Some time has passed since we last read about Samson. Last we heard about him, he had killed thirty Philistines to fulfill a bet. He had walked out on his wife because he had lost a riddle game, and returned home to his mother and father. Now we find him in 15:1 deciding to go visit the woman who he still thought was his wife, taking a young goat to her as a gift (a young goat back then would be equivalent to dinner in a really classy restaurant). Here is the rub: the last verse of chapter 14 told us that his wife was taken away and given to his best man. Samson must not have known about that. He did not figure that his behavior in chapter 14 might put his relationship with his former wife in jeopardy. There is trouble ahead.
Once he arrived at her house, he was surprised to find that her father would not allow him to enter. The father’s defense was that he had thought that Samson hated her for what she had done and that when Samson had left in chapter 14, he had not planned on coming back. The father thought the wedding was officially over. To make Samson happy, the father offered his younger daughter to him instead. The same thing happened when Laban gave Jacob Leah rather than Rachel, when Lot offered his two daughters to the mob in Sodom to protect his guests, and later with some other people in the book of Judges. This is not good parenting; it is Philistine behavior. The father acted as if Samson was only using his eyes to make a decision. Unfortunately, he was right.
In verse 3, Samson’s responded, “This time I shall be innocent in regard to the Philistines, when I do them harm.” In other words, “This time, I really have a reason to kill these people.” Remember, Samson already had good reason to destroy the Philistines — God had called him to do it! Samson’s motivation was vengeance for not getting what his eyes wanted. Once more, Samson ended up doing the right thing for the wrong reason.
In response, Samson caught three hundred foxes — or, more likely, jackals. The same Hebrew word can be used for either animal, and jackals naturally go in packs, while foxes are solitary, so catching a large number of jackals is more likely. Samson tied them together by their tails in groups of two, with a lit torch tied to each pair, and burned the crops of the Philistines. In other words, Samson raised an army of three hundred soldiers with torches, a lot like someone else we know. He then set his army loose into the Philistines ready-to-harvest wheat fields.
Why did Samson do this? Who knows? He was Samson. He did bizarre things all through his life. Many theologians through the centuries have tried to read interesting allegorical meanings into this act, but the text does not give us any cue or clue. It may be best to just accept this as a bizarre act by Samson. Actually, it was pretty strategic. Verse 1 informed us that this took place at the time of the wheat harvest, the peak of agricultural activity.
What is missing from this story, however, is the LORD. There is no reference to the Spirit of the LORD, no reference to God whatsoever. Samson is still accomplishing God’s purposes, but the focus is all on Samson. When, in verse 6, the Philistines ask, “Who did this?” the answer they receive is “Samson,” not the LORD. The Philistines responded by burning his wife-that-was-not-a-wife and her father alive. Their motivation was “Samson burned our crops, so we will burn you, since we do not want to mess with Samson.” This shows us a little bit about the impact our sins can have on other people. Sin does not just affect you. It affects people around you, too. Other people (like Samson’s wife and father-in-law) can end up getting hurt.
In verses 7–8, Samson swore vengeance. Samson and the Philistines were worse than five-year-olds on a playground (“you hit me, now I’m going to get you!”). This became a cycle of increasing violence. Samson promised them that after he got vengeance, he would quit. Yet, he does not quit. In each cycle, Samson responded with even more violence than before. What was Samson’s motive in all of this? He wanted revenge because they had burned his wife. It did not matter that the Philistines were oppressing the Israelites. But when the Philistines hurt other Philistines, Samson got up in arms. Verse 9 further points out the uselessness of Samson’s act. Nobody benefited from Samson’s revenge. In fact, it caused the Philistines to attack Judah, raiding Lehi to look for Samson.
We would hope that Samson would rally the troops and take on the invading Philistines. Perhaps now the Spirit of the LORD would come upon Samson and Israel and there would be a marvelous victory leading to the ultimate deliverance and unity of the Israelites. The men of Judah, however, were not interested in a unified Israel. Instead of turning to the LORD, they went to the Philistines, asking why they were being attacked. When they found out that the Philistines were looking for Samson, they offered to help in his capture. The Israelites were ready to hand their deliverer over to their oppressor, working hand in hand with the Philistines — the very people God had told them to destroy.
In verse 11, three thousand men of Judah came down to talk to Samson. They told him, “We thought you knew that the Philistines are our leaders!” How far they had fallen since chapter 1! In chapter 1, Judah had led the people and possessed the land, according God’s instructions. At the end of chapter 1, the tribe of Dan was in the worst state. Now here, Samson, a Danite, was the leader. Now, the original rot of Dan had spread to all of Israel, even Judah. They did not even want deliverance; they were reconciled with being ruled by the pagans. How depressing.
It would have been wonderful if Samson, in reply, had given a tremendous, inspiring speech like Henry V; a “win one for the Gipper” speech that would turn Israel around, and lead them on to a glorious victory. Rather, Samson tries to defend himself, saying “They hit me first!” He agreed to go with the men of Judah to the Philistines if they swore not to attack him themselves. So the men of Judah took Samson bound to Lehi to deliver him into the hands of the Philistines.
