Chap 08 - Samson

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Chap 08 - Samson Powered By Docstoc
					                              CHAPTER 8

                 SAMSON – THE ‘UNKNOWING’ JUDGE


The story of Samson in the book of Judges is probably
one of the most complex in terms of its structure,
plot, characters and style.               It has been variously
described as ‘a suspense story’ (Greene 1991:76); ‘the
last link in the chain of heroes and judges stretching
from Joshua to Samuel’ (Wharton 1973:50); a ‘strange
combination of rowdy adventure stories and theological
considerations’ (Exum 1983:30); ‘the most fictitious
section of the book of Judges’, (Segert 1984:455,)1; a
narrative ‘of divine control and human freedom’ (Gunn
1992:227).       The most meaningful description is that of
Webb (1995:116-117) that it is a story that mirrors the
story of Israel.         He further describes it as ‘a well-
rounded literary unit’ comprising ‘a blend of passion,
heroism and tragedy’ and acting as the climax to the
tales of the judges (:110-112).

Judges 13-16 covers the life of Samson from the time
his conception is revealed to a barren woman up until
the time he forfeits his life in destroying the temple
of Dagon in Gaza.        The saga not only covers the period
of the life of Samson but also his development as a
somewhat       unwilling    and    at     many   times   unknowing
instrument in the hands of Yahweh.           It also reveals the
strengths (both physical and mental) and weaknesses of

    See also Boling (1975), Soggin (1981).
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a man who was different from other men and yet often
yearned to be like other men (Jdg 16:7, 11, 13).                      The
narrative reveals a complex series of contacts with the
Philistines who were rulers over the Israelites (Jdg
13:1, 15:11) yet were on the receiving end of several
vicious       attacks.            Finally,    they   were     dealt     a
devastating blow with the destruction of the temple of
Dagon in Gaza and the death of three thousand people
including the rulers.

The overriding concern of this thesis is a study of
Yahweh and the gods of Canaan so the obvious point of
departure       would    be   a     study     of   Robbins’    ‘sacred
texture’.        However, some discussion of the narrator
and his tale would reveal characters and themes, which
could then be discussed in greater detail.


The structure of the text in Judges comprises five main

        (a)   Angelic announcement to Samson’s parents and
              his birth – chapter 13.
        (b)   Samson’s    marriage      and    its   consequences       –
              chapters 14-15.
        (c)   Samson and the prostitute – chapter 16:1-3.
        (d)   Samson and Delilah – chapter 16:4-22.
        (e)   Samson’s death and burial – chapter 16:23-32.

    See also Exum (1981:9-10), Jonker 1992:55, Webb 1987:163-165.
                                SAMSON                                 231

Chapter 13 forms a prologue to the life of Samson and
many of the themes, which are found in the latter three
chapters, are introduced in chapter 13.                         The entire
story is framed by Judges 13:1 and 16:31 i.e. Israel
did   evil    in     the   eyes    of    Yahweh,    was       ruled    by   the
Philistines and by implication was delivered by a judge
(viz. Samson) who ruled for twenty years.

All these episodes are intricately interwoven by the
narrator      into    an    intriguing       tale   using      various      key
words, key concepts, themes and motifs, some of which
are fairly simple to discern and others which are open
to much discussion and debate e.g. the riddle (or is it
riddles?) of chapter 14.

The ‘real’ plot is the conflict between Yahweh and the
Philistine culture and power (Nel 1985:535) in order to
reveal once again to the Israelites that Yahweh is in
control of every situation.                  It is also a lesson in
the   consequences         of    unfaithfulness         and    disobedience
(Exum 1983:31).            The story is told episodically with a
number   of    climaxes         building     to   the    ultimate      climax
which occurs in Judges 15:19 when Samson’s hair is cut.

The plot begins before Samson’s birth when in chapter
13 the narrator introduces some of the main characters.
These include the angel, Manoah, the wife (mother) and
Yahweh     and       finally      Samson     himself.           The     angel
disappears completely but is replaced by the Spirit of
Yahweh in chapters 14-16.                Manoah and his wife fulfil
a   relatively        minor     role    as    parents     of     the    hero.
However, the wife is the central character of chapter
13 (van Daalen 1982:87) since she is the link between
                            SAMSON                           232

Yahweh’s plan for a saviour and the birth of a son i.e.
the saviour.            Yahweh continues to exert a powerful
influence and Samson indulges in many sexual exploits.
No mention is made in chapter 13 of the women with whom
Samson will become involved.             The Philistines who will
become a major player in chapters 14-16 are merely
mentioned (Jdg 13:1).            The climax of chapter 13 is the
birth of Samson (Jdg 13:24).

Chapters 14-16 comprise the sexual exploits of Samson,
his many acts of revenge against the Philistines and
his death.        It consists of the four sections (b-d
above), three of which concern his involvement with
women,     each    of    which     has   repercussions   for        the

The marrying of the Timnite is the second section.                  It
comprises three subsections each with its own climax.
The   first    subsection        concerns   his   marriage     to     a
Philistine against his parents’ wishes.             It reaches a
climax when the bride’s companions solve the wedding
riddle (Jdg 14:18).              The reaction to this is the
murder of the thirty men of Ashkelon.

This is followed by the second subsection with the
return of Samson to Timnah to discover that his bride
has been given to the best man (Jdg 15:2).               Again he
reacts and sets light to the Philistine fields (Jdg
15:4-5).          The narrator immediately builds on that
climax in that the Philistines take their revenge (Jdg
15:6) and the audience/reader expect Samson’s reaction
to be even more violent.             Instead, there is an anti-
climax.     After a vicious attack, Samson hides in a
                             SAMSON                                   233

cave.           The    subsection           is       unfinished,         the
audience/reader left suspended.
The third subsection (Jdg 15:9-10) climaxes in Samson’s
capture after the men of Judah hand him over to the
Philistines.           The      apparent        victory       over    Samson
(denouement) is short-lived as Samson again reacts by
killing one thousand men.

The third section is the liaison with the prostitute
that    again   builds     to    a    climax     -   Samson     fools    the
townspeople     by    leaving        in   the   middle    of    the   night
taking the city gates with him (Jdg 16:3).

The fourth section consists of his association with
Delilah and reaches the ultimate climax when Samson’s
hair is cut.

The turning point or irony of the resolution is that
Samson’s hair begins to grow (Jdg 16:22).                        This has
been described as ‘one of those pregnant sentences that
is the mark of genius’ (Crenshaw 1990:501) even though
Gunn (1992:247) finds it merely a ‘mischievous remark’
made by the narrator.           Certainly the audience/reader is
led to believe that the narrator has some surprise in
store.    The Philistines once again celebrate but, as
previously,     it    is   short-lived          as   Samson    once    again
takes revenge and destroys the temple of Dagon and the

In the final section, Samson dies when he destroys the
temple of Dagon and the narrator closes his tale by
having Samson returned to the place of his birth for
burial (Jdg 16:31).
                                SAMSON                                      234


The narrator retells an ancient story, the origins of
which        are     unknown,        and     he      assumes           that       any
audience/reader         would    know       many    of     the      details       and
would be able to apply the lessons to his own time
(Wharton 1973:63).            His main purpose then is to retell
a     good     story,     which       he     ‘presents              with     solemn
theological          affirmation      and    ribald           humor’       (Wharton
1973:52), and to point the audience/reader to Yahweh.

He sets the scene for the Samson saga by informing his
audience/reader         that    once       again     the       Israelites         had
strayed from their required lifestyle and ‘did evil in
the eyes of Yahweh’ (Jdg 13:1).                      The result was that
Yahweh punished them by allowing the Philistines to
rule them as overlords. This is necessary as a reminder
to    later    readers/generations            that       at    that       point    in
history       ‘the    Philistines       ruled’       (Jdg       13:1,       15:11).
This    opening,       with    the    Philistines             in    control,       is
important because at the end of the saga (Jdg 16:28-30)
the    Philistines       will    have       ‘lost’       control       with       the
destruction of Dagon’s temple.                     This implies that the
god    of    the     Philistines      ‘appears’       to       be    in    control
whereas,       in     fact,    Yahweh      has     been        in    control       of
everything and everyone from the beginning to the end
of the story.            This idea of control links perfectly
with my theme of the influence of gods on the Israelite
religion.          The narrator hides Yahweh’s control from the
characters but not from his audience/readers.

The phrase ‘did evil in the eyes of Yahweh’ is first
found in Judges 3:7, then as a repetition in Judges
                                    SAMSON                                      235

3:12,    4:1,        6:1,    10:6,      13:11        and        shows      that    the
Israelites have learnt little from Yahweh’s reaction to
their previous behaviour patterns.                        This phrase is also
a marker indicating the raising up of another judge to
bring Israel back to her position of ‘chosen people’
(Jdg 3:7, 3:12, 4:1, 6:1, 10:6).

Margolith       (1986a:229)          thinks      that      the       narrator      sees
Samson as superhuman and relies on the fact that his
audience/reader must do so as well.                             I think this is
only     partly        true.          Rather         I    see        the    narrator
emphasising          Samson’s       future      as   a     Nazirite        and     then
letting the audience draw its own conclusions regarding
the source of his strength and his ability to perform
superhuman feats.

The    narrator        continues       setting           the    scene      by     being
omniscient (i.e. a fly on the wall) in the meetings
between the woman and the angel and the woman and her
husband.        The narrational texture can be seen in his
use of styles of speech for the characters; e.g. Manoah
questions - the angel replies - the woman tells.                                   The
narrator also ‘speaks’ himself in filling in background
details (Jdg 13:24, 15:1, 16:1,31).                             The information
in     Judges     13:24        is     the       logical         (i.e.      expected)
fulfilment of the angel’s announcement in Judges 13:3.
However, his later instruction that ‘the boy’s hair
must    not     be    cut’     finds        a   qualitative           (unexpected)
fulfilment in Judges 16:19 when the hair is cut by

The    discussion       of     structure,         plot         and   the    narrator
naturally leads to the examination of the style used by
                                SAMSON                              236

the narrator to achieve his purpose of gaining and
holding the attention of the audience/reader.

