Judges 15 – Samson Against the Philistines
A. Retaliation back and forth.
1. (1-3) Samson’s rage at discovering that his wife is given to another.
After a while, in the time of wheat harvest, it happened that Samson visited his wife with a young goat. And he said, “Let me go in to my wife, into her room.” But her father would not permit him to go in. Her father said, “I really thought that you thoroughly hated her; therefore I gave her to your companion. Is not her younger sister better than she? Please, take her instead.” And Samson said to them, “This time I shall be blameless regarding the Philistines if I harm them!”
a. I really thought that you thoroughly hated her: It’s hard to know why Samson’s father-in-law thought that Samson hated his wife. Perhaps this was just an excuse to explain why he did what he did; or perhaps Samson’s Philistine wife poisoned her father’s opinion of Samson (Judges 14:16).
b. Samson said to them: Even though Samson was angry with his wife’s father, the real root of the problem was the bad choices Samson made in love. He had no business allowing himself to fall in love with an ungodly, pagan woman.
i. No wonder Proverbs 4:23 tells us: Keep (literally, guard or protect) your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life. Failure to guard our heart can result in great trouble.
c. This time I shall be blameless regarding the Philistines if I harm them: God used Samson’s ungodly anger for His purposes. As Psalm 76:10 says, Surely the wrath of man shall praise You. This doesn’t justify Samson’s anger, but it shows the glory and power of God to use all things to His purposes.
2. (4-5) Samson strikes out against the Philistines by burning their crops.
Then Samson went and caught three hundred foxes; and he took torches, turned the foxes tail to tail, and put a torch between each pair of tails. When he had set the torches on fire, he let the foxes go into the standing grain of the Philistines, and burned up both the shocks and the standing grain, as well as the vineyards and olive groves.
a. Samson went and caught three hundred foxes: Samson seemed to act like a juvenile delinquent. Yet God used it all for His purpose of fighting against the Philistines.
b. Put a torch between each pair of tails: Some object that Samson could not have captured 300 foxes. Yet the word translated foxes probably refers to a jackal, not a fox, and jackals are known to run in large packs, sometimes up to 200. Second, there is nothing that says Samson did this all by himself. Third, there is nothing that says he did it all in one day.
3. (6-7) The Philistines retaliate by killing Samson’s wife and family.
Then the Philistines said, “Who has done this?” And they answered, “Samson, the son-in-law of the Timnite, because he has taken his wife and given her to his companion.” So the Philistines came up and burned her and her father with fire. Samson said to them, “Since you would do a thing like this, I will surely take revenge on you, and after that I will cease.”
a. So the Philistines came up and burned her and her father with fire: God used all this to advance His plan for Israel and redemption. Yet because of Samson’s disobedience, it all happened at great personal cost to Samson. It is fair to suppose that if Samson were obedient, God would have furthered His plan in a way that blessed Samson.
b. I will surely take revenge on you, and after that I will cease: We have here the bitter story of retaliation – of trying to avenge wrongs done to us. Retaliation is a never-ending story, and one that never wins in the end. Those who trust in God must be able to say, “Retaliation belongs to God. I’ll let Him settle the score.”
i. Much of the war, disaster, deep-seated hatred, and pain in our world come from this instinct to retaliate. But Jesus told us to not retaliate an eye for an eye, but to take control of the situation by giving even more (Matthew 5:38-42). When we do this, we act like God, who did not retaliate against man for his sin and rebellion, but instead gave His only Son to die for man.
4. (8) Samson repays the Philistines for the murder of his wife.
So he attacked them hip and thigh with a great slaughter; then he went down and dwelt in the cleft of the rock of Etam.
a. He attacked them hip and thigh: This is an expression for a cruel, unsparing slaughter. Samson was a one-man army against the Philistines.
b. Dwelt in the cleft of the rock of Etam: Samson had no more family and could trust virtually no one. He lived like a fugitive, alone in a cave.
B. Samson slays one thousand Philistines.
1. (9-13) Judah surrenders Samson to the Philistines.
