Printed from the Blue Letter Bible
P. C. Headley
Were Life, like the “Court of Death,” thrown on canvass, it would be no less a picture of contrasts—a panorama of visible scenes and shades of character dissimilar ever, though perpetually changing. In the market‐place, the incarnate fiend jostles the humble saint—the haughty rich man passes with scorn the unoffending poor. The vile walk unblushingly by the side of the virtuous, glorying over innocence and beauty blasted forever; and the weak cower beneath the frown and grasp of the strong. In the forum, the unworthy judge gives sentence on the less guilty criminal, and the citizen of unstained integrity sits on the same jurors’ bench with the undetected villain. The statesman, the orator, and the bard, crowned with honor and weary of praise, lie raving with delirium, or in idiotic silence before the intoxicating bowl; and the proudest prince, and the hero of a thousand battles, kneeling in unresisting captivity, cast crown and laurels at the feet of beauty. Such a contrast as the last has distinguished Delilah among the women of Scripture memory, while by the portraits already drawn, she forms one no less striking as a female character. She was a beautiful Philistine, living on that border of Canaan settled by the tribe of Dan. (Jdg 16:4.)
Samson, son of Manoah, who like Isaac was the gift of God in answer to prayer, became judge over his nation harassed by enemies, about forty years after Jeptha’s death. Of remarkable strength and daring, he was great unlike any before him. Barak, Gideon and Jeptha, led brave armies and obtained splendid victories: Samson was an army in himself, and hurled defiance by the might of his single arm at the hosts of Israel’s foe. In one of his excursions to Philistia he saw Delilah, and admired her beauty. The valiant judge had occasion often afterward to visit the valley of Sorek, and at length made the damsel his bride. (His marriage is not mentioned, but as commentators differ on this point, I have chosen the supposition that Delilah was his wife.)
The lords of the Philistines saw that Samson was in the toils of love—that a syren’s voice had well nigh drowned the call of duty and the mandate of “The unknown God.” They therefore went to Delilah with flattering persuasion and a bribe of money, to induce her to extort from him the secret of his strength, and deliver him into their hands. (Jdg 16:5.)
Three times he made a pastime of her curiosity, and when she thought he was her captive, swung his sinewy arms in mock‐endeavor to escape, and walked away from his thraldom with a smile of triumph wreathing his lip. But as often as she met him, with chiding fondness Delilah would fix her dark eye upon him, and throwing around him all the fascination of voluptuous loveliness, entreat him to tell her the talisman of his strength. (Jdg 16:8-15.)
Harassed with the affairs of state, he sought her home to refresh his drooping spirits, and as often was wearied with her request, till one day reclining by her side, and completely under the influence of her charms, he told her his long and raven locks were the badge of his might—the glory of the Nazarene. (Jdg 16:17.) God had made this the symbol of his miraculous relation to Him, and he threw it as a toy into the lap of the Gentile beauty. He fell asleep on her knee, and calling a Philistine she bade him shave off the luxuriant hair that lay in folds upon his brawny shoulders; then cried, “The Philistines be upon thee, Samson!” (Jdg 16:20.) He awakened, and starting at the repeated alarm, shook his noble frame, and took the wonted attitude of battle with his foes. But Jehovah who was his strength had abandoned the victor. (Jdg 16:20.) Despoiled of his eyes, he was led to Gaza, whose gates he had once borne away at night, and loaded with chains of brass. (Jdg 16:21.)
It is not probable Delilah anticipated this result, but only expected his temporary confinement. Milton has so beautifully delineated in “Samson Agonistes” both the hero and his wife, we shall introduce extracts from the scene of their meeting, just before he was led from the mill where he had toiled as a national slave, to entertain with his feats, thousands of the populace and nobility assembled in the great temple of Dagon, worshipping there before his shrine, and holding a jubilee to commemorate the brilliant achievement of the champion’s capture. (Jdg 16:23-25.)
Delilah goes sorrowfully to the lonely captive, yet admired of the multitude as she sweeps by with an air of royalty—
Like a stately ship
Of Tarsus, bound for th’ isles
Of Javan or Gadire,
With all her bravery on, and tackle trim,
Sails fill’d, and streamers waving,
An amber scent of odorous perfume
Her harbinger, a damsel train behind.
But now, with head declin’d,
Like a fair flower, surcharg’d with dew, she weeps,
And words address’d seem into tears dissolv’d,
Wetting the borders of her silken veil.
Delilah attempts to conciliate Samson, expressing her sorrow over the unlooked, for consequence of her folly, and desire to atone, if possible, for the fearful act.
SAMS.—Out, out, hyæna! these are thy wonted arts,
And arts of every woman false like thee,
To break all faith, all vows, deceive, betray,
Then as repentant, to submit, beseech,
And reconcilement move with feign’d remorse,
Confess, and promise wonders in her change.
DEL.—Yet hear me, Samson; not that I endeavor
To lessen or extenuate my offence,
But that, on th’ other side if it be weigh’d
By itself, with aggravations not surcharg’d,
Or else with just allowance counterpois’d,
I may, if possible, thy pardon find
The easier towards me, or thy hatred less.
First granting, as I do, it was a weakness
In me, but incident to all our sex,
Curiosity, inquisitive, importune
Of secrets, then with like infirmity
To publish them, both common female faults:
Was it not weakness also to make known
For importunity, that is for naught,
Wherein consisted all thy strength and safety?
