Judges 16:1: Samson and the Harlot of Gaza

[circa 1120] Verse 1:[1] Then went Samson to Gaza, and saw there an harlot (Heb. a woman an harlot[2]), and went in unto her.



[He departed unto Gaza] For the sake of some business or mystery (Augustine in Lapide): whether incited to this by God, or moved by the hope of conducting a successful campaign against the Philistines (Bonfrerius). Question 1: How was it that he dared to go down there? Responses: 1. He loved Philistine women (Tostatus). The Law prohibited Israelite women from being harlots (Grotius). Many of the heinous deeds and follies of lovers are everywhere narrated by the Poets. 2. He did this, being confident in his strength. 3. Or, he thought himself to be sufficiently unknown to them (Tostatus). Question 2: How was it that he was permitted to enter peacefully? Response: Either, he changed his appearance; or, he deceived the keepers of the gates in another way; or, the keepers had not dared to prohibit his entrance, fearing ill for themselves (Bonfrerius). [Perhaps there were no keepers in the gates in that peaceful state of affairs.]



Samson went to Gaza, a chief city, to make some new attempt upon the Philistines, whom he feared not either in their cities or in their camps, having had such large experience of his own strength, and of God’s assistance; possibly he came in thither by night, unknown and unobserved till afterwards.


[And he saw there, etc.] These words sufficiently indicate that Samson did not come there with an indecent and lustful intention; but that he, only with the occasion presented, and with his eyes incautiously cast upon the harlot, was seized (Bonfrerius).


[An harlot (thus the Septuagint, Syriac, Arabic, Munster, Pagnine, Tigurinus, Junius and Tremellius, Drusius), זוֹנָה] A woman prostituting herself, or acting the part of a harlot, from זָנָה, to act like a harlot. A Participle in the place of a noun. Thus רוֹפֵא, one healing, is a physician; מוֹשֵׁל, one ruling, is a lord (Drusius). Others translate it, a female innkeeper, or, a woman serving food, or, a woman running a tavern (Jonathan, Vatablus, Hebrews in Munster), from זוּן, to feed. For there is no mention that Samson loved this woman (Vatablus). But זוּן as to feed I not common, as far as I know (Drusius).


[And he went in unto her[3]] Some interpreters thus: And he turned aside unto her (Vatablus), as unto an inn (Malvenda). Others: And he had intercourse with her (Drusius, Malvenda, Lapide, Bonfrerius, Junius, Piscator). Thus the Hebrews modestly express coitus (Drusius). Thus the expression is taken in Genesis 16:2;[4] 2 Samuel 3:7[5] (Menochius); the title of Psalm 51[6] (Malvenda); Genesis 29; 30, Jacob went in unto her.[7] Yet at the same time it denotes a simple entrance into a house, as in Judges 4:22[8] (Drusius).


Saw there an harlot; going into a house of public entertainment to refresh himself, as the manner was, Joshua 2:1. He there saw this harlot; which implies that he did not go thither upon so evil a design, but accidentally saw her there, and by giving way to lustful looks upon her, was ensnared by her.

[1] Hebrew: וַיֵּ֥לֶךְ שִׁמְשׁ֖וֹן עַזָּ֑תָה וַיַּרְא־שָׁם֙ אִשָּׁ֣ה זוֹנָ֔ה וַיָּבֹ֖א אֵלֶֽיהָ׃


[2] Hebrew: אִשָּׁ֣ה זוֹנָ֔ה.


[3] Hebrew: וַיָּבֹ֖א אֵלֶֽיהָ׃.


[4] Genesis 16:2: “And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid (בֹּא־נָא֙ אֶל־שִׁפְחָתִ֔י); it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.”


[5] 2 Samuel 3:7: “And Saul had a concubine, whose name was Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah: and Ishbosheth said to Abner, Wherefore hast thou gone in unto my father’s concubine (בָּ֖אתָה אֶל־פִּילֶ֥גֶשׁ אָבִֽי׃)?”


[6] Psalm 51 title: “To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bath-sheba (כַּֽאֲשֶׁר־בָּ֗֜א אֶל־בַּת־שָֽׁבַע׃).”


[7] Repeated throughout these chapters. For example, Genesis 29:23: “And it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter, and brought her to him; and he went in unto her (וַיָּבֹ֖א אֵלֶֽיהָ׃).”


[8] Judges 4:22: “And, behold, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him, and said unto him, Come, and I will shew thee the man whom thou seekest. And when he came in to her (וַיָּבֹ֣א אֵלֶ֔יהָ), behold, Sisera lay dead, and the nail was in his temples.”

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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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