The epic and tragic story of Samson and Delilah can be found in the Bible’s book of judges. It tells the story of a man who has the strength of a lion – but who has a taste for the sweetness of honey, and that is his downfall.
Version by Bertie.
Read by Natasha. Duration 18.27.
Proofread by Claire Deakin & Jana Elizabeth.
Samson and Delilah -
A long time ago, in a land where the sun was searingly hot, a man was making his way through a vineyard. The vines brushed against his broad thighs as he went. He was young and handsome, and long hair fell down his muscular back. He had taken an oath never to cut his hair, drink wine, or to touch a dead person. For this oath, he was considered to be a Holy Man. Whether his character was holy, that is something I will leave for you to judge.
Now crouching among the vines was a lion. He swished his tail like a cat about to pounce upon a mouse. His nostrils quivered at the scent of man. His ears tuned into the sound of footsteps and rustling vine leaves. Then he sprang with his jaws open and his claws extended. Samson, for that was the name of his intended victim, punched the lion on the chin, and then tore him apart with his bare hands. Soon the creature lay dead among the vines.
Samson was pleased with this encounter, because he liked a good scrap. But there was something he liked even more, and that was a pretty face. It must have been his lucky day, because at the bottom of the hill he spied a lovely young woman sitting on the steps of her father’s house. The girl was a Philistine, and Samson was an Israelite. Their people were enemies. In fact, at this time, the Philistines ruled over the Israelites, but Samson did not care about politics. “Make love, not war,” he said to himself. He sat down next to the Philistine girl and spoke to her, and she liked this handsome young stranger as much as he liked her.
On his way back home, Samson passed back through the vineyard where he had met the lion. He heard a buzzing sound, and saw that bees were swarming around the dead beast. The corpse was now filled with a thick amber coloured liquid. Samson scooped some of the sticky stuff up onto his fingers and tasted it. It was honey. He dug out more of the sweetness with his hand and ate it. As the honey melted on his tongue, he felt his muscles grow even stronger. By the time he reached home he felt so full of energy and power that he was certain he could fight a whole army single-handed and win. He did not tell his parents about the lion or the honey. He decided to keep that secret for himself. Instead he described the girl to his mother, and told her that he intended to marry her.
His mother threw up her arms and said, “Is there not a single woman among your own people that you might marry?”
But his father said that it was the Lord’s will that their son should wed the daughter of a Philistine.
“Let them take Samson into their family,” he said. “They deserve him.”
His wife knew exactly what he meant.
The wedding feast lasted seven days on end. Long tables were set outside in the girl’s village, and the trestles were laden with piles of goat’s meat, figs, grapes, stuffed vine leaves, hummus, fried aubergines and other delicacies.
Philistines and Israelites sat side by side around the tables. They ate and drank together. They sang and danced together, and they laid bets and dares for each other. In fact after not very long, anyone coming upon this wedding celebration would have a hard time saying who was Philistine and who was Israelite.
On the very first night, Samson gave the guests a riddle to solve. He promised that if anyone could find its meaning, he would give each and every one of his guests a fine set of clothes – But if none of the guests could guess the riddle by the end of the feast, then they must give him thirty sets of new clothes.
This was the riddle: “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness. What was strong and what was sweet?”
The bride’s father glanced at his daughter to see from her face if she knew the answer, but she looked as puzzled by Samson’s words as everyone else did.
After three days of feasting, none of the guests had divined Samson’s meaning. On the forth day, the girl’s father sat down next to her and whispered into her ear: “Can’t you entice your husband to give you the answer to his riddle?”
Later that night with tears in her eyes, she stroked Samson’s face and told him, “You say you love me, but you are keeping secrets from me. I will not trust in your love until you tell me the answer to your riddle.”
She wept every day until at last Samson surrendered the answer to her.
On the seventh day, at the end of the feast, one of the guests stood up and announced, “Samson, I have solved your riddle. For what is sweeter than honey or stronger than a lion?”
When Samson heard this, he shook his fist with rage and said: “If you had not schemed with my wife, you would not have found out my riddle.”
Which meant that he knew that somehow they had got the truth out of his wife.
He had no trouble finding clothes to give to his guests He went down to the city of Ashkelon, killed thirty men, and took their clothes. When he had done this, he went to the house of his wife’s family to take away his wife with him. There he discovered that her father had already given her away to another man – a friend of Samson’s.
“I thought you had deserted us,” he said simply. “But here, take her sister, she’s no less pretty.”
