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Adam Clarke Commentary

Judges 16


Samson comes to Gaza; they lay wait for him; he rises by night, and carries away the city gates, Judges 16:1 -3. Falls in love with Delilah, Judges 16:4 . The lords of the Philistines promise her money if she will obtain from Samson the secret in which his strength lay, Judges 16:5 . By various artifices she at last obtains this; and communicates it to the Philistines, who seize and bind him, put out his eyes, and cause him to grind in the prison-house, vv. 6-21. At a public festival to Dagon he is brought out to make sport; when, being weary, he requests to be placed between the two pillars which supported the roof of the house, on which three thousand men and women were stationed to see him make sport, Judges 16:22 -27. He prays to God to strengthen him, and pulls down the pillars; by which (the house falling) both himself, the lords of the Philistines, and a vast multitude of the people, are slain, Judges 16:28 -30. His relatives come and take away his body, and bury it, Judges 16:31 .

Verse 1

Then went Samson to Gaza, and saw there a harlot - The Chaldee, as in the former case, renders the clause thus: Samson saw there a woman, an inn-keeper. Perhaps the word זונה zonah is to be taken here in its double sense; one who keeps a house for the entertainment of travelers, and who also prostitutes her person. Gaza was situated near the Mediterranean Sea, and was one of the most southern cities of Palestine. It has been supposed by some to have derived its name from the treasures deposited there by Cambyses, king of the Persians; because they say Gaza, in Persian, signifies treasure; so Pomponius Mela and others. But it is more likely to be a Hebrew word, and that this city derived its name, עזה azzah, from עזז azaz, to be strong, it being a strong or well fortified place. The Hebrew ע ain in this word is, by the Septuagint, the Arabic, and the Vulgate, rendered G; hence instead of azzah, with a strong guttural breathing, we have Gaza, a name by which this town could not be recognized by an ancient Hebrew.

Verse 2

They compassed him in - They shut up all the avenues, secured the gates, and set persons in ambush near them, that they might attack him on his leaving the city early the next morning.

Verse 3

Took the doors of the gate - Though Samson was a very strong man, yet we do not find that he was a giant; consequently we may conjecture that the gates of the city were not very large, as he took at once the doors, the two posts, and the bar, with him. The cities of those days would appear to disadvantage among modern villages.A hill - before Hebron - Possibly there were two Hebrons; it could not be the city generally understood by the word Hebron, as that was about twenty miles distant from Gaza: unless we suppose that על פני חברון al peney Chebron is to be understood of the road leading to Hebron: he carried all to the top of that hill which was on the road leading to Hebron.

Verse 4

He loved a woman in the valley of Sorek - Some think Samson took this woman for his wife; others, that he had her as a concubine. It appears she was a Philistine; and however strong his love was for her, she seems to have had none for him. He always matched improperly, and he was cursed in all his matches. Where the valley or brook of Sorek was, is not easy to be ascertained. Eusebius and Jerome say it lay southward of Eleutheropolis; but where was Eleutheropolis? Ancient writers take all their measurements from this city; but as it is nowhere mentioned in the Scriptures, it is impossible to fix its situation for we know not its ancient name.

Verse 5

See wherein his great strength lieth - They saw that his stature was not remarkable: and that, nevertheless, he had most extraordinary strength; therefore they supposed that it was the effect of some charm or amulet. The lords of the Philistines were the five following: Gaza, Gath, Askelon, Ekron, and Ashdod. All these considered Samson as a public enemy; and they promised this bad woman a large sum of money if she would obtain from him the important secret wherein his strength lay, that, depriving him of this supernatural power, they might be able to reduce him to bondage.

Verse 7

Seven green withs - That is, any kind of pliant, tough wood, twisted in the form of a cord or rope. Such are used in many countries formed out of osiers, hazel, etc. And in Ireland, very long and strong ropes are made of the fibres of bog-wood, or the larger roots of the fir, which is often dug up in the bogs or mosses of that country. But the Septuagint, by translating the Hebrew יתרים לחים yetharim lachim by νευραις ὑγραις, and the Vulgate by nerviceis funibus, understand these bonds to be cords made of the nerves of cattle, or perhaps rather out of raw hides, these also making an exceedingly strong cord. In some countries they take the skin of the horse, cut it lengthwise from the hide into thongs about two inches broad, and after having laid them in salt for some time, take them out for use. This practice is frequent in the country parts of Ireland; and both customs, the wooden cord, and that made of the raw or green hide, are among the most ancient perhaps in the world. Among the Irish peasantry this latter species of cord is called the tug and is chiefly used for agricultural purposes, particularly for drawing the plough and the harrow, instead of the iron chains used in other countries.

Verse 9

Men lying in wait - They probably did not appear, as Samson immediately broke his bonds when this bad woman said, The Philistines be upon thee.

Verse 11

If they bind me fast with new ropes - Samson wishes to keep up the opinion which the Philistines held; viz., that his mighty strength was the effect of some charm; and therefore he says, Seven green withs which had not been dried; new ropes that were never occupied; weave the seven locks of my hair with the web, etc.; the green withs, the new ropes, and the number seven, are such matters as would naturally be expected in a charm or spell.

