Monday, September 5, 2016

Review: Delilah by Angela Hunt

Delilah: Treacherous Beauty (A Dangerous Beauty Novel #3)
By: Angela Hunt
Publisher: Bethany House
ISBN: 978-0-7642-1697-8


The story of Samson and Delilah, the woman responsible for his downfall, is one of scripture’s most recognizable tales. Arguably Israel’s most colorful judge, the unbeatable strongman Samson is most often cast as a man of charm, cleverness, and large appetites. Delilah, the instrument of his ruin, is by contrast an amoral seductress, driven by love of coin and power, a woman who wields her sexuality as a weapon with as much skill as Samson’s legendary strength. While I stand firm on the infallibility of Scripture, over time I’ve come to realize that an examination of Judges 13-16 reveals troubling nuances all too often glossed over in cursory readings or adaptations of the text. If God’s anointed deliverer can murder thirty men in a fit of pique in order to win a bet (Judges 14:19), it’s clear that Samson’s legendary heroism as a darker, all-too-human side. For although God’s gifts and calling on an individual’s life are irrevocable (Romans 11:29), Samson’s life is a study in the redemption that occurs when God’s promises collide with an individual’s free will. And if Samson, God’s anointed, very flawed choice to realize  Israel’s redemption from the Philistines (Judges 13:5) is something less than the flawless, airbrushed hero of popular culture, then is it not also possible that the seductress Delilah has deeper, more nuanced tale to tell?

Women mentioned and given voice in scripture fascinate me, as socially they had little agency of their own within the patriarchal cultures in which they lived. However, each woman is hand-picked to represent a different facet of God’s grace and redemptive power, whether they are cast as heroines or villainesses. The more I study scripture, the more I recognize the dual importance of it as God’s timeless word as well as a documented snapshot of the time period in which it was written, setting down forevermore  God at work within a specific cultural, socio-economic point in history, illustrating truths that resonate to this day. In Delilah: Treacherous Beauty, Angela Hunt takes the biblical account of Samson and restores nuance, depth, and most of all, hope, to the story of a woman whose very name across the centuries has become synonymous with sin.

The Delilah within these pages is a woman for whom life has been a struggle to survive the choices of one particular man in her life determined to possess her body and break her spirit. Scarred by sexual and emotional abuse, those experiences inform her reaction to and interaction with everyone she encounters. Scripture itself is not for the faint of heart and neither is Delilah’s story, and although Hunt does not provide a play-by-play description of Delilah’s abuse, it is what’s implied that chilled this reader to the core. For a woman to be as coolly calculating regarding the fate of her supposed lover as Delilah is when negotiating with the Philistine lords (Judges 16), she has to have a visceral motivation behind her drive to dehumanize her relationship with Samson, thus allowing such a personal betrayal. This is the fully-realized woman Hunt creates from the bones of scripture, one who justifies betrayal in the name of survival, for having once survived her perpetrator’s attempt to reduce her to a faceless commodity, she is determined to never again experience such powerlessness.

Hunt alternates between Delilah’s primary viewpoint and Samson’s, where one commonality becomes clear: both Samson and Delilah were flawed individuals who all too often fell into the trap of rationalizing their behavior and choices. Samson is a successful judge who struggles being “set apart” as a Nazirite, keeping the letter of his commitment to God (never cutting his hair) while indulging in vices (women and drink) that cloud his moral compass and commitment to his mission. But despite his failings, God still used Samson to fulfill His will to act against the Philistines on Israel’s behalf. Similarly, as a dark-skinned Egyptian living in Philistia, Delilah struggles with feeling that both her heritage and her trauma have branded her as set apart. By making Delilah as a dimensional, nuanced character, Hunt sketches a portrait of a woman whose trajectory collided with God’s purpose for her life in spite of her unbelief…for above all her story is a tale of God’s redemptive power, both on behalf of His chosen people and those who would come to believe in Him as a result of witnessing God’s handiwork on behalf of those who believe.  

I love Biblical fiction for its potential – a well-crafted tale, authentic to scripture and the history of the time period can illuminate the biblical record with fresh clarity, bringing new life the participants immortalized in the record of the faith. Hunt’s Legacies of the Ancient River series, retelling the story of Joseph, was among the first of such novels to open my eyes to the genre’s potential, and some two decades later, her facility for the genre remains undimmed. This is a stunning reimagining of Delilah’s character and motivations, a tragic tale of abuse, lust, and revenge, redeemed by grace.

This book left me gutted. Hunt’s vivid retelling of Delilah and Samson’s relationship is storytelling at its finest, grounded in truth, taking the bones of scripture and breathing life into flesh-and-blood characters that are all too easy to look at as stories sketched large, in danger of losing humanity that makes their stories timeless and relevant. This novel positions afresh Samson’s role as a perfectly imperfect and flawed precursor to Christ, the promised redeemer not just for the Israelites, but all of mankind. And at last more than an seductress, Delilah is given an unforgettable voice, flawed, hurting woman struggling to regain her agency in a society that would see her stripped of power. A potent reminder of God’s unfailing mercies and ability to work His will in the midst of our worst failings, Delilah illustrates His promise of love, redemption, and wholly unmerited grace and favor.

About the book:

Life is not easy in Philistia, especially not for a woman and child alone. When beautiful, wounded Delilah finds herself begging for food to survive, she resolves that she will find a way to defeat all the men who have taken advantage of her. She will overcome the roadblocks life has set before her, and she will find riches and victory for herself.

When she meets a legendary man called Samson, she senses that in him lies the means for her victory. By winning, seducing, and betraying the hero of the Hebrews, she will attain a position of national prominence. After all, she is beautiful, she is charming, and she is smart. No man, not even a supernaturally gifted strongman, can best her in a war of wits.

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