Samson weaponizes a jawbone
Samson burns Philistine farmland1Sometime later, during the wheat harvest, Samson went to visit his wife. He took a young goat with him. He said, “I’m going to go sleep with my wife.” But her father wouldn’t let Samson in. 2Her father said, “I thought you didn’t want her anymore. So, I gave her to your best man. What about her younger sister? She’s prettier, isn’t she? Why not take her?”
3Samson said, “I’ve had it with you Philistines. No one should blame me for what I’m about to do to you people.” 4Samson caught 300 jackals. He tied them in pairs, by their tails. Then he tied a torch behind each pair. 5When he lit those torches, the jackals took off in a blaze, lighting up the Philistine farmland. Wheat fields flamed, with standing grain waving in the wind and harvested grain burning as stacked. Jackals ran the fire into vineyards and olive groves as well.
Philistines burn Samson’s ex-wife6Philistines asked, “Who did this?” “It was Samson,” they were told. “He’s the son-in-law of a man from Timnah who gave Samson’s wife to another man.” Philistine leaders arrested the man and his daughter and burned them to death. 7Samson told them, “Because of what you’ve done, I’m going to show you what revenge looks like.” 8He tore right into them, killing many on the spot. Then he retreated to a cave at a rock called Etam.
Israel arrests Samson9Philistines invaded the tribal land of Judah. They camped all around the town of Lehi. 10Some men from Judah’s tribe asked the Philistines, “What are you doing here on our land?” Philistines said, “We came to arrest Samson and give him a dose of his own medicine.” 11Three thousand Israelites of Judah went to the cave where Samson was staying. They told him, “Don’t you realize the Philistines rule our nation? We answer to them. Why did you do this to us?” Samson said, “What I did to them is what they did to me first.” 12They said, “Listen, we have come to arrest you, tie you up, and turn you over to them.” Samson said, “Give me your word that you won’t attack me.” 13They said, “We won’t hurt you. But we will tie you up and give you to the Philistines.” They tied Samson with two new ropes and led him away from Etam Rock.
Samson, killer and poet14When the Israelite posse arrived at Lehi, Philistines greeted Samson with screaming. But the LORD’s Spirit filled Samson. Suddenly, the ropes on his arms popped off like weak flax. And the ropes on his hands fell away. 15He picked up a fresh jawbone of a donkey and killed 1,000 Philistine men. 16Samson said,
With the jawbone of a donkey
I piled corpse upon corpse.
With the jawbone of a donkey
I sent a thousand to the grave.
Farmers in the region usually started harvesting wheat in May, right after the barley harvest. Wheat harvest could run into July.
Maybe jackals. Maybe foxes. Maybe both. The Hebrew word works both ways, but there seem to have been more jackals in the region than foxes. And jackals ran in packs, while foxes didn’t. That made jackals easer to catch.
Samson destroyed one year of wheat harvest for the affected farmers, but much more for farmers who grew grapes and olives. From planting to maturity, grapevines took 3-5 years to produce a good crop. Olive trees took a generation. If a farmer planted an olive tree, he did it for his son and grandson. In Bible times, olives trees were most productive after 40 to 50 years. Samson may have devasted the Philistine economy.
Exact location of Etam Rock is unknown, but it was somewhere in the tribal land of Judah (15:10-11). The writer’s point might be that even Samson was vulnerable enough to go into hiding like an animal. Later, David would hide like that from King Saul, in the caves of En-gedi (1 Samuel 24:1-3).
Uh, Samson seems to think he did this with nothing more than the help of a dead donkey. But there’s also the matter of a living God, who wasn’t mentioned until later, when Samson went complaining to him (15:18).
The Hebrew words En-hakkore, can go in different directions. Scholars have suggested: Namer’s Spring, Caller’s Spring, even Partridge Spring.
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