SynopsisThe NIV title for this passage is “Samson’s Vengeance on the Philistines,” but I don’t know if this really falls in the “vengeance” category. On the other hand, the people who put together the NIV probably know better than me…
In this passage, Samson decides to go back and visit his wife. You may recall that she was given to someone else, in the last passage, but apparently nobody bothered to tell Samson this. He tries to go up to her room, but her father won’t let him. He tells Samson that he was so sure that Samson hated her that she was given to someone else. Then her father suggests that Samson take his wife’s sister, instead. (In verse 2 the father tries to entice Samson with the younger sister’s looks—“Isn’t her younger sister more attractive?”—but I wonder if he was just trying to placate Samson, because he’s afraid that Samson will do something crazy. After all, last time he encountered the Philistines, he killed thirty of them just to get their clothes.)
But Samson doesn’t want the younger sister. He’s angry that he can’t get the woman that he married. And the result?
Samson said to them, “This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines; I will really harm them.” (verse 3)
His solution is one of the most bizarre acts of revenge I’ve ever heard of. It seems more like a prank than revenge. He gets three hundred foxes, ties them together by the tail, and puts torches into the tails. He then lights the torches, and sets the foxes loose in the Philistine’s fields, burning up their grain, their olive groves, and their vineyards. Frankly, I’m amazed that someone would go to this much trouble! It almost seems that it would have been easier to simply torch the fields yourself, rather than messing around with three hundred foxes, and trying to tie all of their tails together.
In any event, once he’s done it, the Philistines start asking around, to see who it was who torched their fields, and find out that it was Samson, because his wife was given to someone else. So the Philistines burn Samson’s wife and her father to death. Which, in turn, gives Samson even more reason to take revenge, so he slaughters many of the Philistines, before going back to Israel, to hide in a cave.
So the Philistines follow him into Judah, although they don’t know exactly where he is. The Israelites ask the Philistines why they’ve come, and the Philistines respond that they’ve come for Samson. The Israelites aren’t about to mess around with the Philistines; three thousand of them go to get Samson, to hand him over. They scold Samson for all that he has done to the Philistines—who are, after all, ruling Israel right now—and tell him that they’re handing him over. He makes the Israelites promise not to kill him, just to hand him over, and they agree. They bind him up with ropes, and bring him to the Philistines.
As Samson approaches the Philistines, they begin to advance on him, but once again the Spirit of the LORD comes on Samson, and the ropes that had been on him become “like charred flax” (verse 14), and fall off of him. He then picks up a donkey’s jawbone, and uses it to strike down a thousand Philistines. (In honour of this event, the place where he did this is named Ramath Lehi, which means “jawbone hill.”)
After killing his thousand Philistines, Samson becomes very thirsty, and cries out to the LORD, “You have given your servant this great victory. Must I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?” (verse 18). So God causes a spring to form, and Samson drinks from it, renewing his strength. (The spring is named En Hakkore, which means “caller’s spring.”)
We are told, at the end of the passage, that Samson leads Israel for twenty years, “in the days of the Philistines” (verse 20); I’m not sure if that means that this twenty years only covers the time when the Philistines were over Israel.
ThoughtsIf I may state the obvious, Samson is a pretty violent man, whose reactions always seem more extreme than the situation warrants. In fact, Samson is a good example of the fact that the Holy Spirit works differently in the Old Testament than He does after Jesus’ resurrection. Although the “Spirit of the LORD” is coming on Samson in this passage, and giving him strength, one thing he is not exhibiting is self control!
I wonder how Samson felt about the fact that his fox prank got his wife burned to death? We aren’t told anything in the text about his feelings on the subject; he definitely felt it warranted revenge, but he felt that pretty much anything the Philistines did warranted revenge. I wonder if he really cared about her, or if she was just a symbol? Or did he just consider her to be his property, and although he didn’t care about the property, it was still his, and he wanted it?
Although God chose Samson to be His tool to be used against the Philistines, I think it’s pretty clear that we aren’t to emulate Samson’s behaviour. Samson is often held up as an example of the fact that God uses sinful people to do His work. Personally, I could also be held up as such an example; He uses me to do His work, even though I’m sinful, and even though my sin often prevents me from doing His work as I should. But He still chooses to use me, instead of doing it Himself.
I’m also struck by Samson’s demanding water from God, after striking down the Philistines. This is a man who wants every desire to be immediately gratified, even to the point that he’s willing to start barking orders at the LORD. Luckily for Samson. the LORD is patient, and doesn’t destroy him for his insolence. And luckily for us, He is still patient, and doesn’t destroy us either; I think we’re probably all guilty of feeling that the LORD hasn’t done right by us, from time to time, even if it’s not as brazen as Samson’s reaction.