The Harlot of Gaza [Judges 16.1-16.3]
Scripture (KJV) Judges 16.1-3
1 Then went Samson to Gaza, and saw there an harlot, and went in unto her.
2 And it was told the Gazites, saying, Samson is come hither. And they compassed him in, and laid wait for him all night in the gate of the city, and were quiet all the night, saying, In the morning, when it is day, we shall kill him.
3 And Samson lay till midnight, and arose at midnight, and took the doors of the gate of the city, and the two posts, and went away with them, bar and all, and put them upon his shoulders, and carried them up to the top of an hill that is before Hebron.
In this chapter we have an account of Samson's too great familiarity with two harlots (see Article 16.3: HARLOT; page 687); by the one he was brought into great danger, and narrowly escaped (Judges 16:1-3), and by the other he was betrayed into the hands of the Philistines, having got the secret out of him of what was the secret of his great strength (Judges 16:4-20), who having him in their hands, put out his eyes, imprisoned him, and in their idol temple made sport of him (Judges 16:21-25), where praying for renewed strength from the Lord, he pulled down the temple, and destroyed multitudes with the loss of his own life (Judges 16:26-31).
Samson is greatly endangered by having intercourse with a harlot, ver. 1-3
Samson and Delilah, ver. 4-22
Delilah’s First Attempt, ver. 4-9
Delilah’s Second Attempt, ver. 10-12
Delilah’s Third Attempt, ver. 13-15
Delilah’s Final Attempt, ver. 16-22
The End of Samson, ver. 23-31
1 Then went Samson to Gaza, and saw there an harlot, and went in unto her.—Judges 16.1 (KJV)
1 Once Samson went to Gaza, where he saw a harlot and visited her.—Judges 16.1 (NAB)
Then went Samson to Gaza (see Article 16.1;)…The closing verse of Judges 15 marks the close of this period of Samson s life. Hereafter, it is a record of the terrible consequences, first of using God's gift, entrusted to Samson for the highest and holiest purposes, for self-indulgence, and then of betraying that gift and losing it. And this betrayal and loss are the consequence of taking for self what is meant for God, just as in the parable of the prodigal son, the demand for the portion of goods which belonged to him is followed by the loss of it all, leading to want and misery. And here, in what we will call its second stage, the history of Samson closely follows that of Israel. As Israel claimed for itself, and would have used for itself, the gifts and calling of God; as it would have boasted in its Nazarite-strength and trusted in it, irrespective of its real meaning and the purpose of its bestowal, so Samson will do the same.
Samson’s fall began with a trip to the Philistine city of Gaza, one of the fortified strongholds of the Philistines. His reason for going there is not clear, but we are sure he was not prompted by the Spirit of Jehovah, but by self-indulgence, and that he was confident and boastful in what he regards as his own strength. His sudden appearance in Gaza showed great boldness and courage. For him to venture into one of their strongest cities, after he slaughtered a thousand of them, he must have expected to be exposed to danger; though it is highly probable this happened a long time after his last encounter with them, and I believe that he wore some kind of disguise.
Gaza was an important seaport town and the capital and largest of the five principal cities of the Philistines. Sandys describes it as standing upon a hill surrounded with valleys, which, themselves, are hemmed in with hills, most of them planted with all sorts of delicate fruits. A location for Gaza can be derived by comparing various reports from Bible scholars. The consistency of the reports is evident.
• Gaza was forty two miles from Ramathlehi, the place where we last heard of Samson.
• Gaza was situated near the Mediterranean Sea, and was one of the most southern cities of Palestine.
• Gaza was located ten to fifteen miles southwest of Ashkelon.
• Gaza, was southwest of Zorah, a few miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea, along the trade routes between Egypt and western Asia.
• Gaza was the last coast town on the way down to Egypt and was about thirty miles from Samson's home." The city is still there, sustaining a population in excess of 10,000. "It is located two miles from the Mediterranean coast."
• It was the last town in South-West Palestine; on the road from Jerusalem to Egypt.
• It was within the limits of the tribe of Judah: “47 Ashdod with her towns and her villages, Gaza with her towns and her villages, unto the river of Egypt, and the great sea, and the border thereof:” (Joshua 15:47; KJV).
