Today I add another entry on my series “The Old Testament Goes Hollywood.” The movie Samson and Delilah is a romantic biblical drama produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille.
The story of Samson is narrated in Judges chapters 13–16. Samson was a warrior from the tribe of Dan during the time the Philistines oppressed Israel. Samson was one of the judges of Israel. He judged Israel for twenty years (Judges 16:31). The story of Samson occurred before the tribe of Dan moved to the northern part of Israel.
When the Angel of the Lord appeared to Samson’s mother announcing her pregnancy, he said of Samson, “It is he who shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines” (Judges 13:5). Samson was unable to deliver Israel from Philistine oppression. As a result, the Danites were forced to leave the coastal plain (Joshua 19:40–46) and move north. The Danites captured the Canaanite city of Laish (Judges 17–18) and changed the name of the city to Dan.
The Movie and the Bible
I saw “Samson and Delilah” many years ago. The movie was released in 1949. The movie stars Victor Mature as Samson, Hedy Lamarr as Delilah, George Sanders as the Saran of Gaza, Angela Lansbury as Samson’s Philistine bride, and Russ Tamblyn as the young Saul. The screenplay was written by Jesse L. Lasky Jr. The movie was directed by Cecil B. DeMille.
As in all the movies based on Bible characters, the writers must take some liberties in developing the characters for the movie. The Bible says nothing about the early life of Samson and does not say much about Delilah. Thus, Lasky had to be creative and develop the characters by giving them traits and characteristics that are not found in the Bible.
In doing so, at times writers make mistakes that contradict what the Bible says. For instance, when Samson was in the temple of Dagon, the god of the Philistines, a young boy named Saul came to take him home. Samson knew that he could not be freed by the Philistines and return safely to his home in Dan.
Samson said to the young Saul, “There’s no home for a leader who fails his people. I’ve led them a crooked path. A blind man cannot travel by the stars. Perhaps someday you will guide them, Saul. Join them together and be their first king.”
Samson told Saul that someday he would become the first king of Israel. The problem with this statement is that Saul, the first king of Israel, was from the tribe of Benjamin, not from the tribe of Dan, the tribe in which Samson and, presumably, the young boy were born.
Another interesting development is the way Lasky introduces Delilah. In books and in articles, Delilah is portrayed either as an Israelite woman, a Philistine woman, or as a Philistine prostitute. In the movie, Delilah is introduced as the sister of Semadar, Samson’s Philistine wife-to-be. The role of Semadar was played by Angela Lansbury.
By portraying Delilah as the sister of Samson’s Philistine bride, Lanky, the writer of the script, was able to provide a motive for Delilah betraying Samson to the Philistines. From the beginning, Delilah was in love with Samson, but when Samson chose Semadar to be his wife, instead of her, Delilah chose to make Samson’s life miserable, eventually selling him to the Philistines. Although this side story is not in the Bible, it is a plausible reason why Delilah betrayed Samson.
The Introduction to the Movie
The movie begins with an introduction to Samson and the oppressive situation that serves as the background for the time the people of Israel were being oppressed by the Philistines. The narrators says,
Before the dawn of history, even since the first man discovered his soul, he has struggled against the forces that sought to enslave him. He saw the awful power of nature rage against him. The evil eye of the lightning, the terrifying voice of the thunder, the shrieking, wind-filled darkness enslaving his mind with shackles of fear.
Fear bred superstition, blinding his reason. He was ridden by a host of devil gods. Human dignity perished on the altar of idolatry. And tyranny arose, grinding the human spirit beneath the conqueror’s heel. But deep in man’s heart still burned the unquenchable will for freedom.
The movie begins when Samson was a grown man, about to marry a Philistine woman. The movie completely bypasses Chapter 13 of the book of Judges. This chapter tells how a messenger from God appeared to a woman of the tribe of Dan, the wife of Manoah, telling her that she would give birth to a son. He would be a Nazirite from birth. As a result, the woman had to abstain from drinking wine or any strong drink. She also was to abstain from eating anything that was unclean, “for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from birth to the day of his death” (Judges 13:7).
Samson and Delilah
The first scene of the movie begins with Judges 14. Samson had fallen in love with a young Philistine woman. He then went home to ask his father and mother to give their permission for him to marry her. Samson’s mother does not want Samson to marry a Philistine woman. She said, “Aren’t there any women among our relatives or all our people? Why do you have to marry a woman from those godless Philistines?” But Samson was determined to marry a Philistine woman whose name was Semadar (Delilah’s sister).
Before Samson’s wedding ceremony, a Philistine soldier named Ahtur (played by Henry Wilcoxon), came to ask Semadar’s father permission to marry his daughter. At that time Samson was courting Semadar, and Delilah was observing what Samson and Semadar were doing. When Ahtur took Semadar to hunt lions, Delilah took Samson in her chariot and led him to where the lion was.
