Judges 15: Lessons About God from Samson’s Initial Battles with the Philistines

Introduction: God appointed Samson as His final deliverer. He meant for Samson to free the Jews from the Philistines. Samson had even seen the power that God had given him through the Holy Spirit. Yet, like many believers empowered with the Holy Spirit, Samson was largely uninterested in his calling to serve God. Instead, like many believers, he was only interested in the things of the flesh. God, however, always remained in control. He used Samson’s cycle of retribution as part of His plan to start a conflict that would ultimately free the Jews. From Samson’s failures in Judges 15, God reveals seven lessons about His character and His powers.

First, from Samson’s inability to forgive the father of his former fiancé, God reveals that He can give you the ability to forgive others. Second, from Samson’s second act of revenge against the Philistines (an act which would trigger a cycle of violence leading to a war that would ultimately free the Jews), He reveals that He can use even your mistakes for His glory. Third, from Samson’s third act of revenge against the Philistines following the death of his former fiancé, He reveals that you must leave all vengeance to Him and trust that He is in control. Fourth, from the Jews refusal to challenge the Philistines when they came to capture Samson from the territory of Judah, He reveals that He will give you a spirit of courage to face your adversaries when you have faith in Him. Fifth, from the Jews’ attempt to hand over Samson to the Philistines, He reveals that He can be your source of protection when others betray you. Sixth, from Samson’s defeat of 1,000 Philistines, He reveals that He can also give you strength through the Holy Spirit. Finally, from Samson’s restoration through the miracle of water coming from the rocks, He reveals that He can also restore you when you humble yourself and trust Him.

1. God Can Give You the Ability to Forgive Those Who Hurt You. Judges 15:1-3.

  • Samson’s promise of revenge against his former fiancé’s father. Samson had just killed 30 Philistines in a rage after his Philistine bachelor party hosts tricked him. He also called his fiancé a heifer. As a result, the fiancé’s father gave his daughter away to another Philistine (Jdgs. 14:19-20). This triggered Samson’s rage and his threat of retaliation: “1 But after a while, in the time of wheat harvest, Samson visited his wife with a young goat, and said, ‘I will go in to my wife in her room.’ But her father did not let him enter. 2 Her father said, ‘I really thought that you hated her intensely; so I gave her to your companion. Is not her younger sister more beautiful than she? Please let her be yours instead.’ 3 Samson then said to them, ‘This time I shall be blameless in regard to the Philistines when I do them harm.’” (Jdgs. 15:1-3). This account paralleled Jacob’s attempt to marry Rachael, and her father’s plan to instead give him Rachel’s sister Leah (Gen. 29:21-3). Yet, unlike Jacob, Samson could not control his rage over his father-in-law’s perceived betrayal. Samson had become the antihero who acted only out of rage, lust, and vengeance. Although God had given him great powers through the Holy Spirit, Samson refused to use them for any holy purpose. He was instead governed by his flesh.

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijin (1606-1669) Samson Accusing His Father-in-Law (1635)1

  • God can give you the power to forgive the unforgivable. Mankind can at times commit unspeakable evil acts towards one another. These can include war, genocide, murder, rape, arson, vandalism, slander, and other evil acts that can leave permanent scars for the survivors and their families. Survivors have two choices. They can become filled with rage and let their rage govern them like Samson. Or, they can free themselves from the cycle of retribution and suffering by forgiving. What if you lack the power to forgive because the crime is too unspeakable? You turn to Christ who can give you the power to forgive the crimes that a normal person could not forgive: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:13; Col. 1:9-11). If you lack the power to forgive because someone has hurt you too deeply, have you turned to Christ to empower you?

