The sin unto death; Judges Chapter 16
This chapter cannot be understood in simple isolation. It is not simply the story of one who is more brawn than brains who is duped by an attractive female into giving up the secret of his strength. Neither is it some tale of magic like the liberals wish to portray, that some how the Bible shows that Samson was this guy who got his strength from his hair. The hair was not the source of Samson's strength, it was God, and the hair was simply an external visual indicator of his Nazirite vow. Judges chapter 16 is the closing chapter in the central part of the book of Judges. This section began in chapter three, verse five. The introduction, 1:1 to 3:4, we are introduced to the major theme of the whole book of Judges: there was no king in Israel and everyone did that which was right in their own eyes. In that introduction, especially in the first part of chapter two, we are introduced to the ongoing cycle: the cycle of disobedience, discipline, and then divine deliverance that characterizes this book. The central part of the book then develops that theme in relationship to the leadership. The rest of the book from chapter seventeen to twenty-one focuses on how this theme develops among the people., how they have succumbed to relativism. And since the leadership of a nation always arises from the culture as a whole, leadership always tends to reflect the values of a culture. Therefore when we have certain leaders in our nation and wonder how in the world we ever ended up with somebody like that in public office often we only need to look at our own culture. They are reflections of who we are now. We may not like that but that is the way it is.
So when we look at the leadership through the cycles of the Judges we see that they exemplify the deterioration of positive volition in Israel. It is a time of apostasy. The book of Judges is not a positive book, it is not a book that presents these men in terms of their spiritual maturity as great heros of the faith. The thing is that many of these men are listed in Hebrews chapter eleven. Hebrews 11 is often called the hall of faith chapter because it represents and presents all of the Old Testament believers because of their doctrine, because of their faith, because of the way they trusted God. And at the end of the list where the writer spends a lot of time developing Abraham, Moses, the heroes of the Old Testament, he comes to the end and says, I don't have time to talk about Gideon and Samson and Jephthah. Of course, these are all judges, and yet if we had seen by looking at these men they are not exactly the picture of spiritual maturity and wisdom. They are not the kind of men that we would desire our children to emulate as they grow up. But they did at crucial times trust God. They exercised the faith-rest drill, they knew a promise of God and they implemented it, and for that they are praised by God. As we look at that as fallen creatures who are saved by grace we realize that it is all grace. It is a tremendous book on grace orientation because it helps us realize that it is not based on who we are or what we have done. Even the spiritual life is not based on who we are or what we have done. And if God could honor men like Gideon and Jephthah and Samson by placing them in Hebrews eleven as an example of the faith-rest drill, then "Gosh, there is hope for me too." That is the grace of God. We look at this in terms of its expression of God's grace because God continues to work in the lives of the nation Israel despite their carnality and despite their failure.
Why is that? It is the Abrahamic covenant. God established a legal contract with the nation Israel (with Abraham) and on the basis of that God promised that He would bless all nations through Israel. He would give Israel a specific piece olf real estate, and promised that there would be a seed that would come through the nation Israel. In His integrity God is not going to go back on His Word. He is not going to violate His promise despite the fact that Israel falls into idolatry again and again and again. We have seen this continuous cycle, and it is a deterioration, the increase of apostasy and reversionism from generation to generation. It began with Othniel and it is going to end with Samson. This chapter 16 is the last chapter in this leadership cycle. Othniel is presented as the standard bearer of integrity of leadership at the very beginning. There is nothing negative said about Othniel. He is a great warrior, he exemplifies everything that the Jewish male should be at the time of the conquest. He is trusting God to give him the land and to give him victory over the Canaanites that are in the land and he goes forth on the basis of the promise of God and does that. As a reward Caleb gives him his daughter Achsah as a wife. And nothing negative is said about Achsah, she is presented as the ideal woman, as it were.