• Tell el-Ajjul has been identified as the most likely site of ancient Gaza. Excavations there in the 1930s by Sir Flinders Petrie revealed substantial amounts of Philistine pottery.
Gaza has been thought by some to have derived its name from the treasures deposited there by Cambyses, king of the Persians; because they say Gaza, in Persian, signifies treasure; Pomponius Mela and others agree. But it is more likely that this city derived its name, Azzah from the Hebrew word, azaz, to be strong, since it was a strong or well fortified place. Gaza is the Greek form.
There is nothing to show when this incident occurred. It may have been many years after Samson’s victory at hal-Lechi, towards the latter part of his twenty years’ judgeship. This appears to be evident from the mention of that 20-year interval in the last verse of Judg. 15—“20 And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years” (Judges 15:20; KJV).
Gaza played an important part in history in all ages — in the times, of the Pharaohs, the
Seleucidae, the Maccabees, the Romans, the Khalifs, and the Crusaders. This ancient city was probably originally inhabited by the Avvim who were later driven out by the Caphtorim (proto-Philistines). It then passed from Amorite to Hyksos to Canaanite control, and finally the Hebrews lost it to the Philistines. It is first mentioned in Genesis 10:19, as the south-west border of the Canaanites. In the NT it is mentioned in Acts 8.26, 27.
and saw there an harlot, and went in unto her;…the Targum renders it an innkeeper, one that kept a victualling house (An inn where food was served.); into whose house he went for entertainment and lodging, and very probably in the dusk (sunset) of the evening; and the woman that kept this house might be a harlot, or, perhaps, Samson saw one in her house, with whom he was captivated, and went in unto her. This Hebrew euphemism almost always means that he entered her chamber for the purpose of sexual intercourse. It seems as if he did not go there with any such wicked intentions, but when he saw this person he was ensnared by her good looks, and from that point he was easily led to commit adultery (see Article 16.4) with her. Lyra says, “There were many hostesses in some places, and so here, who too easily prostituted themselves to their guests.” As an alien visitor, Samson would not have been welcome to remain overnight in the city, except at a place such as the house of a prostitute, which was always open to strangers. Every detail of the narrative indicates that his intentions were of the worst sort.
Samson’s early passion for the woman of Timnath was overcome by his zeal for the Lord. Equipped by God with every necessary potential to be a great leader in Israel, he continued to squander his greatest opportunities to serve the Lord. He, who could strangle a lion and kill a thousand men single-handedly, could not conquer his own passion and lust. The man whom God had blessed with supernatural strength again showed himself to be morally and spiritually weak.
We find that Samson didn’t have any business in Gaza; if he went there for the sole purpose of meeting a harlot it would make one willing to hope that, as bad as things were, there were no prostitutes among the daughters of Israel. However, that’s not likely, since Deuteronomy 22.21(KJV) gives the punishment for prostitution: “21 Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father's house: so shalt thou put evil away from among you.” Some think he went there to observe the Philistines; to spy on them (like the spies that were sent into the Promised Land), so that he might discover some way to take advantage of them. But if that is why he was there, he forgot about it, and fell into this snare. His sin began in his eye; he saw a beautiful woman dressed as a harlot, and the lust which he conceived brought forth sin: he went in unto her.
By what means this Israelite hero is able to wander casually into this major Philistine city is uncertain. Two things are certain though: he was an unwelcome guest (see verse 2), and his intentions were not the best. Probably due to an overt sense of pride in his own strength, he ventured into the territory of Philistia and came to Gaza. It is unlikely that he went there for the purpose of visiting the prostitute, for he did not see her until after he had arrived. One of the great lessons of the spiritual life has always been that one must take heed when he thinks he is standing sure, lest he fall (I Cor 10:12). Consequently, Samson’s pride brought him to Gaza, and in the weakness of that pride he saw there a harlot (Heb zōnah) and lusted for her in his heart. Self-satisfaction is the problem here. Samson takes his standing with the Lord for granted, and does not look to Him for strength to overcome temptation. Self-satisfaction always produces spiritual carelessness, and spiritual carelessness leads to rejection.
For a list of the Judges of Israel see Article 16.2:THE JUDGES: A CASE STUDY IN DISOBEDIENCE.
