When we last saw Samson, he’d left his own wedding in a huff and his bride, not wanting to waste a good party, married his best man instead. Unfortunately, no one thought to tell Samson that.
As Judges 15 opens, we return to our hero as he’s dragging a kid down to Timnah as a gift for his presumed wife (what happened to flowers or chocolate?), thinking about how he’s totally going to “go in to” her (Judges 15:1).
You might be wondering why Samson thinks that he’s married, considering how the wedding ended. According to my study Bible, Samson may believe himself to be in a marriage “of an ancient type in which the husband comes only from time to time to visit his wife, who continued to live with her parents” (p.314).
As for the goat offering, we’ve seen this before in Gen. 38:17, where Judah offers to pay Tamar, whom he thinks is a prostitute, with a goat in exchange for sexual services. As my study Bible puts it, “A kid was perhaps the usual gift for sexual intimacy” (p.314).
So Samson either knows that he’s not really married and has decided to treat his bride like a prostitute, or he thinks that he’s in a special one-john-only type of contract. There’s no indication that this is what his bride thought she was getting. Quite the opposite, the fact that she assumed Samson had abandoned her and so she decided to marry someone else instead strongly suggests that she believed herself to be in what we would consider a “regular marriage.”
So Samson gets to his father-in-law’s house (so called because it is extremely difficult to find meaningful descriptives for these nameless characters!), goat in hand, and asks to “go in to” the man’s daughter.
For some reason, the father-in-law is apologetic when he tells Samson that his bride has remarried, but offers him her younger sister instead. This father of the year seems to have no compunctions about giving his daughter to a man who doesn’t even communicate enough to establish what kind of marriage he’s getting into, leaves his own wedding in a huff over the outcome of a riddle that he proposed in the first place, and then returns only for a booty call.
Samson, somehow believing himself to be the wronged part, is so angry that he catches 300 foxes, ties them into pairs by the tail, and sticks a torch between each pair. Having lit the torches, he release the foxes into the Philistine fields, setting them (and their granaries) on fire.
I don’t think I need to explain why this is a mega-douche thing to do.
Unfortunately, the Philistines blame Samson’s father-in-law and his daughter for having “angered” Samson (remember the rule: It’s always a woman’s fault), so they burn the family alive.
To his credit (sort of), this also makes Samson angry. It’s also possible that he’s just always angry and just looking for excuses. He vows to get revenge, which he then does, by smiting the Philistines “hip and thigh” (Judges 15:8).
That done, he goes to a cleft of the rock in Etam, which I take to mean that he goes into hiding.
In the cleft of the rock
The Philistines raid the area of Lehi (which means “jawbone” – remember that) in Judah. The people of Judah, perhaps cowered by superior Philistine material culture, ask them why they are raiding. The Philistines answer that they have come for Samson in revenge for what he’d been doing in Timnah.
Three thousand men of Judah go up to Samson’s rock cleft (they must have heard of his volatility) and ask him why he had to go and antagonize the Philistines. To this, Samson replies: “As they did to me, so have I done to them” (Judges 15:11).
Except, not. All they “did” to him was assume that he no longer wanted a woman he abandoned, and then not take her away from her new family when he changed his mind. For this, he burned down their fields, jeopardizing their lives and livelihoods. After that, the story is just an object lesson on the way that violence begets violence. Samson is not the victim in this story.
But he does at least agree to let the men of Judah bind him and bring him down to the Philistines, so long as the men of Judah never raise their hands against him. Keep him mind, though, that according to Judges 14:19, he’s somewhat recently murdered thirty men of Judah (Judges 1:18).
The men of Judah agree and tie Samson up. But when they get to Lehi and the Philistines rush out to meet them, Samson hulks out, breaking his bindings, picking up the “fresh jawbone of an ass” (Judges 15:15), and killing one thousand people with it.
As Javerbaum puts it, “Whoa, when did my Bible turn into a comic book?” (The Last Testament, p.120).
You’ll probably note that this sounds a little familiar. Shamgar, one of our previous judges, killed a mere 600 Philistines with an oxgoad in Judges 3:31.
When he’s done with the killing, Samson delivers his “hasta la vista” line:
With the jawbone of an ass,
heaps upon heaps,
with the jawbone of an ass
have I slain a thousand men. (Judges 15:16)
My study Bible says that this is a pun, as “the Hebrew words for ass and heap(s) [are] identical” (p.314-315). Essentially, that second line potentially means both “I have heaped up their corpses” and “I’ve made them into donkeys.” At least, that’s my best guess at the joke.
Just to reinforce the point, Lehi (“jawbone”) is renamed Ramath-lehi, which apparently means “jawbone hill.” I’m guessing that this is a geographical Just So story, perhaps in which a hill is said to have grown over the “heap” of corpses.
It seems that killing a thousand men at once with the jawbone of a donkey is thirsty work. But this is Samson, so of course he can’t just go get a drink, or even just tell God that he’s thirsty. No, he must be a poor beleaguered victim:
Thou hast granted this great deliverance by the hand of thy servant; and shall I now die of thirst, and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised? (Judges 15:19)
God, displaying far more patience than I do around that whiny sort of tone, creates a spring from which Samson can drink. The area is therefore renamed Enhakkor’e, or “the spring of him who called.”
You’d think this would be the end of Samson because he is claiming to have successfully delivered Israel and the chapter ends by telling us that he was a judge for 20 years. You might also be slightly panicking because, hey, isn’t there supposed to be a whole thing with Delilah cutting his hair? Well, fear not, we still have a whole other chapter of our biblical comic book hero!