Containing The Interval Of Four Hundred And Seventy Six Years.
From The Death Of Moses To The Death Of Eli.
Concerning The Fortitude Of Samson, And What Mischiefs He Brought Upon The Philistines.
1. AFTER Abdon was dead, the Philistines overcame the Israelites, and received tribute of them for forty years; from which distress they were delivered after this manner: -
2. There was one Manoah, a person of such great virtue, that he had few men his equals, and without dispute the principal person of his country. He had a wife celebrated for her beauty, and excelling her contemporaries. He had no children; and, being uneasy at his want of posterity, he entreated God to give them seed of their own bodies to succeed them; and with that intent he came constantly into the suburbs (18) together with his wife; which suburbs were in the Great Plain. Now he was fond of his wife to a degree of madness, and on that account was unmeasurably jealous of her.
Now, when his wife was once alone, an apparition was seen by her: it was an angel of God, and resembled a young man beautiful and tall, and brought her the good news that she should have a son, born by God's providence, that should be a goodly child, of great strength; by whom, when he was grown up to man's estate, the Philistines should be afflicted. He exhorted her also not to poll his hair, and that he should avoid all other kinds of drink, (for so had God commanded,) and be entirely contented with water. So the angel, when he had delivered that message, went his way, his coming having been by the will of God.
3. Now the wife informed her husband when he came home of what the angel had said, who showed so great an admiration of the beauty and tallness of the young man that had appeared to her, that her husband was astonished, and out of himself for jealousy, and such suspicions as are excited by that passion: but she was desirous of having her husband's unreasonable sorrow taken away; accordingly she entreated God to send the angel again, that he might be seen by her husband. So the angel came again by the favor of God, while they were in the suburbs, and appeared to her when she was alone without her husband. She desired the angel to stay so long till she might bring her husband; and that request being granted, she goes to call Manoah. When he saw the angel he was not yet free from suspicion, and he desired him to inform him of all that he had told his wife; but when he said it was sufficient that she alone knew what he had said, he then requested of him to tell who he was, that when the child was born they might return him thanks, and give him a present.
He replied that he did not want any present, for that he did not bring them the good news of the birth of a son out of the want of any thing. And when Manoah had entreated him to stay, and partake of his hospitality, he did not give his consent. However he was persuaded, at the earnest request of Manoah to stay so long as while he brought him one mark of his hospitality; so he slew a kid of the goats, and bid his wife boil it. When all was ready, the angel enjoined him to set the loaves and the flesh, but without the vessels, upon the rock; which when they had done, he touched the flesh with the rod which he had in his hand, which, upon the breaking out of a flame, was consumed, together with the loaves; and the angel ascended openly, in their sight, up to heaven, by means of the smoke, as by a vehicle. Now Manoah was afraid that some danger would come to them from this sight of God; but his wife bade him be of good courage, for that God appeared to them for their benefit.
4. So the woman proved with child, and was careful to observe the injunctions that were given her; and they called the child, when he was born, Samson, which name signifies one that is strong. So the child grew apace; and it appeared evidently that he would be a prophet, (19) both by the moderation of his diet, and the permission of his hair to grow.
5. Now when he once came with his parents to Timhath, a city of the Philistines, when there was a great festival, he fell in love with a maid of that country, and he desired of his parents that they would procure him the damsel for his wife: but they refused so to do, because she was not of the stock of Israel; yet because this marriage was of God, who intended to convert it to the benefit of the Hebrews, he over-persuaded them to procure her to be espoused to him. And as he was continually coming to her parents, he met a lion, and though he was naked, he received his onset, and strangled him with his hands, and cast the wild beast into a woody piece of ground on the inside of the road.
6. And when he was going another time to the damsel, he lit upon a swarm of bees making their combs in the breast of that lion; and taking three honey-combs away, he gave them, together with the rest of his presents, to the damsel. Now the people of Timhath, out of a dread of the young man's strength, gave him during the time of the wedding-feast (for he then feasted them all) thirty of the most stout of their youth, in pretense to be his companions, but in reality to be a guard upon him, that he might not attempt to give them any disturbance. Now as they were drinking merrily and playing, Samson said, as was usual at such times,
"Come, if I propose you a riddle, and you can expound it in these seven days' thee, I will give you every one a linen shirt and a garment, as the reward of your wisdom."
