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Judges 15:4 . Caught three hundred foxes. The task of collecting these animals was not at all impossible; the country very much abounded with foxes, as appears from many passages of scripture. Nehemiah 4:3. Psalms 62:11, 15. Ezekiel 13:4. These, dragging the firebrands, would occasion a dreadful conflagration among the wheat now ripe, and among the dry grass. To us, where foxes are scarce, the difficulty seems very great. But persons acquainted with large continents know how to make allowance for extraordinary things. Besides, all travellers in Asia and Africa allow of jackalls, wild-dogs, &c. running in vast packs at night to seek their food. Vaillant, the accredited Dutch traveller in South Africa, 1780, several times saw about two hundred wild dogs. The foxes might therefore be taken in the penns. Samson’s design, according to a collection of thoughts in Stackhouse, will neither appear romantic, nor perhaps novel, if we consider that vast collections of wild animals were often made. Lucius Sylla, when prætor, ordered a hundred lions to be shown in the amphitheatre at Rome; and Julius Cæsar, while dictator, four hundred. The emperor Probus exposed at one show a thousand ostriches, a thousand stags, a hundred Lybian and a hundred Syrian leopards. Why then should it be thought a thing incredible, that Samson and his friends should collect three hundred foxes; especially when the collecting of them would clear his own country, and prove injurious to Philistia.
Many critics solve the difficulty, (though to the Israelites near Samson’s time no difficulty was so much as thought of in this passage) by affirming that the word schualim rendered foxes, should be written schoalim, sheaves or shocks of corn. And the word zanah, rendered tail, may be rendered the extreme or exterior part. Then the sense will be, that Samson set fire to three hundred shocks of corn, which yet remained in the field; and that the fire spread to the dry grass, the vineyards, &c. See examples of conflagrations in Harmer, vol. 4. obser. 144.
Judges 15:5 . Set the brands on fire. As our Latin critics make a reference to Ovid, Fastor. 4., I have carefully referred to the passage in that work. Ed. Paris, 1804. As the ancients burned a fox every anniversary of Ceres, goddess of the ripening corn, the origin of the story is thus told. “The naughty boy of a cottager, having caught a fox, and out of revenge for being bit with the animal, tied a large wisp of hay and straw to his tail, and setting the straw on fire, let the fox loose, which, taking his affrighted course through the fields of ripe corn, did so much harm to the goddess, that she required the above sacrifice.” This custom was no doubt more ancient than the time of Samson, and might therefore be known to him.
Judges 15:7 . Yet will I be avenged. They were privy to the insults offered to Samson; by consequence, the vengeance inflicted on the family was no punishment of their own sins.
Judges 15:8 . The rock Etam. The Vulgate reads, the cave of the rock of Etam. Jerome might have local knowledge of the existence of that cave.
Judges 15:19 . God clave a hollow place that was in the jaw. According to the Vulgate, this hollow place was a socket of the tooth. But how shall we harmonize it with what follows? He called the name thereof En-hakkore, which is in Lehi unto this day. The Chaldee, which is now much followed, takes Lehi, that is, the jaw bone, for the place where Samson slew the thousand men; and En-hakkore, or the well of him that cried, for the rock in which God clave a hollow place to revive the exhausted warrior. Poole thinks this an error in the Chaldee; but Mons. Dubden on visiting the spot, was fully confirmed in opinion, that God had opened a stream from the adjacent grotto, which still flowed at the time when the book of Judges was written. See Harmer, vol. 4:228.
The first object which strikes us here is, the generosity of Samson in forgiving the treason of his wife. Anger subsided, and love returned; forgiveness is the mark of a noble mind. He therefore took a kid, deemed the most delicate meat, and correspondent presents, and went to Timnath, hoping to taste the joys of domestic happiness, peace and love. But how great was his mortification when he found her now the property of another, and given to his pretended friend? What a dark portrait does this whole history afford of the state of morals in Philistia. What inconstant parents, what corrupt magistrates, what degenerate laws, to make the sacred bonds of marriage transferable like the shares of mercantile property!
Samson’s love now burned to anger, and he resolved to burn the wheat and vineyards of Timnath; for his injuries had now become an act of the town. This had been wrong in a private character; but knowing that God had raised him up to avenge the wrongs of Israel, his conduct is to be vindicated on the ground on which all judicial punishments have been inflicted.
We see how this vengeance operated for bringing the faithless Timnite and all his house to death. They had betrayed Samson, to avoid being burnt alive in their own house. Now they are enveloped in the very punishment they sought by policy to escape. So all those who, for a moment, avoid the punishment of one sin by committing another, shall surely find their own reward.
The Philistines, not contented with the hasty vengeance inflicted on their neighbour, proceeded with intent to bring Samson to the flames also. But as the lion, roused by the sight of his prey, ventures alone to attack whole herds and flocks, so this divine hero smote them hip and thigh with a tremendous slaughter; nor did he spare a single man that did not fly beyond the vengeance of his arm. They who are not satisfied with a qualified redress, often prepare for themselves a scourge by the indulgence of immoderate anger.
Samson’s quarrel with the inhabitants of Timnath became a general question, and was deemed a national wrong. The nation therefore assembled in arms and invaded Judah, for the apprehension of the daring offender. And what did the men of Judah do? Forgetful of their character, and of all the heroes who had descended from their line; forgetful also of their covenant, and wholly absorbed in the solicitude of personal safety, they purchased peace with the oppressor by betraying a brother, who ought to have been the pride of their country. Ah how degrading, to hear three thousand men of Judah say to a hero, who had given so many proofs of a divine prowess, “Knowest thou not that the Philistines be rulers over us!” How wretched is the nation which has lost its God; for he never aids the wicked but when he wishes to make them a scourge to each other. Samson, pitying the weakness of his brethren, submitted to bonds, and was led away as the victim of his country’s peace. He bore all indignities, till he heard the unhallowed shouts of the Philistines; then, aided by the impulse of heavenly power, breaking all his bonds, and roaring against them in turn, the affrighted multitude awaited not the blows of his indignation. With a weapon, contemptible in itself, he stayed not his arm till a thousand had fallen at his feet, and till the greatness of his strength was counteracted by excessive thirst. The Lord forsook not his servant in the day of trial; a stream issuing from the hollow place in the rock of Lehi revived his fainting soul. Let no one therefore in straits and difficulties distrust the care of providence; for by ordinary or extraordinary means he will deliver his servants, and supply the whole of their wants.
We must not forget, that our blessed Lord was betrayed, bound with a cord, and delivered into the hands of them that sought his life. Yet by the power of the Spirit he was loosed from the bands of death, and vanquished his foes, by weak means indeed, but with a victorious arm. Nor are his victories yet come to a close; he lives for ever the joy of his people, and the terror of all his foes. Let us not basely, like Israel, remain in servitude when we may be free. Let us heartily extend our arm to the work, but not with carnal weapons; and God will give us the victory through Jesus Christ.
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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Judges 15". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20