The Book of Judges, Chapter 16 (aka “He wist not that the LORD was departed from him”)


Samson was judge of Israel for 20 years.  This was annotated at the end of Chapter 15 and is again noted again at the end of this chapter.  It is not two periods of 20 years, but rather it is two references to the same time period.

Two references.  Yet, they come at the end of two periods of time in his life that stand somewhat in contrast to each other.  The two references seem to reinforce that Samson was called and used by God regardless of whatever else may be going on in his life.  The first time period, we see even his parents questioning his decisions, and yet he is somewhat vindicated by gaining victories over the enemy.  The second time period is marked by downright sin, however, and this allows the enemy to subdue him for a while.  There is no doubt that some of his behavior is inexplicable in light of God’s Law.

The chapter starts out with Samson visiting a harlot.  EW Bullinger in The Companion Bible makes the comment, “He could rend a lion, but not his lusts.  He could break his bonds, but not his habits.  He could conquer the Philistines, but not his passions.”

The Philistines figured that since the city gate was closed at night, Samson could not leave until morning.  So, they decide to surround him and overtake him in the morning.  However, Samson arises around midnight, pulls up the city gate with its posts and carries them away.

Evidently, Samson had an interesting sense of humor.  He didn’t just toss the gate away, but he carried it up a hill in Hebron.  This was about a 30 – 40 mile journey over rough terrain.

Next, we are introduced to Delilah.  She lived in the valley of Sorek.  JFB states no one knows exactly where that is.

It says that Samson “loved” her (v 4).  Their story has become the stuff of movies and historical fiction.  What their relationship was like exactly, though, we aren’t told.  We need to ensure that we aren’t putting things we have learned from such things or even our own imaginations into the story line.

We can read between the lines, certainly, but we need to be careful that we don’t accuse Samson of anything that the Bible doesn’t explicitly say.  It’s like the Book of Job, about which some commentators will make unjust judgments about Job.  Having said all of that, though, the story is written in such a way as to lead one to believe that the relationship was anything but sinless.

One similarity we see with Samson’s previous relationship with his wife, though, is that Delilah is coerced into getting information from Samson, and she constantly nags him for the information.  The big difference is that the level of coercion and the motivation are different.  Delilah is “coerced” by her own desire for money, while Samson’s wife was coerced by the desire of preservation.  Very different things.  Likely, very different women in that one significant respect.  At very least, it would make Delilah a gold digger.  It goes to show how much Samson’s sense of right and wrong had deteriorated.

She was a gold digger, but the Philistines were willing to offer a high price — 1100 pieces of silver apiece.  I looked it up in Matthew Henry to be sure, as that means 5500 altogether, which was quite a sum of money.  As a comparison, Jesus was sold for only thirty.  According to www.Jesus-is-Savior.com, Delilah was offered $89,641!

Practical Relationship Lessons From Samson’s Story

OK, I am going to talk in generalities here.  Everyone is different, and every relationship is different.  It isn’t that there might be exceptions to the following, but rather there will be.

It has always interested me just how much women will underestimate the effect of nagging upon a husband or boyfriend.  Men like to pretend that nothing will affect them.  Men like to believe they are tough and can handle all that life throws at them.  The truth is very different, of course.  One area that can make or break a man is in his relationships.  The women in his life can have a profound effect upon him, and this effect may be intentional or unintentional.  “Behind every successful man is a woman,” goes the saying.  Groucho Marx added, “Behind her is his wife.”  Unfortunately, that has sometimes been the case as well.

15 A quarreling wife is as bothersome
as a continual dripping on a rainy day.

~ Pr 27:15 (NCV)

Men might like to view themselves as rocks.  They are hard.  They are tough.  They are durable.  However, a steady dripping of water over the years can literally erode a rock in half.