But things began to deteriorate and we see Ehud as the second judge, and there are little hints that he is not quite everything that Othniel was. He is a left-handed man, which carried certain overtones in that culture that he wasn't quite as open an honest as others would be. He used that to his advantage when he assassinated Eglon, the king of Moab. Then we studied Deborah and saw that in the midst of that apostasy of that time there were no men who were willing to step up to the plate for leadership in the land. And so God raised up a woman, but she is not the communicator of the Word of God. We noticed there was a difference between a prophet who was a spokesperson for God and a teacher. Deborah was not a preacher in the modern sense, or a teacher, she was a prophet. And the role of a prophet was to communicate exactly what God said to communicate, and there is a difference between someone who is communicating exactly what somebody else is saying and someone who is teaching with the natural authority that goes with teaching and an explanation of that. A prophet is someone who is just simply a spokesperson, a mouthpiece. Deborah was a prophet and a judge and that does not violate the mandate in the New Testament that a woman must not teach, but men are because they are the designated spiritual head of the home, the designated spiritual leadership in he church, men are the ones who are to be in authority and the ones who are supposed to communicate the Word of God. (Note: Men do not respond to the leadership of women. When women are placed in positions of leadership the men will back off.) So Deborah rises to the foreground and the man who is to lead the troops, Barak, is kind of wimpy, demonstrating the fact that the men in that apostasized generation were not willing to step to the plate. So when Deborah says that God has already given us the victory Barak says he won't go unless she goes with him. So we see the increasing feminization of the male and the masculinization of the women in society. And what goes along with that as the paganism of the Canaanite culture around them begins to influence the thinking of the Jews it has radical effects on all of the divine institutions. There is the breakdown of personal responsibility, which is why they get involved in the fertility worship. There is a breakdown of marriage and family. We see that increasingly and by the time we get to the next judge, Gideon, Gideon has numerous wives as well as a concubine down in Shechem. There is a breakdown in respect for women and the role of women in society and that increases with Jephthah, and by the time we get to Jephthah he is going to give his daughter as a burnt offering to God as a part of a bargain he had ,made with God because he is thinking like a pagan. He grows up in a pagan environment, his mother was a prostitute, she remains nameless, so once again that is another negative slant on the way women were being impacted in that Jewish culture. There was no place for that under the Mosaic law and there was very little prostitution going on at the time of Joshua. So Jephthah ends on a negative note, and then we come to Samson. Samson begins to put some finishing touches on what has happened to women in the society by this time. The interesting thing is that of all the women in Samson's life there is only one that has a name. The writer is not being derogatory towards women. The writer wants us to pay attention to the fact that because of paganism women are being treated less and less with respect and as individuals, so that the women remain unnamed, except for one and that is Delilah.
The time frame here is also important to understand because it is a picture of God's grace from the period of the judges to the time of Samuel at the beginning of 1 Samuel. Jephthah and Samson overlap, they are alive at the end of the twelfth century BC. The lives of Samson and Samuel overlap, they are contemporaries. Samuel is just seven years younger. So we look at the major events in Israel, for example the battle of Aphek which is important as background in Judges 16 where Samson is captured, blinded, put in the temple of Dagon, and when he comes out for the big drunken banquet and orgy-fest, he leans up against the pillars, prays to God and knocks the pillars down, killing the Philistines. The battle of Aphek in 1104 BC was 20 years before Samson dies. Samson was a judge for only 20 years, so this happens at the beginning of his judgeship when he was stirring up all this trouble, the ark of the covenant was captured by the Philistines and taken to the temple of Dagon where God demonstrates that the gods of the Philistines are impotent before the God of Israel. Even though they have defeated Israel in battle He wants to make sure they understand that that doesn't mean their gods are superior. But they don't learn. So they are going to put Samson in the temple of Dagon once again and have more trouble.
Judges chapter 16 is divided into two sections. The first episode covers the first three verses. We should note that both episodes take place in Gaza. Samson is now deep inside Philistine territory. There are a number of questions we need to ask at the beginning of this chapter. Why does the narrator fail to mention Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel, in this episode? The story is completely secular in tone. The amazing physical feat of Samson ripping the gates of Gaza up from their hinges and carrying themn 38 miles to Hebron is not said to be a movement of the Holy Spirit. There is no indication that God is at work at all, it just seems that this is based on Samson's natural physical ability. Remember that this occurs at the end of the twenty years of Samson's judgeship. We are not told everything that went on in those 20 years but obviously he has been stirring up a tremendous amount of trouble with the Philistines and they are now out to get him. They want to remove this thorn in their side. The answer to the first question is that God is not involved in a spiritual sense with what is going on in Samson. Just like Israel Samson is in apostasy. God is working in terms of His providential care for Israel and working out His plan despite their carnality and failure. Much the same thing happens in our own lives when we are out of fellowship in extended carnality and going through reversionism. It is not that God leaves us or forgets about us, He is still involved, still indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit still functions but not in the sense of the filling ministry of God the Holy Spirit. He is still functioning in trying to recognize that we are out of fellowship and in carnality. God is disciplining us and trying to get our attention and He is still working to protect us as well as to bring discipline into our lives to get us to turn back to Him, confess sin and move forward again. This is the emphasis of this chapter.
