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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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JUDGES 15

SAMSON'S VENGEANCE AGAINST THE PHILISTINES;

HIS VAIN ATTEMPT TO CONTINUE HIS MARRIAGE

{"But it came to pass after awhile, in the time of wheat harvest, that Samson visited his wife with a kid; and he said, I will go in to my wife, into the chamber. But her father would not suffer him to go in. And her father said, I verily thought that thou hadst utterly hated her; therefore I gave her to thy companion: is not her younger sister fairer than she? take her, I pray thee, instead of her. And Samson said unto them, This time shall I be blameless in regard of the Philistines, when I do them mischief."}

The family into which Samson had married had suffered a shocking disgrace in the eyes of their whole city when Samson had rushed away without consummating the marriage, and since some time had evidently elapsed without Samson's making any appearance in his wife's home, one can readily understand the father-in-law's behavior in giving Samson's wife to the person we might call his "best man." The situation, however, could not have justified such an action.

{"In the time of the wheat harvest"} (Judges 15:1). This indicates a different season of the year from that when the wedding had occurred.

{"Samson visited his wife with a kid"} (Judges 15:1). This is an indication of the kind of marriage that was contracted. It was like that of Gideon and his concubine, in which the wife continued to live in her father's house, with the husband paying occasional visits. Myers tells us that the technical name of such a marriage was "a sadiga marriage."F1

The gift of a little goat for his wife seems also to have been the customary price of conjugal visits, that being exactly the price that Judah agreed to pay Tamar for his "going in unto her," not knowing that she was his daughter-in-law (Genesis 38:17). It seems never to have occurred to Samson that he was a bit late with this attempt to consummate his marriage.

Of course, Samson's father-in-law would not allow Samson to see his new wife and explained what had happened.

{"Her younger sister is fairer than she ... take her, I pray thee, instead of her"} (Judges 15:2). Samson's father-in-law learned, as had Samson's parents, that "nobody, but nobody, would be allowed to help Samson get a wife"!

{"I shall be blameless, when I do them mischief"} (Judges 15:3). This was Samson's blunt rejection of the offer of her younger sister, and it was also the statement of his intention to take vengeance on all the Philistines. Neither Samson nor the Philistines knew anything about a "Golden Rule." The father-in-law had indeed avoided what he considered a disgrace to his family, but he had failed to take into account the kind of man Samson was. He had a just cause for revenge, and he would certainly take advantage of it. The father-in-law's offer of the younger sister was an admission of the injustice done to Samson.

Barnes explained the new situation here, as follows:

"When the Philistines, earlier, had injured Samson (in the matter of the riddle), he was in covenant with the Timnathites through his marriage and the laws of hospitality, for which reason he went down to Ashkelon to take his revenge (Judges 14:19), but now that the Philistines themselves had broken this bond, he was free to take his revenge on the spot."F2

SAMSON'S REVENGE

{"And Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took firebrands, and turned tail to tail, and put a firebrand in the midst between every two tails. And when he had set the brands on fire, he let them go into the standing grain of the Philistines, and burnt up both the shocks and the standing grain, and also the olive yards. Then the Philistines said, Who hath done this? And they said, Samson the son-in-law of the Timnite, because he hath taken his wife and given her to his companion. And the Philistines came up, and burnt her and her father with fire. And Samson said unto them, If ye do after this manner, surely I will be avenged of you, and after that I will cease. And he smote them hip and thigh with a great slaughter: and he went down and dwelt in the cleft of the rock of Elam."}

Hervey tells us that, "Many cavils have been directed against thee truth of this paragraph, but without the slightest reason."F3

"The wheat-fields of that section of Palestine extended continuously for thirty miles,"F4 and the fire that ensued was similar to those devastating fires seen occasionally in California, where hundreds of homes and everything else are destroyed. How silly is the critical complaint that the green olive trees would not burn!

Another cavil regards the "foxes." Of course, foxes do not run in packs, so Samson could NOT have allegedly caught as many as three hundred of them! To begin with, Keil explained that, "The Hebrew word here is [~shu`alim], which means `jackals,' an animal that resembles foxes and is classed among the foxes even by Arabs of the present day."F5 "In the Egyptian dialect, the classical name of the fox is given exclusively as jackal."F6 Whichever animal it was, a man like Samson would have caught three hundred of them, exactly as the text says. Besides that, Samson could easily have employed willing fellow-Israelites to help him with the whole project.

{"The Philistines ... burnt her and her father with fire"} (Judges 15:6). The tragic fate which Samson's wife had sought to avoid by her base treachery against her husband came upon her anyway, reminding us of a similar thing in the N.T. The chief priests of Israel said of Christ, "If we let him alone, all men will believe on him; and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation" (John 11:48), whereupon Caiaphas said, (and I paraphrase his words), "You idiots, don't you know what to do? We shall kill him, for it is better for one man to die than for the nation to perish." Of course, it was that very deed that resulted in the wicked priests' loss of their place, and the Romans took away their nation also!

