|Vol. VII, No. 6
Elul 5609, Sept. 1849
The Death Of Samson.
By Miss Sarah Cohen.
BRIGHT and unclouded was the sky, and joyous and glad did the fair city of Gaza appear that day. Gay groups thronged the streets, and strains of merry music sounded cheerily. Thousands of jocund voices sent forth the exulting shout, “Rejoice, Philistines! rejoice, for our destroyer is now delivered into our hands.” And gladsome were the responsive shouts from the assembled crowds, “Rejoice! rejoice! since no more can our adversary work us harm.” And loudly were re-echoed these animating words of triumph and tumultuous gladness. “Let this day be one of joy and festivity,” was heard through the streets as the united voice of unnumbered multitudes.
Long had Philistia dreaded the prowess of Israel’s champion; but now he was bereft of his unconquerable strength, and he lay powerless in the dungeon of his captors. These, therefore, had <<306>>resolved to celebrate their triumph in the manner suited to their gross ideas; and the appointed day, of which we speak, had set in fair and bright, as though the elements had combined to add zest to the hilarity of the people of Gaza. Crowded were the streets which led to the temple of Dagon with the worshippers of that insensate divinity, and loudly arose from them, as they passed on, the cry of “Praises to the great Dagon! praise him, ye people! for he hath given your enemy into your hands, and ye have rendered powerless by his help that once mighty arm, who so often wrought your destruction.”
Most auspiciously had that festal day unclosed its light; gloriously the brilliant sun began his refulgent course; sweetly was the morning air filled with perfume from the dew-covered flowers; and the sultry heat of the summer season was mitigated by a cooling breeze. From early dawn, therefore, gay assemblies of youths and maidens were moving in the merry dance, to the aspiring sound of pipe and tabret, under the shade of the wide-spreading branches of the sycamore trees of the public walks, whilst all around them was mirth and festivity; because a whole nation rejoiced in the triumph over the downfall of their once powerful enemy. And as the day advanced a train of votaries of more exalted rank, of dignified and noble appearance, moved with slow and stately step through the streets in solemn procession, arrayed in their gorgeous robes of office, on their way to the temple to assist at the solemnities by which the people expressed their gratitude to their god; and after them came, led by priests in rich attire, the animals which they had devoted for that day’s offering on the altar of that monstrous deity.
Gaily were the victims decorated, their horns encircled with wreaths of greens; and resplendent with gold and precious stones were the rich sacerdotal robes in which the priests of that unconscious object of adoration ministered on that day; because full many had been the gifts bestowed on them in silver, and gold, and jewels, and costly spices, and splendid raiments; for had it not been owing—so thought their followers—to their earnest and incessant supplications that their god had at length proved propitious in ridding them of their foe? And how could such an important service be sufficiently estimated and rewarded by a grateful people?
“Praise ye the great Dagon!” shouted the priests, “praise ye our mighty god!” and the response was, “Great is the mighty Dagon; glorious is his power, which hath prevailed over our foe.”
In his dungeon sat the captive chief, lone and unnoticed. He, on account of whose overthrow the whole land of Philistia rejoiced, had on that day received a respite from his toil, for his taskmasters too participated with the rest of the community in the general rejoicing. And there he sat, on a heap of rushes, which served for his couch on the damp stone floor, barely a wreck of his former self. Dismal and dreary was that dungeon room; not one ray of light could struggle into its barred and grated window;—but this is nought to its solitary tenant, to him there is now no day, no night. No parent’s, no brother’s friendly smile shall gladden his heart any more, nor maybe hope that he shall walk outward in time to come, freed from his prison, and view again the land of his birth. Such joys are not for him; for the light of his eyes has been quenched by his triumphant captors. Sad, therefore, were the meditations of this fallen one, and bitter the retrospect of the past. Was he not the mighty and invincible chieftain, by whose single hand thousands had fallen? Had he not borne on his shoulders the gates of a city, in laughing mockery of those who had thought themselves secure of their prey? Where now was that gigantic power, that superhuman strength? All flown—all vanished. But a little time since was he the ruler of his people; now he is a sightless, helpless captive, compelled to grind at a mill in his darkness. And oh! What has wrought that sad change? “Alas! alas!” said that solitary prisoner, “my own folly—my own transgressions have brought <<308>>me so low. Manifold have been my faults and sins, and just is my punishment. I, the one appointed, ere I was born, by the Most High, as the foremost in the glorious work of the deliverance of my people—how unworthy have I proved myself of that high destiny! Have I not disregarded his holy will whenever it interfered with the gratification of my unbridled passions? Did I not in my willfulness, regarding naught save the indulgence of my headstrong inclinations, ally myself to the daughter of a heathen, all unmindful of parental remonstrances? And even now, when the wisdom of more mature years should have taught me to control my impetuous passions, I have sinfully yielded to the flatteries of a false wanton, till with her deceitful caresses and sweet persuasive entreaties she has wrung frond me the secret of that power which was confided to me by the One Omnipotent for the fulfillment of his purposes. And what is the result of my fatal revelation? Ah! it is the defilement of my consecrated head by the polluting steel of the Philistine, and the sad and total loss of my once wondrous strength and priceless sight. And she—that false one—regardless of her tender vows, her hollow professions of enduring and ardent love, has for the sake of a little paltry shining dross surrendered me to captivity and darkness!
