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Judges 16:30: The Heroic Death of the Herculean Samson

Verse 30:[1] And Samson said, Let me (Heb. my soul[2]) die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.

[Let my soul die] But the soul does not die. Therefore, the soul is put for the entire person (Lapide, Lyra, Drusius). My soul, that is, I myself, and I myself, that is, my body. Thus Psalm 16:10, thou wilt not leave my soul in the grave. A Synecdoche of member and of the whole (Piscator). God hath sworn by His soul, that is, by Himself.[3] Thus Ennius,[4] …whom my heart believed to be, in the place of, whom I myself believed.[5] In another sense, soul signifies life, whence to kill the soul is to deprive someone of life; which also is amissio animæ, deprivation of soul/life, in civil Law (Drusius). It is able to be, either, 1. a wish; which is to say, Since I am now blind, and am going to be useless to the Republic, I wish to die: or, 2. a concession; which is to say, Although by my own hand, I do not recuse myself, provided that the Philistines be overthrown together (Bonfrerius out of Serarius). Let me die, etc. Among the Hebrews that became a proverb, like to the Latin, Pereant amici, dum una inimici interbitent, Let friends perish, provided that enemies shall fail together.[6] Now, the Hebrews, not taught such principles of patient-endurance as the Christians are, esteemed certain reasons for killing oneself to be sufficiently weighty, as it is demonstrated at length in Concerning the Law of War and Peace 2:9:5 (Grotius). Question: Whether Samson acted lawfully, in that he killed himself? Response: He acted lawfully (Martyr, Serarius, Lapide, Bonfrerius, etc.). 1. Because he did this by inspiration of God (Augustine in Lapide, Serarius, Bonfrerius, Menochius); as it is evident from the strength supplied to him by God to accomplish this miracle. Thus Augustine. But, while the wicked also are able to do miracles, and God is able to concur with a miraculous work in which they sin, either in pursuit of vain glory, or otherwise, Matthew 7:21-23; 1 Corinthians 13:2; it is not here to be regarded precisely as a miracle, but the consummate goodness of God is to be added, which restored Samson at this point to his former favor, etc. 2. Although it be not lawful directly, primarily, and by oneself, to choose and procure one’s own death; it is lawful indirectly, secondarily, and by or in something else, which, while of itself it be good and honest, is only able to be obtained by our death. It is evident in the many examples of martial courage and martyrdom. See Lessius’ Concerning Righteousness[7] 2:9:6:33, In cases of this sort (says Cajetan) one’s own death is not chosen in itself; but of itself the death of enemies is chosen, and the attending death of oneself is admitted as to be tolerated because of the good of vengeance. Now, it is clear that human actions are to be judged good or evil morally from the object of itself consonant or dissonant with respect to right reason, whatever may be concerning the things attending: as it is evident concerning one killing an unjust man in defending himself, although eternal death in hell attends the death of the unjust; because he, defending himself, does not intend these things, although he knows them, but rather he intends to defend himself , upon which eternal death follows (Serarius). Samson did not kill himself properly and physically; but he only involved himself indirectly and permissively in the same disaster, which he was not able to escape: just as it was of great courage, so also was the punishment for past faults great. See a similar example in 1 Maccabees 6:46[8] (Lapide). But even a posteriori it is inferred that Samson did not offend in this deed, both because he received the strength from God, etc., and because he is reckoned in the number of the saints in Hebrews 11. Therefore, the Revelations of Mechtilde[9] are to be rejected, which call the salvation of Samson into doubt (Bonfrerius). Moreover, many think that from the history of Samson the Gentiles borrowed the fable of Hercules, since there was actually no other Hercules than Samson (Lapide). It is proven: 1. That no one altogether such ever existed as Hercules is described by the Gentiles to have been, is acknowledged by Diodorus, Strabo in his Geography 1, Philostratus in his Life of Apollonius Tyana[10] 5:1. 2. It is certain that many fables of the Gentiles derived their origin from true histories, and sometimes from the Sacred Books. Palæphatus professes the former in the preface to his book On Incredible Tales;[11] Origen, the latter, in Against Celsus 4 (Serarius). The Fables of the Titans derived their origin from the history of the giants, the Flood of Deucalion[12] from that of Noah, the burning of Phæthon[13] from the burning of Sodom, the fields of Elysium from the earthly Paradise (Lapide). 3. The times of Hercules and Samson coincide; as it is evident from Plutarch in the beginning of “Theseus”, and from all that narrate the taking of Troy by Hercules, and the giving of it to Priam of the kings of Ilium, Apollodorus’ Library 2, Diodorus’ Historical Library 4. Now, Apollodorus, Library 2:1, says that the Greeks were accused by the Egyptians, both of boasting of him as a Greek, and of marking his age with less accuracy. 4. The matters of substance agree: Their great strength of spirit and body. Hercules killed a lion;[14] so did Samson. Hercules was delivered into servitude to Eurystheus by Jove, and, so that he might set himself free, was obliged to endure so many labors.[15] What is this except Samson serving the Philistines, and, so that he might free himself and his people, undergoing great contests? Likewise, the filthy servitude of Hercules in the house of Omphale, treating him like a woman,[16] and his repentance after his murders and lusts (concerning which see Pliny’s Natural History 35:11), and repeated expiations, and finally his death on mount Oeta[17] willingly undertaken,[18] do they not declare first the wantonness of Samson in the case of Delilah, and his harsh servitude, and then his repentance and the renewal of his holy Nazarite status, and finally his voluntary death? What are the two pillars of Hercules?[19] Are they not the two that Samson shook, and through which he sent an ocean of evils, as it were, against the Philistines? Hercules fought, not with a sword, spear, nor iron arms, but with a club, with which he is depicted. Thus Samson never makes use of a sword or helmet (Serarius). 5. Hercules was worshipped as a hero and a great god by the Tyrians and Palestinians, as testify Herodotus in his Histories 1:20, Cicero in his Concerning the Nature of the Gods 3, and Pliny in his Natural History 37:5. And Samson flourished around those regions. 6. The names agree. Samson is the same thing as the little Sun:[20] And it is clear that Hercules is actually the Sun even from his name,[21] says Macrobius in his Saturnalia 1:20 (Lapide, Serarius).

