Delilah was the wife of Samson, who was revered in the Hebrew Bible for his strength. Delilah, who was not a Jewish woman, was responsible for taking his strength from him. Her story is found in the Book of Judges.
Samson was born to a Jewish woman who, initially barren, was told by God “you are going to conceive and bear a son. Let no razor touch his head, for the boy is to be a Nazarite of God from the womb on. He shall be the first to deliver Israel from the Philistines.” (Judges 13:5).
Delilah was a Philistine woman with whom Samson fell in love. His love was reciprocated. Shortly after she was told “entice him and find out where his great strength comes from … Each of us will give you eleven hundred silver shekels.” (Judges 16:5). Whatever the case may have been, Delilah has since been reviled for her betrayal of Samson, her husband.
According to Judaism, Delilah’s agreement to bring Samson down from his glory is a crucial signifier of the wrongs of intermarriage, which is said to lead to destruction. Samson knew of Delilah’s different way of worship and continued to love her. He was given supernatural strength at birth, on the condition that he live according to the ways of God. His relationship with Delilah defied this ruling.
Delilah accepted the bribe offered to her and endeavored to discover the secret of Samson’s incredible strength: “Please tell me what makes you so strong and what it would take to bind and subdue you.” (Judges 16:6). She was prepared to betray her lover in exchange for the bribe. Samson, drawn to her beauty, could not refuse her.
Samson was a man of God, and did not give in to Delilah’s tormenting immediately. Each time that she approached him, pleading with him to reveal his secret, he would oblige her with a lie. Delilah would then carry out the necessary measures according to Samson’s word “so the Philistine chiefs brought her seven fresh, strong tendons, still moist. She bound him with them.” (Judges 16:8). Each time Delilah failed to obliterate his strength.
One day Samson was overcome by Delilah’s nagging, and she managed to procure the truth from him. As he lay with her, Samson admitted that his hair had never been cut as a sign of his obedience to God, by whom he was given all his strength. Thus Delilah made haste to arrange for his hair to be cut: “She weakened him and made him helpless.” (Judges 16:19).
Upon destroying Samson, Delilah showed no sign of remorse. Her initial reaction was to pursue her payment for the information. When the Philistines came they gouged out Samson’s eyes, tortured him, and took him prisoner. There is no further mention of Delilah in the narrative.
As a signal from God that his strength was returning, Samson’s hair began to grow again. He arranged it so that he was standing, blind and seemingly helpless, between the two pillars of the Philistine temple. In a final plea to God, he called to Him to give him the strength to ruin the Philistines, as was initially his life purpose. He succeeded in destroying the temple and all those around it including himself.
Delilah callously employed her beauty and charm to bring down one of the strongest men in the Hebrew Bible in return for money. Thus, she became a symbol of the untrustworthy woman, comparable to Eve in Genesis. Delilah’s deception resulted in the Jews being freed from Philistine rule, but also saw the death of Samson. It is never told whether or not Delilah survived the devastation.
According to one interpretation, Delilah’s pestering of Samson can be regarded as a game in which he agreed to participate. Each time Delilah thought she had deciphered the truth, she screamed out, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” (Judges 16:9) as if the two were involved in some form of bondage. Samson went along with her game, which turned deadly. This story broadcasts the message not to trust women, especially those who are not Jewish.
Delilah was a deceiver and a two-faced spy. As a woman and a seductress she exemplified the power of corruption and greed. Whether or not she was Jewish, her actions represented a betrayal of her lover and his people.