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REVENGE TAKEN AND RETURNED
CRITICAL NOTES.— Judges 15:1. Within a while after.] After some time, indefinitely; probably a few months. In the time of wheat harvest.] About the month of May. This is mentioned on account of what is referred to in Judges 15:5. With a kid.] A customary present (Genesis 38:17; Luke 15:29). This was expressive of social good feeling, and was meant to be a means of reconciliation. This indicated a generous and honourable nature. He was willing to forgive and forget the past. Go into the chamber.] The woman’s apartment.
Judges 15:2. I thought thou hadst utterly hated her.] No idea of marriage as a sacred vow made by the one party to the other; and no consideration of the fact that the marriage dowry had been paid. So loose and unprincipled were Philistine ideas. Take her younger sister.] This is worse than the bargain which the worldly Laban made with Jacob. For the marriage tie is broken with the elder sister in the most flippant manner. Where there is no God there is no conscience.
Judges 15:3. Concerning them] i.e., the whole family circle and their friends immediately, but also the whole people of the Philistines.
Now shall I be blameless before the Philistines.] Or as regards the Philistines, if I do them an injury. The Philistines in the neighbourhood seemed generally to acquiesce in the treatment which had been given to Samson by his wife and father-in-law. It was the feeling of race that led to it. Thus Samson interpreted it; and against the race as such, his indignation was awakened accordingly. Besides, he was ever seeking occasion to harass the people as a whole, for that was his commission. It would be wrong to put down his severe reprisals on that people as altogether due to personal resentment or to mere patriotism. Along with that there always mingled the consciousness that he was bound, as a matter of duty, to avenge Israel upon them in the name of the God whom they dishonoured. The words he now used were almost a declaration of war.
Judges 15:4. Caught three hundred foxes] shualim (Heb.) or jackals. The Persian word is shagal, which is not unlike jackal. Probably the fox and the jackal are two different species of the same genus The latter seems to be intended here, for the jackals go in troops, and frequent the vineyards. Their tails also look like red burning torches, or glowing coals. The species is the canis aureus. Samson fought his battles alone; of his people none were with him. He had not even 300 men like Gideon. He now therefore repairs to the beasts of the forest for assistance, and takes thirty jackals into his service. His former act in slaying the thirty men at Ashkelon did not create much sensation. But now, when he sets a large part of the country’s harvest in flames, the whole nation is roused. He needed the animals, for he could not set whole miles of material on fire at once, and if the fire had begun only in one spot it might have been extinguished before it had gone far. But when 150 pairs are started at once of the swiftest-looted creatures, frightened at the fiery torches, and maddened with pain, and run like the wind through the half-withered grain, setting fire in all directions, alike to shocks and standing crops, and going even among the vineyards, it may be imagined how suddenly and how widely spread the conflagration would appear.
The creatures might be easily caught, for they usually herd together, and the word here “caught” means taken by snares or nets (Song of Solomon 2:15; Psalms 63:10; Amos 3:5; Psalms 35:8; Isaiah 8:14; Jeremiah 18:22). They would naturally run forward, and also run to cover, that is among the standing corn, for such is their nature—unlike dogs that run along the road. The fields being ripe were just in a state to catch fire. The bushy tails of the foxes would make it easy to get them tied together, and also to get the firebrand supported. It is to be remembered too, that there would be no interruption to the running of the jackals, for the fields were not enclosed by hedges, or walls of any kind, but extended over a vast surface continuously for twenty or thirty miles. The whole country had the appearance of one vast cornfield.
Judges 15:6. Burnt her and her father with fire.] This was returning revenge on the authors of the provocation, which led to the revenge that Samson took. The object was, not to do justice to Samson (they were little in the mood of thinking of that), nor yet to be revenged on him by destroying his relatives, but it was to make a retaliation on those who had raised the strife, and so had brought down on them a terrible calamity. They were enraged, and wished to make way for their anger somewhere, but being afraid to attack the mighty Samson, they cowardly made it burst on the weaker party. Burning was, among the Jews, the punishment inflicted for adultery and sins of impurity (Genesis 38:24; Leviticus 20:14; Leviticus 21:9). Thus the fate which Samson’s wife wished to avoid by proving false to her husband, now at last comes down on her head. They probably enclosed her father with the whole family in the building, and then set fire to it, allowing none to escape.
Judges 15:7. Though ye have done this, etc.] Meaning: Since you have chosen to act thus, I will not cease till I have fully avenged myself on you. He felt that such barbarity, shown to those whom he was bound to protect, quite justified him in making strong reprisals.
