Monthly Archives: March 2016

Samson’s Wife & Delilah – Part 3


Judges 16:1-3

Before we meet Delilah, Samson took a HUGE detour. This chapter begins with the story of Samson, going all the way to Gaza, a Philistine town 45 miles from his home base (Word Commentary). This is the same town in which Samson ends up as a prisoner, making the reader wonder if this was a foreshadowing of events to come. Samson visiting a prostitute “casts him in the role of a fool destined for destruction. Wisdom literature teaches that prostitutes reside in the gateway of death (Prov 6:26, 7:10, 23:27).” (Chisholm in Word Commentary)

[He has] neither knowledge nor understanding,
    [he walks] about in darkness….” To spend the NIGHT with a prostitute.

Because he is public enemy number one in Philistia, a group of men wait at the city gate to ambush him. However, it seems that they disappear or give up at some point, and Samson leaves, taking the gate of Gaza with him!

Samson city gate Ashkelon

Here is a picture of the city gate of Ashkelon, the Philistine city where Samson killed the 30 men. It is the oldest arched city gate still standing. Perhaps the gate at Gaza was similar to this one. Block writes that these elaborate gates were often 2-3 stories high with guard rooms flanking the tunnel-like opening….Samson would have had to get past 4-6 groups of guards before taking the gate (loudly) off of its hinges (p. 450 NAC).

What is amazing about this feat of strength is that the text says he took the gate all the way to Hebron, a 40 mile journey, climbing over 3,000 feet in elevation to get there. What I love about this passage is that this prepares the way for the one, David, who WOULD complete the deliverance of Israel from Philistia, because Hebron is David’s first headquarters (2 Sam 2:1-4)!

Now to our text:

Because Delilah was also in the Valley of Sorek (v. 4), like Samson’s Philistine wife, we assume she was a Philistine. However, scholars note that she has a Hebrew name, meaning feeble or weakened and lived on the boundary of Israel and Philistia. Interestingly she is not referred to as a daughter of the Philistines like Samson’s wife.

Beth Shemesh, Sorek Valley Area

Remember this picture of the Sorek Valley? With the Sorek River running east to west? Israel was on one side and Philistia was on the other. But don’t forget that the Philistines at this time had pushed their way further into the region of Dan, into Israelite territory. So Delilah could have been either Hebrew or Philistine. [Some scholars note that just because she had a Hebrew name does not mean she was a Hebrew woman. Sometimes they gave people Hebrew names, particularly ones with meaning as they related to the narrative. In this case, Delilah, meaning “weakened”, was the one who “weakened” Samson.]

If she were a Hebrew, it would make her betrayal all the more reprehensible. (From Samson and Delilah: A Parable of Power by Carol Smith in the Journal for the Study of the OT)

Regardless of these views, how do we characterize our girl?

She was a woman interested in money and with a high tolerance for violence. If a Philistine she’s patriotic, shows initiative, is independent, & self-sufficient. Her actions are very business-like, not tied to emotions. She’s whiny, wheedling, pestering, and uses her sexual allure to entice a man. She has prostitute-like behavior, using her sexuality and a man’s desire for her in order to ensure her own well-being. She’s the sort of dangerous, treacherous woman about whom proverbial wisdom warns and which underscores the impossibility of alliances with godless foreigners. (Word Commentary p. 348-49)

Did you catch how much silver Delilah was promised by the 5 Philistine lords?? (v. 5) 1,100 pieces EACH! So 5,500 pieces of silver! This much silver probably weighed about 700 pounds. (Word Commentary p. 349)

Because the value of a unit of silver fluctuated in biblical times, the significance of this figure can only be appreciated when this reward is compared with other transactions in Scripture:

  • Judges 8:26 This is more than three times the weight of the gold retained by Gideon after the victory over the Midianite kings.
  • Genesis 24:15, 19 We may also compare the 400 shekels of silver paid by Abraham to purchase a burial plot for his wife.
  • 2 Samuel 24:24 Or the 50 shekels David paid Araunah for his oxen and threshing floor.
  • Jeremiah 32:9 The 17 shekels Jeremiah paid to purchase a field.
  • Exodus 21:32 And the 30 shekels set as a price for a slave.

(Block p. 455 in NAC)

The IVP Bible Background Commentary states, “Eleven hundred shekels of silver is an exorbitant sum – a king’s ransom (see 2 Samuel 18:12). The 5500 shekels would equal 550 times the average annual wage. If we took $25,000 as an average annual wage today, that kind of offer would be [just short of $14 million].” [In other words, the sum she received would seem to her like $14 million seems to us today. The amount she received was not equal to $14 million.]

Interestingly, the Philistine lords wanted not only to know where Samson got his strength but also how to overpower him in order to HUMBLE him (v. 5). Many translations use the word “afflict” instead of humble, but the actual Hebrew word (‘anah – aw-naw) holds both meanings [to afflict, oppress, humble, be afflicted, be bowed down].

It’s almost like this whole affair with Samson has become personal for these Philistine lords. We don’t simply want to subdue him; we want to humiliate him. We want to oppress him so he’ll feel utterly shamed. After all he’s killed 30 of our men at Ashkelon, burned our fields and killed several of our men at Timnah, and killed 1,000 of our men at Lehi. Why don’t we use this woman against him! That kind of blow would do just the right amount of damage to his ego.

