Samson tries to make peace with the one he would call his wife by bringing a young goat to her house and asking to see her. Thus does he comes to know that she was given to someone else. Samson’s example here is noble. She, and her people the Philistines betrayed and tricked him. To sell peace again in such a way after having been mistreated so took a great amount of character. Little by little, we are being shown the nobility of Samson’s character, and little by little, we see God working through Samson to bring down the Philistines.
The woman’s father offers Samson her sister instead. But this is where Samson’s patience runs out. God then works through him and Samson makes the curious statement, “This time I shall be blameless regarding the Philistines if I harm them!” This means that Samson felt justified by his next actions – that considering what they had done to him and what he was about to do to them, he still was morally right to act in the way that he does.
Samson catches 300 foxes, ties their tails to torches, and releases them into the grain, vineyards and olive groves of the Philistines. All were burned up. When the Philistines found out that Samson was the author of this deed, they burned up Samson’s “wife” and her father. Remember in Chapter 14 when the woman was threatened to be burned unless she told the houseguests the answer to Samson’s riddle? That threat caused her to betray Samson and she thought that it was also an escape to the threat of the Philistines. But, no. She and her father were burned up anyhow. From this we learn of the cold-blooded relentlessness of the Philistines. And there is also an application for us: in trying to escape a quandary by dishonest means, we are the authors of our own destruction in the end.
Samson then attacks the Philistines with a great slaughter and flees. Then the Philistines pursue him, going to the men of Judah and asking that they see him so that they could do to him what he has done to them. The men of Judah, 3,000 of them, go to Samson and remind him of the position he had put them in as the Philistines rule over Israel at this time. Samson agrees that he will let them take him to the Philistines as long as the Israelites themselves do not kill him. They agree and take him to the Philistines securely bound with new (very strong) ropes.
When he came to the Philistines, they began shouting against him. The Spirit of the Lord works through Samson again as he breaks through the new ropes as if they were weak strings.
Then Samson kills 1,000 men with the jawbone of a donkey.
Think of the pieces at work in this story: a strong man, made VERY strong by the Spirit of the Lord. A large force bent on killing that man. And a jawbone, a crude facsimile of a weapon, almost an absurdity. God’s power was made all the more evident through the use of such a tool. How else could one explain killing 1,000 by the jawbone of a donkey than to say that God had a hand in it?
After this, Samson is very thirsty with exertion and God provides him with water from a hollow place in the earth. Then Samson judges Israel for twenty years in the days of the Philistines, the strength of the Spirit of the Lord having gotten him there.
An Old Testament story like this one can seem at odds with the peaceful methods and teachings of Jesus. When Jesus died on the cross, we received a new covenant from God, a perfect and loving solution to the problem of sin. God’s grace saves us now, through baptism into Jesus Christ. This portal allows us the assurance of eternal life with Him in heaven as long as we remain faithful.
But before Jesus, God worked through men like David, Joshua and Samson. These strong men of faith were inspiring yet imperfect precursors to the perfect Son of the Living God.