Judges 15:8. Smote them hip and thigh with a great slaughter.] i.e., those who had done the cruel act which roused his indignation. The phrase, “hip and thigh,” is proverbial (שנֹק עַל־יָרֵךְ) thigh upon hip or shank on thigh. These are the parts of a man where his chief strength in opposing a foe lies, and these were smashed, or broken. The sense is, he inflicted a most thorough and crushing defeat.
Went down and dwelt on the top of the rock Etam.] Rather, the cleft of the rock. The rocks of Palestine were famous for their fissures and cavities suitable as temporary dwelling places, or refuges in troublous times. Perhaps he felt himself no longer safe in Zorah, or he did not wish to bring trouble on his father’s house; therefore he retired, to “wander in the dens and caves of the earth,” making his God his dwelling place as well as his buckler and shield. For very probably he wished to go “apart into a desert place and rest awhile,” to reflect on the tragic hours of the past and gird himself anew, by prayer and meditation, for the stern work before him in the future. The name Etam has a rough signification—“wild beasts lair,” “yet not altogether unsuitable for the lion flayer and jackal conqueror.” It may be the same with the Etam, in 1 Chronicles 4:32. Rocks as refuges are often referred to in scripture (Isaiah 2:21; 1 Samuel 13:6; 1 Samuel 23:19; Judges 6:2; Hebrews 11:38; Psalms 61:2).
Judges 15:9. Pitched in Judah.] A presumption that Etam was in Judah. The blow which the hero had inflicted on them told. It was unsafe that such an enemy should be allowed to go at large. But after their dire experience they feared to attack him directly. To his own countrymen, however, he might readily capitulate, and, knowing their spiritless condition, these craven Philistines thought that, by opposing the weak, they might be able to bind the strong.
Judges 15:11. Three thousand of the men of Judah went down to the rock of Etam.] This is one of the meanest and most cowardly passages that is recorded in the miserable history of the days of the Judges. Such a people deserved the heavy yoke that lay upon them. A golden opportunity had occurred. one single arm had all but set them free. They had but to rally round the champion that had appeared, and there was a moral certainty that the star of liberty would again be in the zenith. But they tamely submit as hacks to the oppressor. Where the Philistines power over them might have been broken for ever, they pusillanimously do their bidding to go and bind the man who had fought so nobly to set them free! Could base servility farther go? The loss of a great battle were a less melancholy sight than this spectacle of a nation that had lost its self respect and had given up hope for the future!
Knowest thou not, etc.] Right-minded men would have fallen to the ground with shame at using such words—to have accused their greatest benefactor, as if he had been guilty of doing wrong in striking a blow for their liberties at the risk of his life—and also to have shown a preference for hugging their chains, and submitting to despotic tyranny, rather than rallying round their benefactor and gaining an easy deliverance from bondage. “But their heart was lost in idolatry. No one can raise himself to freedom who has not first repented—for penitence is courage against self, and confession before others—and among the 3000 there were not three who did not still bend to Baal.”—(Cassell). (See this servile spirit referred to in Sam. Agonist). It was a thankless task to restore such a people to independence.
Judges 15:12. We are come down to bind thee, etc.] So these abject tools of the uncircumcised had the effrontery to tell their Heaven-provided saviour (comp. Acts 7:25; and John 7:5). Truly they were trying to purchase peace at a costly price. “How ntly might he have said to them, as Themistocles once did to the Athenians, ‘Are ye weary of receiving so many benefits by one man?’ ” (Trapp). His submitting to be bound was one of the noblest acts of his life. It was moral greatness bowing to the request of moral meanness. He is a lion before the Philistines, but a lamb when dealing with the men of Judah.
Judges 15:14. When he came to Lehi the Philistines shouted, etc.] Strongly pinioned with new cords, the strongest they could find, the men of Judah, lost to all sense of shame, drag their hero forward, and deliver him into the enemy’s hand. The customary shout of triumph over a fallen for arises (1 Samuel 17:52), but it awakens the lion-power that slumbered in that mighty arm. Instantly the cords become as flax that feels the touch of fire, and his fetters drop from his hand. “The Spirit of the Lord comes mightily upon him,” and now for destruction to those who had defied the God of Israel! With the weight of an avalanche he falls on their masses, crushing and felling them to the ground, while they are paralysed with terror, and have neither power to fight nor to flee. Any weapon will suit the hand, when there is such force of purpose. The jawbone of an ass recently fallen is that which comes first to hand. This he seizes, and if it had been the sword of Michael, it could hardly have done deadlier execution. They are mowed down in crowds, as the grass goes down before the sickle. In an incredibly short space of time, a thousand men fall to the ground never more to rise; while the victor exclaims—
With the jawbone of an ass,
Heaps upon heaps
(one heap, two heaps),
With the jawbone of an ass
I have felled a thousand men.
