I have been discussing the presence, and prevalence, of "low language" in the Bible. It’s one of the reasons we can characterize the Bible as classic comedy. “Low” attributes such as inappropriate grammar, obscenity, hick accent, riddle, folly and grumbling can be seen throughout. There is another type of “low language” we don’t want to overlook.
This is language that doesn't get much lower, yes? The shrill tone of voice, the off-putting intensity of deliverance, the seeming mundaneness of the problem needing attention, and the loud and endlessly repeated demand for immediate action all barrage the hearer and create an experience transcending nails down a blackboard. Shudder and shudder!
Nags make for great comic characters. And comic foils.
Take for example Alice Kramden, Edith Bunker, and Roseanne Conners. They aren't exactly nags in the classical sense, but they qualify well-enough. Their strident voices, energy and appeals grate on their blowhard husbands who then buckle, unable to respond except as bumbling, ignorant, vulnerable weaklings. In such scenes, everyone is "low" and makes us laugh!
Nagging strikes comic gold in one very popular Bible story, although it may surprise you to learn what that story is: "Samson and Delilah." Judges 13-16.
At Judges 16:16 we learn the real reason God’s most-strapping, lovely-locked, bold and seemingly invincible superhero hero suddenly and completely relents, fully spilling the beans about why he's so strong: “(A)fter she had nagged him with her words day after day, and pestered him, he was tired to death. So he told her his whole secret….”
Oh, how the mighty do fall!! Ha ha ha!
The humor is made even sharper by the fact that Delilah first simply asks mighty Samson what it would take for someone to overpower him. He responds, perhaps sensing what Delilah is up to, by saying, “If they bind me with seven fresh bowstrings that are not dried out, then I shall become weak.” When Samson is asleep she and her Philistine henchmen try it out and, of course, it’s to no avail.
The next night Delilah cajoles and pleads with Samson. He says, “If they bind me with new ropes that have not been used, then I shall become weak.” Delilah et al give that a try and, of course, Samson snaps the ropes off his arm “like a thread.”
A third night Delilah complains and accuses Samson of lying to her. He responds, “If you weave the seven locks of my head with the web and make it tight with the pin, then I shall become weak." (The answers are becoming more and more absurd – now including a loom - and we, the audience, are invited to enjoy this crazy game more and more.) Of course Samson makes mincemeat of the loom, pin and web once he’s awoken, because he’s been most able, so far at least!, to steer Delilah far off course.
Then comes the zinger – on the fourth night she NAGS him -- and it’s all over. Of course it is! Who in the world can withstand a woman’s nagging???? !!!!
Oh to be a fly on that tent wall and hear the beautiful Delilah harp: "Hey, come on hey! Look at me when I’m talking to you! Don’t just sit there picking at your split ends. Don't sit there day and night like a bump on a log getting hair all over the tent, what do you think this is a pig sty? That’s right, that’s what I’m calling this, a pig sty! And I’m not going to call it anything kosher until you tell me the secret to your strength. Ugh, I never…."
Oh to see the mighty Samson clasping his hands over his ears, falling on his knees begging for mercy. Ha Ha Ha!
Unfortunately, unless you’ve done a close reading of the Book of Judges, you’ve never known all this to be part of the story, even though it’s exactly what’s in the text (additional "fourth night" dialogue and stage directions by yours truly excepted).
“Samson and Delilah” is NEVER presented as the comedy it really is. For whatever reason (probably because it’s simply impossible for most people to imagine there is humor in the Bible anywhere) this story is rendered as a great tragedy: Samson is a well-meaning but fallible superhero who dooms himself because he’s too in love to deceive his lady despite the fact she’s the enemy. What a guy!
Samson’s big confession to Delilah is usually shown happening in the midst of lovemaking and whispered, earnest desire. Delilah is shown to be torn by her passion for Samson and her obligation to her people. Finally, tragically, she sides with her Philistine kin.
Lost is always the back-story. Earlier in Judges we’re told Samson was called from the womb to be a nazarite. Nazarites are the holiest of people who, in no uncertain terms, are never to come into contact with anything impure. (See Numbers 6:1-21.) Nevertheless, Samson from the first is shown to be a lusty, lively man who, despite his “calling,” can’t keep his brain in his pants, especially when it comes to Philistine women (Delilah isn’t his first). Nobody is smart or strong enough to offer but the lamest of protests. So, despite Samson’s prowess with the sword, he ridiculously ends up felling himself for the silliest (but most understandable!) of reasons – a woman’s nagging.
Ha ha ha!
The story of Samson is a clownish farce. And, as such, it actually helps make better sense of the Book of Judges than if it were a romantic tragedy. Judges chronicles the increasing decadence and faithlessness of Israel’s leaders once the people settle, too comfortably, into the Promised Land. By putting some comic travails about ¾ of the way into this debacle, a little light-hearted relief provides a break to the disgusting goings-on. It’s as if the text is saying, “Okay, it's clear Israel was REALLY messed up back then. Even so, God never stopped providing opportunities for surprising new life in the oddest of places, the most hilarious of ways. Even if life was/is really hard, it's quite joyful!"
After all, after the lunacy with Delilah there is a happy-ish coda to Samson’s story. He gets the last laugh when, several months after having been sheared, blinded and jailed, he’s afforded one last chance for heroic gesture. Brought out to the Philistine temple and chained to its pillars so the throngs may mock him, a burst of strength comes over him, allowing him to dislodge those pillars and bring crashing to the ground the roof of that temple. Samson heroically gives his life to the significant destruction of the enemy. Of course, the reason his strength returns is comparatively inane: his hair grows back.
From start to finish "Samson & Delilah" is a most choice example of Bible comedy. Oh to see how it would play in gold lamé! (That's for you Hedy Lamarr fans out there....)