An interesting view is that since his strength was not apparent, he likely had the stature of an ordinary man, not with giant muscles or incredibly large in size like a Goliath-like behemoth. His strength then was NOT obvious because it came from God. (Word Commentary)

Are you as irritated as I am at how these men used these women for their own advantage? Made to be weapons of revenge? Their bodies used to achieve the purposes of men? And how ironic that these men couldn’t weaken the Great Samson, but the women were able to afflict him in ways no man could.

Nevertheless, there is an inkling that perhaps Samson knew exactly what he was walking into the minute Delilah opened her mouth. How could he not know her angle for she says:

Please tell me where your great strength lies, and how you might be bound that one could subdue [afflict/NASB] you. (Judges 16:6)

She really couldn’t get any more BLUNT than that!

And if that doesn’t convince you, he gives her an answer (knowing it won’t harm him) and she performs the binding with the bowstrings, calling for the Philistines. But the text is silent on his response to the Philistines. It appears as though he does nothing.

Does that sound like Samson to you? Normally when someone or something came at him, he ripped it apart! Not only that, but he stayed with Delilah! He didn’t storm off in “hot anger”, leaving her to sort out her life, but he stayed for more questions, more pressing.

Next he tells her to try new ropes, but that doesn’t work either. The Philistines come and go and still he stays with Delilah. Then he says to weave his hair into a web, fastened with a pin. This clue is close to the real answer, but again the Philistines come and go and still he stays with Delilah, unharmed.

Ah, but then, Delilah calls on the name of love to manipulate him. What is sweeter than honey? Stronger than a lion? Love. If you love me, you’ll…

The queen of manipulation. She doesn’t need to harm him to weaken him. She simply appeals to love. The thing that first drew him to her when he saw her in the Valley of Sorek.

Verse 16 says she pressed him daily, until “his soul was vexed to death.” (also RSV). Other translations say “annoyed” (NASB), “tired to death” (NIV), “sick to death” (NET, NLT).

Have you ever been that kind of woman? Manipulative? Vexing? A drippy faucet?

“Warnings for the Wives”

  • Proverbs 19:13 (NIV) “…a quarrelsome wife is like the constant dripping of a leaky roof.”
  • Proverbs 27:15 (NLT) “A quarrelsome wife is as annoying as constant dripping on a rainy day.”
  • Proverbs 21:9 “It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife.” (also REPEATED WORD FOR WORD in Prov. 25:24)
  • Proverbs 12:4 “An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones.”

I know Delilah was not Samson’s wife, but you get the idea. Heaven forbid we act more like the pagan Delilah than the woman of virtue.

It makes me think back to what Laura (in her talk on Eve) said about the enemy being the best psychologist, prowling around, watching, studying, dealing his low blows. Spewing his lies. If we know the truth, it is easier to recognize the lies.

“God didn’t really say, you shall surely be under your husband…” “You will not surely die…” “Don’t you think you deserve to be in control?” “You’re better off without him…”

Do we, like Delilah, buy into the lies?

Clink clink clink. The 5,500 silver pieces fall into her hands.

However, the woman of virtue: does him good and not harm all the days of her life. (Psalm 31:12)

Clink clink clink. But Delilah? She sold Samson’s safety for money.

She began to torment him and his strength left him. “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!”

Clink. clink. clink.

And she washes her hands of him, having filled them with enough wages to last a lifetime (and beyond). [550 times a year’s wages. Because she likely didn’t live to be 550 years old, you can see how the sum would have been extravagant, lasting into the afterlife!]

Can you think of anyone else who was betrayed for mere pieces of silver? 30 to be exact. The price for a slave. Not nearly the handsome price that Samson was wanted for, making the betrayal of Judas that much more callous.

Samson reveals his secret to her, also showing us, the reader, for the first time that he is even aware of his Nazirite calling. This man with the high calling had the knowledge of his Nazirite vow, but what good did that knowledge produce in his life?

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

One thing that is vitally important for us as we study the Bible is never to become so wrapped up in knowing things about God and gaining knowledge that we lose sight of our calling. He doesn’t give us knowledge, wisdom, and understanding so that our brains become full of delicious facts or so that we can talk circles around people. We can have all the knowledge of the world, but if the Word of God makes no difference in our lives, the pursuit of knowledge is worthless.

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.  1 Corinthians 13:2, 8

Let His truth sink in deep, being careful to abide in the Vine, working in concert with the Spirit of God who produces in us the character of Christ (John 15:4-5).


we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up.If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. 1 Corinthians 8:1-3

Let the knowledge of who God is stir the affection in your heart for Him rather than allowing it to be a stumbling block of pride. Don’t be “puffed up”.

Do not simply be hearers of the Word, but rather be doers as well (James 1:22).

 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. James 1:23-25

(Too many times instead of picking up the mirror, we pick up a magnifying glass. With the one we are to look at ourselves, with the other we try to draw attention to others’ faults.)