(1 Samuel 18:7), (Deuteronomy 32:30).
Judges 15:17. Ramath-Lechi.] The hill of the jawbone.
Judges 15:18. He called on the Lord.] Samson was a man that went to God with his difficulties, and sought relief by prayer.
He was sore athirst.] Being summer weather, and therefore very hot. He was exhausted also from the long continuance of the conflict (2 Samuel 23:10).
Thou has given this great deliverance into the hand of thy servant.] He here notices 4 things
(1.) Thou has done it, not his own strong arm.
(2.) It is a great deliverance. Samson was in a critical situation, when bound with those cords, and hosts of enemies all around him. Besides it was the deliverance of God’s name from dishonour. For it might be read—“deliverance by the hand of, etc.”
(3.) He owns himself God’s servant, as the “saviour” of His people.
(4.) He acknowledges himself as liable to perish in the midst of victory—to die of thirst. He prays thus all alone, for he is deserted by the men of Judah. Every one of the poltroons betakes himself to flight, though their deliverance was now more assured than ever if they would only follow the leader God had sent them; they skulk every one of them behind backs, and leave Samson to do as he best can for himself (Psalms 124:0).
Judges 15:19. God clave a hollow that was in the jaw, etc.] not the jaw of the ass, but the place Lehi—rather Lechi. The Hebrew word Maktesh, the Rabbins say, means the socket of the ass’s tooth, in which the tooth is fixed; but the spring is said still to exist for a long period—“it is in Lechi unto this day.” The reference then must be to the place called Lechi. God made a hollow at that place, and a spring to issue from it, just as was done at Horeb and Kadesh (Exodus 17:6; Numbers 20:8; Numbers 20:11). The name given to the spring was Enhakkore, which signifies, the well of him that cried, which is at Lechi. This spring was known as Samson’s spring, even in the time of Jerome and others in the 7th, 12th, and 14th centuries. The name Maktesh (mortar) is mentioned as a place in Zephaniah 1:11.
Judges 15:20. Samson judged 20 years.] Some think that now, after this great exploit, he began to be acknowledged as judge [Trapp], for he was yet young. The larger part of the twenty years is passed over in silence. It is only when nearing the termination of his course, that we again hear of him in Judges 16:0.
HOMILETIC REMARKS.—Judges 15:1-20
HUMAN PASSION AND DIVINE PURPOSES
I. The treachery of the wicked’s companionship.
Though filled with anger at the moment, Samson was not wanting in the principle of fidelity to engagements. It may have been due in part to his attachment to her whom he had selected to be his wife, but also, in part, we think, to his sense of the obligation under which he had come, that after his anger was over he wished to have a reconciliation. On his side, there was the working of conscience, as well as natural affection. He soon found there was no such feeling on the other side. Where there is no fear of the true God there is no sense of responsibility, and consequently no binding moral principle. The foundation for good morality does not exist, and no confidence can be entertained in any kind of dealing. A man no longer does a thing because it is right to be done, but only acts from self interest or from convenience. Thus every thing becomes loose, and the very idea of moral obligation becomes lost. To keep faith, even in so binding a case as the marriage contract, was a thing which had no place in a Philistine bosom. And so the covenant between Samson and his wife was put aside without ceremony the moment that he turned his back, both father and daughter taking it very easily. The companion of the bridegroom being agreed himself to stand as the bridegroom, the daughter was given to him to be his wife, and Samson was forgotten. Examples of treachery—Laban (Genesis 29:23), and Genesis 31:41)—Saul (1 Samuel 25:44)—Joab (2 Samuel 3:27; 2 Samuel 20:9-10)—Absalom (2 Samuel 16:13)—Judas (Matthew 26:13).
II. God’s mercy is sometimes seen in preventing our wishes from being carried out.
Apart from the sinful character of the act, it was a great folly for an Israelite to wed with a Philistine. It was laying the foundation for perpetual discord and vexation. For soon, in this case, would the bridegroom have discovered that he had taken a viper to his bosom. Nothing could have gone on satisfactorily in such a household. “What concord hath Christ with Belial? What agreement hath the temple of God with idols?” Samson was indeed storing up misery for himself all the days of his natural life. Simply on the score of looking after his own domestic interests, he could not have taken a step more destructive of all home-peace and comfort than to have formed a connection so utterly incongruous, and so certain to poison every spring of happiness. It was “a thorn in the flesh” which only death could extract.