To what I did, thou show’dst me first the way,
But I to enemies reveal’d, and should not;
Nor shouldst thou have trusted that to woman’s frailty:
Ere I to thee, thou to thyself was’t cruel.
Let weakness then to weakness come to parl,
So near related or the same of kind,
Thine forgive mine.
SAMS.—How cunningly the sorceress displays
Her own transgressions to upbraid me mine
Weakness is thy excuse,
And I believe it; weakness to resist
Philistia’s gold; if weakness may excuse,
What murderer, what traitor, parricide,
Incestuous, sacreligious, but may plead it?
All wickedness is weakness: that plea therefore
With God or man will give thee no remission.
Delilah then interposes the plea of importunity from her countrymen, and religious obligation urged by the priest of Dagon.
SAMS.—I thought where all thy circling wiles would end;
In feign’d religion, smooth hypocrisy.
DEL.—I was a fool, too rash and quite mistaken
In what I thought would have mended best.
Let me obtain forgiveness of thee, Samson,
Afford me place to show what recompense
Towards thee I intend for what I have misdone,
I to the lords will intercede, not doubting
Their favorable ear, that I may fetch thee
Forth from this loathsome prison house to abide
With me where my redoubled love and care
With nursing diligence, to me glad office,
May ever tend about thee to old age,
With all things grateful cheer’d, and so supplied,
That what by me thou hast lost, thou least shalt miss.
SAMS.—No, no, of my condition take no care;
It fits not; thou and I long since are twain;
Nor think me so unwary or accurst,
To bring my feet again into the snare
Where once I have been caught: I know thy trains,
Though dearly to my cost, thy gins and toils;
Thy fair enchanted cup and warbling charms
No more on me have power; their force is null’d,
So much of adder’s wisdom I have learn’d
To fence my ear against thy sorceries.
DEL.—Let me approach at least and touch thy hand.
SAMS.—Not for thy life, lest fierce remembrance wake
My sudden rage to tear thee joint by joint.
At distance I forgive thee; go with that,
Bewail thy falsehood, and the pious works
It hath brought forth to make thee memorable
Among illustrious women, faithful wives.
Cherish thy hasten’d widowhood with the gold
Of matrimonial treason! So farewell.
DEL.—I see thou art implacable, more deaf
To prayers than winds and seas; yet winds to seas
Are reconcil’d at length, and sea to shore:
Thy anger unappeasable still rages,
Eternal tempest never to be calm’d.
Why do I humble thus myself, and, suing
For peace, reap nothing but repulse and hate?
Fame, if not double‐faced, is double‐mouth’d,
And with contrary blast proclaims most deeds
On both his wings, one black, the other white,
Bears greatest names in his wild airy flight,
My name perhaps among the circumcis’d,
In Dan, in Judah, and the bordering tribes,
To all posterity may stand defam’d,
With malediction mention’d, and the blot
Of falsehood most unconjugal traduc’d.
But in my country where I most desire,
In Ecron, Gaza, Asdod, and in Gath.
I shall be nam’d among the famousest
Of women sung at solemn festivals,
Living and dead recorded, who to save
Her country from a fierce destroyer, chose
Above the faith of wedlock bands; my tomb
With odors visited and annual flowers;
Not less renown’d than in Mount Ephraim
Jael, with inhospitable guile
Smote Sisera sleeping, through the temples nail’d.
Nor shall I count it heinous to enjoy
The public marks of honor and reward
Conferr’d upon me, for the piety
Which to my country I was judg’d to have shown.
At this whoever envies or repines,
I leave him to his lot, and like my own.
Whether Delilah was in the mighty structure when Samson was the sport of his captors—the subject of scorn and brilliant wit by the nobility of Philistia—we cannot tell. She may have stood sad and silent with remorse, and remembered kindness she would share no more, while leaning mournfully between the massive pillars he grasped with extended arms, he bowed his sightless head and prayed for the return of his forfeited power, that he might avenge his own, and the enemies of God. (Jdg 16:28-30.) It is in accordance with God’s retributive justice on former occasions, to believe she was there, and when in answer to that piteous cry of a penitent spirit, the tall columns reeled before his recovered strength, like interlocking masts in a wrathful deep, and the walls heaved and fell in with the descending roof, her’s was the first shriek that went up from that vast tomb of living throngs, whose music and mirth were drowned in a wail of agony and groans of the death‐struggle.
This wonderful man, a greater than Hercules, was evidently subdued by his affliction, and a loyal worshipper of God—with all the strange contradictions in his character, his inglorious fall and tragical death, he joined without doubt, the patriarchal ranks above; while the fair idolater clung to her gods and perished forever. (Heb 11:32-34.)
Previous to her advent, the women of Bible fame, pass before the imagination in the vision of antiquity, like pure and radiant stars, their frailties scarcely more than the wing of a transparent cloud upon these beautiful spheres. Delilah rises suddenly from darkness, as a glorious meteor describes an arc of romantic and fatal light, and goes down in an horizon of awful gloom. Beauty with an unsanctified heart, no less than intellect, is a bright anathema—and while others mourn its bestowal, the possessor is ultimately a wreck, over which angels weep!
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