And Samson said concerning them, Now shall I be more blameless than the Philistines, though I do them a displeasure.
Samson was at war with the Philistines. It was a lonely war; he stood all alone in Israel for the cause of God. The Philistines were the enemies of all Israel; but the opinion had become quite general that if they would only give a little, the Philistines would be satisfied, and they would be able to live peaceably together. Unable to convince his countrymen that the Philistines were an unscrupulous and immoral people, Samson went himself to demonstrate and prove that this was so. It was so that he might have occasion to do just that that Samson joined himself in marriage to the woman of Timnath. It did not take long for this course of action to produce the expected effect. Already within the wedding week, the men of the wedding party coerced Samson’s wife to obtain and reveal the answer to the riddle which Samson had challenged them to interpret. No doubt the Philistines thought that they-were being quite clever. They were in actuality doing exactly what Samson had wanted. It was now perfectly evident how unscrupulous the Philistines were, for there could be little question but that they bad obtained his secret by consorting underhandedly with. Samson’s own wife. Nor, now that it was done, was he about to let it be forgotten. Samson would himself in the name of Jehovah exact the just deserts of these men upon their nation.
Moved by the Spirit of God, Samson went down to Ashkelon. This was one pf the five great cities of the Philistines. What happened here would be broadly publicized and remembered, much more so than if he had acted in Timnath. There he found a company of thirty men. Falling upon them, he slew them and took their garments. These he returned to his thirty companions of the wedding feast as he had promised. They would have their payment, but at the expense of their own nation. Even more, let them take notice of the power of Samson. He had stood alone against thirty. They were fallen, and he remained unscathed. None could doubt but that it was a wonder and a miracle. The Spirit of God was upon him that he might strike out in judgment against the Philistines. Then, filled with anger and abhorrence, Samson returned to the home of his parents.
But the Philistines were not so easily daunted. They knew the weakness of Samson and how to touch it. The fact was that Samson loved his wife and would not quickly forget her. .They would meet Samson’s challenge once more. In a spirit of bitter reprisal, they took Samson’s wife and gave her to one of the companions of his wedding feast, supposedly his friend. Nothing would hurt him more when he returned to claim her.
Neither were these Philistines far from the truth. For a time Samson remained in the home of his parents; but soon he began to long for the wife that he had married. She was a heathen woman and had treated him falsely; but he loved her nonetheless. What was more, she was his wife and his responsibility. At last he determined to return to Timnath and live with her. With him he took the gift of a young kid to show that he bore no bitterness as he came openly and unashamedly into Timnath. The town was waiting. They had expected his return and were eager to see his reaction when he discovered that his wife had been given to another. Awaiting him also was his wife’s father, but not nearly with so much eagerness. He was afraid of his own countrymen, knowing how cruel they could be, and had done with his daughter what they demanded. But at the same time he could not forget what Samson had done to the lion in the vineyard and to the thirty men of Ashkelon. Apologetically he met Samson at the door and tried to explain. “I verily thought that thou hadst utterly hated her,” he said; “Therefore I gave her to thy companion: is not her younger sister fairer than she? take her, I pray thee, instead of her.”
Immediately Samson saw that this was de doing of: his enemies. Knowing his father-in-law as he did, he recognized that what had been done was not his own doing; it was an intentional affront on the part of all of the Philistines. They wanted to insult and belittle him. They wished to show by their actions that they did not need to recognize his rights, they did not have to treat him honestly and fairly, they did not even have to honor his marriage. Righteous indignation against these godless people again began to bum fiercely within him. Boldly he announced, “Now shall I be more blameless than the Philistines, though I do them a displeasure”; and in anger he left the village.
