“How can you say ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me?”
That’s a great question, and its poetic, and it’s beautiful. As a stand-alone phrase, it’s almost Shakespearean. How can someone dare utter the words “I love you,” but not have heart behind it. It’s cold and quite literally heartless.
The phrase works on so many levels, listen to it again, “How can you say ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me?” It’s clever, it’s poignant, and better yet, it’s Scriptural. That’s right, it’s in the Bible.
But be warned. Be careful with clever statements. They may be poetic, and sentimental, and they may even be Scriptural. But it doesn’t make them words to live by. The real question might be, how is that possible? If it’s Scriptural, isn’t it good?
If our phrase came from the Psalms, we might consider it a poetic form of praise. If it were in Proverbs, it could be advice for life. If it were a statement by one of the prophets, we would consider it a rebuke from God. But it is none of these.
“How can you say ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me?”
That is Delilah.
Delilah is one of the Bible’s most famous characters, especially when you consider how little the Bible actually says about her. She appears only in the 16th Chapter of the book of Judges. No other text even refers to her, yet she is the subject of intense fascination. Milton wrote a drama about her. Cecil B. DeMille devoted an entire movie to her, well, kind of. Samson was in the title too. Rabbinic tradition puts her in the 17th Chapter of Judges as well, as the mother of Micah, but we don’t see her name, so we can’t prove it is her. For us, Delilah exists for one brief moment, and she utters one of the Old Testament’s most romantic phrases, “How can you say ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me?”
Delilah is the woman that Samson loved “in the Valley of Sorek.” Upon her entrance to the Biblical stage, Delilah is immediately co-opted by the Philistines, who want to take her new lover into captivity. Samson has been a nightmare to the occupying force of the Philistine army for over 20 years. A warrior of exceptional strength, Samson has had multiple run-ins with the Philistines, once slaughtering 1000 men in one encounter with the jawbone of a donkey. The Philistine leaders convince Delilah to entice Samson into telling her the source of his freakish strength, so that they could overpower him. From the beginning, the relationship is one of deceit and betrayal.
Samson is almost mythical. He was the promised, and prophesied of, son of Manoah and his nameless wife. From before he was born, God had entered into a covenant with Samson’s parents. If they would raise their son as a Nazarite, which included no wine on his lips and no razor on his head, then God would bless him and use him as the instrument to begin the deliverance of Israel from the hand of the Philistines. It’s easy to picture Samson as a hulk of a man, but I don’t think the literary evidence supports that picture. The Philistines can’t figure out how Samson is so strong, which seems to indicate that he didn’t fit the part, physically. If a razor never touched his head from birth, imagine the amount of hair on that man! The text tells us that he had it tied off into seven locks. So while he may or may not have been a physically large man, his persona was larger than life.
Samson serves as a lesson for us in so many ways. While locked into a covenant, which required a certain measure of self-discipline, he resembles us under a religious mindset. We do good, and we expect God to reciprocate. Same thing if we do evil. This legalistic lifestyle may seem to strengthen our resolve, but as experience has taught us, it leads to an eventual breakdown. We crack, somewhere. Our flesh wins out in spectacular ways. For Samson, he can resist the wine and the razor, but he can’t resist the wrong women.
Delilah isn’t his first Philistine love interest. The first was also enticed by his enemies to betray him. This time it was in regards to a riddle that Samson had presented. The moral of the story might be, “Stop marrying Philistines, they don’t have your best interest at heart,” but when you look at what his first wife said to him, to convince him to sell out, you find something eerily similar to our opening phrase.
“You only hate me. You do not love me! You have posed this riddle to the sons of my people, but you have not explained it to me,” Samson’s first wife said. Ok, it’s not nearly as poetic, or romantic as Delilah’s turn of phrase, but you can see what sets Samson off. He is not only a sucker for a beautiful Philistine woman, he is a sucker for a clever statement, especially one centered around love.
So when Delilah drops the beautiful, “How can you say ‘I love you’ when your heart is not with me?” you would think that Samson would know better. He’s heard this kind of verbal manipulation before. But I propose that Samson falls for it the second time for the very reason that he has heard it before, and the power of her words speak something new to him, “Maybe I messed up the last time because I didn’t really love that woman. But this time it’s different. I really do love her. So I’ll tell her everything.”
Until this point Samson has toyed with Delilah, like a young man teasing his girlfriend. He has had a good laugh out of telling her that if he were tied up with seven fresh bowstrings that had never been tied to a bow, then he would be like any other man. She tied him up and woke him up, and told him that the Philistines were upon him. He awoke, broke the bowstrings, and laughed.