So they being very ambitious to obtain the glory of wisdom, together with the gains, desired him to propose his riddle. He,
"That a devourer produced sweet food out of itself, though itself were very disagreeable."
And when they were not able, in three days' time, to find out the meaning of the riddle, they desired the damsel to discover it by the means of her husband, and tell it them; and they threatened to burn her if she did not tell it them. So when the damsel entreated Samson to tell it her, he at first refused to do it; but when she lay hard at him, and fell into tears, and made his refusal to tell it a sign of his unkindness to her, he informed her of his slaughter of a lion, and how he found bees in his breast, and carried away three honey-combs, and brought them to her. Thus he, suspecting nothing of deceit, informed her of all, and she revealed it to those that desired to know it. Then on the seventh day, whereon they were to expound the riddle proposed to them, they met together before sun-setting, and said,
"Nothing is more disagreeable than a lion to those that light on it, and nothing is sweeter than honey to those that make use of it."
To which Samson made this rejoinder:
"Nothing is more deceitful than a woman for such was the person that discovered my interpretation to you."
Accordingly he gave them the presents he had promised them, making such Askelonites as met him upon the road his prey, who were themselves Philistines also. But he divorced this his wife; and the girl despised his anger, and was married to his companion, who made the former match between them.
7. At this injurious treatment Samson was so provoked, that he resolved to punish all the Philistines, as well as her: so it being then summer-time, and the fruits of the land being almost ripe enough for reaping, he caught three hundred foxes, and joining lighted torches to their tails,he sent them into the fields of the Philistines, by which means the fruits of the fields perished. Now when the Philistines knew that this was Samson's doing, and knew also for what cause he did it, they sent their rulers to Timhath, and burnt his former wife, and her relations, who had been the occasion of their misfortunes.
8. Now when Samson had slain many of the Philistines in the plain country, he dwelt at Etam, which is a strong rock of the tribe of Judah; for the Philistines at that time made an expedition against that tribe: but the people of Judah said that they did not act justly with them, in inflicting punishments upon them while they paid their tribute, and this only on account of Samson's offenses. They answered, that in case they would not be blamed themselves, they must deliver up Samson, and put him into their power. So they being desirous not to be blamed themselves, came to the rock with three thousand armed men, and complained to Samson of the bold insults he had made upon the Philistines, who were men able to bring calamity upon the whole nation of the Hebrews; and they told him they were come to take him, and to deliver him up to them, and put him into their power; so they desired him to bear this willingly.
Accordingly, when he had received assurance from them upon oath, that they would do him no other harm than only to deliver him into his enemies' hands, he came down from the rock, and put himself into the power of his countrymen. Then did they bind him with two cords, and lead him on, in order to deliver him to the Philistines; and when they came to a certain place, which is now called the Jaw-bone, on account of the great action there performed by Samson, though of old it had no particular name at all, the Philistines, who had pitched their camp not far off, came to meet them with joy and shouting, as having done a great thing, and gained what they desired; but Samson broke his bonds asunder, and catching up the jaw-bone of an ass that lay down at his feet, fell upon his enemies, and smiting them with his jaw-bone, slew a thousand of them, and put the rest to flight and into great disorder.
9. Upon this slaughter Samson was too proud of what he had performed, and said that this did not come to pass by the assistance of God, but that his success was to be ascribed to his own courage; and vaunted himself, that it was out of a dread of him that some of his enemies fell and the rest ran away upon his use of the jaw-bone; but when a great thirst came upon him, he considered that human courage is nothing, and bare his testimony that all is to be ascribed to God, and besought him that he would not be angry at any thing he had said, nor give him up into the hands of his enemies, but afford him help under his affliction, and deliver him from the misfortune he was under. Accordingly God was moved with his entreaties, and raised him up a plentiful fountain of sweet water at a certain rock whence it was that Samson called the place the Jaw-bone, (20) and so it is called to this day.
