Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Samson's Fall and Death. - Samson's judicial labours reached their highest point when he achieved his great victory over the Philistines at Lechi. Just as his love to the daughter of a Philistine had furnished him with the occasion designed by God for the manifestation of his superiority to the uncircumcised enemies of Israel, so the degradation of that love into sensual lust supplied the occasion for his fall which is related in this chapter. "Samson, when strong and brave, strangled a lion; but he could not strangle his own love. He burst the fetters of his foes, but not the cords of his own lusts. He burned up the crops of others, and lost the fruit of his own virtue when burning with the flame enkindled by a single woman." (Ambros. Apol. ii., David. c. iii.)
His Heroic Deed at Gaza. - Samson went to Gaza in the full consciousness of his superiority in strength to the Philistines, and there went in unto a harlot whom he saw. For Gaza, see Jos 13:3. אל כּוא is used in the same sense as in Gen 6:4 and Gen 38:16. It is not stated in this instance, as in Jdg 14:4, that it was of the Lord.
When this was told to the Gazites, they surrounded him (the object to the verb is to be supplied from the following word לו) and laid wait for him all night at the city gate, but they kept themselves quiet during the night, saying, "Till the dawning (אור, infin.) of the morning," sc., we can wait, "then will we kill him." For this construction, see Sa1 1:22. The verb ויּגּד, "it was told" (according to the lxx and Chald.: cf. Gen 22:20), or ויּאמרוּ, "they said," is wanting before לעזּתים, and must have fallen out through a copyist's error. The verb התחרשׁ has evidently the subordinate idea of giving themselves up to careless repose; for if the watchmen who were posted at the city gate had but watched in a regular manner, Samson could not have lifted out the closed gates and carried them away. But as they supposed that he would not leave the harlot before daybreak, they relied upon the fact that the gate was shut, and probably feel asleep.
But at midnight Samson got up, and "laying hold of the folding wings of the city, gate, as well as the two posts, tore them out of the ground with his herculean strength, together with the bar that fastened them, and carried them up to the top of the mountain which stands opposite to Hebron." על־פּני merely means in the direction towards, as in Gen 18:16, and does not signify that the mountain was in the front of Hebron or in the immediate neighbourhood (see Deu 32:49, where Mount Nebo, which was on the other side of the Jordan, and at least four geographical miles from Jericho, is said to have been over against, it, and the same expression is employed). The distance from Gaza to Hebron was about nine geographical miles. To the east of Gaza there is a range of hills which runs from north to south. The highest of them all is one which stands somewhat isolated, about half an hour to the south-east of the town, and is called el Montar from a wely which is found upon the top of it. From this hill there is a splendid prospect over the whole of the surrounding country. Hebron itself is not visible from this hill, but the mountains of Hebron are. According to an ancient tradition, it was to the summit of this hill that Samson carried the city gates; and both Robinson (Pal. ii. 377) and V. de Velde regard this tradition as by no means improbable, although the people of Gaza are not acquainted with it. "The city gate of the Gaza of that time was probably not less than three-quarters of an hour from the hill el Montar; and to climb this peak with the heavy gates and their posts and bar upon his shoulders through the deep sand upon the road, was a feat which only a Samson could perform" (V. de Velde).
Samson and Delilah. - Jdg 16:4. After this successful act, Samson gave himself up once more to his sensual lusts. He fell in love with a woman in the valley of Sorek, named Delilah (i.e., the weak or pining one), to whose snares he eventually succumbed. With reference to the valley of Sorek, Eusebius affirms in the Onom. (s. v. Σωρήχ), that there was a village called Βαρήχ (l. Καφὰρ σωρήχ according to Jerome) near Zorea, and ἐν ὁρίοις (l. βορείοις according to Jerome, who has ad septentrionalem plagam); and also (s. v. Σωρήκ) that this place was near to Eshtaol. Consequently the Sorek valley would have to be sought for somewhere in the neighbourhood of Samson's birthplace (Jdg 13:1), and the dwelling-place of his family (Jdg 16:31).
