Examples of individuals renowned for physical strength are not common in the Bible. One whom most children are soon made aware of, however, is Samson, the revered Hebrew man of steel who would in time become the basis for the super heroes of today. Like them, his intellectual gifts were very much secondary to his physical prowess, in Samson’s case, an imbalance that led to episodes of nonsensical violence comparable to the Terminator being played by Groucho Marx. Whereas most children know about his ‘noble’ end, few are familiar with his lunatic beginnings. What follows is the entire story, which occupies four chapters in the book called Judges.
Samson was born when the Israelites were once again behaving badly in the sight of the Lord. In keeping with all miraculous births, an angel alerted the parents beforehand. He also recommended a prenatal diet for mom and gave specific instructions regarding haircuts for the child. i.e., there should be none. Samson was then duly born into the world and as with all biblical big wigs, disappeared without trace until manhood. The first time we encounter him is when he’s already interested in girls.
One day while wandering through downtown Tim-nath, Samson took a fancy to a particular Philistine gal, much to the concern of mom and dad. A daughter in law who was uncircumcised so to speak, was not what they really had in mind for their only son. Despite their hand wringing however, Sammy insisted:
“Get her for me,” he demanded, “for she pleaseth me well.”
Unbeknownst to his parents, their son was on a mission from God. A guided muscle as it were – with a hair trigger; a means for old Yahweh to apply some of his stock in trade mayhem to the Philistines who were lording it up over His people. Having Samson marry one of them was His devious first move.
According to plan, the family set off to check out the potential daughter in law. Along the way a lion appeared, which Samson – as was his wont – dispatched without ceremony; tearing it asunder like a phone book. A particularly violent, and one would think noisy event that somehow went unnoticed by mom and dad. Blissfully unaware, they arrived in Tim-nath, had a quick chat with the girl, were sufficiently impressed and went home.
The next time Sammy went visiting, he was on his own, and on the way, discovered that the lion carcass was now full of bees! He ate a few handfuls of honey and on the return trip picked some up for mom and dad. For reasons to be revealed later, he didn’t tell them where he’d got it. Their miraculous son conceivably did this kind of thing all the time, so they in turn didn’t ask.
Dad then “went down unto the woman” and arranged the wedding feast with the Philistines. Samson was assigned thirty men for the occasion and during the feast he decided to ask them a riddle. If they could answer it in seven days, he said, he would owe them thirty sheets and thirty changes of clothes. If not, they’d owe him the same. The riddle was:
Judges 14:v14. And he said unto them, Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness.
None of the thirty of course had any idea what the heck he was talking about and after a few days started to get nasty. They dropped in on the wife (who still didn’t have a name yet,) and said if you don’t tell us the answer, we’re going to set you and your father and the house on fire! (Sheets apparently were hard to come by) The wife immediately set to weeping because she didn’t know what the heck Samson was talking about either. He hadn’t told mom and dad, why would he tell her? She was between a rock and a hard on, but the way women will, she stuck with him night and day until she got the answer. Right before the deadline – because “she lay sore upon him” – she succeeded. Incorrigible Philistine that she was, she then told the others.
When they gave Samson the answer viz. – “What is sweeter than honey? What is stronger than a lion?” he became very “kindled.” He realized right away what had happened. “If ye had not plowed with my heifer,” he said unto them,” ye had not found out my riddle.”
(I’m a bit hazy as to the definition of a riddle, but having someone try to guess details of an incredibly implausible personal experience, known to no one except yourself hardly seems to qualify.)
Nevertheless, still kindled, Samson stormed off to a neighboring town, killed thirty of the inhabitants and took their clothes to pay the guests off. He must have screwed them on the sheets since they aren’t mentioned. Having settled the account he then came home to find his wife in bed with his best friend!
Judges 14:v20 But Samson’s wife was given to his companion, whom he had used as his friend.
A somewhat precipitous infidelity under the circumstances, which served to throw more sticks on the fire.