It’s not so funny for the reader. We see that in the other room, the Philistines lie in wait, watching to see if Samson can break out of the bowstrings. He doesn’t know this. He thinks he’s playing a flirtatious game with Delilah. So when she asks again, he plays along and says that if tied with new ropes, he won’t be able to break out. Again, same scenario, and Samson breaks out. Hilarity ensues, but not for us, because this time, the Philistines are hiding out in the very room.
The third time this happens, Samson makes the challenge a little harder, from flimsy bowstrings to new ropes, and now to the odd instructions of weaving his seven locks of hair into the web of a weaver’s loom. Low and behold he awakes with his hair weaved into the loom, and he rips the loom apart. Samson probably laughs, we almost definitely cringe, and Delilah, well Delilah cried.
“How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me? You have mocked me these three times and have not told me where your great strength lies.” And it came to pass, when she pestered him daily with her words and pressed him, so that his soul was vexed to death, that he told her all his heart.
Catch that last phrase, “He told her all his heart.” Why would he do that? It isn’t lust. He already has Delilah. It’s guilt. It’s longing. It’s a misplaced sense of identity.
His first marriage ended with the accusation that he didn’t love his wife, and that in fact, he hated her. He has lived with the mistaken idea that hatred is the refusal to give away your heart. When Delilah points out that his heart is not with her, he is determined to do better. The problem is that Samson has allowed his own sense of romance, or guilt, or insecurity to blind him to what is happening. Surely he thinks that even if Delilah shaves his head while he sleeps (why wouldn’t she, she did all of the other things he said would work), that would be the end of it. He could move on past this covenant thing, with the perpetual battle against the Philistines and just rest in the arms of the woman he loves. He would be without his strength, but he won’t need it. He will have given her his heart, and that will be enough.
Seven is the Hebrew number for rest and perfection. It is no coincidence that Samson has seven locks of hair. His hair is an indication of his covenant; the same covenant he has rested in and been found perfect. He rests his head in the lap of Delilah as she cuts off the seven locks, and in one of the saddest passages in the Bible, Samson went out to fight the Philistines, “But he did not know that the LORD had departed from him.”
The word used for LORD in the text is from the Hebrew for Jehovah, the covenant God. Once the covenant had departed, Samson was on his own, and no amount of strength was enough to stop the invaders. While they ripped out his eyes, Delilah had ripped out his heart. There was really little left to do but die, and we know that is Samson’s fate. He has one more moment of glory, taking out 3000 Philistines with him in his death, as his hair began to grow back, and his awareness of covenant returned. But for all intents and purposes, the Samson of lore died in the lap of Delilah. Oh he lived on for a spell, grinding another man’s corn, missing out on his own destiny, but he died while trying to prove his love to someone who didn’t deserve it, and who didn’t love him in return.
I wonder how much time we have wasted in the lap of people and things that neither deserve us nor want what is best for us. How much of our rest have we had cut off, and how much vision have we surrendered to please people out of sense of insecurity or guilt?
How can you say ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me? No matter how poetic or how beautiful, don’t fall for the trap of giving your heart to just anyone. You have nothing to prove. For those that love you, they always will, and they expect nothing in return. Those for whom you must dance, or play the fool like a Samson, in order to receive their love, are most likely not even worthy to understand why you are what you are. Never surrender your rest or your identity in covenant for the desires of others. Know who you are, and the flashiest of words will not be able to shake you.
But to be fair to Delilah’s poetic statement, she’s not entirely wrong. How CAN you say ‘I love you,’ if your heart is not with someone? You certainly can say it, but do you mean it? If we took her statement in a vacuum, with no context, it is an important question, and one worth answering. If you tell your spouse that you love them, but you don’t open your heart, are you being honest with them? Are you being honest with yourself?
So perhaps we don’t judge Samson so harshly. He didn’t want to waste a second marriage. He didn’t want to be in a loveless relationship, and he was willing to risk it all to have that love. He risked, and he lost, so it’s convenient to take the moral of the story to be, “Don’t give your heart away.” But that’s not fair, and it’s also not realistic. Better, might be, “Don’t give your heart away easily, and never give away what makes you who you are.”
You are a disciple of Christ, a son or daughter of the Father, a holder of divine inheritance. Be wise about with whom you share your heart. There are those who are worthy, and who will guard it with their life. And when you find it shattered, as you very well might, just remember that Jesus came to heal the brokenhearted. He was and is anointed to do so. Why? Because he knew that a broken heart is the affliction of humanity. So be patient, and give it time. Your hair will grow back.
Grace to you.