Continuing in the text:

Delilah’s betrayal seems even more cruel when you read verse 19:

19 She made him sleep on her knees. And she called a man and had him shave off the seven locks of his head. Then she began to torment him, and his strength left him. 

  • Delilah’s tightening (tāqa‘) of Samson’s hair with a pin (ê) in 16:14 recalls Jael’s striking (tāqa‘) the tent peg (ê) into Sisera’s temple in 4:21
  • Both scenes take place in a woman’s private quarters
  • The sleeping Samson of 16:19 recalls the sleeping Sisera of 4:21

(NIVAC p. 319)

Then we read the saddest verse in our text:

Samson did not know that the LORD had left him. (v. 20)

Let’s make one thing clear, it’s not that his hair had supernatural power or magic, but rather that the Nazirite vow was broken, just like the covenant with Adam and Eve was broken. And the consequences were immediate. No more strength. No more presence of God.

Did Samson realize this is what his actions would cost him? Did he realize that perhaps his captivity was better than his freedom because it would place him in the den of Lions? That perhaps his captivity meant one more opportunity against the enemy of God?

The Philistines had their enemy after all. They gouged out his eyes and took him to Gaza, bound him in chains, and threw him in prison to have him grind at the mill (a task for slaves and women). (Tyndale; NIVAC) Perhaps this is also ironic justice since he burned up their grain fields earlier. (NIVAC)

Here he is humbled by his enemies, losing that source of strength, which never really belonged to him anyway. And this enemy, puffed up in their pride, believes their grain god, Dagon, has triumphed over the “ravager of their country” (v. 24).

Samson’s imprisonment at Gaza, the furthest Philistine city from his home, is very telling for the nation of Israel. Just like Samson, Israel “fritters away her high calling, lives by what is right in her own eyes, and provokes Yahweh to abandon her. According to the covenant of curses in Lev 26 and Deut 28, this is precisely the fate the nation should expect for persistent rebellion against the covenant Lord. Like Samson, the nation will be seized, blinded, exiled, imprisoned, and humiliated with forced labor. (The book of Judges may have been written against the backdrop of the Northern Kingdom’s fall to Assyria in 734-722 B.C.) (Block p. 462 in NAC)

But then we read verse 22, giving hope to the end of the story

But the hair of his head began to grow again… (v. 22)

Judges 16:23-24 says,

23 Now the lords of the Philistines gathered to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god and to rejoice, and they said, “Our god has given Samson our enemy into our hand.” 24 And when the people saw him, they praised their god.

As if the story wasn’t dripping with enough irony, this last section of the passage stands as the bookend to Samson’s final showdown. The Philistines are seen here worshipping their false god, praising him for giving their enemy into their hands.

But that roaring Lion, Philistia, didn’t stand a chance against the God of Israel. Not even their god, Dagon, stood a chance against YHWH. Dagon wasn’t even powerful enough to keep his people from dying as they worshipped him in his temple. Samson stretched out his arms, pushing over the columns and as Gunn writes, “[Their] praise died coldly on [their] lips. The [writer of Judges] underlines the power of Yahweh and the irrelevance of Dagon. The victory is unquestionably Yahweh’s…” (Word Commentary p. 354)

And so it began…the destruction of Israel’s enemy.

Delilah was devoted to Samson’s destruction when she struck a hefty deal with those Philistine lords. But did she meet her destruction in the Philistine temple that day? Many scholars believe she would have been at this feast. A Heart Devoted to destruction only to be devoted for destruction.

The Lion, Philistia was no match for the Lion of Israel. God is depicted as a Lion…

In Hosea 5:14, He is frightening:

14 For I will be like a lion to Ephraim,
    and like a young lion to the house of Judah.
I, even I, will tear and go away;
    I will carry off, and no one shall rescue.

And again in Hosea 13:7-8:

So I am to them like a lion;
    like a leopard I will lurk beside the way.
I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs;
    I will tear open their breast,
and there I will devour them like a lion,
    as a wild beast would rip them open.

And yet we have this picture of hope: (Hosea 11:10-11)

10 They shall go after the Lord;
    he will roar like a lion;
when he roars,
    his children shall come trembling from the west;
11 they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt,
    and like doves from the land of Assyria,
    and I will return them to their homes, declares the Lord.

But do you hear the pounding of the paw prints? Because the Lion of Judah approaches in Rev. 5:2-5, 7, 9-10:

And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.  And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
    from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
    and they shall reign on the earth.”

This is OUR God!

Just like the Philistines, the enemy, Satan, thought he had conquered Jesus. He entered Judas who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. But God used the betrayer as an OPPORTUNITY against the enemy.

Jesus was stripped, beaten, thrown into prison, utterly humiliated. But it was by His stripes that we are HEALED.

And the enemy scoffed and leered as they hung Jesus on the cross, thinking Jesus had been given into his hands. Jesus wasn’t humbled by ANY person, but He humbled HIMSELF by becoming obedient to death on a cross.

He stretched out His arms for His final showdown. It was because He hung on that tree that we are REDEEMED from the curse of the law.

Even as the enemy gloated over the death of Jesus, we received redemption for by His blood He ransomed us.

Unlike Samson who lost his strength and perished with the enemy, when Jesus died, He added to His strength, having conquered our enemies – sin and death.

