Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. A harlot, or an innkeeper; for the Hebrew word signifies either. (Challoner) — We have already noticed the ambiguity of the word zona, which occurs [in] Josue ii. 1, and is applied to Rahab. This woman seems to have been of the same profession. Gaza was one of the strongest towns of the Philistines, on the south of the country. Some have erroneously supposed, (Calmet) that it was so called from a Persian word, which signifies a treasury, as Cambyses there deposited his most valuable effects. (Mela. i. 11.)
Ver. 2. Setting. Hebrew, “they laid wait for him all night in the gate,….and were quiet all night, saying, in the morning, when it is day, we shall kill him.” They hoped to seize him unawares, (Haydock) as they were afraid to rouse this lion, and hence probably refrained from setting fire to the house: (Calmet) though they might be deterred from doing this, by the fear of the conflagration spreading to other parts of the city, (Haydock) and by an over-ruling Providence. (Salien)
Ver. 3. Bolt, (serā) which many translate, “lock.” (Haydock) — The doors of the Hebrews were fastened with bars tied in a curious manner, so as to require a sort of a key, and not to be opened but on the inside. Hebron was above thirty miles distant: but travellers mention a small hill, where they say the doors were left in the vicinity of Gaza; (Calmet) and the text does not assert that Samson carried them as far as Hebron. (Haydock) — He went out by that gate, contrary to the expectations of the Philistines, who supposed that he would go towards Thamnatha. If any saw him, none durst encounter the hero, as they had not yet forgotten the thousand slain with the jaw-bone. (Salien) — The pagans confound their Hercules with Samson; (St. Augustine, City of God xviii. 19.) but the former durst not attack two at a time, whereas the latter engaged and slew so many. (Worthington)
Ver. 4. After this. The lamentable fall of Samson took place in the last year of his administration, when Heli, of the house of Thamar, succeeded Achitob I. in the high priesthood. (In the year before Christ 1154. Salien) — Sorec was not far from Saraa, where Samson was born. It probably belonged to the Philistines, as Dalila is generally supposed to have been of that nation, and most people believe a harlot. (Calmet) — Adrichomius says the eunuch was here baptized. (Tirinus) — Dalila. Some are of opinion she was married to Samson; others that she was his harlot. If the latter opinion be true, we cannot wonder that, in punishment of his lust, the Lord delivered him up by her means into the hands of his enemies. However, if he was guilty, it is not to be doubted, but that under his afflictions, he heartily repented and returned to God, and so obtained forgiveness of his sins. (Challoner) — Dolol means, “to be impoverished or weakened,” as Samson was in all respects by this wicked woman.
Ver. 5. Princes, (seranim;) the five satraps, who had the chief sway in the nation, either came in person or sent messengers to Cephar-Sorec. They were convinced that the strength of Samson was supernatural; but they wished to learn whether it depended on some magical charm, or on some religious observation, or whether he was vulnerable only in some particular part, like Achilles, who could only be slain by a wound in the heel, according to the pagans. (Calmet) — If Dalila would learn, and endeavour to remove the obstacle, these princes engaged to give her each 1100 pieces (or sicles, Calmet) of silver. (Salien)
Ver. 7. Her, in jest. (Haydock) — Sinews; such were frequently used for strength. (Vegetius iv. 9.; Psalm x. 2) Cato often speaks of loreos funes, (Calmet) or “leathern thongs.” (Haydock) — Moist. Hebrew, “seven bands, green and moist;” as if he were speaking of willow twigs, or bands made of the rind of trees, &c. But we need not abandon the Septuagint and Vulgate to follow the moderns in this place, as yetharim unquestionably means cords of sinews, and the epithet, green, is applied to the eyes of Moses, (Deuteronomy xxiv. 7.) to denote their shining vigour and strength; so here it may signify, that the sinews were to be fresh and in full perfection. (Calmet) — Dalila might easily think that such bands would make Samson her prisoner. She had people to assist her, in case she proved successful. But Samson probably broke the bands before they made their appearance; otherwise he would have resented the woman’s infidelity, and not exposed himself again. He supposed she only made these exclamations to see what he would do, ver. 9., &c.