The second question: Why does the narrator refuse to interfere with the plot? The narrator completely removes himself from this whole episode, he just tells the story and that is it.
Third question: Why is the story so enigmatic? Chapter 14 was the chapter of riddles. The writer wants us to pay attention to the fact that this represents the fact that what is going on in Israel is a riddle to the people. God has become inegmatic to the people because of their carnality. So this is just another way in which this writer is just a master of literary plot and story telling, and the way he weaves together so many different features and chooses his words in such a way as to bring different things to the reader's mind. We miss most of this in English because we don't have those word associations that would be there for a Jewish reader, but he is loading everything he says with a connotation to cause them to think about the spiritual condition of the nation and its failure.
Fourth question: Verses 1 & 2. Notice in the English translation of v. 2 [NASB] the word "the place" is in italics. That means that there was no Hebrew word there in the original text. It just says "they surrounded." They surrounded what? We are just left to guess, so we are not sure exactly where they were located. If they were lying in wait around the city gate, that raises another question: How did Samuel get past them, and what happened to them? We are not told.
Another question that is raised: Why did Samson carry the gates 38 miles to a hill outside of Hebron? We are not told.
Another question that is raised: Why did Samson carry the gates 38 miles to a hill outside of Hebron? We are not told. So there are a lot of puzzling things here. There are three reasons for these verses. First of all, the writer wants us to understand that Samson, after twenty years, is still as apostate and even more so, than he was before. He still has a problem with the sexual lust of his sin nature, he still has a problem with women, and what we are to infer from that is that as at the beginning of his operation as a judge, his adolescence all the way through to maturity, he probably had problems with women again and again and again. The second thing that we are to pay attention to is that the Philistines are now out to get him. They are really angry and aggravated by Samson, he has been a continuous source of irritation and problems throughout this twenty years. The third reason that we are told in these three verses of what happens in Gaza is that it shifts our attention to Gaza, which is where the final episode in Samson's life takes place. It also emphasizes the fact that just as Samson is now completely surrounded by the Philistines and that he is living and operating deep inside their territory it also emphasizes the fact that the Jews are in apostasy. Their thinking has become completely surrounded by pagan thought. They are thinking on the basis of human viewpoint and have succumbed to the idolatry and all of the religious practices and thinking of the Philistines.
So they lie in wait and set an ambush for him at the gate of the city. They are out to kill him. Thee were three guard rooms on each side of these ancient type gates and each guard room would hold up to ten guards. So there could be as many as sixty or seventy men hiding in these guard rooms waiting to ambush Samson as he left. The gates of the city of Gaza were made of metal. Samson grabs the whole assembly, he doesn't just take the doors off. They are made out of bronze probably so they are tremendously heavy, and he doesn't just pull the gate off the hinges, he pulls the gates and the posts that are set deep in the ground—remember this is a defensive fortification—and it would have weighed many hundreds of pounds. He puts them on his shoulders and carries them up to the top of the mountain which is opposite Hebron. Hebron is in Judah in the southern part of Israel, thirty-eight miles from Gaza, uphill! (From Gaza to Hebron is uphill) Why? We don't know. This is just another picture of the riddle that Samson presents to us. Here he has all of this grace blessing in his life and yet he continuously rejects it. Many times we wonder, Why do they reject God with all the blessing God has given them, with all the opportunities they have for doctrine? Why is it that they continue to not apply it? Why do they continue to get involved with everything else in life other than doctrine? Why isn't it clear to them? It is an enigma to us, but it is a result of their own negative volition. What Samson did is just another indication of the tremendous physical strength that Samson had and another reason that these verses are included here is to remind the reader of how powerful Samson is and it is just another hint of what a cause of trouble he was to the Philistines.