When the lion threatened Delilah, Samson killed the lion with his bare hands. Ahtur and Semadar arrived where Samson and Delilah were, together with the Saran of Gaza. The Saran did not believe that Samson had killed the lion with his bare hands. He than challenged Samson to fight one of his soldiers, a giant Philistine warrior. Samson defeated the Philistine and the Saran gave him a ring, as a reward for his victory.
Samson told the Saran that instead of a ring, he wanted a Philistine woman to be his wife. The Saran granted Samson’s wish. Delilah rushed to Samson, embraced him, and said to him, “I love you.” Delilah expected Samson to choose her to be his wife. Instead, Samson chose Delilah’s sister as his wife.
Spurned by Samson, full of disdain and contempt for being rejected, Delilah embarked on a journey of revenge. She tried different approaches to entice and betray Samson. Eventually, Samson told Delilah the source of his strength and she delivered him to the Saran of Gaza for the silver that the leaders of the Philistines promised to give Delilah.
Throughout the movie, Delilah told Samson that she wanted to betray him. Samson was aware of Delilah’s intentions, but he fell in love with her and allowed himself to be deceived by a forbidden love. After Samson was captured, he was blinded and taken to a prison in Gaza. The Philistines put chains on Samson and made him grind grain in the mill there.
Delilah’s Love for Samson
When Delilah visited the mill and saw Samson blind and bound, she repented of what she had done. She went home and that night she had a dream. In her dream, she saw Samson grinding grain in the mill. She got up, got on her knees, and prayed to the God of Samson. She prayed, “O God of Samson, help me. He said you are everywhere. That you are almighty. Hear me. Give back the light to his eyes. Take my sight for his. O God of Samson, help me.”
Then Delilah went to visit Samson in prison. In prison, Samson was praying, “How long will you forget me, o Lord? How long will your hand be set against me? I call out through the long nights, but you do not hear me. O Lord, God of my fathers, they called unto you and were delivered. Do not forsake me, O Lord.”
In his prayer, Samson asked God for a sign, and Delilah appeared. When Delilah told Samson who she was, Samson said, “I prayed for an angel of the Lord and the devil sent me you.” Delilah approached Samson and confessed her love for him, “All I want is to comfort you. Let me come near you. Won’t you believe I’d give my life to undo what I’ve done. I would endure your hatred, Samson, if it would bring back your sight. Let me be your eyes. Through my eyes, you will see again. Through all the long darkness, when your heart is light, I’ll share your laughter. When you despair, my eyes will shed your tears.”
When Samson tried to kill Delilah, his chains were broken and he realized that his strength had returned to him. Delilah then told Samson that in the morning he would be taken to the temple of Dagon and be forced to kneel before Dagon or be killed.
When Samson was taken to the temple of Dagon, the Philistines mocked him. Samson prayed to God, “I pray thee, strengthen me, O God. Strengthen me only this once.” Delilah, who was sitting by the Saran of Gaza, came to help Samson. Samson asked Delilah to lead him to the pillars of the temple.
Delilah told Samson, “I must hurt you, my love, that all may see. Forgive me. When I strike, catch hold of the lash.” When Samson arrived at the pillars of the temple, Samson told Delilah, “Go, Delilah. Run into the courtyard. Death will come into this temple. The hand of the Lord will strike.” Delilah answered, “No, I will not be afraid. Wherever you are, my love is with you.”
With that, Samson moved the pillars of the temple, the temple of Dagon came crushing down upon the people in the temple, and Samson and Delilah died together.
“Samson and Delilah” is a story of love and betrayal. Delilah was in love with Samson, but Samson’s heart belonged to another woman. Spurned and rejected, Delilah became the lover of the Saran of Gaza only to find an opportunity to take revenge on Samson. After Delilah had exacted her revenge for being hurt and humiliated by Samson, Delilah repented of what she had done to Samson and was willing to give her life to undo the betrayal. She was also willing to endure Samson’s hatred if that hatred would bring Samson’s sight back.
The love story of Samson and Delilah portrayed in the movie may reflect the story of Samson in the Bible, but this love story is not found in the book of Judges. Three times Samson told Delilah “I love you” (Judges16:15). The movie tried to explain what happened to Samson and Delilah between those three declarations of love.
The love that Samson had for Delilah and the love that Delilah had for Samson (real or imaginary) is a strong incentive for people to watch the movie “Samson and Delilah.” I watched the movie twice and enjoyed it.
NEXT. The next post on my series “The Old Testament Goes Hollywood,” I will review the movie “Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.”
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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