JUDGES CHAPTER 15
1 Samson is denied his wife. 3 He burneth the Philistines’ corn with foxes and firebrands. 6 His wife and her father are burnt by the Philistines. 7 Samson smiteth them hip and thigh. 9 He is bound by the men of Judah, and delivered to the Philistines. 14 He killeth them with a jawbone. 18 God maketh the fountain En-hakkore for him in Lehi.
1. Wheat harvest. In that region the wheat harvest was from mid-May to mid-June. The season is mentioned because of the incident related in vs. 4 and 5 regarding the burning of the ripe grain.
A kid. A kid may have been a customary present on such an occasion (see Gen. 38:17).
Chamber. That is, women’s quarters. Although this woman was now the wife of another man, she was still in her father’s house.
2. Hated her. The father insisted that he thought Samson would have nothing to do with the woman after she had betrayed him, so he had given her to another man. The father might reasonably have concluded that inasmuch as Samson had left in anger and had not returned, he had deserted her.
Younger sister. Because the father had taken the dowry, he now offered to give Samson a younger daughter. He understood well the strength of Samson, and with anxiety and fear he sought to free himself from a difficult situation. He was afraid of what Samson would do in return for the injustice done him.
3. Concerning them. Literally, “to them.” Although Samson had been talking with the father, others may have been in the room. Possibly the women themselves could hear his voice in their apartments, and might have been excitedly discussing the situation.
More blameless. This sentence may be translated, “This time I shall be innocent as regards the Philistines.” It was an important moment in Samson’s life. Ordinarily he might have retaliated against the fearful father or against the treacherous wife. But Samson may have believed that they had acted toward him as they had because of pressure from the Philistines, who in turn hated him because he was an Israelite. In that event he might determine to get at the root of the trouble by striking against the Philistine tyranny in general. The Philistines had invited trouble. In this light Samson felt blameless for now engaging in hostilities in earnest.
4. Foxes. Heb. shu‘alim. Also used of jackals. Since foxes do not feed on dead bodies, jackals are believed to be intended in Ps. 63:10. It was probably jackals that Samson caught, for they live in packs and are much easier caught than foxes.
At that season of the year, expressly declared to be the time of wheat harvest (v. 1), which comes at the end of a long dry season, the fields would be as dry as tinder. Samson probably carried out his scheme at night when his actions would be unobserved and no one would be on hand to quench the flames.
5. With the vineyards. The low vines of the grapes and the dry trunks of the olive trees would burn easily. Samson was probably not fully aware of the extent to which the conflagration he was starting would grow. When the fires were over, miles of blackened fields were all that remained where the day before were rich harvests.
6. They answered. Probably the Timnites or, from what follows, it may have been the Hebrews themselves—offered the information that it was Samson who had started the fires. Not only did he have to contend with the Philistines singlehanded, but he also had to cope with the lethargy and the open opposition of his own people who were willing to cooperate with the Philistines rather than join him in warfare to throw off the foreign yoke.
Burnt her. Although the Philistines vented their anger upon the woman and her family whose conduct had led to all these troubles, they also intended by that act to insult Samson himself. They destroyed in savage retaliation the woman of whom he had once thought so much, and to whom he had hoped to return.
7. Done this. Samson said in effect, “If you are going to act like this [in taking cowardly vengeance upon a defenseless woman], I will take further vengeance upon you.”
8. Hip and thigh. The origin of this figure of speech is obscure. It was a proverbial expression for “completely,” or “entirely.” We are not told what company of Philistines Samson smote, but in all likelihood it was those who burned his wife and her father.
Top. Literally, “cleft,” or “fissure” (see Isa. 2:21; 57:5). The place was probably an inaccessible cave in a large rock cliff. Such a location explains the expression “went down” in this verse and the “brought him up” in v. 13.
Etam. The site of this cave is unknown. Two towns by this name are mentioned in the Bible: (1) Khirbet el–Khôkh, southwest of Bethlehem and not far from Tekoa (2 Chron. 11:6), also near ‘Ain ‘Atan, where “Solomon’s pools,” which now supply Bethlehem, are situated; and (2) an unidentified place in the southern part of Judah, in the tribal allotment of Simeon (1 Chron. 4:32). The cave here mentioned, however, has not been identified with either of these places.
9. Pitched in Judah. Samson was of the tribe of Dan, but this tribe had received its inheritance within the tribe of Judah. The Philistines, in battle array, went up against the Hebrews to take vengeance for the terrible damage Samson had inflicted.
Lehi. Literally, “jaw.” This locality likely did not carry that name until after the events which the author is about to relate (see on v. 19). The site of Lehi is not known. Those who locate Etam near Bethlehem prefer a location near there, but those who place Etam near Zorah favor a location in the Wadi eṣ–Ṣarâr in the vicinity of Zorah and Timnath.
10. Why are ye come? The tribe of Judah were evidently living in contented servitude. For that reason they seem to express surprise at being overrun by the Philistines. After all, Samson was not of their tribe, and they had not shown any resentment against the Philistines.
To bind Samson. The Philistines were apparently not planning war against all the Hebrews. They sought Samson only. But evidently they had brought enough men with them so as to protect themselves against any surprise attack.
