Poetry and Complaint

“Samson, you’ve just defeated the army of Philistines who came to destroy you!  What are you going to do now?”  “Compose poetry and get a drink, I’m going to die of thirst…”  Not exactly, but the shock and exertion of killing 1,000 with a jawbone seems to have taken its toll on Samson.

Then Samson said,
“With the jawbone of a donkey, Heaps upon heaps,
With the jawbone of a donkey I have killed a thousand men.”
When he had finished speaking, he threw the jawbone from his hand; and he named that place Ramath-lehi. (Judges 15:16-17 NASB)

He named the place, Jawbone Hill.  By the time the writer puts pen to parchment, it had been shortened to Jawbone.  But the memory of that place and its significance remained.  A man had been infused with power from the Spirit of Yahweh, and defeated the iron-armed army coming for him.  And he did so with a jawbone, not a bronze sword.  The odds were ridiculously against him, only to turn out to be skewed the other way by the Spirit of Yahweh.

Right away, holding the jawbone, dripping with the blood of his enemies, Samson composes a poem.  A short, pithy, Hebrew version of a limerick, he composed about what he had just done.  “With the jawbone of the ass…”, that much we all get right.  But the second half of the first line is odd.  Male donkey in Hebrew is chamor, and the Hebrew word used for “heap” here is… chamor.  This word for “heap” is only used here.  To state the obvious, perhaps it means “donkey donkeys”.  The problem is the plural is constructed differently, adding a consonant from which translators infer the root is different.  But, just because Samson composes a poem on the spot, just because people remembered it for hundreds of years, that doesn’t mean it was a particularly good poem.

I think Samson is calling his fallen foes, donkeys.  I think that, he’s basically blaming them for their demise, because he’s overwhelmed by what he just did.  He can’t take it in as something he has done; it has to be their fault.  But that’s a lot of meaning to derive from a problematic poem.  When most translators have it as “heap”, and I alone seem to opt for “donkey”, it’s probably safe to go with heap.  Although, the NIV does translate the second half of the first line, “…I have made donkeys of them.”  I guess I’m not completely alone.

So, the poem turns out to be clever, either as a pun, or as a metaphor.  I choose the metaphor option, as did the NIV translators.  But either way, the poem, composed over the corpses of Philistine warriors, was clever.

But then Samson realizes he has another problem…

Then he became very thirsty, and he called to the LORD and said, “You have given this great deliverance by the hand of Your servant, and now shall I die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?”  But God split the hollow place that is in Lehi so that water came out of it. When he drank, his strength returned and he revived. Therefore he named it En-hakkore, which is in Lehi to this day. (Judges 15:18-19 NASB)

At first glance, I thought Samson was a drama king.  But, since Yahweh answers him in such a dramatic fashion, I’ve changed my mind.  I think Jawbone Hill wasn’t a village, it was a high place.  So, there would be no water there, and he just exerted himself in the killing of 1,000 men.  He probably is thirsty, and, perhaps, at a dangerous level of dehydration.  But I think there’s something else missed by a casual reading.  I think the strength of Samson, about which we make so much, really isn’t that strong.  I think the power of the Spirit of Yahweh makes a normal guy extraordinary in action, but leaves him ordinary in need, at least here.

Samson thirsts, to the point of death, he thirsts.  He’s still this guy from the Tribe of Dan, son of Manoah, raised in Mahaneh of Dan.  He’s still amazed at what Yahweh does with him.  Now, he thinks Yahweh might be done with him.  I wonder if he hopes Yahweh is done with him.  He’s not, though, and in a natural “bowl” a notch is made by Yahweh, and water comes out.  Yahweh made a natural “drinking fountain” for His chosen weapon.

After killing 1,000 Philistines, Samson seems to think he will now die of thirst and be delivered into their hands.  He differentiates between himself and them (uncircumcised), which hadn’t slowed his association with them before.  He’s changing.  He’s beginning to see himself as an Israeli, not a Canaani.  He’s now ready for step 2, now that he has accepted Yahweh’s use of him.  Now Samson can judge rightly.

“So he judged Israel twenty years in the days of the Philistines.” (Judges 15:20 NASB)

Samson isn’t finished making mistakes, and he’s not through with Philistines.  Yahweh retains him as his divine weapon, so, the story continues.  But, for now, Samson renders the decisions of Yahweh for His chosen people.  What a change from the skirt-chasing Philistine-loving, spoiled brat.  It seems our Master really can use anyone.

That’s my view through this knothole this morning.  How’s your view of God this morning?


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