Story Twelve

 •  16 min. read  •  grade level: 5
AFTER Jĕph́ thah three judges ruled in turn, named Ĭb́ zăn, Ḗ lŏn, and Ăb́ dŏn. None of these were men of war, and in their days the land was quiet. But the people of Ĭś̝ ra-el again began to worship idols; and as a punishment God allowed them once more to pass under the power of their enemies. The seventh oppression, which now fell upon Ĭś̝ ra-el, was by far the hardest, the longest, and the most widely spread of any, for it was over all the tribes. It came from the Phĭ-lĭś tĭnes̝, a strong and warlike people, who lived on the west of Ĭś̝ ra-el upon the plain beside the Great Sea. They worshipped an idol called Dā́ gon, which was made in the form of a fish's head on a man's body.
These people, the Phĭ-lĭś tĭnes̝, sent their armies up from the plain beside the sea to the mountains of Ĭś̝ ra-el, and overran all the land.
They took away from the Ĭś̝ ra-el-ītes all their swords and spears, so that they could not fight; and they robbed their land of all the crops, so that the people suffered for want of food. And as before, the Ĭś̝ ra-el-ītes in their trouble cried to the Lord, and the Lord heard their prayer.
In the tribe-land of Dăn, which was next to the country of the Phĭ-lĭś tĭnes̝, there was living a man named Mā̇˗nṓ ah. One day an angel came to his wife, and said, "You shall have a son; and when he grows up he will begin to save Ĭś̝ ra-el from the hand of the Phĭ-lĭś tĭnes̝. But your son must never drink any wine or strong drink as long as he lives. And his hair must be allowed to grow long, and must never be cut, for he shall be a Năź a-rīte under a vow to the Lord.”
When a child was given especially to God, or when a man gave himself to some work for God, he was forbidden to drink wine, and as a sign, his hair was left to grow long while the vow or promise, to God was upon him. Such a person as this was called a Năź a-rīte, a word which means "one who has a vow," and Mā̇-nṓ ah's child was to be a Năź a-rīte, and under a vow, as long as he lived.
The child was born, and was named Săḿ son. He grew up to become the strongest man of whom the Bible tells. Săḿ son was no general, like Ḡĭd́ e-on or Jĕph́ thah, to call out his people and lead them in war. He did much to set his people free; but all that he did was by his own strength, without any help from other men.
When Săḿ son became a young man he went down to Tĭḿ nath, in the land of the Phĭ-lĭś tĭne. There he saw a young Phĭ-lĭś tĭne woman whom he loved, and wished to have as his wife. His father and mother were not pleased that he should marry among the enemies of his own people. They did not know that God would make this marriage the means of bringing harm upon the Phĭ-lĭś́˗tĭnes̝, and of helping the Ĭś̝ ra-el-ītes.
As Săḿ son was going down to Tĭḿ nath, to see this young woman, a hungry young lion came out of the mountain, growling and roaring. Săḿ son seized the lion, and tore him in pieces as easily as another man would have killed a little kid of the goats; and then went on his way. He made his visit, and came home, but said nothing to anyone about the lion.
After a time Săḿ son went again to Tĭḿ nath, for his marriage with the Phĭ-lĭś tĭne woman. On his way he stopped to look at the dead lion; and in its body he found a swarm of bees, and honey which they had made. He took some of the honey, and ate it as he walked; but told no one of it.
At the wedding-feast, which lasted a whole week, there were many Phĭ-lĭś tĭne young men; and they amused each other with questions and riddles.
"I will give you a riddle," said Săḿ son. "If you answer it during the feast, I will give you thirty suits of clothing. And if you cannot answer it, then you must give me thirty suits of clothing.”
"Let us hear your riddle," they said. And this was Săḿ son's riddle for the young men of the Phĭ-lĭś tĭnes̝ to answer:
"Out of the eater came forth meat.
And out of the strong came forth sweetness.'
They could not find the answer, though they tried to find it, all that day, and the two days that followed. And at last they came to Săḿ son's wife, and said to her, "Coax your husband to tell you the answer. If you do not find it out, we will set your house on fire, and burn you and all your people.”
And Săḿ son's wife urged him to tell her the answer. She cried and pleaded with him, and said, "If you really love me, you would not keep this a secret from me.”
At last Săḿ son yielded, and told his wife how he had killed the lion and afterward found the honey in its body. She told her people, and just before the end of the feast they came to Săḿ son with the answer. They said, "What is sweeter than honey? And what is stronger than a lion?”
And Săḿ son said to them, "If you had not plowed with my heifer, you had not found out my riddle.”
