Chapter 15

                                                      Samson resumes his first amorous behavior


Chapter 15 is a continuation and conclusion of the first of Samson’s three interactions with women. After abandoning his wife, he decides to visit her. He brings a kid as a gift.[1] Samson’s wife’s father does not let him see her because he had given her to another man as his wife.[2] He offers Samson his younger daughter[3] and provoked a new series of revenge in a chapter filled with obscurities.

Samson takes revenge for his father-in-law’s deed with acts against all the Philistines. He attaches fire to 300 foxes and releases them among the Philistine’s corn and destroys their crop.[4] The Philistines react by burning Samson’s wife and her father.[5] We do not know why they did so. Gersonides and Abarbanel speculate that the Philistines may have killed Samson’s wife and her father with fire to appease Samson. They feared him and wanted him to know that they shared his outrage against his wife and her dad. Samson, according to them, is horrified by their gesture. He went out and killed many Philistines: “he smote them hip and thigh with great slaughter and then went down and dwelt in the cleft of the rock of Etam.”[6] Etam was apparently within the land of the tribe of Judah.[7] Gersonides and Abarbanel are convinced that Samson acted properly; he was punishing the Philistines for their bad acts.[8]

This was too much for the Philistines. A Philistine force left their land in western Canaan and encamped threatingly against Judah at Lechi.[9] They told the fearful Judeans that they wanted Samson. Unable to fight against the invaders, the Judeans sent three thousand men to capture Samson and bring him to them.[10] Samson agreed to accompany the Judeans on the condition that they do not try to harm him.[11] The Judeans tie him with two new ropes.[12] When he arrives at the Philistine camp, Samson is filled with the “spirit of the Lord.”[13] He breaks his binds, finds a jawbone, and uses it to kill the Philistines.[14] The chapter concludes by stating that Samson “judged Israel in the days of the Philistines for twenty years.”[15]



[1] Chapter 14 does not reveal whether he told his wife that he was leaving and informed her when he would return, or spoke to her at all, and whether he consummated his marriage. They also disagree on whether his marriage was the type we are familiar with where wives leave their parent’s homes and join their husband; some scholars think this was an ancient kind of marriage where the wife stayed in her parent’s house.

Samson brought his wife a kid. Some scholars (mentioned in Moore) called this an ancient box of chocalotes, perhaps saying this humorously. Others (also in Moore) remind us that Judah, Jacob’s son, sent a kid to the woman he thought was a prostitute, as payment for sex (in Genesis 38:17, 20, and 23).

[2] He presumably thought that by leaving his wife, Samson divorced her.

[3] The offer of a younger daughter in place of a promised older one in reminiscent of King Saul’s act of promising David his oldest daughter, giving her to another man, and then offering his younger daughter Michal in her stead (I Samuel 18:19). Unlike Samson, David accepted the exchange. This episode is also reminiscent of Genesis 29:20-23 where Jacob wanted to marry his beloved Rachel but her father substituted her sister Leah who Jacob accepted but still wanted Rachel. In the Jacob story the reverse occurs; the elder daughter is substituted for her younger sister.

[4] This is similar to the Roman practice of tying torches to the tail of foxes during April in their colicium mentioned in Ovid, Fasti IV, 681. It is also like Hannibal’s battle against Rome where he fastened fire to the horns of 2,000 oxen and released them at night against the Roman military force.

[5] The Greek Septuagint reads “father’s house.”

[6] This was the third attack by Samson, including what he did in chapter 14. It is not his last. The chapter does not reveal how many Philistines died.

[7] We will read in a later chapter that the Tribe of Dan, Samson’s tribe, abandoned the Mediterranean area and settled in the north. Apparently some Danite families, such as Samson’s family, did not join the trek north. Once the Danites left the area, some Philistines moved into parts of it from the west and some Judeans from the east. This explains why Samson did not flee to a Danite area but to one held by Judah.

[8] Gersonides and Abarbanel, as well as many other rabbis such as Rashi use this argument to also justify Samson’s killing of many Philistines.

[9] Actually the name Lechi, “jawbone,” was given to the place after Samson used a jawbone to kill Philistines. However, it is customary for Scripture to foreshadow and call a place by the name it is given at a later time.

[10] The term alafim can mean “thousands” or “units”.  Many scholars understand that the Judeans sent three units, probably platoons. In any event, the large number that they sent shows that they feared Samson’s strength.

Since the tribes were not united during this period and generally acted alone and pursued their own interests, the Judeans apparently had little qualm about handing Samson, a member of the tribe of Dan, to the invaders.

[11] In the Pentateuch, the book Joshua, and the prior mention of Judah in Judges, Judah is always portrayed as being very strong. This is the first time that we see them being weak. Elitzur suggests that the Judeans at the time were being oppressed by the Philistines who dominated them. He also suggests that when the three Judean units saw Samson killing the huge number of Philistines, they joined him in the fray; however, this is not even hinted in the text.

[12] Erhlich refers to II Kings 2:20 and contends that new items were used because they have magical powers which the Judeans thought would counter Samson’s strength. In II Kings, the prophet Elisha uses a new cruse to purify water. Martin sites I Samuel 6:7 where a new cart is used to carry the ark of the Lord and says new items are holy. While not exactly similar, Samson uses a new jawbone of an ass to smite a thousand (unit) of Philistines. The Hebrew word rendered “new” by the Jewish Publication Society translation is teriyah, which usually means “fresh.” Samson found the jawbone of a recently deceased ass that did not deteriorate, was strong, and could be used as a weapon.

[13] The Aramaic translator Targum Jonathan, Rashi, and others understand the phrase to mean prophecy, but the plain meaning in context is a feeling of strength.

[14] Samson’s use of a non-military implement to kill his enemy is reminiscent of the act of Shamgar in 3:31 who killed three hundred Philistines with an ox-goad.

[15] Strangely, chapter 16 also ends saying Samson was a judge for twenty years. Why is there this unusual repetition? Olam Hatanach and Kaufman suggest that the statement at the end of this chapter means that during the period after the events in chapters 14 and 15, and before those in chapter 16, Samson settled down and judged people for twenty years. At the conclusion of this period, he relapsed and had adventures with two other females, concluding with his death. The mention of the twenty years at the end of chapter 16 is simply the style of the book to conclude the story of the various judges by stating the length of their judgeship. Some texts of the Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 10a, have the obvious error that Samson was a judge for twenty-two years. The Jerusalem Talmud, Sotah 17:2, combines the figures of chapters 15 and 16 and states that Samson was a judge for forty years: even after his death Samson’s deeds continued to impact the relations between the Philistines and Israelites for an additional twenty years.