Tell me if you recognize this story. A guy with super strength and really long hair gets tricked by a pretty prostitute. He literally brings the house down around his enemies in a final blaze of justice-seeking glory. Sounding familiar?
The story of Samson and Delilah, recorded in the sixteenth chapter of Judges, has been the delight of scores of writers, artists, and composers for hundreds of years. When Samson dallied with Delilah in the Sorek Valley of ancient Philistia, he never imagined that their sordid relationship would be projected on huge movie screens some 30 centuries later. -- Got Questions
This week I have the distinct privilege of directing The Death of Samson, based on Judges 16:4-31, for Piercing Word Summer Camp, and I used the Script Study method to learn a little about the characters and themes in this tale as old as time.
What’s in a Name?
Ancient stories didn’t come to us through picture books or slide shows. They were passed down orally until someone finally preserved them in writing, and even then, they didn’t include illustrations. I wonder if the scarcity of paper at the time also contributed to the lack of physical descriptions. They didn’t have pages and pages to tell us exactly what Samson looked like so the authors chose their words carefully, putting everything they could in the name.
The name Samson means “like the sun”. What insight could that picture give us into Samson’s personality and character? The sun is bright, warm, powerful, and the center of the universe. If you get too close to the sun, you burn. The sun is powerful but it’s also ruled by very strict laws of nature. Of course, the people in ancient Israel hearing the story wouldn’t have known about the laws of nature or that the sun is the center of the universe. But they would have recognized and attributed to Samson those same god-like qualities.
Delilah means “delicate one” or “feeble”. There are two ways I look at this. On the one hand, she probably was in a weak position, socially and possibly economically. She lived in the valley between the Philistine territory and the Israelite territory. The text does not call her a prostitute (contrary to popular opinion) but it does say that Samson loved her. Loved her, in this case, does mean intimately. She also uses her skills to weaken Samson, the strongest man in town. She literally takes his strength away, making him feeble. Her name tells us not only who she is, but her role in the story as well.
The Philistine lords offered Delilah 1100 pieces of silver to discover Samson’s secret.
Like names, numbers in Ancient Hebrew have meaning beyond their numerical value. Not that they're secret messages you can decode. But like names, they serve as illustrations. They are another device authors used to paint the picture. The number eleven represents betrayal, extreme lack or extreme excess, and disorder. The number zero, when added to another number, emphasizes that number. So two zeros… you get the idea. I don’t think Samson was the kind of guy to rescue the damsel in distress, so I tend to think Delilah was on the side of extreme excess, but I’m sure a case could be made either way.
Study the Script
Did you know that the word Palestine is a derivative of the word Philistine? It's from a word meaning "sea-people" because the Philistine's lived along the southern coast.
Fun facts like this fascinate me and certainly influenced the direction our show took in terms of staging. But it's all moot if we can't tie it back together and recognize the Lead character of every scene. In other words, what does the story of Samson and Delilah tell us about God?
As we studied characters and staged the scene, I watched Samson and Delilah tear each other down and realized how much more amazing God's mercy is in light of our arrogance and self-destructive natures.
I've never really understood why Samson is included in the Hebrews Hall of Faith, but my students this week reminded me that Samson's death was sacrificial and paralleled the death of the Greatest Deliverer. Set apart from birth and miraculously conceived, Samson was a beacon of light, calling the people to return to God. In the end he was ridiculed and mocked. Humbled by his enemies, his death set the stage for future Philistine defeat. A shadow of another unlikely hero who would rise up to save his people and suffer agonizing torment but this time he would be humble and innocent. A true sacrifice.
And what more can I say? Time is too short for me to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the raging of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength in weakness, became mighty in battle, and put foreign armies to flight. Hebrews 11:32-33
God used Samson’s life to bring justice to his people and to humble the nations that arrogantly defied Him. Samson made many poor choices, and I'm not sure he ever learned his lesson, but God still used Him to accomplish His will. In Samson's weakness, God proved truly strong.