By his "heifer"—which is a young cow—of course Săḿ son meant his wife. Then Săḿ son was required to give them thirty suits of clothing. He went out among the Phĭ-lĭś tines̝, killed the first thirty men whom he found, took off their clothes, and gave them to the guests at the feast. But all this made Săḿ son very angry. He left his new wife and went home to his father's house. Then the parents of his wife gave her to another man.
But after a time Săḿ son's anger passed away, and he went again to Tĭḿ nath to see his wife. But her father said to him, "You went away angry, and I supposed that you cared nothing for her. I gave her to another man, and now she is his wife. But here is her younger sister; you can take her for your wife instead.”
But Săḿ son would not take his wife's sister. He went out very angry, determined to do harm to the Phĭ-lĭś tĭnes̝, because they had cheated him. He caught all the wild foxes that he could find, until he had three hundred of them. Then he tied them together in pairs, by their tails; and between each pair of foxes he tied to their tails a piece of dry wood which he set on fire. These foxes with firebrands on their tails he turned loose among the fields of the Phĭ-lĭś tines̝ when the grain was ripe. They ran wildly over the fields, set the grain on fire, and burned it; and with the grain the olive-trees in the fields.
When the Phĭ-lĭś tines̝ saw their harvests destroyed, they said, "Who has done this?”
And people said, "Săḿ son did this, because his wife was given by her father to another man.”
The Phĭ-lĭś tĭnes̝ looked on Săḿ son's father-in-law as the cause of their loss; and they came, and set his house on fire, and burned the man and his daughter whom Săḿ son had married. Then Săḿ son came down again, and alone fought a company of Phĭ˗lĭś tĭnes̝, and killed them all, as a punishment for burning his wife. After this Săḿ son went to live in a hollow place in a split rock, called the rock or Ḗ tam. The Phĭ-lĭś tĭnes̝ came up in a great army, and overran the fields in the tribe-land of Jū́ dah.
"Why do you come against us?" asked the men of Jū́ dah. "What do you want from us?" "We have come," they said, "to bind Săḿ son, and to deal with him as he has dealt with our people.”
The men of Judah said to Săḿ son, "Do you not know that the Phĭ-lĭś tĭnes̝ are ruling over us? Why do you make them angry by killing their people? You see that we suffer through your pranks.
Now we must bind you, and give you to the Phĭ-lĭś tĭnes; or they will ruin us all.”
And Săḿ son said, "I will let you bind me, if you will promise not to kill me yourselves; but only to give me safely into the hands of the Phĭ-lĭś tĭnes̝.”
They made the promise; and Săḿ son gave himself up to them, and allowed them to tie him up fast with new ropes. The Phĭ-lĭś tĭnes̝ shouted for joy as they saw their enemy brought to them, led in bonds by his own people. Little did they know what was to happen. For as soon as Săḿ son came among them he burst the bonds as though they had been light strings; and picked up from the ground the jawbone of an ass, and struck right and left with it as with a sword. He killed almost a thousand of the Phĭ-lĭś tĭnes̝ with this strange weapon. Afterward he sang a song about it, thus:
“With the jawbone of an ass, heaps upon heaps,
With the jawbone of an ass, have I slain a thousand men.”
After this Săḿ son went down to the chief city of the Phĭ-lĭś˗tĭnes̝, which was named Gā́ za. It was a large city; and like all large cities was surrounded with a high wall. When the men of Gā́ za found Săḿ son in their city, they shut the gates, thinking that they could now hold him as a prisoner. But in the night, Săḿ son rose up, went to the gates, pulled their posts out of the ground, and put the gates with their posts upon his shoulder. He carried them twenty miles away, and left them on the top of a hill not far from the city of Hḗ bron.
After this Săḿ son saw another woman among the Phĭ-lĭś tĭnes̝, and he loved her. The name of this woman was Dē-lī́ lah. The rulers of the Phĭ-lĭś tines̝ came to Dē-lī́ lah, and said to her:
"Find out, if you can, what it is that makes Săḿ son so strong; and tell us. If you help us to get control of him, so that we can have him in our power, we will give you a great sum of money.”
And Dē-lī́ lah coaxed and pleaded with Săḿ son to tell her what it was that made him so strong. Săḿ son said to her, "If they will tie me with seven green twigs from a tree, then I shall not be strong anymore.”
They brought her seven green twigs, like those of a willow tree; and she bound Săḿ son with them while he was asleep. Then she called out to him, "Wake up, Săḿ son, the Phĭ-lĭś tines̝ are coming against you!”
And Săḿ son rose up, and broke the twigs as easily as if they had been charred in the fire, and went away with ease.
And Dē-lī́ lah tried again to find his secret. She said, "You are only making fun of me. Now tell me truly how you can be bound.”
And Săḿ son said, "Let them bind me with new ropes, that have never been used before; and then I cannot get away.”