He is both the Lamb who was slain AND the Lion of Judah. The Sacrifice and the Mighty King.

And Satan’s praise of himself died coldly on his lips because God overcame the evil one once and for all by sending the Ultimate Deliverer.

How does the knowledge of all THIS change your life? We cannot simply know it, we must live it.

How are you encouraged to live differently, knowing that His death and resurrection means certain blessings, gifts, fruit, and responsibilities for the believer? You are being transformed into the image of His Son, what does that look like for you today?

THIS is a love that does not let go. This is the divine love. Even when the loved one repeatedly betrays that love and loyalty, still God pursues her. We see God’s amazingly patient and relentless love for Israel throughout the book of Judges! (Word Commentary p. 355)

In case the people of Israel had forgotten that they HAD a King, God reminds them that He is still on His throne and would not share His glory with another.

These women were among the people without knowledge of God. They were idolatrous, sinful pagans. Contrast them with, Samson, who had the knowledge of his high calling but accomplishes less on behalf of his people than any of his predecessors. It is this narrative that shows the utter despair of spiritual growth and political maturity in Israel. And yet God uses Samson just as he is, flaws and all. (Word Commentary 356, 360)

Let that encourage you today.

God pursues you with the same patient, relentless love. His is the relentless pursuit of the human heart for His divine glory!


My talk on Samson’s Wife & Delilah


Samson’s Wife & Delilah – Part 2


The phrase “right in my eyes” (14:3) is significant because that same phrase (more or less) is repeated in Judges revealing that everyone was doing what was right in their eyes and not what was right in GOD’S eyes. Even Samson, who is one of the supposed Israelite leaders (appointed from inside his mother’s womb), had been doing whatever he wanted, seemingly without thought for God’s law, which clearly prohibited foreign marriages.

This foreign marriage, forbidden in the law, should have been a huge red flag for Samson, but the writer says it was of the Lord!! Judges 14:4:

…it was from the LORD, for He was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines.

Somehow God had allowed this to happen so that He would have more opportunities to strike the Philistines for the sake of His Covenant People. The same Covenant people who had strayed so far that they didn’t even bother crying out to their God when the oppressors came. Yet God pursued the faithless ones.

The Word Commentary asks, “why would this foreign marriage be ‘of God’? God retains freedom to accomplish His purposes through the people and means He chooses.” (p. 333)

Can you think of any other men of God whom the Lord determined would marry unsavory brides? Hosea! We’ll learn about his wife, Gomer, later on in our study.

It is good to remember that the Scriptures were not being written as the events were happening. The historian/writer has the advantage of hindsight to see how God was present in the situations that unfolded for Israel. Isn’t that how it seems for us sometimes? It feels like we can often see God more clearly after the difficult season is over. We can attribute God’s work in our lives more easily once we’ve passed through the trials. We see His work as protection or see His love in the way He withheld something we thought we wanted/needed. He is ALWAYS at work in our lives even though we may not always know how. And when we don’t understand His hands, we can always trust His heart.

This is one of those topics that is hard to address because it reveals how little we know about God’s sovereignty and our own will. I’m not going to get into free will and God’s sovereignty at this moment, because I don’t think anyone can fully understand how it all works. I am, however, absolutely certain that I need no help from God to commit sins. He is never responsible for my sin because He is perfectly holy. However, God is responsible for any good thing in me. He is the one who works in me, conforming me into the image of His Son.

Scholar R. G. Bowman describes this delicate theological issue: “The writer of Judges portrays God as a [god] who intervenes to punish the people for their sins and works with human leaders to deliver the people from their enemies, but refrains from using divine powers to prevent human failures. Bowman sees a fine balancing act between the divine exercise of power and the exercise of human freedom and will.” (More to the Eye Than Meets the Eye in Biblical Interpretation)

Although I have seen Samson painted as having a dull wit, not being too smart but completely driven by his own passions, I wonder if he didn’t make his choices, fully knowing the consequences. After all, perhaps he really was aware that his choices would cause trouble between Israel and Philistia, and maybe this is why he continues to make one “bad” choice after another. (The text doesn’t give any indication that he was aware at all, but I really want to give him the benefit of the doubt, because how could anyone be this bad??!)

Word Commentary notes, “Rather than gathering armies to fight the Philistines, Samson gathers girlfriends who create anger and violence between Samson and the [Philistines].” (p. 334)

John Milton writes in his poem about Samson (Samson Angonistes) that he takes personal responsibility for his actions: “Nothing of all these evils hath befall’n me / But justly; I myself have brought them on, / Sole Author I, sole cause. (375-76)

So was Samson an oblivious man of passions or a man in tune with God’s plans?

Then in verses 5-6 we have this weird story about Samson tearing apart a lion and they seem rather awkwardly and inappropriately placed in the middle of a wedding proposal and feast! (Not exactly a bride’s dream) But this story is important for understanding Samson’s riddle later on. It also represents something very important for Israel!

Back in Judges 13:5 it says of Samson,

for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.

I place emphasis on the word BEGIN for Samson did not finish Israel’s business with the Philistines. David is actually credited with ridding Israel of them (2 Sam 8:1).