But God saved him from his infatuation. The means employed seemed to him to be a series of disasters, but they delivered him in the end from disasters tenfold greater. And so it is in all God’s dealings with His people in this world. As a father, who is wise in his kindness, He oftentimes refuses to give that which they passionately covet, or seem to be justly entitled to, because in the long run it would be to them serious injury (Mark 10:35-45). Moses earnestly wished to get his people delivered from slavery, but it was not God’s time; and he had to flee for his own life (Exodus 2:11-15). Joseph, no doubt, was delighted to continue in his father’s house, and felt it the greatest misery to lose his indulgent parental kindness; but God saw something better for him in the future, though the way by which he was led seemed to Joseph the reverse of kind (Genesis 40:14-15; Psalms 105:18). Yet every step of the way was right, for it was necessary to wean him from the character of being a petted child, and lead him to acquire the sterner virtues which adversity alone can teach. We still are ever striving after an easier life, where there would be fewer sacrifices to make, less of what is disagreeable to flesh and blood, and more of the good things of this world put into our cup. But our Heavenly Father says it must not be. Not from indifference to our interests, but in mercy to our real well-being, He prevents our wishes from being carried out; and so He defeats our plans and disappoints our expectations. He saves us from ourselves.
III. Revenge is at once a mistake and a sin.
It is an evil omen that there should be such a ready tendency in the human heart to retaliation and revenge. We see it in the case of Samson, as well as in the Philistines. The shameful treatment he had received awakened in him a purpose of revenge against the whole tribe. For by words, looks, whispers and inuendos, it seemed as if there were a general plotting against him, so that he felt the ground was not safe under his feet. While he stood alone, receiving scandalous treatment on the one side, they were instinctively drawing together in conspiracy against him on the other. Filled with the spirit of revenge, he resolved to make reprisals on the whole class, and accordingly used means to destroy the whole year’s produce of food, for many miles round the district where he then was.
This was wrong; for it is always wrong to cherish any unhallowed passion in the bosom. We are expressly required to “put off all anger, wrath, and malice.” These feelings are excited within us by the wicked one, whereas the Spirit of Christ requires us “to pray for them that despitefully use us.” It is also an express command that we are “not to avenge ourselves,” but to leave that work in the hand of God—that we are rather to pursue the course of “overcoming evil with good.”
This contest was also unwise. It was sure to provoke retaliation. The community were roused to indignation, and with burning hearts inquired for the perpetrator. The story was soon told. But they were afraid to touch the person of him who had done them so grievous an injury, and therefore they vented their fury against those who had goaded him on to do it. The faithless wife and her father they burned with fire. This act anew kindled the flames of resentment in the breast of Samson, and furnished a justification for a new slaughter. “He smote them hip and thigh with a great slaughter.” Cromwell in like manner said of the enemy before his Ironsides, “God gave them as stubble to our swords.” So it was now; he mowed them down as the grass. “They perished as the fat of lambs.”
The spirit of revenge is against the whole character of Christianity. “I send you forth as lambs in the midst of wolves.” We are “not to allow the sun to go down upon our wrath.” “Anger resteth in the bosom of fools.” “Forgive not till seven times, but until seventy times seven.” We are to put off “hatred, variance, emulations, strife, seditions, envyings” and to put on “goodness, gentleness, meekness.” We are indeed “not to render railing for railing.” We are to “give no offence, neither to the Jews nor the Gentiles, nor to the church of God,” and “if it be possible, as much as lieth in us, we are to live peaceably with all men.” “When a quarrel is begun, in the progress of the contention, there soon come to be faults on both sides, evil surmisings, undue animosities, mutual reflections, indecent sallies of passion, aud scandals multiplied, and the name of God is blasphemed.” [Evans.]
IV. Men’s sins are often overruled to fulfil the holy purposes of God.
Samson was again and again roused to take revenge on the enemies of his people on account of their detestable conduct. But revenge is an unholy feeling, and cannot be approved of by the Holy one of Israel. Yet that appears to have been the principal motive that urged him on in almost every one of his memorable deeds. These deeds were notwithstanding made use of to accomplish the high purposes of the God of Israel in punishing the oppressors of His people. Samson himself seemed to realize this and felt that he was justified in proceeding so often against the enemies of his people and his God, because they were really marked out for doom, and he was the appointed executioner of that doom. Thus there was ever a mixture of motives in all that Samson did. He was constantly giving way to unhallowed passion, while God was ever making use of him to glorify Himself by bringing His people nearer to deliverance.
