Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Further Acts of Samson. - Jdg 15:1-8. His Revenge upon the Philistines. - Jdg 15:1.
Some time after, Samson visited his wife in the time of the wheat harvest with a kid-a customary present at that time (Gen 38:17)-and wished to go into the chamber (the women's apartment) to her; but her father would not allow him, and said, "I thought thou hatedst her, and therefore gave her to thy friend (Jdg 14:20): behold her younger sister is fairer than she; let her be thine in her stead."
Enraged at this answer, Samson said to them (i.e., to her father and those around him), "Now am I blameless before the Philistines, if I do evil to them." נקּה with מן, to be innocent away from a person, i.e., before him (see Num 32:22). Samson regarded the treatment which he had received from his father-in-law as but one effect of the disposition of the Philistines generally towards the Israelites, and therefore resolved to avenge the wrong which he had received from one member of the Philistines upon the whole nation, or at all events upon the whole of the city of Timnath.
He therefore went and caught three hundred shualim, i.e., jackals, animals which resemble foxes and are therefore frequently classed among the foxes even by the common Arabs of the present day (see Niebuhr, Beschr. v. Arab. p. 166). Their European name is derived from the Persian schaghal. These animals, which are still found in great quantities at Joppa, Gaza, and in Galilee, herd together, and may easily be caught (see Rosenmller, Bibl. Althk. iv. 2, pp. 155ff.). He then took torches, turned tail to tail, i.e., coupled the jackals together by their tails, putting a torch between the two tails, set the torches on fire, and made the animals run into the fields of standing corn belonging to the Philistines. Then he burned "from the shocks of wheat to the standing grain and to the olive gardens," i.e., the shocks of wheat as well as the standing corn and the olive plantations. זית מרךּ are joined together in the construct state.
The Philistines found out at once, that Samson had done them this injury because his father-in-law, the Timnite, had taken away his wife and given her to his companion. They therefore avenged themselves by burning her and her father-probably by burning his house down to the ground, with its occupants within it-an act of barbarity and cruelty which fully justified Samson's war upon them.
Samson therefore declared to them, "If ye do such things, truly (כּי) when I have avenged myself upon you, then will I cease," i.e., I will not cease till I have taken vengeance upon you.
"Then he smote them hip and thigh (lit. 'thigh upon hip;' על as in Gen 32:12), a great slaughter." שׁוק, thigh, strengthened by על־ירך, is a second accusative governed by the verb, and added to define the word אותם more minutely, in the sense of "on hip and thigh;" whilst the expression which follows, גדולה מכּה, is added as an adverbial accusative to strengthen the verb ויּך. Smiting hip and thigh is a proverbial expression for a cruel, unsparing slaughter, like the German "cutting arm and leg in two," or the Arabic "war in thigh fashion" (see Bertheau in loc.). After smiting the Philistines, Samson went down and dwelt in the cleft of the rock Etam. There is a town of Etam mentioned in Ch2 11:6, between Bethlehem and Tekoah, which was fortified by Rehoboam, and stood in all probability to the south of Jerusalem, upon the mountains of Judah. But this Etam, which Robinson (Pal. ii. 168) supposes to be the village of Urtas, a place still inhabited, though lying in ruins, is not to be thought of here, as the Philistines did not go up to the mountains of Judah (Jdg 15:9), as Bertheau imagines, but simply came forward and encamped in Judah. The Etam of this verse is mentioned in Ch1 4:32, along with Ain Rimmon and other Simeonitish towns, and is to be sought for on the border of the Negeb and of the mountains of Judah, in the neighbourhood of Khuweilifeh (see V. de Velde, Mem. p. 311). The expression "he went down" suits this place very well, but not the Etam on the mountains of Judah, to which he would have had to go up, and not down, from Timnath.
Samson is delivered up to the Philistines, and smites them with the jaw-bone of an Ass.
The Philistines came ("went up," denoting the advance of an army: see at Jos 8:1) to avenge themselves for the defeat they had sustained from Samson; and having encamped in Judah, spread themselves out in Lechi (Lehi). Lechi (לחי, in pause לחי, i.e., a jaw), which is probably mentioned again in Sa2 23:11, and, according to Jdg 15:17, received the name of Ramath-lechi from Samson himself, cannot be traced with any certainty, as the early church tradition respecting the place is utterly worthless. Van de Velde imagines that it is to be found in the flattened rocky hill el Lechieh, or Lekieh, upon which an ancient fortification has been discovered, in the middle of the road from Tell Khewelfeh to Beersheba, at the south-western approach of the mountains of Judah.
When the Judaeans learned what was the object of this invasion on the part of the Philistines, three thousand of them went down to the cleft in the rock Etam, to bind Samson and deliver him up to the Philistines. Instead of recognising in Samson a deliverer whom the Lord had raised up for them, and crowding round him that they might smite their oppressors with his help and drive them out of the land, the men of Judah were so degraded, that they cast this reproach at Samson: "Knowest thou not that the Philistines rule over us? Wherefore hast thou done this (the deed described in Jdg 15:8)? We have come down to bind thee, and deliver thee into the hand of the Philistines." Samson replied, "Swear to me that ye will not fall upon me yourselves." פּגע with בּ, to thrust at a person, fall upon him, including in this case, according to Jdg 15:13, the intention of killing.
