Judges 15- Samson’s Fiery Vengeance

Samson Slays a Thousand Men with the Jawbone of a Donkey (c. 1896–1902) by James Tissot

Judges 15

After a while, at the time of the wheat harvest, Samson went to visit his wife, bringing along a kid. He said, “I want to go into my wife’s room.” But her father would not allow him to go in. 2 Her father said, “I was sure that you had rejected her; so I gave her to your companion. Is not her younger sister prettier than she? Why not take her instead?” 3 Samson said to them, “This time, when I do mischief to the Philistines, I will be without blame.” 4 So Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took some torches; and he turned the foxes tail to tail, and put a torch between each pair of tails. 5 When he had set fire to the torches, he let the foxes go into the standing grain of the Philistines, and burned up the shocks and the standing grain, as well as the vineyards and olive groves. 6 Then the Philistines asked, “Who has done this?” And they said, “Samson, the son-in-law of the Timnite, because he has taken Samson’s wife and given her to his companion.” So the Philistines came up, and burned her and her father. 7 Samson said to them, “If this is what you do, I swear I will not stop until I have taken revenge on you.” 8 He struck them down hip and thigh with great slaughter; and he went down and stayed in the cleft of the rock of Etam.

9 Then the Philistines came up and encamped in Judah, and made a raid on Lehi. 10 The men of Judah said, “Why have you come up against us?” They said, “We have come up to bind Samson, to do to him as he did to us.” 11 Then three thousand men of Judah went down to the cleft of the rock of Etam, and they said to Samson, “Do you not know that the Philistines are rulers over us? What then have you done to us?” He replied, “As they did to me, so I have done to them.” 12 They said to him, “We have come down to bind you, so that we may give you into the hands of the Philistines.” Samson answered them, “Swear to me that you yourselves will not attack me.” 13 They said to him, “No, we will only bind you and give you into their hands; we will not kill you.” So they bound him with two new ropes, and brought him up from the rock.

14 When he came to Lehi, the Philistines came shouting to meet him; and the spirit of the LORD rushed on him, and the ropes that were on his arms became like flax that has caught fire, and his bonds melted off his hands. 15 Then he found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, reached down and took it, and with it he killed a thousand men. 16 And Samson said,

“With the jawbone of a donkey, heaps upon heaps, with the jawbone of a donkey I have slain a thousand men.”

17 When he had finished speaking, he threw away the jawbone; and that place was called Ramath-lehi.

18 By then he was very thirsty, and he called on the LORD, saying, “You have granted this great victory by the hand of your servant. Am I now to die of thirst, and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?” 19 So God split open the hollow place that is at Lehi, and water came from it. When he drank, his spirit returned, and he revived. Therefore it was named En-hakkore, which is at Lehi to this day. 20 And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years.

The Philistine woman, who Samson initially desired for his wife and then discarded in his hot anger after the answer to his riddle is revealed, is once again brought into the narrative by Samson’s belated return. This woman apparently had little choice in being selected by Samson bride: she weeps through the seven days of the banquet, she attempts to save herself and her family from having their house burned down around them because of her ‘husband’s’[1] impossible riddle, and finally, abandoned by the murderous Samson, she is given to the ‘chief companion’[2] of her ‘husband’ at the wedding. Deuteronomy 24: 1-4 makes it very easy for a man to ‘put aside’ a wife but impossible to later remarry that spouse after she has remarried another, yet Samson continues to be ruled by his desires in the moment and demands access to his ‘wife’s’ room. The woman’s father intercedes and attempts to protect his daughter, even offering Samson access to the younger daughter instead to make peace. Samson views this latest ‘offense’ as justification for his violent response towards not only this family but the Philistines in the region.