SAMSON’S SIN: His taking a Philistine for his wife was to some degree excusable, but for him to avail himself of a harlot that he accidentally saw signifies how little he thought of his honor as an Israelite, and as a Nazarite; we can only blush as we read it. It’s obvious that Samson is in sin here; we wonder how a man so used by God can sin so boldly and blatantly—after all, didn't he want to be used and blessed by God? Of course Samson did, but he had yielded to the deceitfulness of sin. He would still be enthusiastic about keeping the external features of his Nazirite vow, while at the same time sinning blatantly with a prostitute. Samson did what we nearly all do when we enter into sin—he put his life into categories, and figured that some categories God cared about, and some He did not. We often excuse some area of known sin in our lives by saying "everybody has some area of weakness" or "God understands this is hard for me"—of course God understands; that's why He's dealing with you to stop! Our lives can be revolutionized by realizing that Jesus has claim over our entire lives.
Article 16.1: Gaza
GAZA Ga'za (the fortified; the strong) (properly Azzah), one of the five chief cities of the Philistines. It is remarkable for its continuous existence and importance from the very earliest times. The secret of this unbroken history is to be found in the situation of Gaza. It is the last town in the southwest of Palestine, on the frontier towards Egypt. The same peculiarity of situation has made Gaza important in a military sense. Its name means "the strong;" and this was well elucidated in its siege by Alexander the Great, which lasted five months. In the conquest of Joshua the territory of Gaza is mentioned as one which he was not able to subdue. Josh 10:41; 11:22; 13:3 It was assigned to the tribe of Judah, Josh 15:47 and that tribe did obtain possession of it, Judg 1:18 but did not hold it long, Judg 3:3; 13:1 and apparently it continued through the time of Samuel, Saul and David to be a Philistine city. 1 Sam 6:17; 14:52; 31:1; 2 Sam 21:15 Solomon became master of "Azzah," 1 Kin 4:24 but in after times the same trouble with the Philistines recurred. 2 Chr 21:16; 26:6; 28:18 The passage where Gaza is mentioned in the New Testament Acts 8:26 is full of interest. It is the account of the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch on his return from Jerusalem to Egypt. Gaza is the modern Ghuzzeh, a Mohammedan town of about 16,000 inhabitants, situated partly on an oblong hill of moderate height and partly on the lower ground. The climate of the place is almost tropical, but it has deep wells of excellent water. There are a few palm trees in the town, and its fruit orchards are very productive; but the chief feature of the neighborhood is the wide-spread olive grove to the north and northeast—Smith's Bible Dictionary
Article 16.2:THE JUDGES: A CASE STUDY IN DISOBEDIENCE
Each of the seven cycles found in Judges 3:5—16:31 has four steps: sin, servitude, supplication, and salvation. The cycles connect as a descending spiral of sin (2:19), with Israel vacillating between obedience and apostasy.
Cycle Oppressor Years of Oppression Judge/Deliverer Years of Peace
1. (3:7-11) Mesopotamians 8 Othniel 40
2. (3:12-30) Moabites 18 Ehud 80
(3:31) Philistines Shamgar
3. (4:1-5:31) Canaanites 20 Deborah/Barak 40
4. (6:1—8:32) Midianites 7 Gideon 40
5. (8:33-10:5) Abimelech 3 Tola/Jair 45
6. (10:6-12:15) Ammonites 18 Jephthah/Ibzan/Elon/Abdon 6/7/10/8
7. (13:1-16:31) Philistines 40 Samson 20
Article 16.3: HARLOT
HARLOT — a prostitute. The term “harlot” is often used in a symbolic way in the Old Testament to describe the wicked conduct of the nation of Israel in worshiping false gods (Is. 1:21; Jer. 2:20; Ezek. 16).
In the New Testament, harlots were objects of Jesus’ mercy (Matt. 21:31–32; Luke 15:30). The apostle Paul used the term in a warning to the Corinthian church against the prevailing sexual immorality that had made Corinth a byword (1 Cor. 6:15–16). In the Book of Revelation, the term harlot is used symbolically of “Babylon the Great”—an apocalyptic image of great moral corruption (Rev. 17:1, 5, 15–16; 19:2).
