Judges 15: The Omen
Firstfruits at the Rock of Etam
1After some days, at the time of wheat harvest, Samson went to visit his wife with(A) a young goat. And he said, “I will go in to my wife in the chamber.” But her father would not allow him to go in. 2And her father said, “I really thought that you utterly hated her,(B) so I gave her to your companion. Is not her younger sister more beautiful than she? Please take her instead.” 3And Samson said to them, “This time I shall be innocent in regard to the Philistines, when I do them harm.” 4So Samson went and caught 300 foxes and took torches. And he turned them tail to tail and put a torch between each pair of tails. 5And when he had set fire to the torches, he let the foxes go into the standing grain of the Philistines and set fire to the stacked grain and the standing grain, as well as the olive orchards. 6Then the Philistines said, “Who has done this?” And they said, “Samson, the son-in-law of the Timnite, because he has taken his wife(C) and given her to his companion.” And the Philistines came up and(D) burned her and her father with fire. 7And Samson said to them, “If this is what you do, I swear I will be avenged on you, and after that I will quit.” 8And he struck them hip and thigh with a great blow, and he went down and stayed in the(E) cleft of the rock of Etam.
From Judges 15 onwards we finally receive further revelation on how our Christ would suffer on our behalf. His first wife has been like Israel, whoring herself to the neighbouring nations, and so he temporarily gave her up to discipline her; and in-so-doing, he also managed to destroy the neighbouring nations so that he would eventually redeem Israel once more.
Here, the chapter begins with something similar – at the time of the wheat harvest, Samson went to visit the wife whom he had left alone after some days. He did not leave her for a long time, and yet her father would not allow him to go in. Why not? He is still her husband! Even though the apple of Jacob’s eye was Rachel, Leah is still his wife, though Jacob’s marriage to Leah was effected against his will and thus the context is not entirely parallel to the current situation.
In the same way, during the Shavuot, the Pentecost – a time of the first fruit of wheat harvest – we are given the Spirit to spread the gospel and gather those (especially the Israelites) who have been ousted from the physical land of Canaan (Romans 11) back into the loving arms of the loyal and faithful husband. As such, it is only adding to insult when the Timnite father decided to impose his values onto Samson the Nazirite, who would rather love his wife than to marry the sister of his first love (Leviticus 18:18).
It is thus fitting that when Christ is refused by Israel’s relatives to allow a warm embrace, Christ is entitled to wreck the harvest of the enemies whilst it is a time of harvest of the souls of men. The Shavuot should be a time of rejoicing as the Spirit is given to others, and here we see Samson, tying 150 pairs of foxes (or jackals as according to the Hebrew שועלים shualim) together with a firebrand per couple, a frenzied attack through the use of an animal which symbolises the ruin of vineyards (Song of Songs 2:15), causing frustration by occupying the mountains of Judea (Lamentations 5:18), and used as allegories to false prophets (Ezekiel 13:4):
“We never find Samson, in any of his exploits, making use of any person whatsoever, either servant or soldier, therefore, in this project, he chose to make use of foxes as his incendiaries. They had injured Samson by their subtlety and malice, and now Samson returns the injury by subtle foxes and mischievous fire-brands. By the meanness and weakness of the animals he employed, he designed to put contempt upon the enemies he fought against. This stratagem is often alluded to to show how the church’s adversaries, that are of different interests and designs among themselves, that look and draw contrary ways in other things, yet have often united in a fire-brand, some cursed project or other, to waste the church of God, and particularly to kindle the fire of division in it.” – Matthew Henry
This imagery is potent, a reversal of the fortunes of the seemingly all powerful Philistines, the rulers of the lands. Samson is fearless, and the fire which he uses to destroy his enemy with the jackals and foxes as a type of the fire used to cause confusion and destruction as recorded in 2 Peter 2. Instead of directing it at the church however, it is now directed at the enemy. The fire is a mere first fruit of the true judgment, as the phrase “smote them hip and thigh with a great stroke” in fact indicates a great slaughter. Samson did not merely lame them, but it seemed to be a phrase indicating an attack of desperation (c.f. Matthew Henry and Adam Clarke), as Samson did not make use of any person save himself – he who is a type of the One Who trod the winepress alone, stamping on the enemy with anger alongside the foxes which destroy their vineyards (Isaiah 63:1-6):
1Who is this who comes from(A) Edom,
in crimsoned garments from(B) Bozrah,
he who is splendid in his apparel,
marching in the greatness of his strength?
