Judges 16:3: Samson's Miraculous Escape from Gaza...with Gaza's Gates

Verse 3:[1] And Samson lay till midnight, and arose at midnight, and took the doors of the gate of the city, and the two posts, and went away with them, bar and all (Heb. with the bar[2]), and put them upon his shoulders, and carried them up to the top of an hill that is before Hebron.

Arose at midnight; being either smitten in conscience for his sin, when he first awaked, and thence fearing danger, as he had just cause to do; or being secretly warned by God in a dream, or by an inward impulse, for the prevention of his designed destruction.

[He seized…the gates, etc., וַיִּסָּעֵם֙ עִֽם־הַבְּרִ֔יחַ[3]] And he transported, or, moved in place (pulled out [Syriac, Jonathan], extracted [Arabic]) those things (namely, the gates and the posts) with the bar (Munster, Tigurinus, Montanus, Vatablus). Others thus: He departed with them, together with the bar (Pagnine, English, Drusius). וַיִּסָּעֵם, he departed them,[4] is in the place of וַיִּסַּע עִמָּם, and he departed with them; as elsewhere in the Psalms, יְגֻרְךָ, it doth not dwell with thee, that is, יָגוּר עִמָּם.[5] For intransitive verbs do not admit suffixes, except with a suitable preposition understood. Thus elsewhere, וַיִּסַּ֛ע אֶת־הַיְתַ֥ד, he departed with the pin,[6] where the אֶת means with. Perhaps the verb נָסַע in both passages is transitive, he transported, etc. (Drusius). Even if the Hebrew verb generally signifies to depart, it appears to admit a transitive signification; for one who departs also moves himself from place to place. Two things are opposed to the signification of departure: First, the syntax; for וַיִּסָּעֵם is found, not וַיִּסַּע עִמָּם: Then, the order of thoughts; for three things are narrated in order; 1. that he seized the gates, etc., 2. that he moved them, 3. that he place them on his shoulders. But undoubtedly he departed only after he had placed them on his shoulders (Piscator). I think that נָסַע in its primary signification is transitive, and signifies to bear away, to remove, etc. (as in verse 14, and in Isaiah 33:20, בַּל־יִסַּ֤ע יְתֵֽדֹתָיו֙, he [supply, someone] shall not remove its pins; it is the same thing as at נזע in the Arabic, with the ז/z and the ס/s exchanged, letters of nearly the same articulation and sound: then, to remove one’s feet from a place, to depart: it is altogether like נָטַל among the Chaldean, which signifies in the first place to lift, to lift away, to remove; then, to remove oneself from a place, to depart. Jonathan makes use of this word here and in verse 14 (Dieu). He departed with those things joined to the bar (Junius and Tremellius).

The doors of the gate of the city; not the great gates, but lesser doors made in them, and strengthened with distinct posts and bars. Went away with them; the watchmen not expecting him till morning, and therefore being now retired into the sides or upper part of the gatehouse, as the manner now is, to get some rest, whereby to fit themselves for their hard service intended in the morning; or if some of them were in his way, he could easily and speedily strike them dead, and break the door, whilst the rest were partly astonished with the surprise, and partly preparing themselves for resistance: nor durst they pursue him, whom they now again perceived to have such prodigious strength and courage; and to be so much above the fear of them, that he did not run away with all speed, but went leisurely, having so great a weight on his shoulders, wherewith they knew he could both defend himself and offend them.

