The well-known judge Samson was from the tribe of Dan; however, few Danites lived in the allocated tribal lands northwest of Judah. Most Danites had moved north to the base of Mount Hermon because they could not seize their allocated land from the Philistines. God sent the angel of the Lord to announce Samson’s birth to his parents. The angel told them that Samson should be a Nazirite (Numbers 6: 1-21). Nazirite means “separated” or “dedicated” and included that Nazirites abstain from any product made from grapes, e.g. wine, raisins. Nazirites could not use a razor on their head or cut their hair; nor could they go near a dead body, animal or human.
When Samson was born, the Philistines had been oppressing Israel for 40 years (Judges 13:1). From adulthood until his death, Samson achieved single-handed triumphs over the Philistines. Although Samson was a heroic figure, his personal life was a tragedy. Samson’s downfall was his preference for immoral women. First, Samson married a Philistine woman who betrayed him; this woman was killed by the Philistines. Second, he had a liaison with a prostitute. Finally, he fell in love with Delilah who betrayed him into the hands of the Philistines.
Delilah made an agreement with the Philistines that for a large sum of money she would disclose the source of Samson extraordinary strength. After much cajolery, Samson told Delilah that if he was tied with seven fresh, never dried, thongs (braided rope), he would become as weak as other men (Judges 16: 7–9). Accessing seven fresh thongs was a significant challenge. The noted Israeli botanist, Hogah Hareuveni (1989) proposed that the throngs or ropes that Samson identified were made from the Thymelaea hirsute plant, known in Hebrew as yitran. Yitran did not grow in the Valley of Sorek where Delilah lived. Yitran would have been available in local markets; however, it would have been dried not fresh. To make fresh yitran thongs, the Philistines had to cut and bring fresh yitran bark from the Mediterranean Sea coast. Highest quality yitran bark was needed so the thongs would be strong. The yitran had to be smooth, without twigs, so that it could be braided into rope.
The book of Judges tells the reader that the Philistines brought Delilah seven thongs and Delilah tied Samson with them. With Philistines hidden in an adjoining room, Delilah called to Samson, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you.” Samson snapped the yitran thongs and killed his attackers so the secret of Samson’s strength was not tied to yitran rope.
Eventually, Samson became weary of Delilah’s pleas to tell her the real source of his strength. Samson’s disclosed that his strength lay in his hair. Delilah cut Samson’s hair and the Philistines captured him. They gouged out Samson’s eyes, bound him in bronze shackles and set him to grinding grain in prison. Surprisingly the Philistines did not keep Samson’s head shaved. Over time his hair grew back. When the Philistines assembled to celebrate the delivery of Samson into their hands, they brought Samson to exhibit to the crowds. Samson requested the servant who accompanied him to place him between two main temple pillars. There Samson prayed to God for return of his strength. God heard Samson prayer and gave him the strength to push the two pillars down. The result was that Samson razed the temple by knocking the pillars over. More than 3000 Philistines were killed that day as was Samson.
The Yitran Plant
The Thymelaea hirsute (also spelled hirsuta) is known as yitran to Hebrews and as mitran to Arabs. Yitran is a perennial, evergreen shrub that grows profusely in the Mediterranean coastal plan and in the Sinai Peninsula. The yitran’s root penetrates deep into the soil allowing the plant to remain green throughout the year even in desert areas. Older and well watered yitran grows as tall as 6 feet. Branches and stems can spread or trail and whip rapidly in the breeze. Branch configuration gives yitran a bow shape. When yitran branches are rubbed or when the bark is peeled to make ropes, the yitran bush gives off a diffuse sulfurous odor. Stems are densely packed on branches. Yitran branches were and are today braided into a cable-type rope. Ropes are strong enough to haul a full-sized man out of a well, secure a tent during a sandstorm, and yoke camels. When camel yokes are made row-upon-row of twisted inner bark of fresh yitran branches are braided. Philistines would have been aware of the strength of seven braided thongs of yitran; thus, they accepted that binding Samson with freshly braided yitran was a way of defeating his strength.
Symbolism of Yitran Rope
The yitran plant is associated with strength and no Bible character had more physical strength than Samson. From his conception God sat Samson apart to act as a judge over Israel using his physical strength; however, Samson’s behavior suggested that he forgot the origin of his strength. In reality it was not from long hair – many individuals have long hair and they are not necessarily strong. Samson’s physical strength was from God. When Samson placed his love for Delilah over his devotion to God, Samson lost God’s presence and strength. The Psalms recorded that God is the origin of individual strength, e.g., and no warrior escapes by his (own) great strength (Psalms 33:16), God is our strength and shield (Psalm 28:7); the Lord gives strength to his people (Psalm 29:11).
Sometimes I wonder if God gets tired of my asking him for strength to do or be something. As I was preparing this entry, I turned to Isaiah 40 and found that I had underlined verse 27. The verse was dated about seven years ago and my note beside it was “I’ve felt that way.” Verse 27 reads: Why do you …. complain, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God?” If Isaiah was writing today, he would identify the Israelites as asking “Do you see my life, God? Do you hear me?”
God answered Israel’s plea for his attention with this assurance: “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired and weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” (Isaiah 40:28–29).
When Samson was tired and weak, he asked God to give him strength so that he could destroy the Philistines even if it meant his own death (Judges 16:17-30). This was the first time Samson prayed before he judged the Philistines. It took Samson many years and much heartache before he realized that he must rely not just on his own strength, but on God’s strength.
Thought: The Bible never recorded, “God helps those who help themselves.” It’s okay if we rely on God’s strength. In fact He prefers it that way.
Copyright July, 2014: Carolyn A. Roth