Verse 13

The seven locks of my head - Probably Samson had his long hair plaited into seven divisions, and as his vow of a Nazarite obliged him to wear his hair, so, seven being a number of perfection among the Hebrews, his hair being divided into seven locks might more particularly point out the perfection designed by his Nazarite state. Every person must see that this verse ends abruptly, and does not contain a full sense. Houbigant has particularly noticed this, and corrected the text from the Septuagint, the reading of which I shall here subjoin:All the words printed here in italic, are wanting in the present Hebrew copies; but are preserved in the Septuagint, and are most obviously necessary to complete the sense; else Delilah appears to do something that she is not ordered to do, and to omit what she was commanded.

Verse 16

His soul was vexed unto death - What a consummate fool was this strong man! Might he not have seen, from what already took place, that Delilah intended his ruin? After trifling with her, and lying thrice, he at last commits to her his fatal secret, and thus becomes a traitor to himself and to his God. Well may we adopt the sensible observation of Calmet on this passage: La foiblesse du caeur de Samson, dans torte cette histoire, est encore plus etonnante que la force de son corps; "The weakness of Samson's heart in the whole of this history, is yet more astonishing than the strength of his body."

Verse 17

If I be shaven, then my strength will go from me - The miraculous strength of Samson must not be supposed to reside either in his hair or in his muscles, but in that relation in which he stood to God as a Nazarite, such a person being bound by a solemn vow to walk in a strict conformity to the laws of his Maker. It was a part of the Nazarite's vow to permit no razor to pass on his head; and his long hair was the mark of his Nazirate, and of his vow to God. When Samson permitted his hair to be shorn off, he renounced and broke his Nazir vow; in consequence of which God abandoned him, and therefore we are told, in Judges 16:20 , that the Lord was departed from him.

Verse 19

She began to affect him - She had probably tied his hands slyly, while he was asleep, and after having cut off his hair, she began to insult him before she called the Philistines, to try whether he were really reduced to a state of weakness. Finding he could not disengage himself, she called the Philistines, and he, being alarmed, rose up, thinking he could exert himself as before, and shake himself, i.e., disengage himself from his bonds and his enemies: but he wist not that the Lord was departed from him; for as Delilah had cut off his locks while he was asleep, he had not yet perceived that they were gone.

Verse 21

Put out his eyes - Thus was the lust of the eye, in looking after and gazing on strange women, punished. As the Philistines did not know that his strength might not return, they put out his eyes, that he might never be able to plan any enterprise against them.He did grind in the prison-house - Before the invention of wind and water-mills, the grain was at first bruised between two stones, afterwards ground in hand-mills. This is practiced in China and in different parts of the East still; and women and slaves are the persons who are obliged to turn these mills. Such instruments were anciently used in this country, and called querns, from the Anglo-Saxon and cweorn and cwyrn, which has the signification of a mill; hence cweorn stan, a millstone: and as quern conveys the notion of grinding, hence, cweornteth, the dentes molares or grinders in the jaws of animals. This clause of the verse is thus translated in the Saxon Octateuch: "And the Philistines laid their fangs, (seized) him soon, and led him away to their burgh, (city), and shut him up in prison, and made him grind at their hand-querne." So late as half a century ago I have seen these querns or hand-mills in these kingdoms.

Verse 22

The hair of his head began to grow again - And may we not suppose that, sensible of his sin and folly, he renewed his Nazir vow to the Lord, in consequence of which his supernatural strength was again restored?

Verse 23

Unto Dagon their god - Diodorus Siculus describes their god thus:Dagon was called Dorceto among the heathens. Horace, in the following lines, especially in the third and fourth, seems to have in view the image of Dagon: - Humano capiti cervicem pictor equinamPingere si velit; et varias inducere plumas,Undique collatis Inembris; ut turpiter atrumDesinat in piscem mulier formosa superne;Spectatum admissi risum teneatis amici?De Art. Poet., V. 1.Should join a horse's neck; and wildly spreadThe various plumage of the feather'd kindO'er limbs of different beasts, absurdly join'd;Or if he gave to view a beauteous maid,Above the waist with every charm array'd,Should a foul fish her lower parts infold,Would you not smile such pictures to behold?"Francis.

Verse 25

Call for Samson, that he may make us sport - What the sport was we cannot tell; probably it was an exhibition of his prodigious strength. This seems to be intimated by what is said, Judges 16:22 , of the restoration of his hair; and the exertions he was obliged to make will account for the weariness which gave him the pretense to ask for leave to lean against the pillars. Some think he was brought out to be a laughing-stock, and that he was variously insulted by the Philistines; hence the version of the Septuagint: και ερραπιζον αυτον, and they buffeted him. Josephus, Antiq. Jud. lib. v., cap. 8, s. 12, says: He was brought out, ὁπως ενυβρισωσιν αυτον παρα τον ποτον, that they might insult him in their cups.

