Samson Defeats the Philistines
Brad Mills / General
Judges: So Great A Salvation / Judges 15:1–20
As Americans, many of us have grown a little battle weary. We cringe whenever we hear about wars and rumors of wars. We struggle to understand why there is so much violence in our world today. But maybe it is even more troubling to read of such violence in the pages of Scripture.
God’s grand design may not make sense of all the violence we see today, but it does show us that his final purpose involves the elimination of darkness.
Samson has been raised up to rescue Israel from the hands of the Philistines. The pattern, that began in the previous chapter, continues through the end of chapter 16. Over the course of six different episodes, the Philistines come up with some solution that ends up providing another opportunity for Samson to bring disaster.
The following table comes from Dale Ralph Davis:
• Episode 1: 14:5-20
• Success: Answer to riddle.
• Disaster: Slaughter at Ashkelon.
• Episode 2: 15:1-6a
• Success: Samson gone, peace restored, girl given to best man
• Disaster: Flaming foxes
• Episode 3: 15:6b-8
• Success: Burn up Timnite woman and father
• Disaster: Slaughter by Samson
• Episode 4: 15:9-17
• Success: Samson bound, handed over – by the tribe of Judah
• Disaster: Jawbone Hill
• Episode 5: 16:1-3
• Success: Ambushing the playboy
• Disaster: Portable gates
• Episode 6: 16:4-30
• Success: Hair shaved
• Disaster: Tragedy at Dagon’s Place
Read Judges 15:1-20.
God will restrain and conquer all his and our enemies until we are finally delivered from the power of darkness.
1. Samson’s Revenge in the North (1-8)
1 At this point Samson is unaware that his wife has been given to his best man. As I mentioned last week, this is probably similar to a unique Palestinian Arab marriage where the husband visits as a guest and brings presents whenever he desires conjugal privileges.
2 What kind of father offers his younger daughter to a man whom he thought hated his older daughter?
3-5 Samson’s visit “at the time of the wheat harvest” (v.1) is important to understand the severity of what happens in these verses. Samson calculates the harm he would do to the Philistines (v.3) deciding to light torches attached to 300 foxes (possibly jackals which are pack animals, as opposed to solitary foxes). This was not some foolish and rash decision.
The fire destroyed both the stacked and standing grain, as well as the vineyards and olive orchards. This destroyed an entire year of harvest and had the dangerous potential of provoking a famine. And just when you might be leaning towards showing some kind of compassion to the Philistines, you read the next verse…
6 The Philistines themselves acknowledge that Samson is the woman’s rightful husband (not his best man who is now with her). Samson’s father-in-law had robbed him of fertility, so Samson had understandably returned the favor by robbing the Timnites of the fertility of their crops.
Having discovered why Samson set fire to their crops, they decide to return the favor by setting fire to Samson’s wife and father (the very thing they threatened to do if she couldn’t get Samson to tell her the riddle, Judges 14:15). Clearly, these Philistines know how to escalate matters rather quickly. Samson’s wife received the same judgment she had betrayed Samson to avoid.
7-8 Samson takes vengeance upon them striking the Philistines “hip and thigh with a great blow,” which presumably means that he slaughtered a great number of them. We are not told the extent of the damage Samson did, but it was enough to cause him to run for hiding.
The fearful power of the Philistines was no joke. They stirred up tremendous panic in the heart of Samson’s wife and father-in-law. But they were simply no match for the Spirit-empowered Samson.
Dave Hatcher comments:
Those who do not turn in repentance after receiving a slighter judgment will find that God has been patient in withholding His full wrath.
Fear of man can cause us to do all kinds of sinful deeds that we look back upon with great regret. In the moment, we think we are playing it safe by doing whatever pleases man, but the results are often disastrous. In some cases, the realization of the consequences of our decisions come too late for us to change the outcome.
Proverbs 29:25 ESV
The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.
Whenever we fear man more than we trust the Lord, we forfeit the very safety we are striving to preserve!
Samson’s victories over the Philistines are growing. We may question his moral integrity, but we cannot doubt his confidence in the strength God has given him.
Through Samson we see something of the Lord’s powerful deliverance at work in rescuing his covenant people.
The power of darkness is a fearful thing indeed, but it is no match for the One who has received allauthority in heaven and on earth! Jesus, seated at the right hand of the Father, continues to restrain and conquer our enemies.
Romans 8:31 ESV
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
› In addition to sending Samson into hiding, his “great blow/slaughter” aroused the Philistine army…
2. Samson’s Victory at Jawbone Hill (9-17)
9-10 The Philistines raid Lehi, which is located in the territory that belonged to Judah. When the men of Judah question their motives for attacking, the Philistines inform them that they are getting retaliation for Samson’s attack upon them.
11-13 Judah sends 3,000 men to question Samson. They are prepared to go to war with a 3,000 man army against an army of 1. In reality, 3,000 men would not have been able to adhere Samson.
