Samson’s Supernatural Strength — Judges 15

We have already had glimpses of Samson’s supernatural strength. He killed the lion with his bare hands.  He turned the tables on the gloating Philistines by slaughtering 30 of their leading men to provide the sets of clothing he had bet in the riddle episode.  But now his supernatural strength becomes the focal point of the narrative as we witness this cycle of retaliation between him and the Philistines.  Opposition and enmity continue to grow and will reach their peak in the concluding scenes from Chapter 16.

Chapters 13-16:

-          Bright Beginning (13)

-          Fatal Flaw (14)

-          Supernatural Strength (15)

-          Final Feat (16)

Samson is an unusual solitary figure.  You never see him leading troops into battle.  He always acts alone.  In fact both the Philistines and his own people engage in treachery against him:

-          Philistines turn his wife against him

-          Father-in-law gives his wife away

-          Israelites try to bind Samson and deliver him over to the enemy

Nobody is on Samson’s side.  But we must understand that the Lord has anointed him to carry out a special mission of beginning to deliver the Israelites from the Philistines.  Even when Samson acts from mixed motives of revenge and retaliation – as if he is just carrying out a personal vendetta – the Lord is providentially using the situation to motivate Samson to strike in judgment against the enemies of God’s people.  In that sense his actions are justified and even commendable – which is why we see him included in Hebrews 11 in the Hall of Faith Heroes.

Wiersbe: Quoting Spurgeon: “His whole life is a series of miracles and follies.”

Difficult person to figure out – not very likeable and yet a heroic figure that must depend upon God for the exercise of his supernatural strength.

THE LORD ANOINTS ISRAEL’S DELIVERER WITH SUPERNATURAL STRENGTH TO EMERGE VICTORIOUS IN THE CYCLE OF RETALIATION WITH THE CONNIVING UNCIRCUMCISED PHILISTINES

I.  (:1-3)  THE PROVOCATION TO AROUSE GOD’S ANOINTED DELIVERER TO ACTION INVOLVES TREACHERY THAT BREEDS RETALIATION

A.  (:1a)  Joyful Intentions

But after a while, in the time of wheat harvest, it came about that Samson visited his wife with a young goat, and said,’I will go in to my wife in her room.’

Samson sulked for awhile – mad at his wife and mad at the Philistines — but finally renewed his passion and pursuit of his wife; he cooled down in one sense – but in another sense his passions heated up

Question: had the marriage been consummated during that seven day celebratory feast?  Or had Samson left her in her father’s house before consummating the marriage?  In any event, he viewed her as his legal wife.

There’s nothing that says “I love you” like bringing a gift of a young goat – no edible flower arrangements back in those days

Look at Samson’s approach:

-          Demanding

-          Arrogant

-          Possessive

B.  (:1b-2)  Jilted Reversal – Plan B Proposed

But her father did not let him enter. And 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.’

Lev. 18:18 – against the law of God – plus Samson was not about to settle for second best

Jilted = to drop a lover capriciously or unfeelingly

Father was taking his life in his hands and yet he knew it would be wrong to break up the existing marriage of his eldest daughter

C.  (:3)  Justified Retaliation

Samson then said to them, ‘This time I shall be blameless in regard to the Philistines when I do them harm.’

They have it coming – why didn’t he focus his fury on the father?

Inrig: It was not the girl or the father who had caused the problem, but the Philistines who had blackmailed the girl into betraying him.

Wolf: Later on David did not hesitate to take back his wife Michal forcibly, though Saul had given her to another man (1 Samuel 25:44; 2 Sam. 3:13-15). . .  When David’s son Absalom later set Joab’s barley field on fire, it proved an effective way of achieving his purpose (2 Sam 14:29-32).

Block: Samson is about to fulfill Yahweh’s design expressed in v. 4, rupturing the comfortable relationship then existing between the Israelites and the Philistines.  Samson’s words create an atmosphere of anticipation, and the reader wonders what this irascible character will do next.  No doubt the narrator finds great amusement in telling the sequel.

II.  (:4-8)  THE POWER BESTOWED ON GOD’S ANOINTED DELIVERER WREAKS DEVASTATION ON THE WICKED

A.  (:4-5)  Power Demonstrated in the Devastation of Philistine Property

And 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. 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.

Foxes – possibly “jackals” that travel in packs — it refers to a person who cheats or swindles a man in an underhanded way.    But God is specializing in doing the impossible here – so not out of the question that these may have been foxes.

