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And by the Spirit of my God
by James Vasquez
Now of my weakness many spoke,
As if so clearly known,
Were all my deeds that foolishly,
Throughout my life were sown.
A woman's form enchanted me,
When absent silk and lace,
And doubly was I taken if,
She had a winsome face.
But for my strength I'm better known,
And no man e'er compared,
When 'gainst the foe I ventured forth,
Nor mercy took, nor spared.
But of my rare and vaunted strength,
I've this that I will say,
Of those who often spoke of it,
Not one knew where it lay.
And I myself just whence it came,
Did learn, though somewhat late,
When standing 'tween two pillars where,
I soon would meet my fate.
But much beyond my tale have I,
Now brought you, dearest friend,
A story's told far better from,
Its font and not its end.
By angel's steadfast bidding was,
I set apart from birth,
That I might serve our nation well,
Throughout its length and girth.
And from the hated Philistine,
Would I begin to save,
Our people who this foe oppressed,
And hastened to enslave.
And thus my calling was from God,
To serve as judge within,
This land whose people long ago,
Had fallen into sin.
And then it was, God's Spirit chose,
To stir within my heart,
And I had hopes as Israel's judge,
To surely do my part.
But then in Timnah I beheld,
A lass so pert and fair,
I knew at once she was the one,
With whom my life I'd share.
You should have heard my parents when,
I told them of my wish,
For she was not of Israel's tribe,
And somewhat heathenish.
But I was not about to lose,
This lass whom I adored,
The Hebrew girls I knew were dull,
And left me somewhat bored.
And if I'd looked to God in this,
And truly been his man,
Perhaps I would have understood,
Some sign of his wise plan.
Nor could my parents then perceive,
That God occasion sought,
Against the Philistines who ruled,
Whose sins he'd not forgot.
The day that we were married I,
This riddle set before,
My new companions at the feast,
Some thirty men or more.
"From him who eats is something found,
Delectable to eat,
And from the strong proceeds as well,
A morsel soft and sweet."
Now three days passed and they knew not,
What answer there might be,
They threatened then to kill my wife,
If she told not the key.
And so, both day and night she begged,
That I the answer tell,
She cried, she wailed, she spurned my love,
And made my life a hell,
And finally I relented and,
In hopes to end the fuss,
Most privately to her I then,
Explained the riddle thus,
"The morsel sweet and delicate,
Is honey's taste well-known,
And whither find a strength so great,
As in a lion's own?"
And when those friends of hers then told,
To me this riddle's end,
I knew they'd not have known unless,
With her they did contend.
And by the Spirit of my God,
I went to Ashkelon,
And on its coast soon found myself,
And smote each man thereon.
I gathered thirty garments there,
And paid in full my debt,
To those companions at the feast,
Who said they'd won the bet.
And this was not the end for when,
To father's house I went,
They gave my wife to someone else,
Nor asked for my consent.
In anger then, I went afield,
Where foxes make their lairs,
Three hundred did I catch and then,
I tied them all in pairs,
And bearing lighted torches they,
Through fields of standing grain,
Were loosed and scurried everywhere,
No doubt from all the pain.
And thus some vengeance did I wreak,
Upon our ancient foe,
But little thought that they would rise,
And straightway then would go,
To find my wife, her father and,
Would put them both to death,
And thus, midst flames engulfing her,
She drew her final breath.
In rage I then attacked those men,
And slaughtered hip and thigh,
A goodly number nor delayed,
To bid a one good bye.
Now thousands sought my life for this,
But seizing close at hand,
The jawbone of a donkey I,
Attacked that evil band,
And great the number then who fell,
By this poor son of Shem,
Who slew them with a jawbone there,
And donkeys made of them.
For twenty years I judged the land,
From Beersheba to Dan,
The Philistine was still around,
Oppressing all our clan.
Now over time I fell in love,
A Philistine, once more,
My heart, it seemed, was fixed upon,
Their daughters as of yore.
Delilah was her name and when,
In her sweet company,
Quite helpless did I find myself,
Nor e'er denied her plea.
But when one day she asked that I,
The secret of my strength,
Reveal to her I thought it strange,
And mem'ries stirred at length.
I gave her some false answer and,
Dismissed the thought anon,
And barely then escaped the men,
To see another dawn,
Who hid themselves within the place,
And hoped my life to take,
When once they thought my strength was gone,
Though I was then awake.
With no repenting thought whate'er,
Delilah chastised me,
I should have known just what she was,
A brazen debauchee.
But love, they say, of sight is short,
And I returned to her,
A spell, no doubt, she'd cast o'er me,
Seductive in allure.
For once again she railed at me,
That I the secret of,
My boundless strength reveal and then,
Quite overcome with love,
Some foolish explanation I,
Invented yet again,
And as before, I was attacked,
By several hidden men.
It came to this, when finally she,
My love for her did doubt,
And endlessly both day and night,
Did harp and wail and pout,
I told her that if shorn of hair,
I'd be as any man,
And to her rulers then she sent,
To execute their plan.
Now on a day upon her lap,
I lay quite fast asleep,
And silently she called a man,
To clip me like a sheep.
I knew it not and when I heard,
Her warning cry once more,
I quickly roused myself to flee,
Just as I'd done before.
But sadly was I ignorant,
That God had left me, too,
For I his confidence had breached,
And thus received my due.
My strength was gone and overcome,
By men who waited there,
I finally knew Delilah's love,
Was nothing but a snare.
But hardly could I catch her eye,
Or all my loathing shout,
For in a moment both of mine,
Were cruelly taken out.
So to their city I was borne,
A spectacle with chain,
And as their prisoner was forced,
To grind their daily grain.
And time, it seemed, so slowly passed,
As I thus served my foe,
But just as surely over time,
My hair began to grow.
But think not that in hair alone,
Nor in its golden length,
Nor yet in wavy locks was found,
The secret of my strength.
For in that darkened cell I learned,
What ne'er had been so clear,
In God alone my strength abode,
Throughout each day and year.
He chose in his most cryptic plan,
That while my hair was long,
I'd satisfy his will for me,
And thus, in him, be strong.
How sad that I with frightful strength,
Which every mortal awed,
Should for a woman's pestering,
Disdain my vow to God.
* * * *
And as I stand 'tween pillars here,
The victory they've won,
Has brought them all together and,
Their chanting has begun,
"Let Samson here perform for us,
Some lively caper now,
As we to Dagon lift our voice,
And in his presence bow,
"Our god this enemy has quelled,
Who ravaged all our land,
And countless sons has cruelly slain,
By his once mighty hand."
In Dagon's temple now I turn,
And make this soft appeal,
That with my hands outstretched I might,
Those mighty pillars feel.
And now I pray, "O sovereign Lord,
Remember me this day,
And grant that for my eyes I might,
Most vengefully repay.
"One final time renew my strength,
I earnestly now cry,
For with these Philistines I am,
Content, O Lord, to die!"
My helpless plea is borne aloft,
God hears and does approve,
And now a mighty rumbling comes,
As I those pillars move.
from the September-October 2004 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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