It is not exactly clear what the purpose of the Philistines was in burning Samson's wife and her family with fire. To us, it seems quite unlikely that they were taking Samson's part and executing a penalty provoked by their treatment of Samson. It seems rather, that they simply BLAMED the Timnathite family for being the original cause of the firing of the grain fields, and treated them accordingly. In any case, Samson did not appreciate what they did, and proceeded to slaughter a great number of them. His immediate retirement to the cleft in the rock of Elam indicates that he probably thought the incident was concluded. He had promised "to cease" when his revenge was complete.

However, feuds never "cease" when one side has completed its revenge. They go on and on, as the sequel indicates.

{"If ye do after this manner, I will be avenged ... then I will cease"} (Judges 15:7). See the comment in the paragraph above.

{"He smote them hip and thigh"} (Judges 15:8). "This is a proverbial expression for a cruel, unsparing slaughter."F7

{"And he dwelt in the cleft of the rock of Elam"} (Judges 15:8). "This was probably located near the town of Elam in Judah, about two miles southwest of Bethlehem."F8 The reference seems to be to a cave. Moore stated that, "The rock of Elam is an almost vertical cliff, with a large cave, very difficult, and even dangerous, of access."F9 No doubt Samson thought that he had concluded the feud in such a location. The threat of war changed the situation.

THE PHILISTINES THREATEN JUDAH

{"Then the Philistines went up and encamped in Judah, and spread themselves in Lehi. And the men of Judah said, Why have ye come up against us? And they said, To bind Samson are we come up, to do to him as he hath done to us. Then three thousand men of Judah went down to the cleft of the rock of Elam, and said to Samson, Knowest thou not that the Philistines are rulers over us? what then is this that thou hast done unto us? And he said unto them, As they did unto me, so have I done unto them. And they said unto him, We are come down to bind thee, that we may deliver thee into the hand of the Philistines. And Samson said unto them, Swear unto me, that ye will not fall upon me yourselves. And they spake unto him, saying, "No; but we will bind thee fast, and deliver thee into their hand: but surely we will not kill thee. And they bound him with two new ropes, and brought him up from the rock."}

{"The Philistines came up ... spread themselves in Lehi"} (Judges 15:9). "The word Lehi is used here proleptically, as also in Judg. 15:14."F10 This is true because the word means "Jawbone,"F11 and that name was not given until the events reported later in this chapter.

{"We have come up to bind Samson"} (Judges 15:10). That the Philistine sent a thousand men on this mission is an indication of their fear of Samson and their determination to take him. They were willing to declare war on Judah if Judah insisted on protecting Samson.

{"Do you not know that the Philistines are rulers over us?"} (Judges 15:11). This was an exaggeration on the part of the men of Judah. "The Philistines never ruled over all Judah, but they held an iron monopoly and were a real threat to that part of Judah which lay in the Shephelah (the lowlands west from Jerusalem)."F12

One finds that it is very difficult NOT to be disgusted with the conduct of the Judahites in this situation. They were perfectly willing to betray a brother into the hands of the enemy, instead of rallying to his defense. Nevertheless, there was a magnanimous streak in Samson, because he consented to be bound at the request of his brethren, first making them swear that THEY THEMSELVES would not slay him.

SAMSON KILLS A THOUSAND MEN WITH THE JAWBONE OF AN ASS

Everything went according to plan -- up to a point. The delighted Philistines (a thousand of them) confronted the three thousand men of Judah who were in the process of turning Samson over to his shouting enemies. He had been securely bound (they thought) with two new ropes, but an almost incredible thing happened!

{"When he came unto Lehi, the Philistines shouted as they met him: and the Spirit of Jehovah came mightily upon him, and the ropes that were upon his arms became as flax that is burnt with fire, and his bands dropped from off his hands. And he found the fresh jawbone of an ass, and put forth his hand, and took it, and smote a thousand men therewith. And Samson said:

`With the jawbone of an ass, heaps upon heaps,

`With the jawbone of an ass have I smitten a thousand men.'

"And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking; that he cast away the jawbone out of his hand, and that place was called Ramath-lehi. And he was sore athirst, and called on Jehovah, and said, Thou has given this great deliverance by the hand of thy servant; and now shall I die for thirst, and fall into the hand of the uncircumcised. But God clave the hollow place that is in Lehi, and there came water thereout; and when he had drunk; his spirit came again, and he revived: wherefore the name thereof was called Enhakkore, which is in Lehi, unto this day. And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years."}

{"As flax that is burnt with fire"} (Judges 15:14). The meaning of this is evidently that, "Samson broke and discarded the bonds as easily `as if they had been' the remnant of burnt flax."