Must have been very difficult to hunt down and capture and contain 300 foxes or jackals

Shocks = just harvested grain

Standing grain = still growing in the field

Grain, grapes and olive oil represent the staples of their agricultural economy

James Jordan: Samson is expressing here a desire for a child.  The kid of the goats is a regular symbol for a child, and by bringing a kid, Samson made his intentions known. . . The Philistines, by wrecking his marriage, have prevented him from enjoying the seed that would be lawfully his.  In response, then, Samson destroys their harvest, their standing grain.  They have ruined his harvest, so he ruins theirs.

Wiersbe: Samson could be fairly sure that their fear of the fire and their inability to maneuver easily would make them panic.  Thus they would run around frantically in the fields and ignite the grain.  The fire then would spread into the vineyards and olive groves.  It was a costly devastation.

B.  (:6-8)  Power Demonstrated in the Devastation of Philistine Life

1.  (:6)  Vicious Targeted Payback

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.

Samson can never keep anything secret from the Philistines – they figured out his riddle by plowing with his heifer; here they had no problem coming up with the identity of the one who had ravaged their fields and vineyards

Wife had tried to avoid this very fate of being burned by being disloyal to Samson … but she ended up being toasted anyway

Fire seems like their solution to everything

Block: People may act as though they are masters of their own fate, but the hidden providence of God is able to bring the schemes and conduct of human beings upon their own heads and thereby accomplish his own purposes. On the other hand, the Philistine rationalization sounds hollow.  Needing a scapegoat, the Philistines may simply have concluded that it was easier to deal with the Timnite than with Samson.  In their response, however, the Philistines underestimated Samson’s commitment to his wife, his preparedness to retaliate, and his physical strength. . . .  Samson always acts as if each destructive action will be the last, a disposition that is confirmed only when he destroys himself with his enemies.

James Jordan: There is a contest of fires in these two chapters. .  .  Fire is the sign of judgment, man’s or God’s (as we saw in Judges 1:8 and 17).  Whose fire is stronger? . . .  The war is a war of religions, of Gods.

2.  (:7-8)  Vengeful Retaliation in the Form of a Great Slaughter

And Samson said to them, ‘Since you act like this, I will surely take revenge on you, but after that I will quit.’ And he struck them ruthlessly with a great slaughter; and he went down and lived in the cleft of the rock of Etam.

ruthlessly” = “leg on thigh” = a wrestling metaphor for a ferocious attack, a total victory

In all of these types of payback scenarios, you ask yourself, when does the killing stop?

Violence breeds violence – we are not told how many died in this “great slaughter” – but since things are building to a crescendo, I would imagine significantly less than 1,000

He understood the Philistines would come looking for him and he found a good secure hiding place

III.  (:9-17)  THE PURSUIT OF GOD’S ANOINTED DELIVERER BY BOTH THE PHILISTINES AND THE ISRAELITES DRIVES SAMSON TO ACT ALONE IN ACCOMPLISHING HIS DIVINE MISSION

A.  (:9-10)  Hunted by the Philistines

Then the Philistines went up and camped in Judah, and spread out in Lehi. And 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.’

Lehi = “jawbone”—perhaps the location was given this name after the incident

Search and destroy mission to find Samson and take him out; interesting that they come to solicit the help of the men of Judah – expecting that these cowards will not want to engage them in battle but will turn over their divinely appointed champion

B.  (:11-13)  Handed Over by the Israelites

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.’ And 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.’ 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.

Wiersbe: The passion to get even seemed to govern Samson’s life.  His motto was, “As they did unto me, so have I done unto them.”

Inrig: We can get to the place where we have so accommodated ourselves to the world’s life-style and to the presence of sin in our lives that we just accept them and give up the fight.  We do not really believe things will change, so we give in. . . he did everything to keep from attacking his own people.  That is why he made them promise not to kill him, but he submitted to the ultimate degradation of having them tie him up and hand him to the Philistines.  Only a deep-seated commitment to God’s purpose in his life could have made Samson deal so kindly with people who were mistreating him so badly.

Brensinger: Oppression here is not so much violent and turbulent as it is subtle and even acceptable.  From all indications, the Israelites have not essential arguments against being in this weakened state!  Apparently, falling far short of the Lord’s intentions cause no serious concern.