While Săḿ son was asleep again, Dē-lī́ lah bound him with new ropes. Then she called out as before, "Get up, Săḿ son, for the Phĭ-lĭś tĭnes̝ are coming!" And when Săḿ son rose up, the ropes broke as if they were thread. And Dē-lī́ lah again urged him to tell her; and he said:
"You notice that my long hair is in seven locks. Weave it together in the loom, just as if it were the threads in a piece of cloth.”
Then, while he was asleep, she wove his hair in the loom, and fastened it with a large pin to the weaving-frame. But when he awoke, he rose up, and carried away the pin and the beam of the weaving-frame, for he was as strong as before.
And Dē-lī́ lah said, "Why do you tell me that you love me, as long as you deceive me, and keep from me your secret!" And she pleaded with him day after day, until at last he yielded to her, and told her the real secret of his strength. He said:
"I am a Năź a-rīte, under a vow to the Lord not to drink wine, and not to allow my hair to be cut. If I should let my hair be cut short, then the Lord would forsake me, and my strength would go from me, and I would be like other men.”
Then Dē-lī́ lah knew that she had found the truth at last. She sent for the rulers of the Phĭ-lĭś tines̝, saying, "Come up this once, and you shall have your enemy; for I am sure now that he has told me all that is in his heart.”
Then, while the Phĭ-lĭś tĭnes were watching outside, Dē-lī́ lah let Săḿ son go to sleep, with his head upon her knees. While he was sound asleep, they took a razor and shaved off all his hair. Then she called out as at other times, "Rise up, Săḿ son; the Phĭ-lĭś tĭnes̝ are upon you.”
He awoke, and rose up, expecting to find himself strong as before; for he did not at first know that his long hair had been cut off. But he had broken his vow to the Lord, and the Lord had left him. He was now as weak as other men, and helpless in the hands of his enemies. The Phĭ-lĭś tines̝ easily made him their prisoner; and that he might never do them more harm, they put out his eyes. Then they chained him with fetters, and sent him to prison at Gā́ za. And in the prison they made Săḿ son turn a heavy millstone to grind grain, just as though he were a beast of burden.
But while Săḿ son was in prison his hair grew long again; and with his hair his strength came back to him, for Săḿ son renewed his vow to the Lord.
One day a great feast was held by the Phĭ-lĭś tĭnes̝ in the temple of their fish-god Dā́ gon. For they said, "Our god has given Săḿ son our enemy into our hands. Let us be glad together and praise Dā́ gon.”
And the temple was thronged with people, and the roof over it was also crowded with more than three thousand men and women. They sent for Săḿ son, to rejoice over him; and Săḿ son was led into the court of the temple, before all the people, to amuse them. After a time, Săḿ son said to the boy who was leading him:
"Take me up to the front of the temple, so that I may stand by one of the pillars, and lean against it.”
And while Săḿ son stood between two of the pillars, he prayed to the Lord God of Ĭś̝ ra-el, and said, "O Lord God, remember me,
I pray thee, and give me strength only this once, O God; and help me, that I may obtain vengeance upon the Phĭ-lĭś tĭnes̝ for my two eyes!”
Then he placed one arm around the pillar on one side, and the other arm around the pillar on the other side, and he said, "Let me die with the Phĭ-lĭś tĭnes̝.”
And he bowed forward with all his might, and pulled the pillars over with him, bringing down the roof and all upon it upon those that were under it. Săḿ son himself was among the dead; but in his death he killed more of the Phĭ-lĭś tĭnes̆ than he had killed during his life.
Then in the terror which came upon the Phĭ-lĭś tĭnes̝ the men of Săḿ son's tribe came down and found his dead body, and buried it in their own land. After that it was years before the Phĭ-lĭś tĭnes̝ tried again to rule over the Ĭś̝ 'ra-el-ītes.
Săḿ son did much to set his people free, but he might have done much more, if he had led his people, instead of trusting alone to his own strength; and if he had lived more earnestly, and not done his deeds as though he was playing pranks and making jokes upon his enemies. There were deep faults in Săḿ son, but at the end he sought God's help and found it; and God used Săḿ son to begin to set his people free.
The tribe to which Săḿ son belonged was the tribe of Dăn, a people who lived on the edge of the mountain country, between the mountains and the plains by the sea-coast, which was the home of the Phĭ-lĭś tĭnes̝. The tribe-land of Dăn was northwest of Jū́ dah, southwest of Ḗ phră-ĭm, and west of Bĕń ja-mĭn. Săḿ son ruled over his own tribe, but not much over the other tribes. Yet his deeds of courage and strength kept the Phĭ-lĭś tĭnes̝, during his lifetime, from getting control over the lands of Jū́ dah and Bĕń ja-mĭn; so that Săḿ son helped to save Ĭś̝ ra-el from its enemies.