Notes on Judges 15, verses 9-20

by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)

Judges 15:9, Then the Philistines went up, and pitched in Judah, and spread themselves in Lehi.

Lehi is only mentioned here in this chapter and was apparently in Judah’s territory. This is where the Philistines came and camped (“pitched”). “Spread themselves” may mean they occupied a large section of Judah’s territory. The reason is in the next verse.

10 And the men of Judah said, Why are ye come up against us? And they answered, To bind Samson are we come up, to do to him as he hath done to us.

The Philistines had invaded Israel before (see Judges 10 and 13). Judah and Simeon possessed the land, along with the original inheritance of Dan, which bordered the land of Philistines (Joshua 13:2-3 and Judges 3:3). Now the people of Judah were wondering (implied) why the Philistines had come up against them—were they preparing to declare war against Israel? Their reply was that they wanted Samson, and only Samson, for revenge (“to do to him as he (did) to us”). Nothing else is recorded.

But how did the Philistines discover Samson was in the land of Judah? Had the family’s location or residence (that of Manoah and his wife, Samson’s parents) been a topic of discussion during the negotiations with the family of Samson’s first wife?

11 Then three thousand men of Judah went to the top of the rock Etam, and said to Samson, Knowest thou not that the Philistines (are) rulers over us? what (is) this (that) thou hast done unto us? And he said unto them, As they did unto me, so have I done unto them.

This seems like an excessive amount of manpower sent to bring Samson back to the Philistines. Were the men of Judah afraid of Samson or what he might do?

Apparently they were not aware of what had happened to Samson before he settled in the rock of Etam; it is not specified how long he stayed there. When the men of Judah approached him and asked what he had done (“what did you do to us?”, in so many words), he replied using nearly the same words, only reversed: “I did to them what they did to me (paraphrased).”

12 And they said unto him, We are come down to bind thee, that we may deliver thee into the hand of the Philistines. And Samson said unto them, Swear unto me, that ye will not fall upon me yourselves.

Incredibly, the men of Judah had all but surrendered to the Philistines, complying with their demand to hand Samson over to them. Why the men of Judah didn’t at least call upon the LORD for guidance, assistance, or anything else, is not stated. Had their fear of the Philistines destroyed their faith in God?

Samson did not resist the men of Judah when they came to “arrest” him. Samson only asked for protection, that these fellow Hebrews or Israelites would not kill him (“fall upon me”) themselves.

13 And they spake unto him, saying, No; but we will bind thee fast, and deliver thee into their hand: but surely we will not kill thee. And they bound him with two new cords, and brought him up from the rock.

Apparently Samson was still living at the “rock of Etam” during this time. Now the men of Judah agreed not to kill Samson themselves but that they were going to arrest him and hand him over to the Philistines. They used two new cords (material not specified here) to bind him.

14 (And) when he came unto Lehi, the Philistines shouted against him: and the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and the cords that (were) upon his arms became as flax that was burnt with fire, and his bands loosed from off his hands.

Just what the Philistines were shouting is not recorded but this could have been any number of taunts, jeers, or other insults. It is doubtful they would give any kind of praise to an enemy, especially when this enemy had been hand-delivered to them by his own countrymen! How long this took place is not given, but when the time was right, the Spirit of the LORD came upon Samson “mightily”.

Something easy to miss is that Samson did nothing in this situation. The cords became like burned flax—Samson did not do anything to the cords. Also there were some bands on Samson’s wrists (how they got there and who did this is not recorded) which fell off or were “loosed from off his hands”. Samson apparently did nothing to make this happen, either. All of it came from God.

15 And he found a new jawbone of an ass, and put forth his hand, and took it, and slew a thousand men therewith.

This would be at least the second time when Samson broke part of his Nazirite vow (Numbers 6), by touching the jawbone of a donkey. It is not certain what the writer means by “’new’ jawbone”: was it from a colt that had died shortly after birth? Or was it from a freshly or recently deceased donkey? Perhaps it was the bone itself, soon after the flesh had been taken away from it? Whatever the condition of the bone itself, Samson was able to use it as a weapon, killing 1000 men (of the Philistines).

16 And Samson said, With the jawbone of an ass, heaps upon heaps, with the jaw of an ass have I slain a thousand men.

There is no record of the emotions (exhilaration? relief? astonishment?) Samson was feeling once the battle was over and he had slain the 1000 Philistines. Sadly, he did not mention God in this utterance.

17 And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking, that he cast away the jawbone out of his hand, and called that place Ramathlehi.

He was done with the jawbone the tossed it aside. Ramath-Lehi’s definition and location are uncertain.

18 And he was sore athirst, and called on the LORD, and said, Thou hast given this great deliverance into the hand of thy servant: and now shall I die for thirst, and fall into the hand of the uncircumcised?

No doubt Samson had become very thirsty by this time: at the very least he would have swung the jawbone 1000 times! But notice his attitude has changed into something else, almost whiny: “you gave me a great victory, and now you want me to die of thirst?”

19 But God clave an hollow place that (was) in the jaw, and there came water thereout; and when he had drunk, his spirit came again, and he revived: wherefore he called the name thereof Enhakkore, which (is) in Lehi unto this day.

This was yet another miracle which God performed for one of His people. Notice how God used something dead—the jawbone of a donkey!—in order to provide life for Samson.
”En” was apparently a Hebrew word for “a spring of water”, such as “En-gedi”.

20 And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years.

How much of Israel Samson actually “judged” is not specified. He lived near one of the largest tribes, Judah, and one of the smaller ones, Dan; both of which were bordered Philistine territory. Scripture only records a few of his deeds up to this point.

Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).

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