2. God Can Use Even Your Mistakes For His Glory. Judges 15:4-6

  • Samson’s second act of revenge against the Philistines: burning their crops. In retaliation for the loss of his Philistine fiancé, Samson used 300 animals (most likely jackals) to set fire to the Philistine’s crops: “4 Samson went and caught three hundred foxes [jackals], and took torches, and turned the foxes tail to tail and put one torch in the middle between two tails. 5 When he had set fire to the torches, he released the foxes into the standing grain of the Philistines, thus burning up both the shocks and the standing grain, along with the vineyards and groves. 6 Then the Philistines said, ‘Who did this?’ And they said, ‘Samson, the son-in-law of the Timnite, because he took his wife and gave her to his companion.’ So the Philistines came up and burned her and her father with fire.” (Jdgs. 15:4-6). Many English Bibles translate the word (“sha'ul (שעול)”) as a “fox.” (See NASB, NKJ, NIV). Others translate this Hebrew word as a “jackal.” (See, English Revised Version and Darby Bible Translation). Although not used by as many translations, a jackal is the better translation in this context. Many commentators have noted that jackals were more common than foxes in ancient Israel. Jackals also lived in packs and would be easier to catch in large numbers. By contrast, foxes are solitary animals. Thus, it would be more likely for Samson to find 300 jackals over a period of time than it would be for him to find 300 foxes. Yet, with either animal, it would have taken him weeks of planning to catch this many animals. This suggests that his seething anger at the Philistines only grew more intense with the passage of time. The jackals would have zigzagged in an attempt to escape from each other and the burning torches. They also would have stopped at different times as each animal tried to flee in a different direction. In the process, they would have set fire to the Philistine crops and property. Samson must have believed his plan would have allowed him to escape the blame. He was so blinded with rage that he gave no thought of retaliation that would follow his acts.

  • God is faithful and in control, even when you sin. Like Samson, every believer will fall short of God’s glory. A believer’s righteous acts are like filthy rags in His eyes (Is. 64:6). Even when you sin, He remains in control and will use even your sins for His glory and His plans: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” (Gen. 50:20). “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Ro. 8:28). “The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.” (Prov. 16:9; 19:21). Give thanks that He is in control, even when you sin. When things seem out of control in your life or in your family, do you trust God that He has a plan and that He is in control?

As an act of revenge, Samson set fire to 300 animals to burn the Philistine’s crops2

3. God Can Avenge You When Others Seek to Harm You. Judges 15:7-8.

  • Samson’s third act of revenge for the death of his former fiancé. After the Philistines killed his former fiancé and her family for triggering Samson’s rage, Samson committed his third act of revenge by slaughtering the Philistines where his former fiancé was from: “7 Samson said to them, ‘Since you act like this, I will surely take revenge on you, but after that I will quit.’ 8 He struck them ruthlessly with a great slaughter; and he went down and lived in the cleft of the rock of Etam.” (Jdgs. 15:7-8). Samson had already lost his fiancé. Her father had already given her away in marriage. The Philistines played no role in his loss. Thus, Samson’s vengeance was entirely misguided. But God was again using Samson’s sins for His purpose. His actions would trigger a war between the Philistines and the Jews. This war would ultimately lead to the Jews’ freedom.

  • Do not seek vengeance when others hurt you. Samson saw it as his duty to seek vengeance for any perceived slight against him. In addition to being misguided, he misrepresented God in seeking vengeance. Vengeance belongs to God alone: ‘“You shall not take vengeance . . ..”’ (Lev. 19:18; Dt. 32:35). “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.” (Ro. 12:17). “Do not say, ‘I will repay evil’; wait for the LORD, and He will save you.” (Prov. 20:22). If you do not forgive others and instead seek vengeance, God will not forgive you: “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matt. 6:14-15; Mk. 11:25-26). “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.” (Col. 3:12-13). “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Eph. 4:32). Are you showing Jesus’ love and forgiveness when others hurt you or your family?

As his third act of revenge, Samson slaughtered a Philistine village3

  • If you seek vengeance, you will only unleash a cycle of pain. Samson believed that he could end the cycle of revenge with his promise: “after that I will quit.” (Jdgs. 15:7). But Samson’s actions would unleash a cycle of retribution that would force him to flee for his life and hide in a cave: “For they sow the wind and they reap the whirlwind. The standing grain has no heads; it yields no grain. Should it yield, strangers would swallow it up.” (Hos. 8:7). “For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Gal. 6:8). “According to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity and those who sow trouble harvest it.” (Job 4:8). “You have plowed wickedness, you have reaped injustice, You have eaten the fruit of lies. Because you have trusted in your way, in your numerous warriors,” (Hos. 10:13). Samson’s life as a fugitive was the fruit of his unholy actions. If he had lived a holy life trusting in God, he would have lived in peace. “When a man’s ways are pleasing to the LORD, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” (Prov. 16:7). “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:7). Is peace of Jesus - - that surpasses all understanding -- missing in your life?