Vile, mercenary, Wanton! thus to betray one who so ardently loved, so fondly trusted all to thee! O, how madly did I love that deceitful beauty, in my folly and sin, and now I am so sorely punished. Great God! Thou art just, and I richly merit all that has befallen me. Yet, O my God! pardon thy erring creature, I beseech Thee, forgive me my transgressions, for deeply and bitterly do I mourn them. Many though they be, let them not be remembered any more against me, I humbly entreat thee, O Lord!” And fervently and long he prayed.
The day was now advancing; but still the revel continued, and the great ones of the land were feasting in an edifice which had been erected by one of the nobles for a banquet hall; and right well did its spacious and lofty dimensions agree with the magnificence of its decorations. The guests reclined on cushions of downy softness, the coverings of which were of crimson and gold. The tables were spread with the choicest delicacies, and the costly wines went freely round. And when their heads became heated with the exhilarating draughts which they so copiously <<309>>swallowed, their hearts were filled with cruel wantonness, and they desired to feast their eyes with the sight of their once formidable enemy, in his abject and fallen condition, and to enjoy the sport which his impotent rage, excited by the insults and gibes of the assembled population, would afford them. The command was therefore given to bring him thither from his dungeon; and with alacrity and joy was the mandate obeyed. The willing messengers quickly reached the prison-house, and soon were the prayers of the captive chief interrupted by the sounds of their heavy footsteps echoing through the arched vaults of the dreary passages. The bolts were withdrawn, and slowly the creaking door turned on its hinges.
“Oh!” mentally, then, ejaculated Samson, “that this may be the summons to my death!” But the rough jailor entered. “Rise,” he said; “I am charged with a message from our nobles, to deliver thee into the custody of the guards, who are here awaiting thy coming; for this is the day appointed for thanksgiving to our gods for our success in conquering thee, and our lords desire to behold their mighty captive. Come, then, thou puissant ruler! thou invincible hero! come on quickly; the command of our lords may not brook delay.” Indignant at this insolence, the captive starts up suddenly, forgetting his enfeebled state; he aims a blow at the spot whence he thinks the voice proceeds; but a long, loud, and contemptuous laugh greets his ear, as heavily and feebly his hand falls by his side; and far aside from the scorning speaker had the blow been aimed. “Ha! ha! Where now is thy boasted strength? Thou takest surely a skilful and certain aim,” said one of the guard. But he was doomed to disappointment in his expectation of rousing again the prisoner to unavailing fury; for a sad feeling of helplessness had taken the place of anger in Samson’s heart, and he walked between his tormentors, regardless of their mocking and sarcastic words.
Soon were the portals of the prison passed, and he trod once more the open streets, and breathed again the fresh, free air. But small was the relief that this change afforded the miserable man, for a jeering populace greeted his appearance with mocking and hooting, and foul was the language and gross the abuse that from every side reached his ear. What a contrast did the present afford to that day when, bursting from his hands the restraining bonds that confined them, he, with the bone of an <<310>>ass (snatched up at random, as his sole weapon,) had put troops of his enemies to flight, and, with his single arm, covered the field with their slain. How terribly beautiful had he then appeared; his long, flowing hair falling in curling, jetty waves down to his shoulders—his eyes sparkling, and cheeks glowing with the excitement of the victory gained by him singly over such unequal numbers! Who could have recognised that warlike figure, terrible as the angel of death, in that dejected, emaciated form, with aspect of hopeless despair—with those short, tangled, neglected locks, and those eyeless sockets? His whole countenance bespoke the full realization of utter misery; and the sordid prison-garb, too, how strongly did it contrast with the magnificence of attire in which he had felt so much pride!