So that sets the stage for the fall of Samson, beginning in verse 4. This verse introduces us to Delilah and sets the stage for Samson's fall and his death. It contains only nine words in the Hebrew text. It is an economy of words there, we would think there would be more, we would expect more, we would anticipate a little juicy gossip about Delilah perhaps, and it is just not there. "After this it came about." In the Hebrew it just is a temporal indicator that sometime later "he loved a woman in the valley of Sorek." This is Samson's problem. He loved many women. He couldn't get his emotions as far as women were concerned under control. Over and over again Samson is going to be led around by his lust pattern and he has no concern at all for spiritual things. What we see here is that over the period of twenty years this has become so dominant that now he has lost all sense of discernment, all sense of warning. When we look at what happens in the episode when Delilah entices him we wonder how in the world he could be so stupid. Yet that is exactly what happens in carnality under the influence of the sin nature, and under the tenacity of arrogance what happens is that again and again we make the same stupid decisions even though we know better. And before long we no longer think of them as stupid. Our values become reversed toward the end of reversionism and what we begin to do is do things that we know are wrong, and now we call them right. There is a complete reversal of our value system. As a result of that we lose all common sense, so to speak. We learn all sense of right and wrong and we begin to think that we can sin with impunity and God will not discipline us or deal with us.
There is also a hint here that the riddle he gave the Philistines back in 14:18 finds its answer. The riddle there was, What is sweeter than honey and stronger than a lion? The answer is Samson's lust pattern and it overwhelms him every single time. As already noted, for the first time we are told the name of a woman in Samson's life. Even the name itself becomes another riddle. We are not sure exactly what the etymology of the word means but it very possibly comes from a word that is related to an Arabic word, dalah, which means to flirt. So there are those who think that Delilah was just a name for flirting. She was flirtatious, indicating her character. But the name may also be a pun on the combination of the letter D and the Hebrew word lilah, which means night. Under this view her name would mean "of the night," so she would be a woman of the night plying her trade. Her name indicates the character, so what we've seen here is that Samson is not attracted by the women of Israel, he is attracted by the foreign women. And this is a violation of the Mosaic law because they are forbidden to marry a non-believing Gentile. But Samson is constantly seeking the satisfaction of his lust from Gentile women.
Another thing that is interesting and we will see it again and again. We see four verbs that are important. The first is to discover or to see. They are words of knowledge. The Philistines want to discover where his great strength lies. This is the objective that they want to present so that they can overpower him and bind him and they want to torture him. Verse 5 – "entice him," lay a trap for him, "and see where his great strength lies." They want to torture him and extract revenge on him for all that he has done.
Then they give her a price: 1100 pieces of silver. Notice: "we will each give you 1100 pieces of silver." How much was that? That is a total of fifty-five hundred shekels of silver. We will find out that Delilah was enticed because this was going to set her up for life. Although the value of silver varies in the ancient world like it does today we can gain some concept of what this was related to. This is three times the weight of the gold that was given to Gideon after the victory over the Midianite kings. That was, in today's dollars, worth well over a million dollars. We could also compare this to the 400 shekels of silver that Abraham paid to purchase a burial plot for his wife. David paid 50 shekels for the oxen and threshing floor which was later the place where the temple was built, 2 Samuel 24:24. Jeremiah paid 17 shekels to purchase a field (Jeremiah 32:9), and 30 shekels was the price of a slave in the Mosaic law (Exodus 21:32). A modern equivalent of 1100 shekels would probably be between US$175,000—200,000. So multiply that by five and she has quite a nest egg here. The liberals think that this is just too much, there must be some mistake. But when you look at the text you just can't do that. They are extremely concerned, he has cost them mightily because of all of his activity. Their whole economy is being shut down. They are suffering economically, they are suffering agriculturally, and it is worth every penny for them to be rid of this problem.
