Samson, a Hero and a Half (iv)

In Judges 16, being ‘controlled by the Spirit of Yahweh’ seems to increase Samson’s sexual, as well as physical, prowess. While visiting Gaza “he saw a prostitute and went to her house to spend the night”. No moral censure appears in the text. Perhaps Yahweh was willing to let this go, since his aim (recalling 14:4) was “to stir up trouble for the Philistines”. He succeeded. The Gazaites found out that Samson was in town, and lay in wait for him all night long at the town gate. Samson however, totally unfazed, “pulled the gate doors and door-posts out of the wall and put them on his shoulders”. That was child’s play for Samson. “Then he carried them all the way to the top of the hill that overlooks Hebron, where he set the doors down, still locked and closed” !! The distance from Gaza to Hebron, by the way, was no less than 40 miles, ascending all the way from sea level to over 3,000 feet above it. Wowee !

After the bride-not-to-be, and the prostitute, another young lady swam into Samson’s orbit – Delilah. The Philistines promised her, not 30, but 1100 pieces of silver, if she could find the way to undermine, if not eliminate, Samson’s strength. She begs him to tell her his secret, and he says that he must be bound with new, undried bow-strings. She duly ties him up and then calls in the Philistines, but when Samson snaps the bow-strings, they have to beat a hasty retreat. This happens twice more, with different bindings, but the same result. You’d think that Samson would get the message, but no. After further non-stop begging, and the age-old “if you really loved me”, he tells her that if his hair is cut short, his strength will disappear. Once he’s asleep, she does the necessary, and this time the Philistines get their man. It seems that even Yahweh has finally had enough – “Yahweh had stopped helping him”.

The Philistines then thought they’d better leave nothing to chance. Not only did they imprison Samson, and chain him up, but “they poked out his eyes”, and exhausted him by making him “turn a millstone to grind grain“. But even that wasn’t enough. Such was their thirst for revenge on this one-man wrecking machine, that they “threw a big party” in the temple of their god Dagan, and “they shouted, ‘Bring out Samson – he’s still good for a few more laughs’”. The Philistines, however, turn out to be just ‘as thick as two planks’ as Samson was. “They told him to stand near the columns that supported the roof” and, even more unforgivably stupidly, they hadn’t “cut his hair any more, so it had started growing back”.

Samson begged Yahweh to “make me strong one last time” , but not to afford Yahweh a great victory over the god Dagan, nor for the glory of the Israelites at the expense of the Philistines, but “so I can take my revenge”. That’s what mattered most. He then, thanks to his newly sprouting hair, shoved the columns apart “and the temple collapsed with the Philistine rulers and everyone else still inside’. Samson, says the writer, “killed more Philistines when he died than he had killed during his entire life” – no mean feat! Samson’s body was recovered by his family, and “they buried him in his father’s tomb, which was located between Zorah and Eshtaol”, just in case anyone taking all this literally felt the need to go and pay their respects.

Next time, we’ll ask ourselves what we’re to make of all this. In the meantime, here’s a short video extract from a 1961 TV production of Saint-Saëns’ opera, “Samson and Delilah”. The singing is splendid, but the 70 year old, black and white, dated scenery, props, hair styles and costumes are more than a ‘bit of a hoot’. Arguably, however, that suits this story to a tee. It’s a fine bit of work, however, on the part of the writer, who has faithfully retained the full flavour of these very early, ‘rib-tickling tales around the campfire’. Enjoy …..

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