Even before a messenger arrived to warn Samson at the fortress of Etam that thousands of soldiers were coming to take him, the young and powerful Danite spotted the army of three thousand from atop the fortress. He could tell by the dress and insignia of the soldiers that they were of the tribe of Judah. He could think of no valid reason why fellow Israelites would be a threat to him or the men with him.
When the leaders of the army of Judah met with Samson and the other men at the fortress, the reason for the presence of so many men was soon made know.
“We admire your great strength and we have marveled at the ways you have used it and your sense of humor in making the foxes set fire to the Philistines’ crops,” the captain of the army of Judah told Samson. “However, you seem to have forgotten that the Philistines are ruling over us, and that no one man can change that unhappy situation. Your violent actions against them and your insulting sense of humor have only made them more hostile toward us. Why have you caused so much trouble?”
“They are our enemies,” Samson replied. “They treated me badly, and I did the same to them. And I might as well enjoy my revenge by having a good laugh at their expense” (Judges 15:1-11).
“What you did has resulted in more grief than you realize,” the captain continued. “Now we have had to promise the Philistines that we will deliver you to them bound and alive! Otherwise, their soldiers will overrun the land with a terrible slaughter!”
Samson silently surveyed the three thousand soldiers below. He was beginning to understand the seriousness of the situation.
“Who figured that so many men would be required to capture me?” he laughed. “I am only one man.”
The captain’s face turned a little red, but he had a reasonable answer.
“We didn’t know how many men would be in and around this fortress.”
Samson knew that he would have to submit then and there to the men of Judah or fight against his own people in an attempt to escape. He loved all Israelites and didn’t want to hurt any of them.
“I’ll willingly go with you if you’ll promise to keep me alive,” Samson finally said.
“We’ll have to bind you,” the captain told him, “but I promise you that otherwise you will receive only the best treatment from us.”
Samson was free to do as he wished until the soldiers of Judah had eaten and rested and were ready to start back northward. Then the husky Danite’s mighty arms were securely bound behind his back with two lengths of strong, new rope. Knots were made especially secure and the rope wad bound very tightly over his cloth-wrapped wrists so that there would be no opportunity for leverage or slack by which the binding might gradually be worked loose (Judges 15:12-13).
When the army of Judah started out, Samson was carried on a litter between burros. The captain wished to make certain that nothing happened to the Danite before he could be delivered to the Philistines, who were still waiting to the north in the rugged region of Judah where their army had moved in.
It was not many miles from the fortress of Etam to where the Philistines were encamped. Just before the men of Judah reached the place, the captain gave orders to his three thousand men to disband and return to their homes. He was fearful that the army of the Philistines might have formed a trap ahead for his men. A handful of men were ordered on to guide the burros carrying Samson, and these men were advised to escape, if they could, as soon as Samoan was in the hands of the Philistines.
When the Philistines learned from look-outs that Samson was being brought into their camp, they became very excited. They grabbed up their arms and rushed southward to seize the man who had troubled them so much. When they saw him being carried toward them, they began shouting in triumph. It was quite satisfying to them to view him being borne to his apparent doom in their midst. Instead of seizing him immediately, they stood back and shouted taunts and insults. At this point the men who were guiding the burros felt that they had accomplished their mission, and they turned to flee.
Samson made no effort to do anything. Officers sent men to approach him to examine his bonds to make certain that they were real and sufficient. They reported that the ropes were new, strong and well-knotted, and that Samson was truly helpless. Assured, the Philistine officers boldly gathered around Samson.
“So this is the mighty Israelite called Samson!” a Philistine officer haughtily addressed the prone Danite. “You have caused us some trouble in the past, but now you should know that your future is going to be full of a lot more trouble, even though it will be a very short future!”
A great cheer rose from the Philistines. This was too much for Samson, who had been trying to wait for some kind of opportunity. Anger can result in increased strength, and so it was with the muscular Danite. At the same time God imbued him with a special power because he kept the requirements of a Nazarite.
