Notes on Judges 15, verses 1-8
by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
Judges 15:1, KJV: But it came to pass within a while after, in the time of wheat harvest, that Samson visited his wife with a kid; and he said, I will go in to my wife into the chamber. But her father would not suffer him to go in.
Wheat harvest is seldom mentioned in the Bible. In Exodus 34:22, wheat harvest is mentioned along with the “feast of weeks” which was 50 days after Passover. So it was probably took place in the springtime.
Samson’s “marriage” does not seem to be a regular marriage. Rebekah left her home to become Isaac’s wife (Genesis 24), Sarai left Ur along with Abram to go to an unknown destination (Genesis 11:27-29); and Jacob’s wives stayed with him when he left Laban’s land in order to head back to Canaan (Gen. 31). This may be the only such “marriage” in Scripture, where the husband returns to his wife with an offering. Why Samson still loved a woman like her who made his wedding feast a miserable situation, refused to stand by him in order to please her countrymen (Judges 14:15-18), and refused to go with him or even live with him is never specified and almost defies belief.
And when he tries to return to his wife, Samson runs right into her father, who does not let him near her.
What kind of family relationship was this?
2 And her father said, I verily thought that thou hadst utterly hated her; therefore I gave her to thy companion: (is) not her younger sister fairer than she? take her, I pray thee, instead of her.
The text does not indicate (Judges 14:18-19) that Samson hated his wife, but was angry with the way in which he was tricked into giving 30 “guests” each a change of clothes. Now her father tries to explain that he gave his daughter, Samson’s wife, to the “companion” or best man but Samson could marry the younger daughter instead. Note a contrast: Jacob worked seven years for Rachel, Laban’s younger daughter, but was given Leah, the older daughter instead! Then he agreed to work for Laban another seven years for Rachel (all found in Gen. 29). Here, Samson’s father-in-law takes the older daughter back and offers Samson the younger daughter, perhaps as a consolation prize or a “don’t take it too seriously, we can fix this” proposition.
3 And Samson said concerning them, Now shall I be more blameless than the Philistines, though I do them a displeasure.
Samson had done everything in good faith but the Philistines had not! The 30 men were supposed to figure out the riddle (chapter 14) on their own, not by forcing Samson’s wife to nag him into giving them the answer. Samson’s father-in-law should have respected the marriage between Samson and his daughter until the marriage was legally dissolved—there is no record that this ever happened. So, Samson was indeed more blameless: not sinlessly perfect, but he had acted in better faith and with higher ethics and standards than the Philistines. By “displeasure”, the writer may be stating that Samson was about to take matters into his own hands and repay the Philistines for the way they treated him.
Note carefully that first, Samson did not inquire of the LORD about what to do; and second, the LORD never told him to do anything like this. What the LORD could have done, had Samson asked of Him, is something no one will ever be able to determine. Samson decided to act alone here.
4 And Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took firebrands, and turned tail to tail, and put a firebrand in the midst between two tails.
This may have taken some time, unless he caught one pair at a time (where would he have kept or penned up the animals until he reached 300?) and turned them loose.
5 And when he had set the brands on fire, he let (them) go into the standing corn of the Philistines, and burnt up both the shocks, and also the standing corn, with the vineyards (and) olives.
This act of Samson’s seems unduly harsh: he had been promised 30 changes of clothes if the guests had not figured out his riddle (chapter 14), but he was cheated out of that; and his wife’s father denied him the rights of a husband, claiming that since he thought Samson hated his wife, the father could give her to the “companion” or best man; but even so, he was destroying the food of thousands of people. It is to be reminded that Samson did this on his own, he never inquired of the LORD, and the LORD did not tell him to do this, nor did the LORD give any approval to this deed.
6 Then the Philistines said, Who hath done this? And they answered, Samson, the son in law of the Timnite, because he had taken his wife, and given her to his companion. And the Philistines came up, and burnt her and her father with fire.
It is never recorded how the Philistines knew how Samson was the one responsible for the destruction of their crops. Eventually the truth became known and Philistine retribution was, here, swift and unforgiving. The exact details of how Samson’s (by now ex-) wife and her father are not stated; there was no need. One irony is that this death by fire was the same threatened punishment if she had not nagged Samson into giving her the answer to his riddle (Judges 14:11-18).
7 And Samson said unto them, Though ye have done this, yet will I be avenged of you, and after that I will cease.
Samson now seems to direct his anger or rage against the Philistines. His statement could be paraphrased as “one more battle to fight, then I can rest at home tonight”.
8 And he smote them hip and thigh with a great slaughter: and he went down and dwelt in the top of the rock Etam.
“Hip and thigh” is an expression probably not to be taken literally. There are other spots or places on the human body which could cause death or wounding more easily than striking the hip or thigh of the enemy. This expression may be a figure of speech for a valiant effort resulting in a “great slaughter”.
After this, the text says he dwelt in “the top of the rock Etam”. The exact location is unknown.
Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).