Let me die with the Philistines, that is, I am contented to die, so I can but therewith contribute any thing to the vindication of God’s glory, here trampled upon, and to the deliverance of God’s people. This is no example nor encouragement to those that wickedly murder themselves; for Samson did not desire nor procure his own death voluntarily, but only by mere force and necessity, because he did desire, and by his office was obliged to seek, the destruction of these enemies and blasphemers of God, and oppressors of his people; which in these circumstances he could not effect without his own death: and his case was not much unlike theirs, that in the heat of battle run upon the very mouth of the cannon, or other evident and certain danger of death, to execute a design upon the enemy; or theirs, who go in a fire-ship to destroy the enemy’s best ships, though they are sure to perish in the enterprise. Moreover, Samson did this by Divine instinct and approbation, as God’s answer to his prayer manifests, and that he might be a type of Christ, who by voluntarily undergoing death destroyed the enemies of God, and of his people.

[Dying, he killed more than he had killed previously living] More than on any one other particular occasion? nay, than on all occasions considered together (Serarius). For, in addition to the three thousand that where watching from the terrace, he killed many others that were in the interior of the house, and among them all the Satraps and Princes of the Philistines: this was done so that the Israelites might shake off the yoke of the Philistines, only after many years did the Philistines renew by war this domination of the Israelites (Bonfrerius). Less accurately does Philo of Byblos assert that Samson in his death crushed forty thousand men (Lapide).

[1] Hebrew: וַיֹּ֣אמֶר שִׁמְשׁ֗וֹן תָּמ֣וֹת נַפְשִׁי֮ עִם־פְּלִשְׁתִּים֒ וַיֵּ֣ט בְּכֹ֔חַ וַיִּפֹּ֤ל הַבַּ֙יִת֙ עַל־הַסְּרָנִ֔ים וְעַל־כָּל־הָעָ֖ם אֲשֶׁר־בּ֑וֹ וַיִּהְי֤וּ הַמֵּתִים֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר הֵמִ֣ית בְּמוֹת֔וֹ רַבִּ֕ים מֵאֲשֶׁ֥ר הֵמִ֖ית בְּחַיָּֽיו׃

[2] Hebrew: נַפְשִׁי.

