“He hoisted them and carried them to the top of the ridge. . .”
In a famous account, Samson visits a harlot of the city of Gaza. The Philistines, his enemies, plan to attack him when he is finished with his “business”. But, while the guards are sleeping in their chambers, secure in the knowledge that Samson will be “busy” all night, Samson awakens and leaves the girl. He approaches one of the city gates and lifts the doors out of their sockets and carries them toward Hebron, the city where David was first crowned King of Israel.
A fantastic bit of folklore? Not hardly. Archaeology and biomechanics have shown that this feat could have been performed by a powerfully built man like Samson. But, what is the significance of this short notice? It gives us an insight to what kind of man Samson truly was. People through the ages have remembered him in glorious battles with the Philistines; at the blood-soaked fields of Ramath-Lehi or pulling down the Philistine temple of Dagon. His legacy was one of lusty violence.
This is the popular imagination of Samson. He was actually a man of elemental faith and justice. He had a sense of mission. Moreover, he was not a wonted killer and this notice illustrates it. He could have attacked the guards and caused bloodshed and death. He did not. Instead, he pulls up the gates. In the ancient military mindset, the gates were seen as the most vulnerable part of the city fortifications. To take the gate was a symbol of victory, as it left the inhabitants exposed to attack. To take the gates of Gaza was to embarrass the Philistine flagship city, and win a bloodless victory. This act was not the act of a savage warrior.
It also speaks to us today. We need not always use the dramatic and aggressive way of doing things. Sometimes the more powerful, and productive, approach is the quiet one. Sometimes the louder you are, the less others hear. Samson knew this. He is showing that we must find the most effective solution with the greatest impact, not simply acting on animal impulse- although Samson was not above relying on these impulses either. In this episode, Samson is showing us that wisdom backed by power is an invincible force.
Perhaps, this is what John Milton was thinking in his epic verse, “Samson Agonistes”- “what is strength without a double share of wisdom; vast, unwieldy, burdensome, liable to fall by weakest subtleties. It was not to rule, but to subserve where wisdom bears command.”