Delilah (Judges 16)

She is one of several women in the story of Samson, but she is the only one with a name.  She was a Philistine woman and he was an Israelite who loved her at a time when the Israelites living by the border (the tribe of Dan) felt squeezed by the Philistines on one side and the mountain people from Judah on the other.  Let’s meet Delilah.

View an introductory video here:

Background:  Judges 13:1-16:3

  1. It is important to realize that unlike other judges, Samson’s birth is a miraculous one.  How does it compare to other miraculous births that you know about in Tanakh? 
    • Think of Isaac (Sarah), Esau and Jacob (Rebecca), Samuel (Hannah).
  2. What role do women play in the life of Samson?  Who are these women?
    • Notice the different roles that the women have:  A wife (and a substitute wife) and a harlot. How are these relationships perceived by his family and people?  Why?

Part I: Text and Content (Judges 16:4-21)

  1. We know how Samson feels about Delilah.  What are her feelings?
    • It is rare that a woman’s feelings towards a man are described. (I can think only of Michal, Saul’s daughter, who loved David. I Sam 18:20) Jacob loved Rachel, but what did she feel? (We will discuss the term vaye’ehav – ‘he loved’ in the video.)
  2. What motivates Delilah to undo Samson’s power?
  3. Why did Samson not leave Delilah after repeated attempts to deplete his power?
    • Delilah does not even attempt to conceal her actions.  She uses the information against him time and again, but Samson does not leave her.  Why?
  4. Compare the first 3 times that Delilah asks Samson to tell her what the secret of his power is, with the fourth time.  Why does she succeed on her fourth attempt?
    • Pay attention to the passage of time and to the quality of the arguments.  What had she succeeded in doing in the fourth attempt?
  5. Now pay attention to the method that she uses to deliver him to the Philistine.  How does it differ?
    • Why did she choose a different method?  What is she doing now that she did not do before?
  6. Verse 16:22 is full of anticipation.  What is the significance of the re-growing of Samson’s hair?
    • Is it only physical?  What mental cycles had Samson gone through in this story?
  7. What motivates Samson in the closing of the story (perhaps the part most remembered)?
  8. As the story closes, what is Samson’s relationship with God and with his people?
    • To fully answer this, think of all the chapters of the story.  What role did God play in his life?  What was his relationship with his immediate family?  How did he get along with other Israelites?

Part II: The “Three and Four” Structure

The unit of 16:4-21 is very structured.  It contains a frame at the opening and closing, and a middle that works in the so called “three and the fourth.”  (Based on the first chapter of Amos)  In this structure something occurs 3 times, forming an expected pattern, only to be broken in the fourth and crucial occurrence. Our focus is then shifted to the fourth time.

Now to our story: 

The Frame:

Vv.4-5 are inversely related to vv.20-21.  The outer sentences (4, 22) relates to time and to Samson’s inner world. The inner ones (5, 21) tell of the Philistine plot and its successful conclusion.

4 And it came to pass afterward, that he loved a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah.

5 And the lords of the Philistines 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 afflict him; and we will give you every one of us one thousand one hundred pieces of silver.’

21 And the Philistines laid hold on him, and put out his eyes; and they brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with fetters of brass; and he did grind in the prison-house.

22 And the hair of his head began to grow again after he was shaven. {P}

And what about the middle?

Now I want you to work.  The text is divided along the 4 attempts.  (Of course, if you would like to try it in Hebrew it would be great!)

  1. How similar are they?  Pay close attention to the small differences as well.
  2. Please think of how this story might have been shared among people and how that is reflected in its rhythm.
  3. Pay attention to the pattern of “three and the fourth.”

On a personal note:  I usually keep a box of colored pencils on hand to mark the repeating phrases (and note the omissions!)  If you are doing it on the computer, you can avail yourselves of the colors and high-light options.  Of course, you can also set up the text better (not only in big paragraphs.)

6 And Delilah said to Samson: ‘Tell me please, wherein your great strength lies, and how you might be bound to afflict you.’ 7 And Samson said to her: ‘If they bind me with seven fresh bowstrings that were never dried, then shall I become ill, and be as any other man.’ 8 Then the lords of the Philistines brought up to her seven fresh bowstrings which had not been dried, and she bound him with them. 9 The liers-in-wait were in the room for her. And she said to him: ‘Philistines upon you, Samson!’ And he broke the bowstrings as a string of tow is broken when it touches 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 please, how you might be bound?’ 11 And he said to her: ‘If they bind-certainly bind me with new ropes with which no work has been done, then shall I become ill, and be as any other man.’ 12 So Delilah took new ropes, and bound him with them, and said to him: ‘Philistines upon you, Samson!’ And the liers-in-wait were in the room. And he broke them from off his arms like a thread.

13 And Delilah said to Samson: ‘Until here you have mocked me, and told me lies; tell me how you might be bound?’ And he said to her: ‘If you weave the seven locks of my head with the web.’ 14 And she fastened it with the pin, and said to him: ‘Philistines upon you, Samson!’ And he awoke out of his sleep, and plucked away the pin of the beam, and the web.

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, that his soul was vexed to death. 17 And he told her all his heart, and said to her: ‘There has not come a razor upon my head; for I am a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb; if I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become ill, and be like any other man.’ 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 told me all his heart.’ Then the lords of the Philistines came up to her, and brought the money in their hand. 19 And she made him sleep upon her knees; and she called for the man, and shaved off the seven locks of his head; and she began to afflict him, and his strength went from him. 20 And she said: ‘Philistines upon you, Samson!’ And he awoke from his sleep, and said: ‘I will go out as at other times, and shake myself.’ But he knew not that the LORD was departed from him.