[He carried to the top of a hill that looks toward Hebron,אֶל־רֹ֣אשׁ הָהָ֔ר אֲשֶׁ֖ר עַל־פְּנֵ֥י חֶבְרֽוֹן׃] To the head of a hill that is upon the face of (or, opposite to, or, over against [Syriac, Arabic, Munster, Tigurinus, similarly Pagnine, English]) Hebron (Septuagint, Jonathan, Montanus). To a mountain near to Hebron (Bonfrerius, similarly Serarius, Menochius). The city Hebrew was nearly seven German miles distant from Gaza.[7] He carried these things so far off (Serarius): and he set it up as a sort of trophy on the mountain of Hebron (Malvenda). [Other render and expound it otherwise:] Of a hill positioned in sight of Hebron (Castalio, Dutch). This mountain was near Gaza, but far removed from Hebron (Adrichomius in Bonfrerius). It was the tallest mountain Eastward before Gaza, on the apex of which (as it is able to be gathered from this place) they were seeing Hebron, set on the other high mountain in the western borders of Judah. With this the Geographical maps agree (Dutch). [Others thus:] Samson did not carry the gates of Gaza near to Hebron, or to a mountain from which Hebron could be seen, but to the apex of a mountain (namely, of Judah) that extended to Hebron: and they think that the words are to be rendered thus, he carried them to the apex of a mountain that was before Hebron. The Mountain of the Amorites[8] (which the tables of Adrichomius, Tirinus, and others, incorrectly stretch from almost the Red Sea itself to nearly the land of Canaan) took its beginning from Kadesh-barnea, the southern limit of Israelite territory, and thrust itself with rough swellings into Judah beyond Hebron; finally, with the name changed, unto the mountain of Judah[9] (Lightfoot’s Chorographics 11). Moreover, even if it be remarkable that Samson accomplished this; nevertheless, the wonder is taken away when the whole matters is recalled to the Divine power, which was supplying his strength: for God had not bound that gift of bodily strength to internal grace, but to his hair, uncut after the manner of the Nazarites (Bonfrerius). This fortitude was a grace freely given, not obliging him, and was consistent with mortal sin (Lapide). Question 1: But how did it happen that the keepers of the gates did not resist Samson? Response: This is to be referred, either to a panicky terror that rendered them stunned; or because, since they kept watch, not at the very gate, but either above it, or on either side of the gate [as it was the custom even in that age], they did not sufficiently understand what was happening, with the darkness also helping, until Samson had proceeded some great distance; whom, nevertheless, they dared not pursue, lest they should return, having been evilly repaid by him (Bonfrerius). Question 2: Why did Samson transport the doors of the city, etc? Responses: 1. To show his strength. 2. So that he might show himself not to be afraid of the Philistines, for he was not fleeing as fast as possible, but was moving at an easy pace. 3. For the opprobrium of the Philistines (Tostatus). Thus a manifest disgrace was unsuitable for a city, that was known to be exceedingly great and well-fortified (Serarius).

Up to the top of an hill that is before Hebron; either, 1. To a hill near Hebron, which was above twenty miles from Gaza; or, 2. To the top of a high hill not far from Gaza, which looked towards Hebron, which also stood upon another high hill, and might be seen from this place, though it was at a great distance from it. And Samson did this not out of vain ostentation, but as an evidence of his great strength, for the encouragement of his people to join with him more vigorously for their own deliverance than yet they had done, or durst do, and for the greater terror and contempt of the Philistines. It may seem strange that Samson immediately after so foul a sin should have the courage in himself, and the strength from God, for so great a work. But, 1. It is probable that Samson had in some measure repented of his sin, and begged of God pardon and assistance, which also he perceived by instinct that God would afford him. 2. This singular strength and courage was not in itself a grace, but a gift, which might have been in a graceless person, and therefore might continue in a good man, notwithstanding a heinous act of sin; and it was such a gift as did not depend upon the disposition of his mind, but upon the right ordering of his body, by the rule given to him, and others of that order.

[1] Hebrew: וַיִּשְׁכַּ֣ב שִׁמְשׁוֹן֮ עַד־חֲצִ֣י הַלַּיְלָה֒ וַיָּ֣קָם׀ בַּחֲצִ֣י הַלַּ֗יְלָה וַיֶּאֱחֹ֞ז בְּדַלְת֤וֹת שַֽׁעַר־הָעִיר֙ וּבִשְׁתֵּ֣י הַמְּזוּז֔וֹת וַיִּסָּעֵם֙ עִֽם־הַבְּרִ֔יחַ וַיָּ֖שֶׂם עַל־כְּתֵפָ֑יו וַֽיַּעֲלֵם֙ אֶל־רֹ֣אשׁ הָהָ֔ר אֲשֶׁ֖ר עַל־פְּנֵ֥י חֶבְרֽוֹן׃

[2] Hebrew: עִם־הַבְּרִיחַ.

[3] נָסַע signifies to pull out, or to set out (on a journey).

[4] A woodenly literalistic rendering.

[5] Psalm 5:4: “For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee (לֹ֖א יְגֻרְךָ֣ רָֽע׃).”

[6] Judges 16:14.

[7] That is, roughly thirty-eight miles.

[8] See Deuteronomy 1:19, 20.

[9] See Joshua 20:7.

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.




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