4. God Can Give You a Spirit of Courage. Judges 15:9-11.

  • The Jews’ refusal to challenge the Philistines. God had appointed Samson to help deliver the Jews from the Philistines. But the Jews showed that they had no interest in being delivered. Instead of asking Samson to lead them in battle, they rebuked Samson for almost starting a war with their Philistine masters: “9 Then the Philistines went up and camped in Judah, and spread out in Lehi. 10 The men of Judah said, ‘Why have you come up against us?’ And they said, ‘We have come up to bind Samson in order to do to him as he did to us.’ 11 Then 3,000 men of Judah went down to the cleft of the rock of Etam and said to Samson, ‘Do you not know that the Philistines are rulers over us? What then is this that you have done to us?’ And he said to them, ‘As they did to me, so I have done to them.’” (Jdgs. 15:9-11). Although Samson’s motives in starting a war with the Philistines were all misplaced personal vendettas, he was forcing the Jews to confront the Philistines in order to free them. As Gideon once explained to the Jews, they were meant to be ruled by God alone: “But Gideon said to them, ‘I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you.’” (Jdgs. 8:23). The Jews’ subjugation to the Philistines was a sign of their curse for having broken their covenant relationship with God: “The alien who is among you shall rise above you higher and higher, but you will go down lower and lower.” (Dt. 28:43). “I will also bring upon you a sword which will execute vengeance for the covenant; and when you gather together into your cities, I will send pestilence among you, so that you shall be delivered into enemy hands.” (Lev. 26:25). Yet, even though the Jews were cursed, God remained ready to undo the curse. The Jews only needed to have the faith to trust God.

  • With faith, God will also give you the courage to face your enemies. Like the Jews, God wants you to have faith in Him to have courage in the face of evil and your enemies. But the Jews did not have the courage to face the Philistines because they lacked faith in Him. The Bible warns that it is impossible to please Him without faith: “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” (Heb. 11:6). When you have faith, He promises to give you a Spirit of strength, not fear: “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” (2 Tim. 1:7). Does fear rule any portion of your life? If so, repent of your fear and trust in Jesus to strengthen you and deliver you.

5. God Can Protect You When Others Betray You. Judges 15:12-13.

  • The Jews’ pact with the Philistines to hand over Samson. Because they feared the Philistines more than they trusted God, the Jews made a pact with the Philistines to hand Samson over to them: “12 They said to him, ‘We have come down to bind you so that we may give you into the hands of the Philistines.’ And Samson said to them, ‘Swear to me that you will not kill me.’ 13 So they said to him, ‘No, but we will bind you fast and give you into their hands; yet surely we will not kill you.’ Then they bound him with two new ropes and brought him up from the rock.” (Jdgs. 15:12-13). Samson was from the tribe of Dan (Jdgs. 13:2). The tribe of Dan was not respected because it came from Jacob’s union to Rachel’s maidservant Bilhah. (Gen. 30:4). The tribe of Dan was so weak that the Amorites drove it out of their lands after Joshua’s death (Jdgs. 1:34). They had to turn to the tribe of Ephraim to drive out the Amorites (Jdgs. 1:35-6). The tribe of Judah most likely wanted to be freed from the Philistines. They also most likely were in search of someone to lead them into battle. But it most likely never occurred to them that their deliverer could have come from the lowly tribe of Dan. Furthermore, Samson was not trying to start a rebellion against the Philistines. Instead, he was trying to marry into their nation. Thus, the tribe of Judah most likely felt no need to protect Samson. Also for these reasons, they did not even debate whether to hand Samson over. David also faced betrayal from the men of Keilah when Saul pursued him: “Then David said, ‘Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul?’ And the LORD said, ‘They will surrender you.’” (1 Sam. 23:12). Jesus also faced betrayal at the hands of Judas when the Jewish elders and the Romans came to capture him (Matt. 26:21; Lk. 22:48). As Jesus would later experience, the Jews sought to betray God’s appointed deliverer. Because God can send deliverers from unexpected backgrounds and places, don’t dismiss a messenger because of his or her background.