Smugly the people of Timnath watched his retreat. This time, they thought, they had gotten the better of him. They had stolen his wife; they had aroused his anger; they had wounded his pride; but he had dared do nothing in retaliation. He had not tried to take his wife back by force; he had not threatened his wife’s new husband; he had not lifted a finger against her father; he had left without harming a person of their village. After all, he was only a Hebrew, and they were the mighty Philistines. Proudly they gloated in their victory, until at last they looked out from the village upon their fields. There they saw smoke, and then fire. It was the season of harvest, and the fields were white with a new crop of ripening grain. Their fields were fertile fields, and this year their crops showed rich promise. The rains had come at the proper time, and the sun. The grain had grown tall, and the heads were heavy with wheat. They had all the promise of a prosperous year ahead. And now they saw fire, not just in one place, all around them on every side. Through the dry stalks it raced and leaped with a driving ferociousness, eating up their food for the year with a mighty roar. There was little that they could do to stop it. The very ripeness of the grain, which for them had held such great promise, now guaranteed a continuous supply of fuel for the insatiable hunger of the flames. At best, they could only use their feeble efforts to try to save their homes and village, while the conflagration surrounded and threatened them on every side.
Samson had indeed left the village, but he had not gone far. Out in the hills beyond the village he had begun to catch foxes, not just a few, but dozens of them until he had three hundred. It was by all measures, of course, an impossible task. What mere man could in a matter of hours catch so many wild foxes and hold them? But Samson was not alone; with him was the power of his God. Surely there must have been wrought within the foxes themselves a degree of cooperation with Samson which was contrary to their very nature. From their dens they crawled to meet him and to be captured without resistance. Once taken, they must have stood quietly by, like gentle sheep, while Samson tied a flaming firebrand between the tails of every two foxes. Only then did the wildness of their nature return. Goaded on by the searing heat, the pairs of foxes ran pulling against each other along eratic courses, back and forth, around and around. And yet also here the miraculous entered in, for the foxes always ran toward and through the standing grain, where Samson headed them. There could hardly have been a more effective way for one man to set so large an area into flames so quickly. By the time the 150th pair of foxes had been released with its flaming brand, the valley of Timnath was like one roaring furnace, or like the valley of Sodom in its judgment: Once again through Samson the hand of the Lord was stretched out to punish the Philistines in their wickedness.
When at last the flaming destruction had burned itself out, a very large portion of the land of the Philistines lay a charred ruin. This was a calamity of national importance. As the people came out of their shock the cry went up everywhere, “Who bath done this?” And it did not take long to find the answer, for Samson had made no attempt to keep his actions a secret. The answer came back, “Samson, the son-in-law of the Timnite, because he had taken his wife, and had given her to his companion.” Actually this explanation was false. There had been many involved in this sin besides Samson’s father-in-law. But the Philistines were not a people inclined to acknowledge their own guilt. They were only too glad to have in their hands a culprit they could blame. Samson they did not have; but his father-in-law and wife they did. These they took, and upon them they heaped all of their wrath. They burnt them with fire.
Once again the Philistines had sinned; and once again Samson would not let the matter rest. He would point out the sin of the Philistines by bringing the judgment of God upon them. He came into the land crying, “Though ye have done this, yet will I be avenged of you, and after that I will cease.” Without mercy he descended upon the Philistines and slew a great number of them.
Through all of this the children of Israel had remained silent. At last they saw in their number one man who was willing to carry the battle of de Lord into the very camp of the enemy. Surely, they could not have failed to see the repeated wickedness of the Philistines. They had thought that it was possible to live peaceably with the Philistines; but Samson had clearly demonstrated that they were a godless people who could only follow injustice with injustice, sin with sin. Even more they must have understood what power it was that moved Samson. This was the Spirit of Jehovah warring against the enemies of Israel, just as it had done in Moses and Joshua and Gideon and others. But still they would not gather behind Samson to follow him into battle. Rather, they drew back from him more in dismay than anything else. This was trouble, and many years of prostrating themselves before idols had sapped all their courage away. They wanted peace above all, even if it was the peace of spiritual death under the sword of the Philistines.
Returning to his own country, Samson found himself more of a stranger than ever before. His own people, for whom he had fought, treated him as a trouble maker and an enemy. Everywhere he turned he found animosity heaped upon him. For Samson this was almost unbearable. He could take the hatred of the Philistines and remain undaunted. But these were his own countrymen, the people of God, those that he loved. Alone and dejected, Samson withdrew himself and found a cave high in the rock of Etam. There he dwelt with no one to commune with but his God.