Judges 16

This post follows the Bible reading plan available at oaktreechurch.com/soap.

Chapter sixteen concludes Samson’s story. Although he led Israel for twenty years, we know almost nothing of his story, save the few situations recorded in these past three chapters. It seems that the Philistines were probably so afraid of him that they left Israel alone for the twenty years that Samson was a threat to them. It was such an odd “relationship” that Samson felt at ease walking into Gaza, a major Philistine port city, and hiring a Philistine prostitute with no repercussions from his enemies (Judges 16:1-3). Whether or not he knew that they had laid an ambush for him, when he left in the middle of the night, he tore the city gates off of their hinges and planted them on a hill opposite the city, maybe just to prove he could.

Once again his sexual desire drove him toward another Philistine woman, Delilah (Judges 16:4-20). Discovering that he had fallen for her, “the rulers of the Philistines” offered her “eleven hundred pieces of silver” each. Constable notes that this offer “was a fortune since a person could live comfortably on ‘10 [pieces] . . . of silver’ a year (17:10).” It seems that Samson thought that Delilah was simply playing a game with him. Each time she asked for the source of his strength, he gave her a wrong answer. When she tried it, he jumped up, showed his strength, and laughed. It seems unlikely that he would have ever told her the truth if he believed that his enemies were actually involved.

However, he finally did reveal his secret; his hair was the last part of his vow that he had never violated. His honesty was evident, and she demanded payment from the Philistines, while she watched his hair fall to the floor. When she called again, like she had before, that the Philistines were upon him, he thought the game was still in play, not realizing that God had left him, much as he had left God so long before. The Philistines had finally captured their archrival, and they led him away in chains, gouging out his eyes in triumph (Judges 16:21-22). Locked in prison, performing the most menial task possible, Samson finally repented and turned to Jehovah. As his hair grew, his attitude softened, and God turned toward him again.

One day, when the Philistine crowds wanted to laugh at him in sport, he asked God for the opportunity to die as a martyr in his holy war (Judges 16:23-31). Resting against the pillars which held up the roof porch where so many had gathered to laugh at him, Samson prayed for strength – the only time he is recorded to have done so – and pulled the pillars down, collapsing the roof on himself and others. There were three thousand on the roof alone, in addition to others in the stadium. Sadly, the number killed that day account for more Philistines than in Samson’s twenty years of leading Israel. He wasted so many years enjoying his status as a threat that he never actually delivered his nation from enemy control like the other judges had done.

Judges 15

This post follows the Bible reading plan available at oaktreechurch.com/soap.

Chapter fifteen takes place “sometime later,” but it does not state how long. It must have been long enough that the woman’s father thought Samson was not coming back, which is why he married her to another man. When Samson did return and discovered that his marriage had ended, he was furious (Judges 15:1-8). Evidently, Samson may have had some remorse or second thoughts about killing those first men, but that was gone this time. Whatever he planned to do, he felt completely justified in doing it. The entire region would suffer his revenge. Catching 150 pairs of jackals, he tied torches to their tails and set them loose in the Philistine wheat harvest, totally destroying that year’s crop. He also burned their “vineyards and olive groves.” He intended to starve them. When the Philistines discovered who had done this, they followed through with their initial threat to kill his wife and her family, meaning that nothing she did to protect herself accomplished anything. Acting in revenge again, Samson killed the men who had killed his wife, then he lived in a cave. He honestly thought that he was done fighting.

When the men of Judah discovered that Samson was living in their territory, they voluntarily acted to turn him over to the Philistines in order to save themselves from harm (Judges 15:9-13). There is a sad irony in the fact that the Israelites would rather have gotten rid of God’s deliverer than face further potential backlash from their enemies. Approaching Samson they told him their plan. Surprisingly, Samson agreed to be handed over as long as the Jews did not kill him themselves; they promised they would not. When the Philistines saw him, they shouted and rushed to seize him, but God’s Spirit empowered him again (Judges 15:14-17). He snapped the ropes binding him, grabbed a fresh jawbone of a dead donkey (violating his vow again), and killed 1,000 of them, throwing them into a pile. Proving himself a wordsmith again, he taunted their death by naming the place “Jawbone Hill.”

Finally, we see the first instance of Samson’s recognition of God (Judges 15:18-20). The battle had left him parched, and he begged God for water, which he provided miraculously. An important note is that Samson had come to recognize that God was empowering him for these battles, and he openly acknowledged that here.

Judges 14

This post follows the Bible reading plan available at oaktreechurch.com/soap.

Chapter fourteen reveals that Samson had at least three great weaknesses: women/sex, instant gratification, and anger. The chapter opens with Samson seeing a beautiful woman and demanding that his father arranges a marriage, even though she was a Philistine (Judges 14:1-4). Although his father resisted, Samson insisted that he should be allowed to marry her. Possibly he argued that, since it was not against his Nazirite vow and not against the Mosaic Law, he would not be in violation of anything. The writer notes that God allowed this and would use it to begin Samson’s war with Philistia.

When Manoah finally relented, Samson went to Timnah to meet with his wife-to-be (Judges 14:5-6). On the way, he was attacked by a young lion, but he easily overpowered it – our first indication of how God intended to use him. Later, passing that way again, he noticed bees making honey in the carcass and took some (Judges 14:7-9). This is the first record of his breaking the Nazirite vow – touching a dead animal. Additionally, he gave some to his parents to eat, causing them to be defiled as well, but he did not tell them where he got it.

The writer’s description of Samson intentionally shows him to be no better than anyone else in Israel at this time – she was “the right one in his eyes” (cf. Judges 17:6; 21:25). During the wedding feast (which most certainly involved beer and wine, against his Nazirite vow), Samson showed his penchant for showing off. In this case, he offered a riddle to the thirty men in his wedding party (Judges 14:10-20). If they could answer, he would give them thirty sets of clothes; if not, they would pay him the same. Threatening to burn her and her family, the men persuaded Samson’s wife to get the answer for them, so she nagged him until he finally told her. Receiving the answer, they went back to Samson and demanded their reward. Naturally, he knew what had happened, so he went to Ashkelon and killed thirty men to fulfill his bargain. In a moment of self-discipline, he then returned to his father’s home to cool down before seeing his wife again. Unbeknownst to him, she had been married off to his best man.