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William Shepard

Concerning Samson, and What Mischiefs He Wrought upon the Philistines

After the death of Abdon the Philistines conquered the Israelites and held them in slavery for forty years.

There was at that time among the Israelites a man named Manoah, who was held in great honor on account of his many virtues. He had a wife who also feared the Lord, but the couple were not blessed with any children, though they continually prayed to God for them. One day an angel of God appeared to the wife as she was alone and brought her the good news that she should have a son, who should be of great strength, and by whom, when he was grown up to man's estate, the Philistines should be afflicted. And the angel told her that he was never to drink wine, and that his hair should never be cut. Then the angel departed.

The woman told her husband, when he returned, of the angel's visit, and of his message to them. But he would not believe it was an angel, so the wife entreated God to send the angel again, that he might be seen by her husband. The angel appeared to her again when she was alone. She asked the angel to stay until she could go and call her husband, and that request being granted, she went for Manoah. But though he saw the angel he was still doubtful. He asked him who he was, so that when the child was born they might return him thanks and make him a present. The angel replied that he wanted no present. But at the earnest request of Manoah he agreed to stay long enough to let them prepare him a meal. So Manoah slew a kid and bade his wife boil it. When all was ready, the angel told them to set the bread and meat upon a rock. Touching them with a rod he held in his hand, a bright flame sprang up and consumed them. And as they looked the angel ascended up to heaven by means of the smoke, as by a vehicle. Now Manoah was afraid that some danger would come to them from this sight of God, but his wife bade him be of good courage, for that God had appeared to them for their benefit.

In due time the child was born, and was called Samson, which means a strong man. And as he grew up his parents were careful to follow the commands of the angel, letting his hair grow long and giving him no wine to drink.

When Samson was a young man, he went with his parents to Timnath, a city of the Philistines, where there was a great festival. Here he met a maid of that country, with whom he was so much pleased that he asked his parents to let him marry her. But they would not consent at first, because she was a daughter of the Philistines, who were the enemies of the Israelites. At last, however, finding that Samson had made up his mind and could not be persuaded to forget her, they withdrew their objection.

Once as Samson was going to Timnath to visit the maiden a lion met him, and though the youth was without sword or spear he was not afraid, but waited for the lion to spring on him, and then strangled it with his hands.

Soon after he passed along the same road, on his way to the maiden, and turning aside to see the carcass of the lion, he found that a swarm of bees had gone into it and made honey there. He took some of the honey, and gave it, with other presents, to the maiden.

At last the day appointed for the marriage arrived. A great wedding-feast was held in Timnath. And among those that came to it were thirty young men of the Philistines, who had been given to Samson under pretence of being his companions, but in reality to watch over him and see that he attempted no disturbance. The feast lasted seven days, and on the first day Samson said to his companions,—

"Come, now, if I propose you a riddle, and you can guess it within these seven days, I will give every one of you a linen shirt and a garment as a reward of your wisdom."

The young men were very anxious to try if they could guess the riddle, and they asked him to tell it. Then Samson said,—

"A great devourer produced sweet food out of itself, though itself were very disagreeable."

For three days his companions thought over this riddle and could not guess it. Then they came to Samson's wife, and asked her to find out the answer from her husband and to let them know it, threatening to burn her if she could not find out.

So she asked Samson to tell her, and when he refused she wept, saying that he did not love her, until at last he could refuse no longer. He told her, therefore, how he had killed a lion and found bees afterwards in its breast, and how he had brought honey away from it. And next morning she told this to the Philistine young men. And on the seventh day they came to Samson and said,—

"Nothing is more disagreeable than a lion to those that meet one, and nothing is sweeter than honey to those that eat it."

Then Samson knew that his wife had betrayed him, and he answered,—

"Nothing is so deceitful as a woman, for such was the person who told you this secret."