So it ever is more or less, all through the history of this troubled and sinful world. God is ever “making use of the wrath of man to praise Him.” He makes use of one wicked ruler to be a scourge to another, “though he means it not so, neither in his heart doth he think so.” For many centuries has God allowed the history of mankind so to proceed; the wicked actions of individuals and of nations being employed contrary to men’s intentions or wishes, to serve the high and holy purposes of Heaven.
V. God’s wonderful forbearance in saving His people from their infatuation.
We have noticed above the mournful apathy into which the men of Judah had sunk, that, though a golden opportunity was set before them, they had not the heart to strike a blow for their deliverance from the yoke of the oppressor. On the contrary, they seem so much in love with their chains, that they find fault with their Liberator, when he sets before them an open door, and bids them go free. They sell their champion to secure a false peace with the enemy. To such a depth of baseness do those sink who have cast off their God! They had become “sottish children, a people of no understanding.” “They were stricken but they did not grieve, they were consumed but they refused to receive correction.” “They had a revolting and a rebellious heart.” They were not only absolutely helpless in themselves, but they had become objects of loathing to those who would try to lift them up.
Yet amid this extreme provocation, God had compassion on them, and sent a deliverer to fight their battle singlehanded, not only unaided by a single man of them, but even in the face of their base treachery to himself! And why? “For My name’s sake will I defer mine anger.” “I had pity for Mine holy name. I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for Mine holy name’s sake. I will sanctify My great name” (Isaiah 48:9; Ezekiel 36:21-23). How many still will rather “lie down in their shame” than seek either cleansing or elevation! They will not submit to the trouble and sacrifice necessary for their purification. How many lose their souls, because they dread anything like a spiritual cataclysm taking place, in order to their passing from death into life? And even God’s own people have their sanctification greatly retarded, because while they cannot carry on that work without God, He will not carry it on without them (Philippians 2:12-13).
“God’s most wonderful attribute is His patience.” His interference at all for the redemption of such a people as this was owing to these causes—
(1.) To illustrate by a strong case how far His mercy could go.
(2.) He had respect to His covenant, made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their seed for ever (Genesis 17:7; Genesis 26:3-4; Genesis 28:13-14.
(3.) He was moved in answer to prayer. For there still was a handful of believing people left in the land, who “kept not silence and gave him no rest, etc.”
(4.) He wished to preserve to Himself a people on the earth—Apply this principle to the spiritual Israel.
VI. To be crushed with oppression is unfavourable to the development of pious principle.
This is but another side of the same facts, but one which must not be overlooked. The men of Judah being so near to the country of the Philistines were more harassed than the other tribes. Having been for several years under the heel of the oppressor, they had lost all heart, their spirit was broken, and they had sunk into despair. They had become demoralised. Their power of resistance was gone, and they submitted like sheep to their fate. Even Samson’s noble deeds awakened no patriotism in their hearts, nor fired them with any impulse of gratitude. Theirs was “the sorrow that worketh death.” A parallel case of heart breaking under bondage we have in Exodus 6:9.
Nor is it at any time other than a disadvantage for the cultivation of a man’s religion, that he should be heart-broken with adversity. “Oppression makes a wise man mad.” When the spirit is crushed out of him, it makes him callous, and dead to all the better feelings of his nature. It will not do to break the mainspring. Christianity indeed exerts a recuperative and counterbalancing influence under any circumstances, but only when faith is called into exercise. Then, indeed, “when troubles abound, consolations do more abound,” and it is possible even to “glory in tribulations.” But we must not lose hope, and allow ourselves to be drifted passively with the tide. Duty is not to be performed mechanically, and without spirit, but always with trust in God, that He will “make all things work together for our good.” To be even sorely afflicted is often a most healthful discipline, and is made use of to teach some of the best lessons of Christian training, but it must always be on the basis of a strong and healthy exercise of faith (Ezekiel 37:11; Isaiah 40:27-31; Psalms 77:7-9; Psalms 42:5; Psalms 42:11; Job 23:8-10; Psalms 143:3-8).
VII. The Destroyer of the Church’s enemies is yet the mildest of friends to his own people.
It would have been alike easy for Samson to have smitten the men of Judah, as well as his Philistine foes. But they were his countrymen, and they were God’s chosen people. He both felt that, he must not lift a finger against the Lord’s anointed, and also his heart was too much in sympathy with his down-trodden country-men to think of hurting a hair of their heads, however much he might abhor their conduct. So did a greater and a truer than Samson feel, when He looked on the burdens, and heard the groanings of those dear to Him as the apple of His eye. Though they listened not to the message sent, He still went on with the work of deliverance (Isaiah 63:7-9). “Though I make an end of other nations, yet not of thee” etc. (Jeremiah 30:11; Zephaniah 3:17; Psalms 91:11-13; Matthew 13:30; Matthew 13:41-43; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10).