8.4    STYLE

The narrator uses several devices to enhance his story.
The most obvious one is repetition.                     This is found
initially in the angel’s appearance and the repetition
of his message, albeit in attenuated form, to Manoah.
This     repetition         highlights      the     divine     origin     of
Samson’s calling and stresses his importance for the

Numerical          repetition      (Alter     1990:48-49)      is      found
throughout the passage and each time it has the effect
of     heightening       tension.           Thus,    besides     the     two
appearances of the angel, there are two women who nag
(Jdg 13:17, 16:15), two eyes that are gouged out, two
pillars that are central to the temple.                      Gradation of
numbers adds interest and colour.                   Samson first kills
thirty men of Ashkelon (Jdg 14:19), then he uses three
hundred foxes to destroy the grain fields (Jdg 15:4),
the next group numbers one thousand Philistines (Jdg
15:16)       and     finally     Samson      destroys    ‘about        three
thousand men and women’ (Jdg 16:17,30).                      The build-up
of    numbers       eventually     reaches    the    climax    that     this
final event is not only the destruction of the temple
and    the    death    of    the    people,    but    that    Yahweh     has
permanently subdued Dagon and counteracted any further
influence the latter may have had on the people of
                            SAMSON                          237

The number three also builds suspense and expectation
in the audience/reader.          The message of the angel is
repeated three times (Jdg 13:3-5, 13:7, 13:13-14) each
time     with    fewer   details.          Then   the   companions
considered the answer to the riddle (Jdg 14:14) for
three days before approaching the Timnite on the fourth
day to ascertain the answer.         Multiples of three, i.e.
thirty     men    and    three   hundred    foxes   (see    above)
establish a pattern which the audience/reader would
consciously (or perhaps subconsciously) await.               There
are also three paramours and by the time Samson begins
his dalliance with Delilah, the audience is expectant.
Three questions are asked, three answers (all lies – a
fact that the audience/reader already expect) are given
and the tension has increased dramatically wondering
what the outcome will be if there is a fourth question.
From the knowledge of the outcome of happenings on the
fourth day, the audience/reader is prepared for more
tragedy with the asking of a fourth question.              And the
narrator causes the unthinkable to happen, the hair is
cut and Samson captured.         The link with three does not
end there because three times they are told that Samson
would be required to perform for the Philistine crowds
(Jdg 16:25(2), 27).         This time the details of Samson’s
performance bring an end to the saga – the Philistines
and their god are destroyed (Jdg 16:30).

Irony is another tool used by the narrator to further
his story.        The most obvious illustration of this is
the twist in the tale when the Philistines celebrate
their victory and praise Dagon for delivering Samson
into their hands.         They do not know that Yahweh has
allowed this in order to destroy them (Webb 1995:117),
                               SAMSON                                         238

but the audience/reader does.                           Thus the Philistine
song    of   victory      becomes          a    song      of     death    -     their
unknowing death.

Another      example     of    the       use     of     irony      used    by    the
narrator is that Samson is taken to Gaza (Jdg 16:21) to
be humiliated by being shackled and to grind corn like
a   slave    and   this       is   the         same    town      from    which      he
previously       removed       the       gates        (Jdg      16:3)    (Crenshaw
1990:501).          The sightless prisoner [blind] in the
gateless [blind] city!!                   The narrator shows Yahweh’s
victory over foreign gods in the ultimate death of the
Philistines.        Thus,       the      audience/reader            is    left      to
ponder (i.e. marvel at) the way that Yahweh was able to
take Samson into the core of Philistine existence in
order to destroy a false god.

Exum (1981:5) finds that the narrator uses symmetry to
show how both the Timnite and Delilah use ‘love’ as a
bait,     and    thereafter          nag       to     achieve      their       major
purpose,        namely    to       satisfy          the      demands      of     the

In Judges chapter 13 the narrator introduces several
key words and themes that will be found to be of major
importance in later chapters e.g. telling, knowing,
seeing, killing and death.

8.5    THEMES

The    following       words       and     themes         are    introduced         in
chapter 13 but are of great importance throughout the
                            SAMSON                              239

development of the narrative of Samson’s life.

8.5.1       Seeing

Seeing is an extremely important theme in that it is
applied   to   all   the    main    characters    in    the    various
episodes.      The first indication of seeing comes in
Judges 13:1 when the Israelites are described as ‘doing
evil in the eyes of Yahweh’ when it is implied that
Yahweh sees the behaviour of His people and reacts.
The word itself seems to be quite innocuous in that the
text describes the woman ‘seeing’ (physical) the angel,
which was also ‘seen’ by Manoah who is then afraid of
the consequences of having ‘seen’ God.                        Thus the
audience/reader is made aware that it is acceptable to
‘see’ a heavenly being (angel) however, seeing a deity
(Yahweh) could have deathly consequences.                   Later this
notion of ‘seeing’ takes on more significant overtones
as Samson is often described as ‘seeing’ with his eyes
(physical)     and   yet   being    short-sighted      in     (or   not)
seeing the results of his actions (metaphoric).                          He
‘saw’   the    Timnite     woman,    wanted     her    and    did    not
‘foresee’ the possible consequences of a cross-cultural

The narrator develops this idea of seeing in that the
audience often ‘see’ what the characters do not ‘see’
because   they   know      the   results   so   they    ‘see’       at    a
different level to the characters.              Samson’s ‘seeing’
is often contrary to Yahweh’s plans with the result
that he makes mistakes.            For example, Samson does not
‘see’ himself (internal) as the same ‘as other men’
(Jdg 16:7,11,13,17) but longs to be like them.                  Yahweh
                                SAMSON                                   240

‘sees’ Samson as being a Nazirite specifically chosen
to be different.

Samson’s parents do not ‘see’ their son kill the lion
(Jdg 14:6) or ‘see’ the source of the honey (Jdg 14:9-
10) he gave them.             Had they ‘seen’ either or both they
would have been aware that they and their son were

Samson’s love for Delilah ‘blinded’ him to the danger
that     he    was    courting     in    his    association          with    her.
Greene        (1991:73)       highlights            the     fact     that    the
Philistines approached Delilah to ‘see’ if she could
discover the secret of Samson’s strength.                          When she had
badgered him to reveal all and he did, she ‘saw’ i.e.
she perceived it, that Samson had told her all                               (the
truth) and told the rulers of the Philistines (Jdg

The final tragedy of ‘seeing’ is found in Judges 16:24,
where     the       sightless      Samson      is    brought        before   the
celebrating          throng     who     ‘saw’       him     and     immediately
praised their god for his goodness.                         Ironically, they
were unable to ‘see’ that their jollity would be short-
lived         and     death     was      imminent,           something       the
audience/reader could foresee.                            When Samson is no
longer        able    to   ‘see’      physically,          he     achieves   his
greatest       feat    and    he    then    ‘sees’         the    purpose    that
Yahweh had for him from the beginning (Jdg 13:5)3.

    See Alter 1990:52.
                                  SAMSON                                 241

On    reflection        the      audience/readers            can   see     (with
hindsight) that Yahweh’s purpose for His people was
nearer fulfilment as the Philistines were subdued.
In relation to the theme of this thesis, I ‘see’ the
Samson story as an example of Yahweh’s superiority over
the     gods     of     other        nations     (viz.       Dagon    of     the
Philistines)       as      He    ultimately           controls     their    very

8.5.2          Telling

This is another theme that at first seems harmless but
which     will     have         dire     consequences        as    the     story

The angel ‘tells’ the woman, who in turn ‘tells’ her
husband.         We     find      out    later    that       the   narrator’s
introduction          of    this        idea     is     to    have       greater
ramification in what and when Samson ‘tells’ - when
‘not telling’ (silence) would have been the preferred

So    Samson     refuses        to     ‘tell’   the    Timnite     woman    the
answer to the riddle (Jdg 14:16).                        His reasoning is
quite simple, how can he ‘tell’ her something that his
parents have not been told?                      Her reaction was also
simple, she cried for seven days until he ‘told’ her
and she ‘told’ the companions (Jdg 14:17).                            In this
case silence might have been the better option.

The people of Gaza were ‘told’ that Samson was with the
prostitute and were able to plan his demise (Jdg 16:2).
However, the narrator does not ‘tell’ who ‘told’ Samson
                                 SAMSON                                  242

of their plans.                 The audience/readers are left to
ponder if he was indeed ‘told’ by the prostitute or was
‘told’ by Yahweh to depart early.

Delilah’s         fourfold      request      (Jdg     16:6,10,13,15)            to
Samson was to ‘tell’ her the secret of his strength so
that she in turn could ‘tell’ the Philistines.                            Three
times Samson ‘tells’ her but each time he ‘tells’ lies.
Greene (1991:73) points out that each time Samson lies,
the narrator uses the Hebrew ‘amar whereas when Delilah
again asks and finally Samson tells the truth, the
narrator uses ngd.              So Samson ‘tells’ all (the truth)
which    Delilah         then    re-‘tells’         the    rulers     of    the
Philistines and they are able to capture him.                            Samson
has ‘told’ too much and as a result will pay dearly for
his indiscretion.

The   theme       of   ‘telling’       is    important       to    the     story
because it highlights what Yahweh ‘tells’ and what He
does not ‘tell’ but simply does.                     He ‘tells’ the wife
of    His    plans       for     her     son       which    should       ‘tell’
(instruct/inform) her what his lifestyle should be and
what Yahweh expects from him.                  Samson’s ‘telling’ of
truths      and    untruths       is    unethical         behaviour       for   a
Nazirite.              Thus     Yahweh      does    not    ‘tell’     of    His
challenge to and defeat of the Philistines                            (neither
does the narrator hint at it) but He simply carries out
His plans.

8.5.3         Knowing

Manoah      did    not    ‘know’       (recognise)         the    angel    (Jdg
13:11), and wanted to ‘know’ his name (Jdg 13:17) but
                              SAMSON                                243

was not given it.          Again this is a casual introduction
by the narrator of a concept that would become totally
significant in the life of Samson i.e. he did not
‘know’ that Yahweh had left him (Jdg 16:20).

In Judges 14:4, Samson’s parents did not ‘know’ that
his desire for the Timnite woman was God-given.                         This
same verse enables the audience/reader to ‘know’ that
Yahweh is in control, a fact that the characters do not
‘know’ (Wharton 1973:58, Exum 1983:37).

Manoah ‘knew’ that Yahweh was holy and that if he had
seen   him    he     should   die    (Jdg    13:22).        But,    Manoah
neither ‘knew’ of Samson’s encounter with the lion (Jdg
14:6) nor did he ‘know’ the answer to the riddle (Jdg
14:16) both because Samson had not told him.                            This
lack of knowledge was not due to a lack of perception
but    lack     of     ‘telling’       so    the    two        themes    are

In chapter 16, the narrator leaves several ‘knowing’
questions unanswered.              Did Samson ‘know’ the danger he
was    in   from     the   Philistines?            Did    he    ‘know’    of
Delilah’s association with the Philistines?                       Merideth
(1989:73) thinks that he did ‘know’ of both Delilah’s
association        with    and     consequent      danger       from,    the
Philistines.           Did    he    ‘know’   if    she    could    keep    a
secret?       All these unanswered questions heighten the
suspense of the saga.

The Philistines in Judges 16:24 did not ‘know’ that
their joy would be short-lived.                   They did not ‘know’
that their song of praise to Dagon was an overture to
                                  SAMSON                               244

death – their own.            The audience/reader ‘know’, in the
same way that they ‘know’ that Yahweh is in control.
They have been prepared for it in Judges 16:22 when
‘the hair … began to grow again’.