As they approached Lehi, the Philistines came out shouting to meet them, celebrating the capture of Samson. The Spirit of the LORD rushed upon Samson, just as it did when he met the lion. He easily snapped his ropes, grabbed a fresh jawbone of a donkey, and killed a thousand men in a massive show of strength, using the jawbone as his only weapon. The Bible goes out of its way to mention that it was a fresh jawbone Samson used. This is not given to us for us to admire Samson’s strength and ingenuity, but to let us know Samson had again, broken his Nazirite vow by touching dead carcasses.
In verse 16, Samson sang a nice little song to celebrate his victory. You may recall that Deborah also sang a song of victory in Judges 5. Deborah’s song, however, is much different from that of Samson. Deborah’s song praised God for His help. Samson’s song was praise for himself and for his human efforts. Samson did not seem aware of the work of the Holy Spirit. He just took for granted that God would give him strength in his endeavors.
Killing a thousand Philistines with one’s bare hands can apparently make one thirsty, and Samson became very thirsty. For the first time in the story of Samson, he cried out to the LORD for deliverance from the thirst. His prayer runs along the lines of “Hey God, I did you a favor, and I want a favor done back!” He ended his prayer by saying he did not want to fall into the hands of the uncircumcised. How ridiculous! He had been in their hands for his whole life, spending time with them, even marrying them. He thought he could use the LORD when it was convenient, and that he could ignore Him the rest of the time. Samson treated God just as he treated his wife at the beginning of this chapter, when he thought he could live at home and only go to her when he wanted something from her. We are often the same way; we only cry out in prayer when we are sick, or someone is in the hospital, or when we are in a fix. But when things are going fine, we take God for granted. In verse 16, Samson was singing his own praises, “I did it, I did it!” But now that he needs something, he says “I am your servant; you did it; now give me water.” When life was good, Samson was saying, “See what a wonderful thing I have done with my life!” but when times were bad, “God, why did you let this happen? It’s all Your fault!”
Samson’s prayer was orthodox; everything he said was wonderful. In different circumstances, this would be a perfect thing to say. But in the light of Samson’s character and what had just happened, we really cannot believe that Samson meant what he said. This is not the evidence of a changed heart, just a greedy heart. So often our prayers, too, sound pious, but are really driven by selfishness and a desire to sound good. We only come to God when we need something. Our prayers sound orthodox and good, we would get an “A” in prayer class, but it does not ring true. We pray our beautiful prayers, but our hearts are somewhere else. We have secret agendas in our prayers; we want God to be our servant, not the other way around.
How did God respond to Samson’s prayer? He could have said, “Samson, you love the Philistines so much — go ask them for water!” That is what He said to Israel through the prophet in Judges 6. Instead, God gave Samson water, answering Samson’s prayer. God responded in grace to Samson’s selfish prayer.
The passage ends, “and Samson judged Israel for 20 years.” Israel truly got the judge they deserved. God turned them over to their fate (as in Romans 1). The Israelites got a judge who was just like them. Samson, just like Israel, was under the control of the Philistines, unwilling to cry out to the LORD. He was happy in his bondage to the Philistines, as was Israel. He took action only when it was personal. He served the Kingdom only when it served him. We do the same thing, too. Israel and Samson, her judge, were defunct. What they need, and what we need, is a new Israel and a new Judge. We can find both in Christ.
Christ is so different from Samson. When the Spirit indwells Samson, people end up dead. Christ, empowered by the Spirit, brings life. He brings real and true deliverance to His people in a way that Samson never could. No one is ever saved by a Samson. Samson hid in the rocks in the midst of Judah’s troubles. Jesus came down to earth in the midst of our sins. Samson was all about himself; Jesus completely gave Himself to redeem His people. Christ does not serve Himself, but willingly offered Himself for you and me. There are ironic parallels between the stories of Samson and Christ. Samson was bound by his own people and handed over to those who hated him. So was Jesus. Samson beat his captors up. Christ went all the way to the point of death so that He can take those enemies and make them His friends, redeeming them as His people.
Christ is the opposite of Samson. What difference does that make? It makes all the difference. Samson judged for twenty years, and nothing happened. Christ is our Judge. He intercedes for us for all eternity at the right hand of God. Judah had no desire to be saved. Neither do we. We are completely happy in our sins. This shows God’s drastic love for us — He did not wait for us to cry out to Him first. It was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us. God was determined to save us. This is wonderful good news to us because we are so much like Samson. When life is going well, we forget God. When we are in need, we suddenly get religious and remember the proper jargon. But God saved us anyway. God delivered people who did not want to be delivered. And now God empowers us to trust in Him, to look to Him, to bear fruit for Him, to engage in spiritual warfare by bringing the gospel to the Philistines and Judeans (who are happily in bondage to their sins) around us. The God who saved people like us will also save people like them.
Lesson 15: Points to Ponder
- How do the threats of the Philistines to Samson’s “wife” and her subsequent death at their hands show Satan to be a hard taskmaster?
- Show other places in Scripture where God used sinful actions to accomplish His purposes. Have you ever found God doing this in your life?
- How are we guilty of doing the right things with wrong motives?
- How was the spiritual condition of Judah similar to that of Samson? How are we often guilty of accommodating the enemies of God in the church? In our own lives?
- Give examples of selfishness in prayer. What does Jesus say about such prayers in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:5-7)?
- What is the sad result of taking God for granted when times are good but calling on Him when things are not good?
- In what ways have we become satisfied in our bondage? How has God delivered you from this bondage?