VIII. The cruel intentions of the wicked often lead to their own greater punishment.
Samson’s enemies intended first to bind him, then to torture him, and finally to put him to a cruel death. This we may suppose, because when he did fall into their hands, that was what they actually did. But it turned out to them according to the adage—“evil be to them that evil think.” They got their enemy into their hands, and got him fast bound, while their hearts were full of all manner of malicious thoughts against him. But they forgot that mysterious force that gathered round him direct from his God, which, in a moment unloosed his fetters, and left his enemies defenceless, and caught in the very act of meditating vengeance. With their guilt staring them in the face, they fell before him in heaps, and a greater carnage took place among their ranks than had ever yet been known (Psalms 58:7; Psalms 118:12).
Those whom God sends to do any special work for Him have, on that very account, a sacred character, so that any injury done to their persons He counts as done to Himself (Numbers 12:8). It is the same with those whom God chooses to represent him before the world, whether it be a numerous people, or only a handful. They are under the Divine protection, and woe be to those who rough handle the people on whom the jealous God sets His seal! If they sin, and sin heinously against Him, that is a matter for dealing between Him and them; but so long as He does not cast them off, all around are warned to respect His sacred mark upon them. “He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of mine eye” (Zechariah 2:8; Zechariah 1:14-15; Psalms 105:14-15). Hence the many retributions with which God in His Providence visited the nations, who from time to time, meditated evil against Israel (Ezekiel 26:2-4; Ezekiel 36:1-12; Jeremiah 31:5-6; Jeremiah 31:10-11; Jeremiah 31:24; Jeremiah 31:35; Jeremiah 31:39; Jeremiah 50:17-20; Jeremiah 50:33-34). And now the Philistines are so visited. The massacre that took place on this occasion, was really a vindicating of God’s great name against those who trod in the dust the people that were so dear to Him. It is indeed a fulfilling of what He has said should take place (Psalms 34:21; Psalms 37:12-14; Psalms 34:7). The issue which these men of blood were preparing for God’s servant came to themselves (Psalms 7:15-16). The triumph of the wicked is short.
IX. When God is helping us, the meanest weapon will overcome opposition.
When we are really doing a work for God, either to speak a word for His honour, or perform an act, or fulfil a commission, He will not “send us a warfare on our own charges.” He will always, on the spot, and at the moment, find means to serve our purpose—the right word to be spoken, a suitable weapon to employ, or free scope for the discharge of duty. The rudest instrument will suffice to do great things when God’s hand is engaged. “The victory lies not in the weapon, nor in the arm, but in the Spirit of God who wields the weapon in the arm. O God! if the means be weak Thou art strong!” By the mouth of a fisherman—a man taken at random, we mightalmost say, at any rate without any care to use the naturally best qualified human instrument—a greater result was achieved on the day of Pentecost, than on any day of the whole course of the Samsonian career. And through similar instruments, entirely wanting in human wisdom and human eloquence, within a few years, the strongest fastnesses of Satan’s kingdom in this world were shaken, and every throne was made to totter to the fall.
It is the old story of the blowing with rams’ horns, and the strong walls of Jericho fell down flat. David, the stripling, killed Goliath the giant with a sling and a stone. Moses brought the ten mighty plagues on Egypt through the stretching forth of the shepherd’s rod. And the mightiest throne ever erected in this world, that on which the Prince of Darkness sits, received an irrecoverable blow from the use of the most despicable of all weapons—a cross! (Colossians 2:15). Sometimes the plainest truth, stated in the boldest form, by an uncultured person, pierces through armour of triple brass with irresistible effect. The honest, unpretending spirit in which a thing is said, tells more mightily on the heart and conscience than all the decorations of language, or all the logic of the schools. The real source of the power that belongs to the gospel of Christ lies partly in the peculiar character of the truth contained in that gospel, and partly in the presence of the living Spirit of God going along with that truth to make it effectual (Zechariah 4:6; Haggai 2:5; Mark 16:20; Acts 2:47; John 16:14; 1 Corinthians 2:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:5; Psalms 8:2). God puts the treasure into an “earthen vessel” (2 Corinthians 4:7). Better serve Him with the jaw of an ass than not serve Him at all.