  • God is your refuge in times of trouble. Out of mercy and grace, God provided Samson with a rock to hide from his pursuers. But that hiding place did not protect Samson from his own people. Thus, God is sometimes the only refuge that you can turn to in times of trouble. When you have faith, He can be your rock and place of refuge in times of trouble: “There is no one holy like the LORD, indeed, there is no one besides You, nor is there any rock like our God.” (1 Sam. 2:2). “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Ps. 18:2). “The LORD is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise Him; My father’s God, and I will extol Him.” (Ex. 15:2). “For Your salvation I wait, O LORD.” (Gen. 49:18). If you are being persecuted, pursued, or abandoned, are you seeking refuge in God to protect you?

6. God Can Give You the Strength to Defeat Your Enemies. Judges 15:14-17.

  • Samson’s defeat of 1,000 Philistines with a donkey’s jawbone. Because it was God’s plan to create a conflict between the Jews and the Philistines that would lead to the Jews’ eventual freedom, He gave Samson the superhuman power to defeat 1,000 soldiers. Moreover, Samson obtained this amazing victory using only a dead donkey’s jawbone: “14 When he came to Lehi, the Philistines shouted as they met him. And the Spirit of the Lord came upon him mightily so that the ropes that were on his arms were as flax that is burned with fire, and his bonds dropped from his hands. 15 He found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, so he reached out and took it and killed a thousand men with it. 16 Then Samson said, ‘With the jawbone of a donkey, heaps upon heaps, with the jawbone of a donkey I have killed a thousand men.’ 17 When he had finished speaking, he threw the jawbone from his hand; and he named that place Ramath-lehi.” (Jdgs. 15:14-17). Shamgar previously killed 600 Philistines (Jdgs. 3:31). Although others had killed more Philistines while leading troops, Samson killed the most with his bare hands. His defeat of 1,000 men also fulfilled a prophecy: “One of your men puts to flight a thousand, for the LORD your God is He who fights for you, just as He promised you.” (Josh. 23:10). “How could one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, unless their Rock had sold them, and the LORD had given them up? Indeed their rock is not like our Rock, even our enemies themselves judge this.” (Dt. 32:30-31). “five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall before you by the sword.” (Lev. 26:8). His victory using a jaw bone showed that God alone was responsible for his victory. With God all things are possible, including the defeat of your enemies. (Phil. 4:13).

Samson used a donkey’s jawbone to kill 1,000 Philistines4

  • God can also strengthen you against your enemies. Like Samson, the Holy Spirit can also empower you against your enemies: “for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.” (Dt. 20:4). “The LORD shall cause your enemies who rise up against you to be defeated before you; they will come out against you one way and will flee before you seven ways.” (Dt. 28:7). ‘“No weapon that is formed against you will prosper; and every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their vindication is from Me,’ declares the LORD.” (Is. 54:17). If you have others who seek to cause you harm, do you trust God to strengthen you?

  • The jawbone as an unlikely weapon. The Bible tells us that the jawbone of the donkey was still “fresh.” (Jdgs. 15:15). This jawbone of a recently deceased donkey was another test for Samson, which he failed. As a Nazarite, he was prohibited from even going near a dead body, which included an animal carcass (Nu. 6:6, 19:11). Likewise, as a Jew, he was prohibited from touching the carcass of a non-Kosher animal, which includes donkeys (Lev. 11:8). Merely touching the corpse of the dead donkey should have required that Samson present a sin offering (Lev. 5:2). Thus, even at the moment when he needed God the most to help him, he showed no concern for the rules that God set for his life. But God was faithful even when Samson was not (2 Tim. 2:13). Even though the jawbone was not the weapon God would have chosen for him, the weapon in some ways foreshadowed the hidden power of the Word in spiritual combat: “One preacher came up with a five point sermon on the jawbone of an ass, likening it to the weapon of the gospel: · It was a novel weapon; · It was a most convenient weapon; · It was a simple weapon; · It was a ridiculous weapon; · It was a successful weapon.” (David Guzik on Joshua Chapter 15).5 Shamgar defeated the 600 Philistines using a farming instrument called an “oxgoad” (Jdgs. 3:31). The message is that God uses the ordinary to do the extraordinary. He can accomplish miracles through a faithful and humble servant. He can also defeat any demonic attack with the hidden power of the Word when spoken in faith. Are you praying the Word in faith and in Jesus’ name over others under attack?