“It is I, speaking in righteousness,
mighty to save.”
2Why is your(C) apparel red,
and your garments like his(D) who treads in the winepress?
3(E) “I have trodden the winepress alone,
(F) and from the peoples no one was with me;
I trod them in my anger
and trampled them in my wrath;
their lifeblood[a] spattered on my garments,
and stained all my apparel.
4(G) For the day of vengeance was in my heart,
and my year of redemption[b] had come.
5I looked, but(H) there was no one to help;
I was appalled, but there was no one to uphold;
so my own arm brought me salvation,
and my wrath upheld me.
6I trampled down the peoples in my anger;
(I) I made them drunk in my wrath,
and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.”
Afterwards, Samson stayed in the cleft of the rock of Etam, “which is a strong rock of the tribe of Judah” (Josephus, Antiquities Book V Chapter VIII). So Samson hid in the Rock of Judah, in Christ, for true refuge – knowing that Christ is the one who brings true vengeance, and not Samson himself who is merely a shadow and must taste the heavy responsibilities of Messiah-hood in the Spirit.
9Then the Philistines came up and encamped in Judah and(F) made a raid on(G) Lehi. 10And the men of Judah said, “Why have you come up against us?” They said, “We have come up to bind Samson, to do to him as he did to us.” 11Then 3,000 men of Judah went down to the cleft of the rock of Etam, and said to Samson, “Do you not know that(H) 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 have I done to them.” 12And they said to him, “We have come down to bind you, that we may give you into the hands of the Philistines.” And Samson said to them, “Swear to me that you will not attack me yourselves.” 13They said to him, “No; we will only bind you and give you into their hands. We will surely not kill you.” So they bound him with two(I) new ropes and brought him up from the rock.
From v.9-13, we see almost a direct prophecy of our LORD Christ being bound by the Pharisees, by the Sanhedrin, by the particular group of murderous Jews who looked not to Christ but to themselves. Israel, in these short verses are no different from the Israel during the Roman period. “Do you not know that the Philistines are rulers over us?” Indeed, the same query is asked of Christ when Herod, Pontius Pilate, and numerous other governors’, officials’, and Caesars’ titles are thrown at the true King of the Jews. Thus, the willingness of Samson to be bound is like that of Isaac when his elderly father should have no strength to do so; and also like that of Christ, who has displayed his abilities to evade the crucifixion until His appointed time. Samson had the Spirit, and could easily destroy all 3000 men of Judah – and instead, he imitated our Christ here, as the lonely outcast Nazirite. V.13 is ironic – “we will surely not kill you” – even though Pontius Pilate knew better that the blood is indeed on the hands of the Israelites when Christ was crucified (Matthew 27:24). In the words of Matthew Henry:
“Thus a whole band of men was sent to seize our Lord Jesus, that blessed Samson, though a tenth part would have served now that his hour had come, and ten times as many would have done nothing if he had not yielded… Blamed him for what he had done against the Philistines, as if he had done them a great injury. Such ungrateful returns have those often received that have done the best service imaginable to their country. Thus our Lord Jesus did many good works, and for these they were ready to stone him… They begged of him that he would suffer them to bind him, and deliver him up to the Philistines. Cowardly unthankful wretches! Fond of their fetters and in love with servitude! Thus the Jews delivered up our Saviour, under pretence of a fear lest the Romans should come and take away their place and nation. With what a sordid servile spirit do they argue, Knowest thou not that the Philistines rule over us? And whose fault was that? They knew they had no right to rule over them, nor would they have been sold into their hands if they had not first sold themselves to work wickedness.”
And so Samson is akin to the One Who was led as a Lamb to the slaughter, meek and humble.