Then Samson went out, and meeting with some Philistines who dwelt in a town named Askelon, he slew thirty of them, and took their clothing, which he gave to his companions, as he had promised. But he was angry with his wife, and divorced her, and she, despising his anger, soon after married one of the Philistine youth. At this Samson became still angrier, and he resolved to punish all the Philistines as well as her. It was then summer-time, and the crops were almost ripe for reaping. Samson caught three hundred foxes, and tying pieces of blazing wood to their tails, he let them loose in the fields of the Philistines, so that the wheat and other grain was burned up and destroyed. When the Philistines knew this was Samson's doing, and learned the reason, they sent their rulers to Timnath, and burned his wife and her relations as the cause of their misfortunes.

Samson fought with all the Philistines whom he met anywhere, and slew a great many of them. Afterwards he went to live on the top of a rock named Elam. And the Philistines gathered up a number of men to capture him and to punish those who harbored him. The Israelites were afraid, and some of them came to Elam and told Samson that the Philistines would treat them cruelly so long as they allowed him to remain in their country. Then Samson asked them what they wished with him. They answered that they wished to bind him and give him over to the Philistines. He only made them swear they would not kill him, but would deliver him over alive to the Philistines. And when they had sworn he came down from the rock, and they bound him with two cords and took him to the camp of the Philistines. The Philistines shouted with joy when they saw him, thinking they would now be revenged. But when they had surrounded him, Samson burst his bonds, and, catching up the jawbone of an ass that happened to lie at his feet, he fell upon his enemies and slew a thousand of them, and put the rest to flight.

Samson was very proud of this victory, and he rejoiced greatly, saying that it did not come from the assistance of God, but from his own strength and courage. But a great thirst came upon him, and he grew so weak that he was glad to cry to God for help. And God was moved with his entreaties, and opened a spring in that place, and when he had drunk of its waters his strength came to him again.

Samson had so little fear of the Philistines after this victory that he went in broad daylight to one of their chief cities, named Gaza, and took up his lodging in an inn. When the rulers of Gaza heard that he had come, they set guards at all the gates to prevent his going out again. But Samson got up in the middle of the night and came to the gates, and when he found them shut, he pulled the doors off their hinges and carried them on his shoulders to the top of a hill. There was a woman among the Philistines named Delilah, to whose house Samson often went. When the rulers of the Philistines knew this, they came to her and promised her a great deal of gold and silver if she would find out from Samson what made him so strong. So the next time he came to the house, she first pretended to praise him for all his great actions, and at last she asked him how it was he was so much stronger than all other men. Samson guessed why she asked him this, and in order to deceive her he said,—

"If I am bound with seven green withes I shall be as weak as other men."

Withes were ropes made out of twigs or green branches of trees, and were very tough.

Delilah believed him, and told the lords of the Philistines. So one day when Samson was asleep, a number of soldiers came and bound him in the way he had told her. Then Delilah awoke him, saying that some people had come to attack him. And Samson, starting up, broke the withes as easily as if they had been thread. Then Delilah said that she was only trying him, to see if he had told the truth, and she wept a good deal and pretended to be very sad because he would not trust in her. And again she asked him to tell her about his strength.

Samson again deceived her, and said,—

"If you bind me with seven new ropes I will lose my strength."

But when Delilah had bound him with the ropes, he broke them as easily as he had broken the withes. Then he told her that if she could weave or plait his long hair in a way which he showed her, he would become weak. But when Delilah did this, he rose as strong as ever. At last Samson allowed himself to be moved by her tears and reproaches, and he told her the truth.

"My hair," he said, "has never been cut since I was born, God having ordered me to let it grow long. If you cut off my hair I shall be as weak as other men."

One day, as Samson was sleeping, the wicked Delilah cut off all his hair, and then called to the Philistines to come and take him. And he was no longer able to resist them. So they bound him and put out both his eyes and threw him into prison.

Not long afterwards there was a festival in Gaza, among the Philistines, and all the chief people had gathered in a great hall, whither they ordered Samson to be brought, that they might make sport of him. Now Samson's hair had grown long again while he was in prison, and his strength had returned to him. But the Philistines did not know this, and Samson, to deceive them, pretended to be very weak, and asked the youth who guided his steps to let him rest on the pillars that supported the house. When the boy had done this, Samson took hold of the pillars and shook them so fiercely that he overthrew them. And the house fell down upon the Philistine, crushing to death more than three thousand of them, and Samson himself died with them.


The Death of Samson