Ver. 9. Fire. Protestants, “and he brake the withs, as a thread of tow is broken when it toucheth the fire.” (Haydock) — Thus he played with her, never suspecting that the enemy was concealed so near. (Calmet)
Ver. 13. Lace, (licio;) “the woof about the beam,” &c. Hebrew, “the web, (14) and she fastened it,” &c. The original text is here imperfect. (Haydock) — The Septuagint have preserved eighteen words, which have been omitted in Hebrew, “the web, (and fastened them with a pin unto the wall, then shall I be weak, and be as another man. (14) And it came to pass, when he slept, that Dalilia took seven locks of his head, and wove them with a web) and fastened them with a pin, (unto the wall) and said,” &c. (Kennicott, Diss. ii.) — The Vulgate expresses the whole idea in fewer words: but the Hebrew leaves the proposal of Samson imperfect. It is observable that Grabe’s edition of the Alexandrian Septuagint has no mark of any thing being redundant; whence we might suppose, that in the days of Origen, (whose marks he endeavours to exhibit) the Hebrew agreed with the Greek version: but the 14th verse is rather different from the Vatican copy, which has been given above. — “And Dalila (so the Septuagint always style her) lulled him asleep; (ekoimisen, as [in] ver. 19, (Haydock) perhaps by giving him some potion, with which people of her character are frequently provided; Salien) and she wove the seven curls of his head with the wool, (ektaseos) and she fastened them with the pins of wood into the wall,” &c. (Haydock) — The Hebrew text is liable to many difficulties, says Calmet; “If thou shalt make a tissue of seven locks of my head with the veil, which thou weavest, and shalt fasten it to a nail, I shall become weak as another man: or, If thou weave together my hair and my thread,” &c. The ancients were accustomed to weave standing. Samson was probably lying on the ground, while Dalila was acting this farce. (Calmet)
Ver. 16. Death. Hebrew, “and pressed him so, that his soul was straitened unto death.” It would be well if Christians would always make as stout a resistance against manifest temptations to sin, as Samson did on this occasion, when he might consider the revealing of the truth rather as an indiscretion than as a crime. It is difficult to determine in what precisely the fault consisted, which was followed by so severe a punishment. Perhaps he may have been placed as a pattern of patience, like holy Job, without incurring the divine displeasure. Yet most people suppose, that he fell by the love of women, and by disclosing the secret of his strength. But where do we read that he had received a precept from God, not to mention it even to his wife? For in this light Sts. Ephrem and Chrysostom, Sulp Severus, Pererius, and others, represent Dalila, which removes the greatest objection to his character. We have seen (ver. 1) that the harlot of Gaza might be only an innkeeper; and the first object of his love, was proposed to him by the holy spirit, chap. xiv. 4. But even allowing that Dalila was a harlot, though the Scripture does not assert it, what harm was there in Samson’s endeavouring to reclaim her, and to make her his wife, as Osee (i. 2.) was commanded to do? It is only said, (ver. 4) the he loved a woman; and his subsequent conduct with her, might be nothing more than what is lawful among lovers, or even commendable between married people. Isaac’s playing with Rebecca, his wife, (Genesis xxvi. 8.) was a proof of his conjugal love for her, as St. Francis de Sales observes. Generous souls are frequently prone to love, and delight to unbend their minds in the company of the fair sex, with whom they can fear no rivalship in strength. Samson, in particular, seemed unable to deny their importunate requests. He yielded at last to explain his riddle to his first wife, and though he was justly offended at her infidelity, he took occasion from it to begin the work for which he was sent by God, the destruction of the enemy. Perhaps he thought that his compliance with the repeated solicitations of Dalila would be attended with the like effect, as in reality it was, and he destroyed more in death than during the whole course of his life. Without the strongest proofs, it seems unjust to pass sentence of condemnation upon a great character, the number of the perfect being already too small. Our Saviour, laden with the sins of mankind, as with the treacherous Dalila, exclaimed, my soul is sorrowful unto death, Matthew xxvi. 38. Yet (Haydock) the weakness of Samson’s heart throughout this history, is still more surprising than the strength of his body. (Calmet) — Tirinus asserts that God had granted him such strength, with an order not to disclose the secret, that it was attached to the not wilfully having his hair cut.