14When he came to Lehi, the Philistines came shouting to meet him.(J) Then the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him, and the ropes that were on his arms became as flax that has caught fire, and his bonds melted off his hands. 15And he found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, and put out his hand and took it,(K) and with it he struck 1,000 men. 16And Samson said,
“With the jawbone of a donkey,
heaps upon heaps,
with the jawbone of a donkey
have I struck down a thousand men.”
17As soon as he had finished speaking, he threw away the jawbone out of his hand. And that place(L) was called Ramath-lehi.[a]
Upon Samson’s arrival in the hands of the Philistines, he is once more led by the Spirit’s initiation Who gave him freedom from the bonds and cords. Samson has not yet been labelled as a ‘sinner’ – in fact, all his pursuits from Judges 13 to 15 have been by the guidance of the Holy Spirit for he is a faithful Nazirite. Thus, the typology of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection is withheld, though we see glimpses of the truth of the One who was bound to the enemy in death so to ensure the death of the enemy alone. Matthew Henry describes the Spirit’s loosing of the cords as similar to the loosing of the “bands of death, and its cords, the grave-clothes, [fell] from his hands without being loosed”.
Much like the picture of the deceptive foxes used to humiliate the Philistines, God is not short of analogies and imageries as he inspires Samson to take the bone of an ass, a despicable and humble animal, to work Spirit-led wonders on the rulers of the land. This place is thus called “Ramath-lehi” – the lifting up of the jaw-bone. Indeed, this place is symbolic of the lifting up of the humiliated Christ so that his enemies are equally humiliated; the King who trod the wine-press, the lifeblood splattered onto the garments of the Saviour.
18And he was very thirsty, and he called upon the LORD and said,(M) “You have granted this great salvation by the hand of your servant, and shall I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?” 19And God split open the hollow place that is(N) at Lehi, and water came out from it. And when he drank,(O) his spirit returned, and he revived. Therefore the name of it was called En-hakkore;[b] it is at Lehi to this day. 20And he judged Israel(P) in the days of the Philistines twenty years.
Samson is thus continually protected because of his unceasing reliance on Jesus Christ. V.18-20 shows a very literal reliance on He who gives the living water of life (John 7:38; Revelation 7:17). So also when Melchizedek provided Abraham with bread and wine to emulate communion, we see here a drinking of the water of the Spirit after the immense victory during the time of wheat harvest, twice performed through the humble means of the judge of Israel. Like Christ on the cross who thirsted, He received His eventual refreshment by the sustainment of the Spirit through the three days in the deep and drank continually from the spring. It is fitly named En-hakkore, the spring of him who called – because Christ is the one who called to the Father after committing His spirit to Him, and by drinking of the Spirit He managed to revive and shed his grave-clothes and previous bonds.
In spite of his victories, there is a looming omen behind these events – the building up of Samson’s enemies as the actions and typologies which Samson represents increasingly emulates that of Christ. However, up to chapter 15, Samson is still seen as the powerful unyielding Nazirite who is used by Yahweh to conjoin himself to his enemies as a picture of Christ conjoining himself to Satan to destroy him. The omen comes to a climax in Judges 16 to which we now turn.
Judges 16 – Christ nailing Satan to the cross
Delilah, the third woman
In this chapter we see the climax of the omen unravel – the story of Samson and Delilah.
Oftentimes people characterise Samson as the man easily seduced in this historic parable, and Delilah as that definitive Babylonian whore. That caricature may be true in respect of Delilah, but certainly not the entire message preached. Matthew Henry sees this final scene as Samson being as the “little sun set under a cloud, and yet, just in the setting, darted forth one such strong and glorious beam as made him even then a type of Christ, conquering by death”. Indeed, without seeing Christ revealed in these pages, we have lost the essence of the build up so far – all the rich allusions to the third day, to the coming death, resurrection and ascension of Samson. These themes will be entirely explored here, where in previous chapters we have seen mere shadows and fragments.