The   narrator’s       use    of     ‘know’       as    illustrated     above
concerns       the    more        literal    meaning       of    the    word.
However, Bal (1988:74) gives another meaning to ‘know’.
She suggests that because the wife is not yet a mother,
she has not ‘known’ Manoah (sexually) as a husband and
therefore he has failed as such.                       Thus when she tells
Manoah of the encounter (a man of God came to me – Jdg
13:6)    she    implies      that     she    has       ‘known’   the    angel
(sexually).       Thus the son she would bear was of divine
origin    hence      the    ‘knowledge’       she       required   to    keep
herself    and       her    (divine?)       son    completely      pure      by
adhering to the Nazirite way of life.

It is an interesting proposal, but one I think, that
reads    far    more       into    the     text    than    was   originally
intended by the narrator.                  Thus I will not reject it
out of hand but will not debate it at any length.

The sexual connotations of ‘know’ are further explored
by Exum (1993:77-80) who finds a direct link between
knowledge, sex and power.                  The sexual games played by
Samson (e.g. the riddle) and the other characters could
be seen as a narrative device to accentuate the idea
that knowledge of the opposition increases one’s power
over it.         Besides Samson’s obvious sexual exploits,
Exum also sees a sexual symbolism in Samson sleeping on
Delilah’s lap which she equates with Sisera who slept
at Jael’s feet (see page 97 above).                      The symbolism may
                         SAMSON                         245

be valid, but for me the more pertinent similarity
between Delilah and Jael is that both lulled men to
sleep (Jdg 4:21, 16:19) before destroying them.         Jael’s
action led to the direct victory of Israel over the
enemy    whilst    Delilah’s    action    led    to    Samson’s
mortification but Yahweh’s ultimate victory over the
Philistines.      The   fact   that   Delilah   knew   Samson’s
secret had far-reaching consequences for her, Samson
and the Philistines.

The narrator uses the theme of ‘knowing’ to confirm
that the audience/reader will ‘know’ with certainty
that Yahweh is the only God and that He is in control
of every situation, and, for my purposes, that Yahweh
is unchangeable.

8.5.4      Ascending and Descending

The disappearance of the angel who ‘ascended in the
flame’ (Jdg 13:20) rather obliquely introduces the idea
of ‘going up’ which becomes the notion of ‘going down
and coming up’ of various groups throughout the entire
Samson saga.

Samson ‘goes down’ to the Timnah to get a wife (Jdg
14:1).     Timnah is geographically lower that Eshtaol
but as Greene suggests (1991:63) Samson is ‘going down’
into the Philistine’s territory.         And after losing the
contest of the riddle and paying the price, Samson (Jdg
14:19) ‘goes up’ i.e. home to Eshtaol.          Again he ‘goes
down’ to Timnah to his wife (Jdg 15:1) only to meet
with frustration and take revenge (Jdg 15:2-4, 6-7).
The result is that he ‘goes up’ to Judah and there
                              SAMSON                           246

annihilates a thousand men (Jdg 15:16).                The last time
he ‘goes down’ to Philistine territory (Jdg 16:1) it
results in his death (Jdg 16:30) but this time he ‘goes
up’ to his home to be buried with his father (Jdg

Greene (1991:73) highlights the irony that in being
blinded, Samson is ‘brought down’ but achieves what he
was meant to do.         He also finds an analogy (1991:63)
between     Samson    ‘going    home’     and    Israel   turning     to
Yahweh in repentance.

The Israelite fluctuations in their worship of Yahweh
and   the   other     gods,    although     not    referred    to,    is
another     example    of      the     notion     of   ascending     and

8.5.5        Obedience

Obedience and disobedience play an important part in
the saga.      The wife obeys the angel in bringing up her
son in the Nazirite tradition.                  Samson disobeys his
parents (by implication) when he chooses a wife from
the Philistines.            He also disobeys Yahweh when he
constantly flaunts his own will by behaving in a way
that contradicts his Nazirite upbringing.                     Samson’s
women all obey their natural instincts for sex and then
betray their paramour.               Each of these episodes is a
picture of Israel’s failure to obey Yahweh’s commands
and requirements as they experiment with the gods of
the other nations in this case the Philistines.                    This
disobedience leads automatically to oppression by the
                                  SAMSON                              247

8.5.6         Name

This is an interesting concept in that Manoah is named
(Jdg 13:2) but not his wife, although she is the more
important character in chapter 13.

The angel is asked his name (Jdg 13:17) and does not
give it.           The narrator allows the angel to say his
name     is   ‘wonderful’         thereby    pointing     to   his    divine
origin (Exum 1980:57).

Samson is named and no meaning is given to his name and
this has led to much speculation as to its origin.
Samson’s      name        could    be   linked    in    Hebrew       to   sun
‘shemesh’ (Burney 1970:392) .                 Thus he may have been
named in honour of ‘Shemesh’ since he lived in an area
in which sun worship was practised as an ancient custom
in     tribute       to     the     Babylonian      sun    god       (Segert
1984:459)5.         Any suggestion that the Danites were a
Canaanite clan, later absorbed into Israel and not part
of the Exodus group under Moses then Joshua, hence the
practice      of     sun-worship,          does   not   agree    with       my
thinking.        I believe that it is far more likely that
the Danites were part of the Exodus group but that
their slide into sun worship was due to the Israelites
constantly reverting to pagan worship at the death of
the various judges.               The theme of this thesis is that
the deterioration in Israelite religious practice is
the syncretism which took place regularly.                       Thus, by
the time that Jephthah led the people, he and they were
so confused that there was no clear distinction between

    See also Martin 1975:152.
    See also Cohen 1970:131.
                         SAMSON                         248

the two religions.      I believe that Samson’s name could
well be linked to the sun god ‘Shemesh’ either by
design or unthinkingly.

There are many relevant ‘nameless’ people who cross
Samson’s path e.g. the Timnite woman, her family, the
bridal party, yet not one of them is insignificant in
the life of Samson.      The narrator uses a novel ploy in
that the only woman who is named is Delilah with whom
Samson falls in love (Jdg 16:4) and who ultimately has
the power to cause his downfall by persuading him to
reveal   the   secret    of   his   strength    (Jdg   16:18).
Crenshaw (1990:498) suggests that the reason that the
narrator names her is because of her importance to the

8.5.7     Love

The overarching theme of love is the love of Yahweh for
His people in their waywardness of which Samson is the

The love of Manoah and his wife for Samson is never
explicitly stated but obviously their concern for his
intending marriage to the Timnite (Jdg 14:3) was the
result of parental love.       Samson’s sexual waywardness
derided their love.

The attraction of the woman of Timnah and the harlot
are loveless and purely sexual.

The great love story is between Samson and Delilah.
He loved her but it was not returned.          His love blinds
                            SAMSON                             249

him into believing that her questioning of the source
of his strength is little more that lovers’ banter and
so he plays the game.        Delilah’s final accusation that
he does not ‘love’ her (a cruel jibe), finally leads to
him giving in and into assuming that whatever he tells
her will be safe.

Samson’s love for Delilah, which was not returned, is a
portrait of Yahweh’s love for His people which too was
not returned as shown by their chasing after foreign
gods.      Delilah appeared to ‘win’ in the game with
Samson, but he ultimately ‘won’ when he brought down
the temple on himself and the Philistines.                  So, in the
same way, the gods of the Philistines seemed to be in
control,    but    Yahweh   was   in       eventual   and    complete

8.5.8       Nazirite

The angel announces that the promised son will be a
Nazirite, which creates certain expectations in the
audience/reader.       Throughout the saga, the audience is
aware that these expectations are or are not being met.
The importance is found either by direct reference or
by implication.        Jonker (1992:59-60) focuses on the
importance    of   Samson    being     a   Nazirite   as     found   in
chapter 16 and finds the narrator’s use of the term in
chapter 13 as a means of creating certain unqualified
expectations (see below under Sacred Texture).
                                SAMSON                                250

8.5.9          Riddles

The     angel’s      mysterious     reply         to   Manoah’s      question
concerning his name is the first hint of riddles in the
saga.         However, it is probably only with hindsight,
after the mention of Samson’s riddle, that one is aware
of    the     riddle    in   chapter     13.           Riddles    raise   the
audience/reader’s expectation of something mysterious.
The purpose of a riddle is to engage in an intellectual
game.         The unravelling of a riddle is a challenge to
one’s creative ability.                  Riddles should be clever,
have     some     source      indicators,          and    be     within   the
experience or general knowledge of the participants.
They employ various devices e.g. paradox and are often

Samson’s riddle is typical of a traditional bachelor
party game held in the bride’s home (Nel 1985:535-
540)6.         It is enigmatic and begs the question as to
whether it can be answered.                       Margolith (1986a:228)
questions       the Sitz im Leben of Samson’s riddle and
finds that the answer is within the cultural background
of     both    the     Israelites      and     Philistines,        therefore
everyone       could     have   known        or   deduced      the   answer.
Gaster (1969:436) points out that ‘the eater’ of verse
14 was ‘a popular designation … among the Canaanite …
for a carnivorous beast’.              He adds (:536 note 17) that
in the Ugaritic tale Hunting of Baal the mythological
beasts were referred to as eaters.                       The narrator uses
‘lion, honey and bees’ from Samson’s experience which

    See also Margolith 1986a:226, Camp and Fontaine 1990:229.
                            SAMSON                                  251

the    reader    recognises,      but    the    guests      do   not    (Nel

Despite modern criticism of the riddle, it must be seen
to be unanswerable in the context of the saga (Samson
was the only one who knew about the lion killing), so
it matters not that he was the only one who could
answer it (Crenshaw 1990:490-491).                   The riddle is the
focal point of chapter 14 and is the springboard for
the punishment of the Philistines.                     Samson’s riddle
also has a hint of love and sex.                Van Daalen (1982:80)
finds ‘uit de sterkte komt zoet’ could be a reference
to the love between a man and a woman, so it would be
ideally suited to the occasion.                      The truth of the
riddle    i.e.   the     irresistibility        of    love,      points    to
Samson’s own situation.                 Whether the modern urban
reader     would    be     able    to     solve       the     riddle       is
questionable.          The Philistines couch the answer in
equally enigmatic terms.

Other people recognised Samson’s extraordinary physical
strength following the episodes of the lion killing and
the foxes.       This recognition feeds an arrogance that
breeds an intellectual conceit in which he flaunts his
superiority to his ‘friends’.              Perhaps he gloats that
the riddle is above the cerebral level of the friends.

It is also possible that the physical strength implies
Yahweh’s superiority over the other gods and therefore
foreshadows the overthrow of Dagon.                   One could argue
that     Yahweh’s      strategy     to    get        Samson      into     the
Philistine temple was (apparently) to desert Samson,
only to give him greater power to overcome the gods.
                            SAMSON                               252

Thus the Philistines were fooled and became overzealous
in worshipping Dagon so that they became complacent
regarding Yahweh, His power and authority.


