereby remain with Him eternally; or we foolishly
resist Him, and He has His way against our will, and in doing so
destroys us. With a logic like this, any sacrifice is logically
given. But more than logic. If we truly love the Lord God
and His Son, the desire to give, to serve for nothing, will render
this logical encouragement unnecessary.