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“Shalom!” Sipporah said to Naamah, who was standing at the door of the house as we arrived. Naamah’s wrinkled face brightened when she recognized us.
“Sipporah!” she said, holding out her arms. “It has been many years since I saw you. How is it that you have not changed at all? You are as young as ever! Look at me. I am now an old woman. Come in, come in. My home is your home.”
We removed our sandals and were ushered into the house, as servant girls ran to fetch water to wash our feet.
“Naamah, this is our friend, Azzah,” Sipporah continued. “She is from the Valley of Sorek and has just recently come to know the God of Israel.”
“A Philistine girl!” Naamah said with curiosity. “I am pleased to meet you and to welcome you to my home. No doubt you speak some Hebrew, even as I speak some Philistine, but if there is anything I say that you do not understand, please tell me. If I cannot translate, I know that Sipporah will be able to do so. She is fluent in both languages.”
“Yes,” Azzah said with a slight smile. “I have noticed that she speaks many languages. We have had no trouble communicating.”
“Where is Manoah? Is he doing well?” I asked.
“Manoah was gathered to his fathers about five years ago,” Naamah said. “May his soul rest in peace! He is buried in the family tomb with his fathers.”
“Did his brother return home?” I inquired further.
“Yes,” Naamah said. “The brothers were finally reunited after many years of separation. In fact, when he first came to visit us, he was unable to stay long, because he had unfinished business. He sailed his ship just one more time and then sold it and moved back home. He used his money to build a house just up the road from here. He still lives, although he is now quite old.”
“Is he able to care for himself?” Sipporah asked.
“Oh,” she replied, “he adopted two orphaned children that he found on his final journey. Their parents had died, leaving them destitute, and he had compassion upon them. So he has two sons who are able to care for him now. They have been a great blessing to him. But most of all, we are happy that he has come home. He and Manoah spent many hours together, recounting the events of their lost years.”
“That is indeed good news,” I said. “How old are Bocheru’s sons now?”
“Nahum is twenty-five, and Micah is twenty-three,” she said. “They were just children when they arrived here, so the Hebrew way of life is all that they have really known. Although they have had no mother here, Bocheru has been a good father to them, and he has taught them the ways of God.”
“I am very glad to hear that the brothers found peace,” I said. “But we are here to tell you the latest news from Samson. What have you heard so far? What is the latest news that has reached you?”
Naamah lowered her head and began to sob, speaking in a broken voice. “I have not heard anything since last year when my son was taken captive. I heard only that the Philistines discovered the secret of his strength and that they cut his hair, blinded him, and took him to Gaza as a slave. Do you have news of him? Is he yet alive?”
“We saw him two days ago,” I said. “The temple of Dagon in Gaza had paid a large sum of money to the temple in Ashkelon to allow Samson to perform at their summer solstice celebration. He was brought in an iron cage to Ashkelon to advertise their festival. We were in Ashkelon when he passed by the inn, and we saw him. I shouted some encouraging words to him, which I believe he heard even above the noise of the crowd.”
“Today is the summer solstice,” Naamah observed. “Do you think that he recognized your voice?” she asked.
“I believe so,” I replied, “for I saw him turn his head toward me. But we were not able to speak to each other personally. I had only a moment of time, so I told him to remember the God of Israel.”
“Oh, my poor son, my only son,” she moaned. “If only he had not turned away from God! He was just so bitter about the sons of Eli!” she explained, looking toward us. “He vowed never to return to Shiloh. He refused to keep the feast days and virtually exiled himself from Israel. He had great confidence in his own strength, so he spent most of his time among the Philistines, believing that he was invincible.”
“But in the end,” I said, “he became vulnerable. So it is with all who rely upon carnal strength—even strength that has been given as a gift from God. Nearly forty years ago, I gave counsel to the tribal chiefs, telling them not to rely upon the strength of arms or of horses. Some of them took my words seriously, but most of them did not understand. So I told them that God would raise up a judge with great strength, giving them the desire of their hearts. He was destined to begin Israel’s deliverance, but it would take another kind of judge to complete that deliverance.”
“Then your words have been fulfilled,” Naamah said sadly, “for even his own mother has given up hope that he could deliver Israel.”
“Nonetheless,” Sipporah added, “the time of deliverance now draws near. The end of Samson’s ministry means that God is now raising up the other judge who will deliver Israel. You will see this within a year’s time.”
“Your words are bitter-sweet to me,” Naamah said, “but I accept the word of Yahweh and praise Him for His wonderful works. In spite of our heartaches, He has indeed blessed us in many ways.”
“There is something I must confess to you,” Azzah interjected. “I have only recently been delivered from the spirit of the python in the Valley of Sorek. I was under its spell for a few years, and my instructions were to present myself as a devotee at the temple of Atargatis in Ashkelon. I served there as a temple harlot while Samson walked the land, unafraid of any Philistine power.”
She continued, “Finally, I was assigned the task of seducing Samson in order to learn the secret of his strength. At first, he lied to me and would not tell me where his strength originated. But I begged him and appealed to his love, and finally he revealed it to me. I am so sorry. I am the one who betrayed your son. I am the cause of his fall and the reason he is now a prisoner.”
Naamah’s mouth dropped open, and she could only stare at her, looking dumbfounded at Azzah’s bold confession.
“I have come to beg you to forgive me,” Azzah said tearfully. “At the time, I did not know that there was a God of love in Israel. I served the temple of Atargatis, the goddess of cursed love. I know now that her love is not love at all, for I have learned that true love does not destroy others. But until a short time ago, no one had ever shown me an example of true love, and my eyes were blinded by the spirit of the python. I have no right to ask for your forgiveness, but neither do I have a choice but to beg it of you.”
Naamah sat quietly in her chair for a few moments with her eyes closed. Finally, she spoke. “I counseled my husband for many years to forgive the wrongs that his father did to him. When his brother finally returned home, he was able to release the bitterness in his heart and to forgive. Thus, he died at rest with himself and at peace with God. I rejoiced at this great blessing from God. So how could I not forgive you as well? Shall I die as a bitter old woman? Shall I do less than I expected of my husband? Yes, I forgive you, and I thank God for His mercy upon you.”
Azzah threw her arms around Naamah, and the two women, one young and beautiful, the other old and gray, found comfort in each other’s arms.