Through the streets of the city he passively followed the guards, and from far and near the people gathered to gain a sight of their fallen foe; but, unmoved by his wretched appearance, all continued their insulting scoffings and brutal jests; and, as they passed on in their way to the banqueting-house, still thicker grew the crowd, and louder their shoutings and revilings, and many were the cruel pranks which were played with the defenseless captive. One of the crowd, more sportive than his neighbours, placed in his path a ponderous stone, and loud peals of laughter broke forth when the subject of this inhuman sport was prostrated by the unexpected shock, and great was the applause which was given to him who had thus contributed to the general amusement, at the expense of their humbled enemy. Others, as cruel, would come stealthily beside him, and suddenly thrust at him with their staffs, and then utter a loud laugh, to see how that once strong man would start, and how he would catch at his jeering conductors for support. But a young boy, who had just approached the spot, to have, with the rest, a view of the one who had so recently been the terror of the land, felt his heart touched with pity at the sufferings of the hapless prisoner, and, though all around him jeered and mocked, he wished to alleviate, in some degree, his miserable condition; so, stepping to his side, he extended his hand to him, and said: “I will guide thee to thy destination.” Sweetly did that voice fall on the ear of that pitiable object of a mob’s abuse: it was the first word of aught of sympathy he had heard since that fatal night when he was bereft <<311>>of liberty, power, and night. With many thanks for this kind consideration for the distresses of a fallen enemy, was the offer accepted, and, led by the youth, he followed the guards, and was conducted by them to the front of the banquet-house, where they halted.
Within that sumptuous pile hundreds had now congregated, and all was music, mirth, and song. Of high and exalted rank were those revelers, for they were the great ones of the land; magnificent was their attire, priceless the glittering jewels that sparkled on their costly robes. Without, the assembled multitudes were engaged in various games of dexterity. The roof of that stately building was crowded by the spectators of the sports; but those gazers’ eyes soon sought a different object, as the tumultuous noise of the people announced the approach of Samson.
“Now he shall make sport for us,” was the general acclamation, and quickly were the games suspended, and hushed were music and song. Soon all eyes were gazing on him; and gibe, and sneer, and mocking words were not spared. Though young and fair women were among the gay feasters, even they had no pity for him, but vied with their companions in abuse; or, by their applause, incited their on to fresh insults. And bitterly wounding were the well-studied, malicious speeches which reached his ear from all around.
“Champion of Israel, thy people wait for their leader; why tarriest thou here?” would one exclaim. “Thou truly art a wise one, whom the cunning of a woman couldst entrap!” would says another. A third, with mocking air of counterfeit terror, would cry, “Fly, fly, ye Philistines, before ye are all destroyed by the power of this hero’s arm!” A fourth, a fifth, ay, countless voices, poured out their deriding abuse. Nor did the boy escape his share of scornful reproach; but, though many contemptuous and offensive epithets had been bestowed on him, he still continued his kindly attention to the former judge of Israel. After a while the throng of feasters abandoned their amusement of tormenting the mutilated captive (that honourable occupation being left to the crowds without), and resumed their interrupted festivities. Again the sweet strains of music sounded through that temple of revelry; once more the wine-cup went round; and from time to time would they look out on the cruel sport of those outside, and applaud each new indignity offered, each barbarous prank that was played off on <<312>>the defenseless and unresisting prisoner. And she, the betrayer, felt she no compunction, no remorse for the part she had acted? No, no: surrounded by a crowd of flatterers, who praised her skill, she gloried in the arts which had beguiled the ruler of Israel.
Full well aware of their design of rousing him to unavailing fury, Samson replied not to sarcasm or contumely. Though indignation was swelling his heart, he scorned to gratify the malice of his persecutors by suffering it to appear by speech or gesture, so that his tormentors were disappointed of much of their anticipated amusement; for though he felt as if suffocating from the restraint, he resolutely withheld from expressing his bitter, bitter feelings of humiliation and wounded pride, or to afford them fresh sources of amusement by a display of impotent rage at their indignities. Oh! that terrible, that bitter realization of his degraded state he now felt. He a scorn and derision, his name a proverb, himself an object of contemptuous sport! To this has he fallen! Even so. “Great God!” inwardly prayed he, “pardon my sins and follies, for sore and heavy, though just is my punishment.”
He bowed his head, and though frequent were bitter taunting words spoken to him by the young nobles, as, they passed to and from the banquet, and though the crowd still continued their mockery and yellings, he appeared to take no heed of them, but seemed in their eyes to bend in sullen despair, while in truth he was in earnest supplication to the One who turneth not from the penitent.