Ver. 17. Thing. Hebrew and Septuagint, “He told her all his heart.” — That is to say, consecrated, is added by the Vulgate. (Haydock) — Men. Was the hair the physical, or only the moral, cause of his wonderful strength? It is generally believed that it was only a moral cause, or a token appointed by God, that as long as Samson retained his hair he should be endued with such force. The pagans relate, that the kingdom of Nisus and of Pterelaus depended on a fatal lock of hair, which their daughters cut off. Crinis inhœrebat, magni fiducia regni. (Ovid, Met. viii.; Apoll. 2.) (Calmet)
Ver. 18. To me. Hebrew, “to her.” Lah instead of li, perhaps in all the printed editions except the Complutensian, which has corrected the mistake, and is authorized by some manuscripts. (Kennicott)
Ver. 19. Knees, by some soporiferous draught, as on the other occasions. (Menochius) — Barber. He only produced the razor, or rather a pair of scissors, such as were used to shear sheep. Barbers were unknown at Rome for 454 years; and the ancient Greeks looked with indignation upon those who introduced the custom of shaving among them. (Pliny, [Natural History?] vii. 59.) The Hebrews did not cut all their beard, and generally let the hair of their head grow long. Samson wore his curled, which is still the fashion among some people. — And began. Septuagint, “he began to be humbled, (Calmet) or rendered abject, and his strength,” &c. Hebrew, “she began to render him contemptible” (Haydock)
“But what is strength without a double share
Of wisdom? vast, unwieldy, burdensome.” — Milton’s Samson.
Ver. 20. Myself. This might insinuate that he was bound, though it may only mean that he will extricate himself from the hands of the Philistines. (Calmet) — We read of no bands on this occasion. But the loss of the sign of his being a Nazarite was Samson’s greatest misfortune, and rendered him less formidable than if he had been bound with chains of adamant. He was not sensible of his loss at first; or he himself was uninformed that his strength depended on the preservation of his hair. The cutting it off was wholly involuntary, so that, if he sinned by losing it, we must conclude that he was guilty in putting himself in the power of a woman, by revealing a secret which he ought to have kept to himself. Other Nazarites were surely under no such obligation. If a barbarous ruffian or infidel had, by violence, deprived them of their sacred ornament, or touched them with something unclean, they would have been obliged to submit to the legal purifications, but no blame could have attached to them. (Haydock) — From him, as to the gratuitous and supernatural degree of strength. (Menochius)
Ver. 21. Chains. Hebrew and Septuagint add, “of brass,” which were more ancient than those of iron or of steel. Brass was generally used instead of the latter, for knives, &c. (Calmet) — Gaza, the place where he had lately given such an instance of strength, ver. 3. (Haydock) — Grind. Before the invention of wind or of water mills, the ancients forced their meanest slaves to grind with a hand-mill, consisting of two large stones. Many such are made in the isle of Milo. The mill was the common place for slaves, who had given an offence not deserving of death, Isaias xlvii. 2., Lamentations v. 13. (Cod. Theod. de pœnit.) Apuleius describes their condition as most pitiful; half naked, with their hair half cut, their feet chained, disfigured with scourges, &c. (Metam. ix.) Herodotus (iv. 2.) says, that the Scythians put out the eyes of their slaves, that they may not become dizzy with turning round vessels of milk, upon which these people feed. Such was the condition of Samson. St. Jerome (in Isaias xlvii.) mentions a foolish interpretation of the Rabbins, as if the Philistines obliged this strong man to have children by their women. See Thalmud, sutah 1, fol. 10. (Calmet) (Job xxxi. 10.) (Haydock) — Samson “laboured hard, that he might not eat his bread for nothing.” (Lyra.)
Ver. 22. Again. Hebrew adds, “as when he was shaven.” (Haydock) — He was in prison three or four months. (Menochius) — As his hair grew his strength returned, because he entered into himself and did penance, so that he was restored to the rank and privileges of a Nazarite. (Calmet; Menochius)
Ver. 23. Dagon. Probably the derceto, whom Diodorus (3,) represents with the head of a woman, and the rest of the body like a fish, the chief object of adoration at Ascalon. (Calmet) — Dagon may signify “wheat;” and hence Eusebius (pręp. 1,) styles him “the ploughing Jupiter,” or “a fish.” — Hands. For this purpose they were offering sacrifices of thanksgiving, (Menochius) which they did not only when they first took Samson, but probably on all their great festivals, till the hero’s death. They could not but excite the indignation and zeal of this great judge, and God resented the indignity offered to himself. They cursed Samson, (Haydock) as the Sichemites had done Abimelec on a similar occasion, chap. ix. 27. (Menochius)
God “will not connive or linger, thus provoked,
but will arise and his great name assert.” — Milton, v. 466.
