This chapter describes – in a practical sense – the end of Samson’s service to God. The last verse makes that clear. In the next chapter Samson is no longer recognized by God as His servant, although He uses him one more time.
1 - 2 The Connection Disconnected
1 But after a while, in the time of wheat harvest, Samson visited his wife with a young goat, and said, “I will go in to my wife in [her] room.” But her father did not let him enter. 2 Her father said, “I really thought that you hated her intensely; so I gave her to your companion. Is not her younger sister more beautiful than she? Please let her be yours instead.”
When his anger has calmed down a bit, Samson returns to his wife to complete the wedding by having relations with her. He takes a young goat with him, probably to celebrate with. These are the days of the wheat harvest, which takes place in late May, early June and is accompanied by all kinds of festivities.
In the spiritual application, the wheat harvest tells something about the Lord Jesus and the fruits of His work on the cross. In John 12 He says: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24). In the days when the wheat is ripe to be harvested, Samson goes to visit his Philistine wife to confirm his connection with her! Spiritually, this may mean the following. Someone who is a Nazirite must realize, by seeing the fruits of the Lord Jesus’ work, that it is unthinkable to connect with ‘something’ that is not based on that work.
In any case, it is inconceivable that God should consent in this connection. It is unimaginable that a Nazirite should be married to a Philistine! God prevents this marriage from being definitively concluded. But Philistines are always willing to make a new connection. The father offers him another daughter, even more attractive than the first one. Samson does not go into this. He feels cheated and is going to avenge himself.
3 - 5 The Revenge of Samson
3 Samson then said to them, “This time I shall be blameless in regard to the Philistines when I do them harm.” 4 Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took torches, and turned [the foxes] tail to tail and put one torch in the middle between two tails. 5 When he had set fire to the torches, he released the foxes into the standing grain of the Philistines, thus burning up both the shocks and the standing grain, along with the vineyards [and] groves.
The connection with the Philistines has only brought Samson misery. He is personally hurt and acts in carnal anger. Here is no mention of the Spirit of the LORD who comes upon Samson. He uses his special power to catch foxes, or rather jackals. These are unclean animals that a Jew, and certainly a Nazirite, do not touch. Foxes in the Bible are related to weakness (Neh 4:3) and sins (Song 2:15). He makes the unclean fox a servant of his revenge. Unclean, sinful means are more often used to express indignation.
The meaning of a torch depends on who lights it. When God does it, it has a positive meaning, for example in Genesis 15 (Gen 15:17). Here Samson lights it and it speaks of carnal anger. In James 3 a comparison is made between fire and the human tongue: “See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the [very] world of iniquity” (Jam 3:5b-6a). The fire can only do its job well if it is kept under control, just like the tongue. There must be self-control. Those who let themselves go, like Samson, and do not keep their tongues under control, can unleash the greatest disasters, both a world war and a brotherly strife.
Here the fire is connected to the tail. In the Bible, the tail is sometimes used to indicate a false teaching: “And the prophet who teaches falsehood is the tail” (Isa 9:15b; cf. Rev 9:10-19). Samson has descended far below his dignity as a Nazirite. What a contrast between Samson and his 300 and Gideon and his 300.
Let us summarize once again what is being represented in Samson’s actions. Foxes or jackals are animals that rout the earth and feed on corruption. They represent the unclean, sinful means that a believer can use to take revenge for injustice suffered. This can happen, for example, with the fire of the tongue, by spreading lies and evil rumor.
The result of Samson’s actions is that the proceeds of the land are destroyed. Both the standing corn and what has already been mown, and even the vineyards and olive trees, are set on fire as a result of Samson’s anger and can no longer serve as food. Samson should have chased the Philistines away and given the enjoyment of the land’s proceeds to his fellow countrymen.
How often has personal struggle been the cause of a digestion of the blessing that could have been enjoyed? In many local churches there is great unrest because the believers are engaged in a battle of words among themselves. The fruit of the land represents the blessings with which the Christian is blessed in the heavenly places in Christ (Eph 1:3). That fruit is richly present. We live as it were ‘in the days of wheat harvest’ (verse 1).
