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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Judges 15

 

 

Verse 1

1. The time of wheat harvest — Dr. Robinson saw the peasants in the Philistine plain, not far from Timnath, beginning their wheat harvest on the 19th of May. The harvest time is here mentioned in view of the facts about to be told of Samson’s burning both the standing corn and shocks. Judges 15:5.

Visited his wife with a kid — Samson’s nuptials had not been fully consummated, and the rage and disgust with which he broke them off hindered his visiting his wife as an ordinary husband. He proposed, therefore, to visit her as one would visit a strange woman, and took the customary present. Compare Genesis 38:17.

Into the chamber — The apartment of the women; the harem.


Verses 1-5

BURNING OF THE PHILISTINES’ CORN, Judges 15:1-5.

“Samson’s disposition was too noble to cherish anger long. Only small souls bear grudges; but great natures measure others by themselves. Because they have forgotten the wrong that was done them, they think that others are no longer mindful of the wrong they have done. Kindly disposed as ever he comes to visit his wife, but this leads to the disclosure of how he has been treated.” — Cassel.


Verse 2

2. Utterly hated her — He surely had reason for so thinking, but to give her to that treacherous companion, who had so basely misused the confidence and responsibility reposed in him as friend of the bridegroom, was only to make matters worse, and to drive Samson to some other fearful act of retaliation. Under such circumstances, to propose to him her younger sister was to add insult to abuse, and render Samson more blameless than the Philistines (Judges 15:3) in the fiery destruction which speedily visited their fields and vineyards.

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Verse 4

4. Caught three hundred foxes — We are not to suppose that he caught them alone, or in a single day, nor that foxes were as scarce in Palestine then as they are now. The Hebrew word for foxes, shualim, is also used of jackals, and these latter are, doubtless, the animals which Samson caught for his purpose. They are gregarious in their habits, and may be easily taken in large numbers by means of traps and pitfalls. Dr. Kennicott felt that this narrative was so improbable that he sought out what he thought a more rational explanation, and, on the authority of seven Hebrew MSS., he read שׁעלים, handfuls, instead of שׁועלים, foxes, and supposed that Samson “took three hundred handfuls, or sheaves, of corn, and one hundred and fifty firebrands; that he turned the sheaves end to end, and put a firebrand between the two ends,” and so accomplished his work of destruction. To this, however, it is replied: 1. Even granting the proposed reading handfuls, the word cannot mean sheaves. 2. The verb לכד, rendered caught, is never used of taking handfuls or sheaves of grain, but always of seizing something by violence or stratagem, and is specially used of catching animals. 3. Then the task of bringing three hundred sheaves together in the open field, and using them as Kennicott supposes, would have been a difficulty as great as the one he seeks to explain away, and would have exposed Samson to detection and opposition before he could well have accomplished his purpose. We abide, therefore, by the common reading, and on the supposed difficulty of catching three hundred foxes we give Dr. Thomson’s very comprehensive statement: “It is probable that by foxes jackals are intended; and these are even now extremely numerous. I have had more than one race after them, and over the very theatre of Samson’s exploit. When encamped out in the plain with a part of Ibrahim Pasha’s army, in 1834, we were serenaded all night long by troops of these hideous howlers. But if we must limit Samson to the ordinary fox, even these are to be found here. I started up and chased one when I passed over that part of the plain where Timnath is believed to have been situated. In those days this country was infested with all sorts of wild animals to an extent which seems to us incredible. This is evident from the almost numberless incidental allusions in the Bible; but the use of firearms for so many centuries has either totally exterminated whole classes, or obliged them to retire into the remote and unfrequented deserts.… Not having firearms, the ancients were much more skilful than the moderns in the use of snares, nets, and pits for capturing wild animals. A large class of biblical figures and allusions necessarily presuppose this state of things. Job and David, and all the poets and prophets, continually refer in their complaints to snares, nets, pits, etc. We are justified, therefore, in believing that, at the time in question, the commander of Israel could, with no great difficulty, collect even three hundred foxes. We want no correction of the text to render the whole account credible, nor need we call in the aid of miracles.

It was merely a cunning device of Israel’s champion to inflict a terrible chastisement upon his enemies.”

Firebrands — Or, torches. The Hebrew word is the same as that rendered lamps in Judges 7:16. These torches, one hundred and fifty in number, and made of material that would probably long hold fire and burn, were what Samson set on fire, not the tails of the foxes.