When the spies entered the Promised Land and came to Jericho, they hid in the house of Rahab the harlot (Josh. 2:1). She made them promise that when the Lord gave Israel the land, she would be spared (Josh. 6:17–25). The New Testament records: “By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace” (Heb. 11:31). Placed among the heroes of faith (Heb. 11:1–40), Rahab brings into bold relief the power of God’s love and mercy to transform a person’s life. She is listed as one of the ancestors of Jesus (Matt. 1:1–16).
Article 16.4: ADULTERY
ADULTERY. Ex. 20:14. The parties to this crime, according to Jewish law, were a married woman and a man who was not her husband. The Mosaic penalty was that both the guilty parties should be stoned, and it applied as well to the betrothed as to the married woman, provided she was free. Deut. 22:22-24. A bondwoman so offending was to be scourged, and the man was to make a trespass offering. Lev. 19:20-22. At a later time, and when, owing to Gentile example, the marriage tie became a looser bond of union, public feeling in regard to adultery changed, and the penalty of death was seldom or never inflicted. The famous trial by the waters of jealousy, Num. 5:11-29, was probably an ancient custom, which Moses found deeply seated. (But this ordeal was wholly in favor of the innocent, and exactly opposite to most ordeals. For the water which the accused drank was perfectly harmless, and only by a miracle could it produce a bad effect; while in most ordeals the accused must suffer what naturally produces death, and be proved innocent only by a miracle. Symbolically adultery is used to express unfaithfulness to covenant vows to God, who is represented as the husband of his people.)
___________verse 1 notes____________
(Genesis 10:19; KJV) 19 And the border of the Canaanites was from Sidon, as thou comest to Gerar, unto Gaza; as thou goest, unto Sodom, and Gomorrah, and Admah, and Zeboim, even unto Lasha.
(Acts 8:26-27; GW) 26 “An angel from the Lord said to Philip, “Get up, and take the desert road that goes south from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So Philip went. An Ethiopian man who had come to Jerusalem to worship was on his way home. The man was a eunuch, a high-ranking official in charge of all the treasures of Queen Candace of Ethiopia.
(I Cor 10:12) 12 Therefore slet him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. The believer who thinks he stands is on good ground for the devil to trip him.
zōnah: Perhaps the word zonah is to be taken here in its double sense; one who keeps a house for the entertainment of travelers, and who also prostitutes her person.
2 And it was told the Gazites, saying, Samson is come hither. And they compassed him in, and laid wait for him all night in the gate of the city, and were quiet all the night, saying, In the morning, when it is day, we shall kill him.—Judges 16.2 (KJV)
2 Informed that Samson had come there, the men of Gaza surrounded him with an ambush at the city gate all night long. And all the night they waited, saying, “Tomorrow morning we will kill him.”—Judges 16.2 (NAB)
And it was told the Gazites…Someone who knew Samson saw him as he entered the city, and they told the local magistrates; or, he was reported by the harlot, after letting her know who he was.
The words “And it was told” are no longer included in the Hebrew text, but they are necessary to the meaning of the line, and they are expressed in all the ancient versions.
We have no clue as regards the motive for Samson’s visit to Gaza, which would have required a thirteen hour march from Timnah to Gaza. Some of the motives that have been suggested are:
1. He was contemplating its conquest, or an assault upon its inhabitants.
2. He came merely in the wild spirit of adventure.
3. He was there on business.
We only know that he came there, and that he carried his usual weakness with him; he fell into the snare of female enticements; that the Philistines intended to capture him and kill him, but that he escaped by his supernatural strength.
saying, Samson is come hither;…He was known throughout Palestine for his courage, great exploits and vast strength. They recognized him, which probably means that his pride and self-confidence kept him from wearing a disguise. It may have been dusk when he arrived, and went into the Inn or public-house, which happened to be kept by this harlot.
and they compassed [him] in;…The term “compassed” means “to encircle, encompass, surround,” but I do not think it is a good translation, since they did not surround the house he was in, which they may not have known. What they did do, according to the rest of the verse was to secure all the avenues and gates of the city, and place guards there, to insure that he might not escape their hands. This line should be rendered; They went about and lay in wait for him. Instead of attacking him directly, they took a round-about course, and set an ambush for him at the city gates, probably in the guard-room by the side of the gate, intending when he passed by unsuspectingly in the morning, at the time for the opening of the gates, they would attack him and kill him.