So Delilah is going to set her trap, starting in verse 6. There are going to be three attempts to get Samson. They are covered in 16:6-9, the first attempt. In verses 10-12 we have the second attempt, and then in verses 13 & 14 the third attempt. Delilah said to Samson in verse 6, "Tell me where you great strength is." You can just imagine the setup here: feeds him a good meal, gives him some wine which we know Samson was drinking despite his Nazirite vow, and gets him to relax before she began whispering in his ear. Verse 7, "If they bind me with seven fresh cords." This is interesting. It is not literally seven fresh cords, it is seven sinews in the Hebrew. What does a sinew come from? It comes from a corpse. Remember that as a Nazirite he was not allowed to touch a corpse. So he is beginning to play with the real issue of his strength, and that is his relationship to God. So he is in dangerous territory.
Verse 10, the second attempt. Once again we would think that he would be warned. He should know better but, you see, arrogance is deceptive. It destroys our judgment, eradicates our objectivity, and when you're operating on the lust pattern of the soul in extreme reversionism then it is almost as if you can't resist it any more because it is such an ingrained habit pattern that you just don't have the strength any more to resist in carnality. The only way to resist is if you are recovering and restored to fellowship.
Verse 13, the third attempt. Once again it doesn't work.
Verse 15, "If you really love me." When someone says that, run as fast as you can! Now she is nagging him over and over again until finally he just gives in to her. He is self-deceived. Arrogance is self-deceptive. He has convinced himself he is really spiritual. This is the problem with a lot of people in carnality, they think they are really okay, and somehow they manage to justify all their carnality. And in Samson's mind he thinks he has fulfilled the vow. "I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother's womb." No he hasn't, he has violated it again and again. "If I am shaved ..." Now he has finally told the truth and she can tell he has finally been honest with her. Verse 18, she tells the Philistines to come up at once. She is not even going to set the trap. She cuts his hair and now he is as weak as a kitten. He did not know that the Lord had departed from him. That is the issue. It is not his hair, it is at this stage of his carnality he is under the sin unto death. This is going to be the ultimate end in Samson's life. The Lord was his source of strength, not his natural ability, not the hair, it never was.
Verse 21, he was a grinder in the prison. We are not sure what that means at all but apparently it had something to do with cleaning up the prison, the lowest drudgery around the prison. Then in verse 22 we have the first editorial in the chapter: "Howbeit the hair of his head began to grow again after he was shaven." A little hint. Something is going to happen.
Verses 23-25, the Philistines are going to have a great feast and praise to their god, and Samson is going to be the central show piece. Verse 26— "It happened when they were in high spirits" really means when they were drunk. In verse 28 Samson said, "O Lord God." This is the first use of the word Yahweh in a positive sense in this text, so apparently it tells us there has been some confession by Samson at this point and he is crying out to God to remember him and to give him strength. But even in this, typical of a carnal believer, there is a mixed attitude here. Notice the emphasis on the first person: "Give me strength so that I can avenge myself on my enemies." That is the thrust. He is more concerned for himself and his own vengeance than God. So it is like a Christian who has confessed his sin and then within a microsecond he is sinning again. This is typical of someone coming out of reversionism. Nevertheless God is gracious because God has His plan. He is going to do this not because of Samson, not because of Samson's prayer, but because this fits in with God's plan to destroy the Philistines and to protect the nation Israel. His plan for Israel is greater than Samson's carnality or the carnality of the nation. He is going to answer Samson's prayer despite the fact that Samson is in reversionism and this will be the cause of Samson's death as he goes out under the sin unto death.
Verse 31, that is the end of the cycle of the leadership.
Samson happens to be a target for the so-called evangelical Christian feminists because they say this is just another example of how the Bible promotes patriarchy and how evil patriarchy is, how men just continually destroy culture and women really should be the ones in leadership and the ones who ought to provide stability for a nation. The trouble is, matriarchy has never worked in any culture in all of history. The problem is it is a caricature of patriarchy. The Bible presents the male as the leader in the home, but that leadership is presented always under the image of a servant where the leader operates on genuine humility, seeking the best for those whom he leads. That is the function of the male in the family. But what happens in human viewpoint paganism is that it is perverted into an abusive authoritarian totalitarian relationship that seeks to dominate and control. What the human viewpoint of our day does is set up two poles: the human viewpoint abusive relationship which is totalitarianism or the extreme authority view with the opposite pole which is always anarchy. Human viewpoint paganism always swings between these two poles. Only on a biblical basis do you have a view of authority that is healthy and balanced.