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SAMSON IN CAPTIVITY.
(JUDGES xvi.) The Israelites had not long been in the possession of the promised land before they relapsed into idolatry. They forsook their King, Jehovah, and were given over by him successively to the yoke of Mesopotamia, Moab, Canaan, Midian, and Ammon. When they cried for deliverance, however, he raised up judges to rescue them from these oppressors. They were freed from their yokes, and the land had rest.
Thus taught by experience that punishment is the natural concomitant of rebellion, had the Israelites been wise they would, henceforth, have cleaved to their Divine Ruler with full purpose of heart. But history unfolds the fact, that neither wisdom, obedience, nor gratitude, were their characteristics. During the peaceable administrations of Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon, they again relapsed into idolatry, and drew down on themselves a rigorous servitude to their western foes, the Philistines, who oppressed them for forty years; that is, from B.C. 1222 to B.c. 1182.
Yet, while it pleased Jehovah to punish his revolted subjects, tenderly caring for them, he provided for the commencement of their deliverance from this galling servitude on a future day. About the same time that the Philistines were permitted to oppress them, his angel appeared to the wife of Manoah, a Danite, and promised to her a son, who was to be a Nazarite, or a person consecrated to God from the womb, and that in time he should begin to deliver Israel from their yoke.
The promises of Jehovah are ever fulfilled. In due season the woman gave birth to a son, who was called Samson, and who manifested the most extraordinary bodily powers in his early youth.
It was in the twentieth year of the age of Samson, which was also the twentieth year of the bondage to the Philistines, that his administration commenced. Samson sought a wife among the Philistines. He went, with his parents, to Timnath, to seek her in marriage, and it was on this journey that he gave the first recorded indication of the prodigious strength with which he was endowed: without any weapon he slew a young and fierce lion, by which he was assailed.
The proposal made was favourably received by the parents of the damsel sought in marriage; and, when the usual period between such a proposal and the celebration of the marriage had elapsed, namely, one month, Samson, accompanied by his parents, went again to Timnath to claim his bride. On his way he turned aside to see what had become of the carcase of the lion he had slain on the former journey, and he found only its clean skeleton, partially covered with the undevoured hide, and tenanted by a swarm of bees.
In oriental countries it was usual, at this period, for the young men assembled at wedding feasts to amuse themselves by proposing riddles. Samson propose
Samson proposed the following: -
And out of the strong came forth sweetness. Judges xiv. 14. This riddle was suggested to Samson by his adventure with the lion; and it proved so intricate, that his hearers could not offer even a probable solution. For three days they vainly tried to discover its meaning; and, at length, rather than incur the heavy forfeiture of “ thirty shirts and thirty suits of raiment,” they applied to the bride, and threatened destruction to her family if she did not extract the required solution from Samson, and unfold it to them. The bride did this, and on the seventh day, when the given time for the reply was about to expire, the guests said to him :
What is sweeter than honey?
And what is stronger than a lion ? Judges xiv. 18. And now commenced the fierce struggle between Samson and the Philistines. Convinced that they could only have obtained the solution by tampering with his bride, he went and slew thirty Philistines, near Ascalon, and gave their raiment to those who had expounded his riddle. At the same time he left his wife in anger, and returned home.
The breach thus made gradually became widened. Some time after, Samson returned to visit his wife, but found her married to his friend who had been his brideman at the wedding. Her father offered him his youngest daughter in lieu of his wife, but Samson rejected the offer with disdain, and bent his thoughts upon revenge. He collected three hundred jackals, and, fastening them tail to tail, and placing a firebrand between them, he let them loose upon the standing corn of the Philistines, which, being ripe, was quickly consumed: so also were their vines and their olive trees.
The Philistines now saw that they had no common enemy to deal with, and they ferociously burned his wife and her father with
SAMSON IN CAPTIVITY.
fire. Samson's wrath was 'much increased by this cruel act. He took an opportunity which offered of discomfiting, with much slaughter, a considerable number of men belonging to that nation, and then withdrew to a strong rock, called Etam, in the tribe of Judah.
To this rock Samson was pursued by a large body of Philistines, and their presence so alarmed the Judaites, that they bound him with two new ropes, in order to give him over into the hands of his enemies. He was thus led to their camp, but, as the Philistines raised a triumphant shout against him, “ the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him," and he burst his strong bands asunder as easily as if they had been tow burned with fire, and seizing the jawbone of an ass, which lay at hand, he routed their host, and slew many of their number. Those only lived who fled.
The next exploit of Samson was at Gaza. Blinded by that passion which “ hath cast down many wounded; yea, hath slain many strong men,” he exposed himself to the vengeance of the uncircumcised. He visited a harlot in that city, and, his arrival becoming known, the gates were closed to prevent his escape, and a strong guard was placed there to surprise and kill him in the morning. Samson, however, anticipated their plan, and rising at midnight, he went boldly to the gate, forced it from its place, and carried it off entire, posts, bars, and all, to the top of a hill near Hebron.
Samson, therefore, was invincible against the hosts of the Philistines; but he was conquered by treachery. Having formed a shameful alliance with a woman in the vale of Sorek, named Delilah, the Philistines bribed her to discover the secret wherein his great strength lay. Thrice he deceived her, but at length, overcome by her intreaties, he revealed the secret. He told her that he was a Nazarite from his birth, and that if he left that state by cutting off his hair, which had never yet been shorn or shaven, his strength would depart from him. Delilah saw that he had now told her the truth, and, while yet he was asleep on her knees, a man whom she had sent for, shaved off the luxuriant tresses of his hair, and his strength departed from him. The Philistines now took and bound him; they put out both his eyes, and then took him down to Gaza, and employed him to grind in the prison house.
Such is the scene which the artist has represented, and it gives an opportunity of exhibiting the instrument of Samson's punishment—the mill of Scripture. This machine, notwithstanding its importance to an agricultural people like the Hebrews, has never, it is believed, been truly represented. That which is usually adopted is the hand kern of Wales, but this is very unlike the reality. The mills of oriental countries and of classical antiquity are identical. Examples of the former are found in Chinese and Hindoo paintings, and of the latter on altars sacred to Ceres. The annexed engraving, which coincides with these representations, has been taken from a modern oriental instrument. That at the close exhibits Roman mill-stones found at Sandy Hill, Bedfordshire, and now in the United Service Museum.
Scripture does not inform us how long Samson endured this captivity; but it relates, what is more pleasing, that while in his
prison house” he repented, and that, by this repentance, his condition of Nazariteship was in some degree renewed: it pleased God, with the growth of his hair to renew his strength.
The Philistines soon experienced the fatal effects of the renewal of the strength of Samson. Celebrating a feast to Dagon their god, who they supposed had delivered their enemy into their hands, they called for him to make them sport, as they viewed him from the roof of their temple. For some time he was thus exposed to their mockeries and insults; but, at length, the blind hero desired the lad who led and held him by the hand to let him rest himself against the pillars which sustained the chief weight of the building. Thus placed, Samson breathed a prayer, and grasping the pillars with his mighty arms, he cried, “Let me die with the Philistines;" the pillars gave way; the roof fell in; and those who were above and below were destroyed.
The reader may learn from this narrative the fatal effects of sinful pleasure. It stripped the mighty Samson of his strength! How careful, then, and how watchful should we be against its syren charms! our eyes should ever be looking upward for grace to withstand temptation.