When they promised him this, he let them bind him with two new cords and lead him up (into the camp of the Philistines) out of the rock (i.e., the cleft of the rock).
But when he came to Lechi, and the Philistines shouted with joy as they came to meet him, the Spirit of Jehovah came upon him, "and the cords on his arms became like two that had been burnt with fire, and his fetters melted from his hands." The description rises up to a poetical parallelism, to depict the triumph which Samson celebrated over the Philistines in the power of the Spirit of Jehovah.
As soon as he was relieved of his bands, he seized upon a fresh jaw-bone of an ass, which he found there, and smote therewith a thousand men. He himself commemorated this victory in a short poetical strain (Jdg 15:16): "With the ass's jaw-bone a heap, two heaps; with the ass's jaw-bone I smote a thousand men." The form of the word חמור = חמר is chosen on account of the resemblance to חמור, and is found again at Sa1 16:20. How Samson achieved this victory is not minutely described. But the words "a heap, two heaps," point to the conclusion that it did not take place in one encounter, but in several. The supernatural strength with which Samson rent asunder the fetters bound upon him, when the Philistines thought they had him safely in their power, filled them with fear and awe as before a superior being, so that they fled, and he pursued them, smiting one heap after another, as he overtook them, with an ass's jaw-bone which he found in the way. The number given, viz., a thousand, is of course a round number signifying a very great multitude, and has been adopted from the song into the historical account.
When he had given utterance to his saying, he threw the jaw-bone away, and called the place Ramath-lechi, i.e., the jaw-bone height. This seems to indicate that the name Lechi in Jdg 15:9 is used proleptically, and that the place first received its name from this deed of Samson.
The pursuit of the Philistines, however, and the conflict with them, had exhausted Samson, so that he was very thirsty, and feared that he might die from exhaustion; for it was about the time of the wheat-harvest (Jdg 15:1), and therefore hot summer weather. Then he called to the Lord, "Thou hast through (בּיד) "Thy servant given this great deliverance; and now I shall die for thirst, and fall into the hand of the uncircumcised!" From this prayer we may see that Samson was fully conscious that he was fighting for the cause of the Lord. And the Lord helped him out of this trouble. God split the hollow place at Lechi, so that water came out of it, as at Horeb and Kadesh (Exo 17:6, and Num 20:8, Num 20:11). The word מכתּשׁ, which is used in Pro 27:22 to signify a mortar, is explained by rabbinical expositors as denoting the socket of the teeth, or the hollow place in which the teeth are fixed, like the Greek ὁλμίσκος, mortariolum, according to Pollux, Onom. ii. c. 4, 21. Accordingly many have understood the statement made here, as meaning that God caused a fountain to flow miraculously out of the socket of a tooth in the jaw-bone which Samson had thrown away, and thus provided for his thirst. This view is the one upon which Luther's rendering, "God split a tooth in the jaw, so that water came out," is founded, and is has been voluminously defended by Bochart (Hieroz. l. ii. c. 15). But the expression בּלּחי אשׁר, "the maktesh which is at Lechi," is opposed to this view, since the tooth-socket in the jaw-bone of the ass would be simply called הלּחי מכתּשׁ or בּלּחי מכתּשׁ; and so is also the remark that this fountain was still in existence in the historian's own time. And the article proves nothing to the contrary, as many proper names are written with it (see Ewald, 277, c.). Consequently we must follow Josephus (Ant. v. 8), who takes המּכתּשׁ as the name given to the opening of the rock, which was cleft by God to let water flow out. "If a rocky precipice bore the name of jaw-bone (lechi) on account of its shape, it was a natural consequence of this figurative epithet, that the name tooth-hollow should be given to a hole or gap in the rock" (Studer). Moreover, the same name, Maktesh, occurs again in Zep 1:11, where it is applied to a locality in or near Jerusalem. The hollow place was split by Elohim, although it was to Jehovah that Samson had prayed, to indicate that the miracle was wrought by God as the Creator and Lord of nature. Samson drank, and his spirit returned, so that he revived again. Hence the fountain received the name of En-hakkore, "the crier's well which is at Lechi," unto this day. According to the accents, the last clause does not belong to בּלּחי (in Lechi), but to וגו קרא (he called, etc.). It received the name given to it unto this day. This implies, of course, that the spring itself was in existence when our book was composed. - In Jdg 15:20 the account of the judicial labours of Samson are brought to a close, with the remark that Samson judged Israel in the days of the Philistines, i.e., during their rule, for twenty years. What more is recorded of him in Judg 16 relates to his fall and ruin; and although even in this he avenged himself upon the Philistines, he procured no further deliverance for Israel. It is impossible to draw any critical conclusions from the position in which this remark occurs, as to a plurality of sources for the history of Samson.