A view towards Bishopsteignton in mist. As the mist clears, everything becomes clearer

Judges chapters 15:1-20, 16:1-31

Samson's success and failure:
Foxes - donkey's jawbone - haircut - death.

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Map Samson.jpg

Judges 15

Read verses 1-3

1 Later on, at the time of wheat harvest, Samson took a young goat and went to visit his wife. He said, ‘I’m going to my wife’s room.’ But her father would not let him go in.

2 ‘I was so sure you hated her,’ he said, ‘that I gave her to your companion. Isn’t her younger sister more attractive? Take her instead.’

3 Samson said to them, ‘This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines; I will really harm them.’

As we saw in the last study, some would claim that Samson was a ‘type of Christ’ but ‘I have a right to get even with the Philistines; I will really harm them’ is hardly Christ-like.

Some commentators have tried to argue that Samson was actually defending Israel against the Philistine aggression, but I’m not happy with that either!

Read verses 4-6

4 So he went out and caught three hundred foxes and tied them tail to tail in pairs. He then fastened a torch to every pair of tails, 5 lit the torches and let the foxes loose in the standing corn of the Philistines. He burned up the shocks and standing corn, together with the vineyards and olive groves.

6 When the Philistines asked, ‘Who did this?’ they were told, ‘Samson, the Timnite’s son-in-law, because his wife was given to his companion.’

So the Philistines went up and burned her and her father to death.

Revenge is a dreadful thing and can soon spiral out of control. Samson’s ‘I merely did to them what they did to me’ (v11) was a blatant lie and hardly justified the destruction and death that he caused.

Read verses 7-9

7 Samson said to them, ‘Since you’ve acted like this, I swear that I won’t stop until I get my revenge on you.’ 8 He attacked them viciously and slaughtered many of them. Then he went down and stayed in a cave in the rock of Etam.

9 The Philistines went up and camped in Judah, spreading out near Lehi. 10 The people of Judah asked, ‘Why have you come to fight us?’

‘We have come to take Samson prisoner,’ they answered, ‘to do to him as he did to us.’

More revenge killing: Samson ‘attacked them viciously and slaughtered many of them’ (v8) so the Philistines called out their army and marched into Judah’s territory to ‘get’ Samson and ‘do to him as he did to us’.

As a result, the men of Judah were now intent on preventing war.

Read verses 11-13

11 Then three thousand men from Judah went down to the cave in the rock of Etam and said to Samson, ‘Don’t you realise that the Philistines are rulers over us? What have you done to us?’

He answered, ‘I merely did to them what they did to me.’

12 They said to him, ‘We’ve come to tie you up and hand you over to the Philistines.’

Samson said, ‘Swear to me that you won’t kill me yourselves.’

13 ‘Agreed,’ they answered. ‘We will only tie you up and hand you over to them. We will not kill you.’ So they bound him with two new ropes and led him up from the rock.

Samson was popular in the eyes of the Israelites because of what he had done to the hated Philistines. Consequently they would not kill him themselves, but if they didn’t hand him over they faced all-out war. So they bound him, took him out and withdrew from him, leaving him to his fate.

Read verses 14-17

14 As he approached Lehi, the Philistines came towards him shouting. The Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him. The ropes on his arms became like charred flax, and the bindings dropped from his hands. 15 Finding a fresh jawbone of a donkey, he grabbed it and struck down a thousand men.

16 Then Samson said,

‘With a donkey’s jawbone I have made donkeys of them.

With a donkey’s jawbone I have killed a thousand men.’

17 When he finished speaking, he threw away the jawbone; and the place was called Ramath Lehi.

Note again ‘The Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him’ (v14) and the resulting carnage was enough to deter the Philistines from further attack – for now.

Read verse18

18 Because he was very thirsty, he cried out to the Lord, ‘You have given your servant this great victory. Must I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?’

Samson acknowledged that the victory came from God, but his prayer for water was hardly gracious – although God’s response was!

Read verses19-20

19 Then God opened up the hollow place in Lehi, and water came out of it. When Samson drank, his strength returned and he revived. So the spring was called En Hakkore, and it is still there in Lehi.

20 Samson led Israel for twenty years in the days of the Philistines.

Judges 16

Read verses 1-3

1 One day Samson went to Gaza, where he saw a prostitute. He went in to spend the night with her. 2 The people of Gaza were told, ‘Samson is here!’ So they surrounded the place and lay in wait for him all night at the city gate. They made no move during the night, saying, ‘At dawn we’ll kill him.’

3 But Samson lay there only until the middle of the night. Then he got up and took hold of the doors of the city gate, together with the two posts, and tore them loose, bar and all. He lifted them to his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that faces Hebron.

The Nazirite vow was taken by people who, for a time, would endeavour to live a more holy life. The life of a Nazirite had been chosen for Samson from his birth by God, but Samson does not seem to have embraced it. To sleep with a Philistine, and a prostitute, was another affront to the holiness of God. Carrying away the city gates was merely showing off – I see no mention of the Spirit of the Lord being involved this time.

Read verses 4-6

4 Some time later, he fell in love with a woman in the Valley of Sorek whose name was Delilah. 5 The rulers of the Philistines went to her and said, ‘See if you can lure him into showing you the secret of his great strength and how we can overpower him so that we may tie him up and subdue him. Each one of us will give you eleven hundred shekels of silver.’

6 So Delilah said to Samson, ‘Tell me the secret of your great strength and how you can be tied up and subdued.’

Why did Samson continually fall for Philistine women? Surely by now he would have learned his lesson?

How easy is it for us to continually lapse into a particular sin?

‘Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour’ (1 Peter 5:8)

Often we believe we have repented, and asked for the Lord’s forgiveness, but we find that we have slipped again into our old ways. Fortunately God is gracious to us and through the sacrifice of Christ we are cleansed from all our unrighteousness.