Turned tail to tail — The sense obviously is that two foxes were fastened together by a cord tied to their tails — a cord perhaps several yards long — and when he put a firebrand in the midst between two tails, they would probably at first pull in opposite directions; but when they saw the brands on fire, and themselves freed from the hands of their captors, they would be likely to learn very soon to run in parallel lines, and would thus scatter the fire with most disastrous effect through the neighbouring corn-fields. “On this and on many other matters,” says Dr. Kitto, “people write large dissertations to prove or disprove points which might be determined in five minutes by a simple experiment. We happened lately to see two dogs somewhat similarly attached, and paused to see how they would act. They wasted some minutes in rather awkward movements, but, finding the futility of their efforts, they inclined their heads to each other, and, after a hasty consultation, turned round so as to bring their bodies parallel to each other, and then ran off with considerable speed. Now foxes have not the reputation of being duller than dogs.”

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Verse 5

5. Let them go — Hebrew, ישׁלח, sent them. A hundred and fifty pairs, starting forth from different points and running in different directions, each pair carrying a firebrand, would rapidly spread destruction far and wide.

The standing corn — Wheat yet uncut. This often, in the East, as on our western prairies, extends as far as eye can reach in one apparently unbroken field.

Shocks — Not carefully arranged shocks of bound sheaves, as with us, but heaps of the grain, either bound or unbound, loosely piled up for temporary convenience.

Vineyards and olives — Rather, gardens of olives. Large olive groves still abound in the plain of Philistia. “The cornfields of Philistia,” says Stanley, “then as now interspersed with olive groves, lay stretched in one unbroken expanse before him, to invite his facetious outrage. The mischievousness of the conflagration of the cornfields by means of the jackals is subordinate to the ludicrousness of the sight, as, from the hill of Zorah, the contriver of the scheme must have watched the streams of fire spreading through corn-fields and orchards in the plain below.”


Verse 6-7

SAMSON’S REVENGE OF HIS WIFE’S DEATH, Judges 15:6-8.

6. Burnt her and her father with fire — This was the first outburst of popular indignation and fury. Not finding at hand the perpetrators of the deed, they wreak vengeance on those who had been the occasion of it. And so that weak and deceitful woman, who had sought to save herself and her father by teasing Samson’s secret from him and telling it to his rival, meets at length the very doom she thought to turn away.


Verse 8

8. Smote them hip and thigh — Rather, leg upon thigh. A proverbial expression that seems most naturally to denote a ferocious and indiscriminate slaughter, as when we say of slaughtered troops, “They were utterly cut to pieces.” Gesenius explains that he smote them so that the scattered limbs fell one upon another. It was a great slaughter, and convinced the Philistines, if they knew it not before, that Samson was their great national enemy.

Top of the rock — Better, cleft of the rock. Some deep and wild gorge or cleft, such as abound in the hill country of Judea.

Etam — This many have been inclined to identify with Etam of 2 Chronicles 11:6, a city which Rehoboam fortified, and which Dr. Robinson and others have supposed to be the modern Urtas, about a mile south of Bethlehem. But to this place, which is located on high ground, Samson could hardly have been said to go down, and hence the Etam of the tribe of Simeon, mentioned 1 Chronicles 4:32, is more probably intended here. Its exact location has not been certainly identified.


Verse 9

SAMSON’S EXPLOIT WITH THE JAWBONE OF AN ASS, Judges 15:9-20.

9. Philistines went up — At least a thousand strong. Judges 15:15. The territory of Judah lies higher than the Philistine plain; hence the Philistines went up.

Spread themselves — Scattered about in small companies to hunt for Samson.

Lehi — This word means a jawbone; and Gesenius thinks might have been so called from a chain of steep, craggy rocks, which resembled a jawbone, just as some single rocks are for a like reason called teeth. 1 Samuel 7:12. The place, however, may have derived its name from Samson’s exploit. See Judges 15:17.


Verse 10

10. Why are ye come up against us — Judah was at peace and submissive to his Philistine masters, and demanded reason for any show of further oppression.


Verse 11

11. Went to the top of the rock — Hebrew, went down, that is, from the higher hill country of Judah.

Knowest thou not that the Philistines are rulers over us — The lion of Judah was cowed by the presence of the enemy; and so utterly humbled and subdued by the Philistines were the leaders of this tribe that they readily became instruments in their hands to capture and deliver up to them their nation’s great champion.