8.6.1       Angel of Yahweh

The angel is the central character in chapter 13 and
then does not feature again in chapters 14-16.                        The
main purpose of the angel’s visit appears to be the
annunciation      of   a   son   to    a    chosen    family    and   his
instructions regarding the child are somewhat limited.
Webb (1995:113) defines two predictions in the angel’s
message.     The first is that the woman will bear a son,
which is fulfilled in Judges 13:24.                     The second is
that the son will deliver Israel and this is fulfilled
in    chapters    14-16.         The       angel’s    announcement     is
crucial to understanding and                interpreting the saga.
The angel’s concern is that the woman should refrain
from eating and drinking certain specified fare but
that the son should not cut his hair ‘because the boy
is to be a Nazirite’ (v 5).                  Both the stipulations
regarding eating habits and cutting the hair are marks
of Nazirites as stipulated in Numbers 6 (see 8.6.4 page
255).    Cohen (1970:140) shows that, for the narrator,
the angel is not a magical but a real being7.                         Gay
(1995:363)       points    out   that       ‘the     narrator   clearly
distinguishes       [between]     the       roles     of   angels     and
                            SAMSON                              253

The narrator uses a fascinating device to focus on the
angel and his message.               Only parts of his original
message are given to the woman in his second visit and
his discussion with Manoah.                This is a reversal of
Robbins’ idea of progression where words (phrases) are
used as stepping-stones.             Here the initial message is
complete. The later repetition says less and less but
continually points to the first speech so that the
woman,      together    with   the    audience/reader,         has    the
entire picture and Manoah is only given an ‘edited
version’.        Another interesting aspect of the angel is
the narrator’s stress on his importance.                This is done
by constantly using his full title when the use of the
personal pronoun ‘he’ would have been sufficient (Jdg
13:13-16) (Revell 1997:95).            The angel is not only an
important character in the narrator’s tale but is also
a divine messenger and as such will be discussed in
greater detail under ‘sacred texture’ (page 267).

8.6.2         The Woman

The first point that is noticed about the woman is that
she is unnamed even though her husband is named.                     Exum
(1980:48)      finds    this    ‘striking’      in    view     of     her
importance in chapter 13.             She plays a major role as
Samson’s      mother    whereas      her   named     husband    has     a
secondary role as father.                  This role reversal is
unusual in a culture in which women were thought to be
submissive.            There exists a paradox in that often
women ‘act at strategic points that move the plot’ as
in this case (Exum 1985a:76).              Her identity is

    Bynum 1990:60 suggests that the angel was another man.
                                   SAMSON                                   254

acknowledged             through       her       named     husband.         Nothing
further        is    known       about    her,      there     are    no   personal
details other than that she is known to be                            ‘barren and
childless’.                Her    inability         to    have     children      will
result in the discontinuation of the family, which in
the      Old        Testament       is       a     (sociological)         tragedy.
Sterility was seen as a trial, a chastisement or a
disgrace (De Vaux 1961:41).                        Ugaritic literature also
points        to     barrenness        as        punishment      from     the    gods
(Crenshaw           1990:473)8.              These       similar    reactions to
childlessness could encourage the Israelites to follow
the fertility cult of the Canaanites.                            Similar stories
of barren women are found with reference to Sarah (Gen
18:1-15), Rachel (Gen 30:1,22) and Hannah (1 Sam 1) all
of     whom    continue          the     family      line     by    adopting      the
children sired by their husbands with their handmaidens
(Coetzee 1996:300).                    The narrator does not indicate
whether the woman is young or old, desperate to have
children            or    resigned           to     her     barrenness          (Exum
1985a:82)9, where she was or what she was doing at the
time of the first visit by the angel.                                   This would
enhance our knowledge of her from a social context and
enhance the social and cultural intertexture of the
reading.           The narrator assigns her a dominant position
in that she ‘displays deeper theological insight’ (Exum
1983:39).            She certainly is quite receptive to the
angel’s message as she is ‘in tune with the divine’
(Gunn 1992:229).                 Laffey (1990:102) contrasts Manoah
with his wife and summarises her (unusual? unexpected?)
superiority to him, namely:

     See also Margolith 1986b:397ff.
     Coetzee 1996:300 states that the wife accepts childlessness as
    her lot in life and makes no attempt to change it.
                                    SAMSON                             255

       •    she    is    approached          by   the   messenger     and    is
       •    she recognises the messenger as a ‘man of God’.
       •    she is confident about the future.
       •    she plays the primary role.
       •    she    is    required       to    follow     certain     Nazarite

In terms of the social/cultural norms of the time, each
one of these would have applied to Manoah.

What we do know of her is by induction (i.e. what the
narrator implies) in describing her speech and action.
Firstly, she is open and honest, particularly with her
husband as she tells him of the first visit of the
messenger whom she does not recognise as an angel.                          She
also relates what the angel had told her, except that
she adds something of her own – her promised son would
be a Nazirite from birth ‘until the day of his death’.
This may be as the result of her understanding of what
she thought the angel had meant (as opposed to what he
said)      or    her    own    desire    for      the   life    of   her   son.
Whichever         it    is,     the     narrator        ‘speaks’      to    his
audience/readers              and     prepares      them       for   Samson’s

Secondly, she shows a large measure of common sense
when       she    responds      to     her    husband’s        panic-stricken
outburst ‘we are doomed to die! … we have seen God’
(Jdg 13:22).           Her rather low-key retort that ‘if Yahweh
had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a
burnt offering or grain offering from our hands, nor
                                  SAMSON                              256

shown us all these things or now told us this’ (Jdg
13:23) shows a down-to-earth attitude and faith.                          This
gives her a wisdom not possessed by Manoah (Hackett

Thirdly, she obeyed the angel and raised her son to be
a Nazirite and also accepted that his hair should never
be cut (Jdg 16:17)10.               Nothing further is known of the
woman other than the fact that she ‘gave birth to a boy
and named him Samson’ (Jdg 13:24).                      This fact confirms
that Yahweh had regarded her as a suitable mother for
the person He had chosen to ‘begin the deliverance of
Israel from the hands of the Philistines’ (Jdg 13:5).
In this Yahweh is seen to be the antithesis of Dagon.

Dagon        did    not    send     messengers       to     meet   with    his
followers          who    were     left    to    make      assumptions     and
continue to offer sacrifices in the hope of getting
what they wanted.               Various signs, events and phenomena
were open to whatever interpretation the people chose
to     put    on    them.         This    wife   was      simply    the   most
‘ordinary’         mother       (Exum    1985:82)    and    the    archetypal
barren woman who produces a son in fulfillment of God’s
promise (Goldingay 1986:177-178).                         Equally well she
could be seen as a ‘devout companion’ who is ‘symbolic
of     the     best       and    noblest     among        women’   (Crenshaw
1990:472).           In this respect she could be seen as the
‘good’ woman of the story in comparison to the ‘bad’
women with whom Samson associates, and which Exum

     See also Alter 1990:55, Hackett 1985:29.
                             SAMSON                            257

considers as a means of controlling or subjugating
women (1993:62).

From a structural point of view the beginning of her
story is the meeting with the angel and the end is the
birth of a son11.           However, this event is also the
start of the life of Samson and therefore an ‘opening’
to chapters 14-16.

8.6.3          Manoah

Segert (1984:460) gives the generally accepted meaning
of his name as ‘quiet’ but suggests that a better root
would be from the Arabic root meaning ‘munificent’.

The narrator describes him as a ‘man of Zorah’ who was
of ‘the clan of the Danites’ who was married but had
not yet had children (Jdg 13:2).                 His being given a
name would suggest that he is important to the story,
but      his   [unnamed]   wife   (see   8.6.2    page   249   above)
overshadows him (Greene 1991:57).             Other things about
him can be deduced from the text and from his actions
and reactions.        He appears to have been

     •   a godly man, (he prayed – Jdg 13:8)
     •   knew that one could not see God and live (Jdg
     •   he was hospitable, for he wanted to prepare a meal
         for the angel (Jdg 13:15)

     Alter 1983:119 describes this as an annunciation type-scene
     which begins with a barren woman and ends with the birth of a
     child.   See also Alter 1981:46-62.
                              SAMSON                          258

     •   he was suspicious and possibly a bit sceptical as
         he wanted to know the angel’s name (Jdg 13:17)
     •   he was unassuming since he did not recognise the
         angel    or   even   think   that   the   visitor   was   not
         another human (Jdg 13:16)
     •   his relationship with his wife brought about the
         birth of a son12
     •   he was curious to know how to raise this son (Jdg

These suggest that he lived a relatively uneventful
life, which received a jolt when his son wanted to
marry      an    ‘outsider’    from    clan,   tribe   and   nation.
Crenshaw (1990:470) describes his reaction as one of
‘shock and dismay’.               His question in Judges 14:3
displays fear, anxiety and concern for his son, the
family, and the nation.               The characteristics implied
by the narrator are necessary for him to establish a
‘normal’ Israelite background for Samson against which
the latter’s later behaviour can be monitored.                     His
importance is not so much that he fathered the child,
Samson, but rather that he features in (Jdg 14:2-3) or
is deliberately excluded from, episodes (Jdg 14:9) in
Samson’s life.

8.6.4           Samson

Samson’s ‘call’ was the result of Israel’s failure to
obey Yahweh’s commands regarding the covenant and is
totally different from every other judge.                    All the
other judges were called as adults whereas Samson was

     Coetzee 1996:301.
                              SAMSON                             259

‘called from the         womb’.         Yahweh’s requirement of a
Nazirite upbringing leads the audience/reader to expect
an     extraordinary       judge    with     exceptional     abilities.
Instead, he is nothing more than ‘a country strong man,
a kind of simpleminded, muscle-bound boy, who loves to
play games and make up riddles, who wants his own way
and forces his decisions on others … one of whose main
interests is women’ (Gros Louis 1974:158).                    Goldingay
(1986:177-178) regards him as the James Bond of his
day, the ‘macho’ yet tragic hero13.

The first mention of Samson comes at the end of chapter
13 when he is born and named.                   The name itself is
interesting because there is no indication of whether
it was given or suggested by the angel.                     The meaning
of his name is also not given and this has led to much
speculation as to its origin (see Name 8.5.6 page 243
above).        Burney (1970:391) suggests that the story of
Samson      has   been     linked       to   solar   mythology14       and
although      this   possibly       involves     a   fair    amount    of
conjecture and theorising, the similarities cannot be
overlooked.          The patron-deity of the Danite tribe
could previously have been the ‘Sun-god’ in his role of
‘divine judge’ and therefore a relic of solar mythology
that could still be found in the folk-tales of the
tribe (Burney 1970:392). It is possible that there were
close links between the tribe of Dan since the word
‘Dan’     means    Judge    and    in    the   Babylonian     pantheon,
Shemesh was ‘the Judge par excellence’ and whose full
title was ‘Judge of heaven and earth’.

