Judges 15

Judges 15,
Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Even though Samson’s wife is given away, here he comes with a gift, expecting make-up sex.  His father-in-law disagrees, but offers an even ruder suggestion as alpha male who can propose and dispose not only his daughter’s bodies, but Samson’s household.  Is Samson’s anger based on the offence to the women, or more likely to his own autonomy and pride? 

Samson’s vandalism is comical, but effective: tying foxes’ tails, lighting them on fire as incendiaries, to commit arson all around in Philistia.  The justification of his act of quid pro quo revenge is accepted by the Philistines, who kill his father-in-law with Samson’s wife and her sister.  Again, is Samson’s anger based on the moral reasoning of the posse comitatus?  What makes him morally superior, and justifies his slaughter of 1000 of them using the jaw-bone of an ass?  It looks like a mass grave in an ethnic cleansing. 

Vengeance is usually God’s prerogative – this whole series seems strangely and awkwardly forced into the pattern of Judges, perhaps from an earlier folk-tale source or sources.  The Judahites are the ones who have to face the Philistine’s wrath, seeking to bind Samson.

Notice the repeated ‘binding’ of Samson – bind him by ropes and custody, or by Nazirite vows.  I’m reminded of Isaiah Berlin’s distinction between positive and negative freedom, freedom ‘for’ and freedom ‘from’.  The Judahites take over the binding mission – to bring the renegade to heel, and hand him over to Philistine custody.

How often do oppressed people act as the oppressors’ police, in the occupied community, or even between our own ears?  Samson accepts the binding by his own community, but faced with the Philistines, he snaps the ropes easily, and slaughters 1,000.

 The editorial closing of the chapter feels imposed, but qualified – Samson just provides 20 years of peace, not 80 or 40.    How is he filled with the spirit of God or the wisdom of God -  and allowed to resume his binding by naazirite vows without any repentance ritual?

After a while, 
at the time of the wheat harvest, 
Samson went to visit his wife,
 bringing along a kid. 
He said,
 ‘I want to go into my wife’s room.’
 But her father would not allow him to go in.
 2Her father said,
 ‘I was sure that you had rejected her; 
so I gave her to your companion.
 Is not her younger sister prettier than she? 
Why not take her instead?’ 
3Samson said to them,
 ‘This time, when I do mischief to the Philistines,
 I will be without blame.’
 4So Samson went and caught three hundred foxes,
 and took some torches;
 and he turned the foxes tail to tail, 
and put a torch between each pair of tails
. 5When he had set fire to the torches, 
he let the foxes go
 into the standing grain of the Philistines,
 and burned up the shocks
 and the standing grain,
 as well as the vineyards
and olive groves.
 6Then the Philistines asked,
 ‘Who has done this?’ 
And they said, 
the son-in-law of the Timnite, 
because he has taken Samson’s wife
and given her to his companion.’
So the Philistines came up, 
and burned her and her father.
 7Samson said to them,
 ‘If this is what you do,
 I swear I will not stop
 until I have taken revenge
 on you.’
 8He struck them down
hip and thigh
with great slaughter; 
and he went down
and lived
in the cleft of the rock of Etam.
9 Then the Philistines came up
and encamped in Judah, 
and made a raid on Lehi.
 10The 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 three thousand men of Judah
went down to the cleft of the rock of Etam, 
and they said to Samson,
 ‘Do you not know
that the Philistines
are rulers over us? 
What then have you done
 to us?’ 
He replied, 
‘As they did to me, 
so I have done to them.’
 12They said to him, 
‘We have come down
to bind you,
 so that we may
give you
 into the hands
of the Philistines.’
 Samson answered them,
 ‘Swear to me
that you yourselves
 will not attack me.’
 13They said to him, 
we will only bind you
 and give you
 into their hands;
 we will not kill you.’ 
So they bound him
 with two new ropes,
 and brought him up
 from the rock.
14 When he came to Lehi,
 the Philistines came shouting to meet him; 
and the spirit of the Lord rushed on him,
 and the ropes that were on his arms
 became like flax that has caught fire,
 and his bonds melted
 off his hands.
15Then he found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, 
reached down and took it, 
and with it
 he killed a thousand men.
 16And Samson said,
‘With the jawbone of a donkey,
 heaps upon heaps,
with the jawbone of a donkey
   I have slain a thousand men.’ 

17When he had finished speaking,
 he threw away the jawbone;
 and that place was called Ramath-lehi.
18 By then he was very thirsty, 
and he called on the Lord, 
 ‘You have granted this great victory
by the hand of your servant.
 Am I now to die of thirst, 
and fall into the hands
of the uncircumcised?’ 
19So God split open
the hollow place
that is at Lehi, 
and water came from it. 
When he drank, 
his spirit returned, 
and he revived. 
Therefore it was named
 which is at Lehi
 to this day.
 20And he judged Israel
 in the days of the Philistines
for twenty years.