The story of Samson and Delilah is one of those stories that we don’t hear often, but we know it when we do listen to it. It’s a story of love and betrayal, all the characteristics of an epic that pits love against guile.
Samson was the seventh judge of Israel, a leader of his people for 20 years. He was born to a barren couple, dedicated at birth to the Nazirite life, and only as he grew did he realize the strength that he had was a gift from God. God promised him that as long as he lived the Nazirite life (which consisted of avoiding grapes and wine, and never allowing a razor to touch his head), his strength would be invincible.
The scripture portion for today opens up with Samson visiting a prostitute, who was approached by other Philistines in an attempt to gain the secret of his immense strength. The Israelites and the Philistines had been at war for some time, and, like many other tribal wars, each side tried to get the best of the other, and if it required a bit of spying and treachery, that was just a cost of doing business. Philistines tried to catch Samson in the morning after he had visited the prostitute, but Samson had slipped out at midnight and so was gone by the time they went to arrest him.
Samson then fell hopelessly in love with another Philistine woman named Delilah. The men of Philistia offered her 1100 pieces of silver from each if she could discover how to humble Samson and give him into the hands of the Philistines. It seemed to be an offer too good to be passed up. Delilah, far from using feminine wiles, wasn’t afraid to approach the subject of how Samson strength could be curtailed. She tried these three times, and each time Samson gave her a different answer. When she tried the various things he had told her, and then tried to wake him up by crying loudly that the Philistines were coming, Samson merely snapped whatever was holding him and proved that that was not the answer. That’s where the story ends today, but you can be sure there is more to come.
The offering of such a significant amount of money to Delilah was indeed an impetus for her to attempt to secure the reason for Sampson’s strength. He had already killed thousands of Philistines, at one time killing a thousand using a jawbone of an ass. He was a force that had to be subdued, and the Philistine men realized that the way to do it was through Delilah.
Delilah may have been attracted to Sampson, but it certainly seems as if the money that she would receive for betraying him was more important than a continuing relationship with the strongest man in the world. Perhaps she didn’t like the idea that he was an Israelite. Probably Samson represented a possible disaster for her and her people. Maybe she was trying to save her people from a traditional (and immensely strong) enemy. However it happened, Delilah was determined to find out Samson’s secret and then betray him to her own people.
Love and friendship have always been components of stories of triumph and tragedy. Some spies have betrayed their country because of either a false loyalty to an alien ideology or perhaps just for money. How many have been killed because they were deceived by one person who never knew them, but who put his or her own good above that of thousands of others? Maybe Delilah did it for love, at least the love of her own people and their well-being. Who knows?
We have to be careful about people who want to know things about us. There are so many warnings out these days about scams were people call or knock on the door asking for information and offering to provide plans and programs that could benefit the person to whom they are talking. It’s only when it is too late that most people realize that they have been scammed, as it were, and that their savings have been lost. We listen to campaign promises from politicians saying all the things that they are going to do for their constituents, and some of them actually do come through, but it seems that many don’t. They put the benefit of themselves and their fellow congressmen, business partners, and golf club fellow members ahead of what’s actually right for the constituents.
This is not what Jesus had planned. Loving one’s neighbor doesn’t mean taking advantage of them. Loving one’s neighbor does not mean betraying them for personal gain. Loving one’s neighbor does not mean making false promises and ignoring them when the time comes for payment. Loving one’s neighbor means doing things that would benefit them.
Then the question comes to my mind, wasn’t Delilah doing something that she felt would benefit her people by learning the secrets of an alien from another tribe proposed a very significant threat to the Philistines? Maybe it wasn’t all the money. Perhaps she honestly thought that she was doing the right thing by gathering up his secret and passing it along to those who could implement the actual entrapment.
Maybe Judas was doing what needed to be done when he betrayed Jesus, as much as we would like to think it was purely monetary. We’re taught to focus on the 30 pieces of silver and the idea that Judas was greedy. But is that the whole truth?
We have to be careful. A betrayal can mean something as simple as letting out a secret that wasn’t ours to voice. Betraying our superiors’ trust in us when we “borrowed” pencils and paper from the office or even money out of the cash box. We can say to ourselves, “Oh, well, they’ve got plenty,” but it’s still a betrayal that can cost many thousands of dollars to employers who trusted that the employees would do right. I have been totally surprised by the number of people I’ve known who have taken funds from employers, betraying them, and going undetected and unpunished.
Samson eventually lost his life, but he actually took a lot of people with him. I wonder if Delilah was in the Philistine temple the day that Sampson pulled it down in his final act of strength and appeal to God? I don’t know, but maybe that would be payment for betrayal?
We have to learn to be faithful and honest and most of all, aware of who and what is around us. We need to take care that we avoid betrayal of friends, family, business associates, and even God. We must be aware that our duty in life is to honor God by following the teachings of Jesus and living honest, upright lives. It may not be the easy way, but it’s God’s way, the only way.
Image: Rubens, Peter Paul, Samson and Delilah; ca. 1609-10. Located at the National Gallery in London. Found at Wikimedia commons.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and -retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She is also owned by three cats.