     See also Greene 1991:76 for similar terminology.
     See also Wharton 1973:51, Block 1988:51, Segert 1984:459,
     Gaster 1969:434, Margolith 1987:63-70.
                                   SAMSON                                  260

Samson      is        also    linked       to      the    Babylonian            hero,
Gilgamesh, in many of his exploits.                       In the Babylonian
mythology, Gilgamesh is often associated with Shemesh
(i.e.    he      is    under       the   protection       of    the     sun     god)
(Burney 1970:395). However, there is one significant
difference. The Gilgamesh tales are purely mythological
in that the gods and goddesses move in and out of his
adventures with impunity, acting more like humans than
gods/goddesses.              On the other hand, the Samson story
is set in a very real human (historical?) ‘true to
life’ setting and his lifestyle and feats of strength
are relevant to the everyday world of human experience.
Thus the contact and animosity between the Israelites
and   the     Philistines           is   based     on    historical,        social
contact (Burney 1970:402-403).

Other parallels exist between the Samson narrative and
the solar mythology of Babylonia (Burney 1970:394).
These include his long hair, his confrontation with the
lion,    the      underground            springs      reflected       in   Judges
15:18-19, the removal of the city gates, (Jdg 16:3),
his hard labour (Jdg 16:21) and his destruction of the
Philistine temple and his own death.

Margolith        (1986b:401-402)            finds       borrowed      tales      and
parallels between Samson and Hercules in the concept of
offspring of a divine father and human mother (on the
assumption        that       the    angel       and     not    Manoah      is    the
father).      He also finds parallels in Greek mythology in
which the so-called divine father disappears in the
flame of the sacrificial fire.                           This idea of fire
being limited to the solar culture is further expanded
by    van Daalen (1982:79) who cites the reference to
                            SAMSON                            261

Samson’s    bonds    melting    ‘als    (draden)   vlas   die      vuur
ontvlammen (15:14)’.           Other theories and motifs which
find parallels in the literature include killing a lion
(Heracles), bees and honey (Greek Herodotus), death
between pillars (Heracles) and, from iconography and
reliefs, the long hair dressed in ringlets (van Daalen
1982:80-81).        Cohen (1970:141) had earlier shown that
parallels were chronologically out of order and that
their feats were sufficiently dissimilar to be of no
consequence,      thus   he    asserts    that     ‘Samson    is    of
history; Hercules is of fantasy’.

The narrator portrays Samson as arrogant in believing
he can associate with the Philistines with impunity.
He thus takes a wife, beds a harlot and falls in love
with    Delilah   without     knowing    (or   understanding)      the
nature of the Philistine opposition.             His relationship
with all three women leads to his emancipation from his
strict upbringing and the overthrowing of his morality
but which would ultimately lead to the death of all
three     and     himself     (Coetzee     1996:301).          Gaster
(1969:433) variously describes him as ‘a libertine and
a rakehell’, ‘this roystering (sic) swashbuckler’ and
‘a solitary paladin or knight-errant’.                 However, the
audience/reader is made aware of the purpose of these
in that Samson is Yahweh’s instrument.

Samson saw (see 8.5.1 ‘seeing’ page 239 above) himself
as   ‘superhuman’     (Margolith     1986a:    225).         However,
Vickery (1981:60-61) points out that he is really no
different from other men except that he is Yahweh’s
instrument.        Yet Samson longs to be like other men.
The first clue to this is when he gives a wedding feast
                                 SAMSON                                  262

‘as was customary’ (Jdg 14:10).                      He is also ‘as other
men’ in his death when he dies with the Philistines in
their temple.          There is ambivalence in the narrator’s
portrayal of Samson.             He is seen as charismatic when he
is filled with Yahweh’s power but he inspires fear and
suspicion when he acts in his own power.

Reading     the   text      of    the       Samson    episodes,     it    seems
patently obvious that he is a man of incredible God-
given strength but with a ‘self-destructive weakness
for the wrong women’ (Lopate 1987:71).                       He is involved
with three women to whom the initial attraction is sex.      The Wife
The first woman is the one from                      Timnah (the wife) to
whom he is attracted (with ‘youthful infatuation’ -
Webb 1995:115) because of her beauty, he had ‘seen’ her
(Jdg 14:2) and decided that ‘she’s the right one for
me’ (Jdg 14:3).             Gunn (1992:232) translates this as
“right      [yashar]     in      his        eyes”    which    automatically
reminds one of the phrase at the end of the book of
Judges ‘every man did what was right in his own eyes’
(RSV 21:25).          This leads Webb to conclude that Samson
is ‘every man’ (1995:117).                    Samson’s rude command to
his parents       ‘Get her for me’ (Jdg 14:3) could be seen
as   the    result     of    obsessive         sexual    desire     (Vickery
1981:66),     which      does         not    take     cognisance     of    the
problems      inherent           in     a     cross-cultural        marriage
(Crenshaw 1990:472).                  Sasson (1988:334, 339 note 2)
suggests that Samson’s attraction to the Timnite is not
simply (i.e. purely) sexual but also an attraction to
alien      cultures    and       thereby       ‘symbolic       of   Israel’s
constant straying toward the foreign’.                        The narrator
                              SAMSON                                         263

exploits    this     option       by       stressing           Samson’s      sexual
attraction (i.e. foreground) whilst the audience/reader
is more aware of the sinister implications of a cross-
cultural association (i.e. background).                              The narrator
further informs the audience/reader that ‘his parents
did not know that this was from Yahweh’ (Jdg 14:4) and
one wonders if the only way Samson could legitimately
associate with the Philistines was through something as
universal    and     acceptable            as    sex.          As    Dagon     was    a
fertility god it is possible that the Philistines would
have understood the natural desires of sex.                                      Gunn
(1992:232)        argues    against             the     idea        that   Samson’s
attraction to the Timnite was not purely sexual.                                     He
posits     the    idea     that     Samson            saw    the      woman,     then
returned with his parents to arrange the marriage and
finally came back to marry her according to the custom
of   the     day.          Whilst          this         is     an      interesting
interpretation, Samson’s desire for this woman was from
Yahweh no matter how he went about wooing her. The
narrator clearly states that Yahweh’s purpose for the
marriage    was     to     create      a    confrontational                situation
between     the     oppressors         (the           Philistines)         and    the
oppressed (the Israelites) that His purpose might be
fulfilled (Jdg 14:4).     The Harlot
The second woman is the prostitute (harlot) of Gaza
with whom he chose to spend the night (Jdg 16:1).                                She
was obviously a regular (not a sacred) prostitute who
was honestly plying her trade (Vickery 1981:69).                                 Even
if this is so, the appeal of this woman was obviously
purely sexual with no implied future commitment as in
the case of the first woman.                      The narrator uses this
                               SAMSON                                   264

woman as a representation of Israel’s blatant chasing
after the gods of the Canaanites whilst the latter were
merely indulging in their normal religious practices
i.e.       they    were     making      no   effort       to     entice        the
Israelites.         Martin (1975:174-175) finds several links
to Shemesh in this short episode.                   These include

       •    Samson is in bed at night
            Sun disappears at night

       •    The hill is east of Hebron
            The sun rises in the east

       •    Samson takes the city gates on his shoulder
            Sun god depicted in art as rising through the
            open gates

Whether the narrator intended this connection is open
to debate but it is possible that the original audience
would have made the association.        Delilah
The third woman is Delilah, the only woman named, and
with whom he fell in love (Jdg 16:4).                      She too was a
prostitute15 but did not take money from Samson for his
favours.          Rather she took money from the Philistines
to    betray      Samson.         She    has   much       in    common     with
Samson’s          ‘wife’:    in      that    both        were     physically
attractive, and both nagged him to tell his ‘secret’
then revealed it to the Philistines16.                         Delilah could
have been a sacred prostitute linked to the fertility
cult of the Philistines as her name means ‘devotee’ or

     Exum 1993:71 considers this epithet            to    be    the   result    of
     ‘patriarchal ideology and convention’.
     Exum 1993:70, Klein 1993b:63-66.
                                SAMSON                             265

‘worshipper’ (Martin 1975:177)17. Delilah’s actions of
‘betrayal’ ignore Samson’s ‘active participation’ since
he was aware of what was going on (Merideth 1989:73).
His love for her was so passionate and intense that he
is prepared to do whatever she asks including revealing
the relevance of his long hair with its subsequent
disastrous results.

Alter (1990:53) describes the ‘question and answer’
game     the   two    play    as    ‘psychological       brinkmanship’.
However, Delilah was also an instrument in Yahweh’s
plan (Sasson 1988:335).               Yahweh needed to destroy not
only the Philistines but also their god.                         Does the
spirit of Yahweh engineer Samson’s love in order to
take him into the very heart of Philistine religion?
Is this the only way Yahweh can use an arrogant, self-
centred man to achieve His purpose?                      The answer to
these questions must be in the affirmative.                       Samson
had     not    kept    to    his     Nazirite      lifestyle     and   was
obviously not conscious of the crucial role he was to
play     in    Yahweh’s      plan     to    overcome    the    Philistine
oppression.           His straying from Yahweh had led to his
arrogance and it was only when he had been captured and
blinded that he fully comprehended his role in Yahweh’s
plan.         Then he is able to pray in (newly acquired?)
humility       that    Yahweh      will     remember   him,    renew   his
strength       and    allow     him        to   take   revenge    on   the
Philistines (Jdg 16:28).               His death is a triumph not
only over the Philistines but also their god, Dagon. A
parallel is found in the New Testament in Christ’s

     Smith 1999:94 rightly points out that she could have been an
     Israelite since the name is a Hebrew name and that it is merely
     an assumption made by many commentators that she was a
                             SAMSON                                 266

crucifixion fulfilling God’s plan for the salvation of

Samson      never     learns     any         lessons       from         these
relationships with women.            He never learns that when a
woman wants information, she will nag to get it.                         The
Timnite asked once and then wept for seven days whereas
Delilah     asked    three     times       and    got     three     false,
misleading replies.            Possibly the difference between
his reaction to the two is because he was not in love
with the Timnite (her nagging irritated him) and he was
in   love   with    Delilah    (her    nagging       is   part     of    her
(sexual?)     playfulness      and     her       desire    to     get    the
required information for her co-conspirators).                           The
narrator has both women claiming Samson does not love
them   (Jdg   14:16,    16:15)       but    the    response       to    each
reflects Samson’s feelings for each.

Samson’s capture by the Philistines is essential to put
him at the mercy of the Philistines and to take him
into the heart of the Philistine religious performance.
The lesson he learnt was one of humility as he realised
that Yahweh had indeed abandoned him (Jdg 16:20) and he
had lost His support.           The narrator suggests that all
is not lost with the relatively insignificant comment
‘but the hair of his head began to grow again’ (Jdg
16:21).       As the hair began to grow and Samson was
indeed doing the most menial work of grinding corn for
a foreign god, he would have had much time to ponder
his previous lifestyle and develop a new relationship
with Yahweh, all of which is unsaid by the narrator.
Certainly it is with this thought that Samson’s prayer
(Jdg 16:28) takes on new meaning.                   He has lost his
                              SAMSON                            267

arrogance, and has discovered that Yahweh is in control
of all situations including the present one.                  Even his
apparent desire for revenge (Jdg 16:28) is tempered by
the knowledge that there is a price to pay for his
wilful past lifestyle.