X. The strongest as well as the weakest are dependent on faith and prayer.
Samson, with all his herculean powers, was yet dependent on the ordinary laws of nature like other men. Great and continued exertion in a warm atmosphere led to the miseries of thirst, and these on this occasion were so great as to endanger life. Precipitately, he fell from a state of superhuman strength to a state of absolute weakness, so much so, that he felt as if the gift of life itself were about to be taken away. Earnestly he cried unto the Lord, and confessed his dependence as if he had been the weakest man in Israel. He had the witness in himself that the power he exercised was not his own, but a talent given him to occupy for his Lord. It served the purpose of a “thorn in the flesh,” to have this great thirst, for it prevented his being “exalted above measure.” Now, all his thoughts are of prayer and of faith. It is believing prayer. This implies:
(1.) Trust in God as his own God. Were God his enemy he could not trust Him. He was his father’s God. He himself had been the child of a godly upbringing, and had made choice of Jehovah in preference to all the gods of the heathen. He was reconciled to God, and amid all its oscillations his heart still clave to Him.
(2.) Trust in Him as the God of the promises. The all-inclusive promise, “I will be a God to thee”—was sure to every true-hearted Israelite. Also such individual promises as, “I will not fail thee”—“I will keep thee in all places whither thou goest”—“as thy days so shall thy strength be,” etc.
(3.) Trust in Him on account of past help. Often had the Spirit of God come mightily upon him, and through Him great deeds had been done. It was a proof that God was with him. Having begun to bless, he would continue to bless. For “His gifts and calling are without any change of purpose” (Romans 11:29; Psalms 115:12). And now, on this occasion, he had obtained the most signal of all the proofs of the Divine favour.
(4.) It was in God’s service that he came by his weakness. God has engaged to uphold His servant whom He may call to do His work (Isaiah 42:1; Isaiah 41:9-10; Isaiah 41:13-15; 2 Corinthians 1:8-10). The men of faith “out of weakness were made strong” (1 Kings 19:4-18).
(5.) To preserve the honour of God’s name is the argument he pleads. Let it not be said, that God would allow His servant to fall into the hands of the uncircumcised. The glory of the triumph was altogether due to God, and if His servant should fall while engaged in the work, it would take away from the perfection of the triumph. Gideon and his 300 men, though “faint,” were yet enabled “to pursue,” till their work was done, and not a man was lost. Nor do we hear of any loss among Barak’s 10,000 men. “The Lord is a rock, and His work is perfect.”
XI. God will not fall the man of prayer.
Samson’s cry was heard. He had very likely continued for some time in prayer, and, what is recorded in a single verse is simply the substance of the prayer, as is the usual manner of the Scripture record. The prayer was answered speedily, for that was necessary, if it should be answered at all. It seemed consistent, that when God had given him His Spirit to enable him to conquer the Philistine, He should also “continue His loving kindness,” by granting that supply of water in a dry place, which was needed for the preservation of his life. That was given miraculously, by the opening of a fountain where none naturally existed, in Lechi—the place so called, not in the jaw itself—and a spring issued from it as in the rock at Horeb (Isaiah 41:17-18). “Is any thing too hard for the Lord?” In the Book of Psalms is any class of the testimonies of Christian experience more frequent than this—that God always, sooner or later, heard the believing prayer of the writer? Why does He take to Himself the name of the “God of Jacob,” but because He loves the man of prayer and delights to hear his cry (Isaiah 45:19; Psalms 34:4-6; Psalms 34:15; Psalms 34:17; Psalms 20:1). He has already given up His own Son for such an one, and that gift being received, the receiver is henceforth a sacred object in the eye of the giver, so that no measure of blessing is reckoned too high to bestow on one, who is so intimately allied to the Son of God. Hence the great liberty which such an one may use in prayer. Also the gift of Christ when received opens the way for the bestowment of all other blessings. Every possible obstacle to the outflow of Divine blessing is removed, so that now it is most glorifying to God to answer prayer. A sinful man, though in himself an object of abhorrence to God, yet receiving Christ as God’s gift, becomes one with Him, and is “accepted in the Beloved.” It is then a righteous thing to bestow on him all manner of blessing for Christ’s sake.
XII. Great deliverances should ever be gratefully remembered.
It is singular how any should depreciate Samson at this point, by saying that he showed no gratitude for the mercy that was exhibited to him. “He erected,” they say, “no altar, he offered no sacrifice, but forgetful of praise and thanksgiving, and assuming the honour of the conquest to himself, he chanted a hymn of victory and a poem of praise to himself, and consecrated the place to his own name.” True, Noah built an altar and offered sacrifices after escaping from the waters of the flood—a most appropriate thing to do, for the occasion was that of a heavy visitation of the Divine wrath on account of sin. Jacob at Bethel erected no altar, but he set up a pillar, and he made a vow, which showed his deep sense of obligation for benefits conferred; and this too was appropriate. Abraham, after being spared the sacrifice of his son, gave a significant name to the place, and this was all he did by way of commemoration. For the sacrifice of the ram on the altar had nothing to do with a testimony of thanksgiving or commemoration. So it was with Hagar (Genesis 16:13-14), with Samuel (1 Samuel 7:12), with Jacob repeatedly (Genesis 32:2; Genesis 32:30).