Now the Philistines went up, encamped in Judah, and deployed themselves against Lehi. And the men of Judah said, “Why have you come up against us?” So they answered, “We have come up to arrest Samson, to do to him as he has done to us.” Then three thousand men of Judah went down to the cleft of the rock of Etam, and said to Samson, “Do you not know that the Philistines rule over us? What is this you have done to us?” And he said to them, “As they did to me, so I have done to them.” But they said to him, “We have come down to arrest you, that we may deliver you into the hand of the Philistines.” Then Samson said to them, “Swear to me that you will not kill me yourselves.” So they spoke to him, saying, “No, but we will tie you securely and deliver you into their hand; but we will surely not kill you.” And they bound him with two new ropes and brought him up from the rock.
a. We have come up to arrest Samson, to do to him as he has done to us: The fact that soldiers from the tribe of Judah gave up Samson to the Philistines shows just how much they were under the oppression of the Philistines. They would rather please their oppressors than support their deliverer.
i. This is a strangely common phenomenon. Often, when someone stands up to evil, people are angrier at the one who stood up to the evil than they are angry at the evil itself.
b. Do you not know that the Philistines rule over us: Samson didn’t want to hear this or recognize it. As far as he was concerned, the Philistines should not rule over the people of God.
c. They bound him with two new ropes and brought him up from the rock: It seems that Samson submitted to this. Assuming this was true; it showed great faith on Samson’s part. He was willing to put himself in a difficult position and to trust God to take care of him.
2. (14-17) Samson uses the jawbone of a donkey to kill a thousand Philistines.
When he came to Lehi, the Philistines came shouting against him. Then the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him; and the ropes that were on his arms became like flax that is burned with fire, and his bonds broke loose from his hands. He found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, reached out his hand and took it, and killed a thousand men with it. Then Samson said:
“With the jawbone of a donkey,
Heaps upon heaps,
With the jawbone of a donkey
I have slain a thousand men!”
And so it was, when he had finished speaking, that he threw the jawbone from his hand, and called that place Ramath Lehi.
a. He found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, reached out his hand and took it, and killed a thousand men with it: Samson was unique among the judges because he was a “one-man army” against the Philistines. Other Judges of Israel led armies against their enemies, but Samson fought alone.
i. With this remarkable victory, “We are conscious of what he might have done had he been wholly yielded to that ‘Spirit of Jehovah’ who came mightily upon him, instead of being so largely governed by the fires of his own passion.” (Morgan)
b. With the jawbone of a donkey, heaps upon heaps: Samson’s bold declaration of victory has a poetic touch that is difficult to render in translation. One effort goes like this: “With the jawbone of an ass I have piled them in a mass!”
c. And called that place Ramath Lehi: This name essentially means “Jawbone Hill.” It was an obviously appropriate name for this place of Samson’s great victory.
i. One preacher came up with a five-point sermon on the jawbone of an ass, likening it to the weapon of the gospel:
· It was a novel weapon.
· It was a most convenient weapon.
· It was a simple weapon.
· It was a ridiculous weapon.
· It was a successful weapon.
3. (18-20) God provides for Samson miraculously.
Then he became very thirsty; so he cried out to the LORD and said, “You have given this great deliverance by the hand of Your servant; and now shall I die of thirst and fall into the hand of the uncircumcised?” So God split the hollow place that is in Lehi, and water came out, and he drank; and his spirit returned, and he revived. Therefore he called its name En Hakkore, which is in Lehi to this day. And he judged Israel twenty years in the days of the Philistines.
a. Then he became very thirsty: Samson needed this thirst to remind himself of his own weakness and need right after such a great victory. After a great victory we need to remember our mortality.
i. “It is very usual for God’s people, when they have had some great deliverance, to have some little trouble that is too much for them. Samson slays a thousand Philistines, and piles them up in heaps, and then he must needs die for want of a little water!” (Spurgeon)
ii. Matthew Poole comments on Samson’s great thirst: it was “partly sent by God, that by the experience of his own impotency he might be forced to ascribe the victory to God only, and not to himself.”
b. God split the hollow place that is in Lehi, and water came out, and he drank; and his spirit returned, and he revived: This is an example of the principle that God’s work, done God’s way, will always be provided for by God. Here the LORD showed His faithfulness to Samson by supplying the needs of His servant.
i. In his sermon The Fainting Hero, Charles Spurgeon pointed out that the believer can look at heaps upon heaps of defeated enemies: Heaps of your sins, heaps of your doubts and fears, heaps of our temptations, heaps of many of your sorrows. Yet, despite all these victories, fresh challenges will come, even as a deadly thirst and fatigue overcame Samson. Through this all, Samson could count on the fact that the past victory was a promise of future deliverance.
ii. “With that simple minded faith which was so characteristic of Samson, who was nothing but a big child, he turned his eye to his heavenly Father, and cried, ‘O Jehovah, thou hast given me this great deliverance, and now shall I die for thirst? After all that thou hast done for me, shall the uncircumcised rejoice over me because I die for want of a drink of water?’ Such confidence had he, that God would interpose on his behalf.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “Be of good courage, fainting warrior! The God who made thee, and has used thee, knows thy frame, and what thou needest before thou askest.” (Meyer)
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