29. The death of Samson

Samson and his parents reached the city of Timnah, the city of his would-be bride. On completion of all the required formalities and discussions, they returned home.

In due course, it was in Timnah that Samson’s wedding ceremony took place. As per the customs of the time, Samson organized a seven-day feast for his bride’s Philistine relatives, who attended the wedding. He then returned home with his relatives. As was the custom, his wife stayed back at her maternal home. But in Samson’s absence, her father forcefully married her to someone else.

Later, during the harvest season, when Samson went to his in-laws place, he became aware of the whole story. Furious, he pledged revenge. Samson caught three hundred foxes and tied them together in pairs by their tails. He then attached a burning torch to the tails of each pair and released them in the fields of the Philistines. Within no time the standing crop ready for harvesting was reducing to ashes, so says the story. On learning about the reason behind Samson’s act, the Philistines, holding Samson’s wife and father-in-law responsible, burned them to death. The mighty Samson avenged their killing by slaughtering hundreds of Philistines all alone and making them run for their lives. Samson then took refuge in a cave.

Though Samson was one of the Israelite Judges, it was that part of the history when the Philistines reigned over the Israelites. Hence they ordered the tribe of Judah, which lived in the vicinity, to deliver Samson to them. Samson did not get angry at the tribesmen of Judah who came to him under the Philistine pressure. Instead, he handed himself over to them taking a promise from them that the Philistines would only capture and not kill him. They tied him up with a new pair of ropes and began taking him to the Philistines. When the Philistines saw Samson tied with ropes and being brought to them, they ran onto him with rage.

Divinely empowered with the spirit of God, Samson tried to break free and as the Philistines closed in, the ropes that bound him, snapped. As he freed himself he looked around and saw a skeleton of a dead donkey. Drawing out the jawbone from it, he used it to slay thousands of Philistines alone, so says the story.

Samson
Samson slays a thousand men with the jawbone of a donkey

Many stories of Samson’s enormous and colossal strength are commonly narrated. Once when the Philistines plotted to trap and murder him in Gaza, he tore the city gates from their very hinges and frame and used them as a weapon to kill the ambushing Philistines.

For the second time too Samson fell in love with a Philistine girl. Her name was Delilah. After their marriage, the Philistines lured her with more than a thousand shekels to find the secret of his immense strength.

Pretending love, the cunning Delilah tried to find out the secret from him. He did not let her have the true reason of his strength and kept giving her some inconsequential information. Acting on the untrue information when the Philistines raided Samson, they found him to be way above them in might and had to run for their lives.

Enraged that every one of the three or four attempts at extracting the secret from Samson ended up the same way, i.e. in vain, Delilah decided and tried to lay an emotional trap for Samson. Finally, with her continuous badgering, Samson lost all his restraint and alertness and revealed the real secret to her. He told her that he owed his strength to the fact that right from the time he was in his mother’s womb he had been dedicated to God and added that his strength was in his hair; and hence the Angel had told his parents not to cut or shave his hair in his entire life.

Delilah had got what she wanted. She immediately had this information passed on to the Philistines. Conspiring against him, Delilah had his hair shaved when Samson was in deep sleep after a tiring day. This made Samson lose his strength, so says the story.

She then indicated to the Philistines, who she had hid in their house, to ambush Samson. Pretending to be afraid, she told Samson that the Philistines had come to kill him. Samson took this move to be pretence as usual but was as yet unaware that his massive strength had left him.

Delilah tricks Samson

Like always, he tried to use his strength and that was when it dawned upon him but only too late, that his enormous strength had left him. What good was the realization now? Capturing him, the Philistines blinded him by gouging out his eyes and took him prisoner binding him with strong iron chains. They then took him to Gaza, imprisoned him and he was sentenced to rigorous imprisonment.

The Philistines were overjoyed on having Samson, an enemy who would strike fear into their hearts, now chained. Celebrations and feasts were held across the nation of Philistia. They were only too happy to offer sacrifices to their local deities.

One such celebration, a sacrificial ritual was held in one of the biggest of the temples of a Philistine deity. The chained Samson was brought to the venue for the Philistines to see for themselves their biggest of the enemies. Thousands of Philistines from far-off places thronged the temple to see Samson. All the rulers of the entire Philistia too gathered at the venue.

In the meanwhile, having spent several days in imprisonment, Samson’s shaved hair had naturally grown back although nobody realized it.

Being blind due to his eyes gouged out, Samson had completely lost his vision. He could only grope his way around. He prayed to God for strength and reminded Him of His promise so that he could settle scores with his enemies. The entire structure of the two-storeyed temple with balconies, which accommodated thousands of people, rested on two central pillars.

Samson
Samson destroys a temple of Philistines

While everyone was busy with their rituals, Samson asked his captor sentry to let him lean against the central supporting pillars so that he could take support and stand. Accordingly, the sentry took him to the central supporting pillars.

Samson stood clasping the two pillars, prayed to God and gathering all his strength attempted to shake them. On attempting to move the pillars he realized that he had regained his strength and with this he began to shake those pillars with even more force and energy. The balconies above and the huge temple overflowing with thousands of people began to tremble and at one particular moment the entire structure gave way, killing all the people inside.

Samson too died in the process but with the satisfaction that he died only after killing thousands of enemies. Thus came the end of the powerful Samson, who had reigned as the Israelite Judge for twenty years. (To be continued…)

– Shulamith Penkar-Nigrekar