He was fine, content to hide alone in Etam, but no, he couldn’t be left alone. Have you ever prodded a problem, which, in retrospect, probably should have just been left alone? I’m pretty sure the Philistines thought they understood the problem they faced. It seemed clear that some rogue Hebrew had gone off rails, and killed a bunch of people in Timnah. They probably saw it as a potential “uprising”. They had iron, technologically advanced weaponry. It was time to reassert. But, that was a very bad idea.
Then the Philistines went up and camped in Judah, and spread out in Lehi. The men of Judah said, “Why have you come up against us?” And they said, “We have come up to bind Samson in order to do to him as he did to us.” Then 3,000 men of Judah went down to the cleft of the rock of Etam and said to Samson, “Do you not know that the Philistines are rulers over us? What then is this that you have done to us?” And he said to them, “As they did to me, so I have done to them.” They said to him, “We have come down to bind you so that we may give you into the hands of the Philistines.” And Samson said to them, “Swear to me that you will not kill me.” So they said to him, “No, but we will bind you fast and give you into their hands; yet surely we will not kill you.” Then they bound him with two new ropes and brought him up from the rock. (Judges 15:9-13 NASB)
The Philistines came to “Jawbone”, a hill in the territory of the Tribe of Judah. The spread out into raiding parties, and the people asked them why they’d come. The intent was to show that no one pushes around the Philistines. They had come for the rebel, Samson. They intended to inflict retribution upon him, which is, ironically, what he had done. And then he stopped. The people of Israel agree to bring him to the Philistines. Of course, they didn’t know what would happen either.
When he came to Lehi, the Philistines shouted as they met him. And the Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily so that the ropes that were on his arms were as flax that is burned with fire, and his bonds dropped from his hands. He found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, so he reached out and took it and killed a thousand men with it. (Judges 15:14-15 NASB)
Once more, the Spirit of Yahweh comes upon Samson, and he become the weapon of God. Notice that he doesn’t break his bonds, but they turn to ash and fall from him. God, the One inspiring the slaughter, frees His weapon to do His work. I’m sure the 3,000 men of Judah scatter, the shout of the Philistines dies in their throats, and a vulture lands in a nearby tree with a cry. All eyes on Samson, the impossible divine weapon is about to be unleashed.
He grabs one of the least lethal objects, a jawbone (Lehi is named for them), but a “fresh” one. He doesn’t pick up a stick, which might have broken. He avoids the old bones, which were probably very brittle. He picks up a jawbone of a donkey, maybe still with a little meat on it. It’s a sturdy choice, an improvised weapon in the hands of a man about to explode. The cry begins again, the Philistines rush, and the death begins.
At what point did the Philistines realize their mistake and try to retreat? When did the retreat become a rout? No one pursues fleeing Philistines, and only those remaining on the hill die at the hands of the inspired object of wrath. Heaps of bodies, all that’s left are mounds of the dead and dying. Samson stands alone. Once more having become the terror of Yahweh, inspired bringer of death, he stands alone, the last one alive.
The point isn’t the fight. It’s not described, only stated. It happened. Samson killed 1,000 men with the fresh jawbone. It’s not even it’s own sentence, it’s a phrase within one. The point lies elsewhere. It lies in the man standing among the dead, once again. The focus of this chapter is the man who has killed a third time. The point of the author is this man upon whom comes the Spirit of Yahweh, but to destroy, to take life. He is a tool, a weapon, in the hand of Yahweh to begin to deliver His people from the Philistines. It is a terrible thing to be Samson, a burden for which he never asked.
I’m not even sure Samson had a choice to disobey. Did he? Could he have opted not to engage? Maybe he could have hid somewhere less accessible. But he didn’t, and he doesn’t turn from the task at hand. Whether his choice or not, he engaged the problem before him with the power of the Maker of the universe flowing through him.
What about us? What if we were to be used by our Master as such an object of wrath? It seems so foreign to us, our cultures so different. Yet there still exist cultures in our world in which this wouldn’t be inappropriate. Warlords still torture the land and people of Africa. There are other places, nearly lawless ones, where a divine weapon may make sense. The current nation of Israel stands surrounded by a sea of hostile nations. Perhaps they have need of another divine weapon. But would we accept this from our Master? The question is really, can we accept this as part of the character of our Savior?
Well, that’s my troubling view through my knothole this morning. What do you see of our Master through yours?