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Judges chapter 16

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

What does Judges chapter 16 mean?

The previous chapter ended with a summary statement: Samson judged Israel for twenty years (Judges15:20). Only a few notable incidents in Samson's life are recorded, and none are tied to specific dates. We're not told exactly when his tenure began. Nor do we know how much time passes between his victory over the Philistine army (Judges 15:14–15) and his arrival in Gaza.

It's clear Samson is still living for himself and not according to the commands of the Lord. No reason is given for him to be in Gaza. This is the southernmost of the Philistines' five major cities (Joshua 13:3). Perhaps he was on a mission. Perhaps he planned to move through quietly, assuming he would not be recognized. While there, he goes to a prostitute. Someone in Gaza recognizes him, so the local men prepare an ambush. They expect him to leave in the morning and think they can corner him at the locked city gates (Judges 16:1–2).

Instead, Samson leaves the prostitute at midnight, rips the entire gate structure out of the ground, and walks away with it. He carries the gate some distance away, dropping it on top of a hill. This not only leaves the city exposed and vulnerable, but it is also a deeply humiliating act. A city's gates were centers of commerce and the main point of defense. To "capture the gates" of an enemy was to be in total control (Genesis 22:17; 24:60). While Israel is subjugated, Samson is openly insulting the Philistine nations who rule the region (Judges 16:3).

What happens next is introduced with deep foreshadowing. The Valley of Sorek is named after a variety of grapes. Samson's Nazirite vow (Judges 13:5) was supposed to keep him from all grape products (Numbers 6:1–4). The woman he falls for is referred to as Delilah. This might imply "weakness," in contrast to Samson's great strength. Her name can mean "night," the opposite of Samson's name which plays on the word shemesh, meaning "sun." That same connection to night may foreshadow the result of their relationship, which is literal blindness (Judges 16:21). Unlike the previous woman Samson "saw," this is a woman whom he "loves." The lords of the five Philistine cities hear about this and spot an opportunity. They offer Delilah the modern equivalent of millions of dollars. Her mission is to seduce Samson into telling the secret of his supernatural strength. She agrees (Judges 16:4–5).

Delilah is not subtle. And yet, she is extremely clever. Rather than trying to disguise her quest, she hides it in plain sight. She simply asks Samson how someone could subdue him. In the context of two lovers, such a blunt series of questions would seem more sincere than suspicious. And yet, one would expect Samson to suspect something. Yet he can't resist playing her game. At first, he lies, telling her he can be subdued with fresh bowstrings: the un-dried tendons or sinews of animals. Delilah tries just that, with men waiting in ambush, only to find Samson is as strong as ever (Judges 16:6–9).

This begins several repetitions of the same basic pattern. Delilah acts hurt and betrayed, claiming that Samson is teasing her with his lie. That, itself, may have begun as flirtatious banter. Each time she asks, and he lies, she tries his method and he can impress her with his strength. Over time, this probably lulled Samson into a false sense of security. In his mind, her attempts and cries of warning were a game, not an attempt to hurt him. Delilah tries using new ropes (Judges 15:4–5), but these don't work, either (Judges 16:10–12).

That Samson is growing less suspicious and more trusting is shown in his next lie, involving his hair. That ends with the usual results, but it's a dangerous move. The actual secret of Samson's strength is his uncut hair, the only explicit requirement given to him before his birth (Judges 13:4–5). Delilah's flirting and teasing turns to manipulation. She questions his love and makes him sick at heart until he finally gives in. Trying to prove his love, Samson tells her the truth: if his hair is cut, he'll be as weak as anyone else (Judges 16:13–17).

Samson assumes Delilah loves him. He probably thought that when she tried tying him up before, she was simply teasing and playing a game. Those attempts were relatively tame: tying him or weaving his hair. Samson assumes someone who loves him won't go as far as to shave his head. Perhaps he's right—but Delilah isn't acting in love. Now that she knows he's opened his deepest heart, she calls for her patrons to send men and payment. She lulls Samson to sleep—possibly making him drunk or using drugs so he won't know that his head is being shaved (Judges 16:18–19).

As before, Delilah calls out a warning. As before, Samson wakes up and attempts to free himself. This time, however, it's not a game or a joke. Too late, Samson realizes his hair is gone, that Delilah was lying, and that he's being captured for real. The hiding men spring out and maim Samson, taking his eyes. He's bound with heavy metal shackles and enslaved in a Philistine prison (Judges 16:20–21).

Samson's hair is not a magical substance that grants him strength. Rather, it's an outward sign of his commitment to obey God. While Samson's life was filled with blatant disobedience, this is a line he had not yet crossed. By telling his secret—to a woman he never should have trusted, let alone slept with—Samson might as well have shaved his own head. He's violated his purpose, and God takes away his strength. And yet, perhaps because of this experience, Samson's faith begins to heal and mature, symbolized by his slowly regrowing hair (Judges 16:22).

The Philistines hold a huge celebration to honor their god Dagon. They see this as a victory of their deity over the God of Israel. Thousands of noblemen crowd into the temple. In what's likely a drunken, foolish choice, Samson is brought out of the jail to be put on display. Showing a new sense of humility, Samson prays for one more burst of strength. He then strains against the pillars holding up the entire building. God grants his request, and the temple collapses, killing Samson along with innumerable Philistine leaders (Judges 16:23–30).

God's purpose for Samson was to disrupt the Philistine's comfortable, secure control over Israel (Judges 13:5; 14:4). The chaos Samson spread during his life certainly spread fear (Judges 14:19, 15:14–15; 16:3). In death, however, he does more to shatter Philistine oppression than he did in his entire life. That his family can so readily come and bury him suggests that the local power structure has been completely scrambled. Later men such as Samuel will complete the liberation (1 Samuel 7:11–14). For now, this catastrophe ends the twenty-year tenure of one of the Old Testament's most complicated figures (Judges 16:31).

Samson is the last pure "judge" of Israel in this era (Judges 2:16–19). Samuel will bridge the transition from judges to prophets (1 Samuel 7:3–6) as Israel moves towards a monarchy (1 Samuel 8:4). In the meantime, Israel will continue to live in spiritual chaos and sin, disregarding the will of God (Judges 17:6, 21:25). The events which close out the book of Judges highlight the tragic, disturbing results of that rejection.
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