5.4 Samson At Lehi (Judges 15:9 - 20)
In this incident of Samson at Lehi we have many of the themes of
Samson's life epitomized. Samson's spiritual strength was once again
somewhat weak. He says that he had killed Philistines because "
I merely did to them what they did to me" (15:11 NIV). There
was no mention of the fact that he was seeking occasion against
God's enemies (even though he was speaking to Hebrews). He passed
off his actions as pure revenge- which on one level, was all they
were. The Philistines had earlier said that they wanted to take
Samson " to do to him as he did to us" (15:10). And Samson
replies in the same primitive way: that he only did to them what
they did to him. It seems that Samson spoke to them on their level.
And yet when the Philistines came upon Samson, roaring against him
like the lion in 14:5, God's Spirit once again came upon him in
confirmation of his faith. Israel at this time were evidently unspiritual;
hence they were dominated by the Philistines (15:12). The way they
came to bind Samson has suggestions of Legion (Lk. 8:29); perhaps
they considered him to be mentally ill, and attributed his strength
to fits? Or worse, did they consider the work of the Spirit of God
to deliver them to be that of demons? If so, Samson was typifying
the Lord's later experience (Mt. 12:24-27). The way Jesus spoke
of himself in this context as the stronger than the strong man (cp.
Samson) encourages this view. And yet the strong man who was bound,
i.e. the devil, can also be seen as a reference to Samson. Again,
we are left with a difficult question: Was Samson telling them the
truth when he said that his motive at Lehi was purely personal revenge?
Or were they so unspiritual that he spoke to them on their level,
even though at other times he pleaded with them to quit their idolatry
(2:16-19)? Or were his motives simply hopelessly mixed? Within him
was a burning desire to do God's work; he was the one faithful Israelite
who could chase 1,000; and yet in the company of his unspiritual
brethren, he let his human side come out, and wrapped up his zeal
for the Lord in human terms- even though there was some truth in
how he expressed it. This kind of thing can so easily happen in
our Christian experience; we bring out the worst in each other.
And yet despite such cruel rejection at the hands of his weak brethren,
there is reason to think that Samson was not just out for personal
glory when he slew those thousand men. Samson grabbed a jaw-bone
and exalted that with that he had slain a thousand men
at Lehi. This was a conscious allusion to Josh. 23:10 (and Lev.
26:8): " One man of you shall chase a thousand: for the Lord
your God, He it is that fighteth for you" . It could be that
he counted the bodies, or counted each man he slew, consciously
trying to get up to 1,000 in order to fulfill the prophecy. Samson
doesn't say that he alone killed the thousand men; he did it with
the jaw-bone (coming from a Hebrew root meaning 'soft', 'weak').
It has been pointed out that this jaw bone is one of the seven weak
things which are mentioned in Judges as being the tools of God's
salvation: left handed man (3:21); an ox goad (3:31); a woman (4:4);
a nail (4:21); a piece of a millstone (9:53); a pitcher and trumpet
(7:20). God's people are likened to an ass frequently (Gen. 49:11,14;
Is. 1:3; Jer. 2:24; Hos. 8:9; Lk. 13:15; 14:5). The first two references
would have been known to Samson at Lehi; and he may have reflected
that the fact the firstborn of an ass must be redeemed by a lamb
was prophetic of how Messiah would save all His otherwise condemned
people (Ex. 13:13; 34:20). Could it not be that despite their cruel
betrayal of him and utter faithlessness, dear Samson felt he was
living out a kind of acted parable of what was possible for Israel:
that through his zeal, and in his hands, the weak people of God
could achieve the great victory over thousands which Moses and Joshua
had earlier foretold? In this he was a superb type of the Lord.
In the actual slaughter of the Philistines at Timnath, we are again
left with questions as to the pureness of Samson's motives. His
request for water in that dry place was abundantly answered- in
the same way as Yahweh had responded to exactly the same request
from a faithless Israel in the desert (Ex. 17:1-7; Num. 20:2-13).
And the way he names the well after the miraculous provision of
water, and the way presumably the opened well remained (15:19),
has links with pseudo-Israelite Hagar (Gen. 16:19). And yet even
in these similarities, it must be noted that there was a certain
spiritual culture in Samson's prayer. He didn't make a direct, crude
demand for water. He placed his situation before God, and left it
to Him to respond as He knew best. This is a feature of many spiritual
prayers: not to crudely, directly ask for the obvious; but to simply
inform the Almighty of the situation, in faith (1).
Samson's victory song at Lehi smacks of personal vengeance: there
is little suggestion of the humble servant merely doing God's will:
" With a donkey's jaw-bone
I have made donkeys of them.
With a donkey's jaw-bone
I have killed a thousand men"
Samson at Lehi saw them as unclean asses; and yet
he loved their women. And yet in the midst of this almost arrogance,
he cries: " I thirst" , and so exhibits something of the
spirit of Christ in His final hour of agony and ultimate conquest
on the cross (Jn. 19:28). And yet again, it must be considered that
the Lord's words there must be read in the context of His other
Johanine references to thirst (Jn. 4:14,15; 6:35). He was expressing
the spiritual thirst He felt, as a man on the brink of the ultimate
spiritual failure, and saw this expressed in the literal desire
He had for moisture. On the cross He was the root out of the dry
ground. Samson's thirst occurred at a time of unspirituality in
the midst of great victory. The Lord in His final spiritual crisis,
feeling spiritually forsaken by the Father, fearing He had sinned
(Ps. 22:1-6), may therefore have feared Samson had been an all too
(1) See The
Essence Of Prayer. Examples include: Gen. 19:24; 2 Chron.
14:11; Ps. 3:1-4; 142:1,2; Jn. 11:21,22; 1 Kings 19:10 cp. Rom.
11:2,3; Ps. 106:44 cp. Is. 64:3.