Saturday, January 22, 2022
The Judges. Day 52, Samson's Vengeance, Part One
Samson left his marriage feast in anger on the seventh day when he learned his new bride had given the answer to his riddle to the Philistine men of his wedding party. This caused him to lose a wager he'd made with them: that if they could solve his riddle he would give them thirty cloaks and thirty suits of clothes. To make good on this wager, he killed thirty Philistine men and gave their belongings to the men of his wedding party. Then he went home to his father's house in a rage.
Some time has passed and Samson's anger toward his wife has cooled. He wants to make up with her so he takes a young goat as a peace offering and travels back to Timnah to see her. "Later on, at the time of wheat harvest, Samson took a young goat and went to visit his wife." (Judges 15:1a) The fact that it is wheat harvest will be important later in our story.
Samson arrives at the home of his father-in-law. "He said, 'I'm going to my wife's room.' But her father would not let him go in. '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.'" (Judges 15:1b-2) The words rendered as "your companion" are believed to be a reference to the one who served as his best man at the wedding. This is the role referred to in the Bible as "the friend of the bridegroom". John the Baptist called himself "the friend of the bridegroom" when speaking about Jesus Christ. In John's analogy Jesus is the bridegroom, His church is the bride, and John the Baptist is a character who bridged the Old Testament and the New Testament---he is the one who stands by and looks on with joy as the bridegroom makes His arrival on the scene.
Samson may have departed Timnah in a rage several months earlier but he didn't divorce his Philistine bride. Her father had no right to give her in marriage to another man while she was still married to Samson. I think Samson's father-in-law realizes he's made a terrible error of judgment. He believed he'd seen the last of Samson. But now this strong young man is standing in his doorway with a burning anger in his eyes. Samson's father-in-law recalls how he slew thirty men, who had done nothing to him, in order to give their belongings to the men who participated in the wedding. If he was willing to kill men against whom he had no grudge, what more will he do to the man who put his wife into the arms of another? Scrambling for a way to pacify Samson's anger, he points out that the younger sister of Samson's wife is the prettiest of the two. He says something like, "My younger daughter is far more attractive than my older daughter anyway. I bet she'd have been the one you wanted if you'd seen her first! You're actually getting a better deal by taking her as your bride. We can do the ceremony immediately and she can be your wife today!"
Samson wants the woman to whom he is legally married, not this substitute. He makes a threat to his father-in-law and apparently to several other men of the household or of the town. "Samson said to them, 'This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines.' 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, lit the torches and let the foxes loose in the standing grain of the Philistines. He burned up the shocks and the standing grain, together with the vineyards and olive groves." (Judges 15:3-5) We don't know how Samson trapped this many foxes. (Many scholars believe the word rendered as "foxes" should actually be "jackals". That may be so, since jackals run in large packs and it would be easier to trap three hundred jackals than three hundred foxes.) We don't know how many days it took Samson to trap the animals or whether he had help. The Bible doesn't tell us whether he traveled to Timnah alone or whether he had friends and servants with him. Whatever the case, he manages to accomplish this before the harvest is over and by this method he ruins that year's wheat harvest for the Philistines and he heavily damages their vineyards and olive groves at the same time.
The foxes (or jackals) were understandably panicked and confused. They ran through the fields and vineyards and groves in an attempt to escape from the burning torches, setting on fire everything in their path. This story is disturbing from an animal welfare standpoint. The story of Samson's life is disturbing from a number of other standpoints. He's not a likable man. He's not a man with self-control. He's not a man who tries at all times to live according to the word of God. But when the angel of the Lord foretold his birth and said he would "take the lead in delivering Israel from the hands of the Philistines" (Judges 13:5), he didn't say Samson would be a shining example of godliness to the nation. The Lord chose Samson to be a judge and a deliverer at this particular point in history because He knew what Samson's personality would be like. He knew Samson would be the type of man He could use to "confront the Philistines" (Judges 14:4)
Not every leader who rises to power is a godly man or woman but that doesn't mean the Lord didn't choose them to be a leader at that particular point in history. The prophet Daniel said that the Lord controls who is in political power on earth: "He deposes kings and raises up others". (Daniel 2:21) The Apostle Paul said the same thing in Romans 13:1: "There is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God." So, whether the leader of a nation is a godly person or a wicked person, they did not rise to power outside of the Lord's will. At times He allows a godly and lovable leader to come to power and at other times He allows a sinful and hated person to be in power, but at no time is anyone in charge who is not of His choosing. He "deposes kings and raises up others" in order to accomplish His purposes. The Lord has raised up Samson to be a leader in the book of Judges not because he strives to live a godly life but, in many ways, because he doesn't. Samson is a man with anger issues. He is a man who gives in to his passions. He is a man who does not appear to reverence the regulations of his Nazirite vow. But because he's this type of man, he's the right man for the job of confronting the Philistines and loosening the hold they have over Israel at this point in history.
Samson's volatile temper and his burning of the crops of the Philistines has the opposite effect than he intended. His wife is not restored to his bosom but instead loses her life. "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." (Judges 15:6) The Philistines blame Samson's father-in-law and Samson's wife for their predicament. They have no harvest to store up for the winter. This means that men and women and children who had nothing to do with the dispute between Samson and his father-in-law may go hungry. In retaliation for this hardship, the Philistines kill Samson's wife and her father.
Upon hearing of the murder of his wife, Samson goes out to avenge her death. "Samson said to them, 'Since you've acted like this, I swear that I won't stop until I get my revenge on you.' He attacked them viciously and slaughtered many of them. Then he went down and stayed in a cave in the rock of Etam." (Judges 15:7-8) Samson hides in a cave like a fugitive. He may feel certain that the Philistines will band together and come after him. Or he may be waiting to see whether they feel like they've gotten even with him and will let him return home. In tomorrow's study we'll find men of Samson's own nation willing to hand him over to the Philistines when the Philistine army comes out in battle array and camps within the borders of the tribe of Judah. But we'll also find the Lord delivering Samson from the Philistines because the Lord still has work for Samson to do.