[3] See, for example, Amos 6:8: “The Lord God hath sworn by himself (בְּנַפְשׁוֹ, by His soul), saith the Lord the God of hosts, I abhor the excellency of Jacob, and hate his palaces: therefore will I deliver up the city with all that is therein.”

[4] Ennuis (237-167 BC) was a Roman heroic poet, perhaps the first. His work survives only in fragments.

[5] From his Annals 13, cited by Gellius in Attic Nights 6:2.

[6] See in Cicero’s Pro Deiotaro 25.

[7] De Justitia.

[8] 1 Maccabees 6:46: “Which done, he crept under the elephant, and thrust him under, and slew him: whereupon the elephant fell down upon him, and there he died.”

[9] Mechtilde of Hackeborn (c. 1240-1298) was a Saxon nun of the Benedictine Order.

[10] Very little is known about Philostratus “the Athenian” (c. 170-247). His Life of Apollonius Tyana describes the travels of Apollonius of Tyana, a Pythagorean sophist, into India.

[11] Little is known about Palæphatus. He probably lived in the fourth century BC, perhaps in Athens. His interpretation of the myths is in the tradition of the Euhemerists.

[12] Deucalion was a son of Prometheus, who, being warned of the impending flood by his father, built an ark.

[13] In Greek mythology, Phæthon was the son of of the Oceanid Clymene and the sun god Helios. Phæthon is stuck down driving the sun chariot by a thunderbold from Zeus.

[14] Hercules killed the Nemean lion; this monster’s fur was impervious to attack, and its claws were sharper than swords.

[15] Eurystheus was king of Tiryns, one of the Mycenæan strongholds in Argolid. Hercules was Zeus’ chosen champion; Eurystheus, Hera’s. At Eurystheus’ hand, Hercules was assigned twelve labors, to defeat the creatures of the old world, and to usher in the reign of the twelve Olympian gods.

[16] As a punishment for murder, Hercules was remanded into the servitude of Omphale for one year on the authority of the Delphic Oracle. Omphale was queen of Lydia in Asia Minor. In his servitude, Hercules was forced to dress and act the part of a woman, while Omphale wore the skin of the Nemean lion and carried Hercules’ club.

[17] A mountain in central Greece.

[18] Hercules built his own funeral pyre on Mount Oeta, while poisonous Hydra’s blood was consuming his body.

[19] The promonotories at the entrance to the Strait of Gibralter have been called the “Pillars of Hercules”. Hercules is said to have smashed through the mountain of Atlas, creating the strait, and leaving the promontories.

[20] That is, שֶֹמֶשׁ/semesh/sun with the diminuative ending (וֹן-).

[21] The name appears to be a compound of Ἥρα/Hera and -κλῆς/-kles, that is, the glory of Hera.

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Dr. Dilday
Dr. Dilday
Feb 27, 2019

Matthew Henry: 'Samson pulled the house down upon them, God no doubt putting it into his heart, as a public person, thus to avenge God's quarrel with them, Israel's, and his own.... He gained opportunity to do it by leaning on the two pillars which were the chief supports of the building, and were, it seems, so near together that he could take hold of them both at one time, Judges 16:26, 29. Having hold of them, he bore them down with all his might, crying aloud, Let me die with the Philistines, Judges 16:30. Animamque in vulnere ponit—While inflicting the wound he dies. The vast concourse of people that were upon the roof looking down through it to se…


Dr. Dilday
Dr. Dilday
Feb 27, 2019

Hebrew: The Hebrew here is relatively straightforward...good, wholesome exercise...

Two great discussions here:

1. Is Samson's act rightly thought of as suicide?

2. Does the Samson history/narrative form the basis of the Hercules myth? So interesting!

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