Part III: Rabbinic Texts

The following piece of Midrash is concerned with the meaning of the name of Delilah.  Interpreting the name to get a deeper sense of the character’s personality is known as Midrash Shem (exegesis of a name.)  This is a literary device widely used in Tanakh since names in Hebrew have meanings.  It is fairly lose – it does not need to be grammatically correct, and is often based on sound. For example:  Jacob (Ya’akov) is named so after holding on to his brother’s heel (‘akev).

 Midrash Numbers Rabba 9

במדבר רבה (וילנא) פרשה ט

“ושמה דלילה” – רבי אומר: אלמלא לא נקרא שמה דלילה, היתה ראויה שתקרא כן. דלדלה את כחו, דלדלה את מעשיו, דלדלה את לבו.

“And her name was Delilah” – Rabi says: If her name was not Delilah, she was deserving to be named so; for she weakened (dildelah) his strength, she weakened (dildelah) his deeds, weakened (dildelah) his heart.

Q)  How does Rabi (presumably R. Judah the Nasi who compiled the Mishna around 200 CE) see the character of Delilah?

His analysis is not based on grammar, as he freely added another letter to explain the name.

Q)  Note the format of his explanation:  He repeats it 3 times…  What do you think that he means by ‘his strength,’ ‘his deeds,’ ‘his heart’?

Q)  The second part of the Midrash deals with Delilah’s confidence of her success in the fourth occurance.  What are the 2 suggestions as to how she would have known that Samson told her the truth this time?

Q)  Going back to Joseph:  How come Potifar came to trust him?  Rashi suggests that the name of God was common-place in his mouth – all his actions were guided by awareness of God.  What similar thing do you see here?

Midrash Numbers Rabba 9

במדבר רבה (וילנא) פרשה ט

כתיב (שופטים טז יח) “ותרא דלילה כי הגיד לה את כל לבו” וגו’. מנא ידעה? אמר רבי חנן: ניכרין דברי אמת.  נחמני אמר: ידעה ביה באותו צדיק דלא מפיק שם שמים לבטלה. כיון דאמר לה “נזיר אלהים אני”, אמרה: השתא ודאי קושטא קא אמר!

It is written (Jud 16:18) “Delilah saw that he had told her all his heart.”  How did she know? R. Hanan said:  honest words are recognizable (as such).  Nahmani said:  She knew that that righteous person would not utter the name of Heavens in vain.  Since he told her “I am a Nazirite to God” she said ‘now he is surely telling the truth!’

Q)  “Seeing” is an interesting expression.  How is the word understood here?

The word carries multiple meanings in English as well.  What do we mean when we say “I see what you mean?”

Q)  According to Nahmani, what was the key word that gave Delilah the confidence to call back the lords of the Philistines despite the 3 previous failures?

Q)  Which of the 2 explanations seems more plausible to you?  What is the strong point of each explanation?

What is a Nazirite?

Samson explains that he is a Nazirite from (pre)birth.  The laws of the Nazirite are found in Numbers 6:1-21.  Over time different categories of Nazirites seem to have developed.  Samson became a proto type.

Mishna Tractate Nazir 1:2 

משנה מסכת נזיר פרק א משנה ב

“הריני נזיר מן החרצנים ומן הזגים ומן התגלחת ומן הטומאה” הרי זה נזיר, וכל דקדוקי נזירות עליו.

“הריני כשמשון, כבן מנוח, כבעל דלילה, כמי שעקר דלתות עזה, כמי שנקרו פלשתים את עיניו” הרי זה נזיר שמשון. מה בין ‘נזיר עולם’ ל’נזיר שמשון’? נזיר עולם: הכביד שערו – מיקל בתער, ומביא שלש בהמות, ואם נטמא מביא קרבן טומאה. נזיר שמשון: הכביד שערו – אינו מיקל, ואם נטמא אינו מביא קרבן טומאה:

[He who says] “I am “naziring” (removing myself from) the pits and the peels and hair cutting and impurity” – he is a Nazirite and all the details of Naziritism apply to him. “I am as Samson the son of Manoah (Samson’s father), as the husband of Delilah, as the one who uprooted the gates of Aza, as the one whom the Philistines put his eyes out” he is a Samsonite Nazirite.   What is the difference between the Eternal Nazirite and the Samsonite Nazirite? An eternal Nazirite, if his hair becomes heavy, he may lighten it with a razor, and he brings 3 animals as a sacrifice, and if he becomes impure he brings a sacrifice for impurity.  A Samsonite Nazirite, even if his hair is heavy he does not lighten it, and if he becomes impure he does not bring a sacrifice for impurity.

Q)  What in Samson’s story taught them that they can become impure?  (Look at chapter 15)

Q)  How many titles can Samson be called by?

This is relevant since this is a legal text.  If a person took a vow to be a Nazirite like “the son of Manoah” or any other title, is this still accepted as a vow to be a Samsonite Nazirite?

Q)  He was married several times, why, out of all the women in his life, is he known as Delilah’s husband?

Maybe this tells us something of how the rabbis saw the relationship.  Or perhaps they are trying to deal with one of our questions above:  Why did he not leave her after her repeated attempts to harm him?  (Whether or not the relationship was officially marriage is irrelevant, if Samson understood it as marriage.)

View the summary video here:

Go to Next Class – Ba’alat Ha’ov – The Witch of Ein Dor