The laughter and hoots of the Philistines increased as Samson jerked himself up and strained at his ropes. In his bound state Samson’s bulging muscles, rising veins and expression of anger and agony were a combination to cause great mirth to his enemies. All this was changed within seconds when the bonds snapped and the Danite leaped to his feet. Laughter abruptly faded. Grinning expressions turned to those of surprise and disbelief. Those who stood close to Samson swiftly moved away from him (Judges 15:14).
This was a crucial moment for Samson. He knew that he needed more than his fists to protect himself. There was no club, sword, spear or knife within his immediate reach. There were stones, but they could only be thrown, and were awkward to use.
His darting eyes at last focused on the nearby skeleton of a donkey that had died recently and had been freshly picked clean by scavengers. Samson leaped to the bones, jerked the head from the rest of the skeleton and yanked the lower jaw bone from the head.
By this time the bolder of the Philistines were beginning to close in on him. Grasping the jawbone by its smaller end, Samson started slamming away all about him, cracking the arms, heads, chests and backs of those who were courageous enough, however unwise, to come close to him. Some of the officers who had taunted Samson were pushed up to him by their surging soldiers, insomuch that they were included among Samson’s victims.
When Philistine soldiers at a distance at last realized what was happening, they tried to rush in and overcome Samson by their very numbers. Men were rammed up to the Danite by the hundreds, but Samson swung the jawbone so swiftly and fiercely that no man was able to seize him or even touch him without being severely wounded or slain. Even so, the Philistines continued to pour in to their deaths.
What with Samson being surrounded with Philistines, soldiers more at a distance hesitated to use spears and arrows, lest they kill their own men. The sight of the slaughter of their fellow soldiers by a man crushing their skulls was too unnerving for the Philistines. The rest of them disappeared into the hills, bringing the strange battle to a quick end.
There was silence to take the place of the shouts of fighting men. And on the arid ground lay a thousand Philistine corpses brought to that state because of Samson’s swift, strong use of a donkey’s jawbone and God’s help (Judges 15:15).
It was a ragged, sweating, weary Danite who looked warily about for more Philistines to rush in. He was breathing hard after his long, fatiguing struggle. He listened for the approach of more attackers, but the only sounds were the groans of the wounded and dying. As Samson uncertainly stood there amid the hundreds of corpses, it was difficult for him to realize what had happened.
“I can scarcely believe it,” he muttered to himself. “God must have helped and protected me, or I wouldn’t have been able to overcome all these men with the jawbone of a donkey!”
Finally he realized that the fingers of his right hand were still wrapped tightly around the jawbone. Then he tossed it away. He named the place Ramath-Lehi, which means “Hill of The Jawbone” (Judges 15:16-17).
Until that moment he hadn’t realized how tired and thirsty he had become. He looked around for some source of water, but there appeared to be no brook or spring in the vicinity. None of the dead Philistines had canteens, having excitedly rushed out of their camp with only their weapons.
Samson realized he would be risking death if his enemies should attack him in his tired condition. He fell weakly to his knees in the dry soil, then forward on his face.
“You have helped me through many great dangers, God!” he muttered wearily. “Surely you didn’t spare me to this moment just so I would die of thirst and my body at last fall into the hands of my pagan enemies! Please give me water!”
He lay motionless on the hot ground. His throat began to burn as though he had swallowed hot coals. He was too miserable and worn out to go any farther. Above his labored breathing he heard a faint sound like the soft gurgle of bubbling liquid.
Samson then raised his head up to see clear water flowing up out of the ground only a few feet away! He stared at it unbelievingly. It took moments for him to realize that God had granted his request and had by a miracle made a spring in a low spot, or hollow place, there at Lehi called “the jaw” in the King James Version. Spurred to action by the sight and sound of the water, he crawled slowly up to it and dropped his head into the cool spring to gulp in the life-giving water!
Soon Samson’s strength returned. He was so thankful for the miracle God performed to save his life that he named the place En-hakkore, which means “Well of the Implorer” (Judges 15:18-19).
He had no difficulty in returning to his home town. The Philistines feared him more than ever. Some believed that he was possessed with a demon, while others thought that the Israelite God he worshipped had something to do with his unusual strength. They decided to leave him alone until some circumstance favorable to them would result in his death.