The relationship between Samson, his parents, the women
in his life and the Philistines is complex but it is
obvious that they all play an integral part in Yahweh’s
plans    for   His     people.         This     discussion    of    the
characters     of    the    saga   leads      automatically    to   the
consideration of the Sacred Texture in which Yahweh and
the other divine beings will be considered in detail.


As intimated above, many of the key words and themes
found in chapter 13 are found in, and expanded upon,
the chapters 14-16.            However, as my main concern is
with the concept of Yahweh and gods in the book of
Judges, I think it is important to discuss this aspect
before considering the other textures of various texts.

8.7.1      Angel of Yahweh

The discussion of the Angel of Yahweh as one of the
characters     (see        8.6.1   above)      pointed   to    further
elaboration as he is also a messenger from Yahweh and
thus plays an important part in the story of Samson.
Since sacred texture usually comprises human response
to    divine   involvement         (i.e.    intervention),     it     is
obvious that the reaction of Manoah and his wife to the
                                    SAMSON                           268

angel is of utmost importance.                      He is the bringer of
good tidings and as such is the bridge between the
promise of Judges 13:3 and the fulfilment of Judges
13:24 (Exum 1980:43-59).

The reaction of the woman is one of total acceptance of
his being divine.              She describes this ‘man’ being ‘of
God’ looking like ‘an angel of God, very awesome’ (Jdg
13:6).          She also accepts what he says at face value
and does not seem to be puzzled that she has been
singled out to bear a child.                 Albertz (1992:33) regards
‘the promise of a son … [as] a typical female religious
experience’.           Perhaps the fact that the angel was able
to describe her condition i.e. sterile and childless
(Jdg 13:3), gave his message a credence which it might
not otherwise have had.               However, she did not doubt the
validity of his message and did not hesitate to inform
her     husband.         The     narrator     does     not   describe      her
feelings at the news, or any details of her pregnancy,
but simply states that ‘the woman gave birth to a boy’
(Jdg 13:24).           Margolith (1986b: 400ff) points out that
the use of the term ‘came again’ (Jdg 13:9) had the
connotation of co-habitation.                 Thus Samson’s conception
is of divine origin .                  He also shows that Josephus’
version of the story indicates that Manoah suspected
his      wife    of     adultery,        which      the   angel’s    second
appearance       confirms.            Margolith     links    this   idea    of
divine origin to the Canaanite mythology in which the
sons of El are regarded as divine (see chapter 4 on
Canaanite        and     other       gods    page    48ff)    whereas      the
narrator of the Samson saga regards him as mortal.                         If

     See Bal 1988:74 as discussed in 8.4.3 above.
                           SAMSON                                 269

one takes the story of the visitation at face value,
there is no need to interpret a divine origin for
Samson or a suspicion of adultery on Manoah’s part,
particularly as he asks the angel ‘Are you the one who
talked to my wife’ (Jdg 13:11) which the angel affirms.

The reaction of Manoah to the angel was similar to his
wife’s but also markedly different.              There appears to
be no doubt in his mind that the visitor was from God
and he is able to pray to Yahweh, ‘let the man of God
you sent to us come again’ (Jdg 13:8).                However, when
the angel does come again it is to the woman alone and
it is she who fetches Manoah (Exum 1985:83).                  He then
hurries out to question the angel about the manner in
which the boy is to be raised.             It seems obvious that
Manoah    considered    that   he    was    addressing        a   human
stranger rather than a divine one.               His concern with
showing hospitality is grounded in the social customs
of the period in which a meal was prepared for any
visitor, human or divine.         One can only assume that it
must have puzzled Manoah that this visitor would refuse
a meal but request a ‘burnt offering’ for Yahweh (Jdg
13:16).        The   angel’s   refusal      to   accept       Manoah’s
hospitality could be construed as an insult (albeit
cultural). The narrator is at pains to make it clear
that Manoah was totally unaware either of the origin
(Jdg 13:16) or the identity of the stranger (Jdg 13:17)
for he requests that he reveal his name.                      Manoah’s
shock     at   realising   that     this    visitor     was       divine
precipitates     his   outburst     of   impending     death       as   a
result of seeing God (Jdg 13:22).
                              SAMSON                            270

The angel of Yahweh is found intertextually in several
other episodes within Judges.                 In Judges 2:1-5, he
appears to the Israelites and his message of punishment
results in loud weeping and the offering of sacrifices.

The angel appears to Gideon (Jdg 6:12) to commission
him to lead an army to save Israel from the Midianites.
Gideon’s reaction is different from Manoah’s in that he
recognises the visitor as being of God, questions and
debates with him.         The offering which he brings is his
own idea (Jdg 6:18) and when it is offered the angel
disappears      but     the   narrator   does    not     say   that   he
‘ascended in the flame’ as in the Samson narrative.
Gideon’s reaction to the realisation that the visitor
was an angel of God was amazement and fear (Jdg 6:22-
23) unlike the emotional outburst of imminent death by
Manoah (Jdg 13:22).

The visit by the angel is the first indication that
Yahweh was once again about to act on behalf of His
people.        Once the angel disappears, Yahweh continues
to act in the life of Samson even though it appears to
be    behind    the     scenes.        The    narrator    continually
reminds the audience/reader that Yahweh is in control
of every situation and that His purpose will finally be
fulfilled even though at times it appears that Dagon
has been victorious (Jdg 16:21).

8.7.2          Yahweh

The influence of Yahweh pervades the entire Samson saga
and the narrator and the audience/reader are aware of
the    most    important      fact   namely    that    Yahweh    is   in
                                SAMSON                                 271

control of every situation even though it does not
appear to be so.           In chapter 13 it is the angel of
Yahweh, as messenger that reveals Yahweh’s plans for
His people.         However, in chapters 14-16, it is the
Spirit of Yahweh that controls the various episodes and
finally brings Yahweh’s destruction of the Philistines
to fruition.

Certain      characteristics          of         Yahweh,      which        were
highlighted in my original analysis of Judges 2:1-5 are
repeated here but are expanded on by the narrator.      Yahweh is Superior/Sovereign
Yahweh’s superiority is seen throughout the passage.
From the beginning (Jdg 13:1) the Philistines held the
Israelites in subjection because Yahweh had said it
would be so.         Then again, Samson’s attraction to the
woman from Timnah was from Yahweh whose purpose was
superior to Samson’s physical desire (Jdg 14:4).                           And
finally in Judges 16:23-30 in which His superiority is
seen    as   a    direct    comparison       with       the    god    of   the
Philistines.             The     Philistines       are     elated     by   the
apparent     delivery      of    their     archenemy,         Samson,      into
their hands by their god Dagon.                     This is a natural
reaction from a people who believed that each nation
had their own god and any victory over an enemy nation
resulted     in   the    superiority        of    the    victor      nation’s
gods.     The corollary of this was that Yahweh was now
considered to be subservient to Dagon.                     However, their
elation is to be short-lived as the destruction of the
temple and the death of ‘all the rulers’ and ‘three
thousand     of    men     and     women’    demonstrated            Yahweh’s
                         SAMSON                       272

superiority over gods and humans.         It is ironic that
the narrator displays Yahweh’s supremacy over Dagon at
the time when Yahweh’s servant is at his lowest spirits
i.e. during the enemy’s victory celebration of Dagon’s

Yahweh’s superiority is also seen in the record of the
wife’s    barrenness   (Jdg   13:2)   which   contrasts   with
Samson’s brothers (Jdg 16:31).         Yahweh not only gave
Manoah and his wife a son, Samson, but also many other
sons and possibly daughters as well.    Yahweh is Trustworthy
This implies that man can put his trust in the words of
Yahweh and trust Him to do what He says.            Manoah’s
wife illustrates this when she believes that the words
of the angel are the words of Yahweh and trusts Him
that the message of the angel would come to pass.    Yahweh is Authoritative
In the saga Yahweh’s authority is to be seen as guide
or controller, although the characters are not aware of
this.     Irrespective of what Samson did, Yahweh was the
ultimate authority controlling the situation.        From the
delivering of the Israelites into Philistine hands (Jdg
13:1) through Samson’s sexual desires (Jdg 14:4, 16:1,
16:4), his destruction of the people of Ashkelon (Jdg
14:19) and finally the devastation of the temple at
Gaza (Jdg 16:30), Yahweh was the supreme authority in
the matter.    It is in this manner that Yahweh confronts
human wisdom (Webb 1995:118).
                            SAMSON                          273       Yahweh is All-knowing
In a narrative where ‘knowing’ is such an important
concept, it is pertinent that the God of the Israelites
should know everything.           The narrator uses the concept
of     ‘knowing’     not   only    to   reveal   things    to   his
audience/readers, which are hidden from the characters,
but also to describe the mental or emotional state of
the characters, e.g. Samson ‘did not know that Yahweh
had left him’ (Jdg 16:20).         Thus, Samson could not hide
either his lusts for women and/or his revenge from
Yahweh.       Yahweh is Just
Yahweh always requires obedience to His laws and way of
life because He is a righteous God.               Thus, when the
Israelites fail to follow Him and persist in following
the Canaanite and other gods [yet again!], they are
punished by being ‘delivered … into the hands of the
Philistines’ (Jdg 13:1).             Samson’s wanton life-style
and his breaking of the vow not to cut his hair, led to
the Spirit of Yahweh deserting him and his subsequent
capture by the Philistines (Jdg 16:20-21).             It is only
when Samson is humbled that Yahweh can justly intervene
can destroy those who oppressed the Israelites whose
worship of foreign gods was ‘a thorn and a snare’.19
The narrator shows that Manoah knew of Yahweh’s justice
when he expects to die for seeing Yahweh (Jdg 13:22).
The obverse of justice is a love that transcends all in
His persistent love for a wayward people as epitomised
by the life of Samson.

     See Jost, 1999:122-123 sees Yahweh’s justice as a vindication
     of what Samson suffered at the hands of the Philistines. This
     is possible but somewhat limits Yahweh’s overarching purpose
     and plan.
                                SAMSON                                  274        Yahweh is Powerful
The narrator first illustrates this in Yahweh’s power
to reverse barrenness (Jdg 13:3).                          It is further
depicted in His ability to destroy the enemy by placing
His    deliverer       inside     the    enemy      camp    (Jdg     16:21).
Yahweh’s power is further seen in His control over not
only the life and death of humans but also of foreign
gods who are a threat to His people.                 Vickery (1981:61)
sums up ‘Yahweh’s power of salvation’ as the ‘right to
be    regarded    as    the     true    God    in   contrast       to   false
claimants like Dagon’.

