Judges 16:3 Parallel Verses [⇓ See commentary ⇓]

Judges 16:3, NIV: But Samson lay there only until the middle of the night. Then he got up and took hold of the doors of the city gate, together with the two posts, and tore them loose, bar and all. He lifted them to his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that faces Hebron.

Judges 16:3, ESV: But Samson lay till midnight, and at midnight he arose and took hold of the doors of the gate of the city and the two posts, and pulled them up, bar and all, and put them on his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that is in front of Hebron.

Judges 16:3, KJV: 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.

Judges 16:3, NASB: Now Samson lay asleep until midnight, and at midnight he got up and took hold of the doors of the city gate and the two doorposts, and pulled them up along with the bars; then he put them on his shoulders, and carried them up to the top of the mountain which is opposite Hebron.

Judges 16:3, NLT: But Samson stayed in bed only until midnight. Then he got up, took hold of the doors of the town gate, including the two posts, and lifted them up, bar and all. He put them on his shoulders and carried them all the way to the top of the hill across from Hebron.

Judges 16:3, CSB: But Samson stayed in bed only until midnight. Then he got up, took hold of the doors of the city gate along with the two gateposts, and pulled them out, bar and all. He put them on his shoulders and took them to the top of the mountain overlooking Hebron.

What does Judges 16:3 mean? [⇑ See verse text ⇑]

Samson's fame has clearly grown. He is a known and hated enemy of the Philistines. In this incident, he is recognized far from his home territory, while in the city of Gaza. This was one of five major Philistine towns (Joshua 13:3). No clue is given as to why Samson would travel this far south, let alone put himself in such danger. No suggestion is given about any mission related to his role as judge (Judges 15:20). He may simply have been wandering. All that's noted is that he stopped—apparently on a whim—when he noticed a prostitute. He is staying with her for the night and is now surrounded by Philistines who want to kill him (Judges 16:1–2).

The Philistines had agreed to wait in ambush all night long. Their plan seems to be to catch Samson at the city gate as he is leaving town in the morning. The gate of the city was probably locked after dark for security, meaning those inside would expect to wait for first light before leaving town. That would provide a place to corner Samson.

Among the many unknown details about this event is how Samson learned that men were waiting to ambush him. Strictly speaking, the Bible doesn't say that he knew about the ambush, at all. It seems extremely unlikely he'd act as he does unless he was making a point, however. It's not likely he decided to leave town in the middle of the night and wanted to "show off" by tearing out the city doors. And yet, that's possible.

Rather than asking to open the gate, or unlocking it himself, Samson rips the entire assembly out of the ground. Notably, there is no mention of God's Spirit overwhelming Samson as in earlier exhibitions of strength (Judges 14:5–6, 19; 15:14–15). Yet it would make sense God was involved here. The gates included two doors, two posts, and the bar keeping the doors closed. Whatever other pieces were attached likely came along, as well. The opening had to be large enough for carts and livestock to pass through. The mechanisms Samson lifted would have easily weighed several hundred pounds—and were securely anchored to the earth. That level of power is well beyond natural human ability.

At this point, any thought of a Philistine ambush had probably dissolved. But instead of tossing the gate aside, Samson walks away with it. Readers might see this as a comical moment, and it's probably meant to be just that. Samson is mocking the Philistines and humiliating them. His show of strength and indifference was insult enough. Worse, a city without a gate is exposed and unsafe. City leaders would conduct business there. It was the main point of trade and commerce. To seize a city's gate area was to control the entire town (Genesis 22:17; 24:60), symbolically and literally. Samson isn't merely capturing Gaza's gates; he's taking them and leaving.

The text then indicates Samson carried the gate to the top of a hill. Depending on how the phrasing is translated, this might mean a hill "facing" Hebron, or the actual mount more than day's walk away. It's possible, given Samson's other feats of strength, that he carried the Philistine gates back into Israelite territory and dropped them there.

Samson continues to fulfill his unique role as a Judge of Israel (Judges 2:16–19). His carnal lifestyle is difficult to understand, but his personality makes him an instrument of disruption. His actions shatter the complacent Philistines rule over Israel (Judges 13:5; 14:4). By literally "capturing" the gates of an important Philistine city—in a ludicrously effortless way—Samson provides a dire warning to Israel's oppressors.