Delilah

Delilah was another biblical beauty who showed how a pretty woman could bring down a man, even if he was a powerhouse of strength. She lived in the valley of Sorek, and may have been a widow, for she had means to live without a husband. The Bible does not reveal her lineage, whether Israelite, Philistine, or something else, and does not say Delilah loved Samson, hero of the Israelites. It does say that she became the object of Samson's desire after he had been betrayed by his Philistine wife. His enemies must have thought that they could exploit Samson's weakness for her. The lords of the Philistines approached Delilah with an extraordinary offer of 1,100 pieces of silver per man if she would discover for them the source of Samson's strength, and how he could be bound so as not to break free. Was Delilah coerced into betraying Samson? Was she loyal to the Philistines? Did she desire the money? The Scripture does not reveal Delilah's motivation, but does recount the steps in her betrayal. Three times she asked Samson about what could bind him that he could not break, and three times he told her a lie. Delilah pressed him daily for the answer to that question, but Samson resisted.

Before Samson was born, an angel appeared to his mother and foretold his birth. The angel warned her not to drink wine or strong drink, and not to eat anything unclean, “for the child shall be a Nazarite to God from the womb to the day of his death” (Judges 13:7). In other words, the child would be consecrated to God. Samson grew up blessed with extraordinary powers, including strength, but only if his hair was never cut. Before he met Delilah, he had a fondness for Philistine women, one in particular. She was a woman from Timnath, and Samson demanded his parents get her for him.

Then his father and his mother said unto him, Is there never a woman among the daughters of thy brethren, or among all my people, that thou goest to take a wife of the uncircumcised Philistines? And Samson said unto his father, Get her for me; for she pleaseth me well. (Judges 14:3)

Samson's father made the arrangements for Samson to marry the woman (unnamed in the Bible). During the engagement feast, Samson made a wager with some young Philistine men, telling them a riddle that they would have to solve within seven days in order to get thirty sheets and thirty changes of garments. Upset that they could not solve the riddle, the men went to the young bride-to-be and asked her to get Samson to reveal the riddle. They threatened to burn her and her father's house if she didn't get it for them. She wept and asked Samson to reveal it. He held off for most of the week, but on the seventh day gave in, broke his Nazarite vow, and shared it with her. She, in turn, gave it to the Philistines. Enraged, Samson murdered thirty Philistine men and his wife was given to his companion.

Tradition paints Delilah as a fallen woman and a deceiver, but some scholars say that the image is not supported by the Scriptures. She didn't lie to Samson or trick him with her words. On the contrary, she asked quite directly: “Tell me, I pray thee, wherein thy great strength lieth, and wherewith thou mightest be bound to afflict thee” (Judges 16:6). It was Samson who repeatedly lied.

Samson then met Deliliah and loved her. He told Delilah that if he were tied with seven green withes or new ropes or seven locks of his hair woven with the web, that he would not be able to break free. Delilah put him to the test, and each time Samson broke the restraints. She protested and asked him how he could possibly love her when he continued to mock her with lies. Samson finally poured out his heart to Delilah. He confessed that a razor had never touched his head. If his hair were cut, he would lose his strength. Delilah wasted no time summoning the Philistines.

Delilah placed Samson's head in her lap and lulled him to sleep. She then summoned a man to cut Samson's hair. With his locks shorn, Samson's vow to God was broken. The Philistines bound him and gouged out his eyes. In the ultimate humiliation, Samson was put to work in prison pounding grain, the task of a woman.

Delilah holding Samson's hair

After betraying Samson, Delilah disappeared from the story, although some scholars suggest that she may have been present during the Philistine agricultural festival at the Temple of Dagon where Samson was brought out so all could see the vanquished hero of the Israelites. In that version of the story, what no one seemed to have noticed was that Samson's hair had started growing again. After calling upon the Lord to strengthen him, Samson put his hands upon the pillars of the temple and pulled the structure down, killing himself and 3,000 Philistines, and Delilah, too, if she were present that day to see the culmination of her deed. To see Flemish painter Peter Paul Ruben's masterwork of Samson and Delilah, visit: www.vincent.nl/?/gallery/oilreproduction.asp?vagnr=a1046&ref

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