Oh, how I wish that all those who indulge their sensual appetites in drunkenness, uncleanness, or any fleshly lusts, would see themselves surrounded in a similar way, waylaid, and marked for destruction, by their spiritual enemies! The more they disregard their condition and feel safe, the greater their danger becomes.
and laid wait for him all night in the gate;… The gates of the city were shut and locked with a bar, and guards placed where they could not be seen, and according to the next line, they kept quiet all night, so that Samson might not suspect that he was in danger. There was one gate in particular that had more guards than the others; that was the gate he must pass through in order to exit onto the road to his country.
The expression “Laid wait” occurs 42 times in the Holy Book. The AV translates it as “lay in wait” 26 times, “liers in wait” 8 times, and “ambush” 8 times. The guards were hidden for a reason; they planned to ambush Samson in the morning as he leaves the city.
and were quiet all the night;…The guards did not attempt to take control of him or to disturb Samson in any way; and it is doubtful they knew of his whereabouts. Being acquainted with his great strength, and knowing what a turmoil he might create in the city, they said nothing about him to anybody that passed by; they acted as if they were deaf and dumb when asked why they were there, for fear that he might hear about it.
The alleged "confusion" and "improbabilities" spoken of by some writers are non-existent here. Strahan, for instance, stated that, "Judg. 16:2b does not agree with Judg. 16:2a, because there would be no need to keep watch by night when the gates were closed." Hervey explains what he believes is said here. “‘Laid wait for him all night’ is merely a reference to the ambush they planned at the city gates." These liers-in-wait did not stay awake all night, supposing it to have been unnecessary. The text clearly states that, "They were quiet all night," meaning that they went to sleep, of course. They no doubt slept, "In the guardroom by the side of the gate." An ambush had been planned the previous evening in anticipation that Samson would leave early the next day.
saying, in the morning, when it is day, we shall kill him;… They decided to kill him in the morning, rather than to assault him as he lay in his bed that night; either, because they did not know where he was; or, because they thought it might cause great terror, confusion, and injury among their own people; while in the day-time it might be easier to find him, surprise him as he approaches the gate, and more surely use their weapons to kill him,
3 And Samson lay till midnight, and arose at midnight, and took the doors of the gate of the city, and the two posts, and went away with them, bar and all, and put them upon his shoulders, and carried them up to the top of an hill that is before Hebron.—Judges 16.3 (KJV)
3 Samson rested there until midnight. Then he rose, seized the doors of the city gate and the two gateposts, and tore them loose, bar and all. He hoisted them on his shoulders and carried them to the top of the ridge opposite Hebron.—Judges 16.3 (NAB)
And Samson lay till midnight, and arose at midnight…We are not told why Samson decided to leave at midnight. Either not being able to lie any longer due to the condemnation of his conscience for his depravity, or being warned by a dream, or warned by his guardian angel, or having a revelation from the Spirit of God, which suggested that danger was waiting for him. Possibly the woman had learned of the plot, and gave Samson a warning, after the manner of Rahab; or she may have been his betrayer, and counted on being able to keep him there until morning. We might suppose that he had become suspicious of the harlot he visited, and that he suspected her of telling the Gazites of his presence in that city, but Samson, as we may judge from the rest of the narrative, was incapable of suspecting his various female companions.
He arose with a repentant abhorrence (we hope) for the sin he had committed, and for himself because of it, and with a pious resolution not to do such a thing again. He rose with a feeling of uneasiness because of the danger he was in; feeling like he was one that slept upon the edge of the roof of a tall building. Did he have thoughts like these: “Is this a bed fit for a Nazarite to sleep in? Shall a temple of the living God (his body) be polluted like this? Can I be safe carrying this guilt?” It was bad that he lay down without such thoughts; but it would have been worse if he had lain still under them.
Also, notice that he lay till midnight. If he intended to merely lodge for the evening in this house, why did he arise at midnight to leave? It seems more likely that he went to her house for the single purpose of engaging the woman sexually and then leaving when he was finished.
and took the doors of the gate of the city, and the two posts, and went away with them, bar and all;… Arriving at midnight, Samson took them by surprise and carried away the entire gate in which they were trusting so greatly.