1Samson went to(Q) Gaza, and there he saw a prostitute, and he went in to her. 2The Gazites were told, “Samson has come here.” And they(R) surrounded the place and set an ambush for him all night at the gate of the city. They kept quiet all night, saying, “Let us wait till the light of the morning; then we will kill him.” 3But Samson lay till midnight, and at midnight he arose and took hold of the doors of the gate of the city and the two posts, and pulled them up, bar and all, and put them on his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that is in front of Hebron.
With respect to the prostitute, this event is almost entirely dismissed by the narrative, as if we should entirely ignore her. Instead, the focus once more is on Samson against the non-Israelites – this time the Gazites. Yet, even Samson escaped death here, from the city Gaza renowned for its titular description: a city that is fortified and strong, ironically could not even fortify nor display its strength in the face of Samson. Furthermore, the focus then shifts to Samson carrying the gate of the city and the two posts – a sign of the strength of the city (Genesis 22:17; 24:60), being entirely undermined by the monstrous strength of Samson entirely due to the Spirit. And to where does Samson carry the ‘gate’ of the city? To Hebron, the first deposit of Canaan received and bought by Abraham and his wife Sarah (Genesis 23). This is a sign of the new land we have yet to inherit, and what we see is the burden with which Samson is to carry to walk up that holy hill as Christ did on his ascension (Psalm 24:3).
It is difficult to comment on the reason why he went into the prostitute, but it would seem that Samson’s common problem is the lust of his eyes. Yet, in the lust of his eyes, God managed to make a parable out of him representing that of Christ crucified. This is perhaps why not much more of the narrative is devoted to this second woman of Samson’s life, despite his staunch refusal to marry his wife’s sister. As imperfect a type of Christ Samson is, God still managed to work miracles and wonders through him, enabling all those who would later receive this story to see how God would put His Son through the same trials, though the Son would have the fullness of the Spirit to fight against such sexual lusts representative of spiritual adultery.
Furthermore, though the narrative does not mention it, I believe the narrator inserted the second woman as a tool in building up to the third and last woman whom Samson would be involved with, to express the theology of the number three even further. This number has come up before (when the riddle of the young lion was not solved after three days), and will feature again throughout this chapter.
4After this he loved a woman in the Valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. 5And(S) the lords of the Philistines came up to her and said to her,(T) “Seduce him, and see where his great strength lies, and by what means we may overpower him, that we may bind him to(U) humble him. And we will each give you 1,100 pieces of silver.” 6So Delilah said to Samson, “Please tell me where your great strength lies, and how you might be bound, that one could(V) subdue you.”
It is in the Valley of Sorek, the red crimson valley, that we meet the Babylonian whore Delilah, the feeble one. How ironic it is that she looks so feeble in the face of the Sun, in the face of Samson, and it is here that Samson will spill his blood in this valley. Delilah, like Judas, is bribed; and unlike Christ who was given the fullness of the Spirit, Samson’s submission to Delilah is to satisfy the lust of his eyes though the typology of Christ’s incarnate work is still effected. In the same situation, we know Christ would choose in wisdom what Samson did, though Christ would do it in the beginning with the knowledge of the salvific work through his enjoining to the whore of Babylon; but Samson may not have come to such a knowledge of the prophetic work of Christ’s salvation through him being enjoined to Delilah until after his eyes are gouged out.
7Samson said to her, “If they bind me with seven fresh bowstrings that have not been dried,(W) then I shall become weak and be like any other man.” 8Then the lords of the Philistines brought up to her seven fresh bowstrings that had not been dried, and she bound him with them. 9Now she had men lying in ambush in an inner chamber. And she said to him, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” But he snapped the bowstrings, as a thread of flax snaps when it touches the fire. So the secret of his strength was not known.
10Then Delilah said to Samson, “Behold, you have mocked me and told me lies. Please tell me how you might be bound.” 11And he said to her, “If they bind me with(X) new ropes that have not been used, then I shall become weak and be like any other man.” 12So Delilah took new ropes and bound him with them and said to him, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And the men lying in ambush were in an inner chamber. But he snapped the ropes off his arms like a thread.