The princes of the Philistines offered Delilah a considerable sum (they would give her one thousand and one hundred shekels of silver each, i.e., a thousand shekels or more: cf. Jdg 17:2) if she would persuade Samson, and bring out from him "whereby his strength was great," and whereby they could overpower and bind him, לענּותו, to bend him, i.e., to oppress him. The Philistine princes thought that Samson's supernatural strength arose from something external, which he wore or carried about with him as an amulet. There was a certain truth at the foundation of this heathen superstition, inasmuch as this gift of divine grace was really bound up with the possession of a corporeal pledge, the loss of which was followed by the immediate loss of the gift of God (see at Jdg 16:17).
Allured by the reward in prospect, Delilah now sought to get from him the secret of his strength. But he deceived her three times by false statements. He first of all said to her (Jdg 16:7), "If they bound me with strings that have not been dried, I should be weak and like one of the men" (i.e., like any other man). יתר signifies a sinew or string, e.g., a bow-string, Psa 11:2, and in the different dialects either a bow-string or the string of a harp or guitar. As a distinction is made here between the יתרים and the עבתים in Jdg 16:11, the strings intended here are those of catgut or animal sinew. The number seven is that of a divine act, answering to the divine power which Samson possessed.
When Delilah told this to the princes of the Philistines, they brought the seven strings required, and Delilah bound Samson with them. "And the spy sat in the room (להּ, dat. com., lit. 'to her,' i.e.) to help her." namely, without Samson knowing it, as Delilah had certainly not told him that she should betray the secret of his strength to the Philistines. He was there, no doubt, that he might be at hand and overpower the fettered giant as soon as it became apparent that his strength was gone. She then cried out to him, "Philistines upon thee, Samson!" And he snapped the strings as one would snap a cord in two "when it smells fire," i.e., is held to the fire.
The second deception: Samson had himself bound with new cords, which had not yet been used for any purpose, and these also he burst from his arms like a thread.
The third deception: "If thou weavest together the seven locks of my hair with the warp. And she drove it in with the plug." These words are difficult to explain, partly because several technical terms are used which have more than one meaning, and partly because the account itself is contracted, both Samson's advice and her fulfilment of it being only given in a partial form, so that the one has to be completed from the other. In Jdg 16:19, the only other passage in which מחלפות occurs, it no doubt means the plaits into which Samson's long flowing hair was plaited. המּסּכת only occurs here (Jdg 16:13 and Jdg 16:14), and probably means the woven cloth, or rather what was still upon the loom, the warp of the cloth, δίασμα (lxx). Accordingly the meaning of the verse would be this: If thou weavest the seven plaits of my hair along with the warp upon the loom. The commentators are all agreed that, according to these words, there must be something wanting in the account, though they are not of one opinion as to whether the binding of Samson is fully given here, and all that has to be supplied is the clause "Then shall I be weal," etc. (as in Jdg 16:7 and Jdg 16:11), or whether the words בּיּתד ותּתקע add another fact which was necessary to the completeness of the binding, and if so, how these words are to be understood. In Bertheau's opinion, the words "and she thrust with the plug" probably mean nothing more than that she made a noise to wake the sleeping Samson, because it is neither stated here that she forced the plug into the wall or into the earth to fasten the plaits with (lxx, Jerome), nor that her thrusting with the plug contributed in any way to the further fastening of the hair. These arguments are sound no doubt, but they do not prove what is intended. When it is stated in Jdg 16:14, that "he tore out the weaver's plug and the cloth," it is certainly evident that the plug served to fasten the hair to the cloth or to the loom. Moreover, not only would any knocking with the plug to waken Samson with the noise have been altogether superfluous, as the loud cry, "Philistines upon thee, Samson," would be amply sufficient for this; but it is extremely improbable that a fact with so little bearing upon the main facts would be introduced here at all. We come therefore to the same conclusion as the majority of commentators, viz., that the words in question are to be understood as referring to something