So this scene with the lion is symbolic of the Philistines, coming out of nowhere, to attack Israel, but God had gifted Samson with great strength and he was able to tear the lion apart. Samson would begin to save Israel from the Lion Philistia. (The Symbolism of the Lion and the Bees by Martin Emmrich in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society)

Then in verse 8 it says

he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion, and behold, there was a swarm of bees in the body of the lion, and honey.

Again we have this image of a lion, but now it is a dead, rotten carcass with bees and their honey inside of it.

Samson eats the honey and gives some to his parents. You might have picked up on the fact that this would have broken his Nazirite vow, defiling himself by having contact with the dead. But something more is at play because nothing is mentioned about the broken vow.

This narrative is what I call a “teaching sandwich” in the sense that something happens (Samson rips the lion apart), the scene goes on to a seemingly disconnected point in the story, then something else happens to connect the events all together (carcass). It’s just like what Jesus did in Mark when He cursed the fig tree, then drove out the money changers, only to return to a withered fig tree in order to teach about who His true disciples were (as opposed to the money changers). Mmmm take a huge bite and taste the honey!

First of all, it would have been unheard of for bees to settle into the carcass of a dead lion. This in and of itself would have been as miraculous as the defeat of the lion.

Block writes, “In a world of decay and decomposition Samson discovers a “community” of bees not only existing but producing sweetness to the world around. The [writer’s] choice of [the Hebrew word] cedâ, (ay – daw) “community,” rather than seres, the common word for “swarm”, is deliberate. Except for Ps 68:30 [Hb. 31], ceda always refers to a company of people, usually the Israelites as a faith community, called to be agents of grace and light in the decadent world.” (Martin Emmrich) (Also mentioned in Word Commentary p. 335)

It appears as though the writer of Judges is revealing how God would, starting with Samson, destroy Israel’s enemies, giving Israel back their home where they could again be a community enjoying the fruits (HONEY) of the land.

Martin Emmrich writes, “the divine blessing connected with Israel’s peaceful existence in the land is often described in terms of the sweetness of honey: “For Yahweh your God is bringing you into a good land … a land of olives and honey“(Deut 8:7-8).”

Likewise, just as a lion’s carcass is an unlikely place for bees to settle, so too was Canaan an unlikely land for the Israelites to settle with its idolatrous people riddled with sin’s defilement. Like the bees in the carcass, Israel would settle into the idolatrous land after the death of their enemies.  (Emmrich)

Next we have the wedding feast in verse 10. The word feast (mishteh) can mean drinking feast. (footnote in ESV) Most scholars believe that Samson couldn’t have avoided the drinking that would have taken place at this feast.

All throughout these chapters, we have no sense that Samson is even aware of his Nazirite vow. That is, not until he tells Delilah his secret. So even though we’re jumping ahead a little bit, it helps us understand that Samson had the knowledge of the vow. However, this knowledge didn’t seem to stop him from breaking it twice now, seemingly showing no care or honor for God’s calling on his life.

“Rejection of Knowledge”

They have neither knowledge nor understanding,
    they walk about in darkness…. (Psalm 82:5)

 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you [JUDGES] have rejected knowledge… (Hosea 4:6)

The supposed leader of the Israelites had rejected the knowledge of his high calling. So isn’t it ironic that he decides to try his hand at a riddle.

“Riddles in the Ancient World”

The use of riddles at feasts was popular in the ancient world. You may recall the queen of Sheba asking Solomon “hard questions”, very likely riddles (1 Kings 10:1; 2 Chron 9:1). Solomon later became the famous author of proverbs and riddles. Ezekiel was instructed to speak a riddle to Israel in 17:2. To know dark sayings was considered a mark of wisdom (Prov. 1:6).

So what does this say about Samson? He had some degree of intelligence about him that he was able to come up with this clever riddle which, by the way, his companions tried and failed to solve! It says in verse 14 that they tried to solve it for 3 days until they asked Samson’s wife to entice him to give her the answer. Their motivation for her? We’ll burn you and your father if you don’t find out.

I almost feel sorry for Samson’s new wife. Verse 17 tells us she cries for the 7 days that the feast lasted, no doubt terrified at the thought of being burned alive with her father if she failed to discover his secret. So much for a fun wedding party! Poor poor Miss Philistine.

The phrase in verse 17 “she pressed him hard” is the same wording in Judges 16:16 when Delilah “pressed him hard day after day”. The word carries a note of distress and oppression, enough to cause Samson to break down and give in to her “pressing”.

Or did he? Did he know all along what was happening, allowing his new wife to badger him for those 7 days, and then gave her the answer at the very last moment, ready for another skilled retort to answer the Philistines?

The men answer Samson in the form of a riddle, and you can almost taste the irony in their answer. “What is sweeter than honey? What is stronger than a lion?” Who was it that simply ripped a lion in half? Samson. So it appears as though Samson is stronger than the lion. He didn’t keep that part a secret for nothing!

But the true answer may well have been LOVE or a woman’s allure. (NIVAC) Samson may have been referring to the irresistibility of love. J (by Philip Nel The Riddle of Samson in Biblica). Love is sweeter than honey, Love is stronger than a lion.  Perhaps now you can see the irony in his riddle as he is overcome with “love” for these women of Philistia!