Samson’s birth indicated that he was to be someone special and yet his actions in the previous chapter have repeatedly shattered the expectations of one set aside as a Nazirite. Samson also throughout the narrative demonstrates a mastery over creation and specifically animals. Previously Samson has mastered the lion in the vineyard and now he is able to round up three hundred foxes to use in his decimation of the agricultural production of the Philistines.[3] There is a sense that Samson the warrior is also an ““Adam gone wrong,” whose mastery of the animals is violent and exploitative rather than responsible, and in the service of war rather than peace.” (Webb, 2012, p. 377)

Samson’s mischief with the foxes consumes the agricultural production of the area. The narrative indicates that Samson burns up the grain, vineyards, and olive trees of the Philistines, and presumably this is the produce of Timnah (with the assumption that most of the citizens of Timnah are Philistine). It is possible that the text wants us to understand that these animals cause wider damage to the Philistine agricultural harvest than in the immediate area, or that only the Philistines in Timnah are impacted by these fire bearing foxes (similar to the differentiation between Egyptian and Israelite homes in the signs and wonders in Egypt). Regardless the text wants us to understand that the fire impacts the already harvested crops, those still in the field, and the vines and trees which produce annually. Samson’s fiery revenge provokes a fiery response towards his ‘wife’ and her family. The very fate she had attempted to avoid around Samson’s riddle (14:15) now falls upon her and her family as they are burned in their home. Yet, for Samson this becomes one more reason to revenge himself on the Philistines and ‘struck them down hip and thigh.’ This expression only occurs here and may be a wrestling idiom. Contextually it indicates to Samson’s revenge upon those in the region by violence before his flight to the cave in the rock at Etam.

The Philistines attempts to ‘bind’ Samson will be thematic throughout the remainder of his narrative. The narrative continues with the Philistines encamping against Judah. Judah was successful against the Canaanites early in the book of Judges, but now they have accommodated themselves to Philistine rule. To avoid conflict with the Philistines they send three thousand men[4] in order to bind Samson and hand him over to the Philistines. Samson views his actions as justified but agrees to being bound by the men of Judah so long as they do not attack him. Samson’s attach of the Philistines parallels the elements of his encounter with the lion:

14: 5-6                                                                  15: 4-19

A lion comes “roaring” to meet him                         The Philistines come “shouting” to meet him

The Spirit of the LORD rushes upon him.                The Spirit of the LORD rushes upon him.

He “tears” the lion in two                                             He “strikes down” the Philistines. (Webb, 2012, p. 385)

The Spirit of the LORD rushing upon Samson melts the bonds and weakens the new ropes. Samson grabs a ‘fresh jawbone’ of a donkey which again violates the intention for a Nazirite not to touch a corpse.[5] This gruesome weapon in the hands of the violent Samson brings an end to the shouting of the Philistines. The death of a thousand men, heaps upon heaps in Samson’s song, is a massive defeat for the militaristic Philistines. Samson is another Shamgar, only he kills a greater number with an inferior weapon. The book of Judges views Samson’s violent conquest as evidence of God’s divine appointment of Samson as the Judge to begin their deliverance from the Philistines. Yet even Samson can exhaust his strength.

With his enemy vanquished and lying around him in heaps, Samson now feels threatened by dehydration. Samson appeals to God for the first time asking for water. Previously the Spirit of the LORD has rushed upon Samson, but there has not been any acknowledgement of this by Samson. Finally, Samson can give God credit for his victory and appeal to God in his need. God provides water from the rock for Samson like he earlier did for the people of the Exodus (Exodus 17: 1-7). God preserves this strange judge, just as God has preserved Israel and provided for them. This strange and violent individual is a means by which God provides some relief to the Israelites for twenty years of their life under the Philistines.

[1] Samson understands himself as her husband, but he has clearly abandoned that role in his anger.

[2] Even though most English translations render this ‘best man’ which captures the idea we don’t have any indication that the roles are similar. The companion in this context may not have been close with Samson prior to the feast and was likely another Philistine in the region and perhaps family to the bride.

[3] Or jackals. The word su’alim can be rendered either way (Webb, 2012, p. 377)

[4] See the note on large numbers in the book of Judges in chapter one.

[5] The indication that the jawbone is fresh, instead of dried, indicates that it is both less fragile but also may have had at least the partial remains of the animal still on in.

2 thoughts on “Judges 15- Samson’s Fiery Vengeance

  1. Pingback: Judges 16 Samson, Delilah and a Crashing End | Sign of the Rose

  2. Pingback: Judges 19 The Levite, the Concubine, and the Violence of Gibeah | Sign of the Rose

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