Yahweh’s       power    is    often      the    driving      force       which
initiates Samson’s actions e.g. his marriage (Coetzee
1996:298)        Yahweh is Compassionate
The epitome of Yahweh’s compassion is found in His
response to human prayer (Exum 1983:45).                            This is
first seen in the promise of a son to a barren woman
even though the narrator does not specifically mention
her praying about it (cf. Hannah in 1 Sam 1:1).                         Then,
again,    in    Manoah’s      request     in    Judges     13:8     and   the
second visit of the angel.                Manoah also benefits from
Yahweh’s compassion by not being struck dead as he
thought he would be for seeing God (Jdg 13:22).                           And
in spite of Samson’s wilfulness in following his own
desires, Yahweh is nevertheless compassionate in that
He    hears    and     responds    to    Samson’s      prayers       on   two
occasions.        The first occurred when Samson thought he
would die of thirst and called on Yahweh to provide
water, which He did (Jdg 15:18-19).                        The tragedy is
that Samson did not learn to put his trust in Yahweh at
                               SAMSON                                275

all times.          The second occasion was when Samson was
brought out of his imprisonment to entertain the crowds
at the temple and he prayed that Yahweh would give him
revenge for the loss of his sight (Jdg 16:28).                         This
time Yahweh responded by granting his wish but Samson
paid with his life possibly for all the many times he
had not been obedient to Yahweh’s teachings.                     But from
this       we   learn   that    Yahweh    is    the   God   of       ‘second
chances’ in that He hears and answers whenever man
calls on Him.           It is in this response to prayer that
Crenshaw not only sees Yahweh’s compassion but also his
‘gloriousness’ in the hearing and answering of prayers
of those in trouble (Crenshaw 1990:472).

8.7.3           Dagon

Dagon was a fertility god of the Philistines whose name
means ‘corn’ or ‘grain’ (in Hebrew dagan)20.                    Dagon was
originally        the    god     of      the    atmosphere       in     the
Mesopotamian pantheon.           He was also an Amorite god who
was gradually absorbed into the pantheon at Ugarit.
His connection with the Philistines probably comes from
the Babylonian and Mesopotamian pantheons.

The fact that there was a temple to him at Gaza to
which      sacrifices    were    brought       (Jdg   16:23)    indicates
that the Philistines considered him powerful.                            The
reference to Samson’s grinding corn in the temple town
of Gaza (Jdg 16:21) implies that he was still regarded
as     a    fertility     god.        This     obviously       has     clear

     See Coote 1990:110 where grain production is ‘the main source
     of wealth for these Viking lords in Palestine’ hence the
     existence of a temple and the worship of this god.
                                  SAMSON                                     276

associations with the Baals, which were worshipped by
the    other    (i.e.      Canaanite)        nations       in    the    Promised
Land.      The    Philistines            believed       that     he    was     all-
powerful since he was (apparently) able to deliver the
enemy,    alias       Samson,      into      their   hands       (Jdg    16:24).
Despite    the    Philistines           victory      song,      there    was       no
response       from     Dagon         even     though      the     Philistines
believed he was all-powerful.                   The apparent victory of
the    Philistines         is    shown    in    sharp      contrast      to    the
actual victory that was about to be displayed (Exum
1983:40).         The destruction of the temple, and the
subsequent annihilation of the rulers and people, also
eliminated      Dagon      as     a   legitimate        and     powerful       god.
Gunn    (quoted       by    Webb      1987:166)      sees       the    irony       of
Samson’s final destructive act as being theological
rather     than    physical.             And    this       theological        blow
strikes at the heart of Israel’s chasing after foreign
gods.       Dagon epitomises the nature of these other
gods,     though       are        worshipped         are      powerless        and
ineffective against the one true God.                            It is in the
complete destruction of the temple, the people and the
god, that Yahweh’s true nature and power are revealed
to all concerned, participants, audience and readers.

8.7.4          Nazirite

Samson is the only character in the Bible that is
designated a Nazirite by Yahweh rather than by choice.
This      immediately            creates        expectations            in     the
audience/reader.                The angel in Judges 13:5 announces
that he will be ‘a Nazirite, set apart to God from
birth’.        Thus Samson was chosen before his birth by
‘divine     determination’              (Webb     1995:113)            with    the
                                SAMSON                                  277

implication       that    it    would      be    life-long.             Jonker
(1992:60)       finds    this       link   with      Nazirite     to    be     an
indication of his charisma rather than as an ‘ordinance
of his ritual obligations’.                 The details of Nazirites
are clearly spelled out in Numbers 6.                        The first point
to notice is that the voluntary choice is made by an
adult (Num 6:1), either man or woman, and it is a vow
of separation (i.e. consecration) to Yahweh.

Secondly, the prohibition regarding food and drink is
restricted to the grapevine and its products i.e. wine,
wine vinegar, grapes and raisins.                     This prohibition is
required of Samson’s mother and is initially limited to
wine and any other fermented drink (Jdg 13:4) but when
the     angel     repeats      it     to   Manoah       (Jdg     13:14)      the
restriction applies to anything from the grapevine,
including wine.          No such restraint is placed on Samson.
If the restraint could be implied from Num 6, then
according to Margolith (1986a: 231), Samson blatantly
ignored      it    for    he     ‘carouses           drunkenly    with       the
Philistines for seven days’.                  Martin (1975:157) points
out   that      ‘the    vine    was    seen     as    the    symbol    of    the
culture of Canaan’ contact with which was ‘the root
cause of all Israel’s apostasy and infidelity to her
God’.     Perhaps this is a narrator’s timely reminder of
the depths to which Israel has fallen.

Thirdly,     Samson’s       only      symbol    of     his    status,     as    a
Nazirite, was his hair.               I cannot agree with Margolith
(1986a: 231) that Samson’s strength resides in his hair
as a neser (i.e. the crown of the high priest or king)
since this would contradict the narrator’s theme of
Yahweh being in control of every situation.                           However,
                               SAMSON                               278

there is a link between long hair and pagan religions
and     there    is     a    distinct     connection      to      the     sun
mythologies (Martin 1975:157).                  Iconographic evidence
depicts    the    sun’s      rays   as   hair    and    Martin     rightly
points    out    that       ‘Samson’s    hair    is    symbolic    of     his
strength just as the rays of the sun are symbolic of
its strength and life-generating power’.                       In Numbers
6:5 the long hair must be kept for the period of the
vow unless the person comes in contact with a dead
body.       If that happens, the hair must be cut (Num
6:9), the correct offering brought (Num 6:10-11) and
the period of his vow begins again (Num 6:12).                          These
prohibitions of contact with dead bodies obviously did
not apply to Samson for he

  •     handled a lion’s carcass (Jdg 14:8-9),
  •     stripped the men of Ashkelon of their clothing
        (Jdg 14:19),
  •     slaughtered the Philistines (Jdg 15:8)
  •     and grabbed the jawbone of an ass (Jdg 15:15)

without any thought of cutting his hair or of his
Nazirite status.            It could be expected that the chosen
people, and especially a Nazirite, would live a moral
life in accordance with Yahweh’s injunctions, not have
affairs or murder with gay abandon, as did Samson.                        The
narrator indicates that there is a ‘sharp dissonance’
(Webb 1995:114) between who he is and what he does.
The occasion on which he did allow his hair to be cut
was when his love for Delilah completely dominated his
thinking and he was prepared to do whatever she asked
(Jdg 16:17).          Thus Delilah is able to betray Samson as
                           SAMSON                              279

Jael betrayed    Sisera.       The only difference is that
Delilah did not kill Samson outright but was indirectly
instrumental in causing his death.

And it was precisely at the point of her cutting his
hair that the power of Yahweh withdrew from Samson (Jdg
16:20).     In this statement the narrator ensures that
the audience/reader understands that Samson’s power did
not reside in his long hair.                Samson’s idea that he
would simply ‘go out as before and shake myself free’
might   well   indicate    that      he    himself   had     begun   to
believe the lies he had been telling Delilah.                        The
hair was an outward sign of his dedication to Yahweh
and, having broken this relationship, Yahweh withdrew
His power, which ultimately gave Samson his strength.

This    consideration     of   the        sacred   texture    of     the
narrative has revealed quite clearly that the various
divine beings have a significant impact on the story of
Israel’s relationship with Yahweh.

The angel who has appeared several times (Jdg 2:1,
6:11, Jdg 13:3) heralds the salvation of Israel, by
directly or indirectly highlighting their association
with other gods.     In the first reference he warns that
these gods will become a snare (Jdg 2:3), then he
prepares Gideon for Yahweh’s instruction to destroy the
altar of Baal (Jdg 6:12), and finally he promises the
birth of the Nazarite who will not merely destroy the
altar but the ‘very temple of Dagon’ (Webb 1987:167).
This latter action is the climax to which not only the
story of Samson but also the narratives of the book of
Judges inexorably moves.
                               SAMSON                                        280

Yahweh,    as    the    only     true     God,       is    the    theme       which
manifests itself throughout the book of Judges in spite
of the number of times His people strayed from His
leadership and requirements.                  This theme is central to
the story of each judge but finds its culmination in
the destruction of the temple of Dagon which reflects
the removal of any claims the gods may have had to be
worshipped by the people.

The contrast between the strict religious behaviour and
lifestyle       expected       of       the    Nazirite          and     Samson’s
deviation from it, reveals to the audience/reader that
Yahweh’s plans and purposes cannot be thwarted in its
inexorable fulfilment despite the idiosyncrasies and
foibles of His chosen channels.                      The basis for these
shortcomings is sometimes found in the background to
the   story.       But     even     if        this    is    not        the    case,
background      often     adds      a    further          dimension          to   the
understanding of the audience/reader.


8.8.1       Geographical background

The action of the narrative takes place between the
territories of the Danites and the Philistines.                                   The
Danite territory is described as Zorah and Eshtaol (Jdg
13:2,24, 16:31).          It is between these two towns that
Samson was born in a place known as Mahaneh Dan (Jdg
13:24)    and    buried    (Jdg         16:31).       Thus       the     narrator
places the entire action within a specific geographical
region (Coetzee 1996:294).                The two towns are situated
                               SAMSON                           281

west of Jerusalem at the southern end of the central
mountain range and at the head of the Valley of Sorek,
which     leads    down     through       the    Shephelah     to    the
Mediterranean Sea.              Because Samson grew up between
these two rural towns he possessed ‘the simplicity,
directness and lack of sophistication conventionally
associated with the rustic’ (Vickery 1981:68).

The Philistine territory is that strip of land along
the   Mediterranean       Sea    coast    and   stretches     from   the
border of Egypt and to Gaza.                  It boasted five major
cities, Gaza, Ekron, Ashdod, Ashkelon and Gath each
with its own rulers.            The land is flat and separated
from the central mountain range by the foothills of the

The     geographical      location       of   the    two   territories
explains the narrator’s use of the phrases ‘going down’
and ‘coming up’ (see 8.5.4 above).                  Thus Samson ‘goes
down’ to Timnah (Jdg 14:1) and even further down to
Ashkelon (Jdg 14:19) and Gaza (Jdg 16:1) on the coast.
Also the Philistines had to ‘come up’ from the coast to
Timnah (Jdg 15:6) to burn the Timnite woman and her
family and yet further to confront the people of Judah
(Jdg 15:9).        This ‘to-ing and fro-ing’ increases the
(narrated) time of the saga as well creating a spatial
expanse in the movement between places.

