Delilah - the Bible story

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Delilah: she done him wrongDelilah         

People in Delilah's story
, a courtesan in a Philistine city, the lover of Samson
Samson, legendary strong man, hero of the embattled Israelites
The Philistine leaders - rulers of the port cities along the Mediterranean coast

Samson the strongman

Delilah was a woman with a checkered past, probably a successful courtesan. She was beautiful, almost certainly a Philistine and so a traditional enemy of any Hebrew. She lived in one of the cities in the valley of Sorek. 

'Samson and Delilah'; still from the filmOne of her lovers was Samson, a brutal Hebrew warrior who described making love with his wife as 'plowing with my heifer...'. He had already been married once, and had been the cause of the death of his wife and her family. 

Despite his appalling record of violence, or perhaps because of it, he was a hero to the beleaguered Hebrew settlers who were trying to find a place for themselves in land already occupied by the Canaanites and Philistines. They looked for champions, and Samson's qualities made him ideal - not as a leader, because he did not have the cunning or intelligence for that role, but as a fearless warrior who could protect them.

Samson was enormously strong, and people at that time believed this must be because of some magic or secret that gave him extraordinary power. Magic, incantations and spells were popular - it was believed that the right magic could protect a person, or help overcome enemies. 

Magic and the woman Delilah

The leaders of the Philistine cities believed that magic of some kind must be behind Samson's invincible strength, and decided to find out what that magic was.
Gold necklace found during excavations at ancient Nimrud Some of them approached Delilah and offered her an immense sum of money if she would find out the secret of Samson's strength.

Delilah agreed to help them. The money they offered was enough to free her from 'working' for the rest of her life. 

Three times she asked Samson what his secret was, and three times he gave her a false answer. It is hard to tell whether he was just tormenting her, or whether he knew the secret would be valuable to his enemies and was wary about telling it. 

Samson tells his secret

New rope: Samson suggested that even with his strength he could  not break it; he lied Eventually he told her what he himself believed:  his strength came from his long hair which, since it had never been cut, was far more plentiful that any other man's. 

Was this true? Only in so far as he believed it - but belief is a powerful thing. He was not alone in this belief. The warriors of ancient Sparta deliberately let their hair grow long, believing it terrified their enemies into submission.

Delilah acts

When Delilah was satisfied that she had a truthful answer at last, she called the Philistines. 'The time has come, for he has told his whole secret to me.' They brought the money with them. 

Samson and Delilah, Gerrit van Honthorst

Samson and Delilah, 
Gerrit van Honthorst

Then she told them the secret and lulled Samson to sleep in her lap. While he slept she allowed them to cut off his luxuriant hair. 

There is something moving in the picture of Samson sleeping with his head in Delilah's lap, unaware of the forces assembling against him. Unless she had reason to hate all Israelites, Delilah must have felt some pity for him.

Without 'the seven locks of his hair'  - and therefore his strength - Samson was easily overpowered.

 In the words of the story, 'the Lord had left him'. 

Samson's eyes are gouged out

Samson Blinded, Louis Corinth, 1912Delilah may have expected a quick death for him, rather than the long drawn out torture which followed his capture. His eyes were gouged from their sockets and he was thrown into prison. 

After that, Delilah disappears from the story, but the Philistines probably honored their promise of payment so that Delilah enjoyed a comfortable retirement.

Samson lived. He was blind, but his hair began to grow back, and with it his strength came back. He waited for the right moment, and then took his revenge.....  (See Judges 16:23-31 for the end of Samson's story)





Samson and Delilah by Van Dyck

Samson and Delilah by Van Dyck


Bible Text for the story of Delilah

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Bible Stories: People of the Old Testament - Bible Study Resource:   Delilah and Samson