Anger can lead to awful revenge. Revenge can escalate to retribution. Warring parties can strike at each other, over and over. We see this in conflicts between nations and ethnicities. Political parties unwilling to see one another in any way except negatively. Husbands and wives that fall apart in nasty divorces. Friendships taking sides. Churches split.
In this series of posts, we are learning the story of one of ancient Israel’s most famous characters, Samson, and as we’ll see, it is a story of anger and revenge. After a birth and childhood (Judges 13) that was wonderfully ordained by God, which we learned about in Part 1, Samson makes some choices that are decidedly ungodly (Judges 14), as we saw in Part 2. The writer of Judges has just told us that Samson lost a bet with Philistines who attended his wedding feast. We pick up the story at the beginning of Judges 15.
Imagine you are Samson’s new wife’s father. You hear that her Israelite husband has just killed 30 of your Philistine people in order to pay up a ridiculous bet. Think about that. One man kills 30 men. I wonder how that happened. One man is no match against 30 men. The 30 will always win. An extremely talented soldier might be able to handle 2-3 in a fistfight. But 30? Or maybe Samson didn’t face all 30 at the same time. Maybe like Batman he took them out covertly one by one? We don’t know.
Either way, when the Spirit of Lord came upon him, Samson is no longer an ordinary man. This is brutal stuff we’re talking about here. It is war. And war is ugly and awful. If you are the father of that Philistine girl, you would not want her marrying the man who just killed 30 of your people. That’s like allowing your daughter to marry a mass-murderer. Or allowing your daughter to marry an enemy super soldier. Nope. Not going to happen. So Samson’s father-in-law gives his daughter to one of the Philistine guys at the wedding.
Bold move, right?
That means Samson’s marriage is over 7 days after it began, because he committed a mass atrocity. Again, this leaves us scratching ours head about Samson. He clearly has deep inner issues. And we’re only just getting started in his story.
Like I said, this was the beginning of war. In Judges chapter 15 as the story continues, things go from bad to worse. Samson goes to find his wife, as he would. He doesn’t know that his father-in-law gave her away to another man, and Samson believes he is married. At the house, his father-in-law tells Samson that he gave Samson’s wife away, but he says Samson can have her younger sister, because apparently she is more beautiful anyway.
What? That’s a very odd offer. He won’t give away one daughter, but he will give away the other? Was he afraid of Samson? It’s crazy. This gives us an indication, perhaps, of what Philistine society was like. Still, it seems like an awful offer, especially from the viewpoint of the younger daughter!
Considering what we know of Samson thus far, how do you think Samson is going to respond to the news that his Philistine father-in-law gave away Samson’s wife? Think Samson will be calm, level-headed, answering, “Yeah, I didn’t want her anyway…she betrayed me…Ok, I’ll take the sister. Thanks.”? Nope. Not even close.
Samson is angry! Get this. He catches 300 foxes or jackals. Not one or two. 300. 300? That alone raises so many questions. How? Just how? Where do you get that many? How long did it take? Where did he keep them once he caught them? I can hardly imagine the logistics of this.
Then he makes a 150 teams of two foxes, tying them together by their tails, attaching torches to their tails, and he sets them loose in the Philistines’ grain fields, vineyards and olive groves. This is scorched earth warfare in the ancient world. From a military perspective, I have to admit that it is very strategic. The resulting fires would have caused massive economic devastation to the enemy. If you can’t feed an army, that army can’t fight.
The Philistines find out that it was Samson who burned their fields, and guess what they do? Run away defeated? Nope. They murder his wife and her father, which are their own people! Who knows? Maybe they blamed the father-in-law for handling things poorly.
Will that calm things down? Maybe it would calm some people or make them scared. You often hear about that kind of thing in movies, right? People threaten to kill your family to scare you, quiet you, get you to run or stay away. But this is Samson we’re talking about. Look at Judges 15:7, where we read that he is now even angrier than before. He says he will not stop until he gets revenge on them, and that is exactly what he does slaughtering many of them. The war is escalating.
The Philistines respond by mustering an army to get Samson. They ride out to Judah, one of the Israelite tribal areas, where Samson was staying in a cave. The men of Judah are really concerned about this troop movement of the Philistines. Remember that the Philistines have been ruling them for 40 years. This was a menacing move on the part of the Philistines, and the men of Judah could easily be thinking that the Philistines had come to make trouble, especially when you consider the devastation Samson has just done to them. But the Philistines say, “No, we’re just here for Samson.” The men of Judah, then, gather together a force of 3000 men to capture Samson. That’s a huge number of men. Apparently they knew that Samson was a force to be reckoned with!
They find him and agree with Samson not to kill him, but just to tie him up and hand him over to the Philistines. They do just that, and when they deliver him to the Philistines, the Philistines rush toward Samson with a war cry. They are filled with revenge. What happens next is unparalleled.
The Spirit of the Lord comes on Samson again. He breaks free of his bindings, picks up a jawbone of a donkey, and uses it as a weapon, again breaking his Nazarite vow not to touch dead carcasses. Samson doesn’t care, and he uses the jawbone to strike down 1000 Philistines!
I wonder what that looked like. He must have been moving so fast and so forcefully, empowered by God, that he was a blur of supernatural power, mowing people down. No arrows, no slingshots, no swords, no armor, nothing could stop him. It didn’t matter if they encircled him with a 100 men. Nothing they could have tried would have worked. My guess is that they tried many tactics, but nothing was stopping Samson. After losing 1000 men, my guess is the Philistines gave up and retreated.
Throughout the story of Samson, the body count numbers have been increasing, haven’t they? We are way, way beyond the killing of a lion. This is now all out war, and Samson, all by himself defeats an army of the Philistines. It is an astonishing feat of individual victory. For the first time in 40 years, Israel is free from Philistine rule.
But look at verse 18. Imagine the physical toll it took on Samson to be a soldier fighting all by himself. Yes, the Spirit empowered him. For sure. There is no other explanation. But we also learn he is thirsty. That is an understatement! He is thankful for the victory God gave him, but he is also impatient and gruff with the Lord. God opens the place making water pour forth, and Samson can drink. Still, Samson clearly shows his immaturity and disrespect for God.
As the chapter concludes, we learn that Samson leads Israel for 20 years. But as we did in Part 2 of this series, we have to ask what we are learning about Samson. Though he has amazing victories over the enemies of Israel, empowered by God, the victories are completely individual. Samson isn’t leading the nation back to God. He is just getting revenge, flowing from his anger. Israel is free, but are they moving in God’s direction?
So far Samson’s story has been one of moving away from God, fueled by a vicious anger and revenge. Samson’s story continues in the next post. Perhaps Israel’s newfound freedom will see Samson lead them to God. What about you? Is there any anger and revenge in your life? What would it look like for you to move in God’s direction?