What does Judges 16:21 mean?
ESV: And the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes and brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze shackles. And he ground at the mill in the prison.
NIV: Then the Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza. Binding him with bronze shackles, they set him to grinding grain in the prison.
NASB: Then the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes; and they brought him down to Gaza and restrained him with bronze chains, and he became a grinder in the prison.
CSB: The Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes. They brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze shackles, and he was forced to grind grain in the prison.
NLT: So the Philistines captured him and gouged out his eyes. They took him to Gaza, where he was bound with bronze chains and forced to grind grain in the prison.
KJV: 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.
NKJV: Then the Philistines took him and put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza. They bound him with bronze fetters, and he became a grinder in the prison.
Verse Commentary:
The Lord has left Samson, because Samson has now entirely violated every command given him by God. The one prophetic requirement given to Samson before his birth was that he never cut his hair (Judges 13:5). Under intense pressure from a woman he loves (Judges 16:4)—and who pretends to love him—Samson has divulged that secret. His superhuman strength is because of his special status before God, symbolized by his long, uncut hair. Delilah has betrayed him for the modern equivalent of millions of dollars (Judges 16:5). He has given her his secret, and she has used it to remove the Lord's one requirement for Samson to continue in his God-given supernatural power (Judges 16:17–20).

As in their prior "games," Delilah has called out a warning to Samson, This time, when Samson leaps up to snap his bonds, he is helpless. Seeing that their hated enemy is truly subdued, the Philistines waiting in ambush burst from hiding inside Delilah's inner chamber. This is the last thing Samson will see on earth. The attackers rush Samson, who is probably still tied up, and gouge his eyes out. The man who once piled up Philistine corpses (Judges 15:14–15) and walked away carrying the gates of Gaza (Judges 16:3) is now humiliated, maimed, and utterly dominated by his enemy.

The Philistines transport Samson to Gaza, where he recently embarrassed them by tearing away the defenses of their fortified city. Gaza is the southernmost of the five major Philistine cities near the Mediterranean Sea (Joshua 13:3). This might have been done to exact revenge for his earlier actions. Or, Gaza might have been chosen to keep Samson far from the main population of Israelites to avoid rescue attempts.

Samson is bound with bronze shackles, far stronger than the ropes he once snapped with ease (Judges 16:12). The Philistines won't take any chances with him, but they will mock him mercilessly. They decide that killing Samson is too good for him. Instead, they condemn him to labor in their prison at Gaza, grinding out grain at a mill. This matches the overall approach the Philistines had taken towards Israel (Judges 13:1). Samson's life was meant to shatter that comfortable oppression (Judges 13:5), but now it seems as if the opposite has happened. The arrogant, selfish, unbeatable Samson is finally brought low.

God, however, has one more feat for Samson to do. The same flaw—arrogant complacency—provides an opportunity for Samson to regain his power (Judges 16:22) and achieve a last act of revenge.
Verse Context:
Judges 16:4–22 finds Samson falling in love with Delilah. In exchange for an outrageous sum of money, she agrees to seduce him so she can pass along the secret of Samson's strength to his Philistine enemies. This begins a pattern Samson probably thought was a lover's game, where he repeatedly lies about his secret. Eventually, however, he tells her the truth: shaving his head will make him weak. She has his head shaved as he sleeps and then turns him over to the Philistines, who gouge his eyes out and make him into a slave.
Chapter Summary:
After escaping an ambush in the Philistine city of Gaza, Samson rips the city gates out and walks away with them. When he falls deeply in love with Delilah, Philistine nobles pay her a fortune to seduce Samson into revealing the secret of his strength. She eventually succeeds, shaving his head while he sleeps. The Philistines gouge out Samson's eyes and put him in prison in Gaza. He is put on display at a celebration for the Philistine idol Dagon. God grants a last moment of supernatural power in response to Samson prayer. Samson collapses the support beams of the temple, crushing himself along with thousands of Philistine leaders.
Chapter Context:
Samson's story began in chapter 14 and will end here. His time as a judge lasted twenty years (Judges 15:20), but Scripture records only a few major incidents from his life. No specific times are assigned to these events. Samson humiliates Gaza by ripping out the city gates with his bare hands. He then falls for Delilah, who finds out the secret of his strength and betrays him. The Philistines blind Samson and enslave him in a prison near Gaza. They then parade him around during a noblemen's celebration in the temple of Dagon. With power from the Lord, granted as a last request, Samson collapses the temple's support pillars. This kills everyone inside, including himself. This begins the process of Israel's liberation (Judges 13:5), which later men such as Samuel will complete (1 Samuel 7:11–14).
Book Summary:
The Book of Judges describes Israel's history from the death of Joshua to shortly before Israel's first king, Saul. Israel fails to complete God's command to purge the wicked Canaanites from the land (Deuteronomy 7:1–5; 9:4). This results in a centuries-long cycle where Israel falls into sin and is oppressed by local enemies. After each oppression, God sends a civil-military leader, labeled using a Hebrew word loosely translated into English as "judge." These appointed rescuers would free Israel from enemy control and govern for a certain time. After each judge's death, the cycle of sin and oppression begins again. This continues until the people of Israel choose a king, during the ministry of the prophet-and-judge Samuel (1 Samuel 1—7).
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