Verse 27

Now the house was full of men - It was either the prison-house, house of assembly, or a temple of Dagon, raised on pillars, open on all sides, and flat-roofed, so that it could accommodate a multitude of people on the top.

Verse 28

Samson called unto the Lord - It was in consequence of his faith in God that he should be strengthened to overthrow his enemies and the enemies of his country, that he is mentioned, Hebrews 11:32 , among those who were remarkable for their faith.

Verse 29

The two middle pillars upon which the house stood - Much learned labor has been lost on the attempt to prove that a building like this might stand on two pillars. But what need of this? There might have been as many pillars here as were in the temple of Diana at Ephesus, and yet the two center pillars be the key of the building; these being once pulled down, the whole house would necessarily fall.

Verse 30

So the dead which he slew - We are informed that the house was full of men and women, with about three thousand of both sexes on the top; now as the whole house was pulled down, consequently the principal part of all these were slain; and among them we find there were the lords of the Philistines. The death of these, with so many of the inferior chiefs of the people, was such a crush to the Philistine ascendancy, that they troubled Israel no more for several years, and did not even attempt to hinder Samson's relatives from taking away and burying his dead body.

Verse 31

He judged Israel twenty years - It is difficult to ascertain the time of Samson's magistracy, and the extent of country over which he presided. His jurisdiction seems to have been very limited, and to have extended no farther than over those parts of the tribe of Dan contiguous to the land of the Philistines. This is what our margin intimates on Judges 15:20 . Many suppose that he and Eli were contemporaries, Samson being rather an executor of the Divine justice upon the enemies of his people, than an administrator of the civil and religious laws of the Hebrews. Allowing Eli and Samson to have been contemporaries, this latter part might have been entirely committed to the care of Eli.1. Samson does not appear to have left any posterity. His amours with the different women mentioned in the history were unproductive as to issue. Had he married according to the laws of his country, he would have been both a more useful and a more happy man, and not have come to a violent death.2. We seldom find much mental energy dwelling in a body that in size and bulk greatly surpasses the ordinary pitch of man; and wherever there are great physical powers, we seldom find proportionate moral faculties. Samson was a man of a little mind, a slave to his passions, and the wretched dupe of his mistresses. He was not a great though he was a strong man; and even his muscular force would have been lost, or spent in beating the air, had he not been frequently under the impulse of the Divine Spirit. He often got himself into broils and difficulties from which nothing but supernatural interposition could have saved him. His attacks upon the Philistines were never well planned, as he does not appear to have asked counsel from God; indeed, he seems to have consulted nothing but his own passions, particularly those of inordinate love and revenge; and the last effort of his extraordinary strength was, not to avenge his people for the oppressions which they had suffered under the Philistinian yoke, nor to avenge the quarrel of God's covenant against the enemies of his truth, but to be avenged of the Philistines for the loss of his two eyes.3. Samson is a solemn proof how little corporeal prowess avails where judgment and prudence are wanting, and how dangerous all such gifts are in the hands of any man who has not his passions under proper discipline, and the fear of God continually before his eyes.4. A parallel has been often drawn between Samson and our blessed Lord, of whom he has been supposed to be a most illustrious type. By a fruitful imagination, and the torture of words and facts, we may force resemblances everywhere; but that not one will naturally result from a cool comparison between Jesus Christ and Samson, is most demonstrable. A more exceptionable character is not to be found in the sacred oracles. It is no small dishonor to Christ to be thus compared. There is no resemblance in the qualities of Samson's mind, there is none in his moral conduct, that can entitle him even to the most distant comparison with the chaste, holy, benevolent, and immaculate Jesus. That man dishonors the law of unchangeable righteousness, who endeavors to make Samson a type of any thing or person that can be called holy, just, and pure.5. Those who compare him to Hercules have been more successful. Indeed, the heathen god of strength appears to have been borrowed from the Israelitish judge; but if we regard what is called the choice of Hercules, his preference of virtue to pleasure, we shall find that the heathen is, morally speaking, vastly superior to the Jew. M. De Lavaur, in his Conference de la Fable avec l'Histoire Sainte, vol. ii., p. 1, has traced the parallel between Hercules and Samson in the following manner: -

Judges 16

  1 Then went Samson to Gaza, and saw there an harlot, and went in unto her.
  2 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.
  3 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.
  4 And it came to pass afterward, that he loved a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah.
  5 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.
  6 And Delilah said to Samson, Tell me, I pray thee, wherein thy great strength lieth, and wherewith thou mightest be bound to afflict thee.
  7 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.
  8 Then the lords of the Philistines brought up to her seven green withs which had not been dried, and she bound him with them.
  9 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.
  10 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.
  11 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.
  12 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.
  13 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.
  14 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.
  15 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.
  16 And it came to pass, when she pressed him daily with her words, and urged him, so that his soul was vexed unto death;
  17 That he told her all his heart, and said unto her, There hath not come a razor 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.
  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.
  19 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.
  20 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.
  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.
  22 Howbeit the hair of his head began to grow again after he was shaven.
  23 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.
  24 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.
  25 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.
  26 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.
  27 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.
  28 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.
  29 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.
  30 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.
  31 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.

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