COMMENTARY TO 16:4-22
The Woman of the Night: Although it is not the final story in the cycle, the Delila episode is a climax of sorts. Carefully constructed of repeating phrases (for example, “Now the ambush was sitting [for her] in the inner-room”; “Philistines upon you, Shimshon!”), it reprises most of the words and motifs that have appeared up to this point (see the Appendix, “The Sound and Structure of a Biblical Tale”) and welds them into a tight whole. Folk motifs return, in the person of the nagging lover, the new, fresh ropes, and the number of Delila’s attempts to get at the truth——the classic 3+1 pattern of folklore. The tension is palpable, with the ambush lying in wait and Delila inching ever closer to the truth (on the third try, Shimshon brings his “locks” into the picture). The text is punctuated by the repeated “I’d become weak, / I’d become like [Heb. ve-hayyiti ve-haliti], / any [other]man,” culminating the in the slightly altered “all [other] men” in v. 17. Shimshon is, of course, the last to know about his newly weakened state, and his lack of knowledge continues the broader theme of secrets withheld (note that the word “tell” occurs seven times in the episode).
Shimshon’s punishment is twofold. First, he temporarily loses his strength, and second, more permanently, he loses his sight.
COMMENTARY TO 16:23-31
Grand Finale: The stage is set for Shimshon’s last triumph, in a scene that is truly cinematic, with literally a cast of thousands. The sequence of humiliation and over-the-top revenge is an old favorite among audiences in many cultures; a modern example would be the classic cult film Carrie. Here, however, it is not totally unexpected, as we have been slipped a hint at the time of Shimshon’s capture and imprisonment that his hair is growing again (v. 22). But he will have to invoke God once more in order to enable the deed to take place.
The image of a man, however strong, pulling down an entire temple with his bare hands has typically been considered the ultimate fairy tale element. But excavations at Tell Qasile in coastal Israel have unearthed a Philistine structure in which two wooden pillars served as major supports for the building——although not, to be sure, side by side. So we get to enjoy both the miraculous and a sense of the real world simultaneously.
Similar to the end of chap. 15, Shimshon’s feat at his death, while taking an enormous toll on the enemy and thus fulfilling his destiny, is ambiguously represented as a spectacular deed of personal vengeance. The hero’s plea to God in v. 28 shows no recognition of any kind of leadership role, or indeed of any reality much beyond his various body parts. With the collapse of the Philistine temple, the core quest ofJudges,Israel’s dreams of competent, covenant-based human leadership, ends up in a heap of ruins as well.