In like manner, Samson expressed the gratitude of his heart, by giving to the place of his deliverance the expressive name of Enhakkore—meaning, the spring of him who cried in earnest prayer to God and was heard. Who can doubt that here there was both thanksgiving and commemoration? How many new names of consecration have we given to certain spots in our earthly pilgrimage which have been to us as the house of God and the gate of heaven. Can we recall a turn of the road, where it seemed as if the angels of God met us, and we were comforted and cheered beyond expression—far more than compensated for the hard, gloomy, scowling countenances of many a Laban or Esau that we had to meet with in our wanderings? Can we call to mind some remarkable answer given to earnest wrestling prayer, by which we obtained deliverance from some threatened danger that we thought it impossible to survive? Or can we remember some season of Divine communion, when our thoughts and feelings were raised far above the world, when we were alone with God, and felt strongly the hallowing influence of His presence, and when Jesus talked with us by the way and opened up the scriptures—when, indeed, the atmosphere around us was so pure, that it seemed as if all sin had already disappeared, and we were ready to fly in through the gates of the holy world, where Jesus reigns? These are cases that call for the soul’s best tribute of thanksgiving, and most sacred names of commemoration. It is the instinct of a truly pious heart to take steps that they shall not be forgotten. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.” (Psalms 77:11-12; Psalms 145:1-2; Psalms 119:16; Psalms 119:93; Isaiah 63:7). God Himself requires that we should remember His gracious providences and dealings with us (Genesis 35:1; Deuteronomy 6:6-9). In many places He calls upon us to “remember His marvellous works,” and to praise His name for ever. The most touching of all memories is “The Lord’s supper.”
The name which Samson gave to the spring that was specially opened to give him drink, so far from being the taking of praise to himself, we interpret to mean the very opposite. The fit paraphase of that name is given in Psalms 34:6.
XIII. All power is really at the back of the good, while the wicked live only on sufferance.
At first sight it seems quite the reverse. These Philistines, like an overrunning flood, swept over the land, and there was no breakwater to stem the torrent. The God of Israel seemed to have left His heritage and given up the dearly beloved of His soul into the hands of her enemies. But, in a manner unthought of, the breakwater at last appeared. A single man became more powerful than a whole nation, leaving us to infer that a nation of such men could be more powerful than all the nations of the earth. The whole power of the wicked is usurped power; it does not stand on right but on sufferance, and it is liable at any moment, by a word from the throne, to be taken away. It is the power that belongs to rebels and outlaws, and cannot last (Psalms 37:9-10; Psalms 37:12-15; Psalms 37:35-36). But the righteous are the children of the kingdom, and by right all things are theirs which belong to their Divine Father. The whole force of the Eternal Law is on their side (Deuteronomy 33:27; Psalms 90:0; Isaiah 33:16).
XIV. It Is but little of a man’s life that is told to future ages.
Samson had a public life of twenty years, and the whole government, legislative and executive, rested with him alone, without any to share the power. The legislative indeed God reserved entirely to Himself, though of that there was but little in a time of such extreme disorder. One man stood out as the sole figure in the history of all Israel, and he alone made that history for so long a time. Yet how little is told of him! Mere snatches—half an hour’s reading—some nine or ten stories, and these told in the curtest possible manner, and then—he passes off the stage! The prolonged story of his thoughts, words, and actions, which was every day being told for the long period of twenty years, and which was known in part, only to his fellows, in full, only to himself, was never heard by the generations that followed!—and yet these fragmentary hints about the most remarkable life of that age, are more than what is heard of about the whole nation of Israel (Job 14:2-3; Job 14:10; Psalms 144:3-4). How many are constantly sinking into oblivion, their names never more to come up to notice till the great day of account? And then “many that sleep in the dust shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” There is no real immortality, but that which Christ gives (John 10:28; Matthew 13:43; Matthew 25:34). How supremely foolish it is, to live now in such a manner as that we shall deserve to be forgotten for ever! How unwise to be filling up a large part of our time, or the whole of it, with materials that must be scattered like chaff before the winds of trial!
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Judges 15". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/