As he stood there, more feeble grew his whole frame, and paler grew his wan face; and scarcely could his trembling limbs sustain their weight. In tremulous accents he spoke to the youth, who yet remained near him: “I entreat thee,” said he, to suffer me to least against the pillars of this house, for no longer can I endure this overpowering weariness; I beg of thee to lead nee there, that I may find a little rest.” “The road is straight before thee,” shouted a voice from the crowd; “thou canst find thy way there without help.” But the boy boldly said, “It is but a small request the prisoner asks; let it be granted; see ye not he faints?” And taking him by the hand, he led him within the front of the building, and placed him by one of the marble columns, followed by the scornful revilings of the populace, for thus assisting the one <<313>>who had so recently been the terror of the land; and many were the insults that were heaped on. that fallen one, in scorn of his feebleness. As he leaned against the pillar, again, in the anguish of his heart he prayed. “Oh, God of Israel!” said he, once more I humbly beseech Thee, blot out all record of my foolishness and transgressions. I pray Thee, let them not testify against me; and grant, I implore Thee, thy servant a speedy death, for dreary and sorrowful is his way now.” Whilst he prayed, fresh abuse met his ear; and with his heart swelling with emotion—“Oh, for one moment’s time of my lost power—but one little moment’s time,” said he. Just then the loud strains of their pagan hymns broke forth from a train of priests, who had repaired to the spot to behold the public exhibition of the captive; for quickly had the news spread. As the praises of their false gods met his ear—“Oh, Lord God!” he said, “let them not say that the power of their gods hath prevailed. Show them thy might; and this once I pray Thee, only this once, strengthen my arm, that they may see how unable are their gods to protect them, and that I may yet become the avenger of myself on my enemies for my two eyes.”
He ceased. But what new sensations instantaneously dart through his frame? Surely his prayer is granted. Through his shrunken veins he feels the warm blood coursing in impetuous torrents; his relaxed nerves regain their elasticity; his bent and nerveless form becomes animated with renewed vigour, and flushed grew his pale cheek with the consciousness of invincible power. Once again he spoke to the kindly youth beside him:— “I return thee many thanks,” he said, “for the kindness thou hast shown me this day; but I have yet one more request to make; I would entreat thee for a little water to moisten my parched lips.” The youth at once prepared himself to comply, though distant was the fount, and though as before the people jeered at his compliance. “Oh, thou fool!” shouted one, “to regard the word of such as he. Why not let that fellow want till he passes the fount on his way back to the prison-house?” “Ah! ah!” said another, “though that fool ran so quickly on thy errand, think not it is for thee he brings the water; for we will have it from him. Far more fitting he should bear it for us than for one like thee, who art now the scorn of our meanest slave.” Samson <<314>>spoke not, and stood still and calm, as if he heard not their words.
In hopes of meeting the general approbation, a witty jester from amongst the crowd now stepped briskly forward in front of the captive; but scarce had the first words of his sportive gibe escaped his lips, ere horror-stricken he started back, his purpose entirely forgotten, as with the rest he gazed on the changed figure that stood there before them.
A smile of mingled contempt and proud defiance was on Samson’s lip; his whole frame seemed dilated. No one could have recognised the spiritless, abject captive, in the form before them, save by that squalid attire and those eyeless sockets; for so altered was his whole demeanour, that it might well have been deemed that another being stood there. No longer was it the trembling, powerless, fainting captive. No; for there he stood erect, with energies, vigour, and force fresh renewed, powerful as ever. His object was attained; for the only one who had pitied, and striven to relieve his hard sufferings, was now beyond the reach of harm through his means. He now slowly moved from the pillar against which he had leaned for support, and placed himself in the space between two of the front middle columns. Though all marveled what he would do, none dared to approach him. He extended his once more powerful arms; he placed a hand on either of the two pillars between which he stood; and as the spectators marked his movements, there arose from that crowd a long, piercing shriek, which rang thrillingly through the festal hall. There was a mad and fearful attempt at flight; but few, very few escaped the impending destruction. His hands were on the massive sustaining columns. He turned his face to heaven.
“Lord of all spirits,” said he, “Father of souls, let me surrender into thy hands the soul Thou last given, and with the Philistines let me also die.” With one mighty effort he bowed himself down. Those strong lofty pillars tottered to their foundations, and beams and rafters creaked and groaned, as forth they started from their firm-set fastenings. But no time was there for one single scream from the horror-stricken inmates of that doomed pile; for scarce had the irresistible stroke of his arm been given, when, torn and shaken by its mighty force, down, with a stunning, crashing, a heart-smiting sound, came column, roof, beam, and rafter, in <<315>>shapeless, heavy, confused heaps of fragments, crushing, mangling, and burying in their ruins the jeering, mocking crowd without, and the gay, careless, wanton, and cruel feasters within. With wild and fearful screams of horror, he might be the next victim of that fell destroyer. Causeless were those fears—that destroyer was terrible no more; he lay with those he had destroyed, his wish fulfilled, his prayer was granted.