It was in fact her father’s fault. Thinking that Samson was unhappy with his daughter for ruining his riddle, he’d passed her on to his best friend. Hoping to make amends, he then offered his other daughter instead. (Philistine heifers it seems were interchangeable.) The offer further incensed our hero into tying two foxes together by their tails, setting fire to them and chasing them into the Philistines’ corn. The ensuing conflagration spread to the vineyards and olives, leaving the Philistines no other option but to set fire to the ex wife and her father! To which Samson further responded by slaying the lot of them. God’s plan was coming along nicely.
Seeing the writing on the wall, three thousand men of Judah came to Samson and demanded he explain himself:
Judges 15v11. Then three thousand men of Judah went to the top of the rock of E-tam and said unto Samson, knowest thou not that the Philistines are rulers over us? What is this that thou hast done unto us? And he said unto them. As they did unto me so I did unto them.
“They messed with my riddle.” in other words. The three thousand then promptly tied him up and marched him off to hand over to the Philistines.
God wasn’t having any of this of course and cheating as usual, melted the cords “like burning flax,”, whereupon Samson set about finding the “jawbone of an ass” and matter-of-factly dispatched a thousand men. Whether these were men of Judah or Philistines isn’t specified, but it was thirsty work either way. As a bonus for carrying out His absurdly convoluted strategy of violent non-sequitors, God rewarded His boy by turning the self-same jawbone into a faucet!
Judges 15:v19 But God clave a hollow place that was in the jaw and there came water thereout.
Things calmed down for a while after that, until Samson happened to be strolling around Gaza one time, and another piece of ass caught his fancy; a harlot this time whom he readily went in unto. Around midnight, after he was done, in keeping with his soccer hooligan M.O. he tore off the city gates, together with the pillars on either side, put them on his back and carried them to the top of a nearby hill. At that point, the locals decided it was time to have done with him once and for all.
As their luck would have it, Sammy found another piece not long after, up in the valley of Sorek, and when he’d done going in unto her that night, the locals moved in behind him – each of them offering her eleven hundred pieces of silver if she discovered the secret of his strength.
This was plowing with heifer big time.
Delilah was her name, as every school kid knows, the sexiest babe in the Bible, the one who betrayed her man. Few of these children are aware of the psychotic violence and sexual shenanigans that had preceded the event, but all of them agree, she was a very bad woman.
Samson and Delilah were lovers. They were going at it like bunnies apparently but they weren’t married. As lovers do, after each go round they chatted and each time Delilah asked the same question: “How come you so strong Sammy?” In order to test her fidelity, Sammy in turn replied each time with a wrong answer. Three nights in a row the Philistines burst in thinking their man was disabled and each time Samson rousted them out of the tent. One would think infidelity had been fairly well established at that point, but on the fourth night, when Delilah complained that if he really loved her he’d stop lying to her about the way he could get his ass kicked, Samson fessed up:
Judges 16:v 17: …if I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak, and I shall be like any other man.
Everyone knows the rest: The Philistines grabbed him, blinded him, had a big feast to celebrate and put him on show for a laugh. Samson got himself organized between two pillars and – World Trade Tower style – brought the house down. A finale, which according to the Judges, resulted in more fatalities than he’d caused in all his lunatic life.
And that was that.
Such is the stuff of legend.
Contrary to popular sentiment there is nothing spiritually redeeming or even remotely heroic in the story at all. The idea that it is a cautionary tale about a man of heavenly strength brought down by earthly weakness is farcical. Samson’s behavior demonstrates no moral purpose and no irony whatsoever. It is a catalogue of incomprehensible violence interspersed with episodes of random sex, the last of which betrays his appalling stupidity and gets him killed.
Malcolm Mc Neill first project out of art school was a seven-year collaboration with writer William S. Burroughs.
His most recent exhibition of paintings was in August 2013 in New York.