8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.’ 1 John 1:8-9

Back to Samson.

Read verses 7-16. Quite a long reading, perhaps four people could share.

7 Samson answered her, ‘If anyone ties me with seven fresh bow-strings that have not been dried, I’ll become as weak as any other man.’

8 Then the rulers of the Philistines brought her seven fresh bow-strings that had not been dried, and she tied him with them. 9 With men hidden in the room, she called to him, ‘Samson, the Philistines are upon you!’ But he snapped the bow-strings as easily as a piece of string snaps when it comes close to a flame. So the secret of his strength was not discovered.

10 Then Delilah said to Samson, ‘You have made a fool of me; you lied to me. Come now, tell me how you can be tied.’

11 He said, ‘If anyone ties me securely with new ropes that have never been used, I’ll become as weak as any other man.’

12 So Delilah took new ropes and tied him with them. Then, with men hidden in the room, she called to him, ‘Samson, the Philistines are upon you!’ But he snapped the ropes off his arms as if they were threads.

13 Delilah then said to Samson, ‘All this time you have been making a fool of me and lying to me. Tell me how you can be tied.’

He replied, ‘If you weave the seven braids of my head into the fabric on the loom and tighten it with the pin, I’ll become as weak as any other man.’ So while he was sleeping, Delilah took the seven braids of his head, wove them into the fabric 14 and tightened it with the pin.

Again she called to him, ‘Samson, the Philistines are upon you!’ He awoke from his sleep and pulled up the pin and the loom, with the fabric.

15 Then she said to him, ‘How can you say, “I love you,” when you won’t confide in me? This is the third time you have made a fool of me and haven’t told me the secret of your great strength.’ 16 With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was sick to death of it.

For Samson it had been a game, and a way of showing off. But the continual nagging was no longer fun.

Read verse 17.

17 So he told her everything. ‘No razor has ever been used on my head,’ he said, ‘because I have been a Nazirite dedicated to God from my mother’s womb. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.’

There was no strength in his hair. His strength came from God and as long as there was some part of his Nazirite vow that was still unbroken, God would remain with him. But deliberately turning your back on God always has consequences.

To imagine that Samson wouldn’t expect Delilah to have his hair shaved is being naïve. Three times consecutively she had tested Samson’s statements; he must have known she would try again. He had simply given in to her constant nagging.

Read verses 18-20.

18 When Delilah saw that he had told her everything, she sent word to the rulers of the Philistines, ‘Come back once more; he has told me everything.’ So the rulers of the Philistines returned with the silver in their hands. 19 After putting him to sleep on her lap, she called for someone to shave off the seven braids of his hair, and so began to subdue him. And his strength left him.

20 Then she called, ‘Samson, the Philistines are upon you!’

He awoke from his sleep and thought, ‘I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.’ But he did not know that the Lord had left him.

From before Samson’s birth the Lord had chosen him for a life of holiness as a Nazirite. Samson had consistently rejected his calling and now he had carelessly rejected his God.

Read verses 21-22.

21 Then the Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza. Binding him with bronze shackles, they set him to grinding corn in the prison. 22 But the hair on his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.

Samson was a ‘strong-man act’ and it would be a shame to simply kill him. Blinding him was the easiest way of ensuring he was no longer a threat. He could even be usefully employed working a treadmill.

Read verses 23-25a.

23 Now the rulers of the Philistines assembled to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god and to celebrate, saying, ‘Our god has delivered Samson, our enemy, into our hands.’

24 When the people saw him, they praised their god, saying,

‘Our god has delivered our enemy into our hands,

the one who laid waste our land and multiplied our slain.’

25 While they were in high spirits, they shouted, ‘Bring out Samson to entertain us.’ So they called Samson out of the prison, and he performed for them.

There were several temples to Dagon, but this seemed to be a significant one. The rulers chose it for their ‘great sacrifice’ and it must have held many thousands of people, with three thousand more on the roof (v27).

Read verses 25b-31.

When they stood him among the pillars, 26 Samson said to the servant who held his hand, ‘Put me where I can feel the pillars that support the temple, so that I may lean against them.’ 27 Now the temple was crowded with men and women; all the rulers of the Philistines were there, and on the roof were about three thousand men and women watching Samson perform. 28 Then Samson prayed to the Lord, ‘Sovereign Lord, remember me. Please, God, strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.’ 29 Then Samson reached towards the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other, 30 Samson said, ‘Let me die with the Philistines!’ Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived.

31 Then his brothers and his father’s whole family went down to get him. They brought him back and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of Manoah his father. He had led Israel for twenty years.

It is possible that Samson’s final act, in which he gave his life, severely weakened the Philistines – all the rulers and probably all the senior government and army officers had been killed (v23) It was the precursor to the devastating defeat of the Philistines which took place under Samuel.

But to me the way Samson was used to kill the philistines seems so out of character with the God of 1 Samuel 7:10-14

10 While Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to engage Israel in battle. But that day the Lord thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites. 11 The men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way to a point below Beth Kar.

12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us.’

13 So the Philistines were subdued and they stopped invading Israel’s territory. Throughout Samuel’s lifetime, the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines. 14 The towns from Ekron to Gath that the Philistines had captured from Israel were restored to Israel, and Israel delivered the neighbouring territory from the hands of the Philistines. And there was peace between Israel and the Amorites.

But, like Job, who am I to question God? (Job 40:1-5)

1 The Lord said to Job:

2 “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?

Let him who accuses God answer him!”

3 Then Job answered the Lord:

4 “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you?

I put my hand over my mouth.

5 I spoke once, but I have no answer — twice, but I will say no more.”

The final chapters of Judges were covered in the first studies.

Judges 11 Ruth NIV Copyright