Whenever the name Samson is mentioned, people will mostly remember Delilah who betrayed him by cutting his hair off to take away his strength. If not that, they will remember how he pushed the pillars of Dagon’s temple and killed the Philistines as it came crumbling down on them. Most, however, will not remember the episode with the gate of Gaza, and it is unfortunate because it is a foreshadowing of Christ. Here’s how it goes…
As a background, the Israelites clamored for a king for that is what they saw in other countries. God, however, gave them judges (for the meantime). These are not magistrates who arbitrate lawsuits. Instead, they are persons who help Israel from her enemies. The story of Samson can be found in the Book of Judges from chapters 13 to 16; our episode can be found in chapter 16.
It was a time when Israel was “delivered into the hands of the Philistines.” Samson rose up as a judge and fought against them. Once he tied torches on tails of three-hundred jackals and let them loose on the grain fields of the Philistines so it would burn. When he was brought to the Philistine camp, he used a jawbone of an ass to kill a thousand of them. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that the Philistines wanted him dead.
The episode of the gate starts when Samson went into the city of Gaza, “where he saw a prostitute and visited her.” What they did in private, I don’t know (maybe they played cards, who knows.) Most likely the Philistines had spies following him because they knew he entered the city, and they knew he was in a prostitute’s place. They, then, hatched a plan: they would wait at the city gate where they would ambush him.
That plan made sense. Cities at that time had gates to protect them from marauders and enemies. The gate was very useful because they could shut it so undesirables could be prevented from coming in and convicts from escaping. So the city gate was the only place Samson could exit the city from, and there they waited for him. They would close the gate, trap him, and kill him. It would like be shooting fish in a barrel.
They said, “at morning light we will kill him.” This meant they expected Samson to spend the night at the prostitute’s place and wake up the next day to leave the city. If the Philistines had spies, they probably knew his patterns after stalking him for some time. For some reason that isn’t explained, Samson woke up in the middle of the night, went to the gate and uprooted it. He did not only dismantle the door, but carrying on top of his shoulders, he brought it to the top of a ridge. How is this a foreshadowing of Christ?
In the Creed, we say of Christ, “he descended to the dead and rose again on the third day…” We have to remember that God did not mean for humankind to die. Death was never part of his plan. It was original sin that brought in death in our fallen human nature. Death, then, is the invention of the enemy.
So when Christ breathed his last, death threatened to swallow him up and digest him in its dark pit. Christ then is like Samson when the closed gates of Gaza threatened to keep him inside where the embrace of death would hold him forever. But how could the author of life – life itself – be held prisoner by the gates of death? It is absolutely absurd! So Christ rose from his death sleep (like Samson rose in the middle of the night) and figuratively broke the gate that meant to keep him dead. He just didn’t escape death, but brought the “gates” to a place where it could never be used to keep people inside permanently ever again. Isn’t that what Christ did for us? Didn’t he take away the venom of death so it will not permanently harm all of us? Yes, our spirit will separate from our bodies at the end of our life, but it will be brought together again at the end of time. Death cannot keep us dead. That is the gift the Christ gave us. It is a gift we need to be thankful day after day because empti enim estis pretio magno – you were bought at a great price. Isn’t the act of Samson carrying the gate on his shoulders like Christ carrying the cross? Indeed it is a terrible price.