Verse 12

12. Swear unto me — He is willing to risk a combat singlehanded with the Philistines, but would not fight or injure his own countrymen. His work was to smite Philistines, not Israelites.


Verse 13

13. Brought him up from the rock — Led him a prisoner out of the cleft which he had made his stronghold.


Verse 14

14. Shouted against him — Raised a joyful shout of triumph to meet him as a bound captive and prisoner. They exulted as if their victory was now complete.

The cords… his bands — “The description rises,” says Keil, “to a poetical parallelism, to depict the triumph which Samson celebrated over the Philistines in the power of the Spirit of Jehovah.”


Verse 15

15. New jawbone — Moist or fresh, as would be the case if the animal had recently died. Such a bone would be less liable to break than one old and thoroughly dried.

A thousand men — The host was, doubtless, more numerous, but many escaped. They probably became panicstricken when they saw this fearful foe suddenly break his bands, as with miraculous power, and rush upon them, smiting to the earth every Philistine that he encountered.


Verse 16

16. Samson said — Samson’s words form a short poetical distich, and contain, in the Hebrew, a noticeable paronomasia, which may be thus presented in English:

With a jawbone of the ass, a mass, two masses, With a jawbone of the ass have I slain a thousand men.

It deserves notice, also, that the Hebrew word for mass or heaps is the same as that for ass and the word for thousand means also an ox; so that a further idea of Samson’s pun may be given by rendering:

With a jawbone of the ass, an ass, two asses, With a jawbone of the ass have I slain an ox of men.

This saying, like the method devised to burn the Philistines’ corn, shows us the extent of Samson’s humour. “His most valiant, his most cruel actions, are done with a smile on his face and a jest in his mouth. It relieves his character from the sternness of Phenician fanaticism. As a peal of hearty laughter often breaks in upon the despondency of individual sorrow, so the joviality of Samson becomes a pledge of the revival of the greatness of his nation. The whole point of the massacre of the thousand Philistines lies in the cleverness with which their clumsy triumph is suddenly turned into discomfiture; and their discomfiture is celebrated by the punning turn of the hero, not forgotten even in the exultation or the weariness of victory.” — Stanley.


Verse 17

17. Called that place Ramath-lehi — The name means hill or height of the jawbone, and seems to have originated with this triumph of Samson. In this case the name Lehi is used proleptically in Judges 15:9.


Verse 18

18. Sore athirst — Having become exhausted by his fierce conflict with the enemy.

Called on the Lord — With all his wit and humour he did not forget the source of his strength, nor fail to understand that he was fighting for Jehovah.


Verse 19

19. God clave a hollow place that was in the jaw — So the ancient versions render, and so many expositors understand that God miraculously caused a stream of water to flow out of the jawbone with which Samson had wrought his massacre. But much more properly is the Hebrew rendered, God clave the hollow place which is in Lehi; and the remark at the end of the verse, that the place or fountain remains in Lehi unto this day, fully confirms our rendering. The meaning obviously is, that God caused a spring or fountain to break out in Lehi, which became permanent, and was existing in the historian’s day.

His spirit came again — He was reinvigorated and restored from his exhaustion.

He revived — He lived, did not perish from his extreme exhaustion. The whole passage shows that Samson’s effort on that occasion had well nigh exhausted all his bodily powers.

Called the name thereof — That is, the name of the fountain in the hollow place — En-hakkore — which means, as the margin has it, the well or the fountain of him that called. It was long known as the fountain that burst forth in answer to Samson’s prayer, but its exact location is not at present known.


Verse 20

20. Judged Israel… twenty years — The same statement is repeated at the close of Samson’s history, (Judges 16:31,) but seems to have been introduced here to indicate the time when he first became fully recognized as judge in Israel. His previous exploits had not gained him great influence or recognition as judge outside of the tribe of Dan, as Judah’s action (Judges 15:12) shows. But we may believe when the three thousand men of Judah saw his slaughter of the thousand Philistines, they, too, acknowledged him as judge. He never succeeded, however, in delivering Israel, for his mission was only to begin to deliver them, (Judges 13:5;) so that the term of his office was wholly in the days of the Philistines. The days of the Philistines’ power extended on through the judgeship of Eli, and though at all times they may not have ruled and oppressed Israel, they were a constant source of trouble and fear. Complete deliverance was wrought by Samuel, the great Nazarite, to whom Samson was a sort of John Baptist. 1 Samuel 7:13.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Judges 15:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/judges-15.html. 1874-1909.

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