Ver. 25. Played. Dancing in a ridiculous manner, (Montanus) running against the walls, or falling down, so as to make the people laugh, (Lyranus) or rather (Haydock) Serarius gathers from the Septuagint that “they buffetted him,” and made a sport of him. (Menochius) — It is not at all probable that Samson would act the ape before the Philistines; but, in attempting to keep off the rabble with many a fruitless blow, against his will he might make them merry. (Calmet) — He appeared before them in the garb of a slave, covered with the dust of the mill, (Salien) like our Saviour in the fool’s garment. (Haydock) — Two pillars. The temples of Hercules, at Tyre and in Africa, had the same number. (Porphyr. Abst. 2.) — The temple of Dagon was supported on wooden pillars standing near each other. People might see down from the roof. (Serarius) — We read that the theatre of Rome rested on one pivot, and the amphitheatre on two. Ecce populus Romanus universus, says Pliny, ([Natural History?] xxxvi. 15,) binis cardinibus sustinetur. (Calmet) — The roofs of the Philistine temples were flat, and galleries all around them, so that an immense crowd might be collected, (Menochius) to gaze on this terror of their country, now their prey. They had forgotten how he had formerly carried off their gates, or they concluded that his amazing strength was gone for ever. (Haydock)
Ver. 27. Play. It is not clear from the text, whether the 3000 were distinct from those who were below. It seems this is the number of all the slain, (Calmet) as Josephus asserts. But the Protestants insert, “the lords of the Philistines were there: and there were upon the roof,” &c., which shews that they understand it in the same sense as the Vulgate and the Septuagint which distinguish these outside spectators from those who filled the house, and were in company with the princes. (Haydock)
Ver. 28. Revenge myself. This desire of revenge was out of zeal for justice against the enemies of God and his people; and not out of private rancour and malice of heart. (Challoner) — He was judge of his people, and concerned for their wrongs: God, by miracle, testified that he approved of his sentiments. (Calmet) — Septuagint insinuate that the cry of Samson was accompanied with tears, (eklause.) It was the cry of the heart, which is most eloquent with God. Hebrew and Septuagint, “strengthen me yet this once, O God, and I will repay,” &c. (Haydock)
Ver. 29. Both the. Hebrew adds, “middle” pillars, so that their fall occasioned that of the whole temple, (Calmet) excepting perhaps some of the ruins, which are still shewn at Gaza. (Button.)
“He tugged, he shook till down they came, and drew
The whole roof after them with bursts of thunder.” (Milton) (Haydock)
Ver. 30. Let me die. Literally, let my soul die. Samson did not sin on this occasion, though he was indirectly the cause of his own death. Because he was moved to what he did, by a particular inspiration of God, who also concurred with him by a miracle, in restoring his strength upon the spot, in consequence of his prayer. Samson, by dying in this manner, was a figure of Christ, who by his death overcame all his enemies. (Challoner; Worthington) — St. Augustine says, “he was not under a human delusion, but divinely inspired….Who will accuse his obedience?” (De C.[City of God?] i. 21., and 26., &c.) And St. Bernard (de pręc. 3.) observes that he would have sinned, if he had not received a particular inspiration. But many think that he might have acted as he did, without it, in quality of judge, as he might intend primarily to avenge his people and the glory of God. He was willing to sacrifice his life for this purpose, though he would have preserved it, if it had been in his power. (Cajetan; Lessius, &c) — The Church honours many virgin martyrs, (Calmet) who have thrown themselves into fire or water, in similar dispositions. St. Ambrose says, “it is to be presumed that their zeal came from God.” (De Virg. iii. 7.) He mentions St. Pelagia, and her mother and sisters, and St. Soteris, a relation of his, whose memory is honoured on the 10th of February. St. Apollonia’s feast occurs the day before. “She leapt into the fire, having her breast enkindled with a stronger flame of the holy spirit. (Brev. Rom. [Roman Breviary?]) See the fact of Razias, 2 Machabees xiv. 37. (Haydock) — So that the revelation of St. Mathildes doubting of his, Solomon’s, Origen’s, and Trajan’s salvation, as if God would thus keep mankind in fear, seems to be a fabrication. (Baronius. A.D. 604.) St. Paul ranks Samson among the saints, Hebrews xi. 32. — Life. Express mention is made of 1030 slain by Samson, besides the great numbers, which excited the astonishment of the Philistines, chap. xv. 8. But on this occasion he destroyed 3000 at once, and the death of all the princes made the slaughter more terrible, (Calmet) insomuch that the people being without a head, were glad to let Samson’s brethren take away his body without molestation, as they have every reason to fear that the Israelites would now fall upon them. (Salien) — If 3000 perished on the outside of the temple, (Haydock) Serarius concludes that not less than 20,000 were destroyed in all.