{"The fresh jawbone of an ass"} (Judges 15:15). "The Hebrew word from which `fresh' is translated actually means `moist,'"F13 that is, a piece of skeleton that was not completely dried out. It was still capable of being used as an effective weapon. The superhuman strength of Samson and his possession of such a weapon, terrified the contingent of Philistine, who were not able to survive the fierce onslaught of such an enemy.

{"With the jawbone of an ass, heaps upon heaps,

With the jawbone of an ass, have I smitten a thousand men"} (Judges 15:16).

"In Hebrew, the words for `ass' and `heaps' are the same";F14 and many have pointed out what they here call the `word play.' James Moffatt in his translation of Judges rendered the passage thus:

"With the jawbone of an ASS I have piled them in a MASS!

With the jawbone of an ass, I have assailed assailants!"

Moffatt's rendition is acceptable except for its taking no account whatever of "the thousand men," which we accept as an authentic and dependable part of the narrative.

{"The name of that place was called Ramath-lehi"} (Judges 15:17), or `The Hill of the Jawbone,' according to the marginal, alternative reading. The fact of a certain place having been thus named is a very strong evidence of the integrity and authenticity of this narrative, as is also the matter of the name of the spring which gushed out of the rock to save Samson's life.

{"This great deliverance at the hand of thy servant"} (Judges 15:18). The fact of Samson's reference to himself in this line as God's servant reveals the true heart of the man. In spite of his stupid mistakes, his lustful and sensual life, and his bitter revenge against his enemies, he nevertheless loved the Lord. After all, Samson's enemies were also the enemies of the Lord.

{"And now shall I die, and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised"} (Judges 15:18). Our translators did not handle this as an interrogative, but as an exclamation, indicating that Samson supposed that his life was about ended.

{"But God clave the hollow place that was in Lehi, and there came water thereout ... when he drank, his spirit ... revived ... and the name thereof was called Enhakkore ... unto this day"} (Judges 15:19). A number of scholars have called attention to a very understandable error in the King James Version, which has: "But God clave a hollow place that was in the jaw, and water came thereout." That mistake was due solely to the fact that the same word means both the jawbone and the place that was afterward called "Jawbone," or "Lehi."

The "hollow place" that God clave was not in the jawbone, but in the place thus named, and the reference would appear to be to a miraculous provision of water to save Samson's life, much as God had done for the children of Israel in the wilderness. This, of course, is proved by the fact that the spring in Lehi was named, "The Spring of the Caller," that is, the "Spring of Him Who Called upon God."F15 In Hebrew, the partridge is called "The Caller"; and thus the spring eventually was called "Spring of the Partridge." We consider that change much more likely than the notion expressed by Moore, that, "The original name was `Partridge Spring.'"F16 There could not possibly have been any special reason for such a designation before the event recorded here.

Samson's prayer for relief from his thirst, "Is the only prayer of Samson recorded, except the one on the occasion of his death."F17 Therefore, this seems to have been some kind of a high point in Samson's life. Dalglish pointed out that all of the bizarre events mentioned in Judges regarding Samson probably required very little time in the aggregate, and that, in spite of his sins and mistakes, "Samson nevertheless judged Israel for a period of twenty years (Judges 15:20); and his exploits kept alive the flame of patriotism during the long Philistine oppression."F18

It would appear that the Philistines did not attempt to interfere with Samson's judgeship during that twenty years, except near the end of it, at which time there probably occurred the events of Judg. 16.

REGARDING SAMSON'S JUDGESHIP

"As long as Samson remained a Nazarite he was unconquerable. Of all the judges, he only did everything singlehandedly and alone."F19 He never recruited an army from the Israelites. We are not told how he managed his judgeship, where, or at what intervals he conducted his court, nor of any of his judgments. We are not even told what the manner of Israel's life might have been during that twenty years. The tragic end came as recorded in the following chapter.


Footnotes for Judges 15
1: The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 2, p. 786.
2: Albert Barnes, Notes on Bible Books, Judges, p. 453.
3: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 3-C, p. 159.
4: Ibid.
5: C. F. Keil in the Keil-Delitzsch Commentaries, Vol. 2-A, p. 413.
6: The International Critical Commentary, Judges, p. 341.
7: C. F. Keil in the Keil-Delitzsch Commentaries, op. cit., p. 414.
8: Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Old Testament, Judges, p. 258.
9: The International Critical Commentary, Judges, p. 343.
10: The Interpreter's Bible, op. cit., p. 788.
11: The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 362.
12: The Interpreter's Bible, op. cit., p. 789.
13: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 271.
14: Ibid.
15: Ibid.
16: The International Critical Commentary, p. 346.
17: D. K. Campbell, p. 129.
18: Broadman Bible Commentary, op. cit., p. 447.
19: All the Men of the Bible, p. 292.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Judges 15". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=jud&chapter=015>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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