that was done to fasten Samson still more securely. היּתד = הארג היתד (Jdg 16:14) does not mean the roller or weaver's beam, to which the threads of the warp were fastened, and round which the cloth was rolled when finished, as Bertheau supposes, for this is called ארגים מנור in Sa1 17:7; nor the σπάθη of the Greeks, a flat piece of wood like a knife, which was used in the upright loom for the same purpose as our comb or press, viz., to press the weft together, and so increase the substance of the cloth (Braun, de vestitu Sacerd. p. 253); but the comb or press itself which was fastened to the loom, so that it could only be torn out by force. To complete the account, therefore, we must supply between Jdg 16:13 and Jdg 16:14, "And if thou fastenest it (the woven cloth) with the plug (the weaver's comb), I shall be weak like one of the other men; and she wove the seven plaits of his hair into the warp of the loom." Then follows in Jdg 16:14, "and fastened the cloth with the weaver's comb." There is no need, however, to assume that what has to be supplied fell out in copying. We have simply an ellipsis, such as we often meet with. When Samson as wakened out of his sleep by the cry of "Philistines upon thee," he tore out the weaver's comb and the warp (sc.,) from the loom, with his plaits of hair that had been woven in. The reference to his sleeping warrants the assumption that Delilah had also performed the other acts of binding while he was asleep. We must not understand the account, however, as implying that the three acts of binding followed close upon one another on the very same day. Several days may very probably have elapsed between them. In this third deception Samson had already gone so far in his presumptuous trifling with the divine gift entrusted to him, as to suffer the hair of his head to be meddled with, though it was sanctified to the Lord. "It would seem as though this act of sin ought to have brought him to reflection. But as that was not the case, there remained but one short step more to bring him to thorough treachery towards the Lord" (O. v. Gerlach).
This last step was very speedily to follow - Jdg 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)?
With such words as these she plagued him every day, so that his soul became impatient even to death (see Judg 10;16). The ἁπ. λεγ. אלץ signifies in Aramaean, to press or plague. The form is Piel, though without the reduplication of the ל and Chateph-patach under (see Ewald, 90, b.).
"And he showed her all his heart," i.e., he opened his mind thoroughly to her, and told her that no razor had come upon his head, because he was a Nazarite from his mother's womb (cf. Jdg 13:5, Jdg 13:7). "If I should be shave, my strength would depart from me, and I should be weak like all other men."
When Delilah saw (i.e., perceived, namely from his words and his whole behaviour while making this communication) that he had betrayed the secret of his strength, she had the princes of the Philistines called: "Come up this time, ... for he had revealed to her all his heart." This last clause is not to be understood as having been spoken by Delilah to the princes themselves, as it is by the Masorites and most of the commentators, in which case להּ would have to be altered into לי; but it contains a remark of the writer, introduced as an explanation of the circumstance that Delilah sent for the princes of the Philistines now that she was sure of her purpose. This view is confirmed by the word ועלוּ (came up) which follows, since the use of the perfect instead of the imperfect with vav consec. can only be explained on the supposition that the previous clause is a parenthetical one, which interrupts the course of the narrative, and to which the account of the further progress of the affair could not be attached by the historical tense (ויּעלוּ).
(Note: The Keri reading לי arose simply from a misunderstanding, although it is found in many MSS and early editions, and is without any critical worth. The Masorites overlooked the fact that the main point is all that is related of the message of Delilah to the princes of the Philistines, namely that they were to come this time, and that the rest can easily be supplied from the context. Studer admits how little ועלוּ suits that view of the clause which the Keri reading לי requires, and calls it "syntactically impossible." He proposes, however, to read ויּעלוּ, without reflecting that this reading is also nothing more than a change which is rendered necessary by the alteration of להּ into לי, and has no critical value.)
The princes of the Philistines came up to Delilah on the receipt of this communication, bringing the money, the promised reward of her treachery (Jdg 16:5), in their hands.