Instead of fighting the enemy to save the proceeds of the land from his hand, a battle of words is waged, “which is useless [and leads] to the ruin of the hearers” (2Tim 2:14). The result is that there is nothing to enjoy. The cause of all this is ‘only’ an offended mind that is unable to bring the matter before the Lord. Instead of together with Him seeking for a solution, he goes to work himself in a carnal way.
6 - 8 Revenge Answered with Revenge
6 Then the Philistines said, “Who did this?” And they said, “Samson, the son-in-law of the Timnite, because he took his wife and gave her to his companion.” So the Philistines came up and burned her and her father with fire. 7 Samson said to them, “Since you act like this, I will surely take revenge on you, but after that I will quit.” 8 He struck them ruthlessly with a great slaughter; and he went down and lived in the cleft of the rock of Etam.
Once the Philistines know the reason for Samson’s revenge, his wife, and also her father, still find the fate that is said to her in Judges 14 (Jdg 14:15). Samson is once again acting out of feelings of revenge, but these are now also more justified. It is not merely a question of being personally hurt, but of retaliating with a brutal act. Samson engages in a direct and open battle with the enemy. In a few words, it is said that he has achieved an enormous victory.
Then he goes to live in the cleft of the rock of Etam. A rock is a suitable place to live for a powerless people, like the shephanim (or coney or badgers) (Pro 30:26), and also for all people with ‘long hair’. Moses also knew that place (Exo 33:21-22). The rock is a picture of Christ (1Cor 10:4), Who is represented here as the abode of faith, the true abode of the Nazirites.
Samson does not return to his father’s house as he did before (Jdg 14:19), but goes to live in this place independently. He dwells there separated from the Philistines, and also separated from God’s faithless people.
9 - 13 The Philistines and the Men of Judah
9 Then the Philistines went up and camped in Judah, and spread out in Lehi. 10 The men of Judah said, “Why have you come up against us?” And they said, “We have come up to bind Samson in order to do to him as he did to us.” 11 Then 3,000 men of Judah went down to the cleft of the rock of Etam and said to Samson, “Do you not know that the Philistines are rulers over us? What then is this that you have done to us?” And he said to them, “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.” And Samson said to them, “Swear to me that you will not kill me.” 13 So they said to him, “No, but we will bind you fast and give you into their hands; yet surely we will not kill you.” Then they bound him with two new ropes and brought him up from the rock.
After the great stroke that Samson inflicted on the Philistines, it is now their turn to take revenge. It is Judah who has to pay in return for what Samson did to them. In addition to the direct cause for the Philistines to rise, this action can also be applied spiritually. When Samson has taken his place of separation in the cleft of the rock of Etam, the enemies become active. A faithful Christian is much more a target of the enemy’s attacks than someone who does not take his life as a Christian so seriously.
The men of Judah inquire about the plans of the Philistines. They are told that they have come to bind Samson. The Philistines always aim to bind the Nazirite. In his spiritual application, this is always one of the enemy’s most important goals. In Christianity it even happened to the Holy Spirit: He is restricted.
Even worse than what the Philistines plan is Judah’s attitude. Apparently they no longer suffer under the rule of the Philistines. The yoke no longer presses because they have reconciled to it and accepted it. They blame Samson for bringing them into such a conflict with the enemy, who is so kind to them. They come to him with the words: “Do you not know that the Philistines are rulers over us?” (verse 11). That low Judah has sunk. Judah means ‘praise’, ‘one who praises God’. Isn’t it weeping to the skies that the tribe with such a name expresses itself in such a way?
This speaks of a complete acceptance of clericalism and traditionalism. The religion in which the flesh has a greater or lesser say has become general. This is the case in Christianity everywhere where the distinction between clergy and lay people has become an established fact; where the service is determined by one man or a select group; where proposals are dealt with democratically; where worship, the service of praise, takes place along predetermined lines.
Anyone who reads well will see that this not only applies to certain ecclesiastical directions, but also applies equally to all kinds of other religious communities. It is not only in the official structure, although the characteristics there are most re-knowable. It also applies to places where, although no structures exist officially, certain structures do exist as a result of ingrained habits.
To be perfectly clear, I am talking about the characteristics of a system, official or unofficial, and not the people who are part of it. Fortunately, there are many sincere Christians who serve God devotedly, but are not aware of the evil attached to such systems.