Samson looked at the sister. It was true, she was no less pretty than his wife, but the suggestion was an insult to him, his wife, and her sister. He left the farmhouse promising his revenge, which followed soon after. He caught numerous foxes and then he tied burning torches to their tales. The poor terrified animals ran through the fields and set alight the corn and the nearby farms. The whole sky was lit up with the blaze, and for miles around the Philistines had lost their crops.
The cycle of violence continued. The Philistines took revenge on the Israelites for Samson’s deeds. Samson slew the Philistines, either with his bare hands, or with nothing more than the jaw bone of a donkey for a weapon. He was so filled with loathing, strength and fury that an entire Philistine army could not defeat him.
He also had a taste for sweetness as well as for war. Sometime later, he fell in love with a woman from the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. She was more beautiful and clever than any of the women he had come across before. She had wiles and guile and she understood exactly how to win him over to her point of view. There was almost nothing he would refuse her, if it was in his power.
What Samson did not know, was that Delilah was a spy who worked for the Philistines. When their King heard word of the romance he said: “The strong man is caught in our honey trap.”
One night, when Samson and Delilah rested in each others arms, she whispered to him: “Tell me my love, what is the source of your great strength?” Samson, fearing betrayal, said: “Tie me with seven green bow strings, and I will be your slave.”
While Samson slept, Delilah tied him up with seven green bow strings. She stood back and admired his great limbs bound by the tiny strings. Even his light breathing seemed in danger of breaking them. Somehow she suspected that he had not told her the truth, and so she put him to the test. She called out: “My love, the Philistines are upon you!”
Immediately Samson sat up ready to fight, and as he did he snapped the strings with ease. Delilah laughed because she knew that she had been deceived.
The next night Delilah said: “Tell me, oh cunning one, what is the secret of your strength? And do not mock me with your lies.”
Samson replied: “If you bind me fast with new ropes that have not been used, then I will be quite helpless.”
Later, as Samson slept, Delilah tied his limbs with thick new ropes that had never been used before. She pulled the knots tight and this time she was almost sure that he would not be able to escape. Still, she decided to put him to the test.
When he was bound fast she called out: “Oh my love, the Philistines are coming for you!” Immediately Samson burst the ropes apart and leapt to his feet. She had been deceived again. This time she did not laugh – she was quite furious with him for tricking her. She knew she must try a different tactic.
The next night she upbraided Samson with tears: “How can you say that you love me, when you mock me with your lies?” She kept on pressing him for his secret until his soul was vexed almost to death.
At last Samson told her: “Shave off my hair and all my strength will desert me, for I have been a Nazarene to God, ever since I lay in my mother’s womb, and a Nazarene is a holy man who must never shave his hair.”
Delilah knew from the grave way he spoke that this was the truth. That night, the strong man fell asleep with his head on her lap. At first she caressed him and ran her fingers through his long hair. For all his strength and wild fury, the handsome giant was totally in her power. This gave her a sense of thrill, but it was mingled with regret for what she was about to do. When he was quite asleep, she took a razor from behind the chair, rubbed olive oil into his thick locks, and shaved every single hair from his head.
“My Love,” she cried. “The Philistines are upon thee!” This time she spoke the truth, for she had told the soldiers to come that night and to bring gold with them for her payment. An armed band of Philistines broke down the door and captured the shaven Samson. He was quite helpless to defend himself, for all his strength lay on the ground with his locks of hair.
The Philistines blinded their prisoner and bound him in chains, before throwing him into their deepest prison cell – and there he rotted.
Some time later, it was the feast day of the Philistine’s god, Dagon. There were great celebrations through the land of the Philistines, for their god had delivered them from Samson’s strength and fury.
The King commanded: “Bring him forth from his gaol, and chain him to the pillars of my palace so that we might mock him.” This they did.
The house was full of the Lords and Ladies of the Philistine nation and they made sport of the great Samson, the strong man of the Israelites. They threw wine in his face, and poured soup over his head. Others, still crueler, poked and beat him with sticks.
During the long months when Samson had lain in prison, nobody had noticed or cared what happened to him. Nobody seemed to understand that as his hair grew back in length, so did his strength.
Samson now shook his chains and cried out: “O Lord God, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me. I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes!”
Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, one with his right hand, and the other with his left.
As he uprooted them from their foundations, his last words were: “Let me die with the Philistines!”
Then the heavy stones of the house came crashing down on the Lords and Ladies of the Philistines and all who were inside.