Notes on Judges 16, verses 16-31
by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
Judges 16:16, KJV: And it came to pass, when she pressed him daily with her words, and urged him, (so) that his soul was vexed unto death;
How long this went on is not stated. Samson’s first wife wept for most if not all of the seven-day wedding feast (chapter 14) so Delilah may have nagged Samson for a similar length of time. Here it is said she “urged” him, much like his first wife had “lay sore upon him (14:17).
Where was Delilah’s love for Samson, if she had had any at all?
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.
Samson has just given away the truth about his strength, not that it came from his hair but because he had been a lifelong Nazarite, just as the Angel of the LORD had commanded his parents (Judges 13:5, 7). Samson had broken that vow by eating honey out of a lion’s carcass (14:8-9) and by using a dead donkey’s jawbone to kill 1000 Philistines—admittedly in self-defense (15:15-17). Nazarites were not supposed to touch anything dead (Numbers 6:6).
The other, key, aspect of the Nazarite vow was to not cut his hair for the duration of his vow (Num. 6:5). By revealing this to Delilah, Samson opened the door to his ultimate downfall. Samson may have been jesting or joking before, but he “told her all his heart” this time—he kept nothing back.
This would come back to haunt him, shortly.
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.
Delilah seems to have realized that at this time, Samson was speaking the truth about his strength, etc. Instead of admiring him for it, or even asking more about the Nazarite vow, she immediately called for the lords of the Philistines. They came, bringing the promised money for Samson’s capture.
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.
In the first two instances of Samson being bound, the text does not say if he was awake or asleep. In the time before this one, when Delilah may have tried to weave his hair into something on a loom, Samson was definitely asleep. Now he is sleeping “upon her knees”, which may seem uncomfortable to us but may have been more common in those days.
Had Delilah seduced Samson as a “reward” for showing her all that was in his heart?
Note also that she herself did not shave off the seven locks of his hair but rather called for a man to do it. Samson must have been sound asleep while this happened.
The identity and function of the man who did this are unknown. Sadly, there usually will be a man or woman willing to do evil in just about any period of time.
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.
This time the Philistines were there, waiting to capture Samson. He must have expected nothing would go wrong, as in previous times. He didn’t know that he was not only bald, once Delilah’s assistant cut off Samson’s hair, but also that the LORD had left 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.
There is no need to speculate how the Philistines put out Samson’s eyes; the sad, and yet important, thing is that none of this had to happen. Someone once made a wry comment that Samson went from a judge to a drudge, from being a strong man to a strong slave. He was bound with brass (maybe bronze) fetters, but since he was blind, where could he go?
Grinding in the prison house may mean he walked in a circle, pushing a stone to crush grain but this is not certain. Regardless of what he actually did, he was now completely at the mercy of the Philistines.
22 Howbeit the hair of his head began to grow again after he was shaven.
Delilah and the other lords of the Philistines may have known about his hair but there seems to be no concern at this time over any part of Samson’s condition. At the very least, the guards in the prison didn’t seem to be too concerned about it since they let him grow his hair again. Even if nobody else knew anything about this, Samson knew and apparently remembered his Nazarite vow.
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.
The lords of the Philistines must have been wealthy, if each could spare 1100 silver coins for Delilah to betray Samson, and yet have enough money left over to finance a great sacrifice to their god, Dagon. Note that they gave the credit to this pagan, man-made idol for delivering Samson over to them—was Delilah a worshiper of Dagon, as well?
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.
This idol had nothing to do with Samson’s captivity! Delilah had finally got Samson to reveal the secret of his strength to her, and then betrayed him to the Philistines. They put out his eyes, bound him, and sentenced him to grinding in the prison house. They were right: Samson had slain at least 1030 of them!
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.
Knowing they had captured Samson, whom they may have considered the scourge of Israel on the Philistines, must have been a joyous occasion indeed. The materials used in the “great sacrifice” are nowhere described but whatever there was may have indeed contributed to this good feeling.
But also notice how cold and callous these people were, calling for Samson (now blind and maybe even still bound in the fetters) so he could “make (them) sport”. This may mean they were making fun of Samson and his current condition.
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.
This lad’s identity is nowhere revealed. Whether this lad was a Philistine or a Hebrew, he had more compassion on Samson than any of the other people at this time. He must have been old enough to at least know something of the temple as he took Samson to the main pillars.
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.
“House” means temple here; the dimensions are not given but it was large enough or small enough (definitions and opinions vary) for 3000 people to be on the roof. That many and an unspecified number of Philistines who were not on the roof were all watching Samson “perform” or make sport for them.
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.
Here is one of the few prayers of Samson recorded in the Scriptures. Once before, he had asked the LORD for water so that he wouldn’t die of thirst (15:18-19); now he’s asking for strength so that he could be “avenged of the Philistines” because they had blinded his eyes. Someone observed that the first prayer was made in defiance (help me NOW, LORD!!) and this one was made in despair.
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.
This gives us a hint of how the Philistine temple was constructed: there were two middle pillars which were about an arm’s reach apart (estimated 5-6 English feet). Samson placed one hand on each pillar.
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.
This may be Samson’s final prayer or simply his last recorded words. He knew there was no hope for him, being blind, even if he could escape so he planned to die and take as many enemies with him as he could. He “bowed himself” or shoved against both of the main pillars and the house or temple collapsed. There were 3000 Philistines on the roof plus an unspecified number who were in or near the temple and the danger zone when it collapsed.
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.
How word got back to Samson’s family is nowhere recorded. Somehow they did find out about his death and they went to claim his body. His brothers and other family members took his body back to their homeplace between Zorah and Eshtaol, burying his body near the grave of his father, Manoah.
So ends the life of Samson, who even though he sinned and made many mistakes, was still mentioned in the list of heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11. May we learn to follow the LORD and not make the same mistakes that Samson did.
Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).