It is God’s grace when He sends a deliverer, like Samson here. But Samson is experienced as a troublemaker. Anyone who denounces all kinds of carnal things that have been given a place in personal or communal service to God will be told that they are contrary to the prevailing rules and forms. For example, he is told that he should not be too extreme. The lukewarmness is justified.
Instead of making themselves one with their hero and getting rid of their common enemy, the men of Judah align themselves with the Philistines and unite with their goal. They have no appreciation whatsoever for the judge given to them by God. Here Judah does not show the dignity of the blessing Jacob pronounces on him (Gen 49:8-12). In the history of Judah are more of such low points, such as the delivery of Joseph (Gen 37:26-27; Gen 38:1-26).
Samson does not want to fight his brothers, however deep they may have sunk and how much they essentially align themselves with their enemy. In the same way, we must not fight against our brothers, but against the principles that imprison them and with which they have even reconciled.
Samson asks for an assurance that they will not attack him, otherwise he will be forced to defend himself with all the consequences for the Judeans. He is guaranteed that this will not happen. All they want to do is tie him up with new ropes and deliver him into the hand of the Philistines. What is happening here is truly astonishing. The men of Judah choose the side of the Philistines and are working to execute the plans of the enemy!
Samson must be kept from his vocation at all costs. New ropes are, according to them, the appropriate means for this. As an application, we can say that committed Christians are being persuaded, especially by new, popular, human means, to give up their Nazirite occupation. The word for ropes comes from ‘braiding’ and reflects the idea that it is a human product.
Samson lets himself be bound and gives in to their wishes, because he does not want to use his strength, or abuse it, by fighting against his people.
14 Freed from the New Ropes
14 When he came to Lehi, the Philistines shouted as they met him. And the Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily so that the ropes that were on his arms were as flax that is burned with fire, and his bonds dropped from his hands.
When the men of Judah bring Samson to the Philistines, they shout for joy. They think they have their hated enemy in their power. However, the joy is short-lived, for “the Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily”. When human means by which a Nazirite can be bound come into contact with the Spirit of God and the Word of God, they are “as flax that is burned with fire”. The putting into practice of the call in 1 Peter 4 makes all the Philistine ropes, figuratively speaking, turn to ashes. We are encouraged there with the words: “Whoever speaks, [is to do so] as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves [is to do so] as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies” (1Pet 4:11a).
This frees everyone, so that everyone can exercise his gift as solely responsible to the Giver, regardless of any human appointment or intervention. That is what Paul means when he writes about his apostleship: “Paul, an apostle (not [sent] from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead)” (Gal 1:1). With this he indicates that in the exercise of his apostleship he is free from all ‘Philistine bonds’.
That certainly does not mean that we have nothing to do with others and their comments about our service. For example, in the church, “let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment” (1Cor 14:29). But that is something else than deciding in advance who should say something and what should be said in the church. This should not be determined by others, because only the Holy Spirit may have a say in this.
15 - 17 A Fresh Jawbone of a Donkey
15 He found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, so he reached out and took it and killed a thousand men with it.
16 Then Samson said,
“With the jawbone of a donkey,
Heaps upon heaps,
With the jawbone of a donkey
I have killed a thousand men.”
17 When he had finished speaking, he threw the jawbone from his hand; and he named that place Ramath-lehi.
Samson frees himself from the new ropes by the power of the Spirit. To defeat his enemies he uses a fresh jawbone of a donkey. This shows the weakness of the instrument in contrast to the result. No one can say that Samson’s victory is the result of a great weapon. It is a ‘fresh’ weapon, not a ‘dry’ one (cf. Eze 37:1-2).
The donkey is dead, but the power of life is still present in the bone, as it were. This speaks of the life that the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus gave us and through which we are able to achieve victories. That means that we have acknowledged the judgment about ourselves. Man by nature is aptly compared with a donkey (Exo 13:13).
When Samson has gained the victory, he throws away his weapon. He does not want to keep it, it should not become a snare for him, like the ephod for Gideon (Jdg 8:27). The weapon has served the purpose and that is enough. This principle is important, both for the person used to serve and for those served. Often the ‘poor’ instrument that God wanted to use in His grace is honored. We hear expressions such as ‘what a speaker’ and ‘what an appearance’.