13Then Delilah said to Samson, “Until now you have mocked me and told me lies. Tell me how you might be bound.” And he said to her, “If you weave the seven locks of my head with the web and fasten it tight with the pin, then I shall become weak and be like any other man.” 14So while he slept, Delilah took the seven locks of his head and wove them into the web.[c] And she made them tight with the pin and said to him, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” But he awoke from his sleep and pulled away the pin, the loom, and the web.
What is interesting is that, in three times, Samson is playing with the possibility of him being tied down by this Satanic enemy. We can find much parallel to Christ, who had also taunted Satan with the number of times in which He could have been maimed, could have been slain in the midst of his ministry on earth. Here, Samson provides to Delilah:
|Samson’s suggestions||Samson’s actions|
|Seven fresh bowstrings not dried (v.7)||Snapped as a thread of flax snaps when it touches the fire (v.9)|
|New ropes that have not been used (v.11)||Snapped the ropes off his arms like a thread (v.12)|
|Weave seven locks of Samson’s head with the web and fasten it tight with the pin (v.13)||Pulled away the pin, the loom, and the web (v.14)|
It is straightforward to see that he overcame each with ease – however, with the last we see something peculiar. Why would the binding of his hair make his less strong? It would seem that with each suggestion, it is getting closer and closer to the heart of the issue – his hair which must not be shaved. The truth behind the events is to display simply that Samson cannot be bound. He who cannot be bound must be bound only by his own volition – as is the case here after three times, indicating the death of Samson, the death of the type of Christ to come soon.
15And she said to him,(Y) “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me? You have mocked me these three times, and you have not told me where your great strength lies.” 16And(Z) when she pressed him hard with her words day after day, and urged him, his soul was vexed to death. 17And he told her all his heart, and said to her,(AA) “A razor has never come upon my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If my head is shaved, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak and be like any other man.”
Like Christ, Samson chose to reveal these truths to the Satan, the enemy – and on this the enemy acted. His holiness in entirety is symbolically represented by his hair, his life. As in Jeremiah 7:29, the hair is used as an analogy of life; to cut it and to throw it away is akin to forsaking life. So here, we see a parable of Christ’s death – in the cutting of the hair of Samson, we finally see a full and consequential picture of Samson hair being cut. Here, we see the Nazirite truly bearing sin; truly cut off from God. Indeed, as Christ yearned, “My God My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1). And so, through the various imageries of Samson binding himself to several non-Israelite women, his binding to the third woman; revealing the truth of his weakness after the third time; are all a collective imagery of Christ binding himself to the sinner’s punishment of the cross. Samson cannot be a more fitting judge to portray this truth, for three times he enjoined himself to a prostitute, a Gentile, a temptress – all different facets of the character of Satan: who is The Prostitute, The Spiritual Gentile, The Tempter. And all three times, God has displayed his victory over the enemies through the prophetic enjoining of Christ to the enemy.
Satan has longed to peer deep into this mystery of salvation, and this truth was revealed to him just as Samson has revealed this truth, revealed ‘all his heart’, to Delilah as well:
Eze 28:1-3 The word of the LORD came to me: (2) “Son of man, say to the prince of Tyre, Thus says the Lord GOD: “Because your heart is proud, and you have said, ‘I am a god, I sit in the seat of the gods, in the heart of the seas,’ yet you are but a man, and no god, though you make your heart like the heart of a god– (3) you are indeed wiser than Daniel; no secret is hidden from you…
So also in 1 Peter 1:12, this is the same salvific plan which the angels longed look at. This is not a ‘secret’ kept from them, just as it is not a secret kept from Lucifer when he was a morning star himself. Regardless, Lucifer still went forward to crucify this Christ – such stupidity, such nonsense, such absolute arrogance.
18When Delilah saw that he had told her all his heart, she sent and called the lords of the Philistines, saying, “Come up again, for he has told me all his heart.” Then the lords of the Philistines came up to her and brought(AB) the money in their hands. 19She made him sleep on her knees. And she called a man and had him shave off the seven locks of his head. Then she began(AC) to torment him, and his strength left him. 20And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” But he did not know that(AD) the LORD had left him. 21And the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes and brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze shackles.(AE) And he ground at the mill in the prison. 22But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.