Look at how Satan used Judas to betray Jesus and hand him over to be taken into custody by the authorities and tried on trumped up charges to then be executed – prophecy from Genesis 3 – but a bruising of the heel of the seed of the Messiah who would rise from the dead and crush the serpent’s head – death cannot hold the Savior – just as these new ropes melted like flax and dropped from the hands of Samson

C.  (:14-17)  Helped by the Holy Spirit

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. And he found a fresh jawbone  of a donkey, so he reached out and took it and killed a thousand men with it. Then Samson said, ‘With the jawbone of a donkey, Heaps upon heaps, With the jawbone of a donkey I have killed a thousand men.’ And it came about when he had finished speaking,  that he threw the jawbone from his hand; and he named that place Ramath-lehi.

fresh jawbone” – an old one would be too brittle to be effective; probably took this one from a carcass; think of the implications again for his Nazirite vow …

James Jordan: The Hebrew word for “heap” is spelled and sounds exactly the same as the Hebrew word for “ass.”  The poem is a very funny pun, comparing the Philistines to asses.

Wolf: The carcasses of donkeys were usually thrown outside the city wall (Jer 22:19), and this kind of disgraceful burial had befallen the Philistines.

Did not need to save the jawbone and make some type of religious relic or idol out of it; it was just the convenient weapon that God allowed him to use at the time; but the power came from the Lord

the high place of the jaw bone” – Jawbone Hill = the mound Samson had made by piling up all the dead carcasses of the Philistines

IV.  (:18-20)  THE PROVISION TO SUSTAIN GOD’S ANOINTED DELIVERER REINFORCES A STATE OF HUMBLE DEPENDENCE – STRENGTH FOR SERVING THE LORD COMES FROM THE DIVINE STREAMS OF LIVING WATER

Then he became very thirsty, and he called to the LORD and said, ‘Thou hast given this great deliverance by the hand of Thy servant, and now shall I die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?’ 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. So he judged Israel twenty years in the days of the Philistines.

the spring of him who called

Jer. 33:3Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.”

Samson’s tone even in this prayer still sounds demanding and ungrateful

S. Lewis Johnson: It is rather interesting that this word that is translated “split”, in my version is the word that was used of the rock in Rephadim that Moses smote and out of which came water to assuage the thirst of the children of Israel.  It’s often been commented upon that when Moses smote that rock in Exodus chapter 17 and the water came out of it, and those words which are used there are probably the words upon which our Lord depends when he speaks about the fact that when he is glorified the Holy Spirit shall come.  It’s often been said that the smiting of the rock is a reference to the cross of the Lord Jesus and the out flowing of the water is a reference to the Holy Spirit who is given to all who believe.  And it is interesting here that we have this mighty victory by Samson over the forces of evil suggesting to us the Lord Jesus as the one who overthrows Satan, who has the hold upon us by virtue of our sin, and as a mighty champion he has overcome Satan through the cross and through the simple gospel.  And now we have the outpoured water suggestive of the fact that those of us who have come to know our Lord Jesus Christ do receive the Holy Spirit who is in the final analysis the test of whether we really are believers in Christ.

Wiersbe: If triumphs aren’t balanced with trials, there’s a danger that we’ll become proud and self-confident. . . .  If Samson had only heeded this warning and asked God not only for water but for guidance! “Lead us not into temptation” would have been the perfect prayer for that hour. How quick we are to cry out for help for the body when perhaps our greatest needs are in the inner person. It’s when we’re weak that we’re strong (1 Corinthians 12:10); and when we’re totally dependent on the Lord, we’re the safest.

Dale Ralph Davis: an act that calls to mind Yahweh’s provisions for Israel on the wilderness journey (Exod. 17:6; Num. 20:8, 11).

CONCLUSION:

Several Lessons for us:

-          Violence breeds violence; the pathway of personal revenge must be replaced in the believer by the grace of forgiveness – but here we see Samson used by the Lord in a national sense as a deliverer and a judge

-          The strength of the Lord is sufficient for fighting the Lord’s battles – especially against sin and temptation; we have the resurrection power of our Lord Jesus working on our behalf

-          Don’t ever live as these sad Israelites did – complacent with being in bondage to the enemy; you have been called to a life of freedom in the power of the Spirit

-          Even after great spiritual victories, don’t get too big for your britches; remember your need for humble dependence upon the Lord for everything in life – down to your next drink of water

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