10. After this fight Samson held the Philistines in contempt, and came to Gaza, and took up his lodgings in a certain inn. When the rulers of Gaza were informed of his coming thither, they seized upon the gates, and placed men in ambush about them, that he might not escape without being perceived; but Samson, who was acquainted with their contrivances against him, arose about midnight, and ran by force upon the gates, with their posts and beams, and the rest of their wooden furniture, and carried them away on his shoulders, and bare them to the mountain that is over Hebron, and there laid them down.
11. However, he at length (21) transgressed the laws of his country, and altered his own regular way of living, and imitated the strange customs of foreigners, which thing was the beginning of his miseries; for he fell in love with a woman that was a harlot among the Philistines: her name was Delilah, and he lived with her. So those that administered the public affairs of the Philistines came to her, and, with promises, induced her to get out of Samson what was the cause of that his strength, by which he became unconquerable to his enemies. Accordingly, when they were drinking, and had the like conversation together, she pretended to admire the actions he had done, and contrived to get out of him by subtlety, by what means he so much excelled others in strength. Samson, in order to delude Delilah, for he had not yet lost his senses, replied, that if he were bound with seven such green withs of a vine as might still be wreathed, he should be weaker than any other man.
The woman said no more then, but told this to the rulers of the Philistines, and hid certain of the soldiers in ambush within the house; and when he was disordered in drink and asleep, she bound him as fast as possible with the withs; and then upon her awakening him, she told him some of the people were upon him; but he broke the withs, and endeavored to defend himself, as though some of the people were upon him. Now this woman, in the constant conversation Samson had with her, pretended that she took it very ill that he had such little confidence in her affections to him, that he would not tell her what she desired, as if she would not conceal what she knew it was for his interest to have concealed.
However, he deluded her again, and told her, that if they bound him with seven cords, he should lose his strength. And when, upon doing this, she gained nothing, he told her the third thee, that his hair should be woven into a web; but when, upon doing this, the truth was not yet discovered, at length Samson, upon Delilah's prayer, (for he was doomed to fall into some affliction,) was desirous to please her, and told her that God took care of him, and that he was born by his providence, and that
"thence it is that I suffer my hair to grow, God having charged me never to poll my head, and thence my strength is according to the increase and continuance of my hair."
When she had learned thus much, and had deprived him of his hair, she delivered him up to his enemies, when he was not strong enough to defend himself from their attempts upon him; so they put out his eyes, and bound him, and had him led about among them.
12. But in process of time Samson's hair grew again. And there was a public festival among the Philistines, when the rulers, and those of the most eminent character, were feasting together; (now the room wherein they were had its roof supported by two pillars ;) so they sent for Samson, and he was brought to their feast, that they might insult him in their cups. Hereupon he, thinking it one of the greatest misfortunes, if he should not be able to revenge himself when he was thus insulted, persuaded the boy that led him by the hand, that he was weary and wanted to rest himself, and desired he would bring him near the pillars; and as soon as he came to them, he rushed with force against them, and overthrew the house, by overthrowing its pillars, with three thousand men in it, who were all slain, and Samson with them.
And such was the end of this man, when he had ruled over the Israelites twenty years. And indeed this man deserves to be admired for his courage and strength, and magnanimity at his death, and that his wrath against his enemies went so far as to die himself with them. But as for his being ensnared by a woman, that is to be ascribed to human nature, which is too weak to resist the temptations to that sin; but we ought to bear him witness, that in all other respects he was one of extraordinary virtue. But his kindred took away his body, and buried it in Sarasat his own country, with the rest of his family.
(18) I can discover no reason why Manoah and his wife came so constantly into these suburbs to pray for children, but because there was a synagogue or place of devotion in those suburbs.
(19) Here, by a prophet, Josephus seems only to mean one that was born by a particular providence, lived after the manner of a Nazarite devoted to God, and was to have an extraordinary commission and strength from God for the judging and avenging his people Israel, without any proper prophetic revelations at all.
(20) This fountain, called Lehi, or the Jaw-bone, is still in being, as travelers assure us, and was known by this very name in the days of Josephus, and has been known by the same name in all those past ages. See Antiq. B. VII. Ch. 12. Sect. 4.
(21) See this justly observed in the Apostolical Constitutions, B. VII. Ch. 37, that Samson's prayer was heard, but that it was before this his transgression.