Samson gives his retort, another riddle in the Hebrew (v. 18), as if he had already planned how to respond, knowing all along that his wife was going to betray him. And then they get to find out just how strong this man is! The Scripture says he went all the way to Ashkelon to strike down these 30 men. To give you an idea of the distance here is a map showing Timnah and Ashkelon: It was approximately 30 miles southwest of Timnah!

Samson map clear

Verse 19 is the third time the Spirit of the LORD is mentioned in Samson’s life. There are four times in this narrative in which the Spirit plays a part in his exploits.

The first time, I already mentioned, was at the beginning of his “career” in 13:25, with the Spirit “stirring” Samson. Then in 14:6 with the lion, here in 14:19 when he kills 30 men at Ashkelon (Philistine city), and also in 15:14-17 when he killed 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey. In the last three verses, the text says the same phrase: “The Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him”.

Here again we can assume that either Samson is aware that God is with him and this is one of those “opportunities against the Philistines” OR God uses this man’s hasty and violent actions to bring trouble on the Philistines.

Although his actions are violent, he makes good on his bargain by giving his 30 companions the promised clothing! There is absolutely no mention of Samson being angry with his new wife about giving him up. But he is definitely angry. Marching out in “hot anger” to be exact. Then verse 20 wraps up the passage with a little tid-bit of information about his wife who now belongs to his companion, or best man. This is beginning to sound like an episode of Jerry Springer.

Poor Miss Philistine gets shuffled around by her father, but perhaps she can look on the bright side, she didn’t die! And she still ended up with a husband! Taste the irony in our teaching sandwich.

Then we get to chapter 15. Here again we find a very strange story, that grabs our attention and leaves us with an empty pit in our stomachs. It’s the classic case of revenge and tragedy, resulting in our sympathy even for the enemy.

I want you to notice the description in verse 1 of the time of year. When you see descriptors like “wheat harvest” or other time references, they are almost always clues for understanding something else in the text. In this case we know that Samson dealt quite the blow to the Philistines when he burned up their ripe-for-harvest fields.

Beth Shemesh, Sorek Valley Area

To give you an idea of the importance of the grain crops in this region, here is an aerial view of the Sorek Valley. The Sorek River winds its way from left to right. The Sorek Valley continues to the left where it runs into Timnah. You can see the Judean Mountains at the top of the picture. The Israelite towns of Zorah and Eshtaol would be in the foothills of the mountains there (among the trees). Beth-Shemesh, which is also part of Israel, is on the right hand side of the valley.

You can see how fertile this area is and why both the Philistines and Israelites harvested their crops in the valley! To this present day the corn-fields in that part of the lowlands (known as the Shephelah) extend continuously for twenty or thirty miles.

Samson arrives to collect his bride but finds out she’s been given away to his best man and is then offered her younger, supposedly more beautiful, sister.

I pause now to ponder what Miss Philistine might have thought when her Israelite suiter came knocking for a second time. Did she have any affection for this man? Was she happy to see that he’d come back for her? Or did she only feel dread because she realized this man was reckless and bent on destroying her people? Was she happy to be with a man of her own people and bothered that Samson came back around? Was she afraid he might do something to put her life in jeopardy again?

Samson obviously refuses the second daughter and in verses 4-5 sets about with the task of trapping 300 foxes, tying torches to their tails, and setting them loose in the valley where their fields of wheat, corn, and olive groves are ready for harvest. Samson’s revenge with the foxes does not involve the Spirit of God this time. It seems to be all Samson. Another opportunity against the Philistines!

Block writes, “All [Samson’s] achievements are personal…Unlike the [other] deliverers, he never seeks to rid Israel of foreign oppressors, and he never calls out the Israelite troops. Samson is a man with a higher calling than any other deliverer in the book, [yet] he spends his whole life ‘doing his own thing.’” (p. 441 in NAC)

There are two interesting background stories at play in this account. First, him burning the fields would have been a violation of the Mosaic law according to Exodus 22:6:

If fire breaks out and catches in thorns so that the stacked grain or the standing grain or the field is consumed, he who started the fire shall make full restitution.

Secondly, the god of the Philistines was Dagon, and scholars now believe he was the god of grain!!! (NIVAC) So remember how God brought the plagues on Egypt? Each of those plagues was an affront against the Egyptian gods. (A big thanks to my friend Angela for sharing this chart with me!)

Samson plagues on Egypt

This time, God uses Samson’s actions to show that He is sovereign over Dagon, the god of grain. They would watch as the fire licked up the grain, vineyards, and olive groves – the 3 dietary and economic staples of ancient Palestine. (Word Commentary) And their god would be silent. You might even say He outfoxed them!

All joking aside, do you see God’s relentless pursuit of His people? He is unwilling to share His glory with anyone!

I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. Isaiah 42:8 (also in 48:11)

And He is jealous for His people.

Then the Lord became jealous for his land and had pity on his people. Joel 2:8 (also in Zech 1:14, 8:2)

The LORD our God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. Deut. 4:24

He pursues the enemy in wrath and judgment and yet will stop at nothing to pursue His beloved with His love and mercy, and yes even judgement. FEAR and LOVE mingled together.