In ancient times the gates of walled cities were locked at night, and the Gazites probably imagined that Samson could not get out until the gate was opened in the morning, at which time they would be ready for him. But at this early hour, he found the city gate shut, barred and locked, and the watch might have been asleep, because they were not expecting his arrival until daylight.
Now, notice Samson’s method for exiting through the city gate; he tears out the two gate-posts, with the gates and the cross-bar still attached and walked off with them. The posts being attached to a reinforced point in the wall were ripped out. The bar was probably a strong iron or wooden crossbar, which was attached to the posts by a lock, and could only be removed by the one man that had the key. Samson tore up the posts with the barred gates attached to them, and, putting the whole mass upon his back ,walked off with it.
Superhuman strength would have been required to load such a mass upon one's shoulders and carry it away. A ruinous pile of masonry is still pointed out at the supposed site of the gate. It was probably a part of the town wall, and as this ruin faces "toward Hebron," there is no improbability in the tradition.
Even at this low point in Samson’s life, God was ready to deliver him from the Philistines. When the men of Gaza found out that Samson was in their city, they came to the gate of the city to wait out the night and ambush him in the morning. Many have questioned how Samson could have carried off the gate while they were there. In verse 2 we find that the Gazites laid in wait for him all night and slept by the gate, supposing to take him in the morning when he left the city. Thus, the phrase they … were quiet all the night indicates that they lapsed into careless restfulness and fell asleep.
and carried them up to the top of an hill that is before Hebron (see article #16.6);… He goes immediately towards the gate of the city, where he probably finds the guards asleep, or else he would have made them sleep their last. He doesn’t try to break open the gates, but he plucks up the posts, and takes them; gates and bar are a huge weight, yet he carries them on his back several miles, up to the top of a hill. He did it with contempt for their attempt to confine him with gates and bars, and in order to show himself more formidable to the Philistines and more acceptable to his people, and to give a proof of the great strength God had given him.
Despite his sin, God still gives Samson supernatural strength to escape from the Philistines. Why? Because God's purpose was bigger than Samson himself, and because God was using Samson despite Samson's sin, not because of it. At this point in the narrative, there appears to be some confusion or disagreement about how far and where he carried the gates.
1. If this hill was near Hebron, as the line is written, he must have carried the gates twenty miles on his shoulders, because that’s how far it was from Hebron to Gaza.
2. Josephus says this hill stood over Hebron.
3. Adrichomius says it was near Gaza, looking towards Hebron.
4. Sandys says, in the valley, on the east side of the city, are many sprawling buildings, beyond which there is a hill more eminent than the rest, and on the north side is the place where Samson carried the gates of the city.
5. It is very probable, as some think, that it was between Gaza and Hebron, in sight of both cities, which may be what is meant by the term "before"; the hill being so high that it might be seen as far away as Hebron, as well as at Gaza. This was an emblem of Christ's resurrection, of which Samson was a type, who being sealed in a sepulcher, and watched by soldiers, broke through the bars of death and the grave, and carried off the doors in triumph; and in a short time ascended to heaven. It was common for doors and bars of gates to be carried in triumph, and laid up in temples; and the Jews say these doors were not less than sixty cubits, and so, we suppose Samson's shoulders were very broad.
6. Van De Velde says that the hill referred to here is El-Montar; and by a hill that is before Hebron is meant "the mountains of Hebron"; for otherwise Samson, had he run night and day from the time of his flight from Gaza, he could only have come on the evening of the following day within sight of the city of Hebron. The city of Gaza was, in those days, probably not less than three-quarters of an hour distant from El-Montar. To have climbed to the top of this hill with the ponderous doors and their bolts on his shoulders, through a road of thick sand, was a feat which no one but a Samson could have accomplished.
7. There are two ways of looking at this. "That is before Hebron" can be interpreted as, "in the direction of Hebron," or as meaning one of the foothills of the mountain near Hebron. Accordingly, Keil gave the distance that Samson carried the gates as about "Nine geographical miles," but Strahan gave it as "Forty miles"; Armerding made it "Thirty-eight miles"; and Kyle Yates wrote that, "Samson was able to lift the gates of the city, with their posts and the bar which fastened them, and carry them forty miles to the vicinity of Hebron."