"Then she made him sleep upon her knees, and called to the man," possibly the man lying in wait (Jdg 16:9 and Jdg 16:12), that she might not be alone with Samson when cutting off his hair; and she cut off the seven plaits of his hair, and began to afflict him, as his strength departed from him now.
She then cried out, "Philistines upon thee, Samson!" And he awaked out of his sleep, and thought ("said," i.e., to himself), "I will go away as time upon time (this as at other times), and shake myself loose," sc., from the fetters or from the hands of the Philistines; "but he knew not that Jehovah had departed from him." These last words are very important to observe in order to form a correct idea of the affair. Samson had said to Delilah, "If my hair were cut off, my strength would depart from me" (Jdg 16:17). The historian observes, on the other hand, that "Jehovah had departed from him." The superhuman strength of Samson did not reside in his hair as hair, but in the fact that Jehovah was with or near him. But Jehovah was with him so long as he maintained his condition as a Nazarite. As soon as he broke away from this by sacrificing the hair which he wore in honour of the Lord, Jehovah departed from him, and with Jehovah went his strength.
(Note: "Samson was strong because he was dedicated to God, as long as he preserved the signs of his dedication. But as soon as he lost those signs, he fell into the utmost weakness in consequence. The whole of Samson's misfortune came upon him, therefore, because he attributed to himself some portion of what God did through him. God permitted him to lose his strength, that he might learn by experience how utterly powerless he was without the help of God. We have no better teachers than our own infirmities."-Berleb. Bible.)
The Philistines then seized him, put out his eyes, and led him to Gaza fettered with double brass chains. The chains are probably called nechushtaim (double brass) because both hands of both feet were fettered with them. King Zedekiah, when taken prisoner by the Chaldeans, was treated in the same manner (Kg2 25:7). There Samson was obliged to turn the mill in the prison, and grind corn (the participle טחן expresses the continuance of the action). Grinding a handmill was the hardest and lowest kind of slave labour (compare Exo 11:5 with Exo 12:29); and both Greeks and Romans sentenced their slaves to this as a punishment (see Od. xx. 105ff., vii. 103-4; Terent. Phorm. ii. 1, 19, Andr. i, 2. 29), and it is still performed by female slaves in the East (see Chardin in Harmar's Beob. b. d. Orient. iii. 64).
Samson's Misery, and His Triumph in Death. - Jdg 16:22. The hair of his head began to grow, as he was shaven. In the word כּאשׁר, as (from the time when he was shaven), there is an indication that Samson only remained in his ignominious captivity till his hair began to grow again, i.e., visibly to grow. What follows agrees with this.
The captivity of this dreaded hero was regarded by the Philistines as a great victory, which their princes resolved to celebrate with a great and joyous sacrificial festival in honour of their god Dagon, to whom they ascribed this victory. "A great sacrifice," consisting in the offering up of a large number of slain sacrifices. "And for joy," viz., to give expression to their joy, i.e., for a joyous festival. Dagon, one of the principal deities of the Philistines, was worshipped at Gaza and Ashdod (Sa2 5:2., and 1 Macc. 10:83), and, according to Jerome on Isa 46:1, in the rest of the Philistine towns as well. It was a fish-deity (דּגון, from דּג, a fish), and in shape resembled the body of a fish with the head and hands of a man (Sa1 5:4). It was a male deity, the corresponding female deity being Atargatis (2 Macc. 12:26) or Derceto, and was a symbol of water, and of all the vivifying forces of nature which produce their effects through the medium of water, like the Babylonian Ὠοδάκων, one of the four Oannes, and the Indian Vishnu (see Movers, Phniz. i. pp. 143ff., 590ff., and J. G. Mller in Herzog's Cycl.).
All the people took part in this festival, and sang songs of praise to the god who had given the enemy, who had laid waste their fields and slain many of their countrymen, into their hands.