So Samson is made to go into a sleep that induced his spiritual death – a death-like sleep. It is here that his strength left him, as he left his life on the cross. The LORD had left him. And he now finally endures the torture which he had been teasing, truly bound without escape just as Christ was truly bound in the shackles of the pit, the prison, until rising again on the third day. The hair, though cut, is but temporary – for it will grow again, and so also Samson will be refreshed just as he was when he drank from En-hakkore. This putting out of his eyes, is so that he would see not with his physical sight, his lust – but that he would truly be anointed by the Spirit and complete the life-long mission of the defeat of the Philistines when his hair grows back and live by faith.
23Now the lords of the Philistines gathered to offer a great sacrifice to(AF) Dagon their god and to rejoice, and they said, “Our god has given Samson our enemy into our hand.” 24And when the people saw him,(AG) they praised their god. For they said, “Our god has given our enemy into our hand, the ravager of our country, who has killed many of us.”[d] 25And(AH) when their hearts were merry, they said, “Call Samson, that he may entertain us.” So they called Samson out of the prison, and he entertained them. They made him stand between the pillars. 26And Samson said to the young man who held him by the hand, “Let me feel the pillars on which the house rests, that I may lean against them.” 27Now the house was full of men and women. All the lords of the Philistines were there, and(AI) on the roof there were about 3,000 men and women, who looked on while Samson entertained.
Let us look at Adam Clarke’s understanding of Dagon’s physical traits:
“Unto Dagon their god – Diodorus Siculus describes their god thus:
Το μεν προσωπον εχει γυναικος, το δ’ αλλο σωμα παν ιχθους;
“It had the head of a woman, but all the rest of the body resembled a fish.””
What a monstrous and hideous god – to make the woman the head, and to have the body a fish which is symbolic of leaderless men (Habbakuk 1:14). So it is only fitting to have so many men and women reach their deserved climax through the ‘resurrection’ of Samson, that while he still seem humiliated he was in fact the powerful Anointed One whom the LORD had never really left.
Of course, the entire story is not without its irony embodied in v.24 – “Our god has given our enemy into our hand, the ravager of our country, who has killed many of us”. Indeed, that is what Satan wants to believe – that his enemy, Christ, is given into the hands of the fallen ones. However, the true living Yahweh had planned this long before any Philistines have been killed through the anointed one, Samson, in chapter 13.
28Then Samson called to the LORD and said, “O Lord GOD,(AJ) please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes.” 29And Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and he leaned his weight against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other. 30And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” Then he bowed with all his strength, and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life. 31Then his brothers and all his family came down and took him and brought him up and buried him(AK) between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of Manoah his father. He had judged Israel twenty years.
Adam Clarke vehemently denies the typology of Samson to Christ, but I think it to be too assumptive to deny Christ’s direct involvement in the election of Samson as a grand picture of God’s enjoining to Israel, the prostitute, to work the salvation of all nations; of God’s enjoining to the church, the prostitute, to sanctify her, wash her, and bless others through her (Ephesians 5:22-33). Yet, this sanctification must come from the death and re-birth of the church, for one must be born-again just as Christ must die first before being born anew. Yet, Satan is to die and remain dead – and not live again (c.f. Genesis 3:15). As much parallel as there is in Samson’s life to Hercules, with Clarke believes that the latter fable is inspired by the former history, the focus of the story is once again not on Samson per se. It is on the greater mystery of God’s victory through the death and resurrection of the anointed one, who has supernatural strength – the implication of the God-man Christ undergoing the same trials as prophesied in detail in Isaiah. In the words of Matthew Henry:
“Christ was plainly typified. He pulled down the devil’s kingdom, as Samson did Dagon’s temple; and, when he died, he obtained the most glorious victory over the powers of darkness. Then when his arms were stretched out upon the cross, as Samson’s to the two pillars, he gave a fatal shake to the gates of hell, and, through death, destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the devil (Heb. 2:14, 15), and herein exceeded Samson, that he not only died with the Philistines, but rose again to triumph over them.”
So, Samson typified that true morning sun of righteousness, and as such has been one of the more graphic and important typologies of Christ in the Old Testament.