But then one bad turn deserves another? And the Philistines burn Samson’s bride and her father just as Samson burned their fields. An eye for an eye, a bride for a field? (No, Philistines, a bride for a field is not a fair trade.)

I almost hate to say it but she appears as a mere pawn in their game of war. She was an untimely interruption of the heart, having no happy interruptions from God, but only tragic interruptions involving the destruction of her and her people. She was a Heart Devoted for Destruction.

We have one vengeful act stacked on top of another. The phrase “struck them hip and thigh” (v. 8) is meant to intensify the words “with a great blow”. One scholar writes that this could have been a “wrestling idiom [MEANING] total victory.” (Word Commentary p. 341; also in Tyndale “originating in the art of wrestling”).

Samson map large

Then Samson retreats like an animal as he hides in the rock at Etam, in Judah’s territory. The map above shows where scholars believe Etam might be (although they admit they’re not even sure where it really is). It’s almost humorous the way in which Judah handles their fellow countryman, like Samson is their enemy. It seems that they want to avoid confrontation with the Philistines at all costs, and so they send a delegation the size of a small army (3,000 men) to Samson (Block p. 444 NAC). Then they actually talk him into giving himself up the Philistines. What follows is the famous story of Samson killing 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey!

Unfortunately, our woman of Philistia meets a tragic end much too early in her life. Her people had been marked by God, devoted for destruction, because of their sins against Him and their cruel treatment of His people.

{Stay tuned for Part 3 of the story involving Miss Delilah!}

Samson’s Wife & Delilah (Hearts Devoted to Destruction) Part 1


The period of the Judges was considered a very dark time for Israel. We learned about Moses and the period of the wanderings, with the Israelites finally reaching their Promised Land with Joshua. We know from reading Exodus and Leviticus that the tribes were a tight-knit group during this period, simply because they had to be! When God’s presence departed, they packed up camp and followed along.

Samson Israel encampment  

Here are 2 images of what the camp of Israel might have looked like as they wandered in the wilderness. The second picture into account the amount of people in each tribe. Also, notice the Pillar of Cloud? Or Smoke?

Samson Pillar of Fire Wilderness

Remember the imagery of God as a consuming fire? A Pillar of Fire? Well here is a depiction of the Pillar.

As they wandered, you get the impression that they were a unified group of people, following their God to the destination He promised them. Then as they reach Canaan, we read of the effort the tribes gave for one another as they took over the land. They went through the trial of the wanderings and then the trial of war. Finally, able to rest in their promised portions of land as individual tribes of Israel.

Trials have a way of bringing people together.

Comfort has a way of coaxing them into apathy.

And distance didn’t make their hearts grow fonder. It only brought disunity.

What I see as I scan the pages of Judges is a group of people who are scattered over a relatively small area, unable to grasp ahold of their identity in their Savior God because they had forgotten God’s Word and God’s Works.

“Setting for Judges”

After the death of Joshua, Judges 2:10 says:

10 And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.

From reading the book of Judges, it can be seen that there was “a lack of political, military, and religious centralization in the tribes.” (Dictionary of the Old Testament Historical Books) What is more, it seems like the writers were making a case for Israel to have a king. Yes, their leader and King was God, but they were doing a terrible job of following their Leader.

Think about why they’re in this mess. They had the knowledge of God’s law, what He instructed them to do, but during the conquest of Canaan, they failed to remove the inhabitants completely, thus allowing for their enemies to gain strength over the years. They also fell into temptations galore – the two greatest temptations being foreign women and foreign gods.

My husband made a great point concerning Israel’s faithlessness to God. In Jeremiah 3, God indicates that the other nations remain faithful to their gods, who aren’t really gods at all, while Israel, the chosen people of the One True God, are unfaithful to their God and go after the gods of the other nations.

Jael judges cycle

In fact, when you read through Judges, you’ll find that sin cycle, except in the Samson narrative, there is no reference to Israel crying out to God! Judges 13:1 says:

Israel did evil in the sight of God and He delivered them into the hands of the Philistines.

“In this cycle, the Israelites display little discomfort or evidence of even wanting to be delivered.” (Block p. 395 in New American Commentary) They were so apathetic this time around, that they didn’t even bother calling out to the God who had chosen them and who had set them in that Land.

“No Knowledge”

Perhaps Asaph, the psalmist, could have been hearkening back to this time when he wrote:

They have neither knowledge nor understanding,
they walk about in darkness…. (Psalm 82:5)

Their leadership was severely lacking:

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you [priests] have rejected knowledge… (Hosea 4:6)

Remember what we learned from Zipporah:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7)

The Israelites have lost the fear of God.

There is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land. (Hosea 4:1)

God desired for them to know Him and to obey Him. But instead they were unfaithful to their God. They were unfaithful by going after those other, worthless gods, and by going after those foreign women. They were a people with the knowledge of God, acting in ways that discarded the knowledge they had.

In our current narrative, we learn about 2 of these FOREIGN women: One of them happens to be Samson’s wife! The other has been bestowed with the honor of being identified with promiscuity and deceit. A Delilah is a treacherous and seductive woman, especially a mistress or wife.