It is interesting that you often hear about wives “nagging” from husbands, but not often the other way around.  One reason for this is because of the differences how men and women tend to view relationships.  A man may tie himself up in work, hobbies or other pursuits while his relationships tend to be fewer and more specialized than a woman’s.  While women do pursue these as well, their priorities are more on the relationships that occur as a result, or they may even be the result of that relationship.  A man may have his bowling buddies, his drinking buddies and his colleagues, and they may be compartmentalized to the point where few, if any, cross those lines.  A woman is more likely to have friends that play cards together, talk together, eat out together and even work together.  Men and women may engage in the same activities, but their priorities will often be different.

But, and there’s always one, we should not jump to the conclusion that women are unaffected by negativity as well.  All I’m saying is that it can take less to affect a man than a woman, and it depends upon from whom the negativity is coming.

The balance between negativity and positivity appears to be the key dynamic in what amounts to the emotional ecology of every marriage. There seems to be some kind of thermostat operating in healthy marriages that regulates this balance. For example, when partners get contemptuous, they correct it with lots of positivity–not necessarily right away, but sometime soon.

What really separates contented couples from those in deep marital misery is a healthy balance between their positive and negative feelings and actions toward each other.

~ Gottman, John. (1 Oct 2009). “What makes marriage work?Psychology Today.

Some women like Delilah will understand this and take advantage of it.  Some women will not understand it, and they will drive their men away, thinking it is their job to correct or fix them.  If criticism is not liberally mixed in with affirmations of love and positive feelings, it is a recipe for failure in one area or another.  It often isn’t even a case of what is being said but who says it.

Having said all that, here’s something for the men to consider:  If you need affirmation and support from your wife, how much more meaningful is the command to love your wife?  If you want to be affirmed, then are you giving affirmation?

Samson was physically strong.  He was a tough guy.  He was a scrapper and a fighter.  However, it turns out that emotionally he was as weak as any ordinary man.

Samson’s Real Source of Strength

With incentive to obtain a huge amount of money, she begins to pepper him with questions.  Samson says to tie him up with “seven green withs” in order to bind him.

Withe seems to be an old English word for “band or rope made of twisted twigs or stems”.  However, that seems to be a mistranslation, as the Hebrew word actually stands for a material used to make bowstrings.  It was probably some type of animal gut, and “green” probably meant it was still moist.  It most likely would have been minimally binding in a fresh state.

It broke as easily as “a thread of tow”, and tow is made from flax.  Since it is a thread, it probably wouldn’t have been too difficult to break either.

So, Delilah wears Samson out by asking him from where his strength comes.  Over and over, he tells her this or that.  You get the feeling that he is playing games with her.  Of course, we know she is playing a game with him, but on a more serious level.

We aren’t told how long this went on.  Bible stories are often condensed, and only the most pertinent details are stated.  You get the impression that this was a daily routine, but the entire story might have stretched out over a number of months.  We are only told of four occasions, but there may have been more.  We do know that her nagging “vexed unto death” (v 16) Samson.

Finally, Samson tells Delilah that he was born a Nazarite, and he has never had his hair cut.  He tells her that if his hair was cut, he would be like an ordinary man (v 17).

Was this true?  Was his strength really in his hair?  Yes and no.  His hair was really symbolic of the Nazarite vow.  It wasn’t the hair that gave him strength.  Go back and reread the last chapter if you don’t believe me, because there we saw that Samson’s mighty acts occurred after the Spirit of God fell upon him.  We also saw a spring of water spring up from the ground after a prayer to God, and that had absolutely nothing to do with his strength other than to refresh him.  In fact, even the water is symbolic of the Spirit in that sense.

However, if the hair was “just a symbol” does Samson lose his strength?

20 And she said, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he awoke out of his sleep, and said, I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself. And he wist not that the LORD was departed from him.

~ Jdg 16:20

I once heard Dr David Jeremiah on the radio call that verse “the saddest verse in the Bible”.  There are times when your own failings get you into trouble.  There are times when you really mess up.  However, to not even know that God is no longer with you is sad indeed.