When their hearts were merry (יטוב, inf. of יטב), they had Samson fetched out of the prison, that he might make sport before them, and "put him between the pillars" of the house or temple in which the triumphal feast was held. Then he said to the attendant who held his hand, "Let me loose, and let me touch the pillars upon which the house is built, that I may lean upon it." הימישׁני is the imperative Hiphil of the radical verb ימשׁ, which only occurs here; and the Keri substitutes the ordinary form המישׁ from מוּשׁ. "But the house," adds the historian by way of preparation for what follows, "was filled with men and women: all the princes of the Philistines also were there; and upon the roof were about three thousand men and women, who feasted their eyes with Samson's sports" (ראה with בּ, used to denote the gratification of looking).
Then Samson prayed to Jehovah, "Lord Jehovah, remember me, and only this time make me strong. O God, that I may avenge myself (with) the revenge of one of my two eyes upon the Philistines," i.e., may take vengeance upon them for the loss of only one of my two eyes (משּׁתי, without Dagesh lene in the ת: see Ewald, 267, b.), - a sentence which shows how painfully he felt the loss of his two eyes, "a loss the severity of which even the terrible vengeance which he was meditating could never outweigh" (Bertheau).
After he had prayed to the Lord for strength for this last great deed, he embraced the two middle pillars upon which the building was erected, leant upon them, one with his right hand, the other with the left (viz., embracing them with his hands, as these words also belong to ילפּת), and said, "let my soul die with the Philistines." He then bent (the two pillars) with force, and the house fell upon the princes and all the people who were within. So far as the fact itself is concerned, there is no ground nor questioning the possibility of Samson's bringing down the whole building with so many men inside by pulling down two middle columns, as we have no accurate acquaintance with the style of its architecture. In all probability we have to picture this temple of Dagon as resembling the modern Turkish kiosks, namely as consisting of a "spacious hall, the roof of which rested in front upon four columns, two of them standing at the ends, and two close together in the centre. Under this hall the leading men of the Philistines celebrated a sacrificial meal, whilst the people were assembled above upon the top of the roof, which was surrounded by a balustrade" (Faber, Archol. der. Hebr. p. 444, cf. pp. 436-7; and Shaw, Reisen, p. 190). The ancients enter very fully into the discussion of the question whether Samson committed suicide or not, though without arriving at any satisfactory conclusion. O. v. Gerlach, however, has given the true answer. "Samson's deed," he says, "was not suicide, but the act of a hero, who sees that it is necessary for him to plunge into the midst of his enemies with the inevitable certainty of death, in order to effect the deliverance of his people and decide the victory which he has still to achieve. Samson would be all the more certain that this was the will of the Lord, when he considered that even if he should deliver himself in any other way cut of the hands of the Philistines, he would always carry about with him the mark of his shame in the blindness of his eyes-a mark of his unfaithfulness as the servant of God quite as much as of the double triumph of his foes, who had gained a spiritual as well as a corporeal victory over him." Such a triumph as this the God of Israel could not permit His enemies and their idols to gain. The Lord must prove to them, even through Samson's death, that the shame of his sin was taken from him, and that the Philistines had no cause to triumph over him. Thus Samson gained the greatest victory over his foes in the moment of his own death. The terror of the Philistines when living, he became a destroyer of the temple of their idol when he died. Through this last act of his he vindicated the honour of Jehovah the God of Israel, against Dagon the idol of the Philistines. "The dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life."
This terrible blow necessarily made a powerful impression upon the Philistines, not only plunging them into deep mourning at the death of their princes and so many of their countrymen, and the destruction of the temple of Dagon, but filling them with fear and terror at the omnipotence of the God of the Israelites. Under these circumstances it is conceivable enough that the brethren and relatives of Samson were able to come to Gaza, and fetch away the body of the fallen hero, to bury it in his father's grave between Zorea and Eshtaol (see Jdg 13:25). - In conclusion, it is once more very appropriately observed that Samson had judged Israel twenty years (cf. Jdg 15:20).