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The Unseemly Assumptions about Samson

Profile-John-Donnelly-MA smallToday we have a guest Blogger. John Donnelly, Biblical Literacy Ministries Educator, Church Planter, Part-year missionary to India. John has a Master’s in Old Testament Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a Masters degree in New Testament studies from the same. So here he is on “The Unseemly Assumptions about Samson.”

Words are powerful. They have the to power to define and describe. When you think of the great figures in Scripture what words come to mind? Abraham, Noah, Cain, Moses, Elijah. There are certain words and phrases that we connect to these figures. For Abraham perhaps the words father, faithful, or obedient come to mind. For Cain perhaps evil, jealous or murderer come to mind. Well what comes to mind when you think of Samson? Do you think great powerful judge, or do you think adulterous fornicating failure. For many perhaps a mixture of the two surfaces, but, for most, I think the later comes to mind. And why is that, why do we connect Samson to sexual sin? Well I’m going to make a case for one word. And it’s the Hebrew word בוא. (to go in, enter)

Let’s take a quick look at the love life of Samson before we look at this all important word. First Samson looks for a wife among the Philistines. Although his parents don’t understand, and, by Mosaic law this would seem out of place, Judges 14:1-4 says that it was of the Lord as Samson was seeking to have an opportunity against the Philistines. So Samson marries her, and there is, indeed, an opportunity that arises. Samson strikes down a number of Philistines. Unfortunately, Samson’s wife is killed. Nowhere in the text, however, do we see Samson accused of any sin with her.

At the End of the story, and after 20 years of Samson Judging Israel, we see Samson with a woman named Delilah, who lives in a valley that is between Israelite and Philistine territory. We assume she is a Philistine but the text does not state this explicitly. Whatever Samson’s relationship with her, which seems to be one of love, the text does not state that Samson’s relationship with her was sinful in any way. Our own dirty minds may assume and accuse, but the text does not. We may note that the Philistines lie in wait for him in the bedroom, which the couple was not using, and no sexual congress is depicted.

The other mention of Samson with a woman occurs in between these accounts in Judges 16:1-3 which says, “Samson went to Gaza, and there he saw a prostitute, and he went in to her. The Gazites were told, “Samson has come here.” And they surrounded the place and set an ambush for him all night at the gate of the city. They kept quiet all night, saying, “Let us wait till the light of the morning; then we will kill him.” But Samson lay till midnight, and at midnight he arose and took hold of the doors of the gate of the city and the two posts, and pulled them up, bar and all, and put them on his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that is in front of Hebron.” (ESV)

The question: Why did Samson the Judge of 20 years go to Gaza? Did he go their looking to spend time with a prostitute, or did he go there to tear the gates of the city down and continue his mission against the Philistines?

Many English Bibles will render Judges 16:1 to blatantly accuse Samson of sex with this prostitute. Well, is this a grammatically option for the Hebrew here? Yes, it is, but this word is rarely used to speak of sex. More importantly, given our tendency to assume, is it the only option? No. In fact, I think the context leads us away from this to a more likely scenario.

So what is going on here? Why did the author of Judges mention that Samson went to a prostitute if he didn’t have sex with her? Let’s look at another text to compare.

Joshua 2:1 states, “And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, ‘Go, view the land, especially Jericho.’ And they went and came into the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab and lodged there.” When you look at these verses in Hebrew you will see very similar language used. Some scholars actually see this similarity as a deliberate link by the author of Judges to tip the reader off to Samson’s intensions here.[1]  What gets translated by some as “He entered her… wink wink,” I believe should be rendered, “He entered unto her.” That is what is happening with the spies in Joshua, and that is exactly what is happening with Samson in Judges. Both are engaged in a provocation of war, both בוא enter the houses of prostitutes, both escape and take vengeance on their enemies.

Here is the Hebrew for those who want to take a look.

Joshua 2:1b וַיֵּ֨לְכ֜וּ וַ֠יָּבֹאוּ בֵּית־אִשָּׁ֥ה זוֹנָ֛ה

Judges 16:1  וַיַּרְא־שָׁם֙ אִשָּׁ֣ה זוֹנָ֔ה וַיָּבֹ֖א אֵלֶֽיה

So what was Samson doing?

He was doing exactly what anyone would do if looking for a room in a walled city with whom he sought no peace. He was looking for a place to stay the night, checking out the situation, and it just so happens that the harlots house doubled as the only inn in most cities. So Samson goes in to her house, goes unto her, not into her in a sexual way.

And so there we have it—One word, which, misinterpreted, has led to a general defaming of a great hero as an immoral failure.

[1] Detailed in lectures by Dr. Gordon Hugenberger.


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