Samson and Delilah – Peter Paul Rubens

Today, I am back to the subject of pesky women.  Not so much a woman scorned today, but one that was easily bribed.  It’s so easy to see why women got a bad wrap throughout the ages, with the stories of them being deceitful and manipulative, when I think we all know, in reality that both genders can be just as bad as one another.

This painting by Peter Paul Rubens, was commissioned by Nicolaas Rockox in around 1609 to display in his town house in Antwerp.  If you are a follower of my blog you will know I have picked this as it has echoes of Caravaggio in the style as well as Michelangelo, and also demonstrates influences of the antique, and I am just a sucker for those things.

You can see the swaths of material dressing the scene, each ruffle and crease in Delilah’s dress identifying the way the light falls on the material.  You can see an almost identical older woman in the right, as the helper from Caravaggio’s “Judith beheading Holofernes“, as she holds the candle over the deceitful act.  You can also see the anatomical influence from artists of the time, in the way in which the muscles are displayed in Samson’s back.  Even at rest he was a pretty fit guy!  The background is darker, drawing your eye to the activity, although there is a non Caravaggio element of the guys spying through the doorway, adding an extra layer of storytelling to the picture.  In the background we can see a statue of Venus and Cupid, a reference to what the downfall of Samson was.

So why did Samson get his hair cut off?  Or as Tom Jones said “Why, why, why Delilah?”

Samson and Delilah feature in both Hebrew and Christian text, so I will give my take on the story.

Samson’s parents were unable to have children.  They were visited by a messenger, who just so happened to be God, and he bestowed upon them his child with some guidelines.  The mother was not to drink or eat defiling food while she was pregnant.  Once the child was born he was not to cut his hair…ever.  This was quite an unusual request as this was known as a short term vow at the time, but Samson was to be known as the ‘Nazirite of God’s womb’ and abstaining from alcohol and not cutting his hair would demonstrate his faith.  God gave Samson a very specific purpose in life, which was that he would begin to deliver Israel from the Philistines.

As Samson grew, God assisted him with his ‘spirit’.  His physical strength and his strength of faith seeing him through.

Then one day, along comes beautiful woman, who Samson falls for.  The woman was a Philistine, and while Samson’s parents cautioned him against this, Samson had decided that he wanted to marry her.

On his way back to set a date with the woman for the wedding, Samson tore apart a lion with his bare hands.  He then promptly sets a date for the wedding and returns home.

As the wedding day approaches, Samson decides to check out the lion carcass, and finds that a swarm of bees have created a hive in it and are producing honey.

At their wedding feast, Samson decides to use the honey as a riddle for 30 Philistine friends.  He tells that them if they can answer the riddle in 7 days, he will give them 30 changes of clothes.   The riddle was:-

“Out of the eater, came something to eat and out of the strong came something sweet”.

Ok, he wasn’t much of a riddle writer, but this threw the Philistines, and to ensure that they got the answer, they threatened the lives of the woman and her family.

The woman went crying to Samson, exclaiming that he must hate her as he is trying to trick her people, but will not explain the riddle to her.  On the 7th day, Samson told his love the answer to the riddle, and she promptly went and told the Philistines to save her family and herself.  Of course as soon as they told Samson the answer, he knew that his bride to be had betrayed him.

In a rage, Samson goes and kills 30 other Philistines and takes their clothes, using them as the payment for the wager.  Samson then returned home, wifeless, and the woman was promised to another (who just so happened to have been Samson’s best man).

After getting over his rage, in an almost teenager like fit of door slamming back at his parents, Samson decides to go back and get the women he fell in love with back, but again becomes enraged to find her betrothed to his best man.

In an act of revenge, Samson goes and captures 300 foxes.  Going to the Philistines food store, he lights torches which he has tied to the foxes tails and sets them free on the food.  This destroys the stores as well as their vineyards and olive groves, which now really gets the Philistines attention and they put out a call for the arrest of Samson.

Samson allows his own capture, as he is bound and handed over to the Philistines, he breaks free of his bindings,  grabs a jaw bone of a donkey (which just happened to be laying around) and kills 1000 Philistines, securing the freedom of Israel.  Samson then became the judge over Israel for 20 years.

As Samson got older, he fell for another woman – Delilah, who had actually been sent in by the Philistines to try and find out the source of his strength so that they could try and take Israel back.

Delilah made four attempts to find the source of his strength, failing on the first three as Samson gave her incorrect answers as a test.  The first time, he told her that he could only be held by seven fresh bowstrings which had not been dried out, when the Philistines tried to capture him with this, Delilah warned him that the Philistines were upon him, but he broke loose easily from the strings.  The next time Samson told Delilah that he could only be bound with fresh, unused rope, again Samson broke free from these bindings.  The third attempt he told her to weave a web from locks of his hair, and tie it tight to a pin and he would be as weak as the next man.  Again when Delilah called that the Philistines were upon him, he easily broke free.

Now, I would have thought that Samson would have learned his lesson here, in that Delilah had tried to bind him three times, and he had easily escaped, it seems fairly obvious that this was a trap, but for some reason, when she said that he had mocked and lied to her three times, he finally gives up the truth, telling her that he has never cut his hair, as this is where his true strength lies.  As Samson slept, Delilah arranged to have his hair cut, as we see in the picture above, the turning point of the story when Samson loses his strength.  When he woke, Philistines captured Samson, gouging out his eyes, and then making him work at grinding grain in the mill for the rest of his days.  Samson did however get his revenge as when 3000 Philistines came to mock him in his blinded and shackled state, he stood between 2 pillars, asking God for the strength to get his revenge.  God answered his prayers with one more burst of might, Samson push the 2 pillars apart, killing himself and the Philistines.  Samson killed more Philistines in this one act, than he did over his lifespan.

In the picture we see the Philistines waiting for the moment when Samson realises he has lost his strength and his protection from God.

Samson definitely understood his purpose in life, which was to weaken the Philistines but Samson made many mistakes during his time, and was easily swayed by the ladies, mind you he wasn’t allowed to drink and couldn’t cut his hair, so I guess he needed a vice somewhere along the line.  I could also look at this, in that once Samson had secured Israel for God, God had no more use for him, therefore let him fall to the traps of mere mortals, but I don’t really wish to spark a theological debate on this, so I think I will let sleeping dogs lie.

Did I miss something?  Is there something in the painting I haven’t spotted?  Why not tell me in the comments?

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