It was a long, long time, however, before that circumstance developed. After his victorious encounter with the Philistine army God made Samson judge over southwest Israel. He continued in that office for the next twenty years. During that time, however, the Israelites were still under subjection to their oppressors (Judges 15:20).
One day near the end of that twenty-year period, Samson rashly went to the Philistine capital city of Gaza near the Mediterranean, or the Great Sea. This city had been captured by Judah many years previously, but had fallen back into Philistine hands at one of the times Israel had forsaken their Creator.
Samson’s reason for going to Gaza isn’t mentioned in the Bible, but it was unwise for him to move about in the land of his enemies. To make matters worse, he went into one of Gaza’s leading inns. It was impossible that such a powerfully built man- with the uncut hair and beard of one under a Nazarite vow should go unrecognized. Since Samson’s peculiar features were well known, word spread swiftly that the mighty Danite was in town. Military officials were quite excited when they heard the news. They immediately ordered men to close the gates of the city so that Samson could not leave. Excitement mounted when it was later reported that Samson had been so attracted by the proprietress of the inn that he had decided to stay there till the next day.
“This is even more to our advantage!” a Philistine officer exclaimed. “He’ll surely stay all night, and we’ll better be able to cope with him in the daylight. Then, when he tries to get out, we will have the last laugh. At that time I want every man to come out of hiding and set upon him with every kind of weapon. This time that Israelite, Samson, will come to his death by our hands” (Judges 16:1-2).
Some Philistines who were aware of the plot against Samson quickly went to the inn to inform him. Of course they hoped that the Israelite judge would reward them handsomely. Samson realized that this could be a plan to get him out of the place right away, and into the arms of his enemies, but he took a chance and left the inn about midnight.
Carefully keeping in the deep shadows, he silently went to the double gates of the city. He thought it strange that no guards were in sight. He hurried to remove the bar that held the gates locked and rigid after dark. He pushed and pulled on them, but they wouldn’t open. He realized then that another bar had also been fixed to the outside of the gates, undoubtedly to keep him from escaping to safety among his own people.
There was no way out except over the wall. It was too high for him to scale. And in those places where structures were built high against it, it might have been possible for him to get up on the wall, but it would have been too much of a drop on the outside.
Samson was as angry at himself for having blundered into this predicament as he was at the Philistines for trapping him. His first impulse was to step back and hurl himself at the double door in an attempt to crack the outside bar. Then a vengeful notion came to him. He seized the post to which the left gate was fixed and yanked it loose from the wall. He did the same with the right post. The gates and posts, held together by the bar that had been bolted across them from the outside fell to the ground as a solid mass. Samson was free again! Just for a joke to have a laugh on the Philistine oppressors Samson decided to make them look ridiculous again.
Lifting one edge up, Samson squeezed under the gates and hoisted them onto his shoulders. After balancing them to the best position, he walked away with the gates of Gaza- post, bar and all?
But Samson wasn’t content just to remove the gates. They were found a few days later on top of a high hill several miles to the east (Judges 16:3).
With all his strength and his virtues his faithfulness to his Nazarite vow, his patriotic love for God and the Israelites Samson seemed to have a weakness for pretty Philistine women. To him their pagan culture seemed very charming. Not long after the episode at Gaza, he was attracted to a Philistine woman by the name of Delilah.
There were five main Philistine rulers, and when they heard that Samson had chosen a mate, they found out who she was and sent agents to talk to her.
“We have been instructed by our superiors to ask you to do a great favor for them,” the agents secretly told Delilah. “It is something that should be easy for you, but we are willing to reward you well.”
“Of course this has to do with Samson,” the wily Delilah remarked casually.
“Why yes. It does,” the spokesman for the agents replied
“And you would like me to find out what makes him so strong so that the rulers of Philistia will know how to deal with him,” Delilah went on.
The agents were a bit taken aback by this statement, but at the same time they were relieved that they wouldn’t have so much to explain.
“I expected something like this,” Delilah told them. “What makes you think, gentlemen, that even a great reward would cause me to betray Samson” (Judges 16:4-5)?
Be watching for the next installment of The Story of the Bible.