Jael Israel_time_of_Judges

Here is a map of Israel during the time of the Judges. Dan is the location in which Samson specifically served. You can see the arrows where Israel’s enemies came in to oppress them. You will also notice that the trouble for Israel occurred throughout the ENTIRE region, not just in the northern or southern kingdom. Because their enemies came at different times and from different regions, you can understand why there may have been an overlap in the service of the judges. It wasn’t like the Philistines hollered to the enemies of the north, requesting to fight Israel, and asking for them to back off. No, the enemies came when God sent them.

“Wife of Samson”

In Judges 14 we see Samson waltzing right into Philistine territory, as if it were his normal daily stroll to a neighbor’s house. It is as if the writer was pointing out the comfort or resignation Israel felt with the Philistines, even though, as the Judahites remind Samson, these Philistines were their “rulers.” (Judges 15:11). Everything that God had intended for the Israelites in their Promised Land was coming loose at the seams. Their lack of obedience to their King resulted in oppression in their own Promised Land.

Block postulates, “Israel would have been satisfied to co-exist with the Philistines but Yahweh [had other plans] to incite the Philistines and thereby disturb the comfortable status quo that existed between them and Israel.” (p. 424 NAC)

God used Samson to shake the Israelites out of their slumber and apathy.

We first hear of the Spirit of God “stirring” Samson in Judges 13:25. This word is not used anywhere else, but you get the idea after reading the narrative that this is the divine initiation. (Block p. 424 in NAC) Interestingly the stirring results in Samson entering the Philistine territory of Timnah which had originally been allotted to the tribe of Dan. God was getting ready to give the Promised Land back to the rightful owners. (Block p. 424 in NAC)

In verse 1 We meet our girl at Timnah. She doesn’t even get a name. She’s simply the “daughter of the Philistines”. And though her life was far from an example of a godly one, God includes her in His story of judgment on the enemy nation, her nation.

Block writes, “Yahweh was determined to shatter the status quo. Samson was his tool chosen to rile up the Philistines, and this woman offers the opportunity to make it happen. If the Israelites did not have the heart to take action against the Philistines, God would cause the Philistines to take action against them.” (p. 426 NAC)

While we are at least somewhat familiar with Delilah, I wonder how many of you were surprised to learn of Samson’s Philistine wife! She sounds much the same as her counterpart, Miss Delilah! I guess this is why God warned the Israelites to steer clear of the foreign women!

Who were these Philistines anyway? They certainly had no knowledge of the God of Israel. They were also people walking in darkness. But they were pagans, violent and odious to God. The more well-known stories about them involve David and Goliath.

Samson philistine warrior garb                   Samson map clear

The Philistines were considered Sea-Faring people who are believed to come from the Aegean region. An Egyptian source reveals that Pharaoh Ramessess II claimed defeat over them in the 5th year of his reign because they had tried and failed to invade Egypt. It was shortly after this that the Philistines ended up sailing slightly north to settle in the coastal strip of Canaan. From there they began filtering into the foothills of Dan and Judah. They plagued Israel all during the times of the Judges as well as into David’s lifetime. (footnote from Word Study Bible)

You’ll notice in the wall carving that the Philistines are distinguishable with their feathered headdress.

They were organized into a confederation of 5 city-states with coastal cities of Ashdod, Asheklon, and Gaza and 2 inland cities of Ekron and Gath.

Music stand

Music stand










Excavations done in this coastal region have shown that the Philistines were musicians,

Wine jug with bowl

Wine jug with bowl

liked to drink wine (not beer), prized pork over sheep and goats for food,

Olive Press reconstructed with actual parts from the city of Ekron

Olive Press reconstructed with actual parts from the city of Ekron

Labeled Olive Press

Labeled Olive Press

were one of the largest producers of olive oil in the ancient Near-East,

Samson pottery

and used iron, ivory, and bronze, and of course made pottery.

Samson dagon fish man

Later on we learn of the Philistine god, Dagon (16:23) who makes another appearance in 1 Samuel 4:1-7 in the story about the ark of the covenant. In all the paintings, mosaics, or statues of him, he is usually portrayed as a fish-man god. The Hebrew word for fish is “dag”. So was he Dagon, the fish-man? Or was Dagon the god of grain? Dagan in Hebrew meant grain. Recent scholarship believes he was the god of grain. This is extremely important for understanding the text later on. He was also considered the father of Baal. (Block)

This daughter of the Philistines, a Dagon worshipper, was from Timnah – the land that was supposed to belong to Dan!

Samson Valley of Sorek        

Where was Timnah, you ask? It is in the Valley of Sorek, 20 miles west of Jerusalem, right on the border of Philistia and Israel. Timnah was just 4 miles from Samson’s town, Zorah.

The Valley of Sorek was likely a fertile area, well suited for vineyards. (

The Scripture (Judges 13:25) said that the Spirit of the LORD began to stir Samson at Mahaneh Dan, an area only 6 miles east of Timnah. Also when Samson “went down to Timnah” (v. 1), he literally went down as there is an 800 foot drop in elevation between these two areas.

{Stay tuned for Part 2 next week!}