8. Hebron “was about nine geographical, or between ten and eleven English, miles from Gaza, situated in a deep, narrow valley, with high hills on either side.” It is approached from Gaza over a high ridge, from the top of which Hebron becomes visible, lying in the valley below at fifty minutes’ distance. This spot would suit very well the description, “the hill that is before Hebron.”
It may seem strange that Samson immediately after so foul a sin would have courage and strength from God, for so great a work. But consider this:
1. It is probable, that Samson had in some measure repented of his sin, and begged God for pardon and assistance.
2. This remarkable strength and courage was not in itself a grace, but a gift, and it was a gift that did not depend as much on the disposition of his mind, as it did on keeping the rules given to him, and others of the Nazarite order.
Observe: they did not pursue him, whom they now perceived to have such prodigious strength, and courage; and on top of that he showed that he didn’t fear them by walking leisurely away from Gaza with his great burden.
Hebron was the chief center of the tribe of Judah in those days and may have been Samson’s residence during his judgeship. Consider these factors:
1. Once having taken the gate of Gaza as his trophy, it would have been more likely that he would want to keep it for a mockery of the Philistines.
2. For the gate of Gaza to lie before the Israelite city of Hebron would have marked it as a sign of triumph over the powerful Philistines.
3. A man who could attack an entire army without a weapon could surely carry the gate of Gaza, however heavy it might have been, up to the summit of Hebron.
Despite this triumph, Samson’s weakness for Philistine women had again been aroused and would lead to his humiliation. The beauty and voluptuousness of these women of Greek descent proved more than he could handle, and the Hebrew hero that sent fear into the hearts of the Philistine warriors would be conquered by a woman.
And this strength doesn’t fail him, at least outwardly. For God is faithful to His promise, and so long as Samson has not cast away His help, it shall not fail him. But already he is on the road to it, and the night at Gaza must speedily be followed by the story of Delilah.
Article 16.6: Hebron
HEBRON [HEE bruhn] (alliance)
1. A city situated 31 kilometers (19 miles) southwest of Jerusalem on the road to Beersheba. Although it lies in a slight valley, the city is 927 meters (3,040 feet) above sea level, which makes it the highest town in Palestine. Originally Hebron was called Kirjath Arba (Gen. 23:2). Numbers 13:22 speaks of Hebron being built seven years before Zoan in Egypt. This probably refers to the rebuilding of the city by the Hyksos rulers of Egypt. The 12 Hebrew spies viewed Hebron on their mission to explore the Promised Land.
The area surrounding Hebron is rich in biblical history. Abram spent much of his time in Mamre in the area of Hebron (Gen. 13:18). He was living in Mamre when the confederacy of kings overthrew the CITIES OF THE PLAIN and captured Lot (Gen. 14:1–13). Here, too, Abram’s name was changed to Abraham (Gen. 17:5). At Hebron the angels revealed to Abraham that he would have a son who would be called Isaac (Gen. 18:1–15). Later, Sarah died at Hebron (Gen. 23:2); Abraham bought the cave of MACHPELAH as her burial place (Gen. 23:9). The present mosque built over the cave is called Haran el-Khalil, “the sacred precinct of the friend (of God),” reminiscent of a title given to Abraham in 2 Chr. 20:7; Is. 41:8; Jas. 2:23.
During the period of the conquest of the land of Canaan, Joshua killed the king of Hebron (Josh. 10:3–27). Later, Caleb drove out the Anakim and claimed Hebron for his inheritance (Josh. 14:12–15). Hebron was also designated as one of the CITIES OF REFUGE (Josh. 20:7). David ruled from Hebron the first seven years of his reign (2 Sam. 2:11), after which he established Jerusalem as his capital.
When Absalom rebelled against his father David, he made Hebron his headquarters (2 Sam. 15:7–12). King Rehoboam fortified the city to protect his southern border (2 Chr. 11:10–12). The discovery of 5 jar handles stamped with the royal seal dating from the eighth century B.C. testifies that Hebron was a key storage city, perhaps for rations of Uzziah’s army (2 Chr. 26:10).