This post follows the Bible reading plan available at oaktreechurch.com/soap.
Chapter sixteen concludes Samson’s story. Although he led Israel for twenty years, we know almost nothing of his story, save the few situations recorded in these past three chapters. It seems that the Philistines were probably so afraid of him that they left Israel alone for the twenty years that Samson was a threat to them. It was such an odd “relationship” that Samson felt at ease walking into Gaza, a major Philistine port city, and hiring a Philistine prostitute with no repercussions from his enemies (Judges 16:1-3). Whether or not he knew that they had laid an ambush for him, when he left in the middle of the night, he tore the city gates off of their hinges and planted them on a hill opposite the city, maybe just to prove he could.
Once again his sexual desire drove him toward another Philistine woman, Delilah (Judges 16:4-20). Discovering that he had fallen for her, “the rulers of the Philistines” offered her “eleven hundred pieces of silver” each. Constable notes that this offer “was a fortune since a person could live comfortably on ‘10 [pieces] . . . of silver’ a year (17:10).” It seems that Samson thought that Delilah was simply playing a game with him. Each time she asked for the source of his strength, he gave her a wrong answer. When she tried it, he jumped up, showed his strength, and laughed. It seems unlikely that he would have ever told her the truth if he believed that his enemies were actually involved.
However, he finally did reveal his secret; his hair was the last part of his vow that he had never violated. His honesty was evident, and she demanded payment from the Philistines, while she watched his hair fall to the floor. When she called again, like she had before, that the Philistines were upon him, he thought the game was still in play, not realizing that God had left him, much as he had left God so long before. The Philistines had finally captured their archrival, and they led him away in chains, gouging out his eyes in triumph (Judges 16:21-22). Locked in prison, performing the most menial task possible, Samson finally repented and turned to Jehovah. As his hair grew, his attitude softened, and God turned toward him again.
One day, when the Philistine crowds wanted to laugh at him in sport, he asked God for the opportunity to die as a martyr in his holy war (Judges 16:23-31). Resting against the pillars which held up the roof porch where so many had gathered to laugh at him, Samson prayed for strength – the only time he is recorded to have done so – and pulled the pillars down, collapsing the roof on himself and others. There were three thousand on the roof alone, in addition to others in the stadium. Sadly, the number killed that day account for more Philistines than in Samson’s twenty years of leading Israel. He wasted so many years enjoying his status as a threat that he never actually delivered his nation from enemy control like the other judges had done.