Samson and the Retaliation Against the Philistines – Judges 15
In my study of Judges, I have come to the unusual, but extraordinary life of Samson.
First, he had a special calling. He was born to a barren mother, and was told to be a Nazarite before his birth.
Second, he had a spectacular mission. He was stirred to action by the Holy Spirit against the Philistines and empowered with superhuman strength.
Third, he had a separated life. His special calling led him to take on a separated life from specific defilement. He was meant to demonstrate the separation Israel was to have from the Philistines.
Yet, in spite of such an unique work of God in Samson’s life, he was a morally flawed man. We see him as a compromiser, as one pursuing a marriage to a woman who was from the very enemies God had raised him up to conquer. It is as if Samson forgot who he was, why he was born, and it appears that if God had not “rushed” upon him to drive him to action against the Philistines, he would never have done what God wanted him to do.
But God wants His people separate; a holy people set aside to Himself. In spite of his flaws, God uses Samson as the disturber of the peace between Israel and their Philistine overlords.
Initially, Samson had seen a Philistine girl (Judges 14), and acting upon his lust, wanted her as a wife. His parents, alarmed by the request, give into his demands anyways and arrange the marriage. During the wedding feast, Samson states a riddle to the men appointed to watch him. The riddle was based upon his killing of a lion with his bare hands and bees making a hive in the carcass. The loser had to pay with 30 garments.
Only he alone knew about this lion bee hive, so before the allotted time expired, the Philistines force the girl to find out the answer and cheat Samson. Enraged by the deception, the Spirit of the LORD comes upon him and he kills 30 Philistine men in Ashkelon in order to hold up his side of the gamble by paying the wedding guests 30 garments of clothing.
Those events are merely the precursor to the next level of events which escalate Israel’s situation with the Philistines to an all out war.
Samson and his father-in-law (15:1-8). Chapter 15 opens with the words, After a while. We are not sure how much time elapsed. We know it was the wheat harvest, so these events could have started in late May, early summer.
Samson takes a young goat and goes to claim his bride. She, however, has been given to another man. Her father offers her younger sister, but Samson is not satisfied. He vows to do the Philistines harm for this outrage of injustice. The idea of harm is meant to cause strife. Similar to how God sent an ill spirit between Abimelech and men of Shechem so that the men dealt treacherously with Abimelech. Samson begins to rupture the comfortable peace between Israel and the Philistines.
Samson seeks revenge. He captures 300 foxes, or possibly jackals (not an easy feat), ties them together and ties a torch between them. He then sets them loose in the grain fields of the Philistines burning their crops. That would obviously be a serious situation for the Philistines, because they would have no food. Samson was striking against their economy, livelihood, and their fertility gods.
The Philistines knew immediately that Samson was the culprit. The even knew why: because his father-in-law gave away his wife to another man. They in turn kill the man, his family, and burn his house down with fire. Samson avenges their murder by attacking the men who killed them, smiting them hip and thigh with a great slaughter (15:8). He then leaves and dwells in the caves of Etam.
Samson and Judah (15:9-17). While he is hiding in the caves, the Philistines go to elders of Judah and threaten war. They force the men of Judah to arrest Samson and then hand him over to them.
Gathering their army, the men of Judah go down to where Samson was hiding and call him out. He is causing problems with the Philistines, they insist, and they were there to seize him and hand him over. Samson allows himself to be taken and bound with new rope. As soon as the Philistines see him come out bound, they run down to attack him. At that moment, the Spirit of the LORD came upon Samson, the ropes were burned off of him, and Samson takes a fresh jawbone of a donkey and slays 1,000 men with it.
His slaughter of them was so spectacular that Samson renames the place where the battle took place, Ramath Lehi, which can mean, Jawbone Hill.
The reader will note a couple of important truths.
First, Samson does not initiate the move against the Philistines in order to deliver Israel. His actions were purely personal vendettas against those who hurt him.
Secondly, seeing his own actions and renaming the two spots, where he defeated the Philistines with a jawbone and where he called for water and God miraculously supplied it, it is clear he has his own interests in mind.
But all of those events is for an occasion against the Philistines. God will have His people separate and He raises up a severely flawed man to accomplish the freedom of Israel.