8.8.2       Historical background

The choice of a deliverer from Dan is strange.                       The
Danites were seen as weak and lacking courage (Crenshaw
1990:473)    and    not    a    clan     that   would      represent   a
                              SAMSON                                  282

challenge     to    the     Philistines.            The    relationship
between the Danites (represented by Samson) and the
Philistines is one of anger and revenge.                          Le Roux
(1995:72-73)       points    out   that     in    spite    of    the    poor
relations between the two groups, Samson was able to
move     freely    around    the   territory       and    even    marry      a
Timnite.          Nevertheless the Philistines were rulers
over the Israelites (Jdg 13:1, 15:11) who were possibly
required to pay some form of tribute even though this
is not specified in the story, but could be similar to
the tributes paid to the Moabites in the time of Ehud
(Jdg     3:15).     The     economy    of    the     Philistines         was
primarily grain which they grew (Jdg 15:5) and then
ground for food and as sacrificial food for Dagon (Jdg
16:21).           One could speculate that if Israel were
forced to pay tribute to the Philistines it would take
the form of grain offerings.

8.8.3        Time

The narrator gives very little evidence of the passing
of time.     In chapter 13, the birth of Samson indicates
that about a year must have passed between the angel’s
first visit and Samson’s birth.                  Only in Judges 15:1,
is   a   specific    time     given,   ‘the       time    of    the    wheat
harvest’ which would have been in May or June.                              No
indication is given as to Samson’s life span but it
must have been of some long duration, as his various
escapades do not necessarily follow immediately upon
each other.          Despite the statement that Samson ‘led
Israel for twenty years’ (Jdg 15:20, 16:31), he was a
solitary judge who did not enlist the assistance of any
group of people (cf. Deborah Jdg 4:6, Gideon Jdg 7:16).
                               SAMSON                                283

Lopate    (1987:87)        makes    this     point    and    then    quotes
Boling to show that the difference between the Samson
saga and the stories of the other judges is that ‘there
is no participation by an Israelite in his elevation to
judge and no mention of Israelites taking the field
behind him’.

8.8.4         Social Customs

As pointed out in the chapter on Deborah, a woman’s
identity was governed first by her father and then by
her husband.          Thus the unnamed woman (Samson’s mother)
is   identified       by   her     named   husband,        Manoah.      This
‘father-to-husband’ identity also applied to a woman’s
sexuality.         So it is interesting that in the absence of
the bridegroom, Samson, the girl’s father was able to
give the bride away and offer Samson the bride’s sister
as compensation (Hackett 1985:30).                      Another social
custom highlighted by Hackett (1985:31) is that both
the Timnite and Delilah played acceptable female roles
to get information from Samson i.e. they could plead,
cajole and whine to achieve their own devious purposes.
However      their    motivation      differs:       the    Timnite     wife
seeks the answer to the riddle in order to save her
life, whereas Delilah seeks the answer to the riddle as
a    means    of     earning     money     and    bringing     about     the
downfall of Samson.

The family structure in which Samson was raised was one
in   which    parents      were     responsible       for    the     correct
religious upbringing of their children who, in turn,
were expected to obey their parents.                  And the narrator
implies      that     Samson’s      mother       followed    the     angel’s
                            SAMSON                            284

instructions     for      herself     and    had    raised    Samson
according to both Israelite and Nazirite principles.
Thus it comes as no surprise that the parents are
astonished by Samson’s blatant disregard by seeking a
wife not from his own people but from a pagan (i.e.
enemy) group with which the Israelites were not to
intermarry.    This behaviour illustrates Samson’s total
disregard for the social and cultural environment in
which he was reared.       It also reflects his contempt for
the religious aspects of his society as his lifestyle
contradicts the constraints placed on him by Yahweh who
chose him to lead Israel, not as an ordinary man but,
as a Nazirite.

Samson’s disdain for his upbringing was echoed in his
scorn   for   the   Nazirite    way    of    life   that    had   been
instilled in him in his youth.                His selfish sexual
gratification,      his   dealings    with    bodies   of    various
types and his arrogant bantering with his wife and
Delilah are all contrary to the social expectations of
one chosen to be a Nazirite.

Feasts are part of the social customs of every society
and are times of relaxation, rejoicing, entertainment
and merriment.      The wedding feast that Samson gave was
a celebration that lasted a full seven days (Jdg 14:18)
during which entertainment in the form of riddles was
the accepted practice.

The feast of the Philistines at the temple of Dagon was
a similar celebration, praising Dagon for his victory
over Samson and the God he represented.                    There was
obviously singing (Jdg 16:24), possibly drinking and
                              SAMSON                             285

dancing to express their high spirits and various forms
of entertainment of which Samson, their prize captive,
was to be principal performer (Jdg 16:25).                   The number
of people present (Jdg 16:27) suggests that this was
indeed an unusual victory celebration called by the
rulers to commemorate a unique event.                The conduct of
the Philistines as described by the narrator leaves
little doubt in the mind of the audience/reader that
Dagon was the supreme god even superior to Yahweh.                   But
the harmony and joviality enjoyed by the crowd was
short-lived as their temple of victory and life turned
into    a   tomb    of   destruction        and     death.      It     is
interesting    to    note     that     throughout    the     narrative,
Yahweh is in control of the events in everyone’s lives
and interacts with His people and their enemies, yet
Dagon remains distant and aloof and does nothing to
intervene    to     prevent    or    curb   Samson’s       potentially
perilous behaviour.


The story of Samson is not only the story of a judge
who was called upon to deliver the Israelites from the
bondage of a foreign oppressive ruler, but it is also a
lesson to the Israelites on Yahweh’s control of all
situations - no matter how strange individual events
might appear to be.         It is a fitting conclusion to the
series of judges that time and again were raised to
deliver the Israelites from adverse situations largely
of their own making.
                                  SAMSON                                     286

The narrator weaves an intricate tale of the love and
waywardness of the central character, Samson, which
epitomises          the    ambivalent        relationship           (alternately
love and waywardness) of the people of Israel towards
their God, Yahweh.                The narrator also explicitly and
implicitly shows his audience/readers that Yahweh is in
control of all events even though the opposite may be
apparent.       The parents are selected to rear this chosen
saviour      and     represent        the    favourable         environment        in
which Yahweh placed His people in the Promised Land.
The Angel who brings the message of a son, both his
purpose       and    lifestyle,        represents       Yahweh’s         constant
contact with His people throughout their history as He
communicates His desires and requirements.                             The three
women     in        Samson’s      life       symbolize          the     religious
temptations that would beset the Israelites from the
other nations i.e. they would be a thorn in their sides
and their gods would be a snare to them (Jdg 2:3).
Samson’s various feats of God-given strength could be
seen    as     illustrations          of     the    many       times    in     which
Israel, by Yahweh’s grace, abandoned their apostasy and
followed their God, particularly after He had raised up
judges to lead them in the correct paths.                           And Samson’s
final     feat       which      brings       about     his      death     reveals
Yahweh’s continuing compassion and love for those who
call on Him.          It also symbolizes Yahweh’s final victory
over    the    gods       of    the   Canaanites,          a    struggle       which
involves people.

To     achieve       his       purposes,      the     narrator          uses     the
progression         of     numbers     to     create    an      atmosphere         of
intrigue and suspense.                      He also uses the themes of
‘seeing’,        ‘telling’        and       ‘knowing’          to     reveal     the
                              SAMSON                                    287

strengths and foibles of all his characters, including
Yahweh   who    ‘sees’    and    ‘knows’       everything         and    never
fails to ‘tell’ His people of the waywardness, its
solution and His purpose.              The theme of obedience and
disobedience constantly reminds the audience/reader of
the   consequences       of    either   following          or     infringing
Yahweh’s commands.             Where the people disobey, they
will be punished and Yahweh will control circumstances
that eventually bring His people back to following Him.

Samson’s three great ‘loves’ reveal more about sexual
desire   than    love    and    contrast       drastically         with      the
narrator’s      theme    of     the    love     of    Yahweh       for       His
unfaithful people. Whereas Samson’s love is physical,
spontaneous      and     fleeting,      Yahweh’s           love    is        all-
embracing, patient, long-suffering and long-lasting.

The narrator uses the convoluted interaction between
Samson and the other characters in the narrative to
reveal   a   selfish,     egocentric          man    who    seems       to    be
totally unaware that he is being used by Yahweh to
fulfil His purposes.            It is only with Samson’s final
request that the narrator gives any hint that he is
cognisant of his role in Yahweh’s plans.                    This reflects
the lack of awareness found in the people of Israel of
their part in Yahweh’s plans.

The contrast between Yahweh and Dagon not only reflects
the differences between the two religious systems and
also accentuates the futility of the idea that any god
can challenge the God of Israel and then be regarded as
superior to Him.         The festivities, in which Samson is
the centre of attraction, organised by the Philistines
                              SAMSON                             288

to    celebrate    Dagon’s     victory     over    Yahweh     could     be
viewed by the audience/reader as yet another example of
Yahweh using a socially accepted practice to fulfil His
purpose.         The Philistines had been duped yet again.
This time it would end in an even greater tragedy than
the     capture    of   Samson     would    have     been     for      the
Israelites.        This and any other apparent victory of
any of the pagan gods took place because it was not
only part of Yahweh’s plan but also because He allowed

In addition, the fertility cult of the Philistine god
Dagon    may     have   had   an   indirect       influence      on    the
Israelites in that sexual exploits of any description
were the (sociological) norm.            Thus the destruction of
Dagon and his temple would have destroyed yet another
bastion of priests and priestess prostitutes and their
possible influence on the Israelites.

In spite of Samson’s reported waywardness, his final
request for one more answer to prayer (Webb 1995:119)
and subsequent death has obviously impressed writers
down the ages, as he is mentioned in Hebrews 11 as an
example    of     men   of    faith.        This    gives     hope      to
succeeding generations that there is always room for
all men to come to God in times of need (Goldingay

For me, the story of Samson highlights two important
lessons    for    today’s     world.       The    first,    he    is    an
archetype of Christ.          The saga begins with the promise
of a son to a barren woman and ends with the death of
                        SAMSON                            289

that son having fulfilled Yahweh’s plan of salvation.
So too Christ.

The second lesson is that Samson represents Israel (and
hence people today) from whom Yahweh requires obedience
to His laws (word).    And as Yahweh eventually destroyed
Dagon, his temple and followers, so too will He destroy
the modern, false gods of wealth, success and self
which relegate Him to the irrelevant and immaterial.

The   narrator’s   overall   theme   is   that   Yahweh   is    in
control of all events and if this was true in the life
of Samson, is it not equally relevant in the lives of
people living in this modern world?


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