Notice how the symbol is gone, but so is God’s Spirit.  Do symbols matter?  Does the bread and wine matter?  Does the seventh day Sabbath matter?  Do the holy days matter?

16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:

17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.

~ Col 2:16-17

“Those days are just shadows,” people will say.  “The reality is Christ,” they will also say, whatever that is supposed to mean.  The truth is, not only is it a nonsense statement, but the story of Samson should provoke us to consider how important symbols really are.

While we are on the subject, what casts the shadow anyhow?  The body of Christ!  What is the body of Christ if it is not the Church?  “Body” is “soma”, from G4983.  It means a body, either live or dead, of human or animal.  “Substance” in modern translations is a poor substitute for “body”, and it denies the fact that the true Church of God filled with true Christians will be keeping God’s holy days and food laws.

So, the Philistines take Samson, put out his eyes and put him to work.  Some of what we should consider is that Samson was still strong enough to work, but he was no longer supernaturally strong.  God’s Spirit often enhances our God-given abilities while helping us to overcome our weaknesses.

However, it appears that the Philistines are neglectful.  Obviously, they would have had reason to believe that Samson’s hair was what gave Samson his strength.  Yet, they allow his hair to grow back (v 22).  The sign of his Nazarite vow is returning, and the Philistines neglect to note that.

In fact, they become so overconfident that they bring Samson out to play the buffoon in front of them on one of their false feast days.  Samson is brought out and paraded around, while the Philistines give their god Dagon all the credit.

Yet, we see a repentant Samson.  He doesn’t say, “I have my hair back, so now I’ll go to town.”  No, rather he asks to be led to where the support pillars are, and he prays to God for strength.  Instead of relying upon his own strength, he finally acknowledges where his strength really comes from.

Criticisms

The story of Samson is not without its critics.  Like anything containing supernatural or miraculous events, there are those who choose to disregard it.

One of the criticisms is about the structure at the end of the story.  It used to be that scholars chose to disregard it because they hadn’t excavated any building supported by two pillars in the manner described.  Essentially, critics of the Bible often use this logical fallacy of argumentation from silence to try to make their points.  Because they don’t know about it, it doesn’t exist.  It is another form of placing yourself in God’s position, seeing all and knowing all.

However, as so often happens, in 1972 archaeologists have excavated a similar structure of Philistine origin in Tel Aviv.  Bible Archaeology outlines the arguments on both sides in “Between the Pillars: Revisiting ‘Samson and the House of Dagon’”.  It points out that the story of Samson, if he was given supernatural strength, would have been possible and was written in a way that most likely only an eye witness would have done.

We can believe in the story of Samson for so many other reasons as well.  First and foremost, it is contained in God’s Word.  Jesus, the Living Word, affirmed the Scriptures when He lived as a human on the earth.  If we believe Him, then we must believe the Scriptures as well.  Believing in the person of Christ without believing the Scriptures, both old and new, is not real Christianity.  Saying they were nice moral tales is utter nonsense as well, as the lives of many wicked as well as righteous are documented.  To deny the story of Samson is to deny the life and words of Jesus Christ.

There are practical lessons in the story of Samson as well.  Negative communications in relationships has negative consequences.  Sin blinds a person and causes them to head blindly into destruction.

But, one of the most practical is that a symbol may be a symbol, but the symbol is still real.  That means taking of the bread and wine is real, not vapor.  That means that keeping the Sabbath and holy days is real, not somehow spiritualized away.  Like a Nazarite’s hair, these things are an outward sign of God’s people.

Go on to Chapter 17 here.


John D Carmack

About John D Carmack

I am an avid computer geek and Christian. My parents were baptized in WCG around 1973, and a lot of it made sense even then. I went out "into the world" for a while, but God brought me back when the time was right. A true prodigal son, it has deepened my conviction that this world really does need the intervention of Jesus Christ to keep it from destroying itself.