Delilah - Women of the Bible

The story of Delilah is an episode in the life of Samson, a hero of the Israelite people at the time of the Judges.

The story of Delilah contains four different episodes:

1) Delilah and the Philistine lords, Judges 16:4-5. Delilah was approached by the powerful Philistine lords who ordered her to help them.

2) Delilah questions Samson, Judges 16:6-14. Delilah tried to find out the secret of Samsons strength. He evaded her questions, giving her three false answers.

3) Delilah learns the truth, Judges 16:15-17. By persisting, Delilah found out the truth about Samson, that he was dedicated to God before he was born.

4) Samson's hair is cut off, Judges 16:18-21. Delilah ordered a servant to cut off Samson's hair while he slept.

The story describes the way that Delilah, a Philistine woman, discovered the secret of Samson's strength, and sold that secret to the Philistine lords.

Delilah and the Philistines

The story of Delilah is set during the period of the Judges, when the Israelites were still attempting to gain a foothold in the land they had invaded.

After this Samson fell in love with a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. The lords of the Philistines came to her and said to her 'Coax him, and find out what makes his strength so great, and how we may overpower him, so that we may bind him in order to subdue him; and we will each give you eleven hundred pieces of silver.'

Judges 16:4 And it came to pass afterward, that he loved a woman in the valley of Sorek (= red), whose name was Delilah (= languishing).
5: And the lords of the Philistines (see Josh.13:3) came up to her, and said to her, “Entice him, and see wherein his great strength lies, and by what means we may prevail against him, that we may bind him to humble him: and we will give you every one of us eleven hundred pieces of silver.” (One of the two occurrences of this number 11 = the number of defective administration [12-1. #12 = governmental perfection]. Cp. 17:2, where similar want of rule is seen. This 1,100 ruined them politically; the other [17:2] ruined them religiously)

Delilah is introduced as a woman from the valley of Sorek, which in Hebrew means "vineyard valley". It is about twenty kilometers southwest of Jerusalem. At the time of the story, it was held by the Philistines.

She is not introduced as "the wife of" or "of the tribe of", and we are not told whether she was Israelite or Philistine.

After the approach from the Philistine lords, Delilah set about finding the secret of Samson's strength. Why was he so much stronger than other men? How could the Philistines curb that strength, and so protect themselves against Samson? She asked him this questions three times, Three times he lied to her.

Then Delilah said to Samson "You have mocked me and told me lies; please tell me how you could be bound". He said to her "If they bind me with new ropes that have not been used, then I shall become weak, and be like anyone else". So Delilah took new ropes and bound him with them and said to him "The Philistines are upon you, Samson!" (The men lying in wait were in an inner chamber.) But he snapped the ropes off his arms like a thread.

The answers Samson gave have some significance:

Answer 1: he could be held with seven fresh bowstrings; seven is a sacred number and fresh bowstrings made of unprocessed gut were not as strong as seasoned bowstrings. But they were new, unused, and in some cultures this gave them a special power.

Answer 2: he could be held with a new rope; new rope is strong, but hardly stronger in reality than rope used once or twice before.

Answer 3: he could be held if Delilah wove the seven strands of his hair into her loom. This was the strangest suggestion. It may have had magical associations for the people of Samson’s time.

Each time, when Delilah called out "The Philistines are upon you", Samson immediately broke the bonds.

Delilah was asking him to trust her enough to reveal his own weakness, perhaps to let go of the need to be in control, but he was reluctant to do this. The story was told by someone with an insight into human psychology. Samson recognized her power over him, and struggled fruitlessly against it.

Judges 16:6 And Delilah said to Samson, “Tell me, I pray you, wherein your great strength lies, and wherewith you might be bound to afflict you.”
7: And Samson said to her, “If they bind me with seven green withs that were never dried
(= green twigs. Anglo-Saxon, a willow, because of its twining and flexibility), then shall I be weak, and be as any other man.
8: Then the lords of the Philistines brought up to her seven green twigs which had not been dried, and she bound him with them.
9: Now there were men lying in wait, abiding with her in the chamber. And she said to him, “The Philistines be upon thee, Samson.” And he snapped the twigs, according as a thread of tow (Old English. Coarse flax or hemp for spinning or twining. Occurs only here and Isa.1:31. Very inflammable) is broken when it smells the fire. So his strength was not known.
10: And Delilah said to Samson, Behold, you have mocked me, and told me lies: now tell me, I pray you, wherewith you might be bound.”
11: And he said to her, “If they bind me fast with new ropes that never were occupied, then shall I be weak, and be as any other man.”
12: Delilah therefore took new ropes, and bound him therewith, and said to him, “The Philistines be upon you, Samson.” And there were liers in wait abiding in the chamber. And he brake them from off his arms like a thread.
13: And Delilah said to Samson, “Hitherto you have mocked me, and told me lies: tell me, I pray you, wherewith you might be bound.” And he said to her, “If you weave the seven locks of my head with the web.”
(In the primitive text these words were probably followed by "and fasten them with a pin". For the Sept. adds "I shall be as any other man. And it came to pass that when he was asleep that Delilah took the seven looks of his had and wove them with the web, and she fastened them with a pin". Ginsburg suggests that some ancient scribe, in copying the first words, "fasten them with a pin", carried his eye back to these last words, and omitted the whole of this clause, which has been preserved in the Sept.)
14: And she fastened it with the pin, and said to him, “The Philistines be upon you, Samson.”

Delilah learns the truth

Ultimately, Delilah’s persistence paid off. Samson confessed to her that the secret of his strength was that he was a 'nazir'.