11. Three thousand. The men of Judah knew of Samson’s prowess and probably for that reason came in such force to surround him and prevent his escape. Even at that they would not have dared approach him if they had not felt assured he would not harm his own countrymen.
Knowest thou not? The men of Judah reproached Samson for rebelling against the Philistine rule and for exposing them to danger by hiding within their borders. This reproach, and their readiness to give him over to the Philistines, bear evidence of the low ebb Judah had reached. Once so powerful in war, they now lay powerless in moral decay. The loss of their religion was accompanied by a loss of their patriotism. What might not these 3,000 have achieved on the side of Samson if they had been like Gideon’s 300?
12. Swear. Samson was unafraid of the Philistines. He believed God would help him against them when the time came. He was, however, distrustful of his own kinsmen, and demanded an oath that they would not harm him lest he be compelled to destroy them also.
13. Two new cords. See ch. 16:11. They wanted the strongest ropes possible, for they knew of his tremendous strength.
14. Shouted against him. Literally, “shouted [as they ran out] to meet him.” When the word reached the Philistine camp that their enemy was in bonds and was even now being dragged into their camp by his cowardly countrymen, they went wild with joy and ran to meet him, so anxious were they for revenge.
15. New jawbone of an ass. Rather it was a “moist” or “fresh” jawbone, one from an animal that had recently died. Hence it was not yet brittle enough to break easily. As Samson broke the cords binding him, he probably glanced hurriedly from side to side for some weapon. Before his enemies could still their shouts of exultation, he was among them dealing deadly blows. In a panic the Philistines fled, but ere they could gain the safety of the open plain, 1,000 of their number had fallen before the irresistible strength of Samson.
16. And Samson said. So extraordinary was the slaughter that Samson celebrated it with a poem of victory. In verse form the poem would appear as follows:
“With the jawbone of an ass, heaps upon heaps,
With the jawbone of an ass, have I slain a thousand men.”
The poem also displays an interesting play on words, which is apparent in the Hebrew but untranslatable into English. The sounds for “ass” and “heap” are identical. The couplet is transliterated so that the effect may be illustrated:
Bilchi hachchamor chamor chamoratayim
Bilchi hachchamor hikkiti ’eleph ’ish.
17. Ramath-lehi. Signifying “the hill of the jawbone.”
18. Sore athirst. In that region the heat becomes intense, especially in harvesttime, and water is scarce. Evidently Samson’s exertions had almost completely exhausted him. He probably feared that the Philistines would regroup or get reinforcements and attack him in a short time. If they should find him in his present condition, he would not be able to resist them. By these circumstances God was trying to teach Samson that apart from divine aid he could not deliver Israel. This great victory was due to God’s help. Samson could not even get off the battlefield in his own strength, and would perish unless God came to his aid.
Called on the Lord. When he was in great difficulty Samson resorted to prayer. Only here in this time of crisis, and in a similar situation at the time of his death (ch. 16:28), is there a record that Samson prayed to God. Each time the Lord answered his prayer. What a tragedy that his prayer life was so deficient He might have been a mighty spiritual leader had he been more spiritually-minded. But only when he feared death was nigh, as far as the record goes, did he call upon God, and as a result he was a spiritual pygmy. It is a good thing to call upon God in the day of trouble, but the pity is that so many ignore Him the rest of their days.
19. An hollow place. Heb. maktesh, “mortar.” It was a circular depression perhaps in the ground that resembled a mortar in shape. In the Hebrew the word has the definite article; therefore we must translate it, “the hollow place.”
In the jaw. Heb. ballechi. Literally, either “in the jawbone,” or “in Lehi.” At first reading of the passage in the KJV one might think that the hollow place that God made was in the jawbone that Samson had used as a weapon. Many have so interpreted this passage. Evidently the translators of the KJV interpreted it that way. However, at the close of the verse the statement is made that the “hollow place” is “in Lehi [ballechi].” Since this Hebrew expression is identical with that which earlier in the verse is translated “in the jaw,” the choice of translation must be determined by the context. It seems more reasonable to adopt the reading that employs the proper name. The sentence would then be translated: “God clave the hollow place [or mortar] that was in Lehi.”
For similar instances of miraculous provisions of water in time of destitute need see Gen. 21:18, 19; Ex. 17:6; Isa. 41:17, 18.
There came water thereout. God performed a miracle by causing a rift in the bottom of the hollow place that was there, so that a spring issued out of it. The water from this spring refreshed Samson so that he was able to return home at once.
En-hakkore. Literally, “the spring of the caller.” Samson gave this name to the spring because it sprang up when in his great need he called on the Lord for water.
20. Judged Israel. Samson did not rule over all 12 of the tribes, but seemingly only over the Hebrews in his area. The people probably accorded him the sort of vague prerogatives they were willing to give to a military hero.
In the days. This seems to mean in the 40-year period of Philistine oppression (see p. 128).
Twenty years. Evidently this 20-year period of Samson’s leadership of the southern Hebrews was near the end of the 40 years of Philistine oppression, for Samson was born in the early years of the oppression (PP 560). The fact that the Hebrews did not join Samson in the revolt against the Philistines but remained subservient to them suggests that his rule may have been confined strictly to his own small locality. (see ch. 16:31).
ELLEN G. WHITE COMMENTS
1–20 PP 563-565
8–15, 20 PP 564