4 Some time later, he fell in love with a woman from the Valley of Sorek. Her name was Delilah. 5 The Philistine rulers went to her and said, “Persuade him to tell you where his great strength comes from and how we can overpower him, so that we can tie him up and make him helpless. Each one of us will give you 1,100 pieces of silver.”
This final episode of Samson’s life began close to his hometown. The Valley of Sorek was very close to his birthplace, Zorah. In fact, it was just a couple of miles away, down the hill. There are some who think Delilah might have been an Israelite, since in Hebrew her name means either “devotee” (of a god or goddess) or “woman with long flowing hair.” However, anyone who has studied Semitic languages knows that there are strong similarities between Hebrew, Aramaic, Phoenician, Philistine, Ammonite, Moabite and other languages, so it’s not surprising to find people from other nations with Hebrew-sounding names or titles (such as Abimelech the Philistine king, Genesis 20:2).
Two other factors suggest that Delilah was a Philistine. First, the other women Samson was attracted to were Philistine girls, and second, she didn’t hesitate to bargain with the Philistine rulers. Of course, there are other cases of an Israelite betraying another Israelite for money—such as Judas Iscariot. If she were in fact an Israelite, her betrayal has all the more irony.
If we take the rulers of the Philistines to be the kings of the five cities (Judges 3:3), then they were offering her 5,500 shekels of silver, or many thousands of dollars. Delilah was not Samson’s wife, and although Samson was in love with her, that doesn’t mean that she loved him; perhaps she didn’t care for him in the least. But the bribe got her to cozy up to the great judge.
6 So Delilah said to Samson, “Please tell me where your great strength comes from! Is there a way you could be tied up and made helpless? ” 7 Samson said to her, “If they tie me up with seven fresh bowstrings that have not been dried, I will become as weak as any other man.”
Leviticus 19:11 commands, “Do not lie. Do not deceive one another.” It’s tempting to apply this verse to Samson here, but Delilah was in the process of betraying him. If a man threatens my child’s life, and asks me where my child is, am I bound by the law to plainly tell him the truth? Does he have a right to hear the truth?
Her question was so transparent, it’s easy to see why he saw through it right away. What’s harder to understand is why, in the end, he gave in to her.
In this case, Samson suggested seven fresh thongs, described by Boling (Anchor Bible) as “physically inferior, unprocessed gut.” Such strings could be used (when dried) for either the bow (Psalm 11:2) or the harp. The term is yether, and it’s related to the name of Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro. The number seven and the normally inferior quality of unprocessed catgut tells us that Samson was making fun of Delilah by implying a magical solution to her question. “If you weave this special spell and tie me up with the stringy part of a roast, I will be as weak as any other man.”
8 The Philistine rulers brought her seven fresh bowstrings that had not been dried, and she tied him up with them. 9 She had men waiting to ambush him in an inner room, and she called out to him, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you! ” But he snapped the bowstrings the way a piece of string snaps when it touches fire. So they still didn’t know the secret of his strength.
I wonder whether Samson kept from laughing at this point, or whether he went ahead and guffawed at his girlfriend while she tied him up with the soft, stretchable sinews of a freshly killed animal. But in her mind, the magic was going to work. She capped off her spell with “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” And like yarn when it touched a candle flame, his bonds were burst.
Jesus burst his bonds only once. In his case, it wasn’t to escape death before it came, but after. When Jesus burst the bonds of death, even though the Romans had posted a guard, Satan understood why it could be done, at long last. Why? Because Christ had descended into hell to tell him his secret, and to proclaim his victory. He “went and preached to the spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:19) and he “made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15). There was no magic spell; no secret power. Jesus triumphed over the devil by accepting the punishment for the sins of all mankind. He triumphed over the devil by the cross. So Samson is like so many other Old Testament truths, “a shadow of the things that were to some; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Colossians 2:17).
Delilah was red with embarrassment. Her floor was red with ruined fresh catgut. Her Philistine conspirators were either red-faced with panic or red, purple and blue from the beating Samson gave them (we’re not told if these particular men were caught and beaten up or if they just ran away). But this betrayal was worth a lot of money to her, and she didn’t care how long it took, or that Samson was going to die. All she could see was the glint of silver shekels. Would she soon die in the temple with Samson and so many others, or years later after a life of luxury and extravagance? It wouldn’t matter for her soul. Jesus’ words would come drifting back across the centuries to judge her soul: “This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself? This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself by is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:20-21).
Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.