Then she said to him: 'How can you say 'I love you' when your heart is not with me? You have mocked me three times now and have not told me what makes your strength so great.' So he told her his whole secret, and said to her 'A razor has never come upon my head; for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother's womb. If my head were shaved, then my strength would leave me; I would become weak, and be like anyone else.

Being a 'nazir' meant that Samson had been consecrated to God at birth, had never drunk wine, and had let his hair remain unshaven throughout his life.

Soldiers who fought a 'holy war' often left their hair long - this is hinted at in a previous description of soldiers in Deborah’s army (Judges 5:2). We know that ancient Spartan soldiers going into battle unbound and tangled their long hair, to make them look more frightening.

Samson had to explain the customs of a Nazirite to Delilah, which suggests that she did not already know them. Had she been an Israelite, she would surely have been aware of them.

Delilah recognized the truth when she finally heard it. She did not need to test it, as she had in the previous three incidents. She sent a message to the Philistine lords.

Judges 16:15 And she said to him, “How can you say, ‘I love you’, when your heart is not with me? you have mocked me these three times, and have not told me wherein your great strength lies.”
16: And it came to pass, when she pressed him daily with her words, and urged him, so that his soul was vexed to make him die;
17: That he told her all his heart, and said to her. “There has not come a razor upon mine head; for I have been a Nazarite to God from my mother's womb: if I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.”

Samson's hair is cut off

The Philistine lords came, bringing the money promised to Delilah. That money would free her from economic bondage for the rest of her life. As a courtesan without the protection of a family or husband, she needed transportable wealth - usually coins or jewelry.

She let him fall asleep on her lap; and she called a man, and had him shave off the seven locks of his head. He began to weaken, and his strength left him. Then she said 'The Philistines are upon you, Samson!' When he awoke from his sleep, he thought 'I will go out as at other times, and shake myself free'. But he did not know that the Lord had left him.

She was angry and frustrated. 'Three times you have deceived me,' she said - and finally he told her the truth. ' I am strong because my hair has never been cut. If it were cut I would lose all of my strength.' This time Delilah sensed he had told the truth. She sent a message to the Philistine leaders. 'Come and get him', she said. Samson's Story

Throughout the whole Bible story, Delilah's emotions are not mentioned.

But there is something very moving in the picture of Samson sleeping with his head in Delilah's lap, unaware of the forces assembling against him. Unless she had good reason to hate all Israelites, Delilah must have felt some pity for him. Or perhaps not.

Samson believed that if his hair was cut, his superhuman strength would disappear, and it did. In the words of the story, "the Lord had left him". We do not know the terms of the arrangement Delilah made with the Philistine lords, or what she expected would happen to Samson. In the context of the times, she probably expected a quick death for him, rather than the protracted torture which eventually followed his capture.

Judges 16:18: And when Delilah saw that he had told her all his heart, she sent and called for the lords of the Philistines, saying, “Come up this once, for he has showed me all his heart.” Then the lords of the Philistines came up to her, and brought money in their hand.
19: And she made him sleep upon her knees; and she called for a man, and she caused him to shave off the seven locks of his head; and she began to afflict him, and his strength went from him.
20: And she said, “The Philistines be upon you, Samson.” And he awoke out of his sleep, and said, “I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself.” And he knew not that the Lord was departed from him.
21: But the Philistines took him, and put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with fetters of brass; and he did grind in the prison house
(the work of women and slaves. Denotes the condition to which he was reduced. Cp. Ex. 11:5. Isa. 47:2).

But in one of the most dramatic sentences in the Bible, Judges 16:22 gives an ominous glimpse of what is in store for the Philistines - "However the hair of his head began to grow again after he was shaven".

From that moment, we hear no more of Delilah. Samson will kill himself and many people when he topples the building at the great celebration in honor of Dagon, a fertility god and patron of the city of Ashdod, but there is no mention of her. It seems likely that she was absent from this horrifying event. If she had been among the dead, this fact would surely have been noted.

Judges 16:23 Then the lords of the Philistines gathered them together for to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god, and for rejoicing: for they said, “Our god has delivered Samson our enemy into our hand.”
24: And when the people saw him, they praised their god: for they said, “Our god has delivered into our hands our enemy, and the destroyer of our country, which slew many of us.”
25: And it came to pass, when their hearts were merry, that they said, “Call for Samson, that he may make sport before us.” And they called for Samson out of the prison house; and he made sport before them: and they set him between the pillars.
26: And Samson said unto the lad that held him by the hand, “Let me alone, that I may feel the pillars whereupon the house stands, that I may lean upon them.”
27: Now the house was full of men and women; and all the lords of the Philistines were there; and there were upon the roof about three thousand men and women, that beheld while Samson made sport.
28: And Samson called to the Lord, and said, “O Lord God, remember me, I pray You, and strengthen me, I pray You, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.”
29: And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up
(recent excavations at Gaza have laid bare two smooth stone bases close together in the center, on [not in] which these two pillars stood. On these the main beams rested, and by which the whole house was sustained. Samson had only to pull these pillars out of perpendicular, to effect his object), of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left.
30: And Samson said, “Let my soul die with the Philistines.” And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.
31: Then his brethren and all the house of his father came down, and took him, and brought him up, and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol
(where the Spirit had first come to him, 13:25) in the burying place of Manoah his father. And he ruled Israel twenty years (but he only began to deliver Israel. See 13:5).

View the final scenes from the 1949 film "Samson and Delilah"; an oldie but a goodie.

Story courtesy of Elizabeth Fletcher