At the end of Chapter 15 we were told that Samson judged Israel for twenty years. The events contained in Chapter 16 are believed to have taken place near the end of his judgeship. We don't know what happened between Samson's victory over the Philistines at Lehi and the events of Chapter 16.
As we begin our study today, Samson travels down to Gaza---for what purpose, we are not told. Gaza was under Philistine control at the time and it lay about thirty miles south of Samson's hometown. In my background study I found the opinion that he may have been there to spy out the city in order to perpetrate an attack upon the Philistines. He will later kill a large number of Philistines in Gaza, though not in the manner he originally intended or expected. Regardless of what he did on his trip to Gaza in the daytime, we find him in a house of ill repute that night. "One day Samson went to Gaza, where he saw a prostitute. He went in to spend the night with her." (Judges 16:1) Samson must have remained single (though not necessarily celibate) since his short and unsuccessful marriage to the Philistine woman. The way verse 1 is worded sounds as if he spotted this woman while going about his business and impulsively decided to go home with her. If that's the case, we see that in twenty years he still has not attained a great deal of self-control.
But I must point out that not everyone who teaches on this passage of Scripture believes Samson indulged in sexual relations with the woman. They say that, just as the men who spied out Jericho hid at the house of a prostitute during the night without committing any sexual sins with her, Samson merely sought refuge in the house of a prostitute overnight until he could slip out the city gates in the morning. It could be that he paid her the normal sum of doing business with her but that he only sought a safe place to sleep, not the pleasure of her company. I am not sure whether to believe Samson slept with her or not, but we've already seen that he doesn't use the best judgment when it comes to women. He disobeyed the word of the Lord and the wishes of his parents in order to marry a heathen Philistine woman. We'll soon see him in yet another love relationship with a Philistine woman, the beautiful Delilah, to whom he does not appear to be married. And in between those two relationships we find him at this prostitute's house. I would like to think he didn't do anything immoral with the woman in Gaza but if he did it would be in keeping with his character. It would also be in keeping with a pattern that repeats itself in his life: he's already been betrayed by his Philistine bride, this prostitute is about to betray him, and Delilah will betray him.
There are men in Gaza who would love to take Samson's life and they receive word that he is in the city. Several of the commentaries I consulted offer the opinion that the prostitute sent a messenger from her house to make it known that Samson was there. The name of Samson was famous in Israel due to his victories over the Philistines but that doesn't mean he wasn't an ordinary-looking man who could easily blend into a crowd. Nowhere in the Bible are we told that he was bigger than the average man; it's just that from time to time he was given superhuman strength by the Lord to fight against the enemies of Israel. I think that, during the day while the city gates were open, Samson was able to go about his business without anybody taking notice of him. If his enemies had known during the daytime that he was there, I think they would have gone ahead and tried to seize him in the daytime. I believe this because, when they learn he is there, they intend to wait for daylight to capture him. This means they didn't feel they needed to catch him off guard during the night but felt they could confront him in the light of day. "The people of Gaza were told, 'Samson is here!' So they surrounded the place and lay in wait for him all night at the city gate. They made no move during the night, saying, 'At dawn we'll kill him.'" (Judges 16:2)
Samson doesn't stay all night. It may be that he suspects his presence has been betrayed. Or it may be that he is warned in his spirit by the Lord. While his enemies think he is either cavorting with the prostitute or fast asleep, he gets up around midnight and boldly escapes their clutches. "But Samson lay there only until the middle of the night. Then he got up and took hold of the doors of the city gate, together with the two posts, and tore them loose, bar and all. He lifted them to his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that faces Hebron." (Judges 16:3) Just as Samson made fools of the Philistines who came out against him at Lehi, he makes fools of the men lying in wait for him in Gaza.
The men evidently did not pursue him because a while later we find him in the Valley of Sorek where he meets and falls for another Philistine woman. "Some time later, he fell in love with a woman in the Valley of Sorek whose name was Delilah." (Judges 16:4) This area's name means "Grape Valley" due to the vineyards located there. It's believed to have lain along the border of the Philistine territory and the territory of the tribe of Dan, which is Samson's tribe.
The Bible doesn't tell us that Samson ever married Delilah, just that he was in love with her. Samson appears to have been a man easily ruled by his emotions. Have you ever known anyone who seemed to fall in love at the drop of a hat? Have you ever known anyone who falls madly in love with everyone they go out with? I think a lot of people confuse lust for love. Or they are attempting to satisfy some deep-seated need for approval and acceptance. Or they believe a mere human being can complete them and be their soul mate. But no human being can satisfy our every need. Our one and only true soul mate is the Lord! We were created by Him and for Him; nothing less will ever satisfy our souls. When we place all our expectations on someone who is just as frail and mortal as we are, we are going to end up being disappointed, which is what's about to happen to Samson.
Delilah isn't nearly as in love with him as he is with her. If she feels any affection for him at all, it's not enough to dissuade her from doing as asked when some of the Philistine leaders offer her a reward in exchange for using her feminine wiles to help them capture him. "The rulers of the Philistines went to her and said, 'See if you can lure him into showing you the secret of his great strength and how we can overpower him so we may tie him up and subdue him. Each one of us will give you eleven hundred shekels of silver.' So Delilah said to Samson, 'Tell me the secret of your great strength and how you can be tied up and subdued.'" (Judges 16:5-6)
The reward amounts to $10,890.88 at today's silver prices. This is a considerable sum of money and Delilah doesn't hesitate to accept their offer and begin working on Samson. In tomorrow's study he will refuse to tell her the truth for a while but she will eventually wear down the physically strongest man in the Bible. That's because he has a weakness for Philistine women or for something they represent to him. He's seeking a connection with someone that satisfies him in every way, but a relationship with a human being cannot possibly satisfy every need a person has. A good marriage can bring a lot of happiness into a person's life, but not even the most godly and loving husband or wife can fulfill the deepest emotional and spiritual needs of another. Only God can do that.