Samson replies that he too was getting retaliation for their actions upon him. They inform Samson that they intend to bind him and hand him over to the Philistines. Samson is willing to let them bind him as long they swear they won’t kill him themselves.
They were cowardly willing to betray their own kinsman, turning Samson over to their Philistine oppressors.
14-17 For the third time the Spirit of the Lord empowers Samson. This time he is given the strength to break the new ropes that bound him and defeat 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey (Fresh = full of teeth). I encourage you to look up images on Google of a donkey’s jawbone. You’ll find images of Samson wielding the odd-shaped weapon as a club. He joins Jael’s tent peg, Gideon’s trumpet’s and torches, and Shamgar’s oxgoad as those who used unlikely weapons in the book of Judges.
Samson composes and recites a victory song before throwing away the jawbone. You could imagine him sitting down exhausted and reflective. There are 1,000 dead Philistines piled high in the background. Samson can only stare in shock at the bloody jawbone.
Judges 15:16 ESV
And Samson said, “With the jawbone of a donkey, heaps upon heaps, with the jawbone of a donkey have I struck down a thousand men.”
There is a play on words here. Samson was fond of puns. “Donkey” and “heap” are spelled the same in Hebrew. He could be stating that with a donkey’s jawbone he made piles upon piles of Philistine bodies (ESV). The Moffat translation is great: “With the jawbone of an ass, I have piled them in a mass!”
All of this is building towards a climax at the end of Samson’s life. What appeared to be certain defeat resulted in his greatest victory.
As the tribe of Judah betrayed their savior, Samson submitted to their cowardly desires, knowing that a greater judgment was about to fall which would lead to greater deliverance for his people.
Of course, Samson’s betrayal reminds us of the betrayal of the greater Savior, Jesus Christ. He was cowardly turned over by Judas Iscariot for 30 pieces of silver. And Jesus willingly endured the scandalous treatment of a criminal. But he knew that his victory was secure.
The same Spirit that empowered Samson to break the bonds of new ropes and slay a thousand men with the jawbone of a donkey, would later empower Jesus to break the bonds of the gravegiving him victory over sin and death.
We should sit in awe – staring in shock – at Christ’s redeeming work with a song of victory welling up in our hearts. May that anticipation build as we near the hymn of response “Be Thou My Vision”.
› With the victory secured and the song composed, Samson is in desperate need of water.
3. Samson’s Recovery at Caller’s Spring (18-20)
18 Samson cried out to the Lord that he was dying of thirst. This is the first explicit mention of Samson’s dependence upon God. He will do this again at the end of his life (Judges 16:28). This should clarify things for anyone still wondering whether Samson is aware of the Spirit’s work in his life. He recognized “who granted this great salvation,” and his own role as the Lord’s servant.
However, it’s easy to find similarities here between Samson and the Israelite generation that wandered in the wilderness. Fresh off the heels of victory, Samson is complaining that God has forsaken him and left him to die of thirst. Yes, he’s acknowledging his dependence upon the Lord, but it is coming in the form of a complaint that is a bit inconsistent with his theology.
19 God graciously responds with the miraculous provision of water from a “hollow place” that restores and revives Samson. This is another hint at the Lord’s miraculous provision of the wilderness generation revived with water from a rock.
Most of the themes from this chapter of Samson’s life are captured well by David in this Messianic Psalm…
Psalm 110:1–7 ESV
The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” The Lordsends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies! Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours. The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth. He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head.
The Lord’s enemies are restrained and subdued providing an opportunity for the right worship of God to take place. His wrath is poured out upon the nations filling their land with corpses. Every last enemy is destroyed. The psalm even concludes with the Lord receiving revival/satisfaction from the the brook.
Samson > David > David’s Greater Son, Jesus.
God will restrain and conquer all his and our enemies until we are finally delivered from the power of darkness.
What is remarkable – when you pause to think about it – is that we too were his enemies, at one time.
WSC Q.26 How doth Christ execute the office of a king?
A. Christ executeth the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies.
We had to be subdued by the king so that we might be willingly ruled by him. The benefit that accompanies Christ’s rule is that he also becomes our defender. And the power of darkness that once had free reign over us, must retreat before the might of the true king.
20 Samson judged Israel for twenty years during the Philistine reign. Samson was never able to accomplish complete victory over the Philistines, but the final chapter of his narrative will explain some of the extent of the damage he caused.
1. Samson’s Revenge in the North (1-8) shows the power of our Savior.
2. Samson’s Victory at Jawbone Hill (9-17) shows how the Lord can turn certain defeat into his greatest display of salvation.
3. Samson’s Recovery at Caller’s Spring (18-20) points to the satisfaction that awaited our resurrected and exalted Lord.
Jesus Christ remains on his throne today. And he will continue to reign and rule over the hearts of his people until the full number has been subdued and every enemy is destroyed.
1 Corinthians 15:24–26 ESV
Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
Even now we can agree with Paul in…
Colossians 1:13 ESV
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,
What is true of us theologically and positionally now, will be true experientially for all eternity!