Ver. 31. Twenty. “Why then, says the Thalmud of Jerusalem, does the Scripture allow him 40? That thou mightest understand the Philistines were kept in awe, by the fear of him, for 20 years after his decease.” The Hebrew copies seems to have varied. (Drusius) — Some refuse the Samson the title of judge, (Masius) as they suppose (Haydock) that Heli filled that office at the same time. But there might be several in different parts of the country, and Heli might administer sacred things, while Samson acted in the character of a warrior. (Calmet) — Salien believes that Heli only commenced high priest and judge at the death of Samson, and continued for 40 years, though he was 58 years old when he entered upon office, in the year of the world 2900, in the year before Christ 1153. Samson prefigured the Messias, not only in death, but also in his annunciation, birth, name, and in many particulars of his life. He was a Nazarite: Jesus receives that title even from his enemies. Samson marries a foreign woman; is delivered by his brethren of Juda into the hands of his enemies; judges and delivers his people. Christ, the sun of justice, calls the Gentiles; is betrayed by Judas, and abandoned to the fury of the Romans; is appointed Judge and Saviour of all. He embraces the cross, as Samson did the pillars, and by his humiliations redeemed the world. The pagan temple falls and crushes the idolaters. The Jews are overwhelmed in the ruins of their temple and city; and the earth trembles at the death of Christ. He is buried with honour, notwithstanding the malice of his enemies, (Calmet) as the body of Samson was taken from the midst of the raging inhabitants of Gaza, and interred peaceably in his father’s tomb. The fabulous account of the Phœnician, or of another (Haydock) Hercules, who lived about this time, seems to have been chiefly taken from the history of Samson. Both encountered many difficulties, and perished by woman’s malice. Hercules never used a sword, and we do not read that Samson had any. (Calmet) — “He was possessed of an incomparable strength both of mind and body, says Josephus, ([Antiquities?] v. 10,) which he employed for the destruction of the enemy even to the last breath. His being deceived by a woman, we ought to attribute to human weakness, which is prone to such faults. In all other respects, his virtue entitles him to eternal praise.” (Haydock)
“Tax not divine disposal; wisest men
Have err’d, and by bad women been deceived;
And shall again, pretend they ne’er so wise.” (Sams. Agon. v. 210.)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
Samson is deluded by Dalila: and falls into the hands of the Philistines. His death.
1 He *went also into Gaza, and saw there a woman, a harlot, and went in unto her.
2 And when the Philistines had heard this, and it was noised about among them, that Samson was come into the city, they surrounded him, setting guards at the gate of the city, and watching there all the night in silence, that in the morning they might kill him as he went out.
3 But Samson slept till midnight, and then rising, he took both the doors of the gate, with the posts thereof, and the bolt, and laying them on his shoulders, carried them up to the top of the hill, which looketh towards Hebron.
4 After this he loved a woman, *who dwelt in the valley of Sorec, and she was called Dalila.
5 And the princes of the Philistines came to her, and said: Deceive him, and learn of him wherein his great strength lieth, and how we may be able to overcome him, to bind and afflict him: which if thou shalt do, we will give thee every one of us eleven hundred pieces of silver.
