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5.  Samson

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"

(15:16 NIV).

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 accurate prototype.  


(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.