Life is not easy in Philistia, especially not for a woman and child alone. When beautiful, wounded Delilah finds herself begging for food to survive, she resolves that she will find a way to defeat all the men who have taken advantage of her. She will overcome the roadblocks life has set before her, and she will find riches and victory for herself.
When she meets a legendary man called Samson, she senses that in him lies the means for her victory. By winning, seducing, and betraying the hero of the Hebrews, she will attain a position of national prominence. After all, she is beautiful, she is charming, and she is smart. No man, not even a supernaturally gifted strongman, can best her in a war of wits.
“The Philistine commander,” I interrupted. “Is he still . . .?”
“I know the man.” The merchant lowered his voice as if confiding a dreaded secret. “He’s well-connected to Zaggi, the ceren of Gaza. A pompous young fool.”
“Is he called Achish?” I asked.
“That’s him.” The merchant snorted in derision. “He’s a wily sort, but he’s not as clever as Samson.”
I turned to the widow. “I wish we knew where Samson was. I could tell him a few things about Achish.”
The corner of the merchant’s mouth twitched. “You want to know where Samson is?”
I stared at him. “Doesn’t everyone?”
“Nearly everyone in Judah knows that Samson is hiding in Etam Mountain.” A smile flashed in the merchant’s beard. “The Philistines have camped around that mountain, but they’re too cowardly to attempt the ascent. They’ve been trying to convince the elders of Judah to go up and bring Samson down.”
My mind stuttered with disbelief. They couldn’t do that. I didn’t know who or what Judah was, but they had no right to turn on Samson. I looked at the widow. “These people from Judah – are they Israelites?”
She nodded, her expression somber.
“Why would they betray one of their own? How could they be so disloyal?”
The widow opened her mouth as if to answer then sighed. “I don’t know.” She swivelled back to the merchant. “Perhaps you do?”
“What can I say?” He shrugged. “The men from Judah are tired of being harassed. They worry about their sons and daughters. They want peace. So they have bargained for it.”
In a daze, I watched the couple depart, my thoughts stumbling over an unexpected realization. I had felt detached and purposeless since learning of my mother’s death, but why not adopt a new reason for living? Why not make it my goal to destroy the man who had destroyed my family? I would need help to accomplish such a goal, but I could find help. For who had dared to stand against the Philistines? Who was the only man to be victorious in his encounters with them?
I turned away from the road as my thoughts raced. I needed Samson to be my champion, but before long he would be in Philistine hands. Would he listen if I warned him? If I told him that I’d been at his wedding feast, would he feel any sort of connection between us?
Years ago, when I met him by the well, Samson had looked like a man with a broken heart. I had also suffered a broken heart, so perhaps he would listen to me. If I told him about the injustices my mother and I suffered, surely he would be willing to attack Achish. He would probably kill any Philistines who stood in his way, but I would never blame him for that. Unlike the men of Judah, I would never betray him.
If you think you know the story of Samson and Delilah, read this book and think again. Despite being well acquainted with the Biblical account, I put this book down at the end (after dabbing at my eyes!) and thought, “Wow. I did not see that story coming.” (And I actually think the publisher’s description gives a misleading impression of Delilah’s character as it is presented in this book). Angela Hunt has looked beyond the scheming temptress and the strongman weakened by a woman’s wiles, to create eminently human – and relatable – characters who, despite their flaws, were used by God to work His will.
The story opens several years prior to Samson and Delilah’s relationship. Having grown up in Egypt as the daughter of a free woman of Cush and a Cretan sailor, seventeen-year-old Delilah is adjusting to life in Philistia following her mother’s recent marriage to a Philistine businessman. Meanwhile, Samson is arranging his marriage to a young woman of Timnah, against the advice of his parents, and his companion, Rei.
Right here, in these opening scenes, we get a glimpse of the vulnerability that drives these characters, and will eventually draw them together: a deep-seated sense of not truly belonging; of being alien. For Delilah, this comes from being a ‘mixed creature’ (to use her own words) of dark colouring. She has no living kin but her mother, and identifies with no single nation, tribe, or religion. For Samson, it is the mixed blessing of being chosen by God and set apart from birth. He is a judge of Israel, and a ‘freak’ (again, his words). And he is lonely.
When Delilah’s step-father dies unexpectedly, she and her mother find themselves at the mercy of their step-brother and step-son, Achish – a man for whom ‘mercy’ is a foreign concept. Delilah’s mother is sold into slavery, while Delilah remains in Achish’s household, subject to an even worse fate. After enduring for two months, she escapes, determined to make a life for herself as a free woman so that she can buy her mother out of slavery.
Delilah’s journey takes her through Timnah, coinciding with Samson’s wedding, and on to the Valley of Sorek, to a widow who makes her living weaving fine textiles. The widow agrees to take her in, teaching her the weaving trade from the ground up. Literally. But all the while, Delilah yearns to revenge herself upon Achish, who is rapidly rising in prominence in Philistia. And who better to help exact this revenge but Samson, strongman and judge of Israel?
I won’t say any more and spoil the story, because even if you know the basics, this is a surprising and engrossing retelling. I loved that Samson and Delilah were portrayed so differently to the common perception; and convincingly so, thanks to the attention Hunt gave to the characters’ motivations, circumstances, and emotional vulnerabilities. Most surprising of all, for me, was how uplifting the ending was, in spite of the circumstances. It showed Samson as a genuine, if imperfect, man of faith, and provided a beautiful picture of God’s mercy and grace to sinners.
This is a definite keeper for my Biblical fiction shelf.
I received a complimentary copy of this novel from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.
Release date: 7 June 2016
Publisher: Bethany House
Author’s website: http://www.angelahuntbooks.com/