6 And Dalila said to Samson: Tell me, I beseech thee, wherein thy greatest strength lieth, and what it is, wherewith if thou wert bound, thou couldst not break loose.
7 And Samson answered her: If I shall be bound with seven cords, made of sinews not yet dry, but still moist, I shall be weak like other men.
8 And the princes of the Philistines brought unto her seven cords, such as he spoke of, with which she bound him;
9 Men lying privately in wait with her, and in the chamber, expecting the event of the thing, and she cried out to him: The Philistines are upon thee, Samson. And he broke the bands, as a man would break a thread of tow, when it smelleth the fire: so it was not known wherein his strength lay.
10 And Dalila said to him: Behold thou hast mocked me, and hast told me a false thing: but now at least tell me wherewith thou mayest be bound.
11 And he answered her: If I shall be bound with new ropes, that were never in work, I shall be weak and like other men.
12 Dalila bound him again with these, and cried out: The Philistines are upon thee, Samson, there being an ambush prepared for him in the chamber. But he broke the bands like threads of webs.
13 And Dalila said to him again: How long dost thou deceive me, and tell me lies? Shew me wherewith thou mayest be bound. And Samson answered her: If thou plattest the seven locks of my head with a lace, and tying them round about a nail, fastenest it in the ground, I shall be weak.
14 And when Dalila had done this, she said to him: The Philistines are upon thee, Samson. And awaking out of his sleep, he drew out the nail with the hairs and the lace.
15 And Dalila said to him: How dost thou say thou lovest me, when thy mind is not with me? Thou hast told me lies these three times, and wouldst not tell me wherein thy great strength lieth.
16 And when she pressed him much, and continually hung upon him for many days, giving him no time to rest, his soul fainted away, and was wearied even unto death.
17 Then opening the truth of the thing, he said to her: The razor hath never come upon my head, for I am a Nazarite, that is to say, consecrated to God from my mother’s womb: If my head be shaven, my strength shall depart from me, and I shall become weak, and shall be like other men.
18 Then seeing that he had discovered to her all his mind, she sent to the princes of the Philistines, saying: Come up this once more, for now he hath opened his heart to me. And they went up, taking with them the money which they had promised.
19 But she made him sleep upon her knees, and lay his head in her bosom. And she called a barber, and shaved his seven locks, and began to drive him away, and thrust him from her: for immediately his strength departed from him.
20 And she said: The Philistines are upon thee, Samson. And awaking from sleep, he said in his mind: I will go out as I did before, and shake myself, not knowing that the Lord was departed from him.
21 Then the Philistines seized upon him, and forthwith pulled out his eyes, and led him bound in chains to Gaza, and shutting him up in prison made him grind.
22 And now his hair began to grow again,
23 And the princes of the Philistines assembled together, to offer great sacrifices to Dagon, their god, and to make merry, saying: Our god hath delivered our enemy Samson into our hands.
24 And the people also seeing this, praised their god, and said the same: Our god hath delivered our adversary into our hands, him that destroyed our country, and killed very many.
25 And rejoicing in their feasts, when they had now taken their good cheer, they commanded that Samson should be called, and should play before them. And being brought out of prison, he played before them; and they made him stand between two pillars.
26 And he said to the lad that guided his steps: Suffer me to touch the pillars which support the whole house, and let me lean upon them, and rest a little.
27 Now the house was full of men and women, and all the princes of the Philistines were there. Moreover about three thousand persons of both sexes, from the roof and the higher part of the house, were beholding Samson’s play.
28 But he called upon the Lord, saying: O Lord God remember me, and restore to me now my former strength, O my God, that I may revenge myself on my enemies, and for the loss of my two eyes I may take one revenge.
29 And laying hold on both the pillars on which the house rested, and holding the one with his right hand, and the other with his left,
30 He said: Let me die with the Philistines. And when he had strongly shook the pillars, the house fell upon all the princes, and the rest of the multitude, that was there: and he killed many more at his death, than he had killed before in his life.
31 And his brethren and all his kindred, going down took his body, and buried it between Saraa and Esthaol, in the burying-place of his father Manue: and he judged Israel twenty years.
1: Year of the World about 2880.
4: Year of the World about 2885.