An example of how it should be is given in Acts 8. After Philip proclaimed the gospel to the eunuch and baptized him, “the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:39). Philip has done his service. He does not need a tribute and gets a different field of work. And the eunuch? He no longer has an eye for Philip, he does not even miss him, because he has gotten the Lord Jesus in his heart and that is more than enough.
18 - 19 Spring of Him Who Called
18 Then he became very thirsty, and he called to the LORD and said, “You have given this great deliverance by the hand of Your servant, and now shall I die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?” 19 But God split the hollow place that is in Lehi so that water came out of it. When he drank, his strength returned and he revived. Therefore he named it En-hakkore, which is in Lehi to this day.
After his impressive victory Samson gets thirsty, so bad, that he is afraid he will die. In his distress he calls to God. His prayer, the first prayer mentioned of him (!), is short and powerful. First we see that He gives God the honor of the victory: “You have.” That’s beautiful. Unfortunately his faith falls short and he complains that he will die, but now of thirst, and that he will fall into the hands of the enemy.
We can learn a few things from this. In the first place that battle does not quench thirst. We may gain victories for the Lord, but the real refreshment lies not in victory, but in the Lord Himself. Then we see that having thirst is a challenge to ask God for an outcome, for He likes to hear. God has already given an outcome before when a whole people were thirsty (Exo 17:1-7).
Samson calls twice in total to God, here in verse 18 and in Judges 16 (Jdg 16:20). Both times he is heard. If we consider that the time Samson lives in is comparable to the last days and hard times mentioned in 2 Timothy 3 (2Tim 3:1-5), then we have a great encouragement here. We see that calling upon the Name of the Lord is a special spring for the last days. En-hakkore means spring of him who called.
God opens that spring for everyone who calls. Those who drink it will experience the power that Samson experiences. Life, strength and revival are coming again. The only possibility to experience a personal or communal revival lies in:
1. realizing that we are thirsty;
2. in calling to God in our distress;
3. in drinking from the spring which God opens.
It is as if the author of this book wants to focus our special attention on it when he says that the “spring of him who called” is in Lechi is “to this day”. Literally it means that the spring is still there at the time this book is written. The spiritual meaning of this expression and the spiritual power that emanates from it is surely that the spring that God has made available is always available to everyone who calls, also today.
John 4 has been mentioned before, where the Lord Jesus, in His conversation with the Samaritan woman, points to the spring of living water “springing up to eternal life” (Jn 4:14). Drinking from the spring He has made accessible brings ‘him who calls’ in connection with eternal life. Eternal life is life in the atmosphere of the Father and the Son in which the believer is brought by knowing the Father and the Son (Jn 17:3).
Eternal life is also the Lord Jesus Himself (1Jn 5:20). That is where the Holy Spirit will bring him who calls and what will quench his thirst. Eternal life cannot be affected by decay or apostacy. Precisely the letter that speaks of last days and hard times begins by pointing out “the promise of life that is in Jesus Christ” (2Tim 1:1,9).
This directs our eye on the Lord Jesus and everything found in Him. This gives an inner satisfaction that is greater than the most resounding victory.
20 Duration of Samson’s Leadership
20 So he judged Israel twenty years in the days of the Philistines.
Samson is a different kind of deliverer than his predecessors. He judges Israel while the Philistines rule. It is possible that Samson returned to the rock of Etam (verse 8) to perform his function as a judge. The period in which he leads Israel, probably lay between 1075-1055 BC, a time in which Samuel – born about 1080 BC – also started to become active.
For God, the history of Samson ends here. The statement in this verse follows on the rock as residence (verse 8), an open battle with the Philistines (verse 15) and the rock from which water flows (verse 19). These are situations in which he has become detached from the enemy and can lead Israel. What follows is his total fall.
In Judges 14-15 a total of six acts of Samson are mentioned:
1. The tearing apart of a young lion (Jdg 14:6);
2. The deaths of thirty Philistines (Jdg 14:19);
3. His action with the three hundred foxes (Jdg 15:4-5);
4. His revenge on the Philistines (Jdg 15:8);
5. Deliverance from his ropes (Jdg 15:14);
6. The killing of a thousand Philistines (Jdg 15:15).
Samson has one too short for the number seven, the number of perfection.