  • Give the glory to God. Although God was responsible for Samson’s victory, Samson took all the credit for himself: “With the jawbone of a donkey, heaps upon heaps, with the jawbone of a donkey I have killed a thousand men.” (Jdgs. 15:16). “The effectiveness of the verse depends not only on the poetic parallelism but also on effective wordplay. The Hebrew words for “donkey’ and for “heap” are spelled the same, hamor. Although the song is extremely effective poetically, it is quite perverse in substance. In contrast to the Song of Deborah in chapter 5, not a single word is said about God. Samson claims all credit for himself, which causes the reader to wonder if he is even aware of God’s involvement in his life.” (Daniel Block, The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, Judges, Ruth, Vol. 6, B & H Publishing Group 1999 p. 445-6). “[I]n everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess. 5:18). “[A]lways giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father;” (Eph. 5:20). “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” (Jam. 1:17). When God does great things through you and others compliment you, do you give credit where it is really due?

7. God Can Restore You in Weakness When You Call Out to Him. Judges 15:18-20.

  • God’s miraculous provision of water to restore Samson. After Samson boasted of his actions, God humbled him with a debilitating thirst. Once Samson acknowledged God, He restored Samson by miraculously creating water from the rocks to quench his thirst: “18 Then he became very thirsty, and he called to the Lord and said, ‘You have given this great deliverance by the hand of Your servant, and now shall I die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?’ 19 But God split the hollow place that is in Lehi so that water came out of it. When he drank, his strength returned and he revived. Therefore he named it En-hakkore, which is in Lehi to this day. 20 So he judged Israel twenty years in the days of the Philistines.” (Jdgs. 15:18-20). Until this point, Samson had never acknowledged God. He had sadly come to believe that his strength was his own. Before God could use him further, He first had to humble him with thirst: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Lk. 14:11; Matt. 23:12). “A man’s pride will bring him low, but a humble spirit will obtain honor.” (Prov. 29:23). Is there any pride in your walk that God needs to remove?

  • God can restore your strength as well. Once Samson humbled himself, God restored his strength. The name of the place where God brought forth water from the rock was called “En-hakkore.” This translates as the “fountain of him that called or prayed.” This account paralleled the two times when Moses miraculously drew from rocks to quench the Jews’ thirst (Ex. 17:5-6; Nu. 20:8-11). The creation of water from rocks was something that symbolizes God’s miraculous provision: “He opened the rock and water flowed out; it ran in the dry places like a river.” (Ps. 106:41). “He opened the rock and water flowed out; it ran in the dry places like a river.” (Ps. 105:41). “But I would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” (Ps. 81:16; Isa. 48:21). When you are weak, are you turning to Jesus to restore you?

  • Jesus is the Rock who gives the waters of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was the Rock that gave waters of the Holy Spirit: “ and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.” (1 Cor. 10:3-4). Jesus alone provides the water of eternal life: “37  . . . Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. 38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” (Jo. 7:37-38). He also promises that you will never thirst again if we drink His water: “but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” (Jo. 4:14). Just like water, you need the Holy Spirit to remain fulfilled and receive eternal life. When you abide in God, He promises to make you like a tree planted by a river: “He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.” (Ps. 1:3). Yet, like Samson, you must first humble yourself before He can restore you: “He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power.” (Is. 40:29; 2 Cor. 4:16). “Yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.” (Is. 40:31). Are you turning to Jesus each day to ask for His eternal water to renew you?