And he found a new jawbone of an ass, and put forth his hand, and took it, and slew a thousand men therewith.
And Samson said, With the jawbone of an ass, heaps upon heaps, with the jawbone of an ass have I slain a thousand men.
The Spirit of God rested upon Samson. This was perfectly evident when he tore apart a young lion with his bare hands, when in a single day he slew thirty men in the city of Ashkelon, when he set the fields of the Philistines afire with firebrands carried between the tails of 300 foxes, and when he slew a great number of Philistines hip and thigh. This was the Spirit of God in Samson warring against the enemies of Israel.
Upon the Philistines, the effect was to harden their hearts. They had thought that they would be able to corrupt him as they had done so many other young men of Israel by giving him one of their daughters. In this they had failed. Rather he had found in his marriage an occasion to expose the dishonesty of the Philistine heart. This he did not just once, but over and over again. Each wicked work of the Philistines led to another, and each one Samson answered in righteous indignation by bringing down upon them the judgment of God. Surely the Philistines were struck with amazement, for never had they seen a single man able to do things like this, not even among the Anakim giants that resided in their land. They knew full well the power of great armies; but here was a single man; without unusual stature or size, whom no number of men were able to overcome. The very sight of him when moved by the Spirit of God paralyzed everyone with fear, so that they fell before his hand as helpless children. Still, before this great and unusual wonder, the Philistines were not ready to give in. Rather they determined to rise and meet the challenge. They were sure that somehow they could rise and overcome in the end. If only they could find the right combination of force, they could bring Samson down in defeat. This hardness of heart before the judgment of Israel’s God was to be expected, for the Philistines were a godless people and not inclined to repent.
The sad fact was, however, that the effect upon the children of Israel was not much better, at least not at the first. They too saw the works that Samson did, and they had every reason to understand them better. In him was the same Spirit which their fathers had seen working in Moses and Joshua, Deborah and Gideon. This was the power of God working to deliver them from their enemies. They should have been able to see that it was the wickedness of the Philistines that was being punished by God through the mighty works of Samson. But spiritual decay had set in and left its mark upon their lives. They wanted peace—peace at any cost even if it had to be under the cruel subjection of the Philistines. Samson’s mighty exploits spoke to them only of conflict and trouble. They were dismayed by them. When Samson returned again to their land, they let their dissatisfaction with him be known. They banished him from their communion. The man of God was left to retire to the rocky cliffs of Etam and dwell in a hollow cave which he found. The children of Israel did not want to be delivered.
The Philistines soon sensed the uneasiness of the children of Israel and were ready to use it. Gathering together a large force of armed men, they marched into the land of Israel. This was exactly what the Israelites had most feared. Long before the Philistines had taken all of their weapons away. They had been allowed not even a blacksmith who might be able to fashion a sword, and they had to rely upon the Philistines to sharpen their tools Now they were left without defense, and they feared that the Philistines were come to expend their wrath against Samson upon them. Quickly they sent an emissary to meet de Philistines and ask, “Why are ye come up against us?” The implication was plain. They had had no part in the actions of Samson and did not wish to share the responsibility for them.
The Philistines were ready with an answer. They did not fear the rest of the children of Israel and had no intentions of spending their time with them. They feared Samson and wanted him out of the way. So they said, “To bind Samson are we come up, to do to him as he bath done to us.”
Foolishly and shamefully, the children of Israel were relieved. So, blind had they become that they thought it would be to their advantage if Samson would be turned over quietly to the Philistines. Then they would have peace. No longer were they able to recognize that it was the hand of the Lord that was working in Samson for the salvation of their nation; or, if they could recognize this, they at least thought it would be to their betterment to have peace. All that mattered to them was that they should placate the wrath of the Philistines. For that the deliverance of Samson seemed a small price. Even more foolishly, they thought that this was something they could easily do. Even the Philistines knew better than this. They had seen Samson cut down hundreds upon hundreds of their men while he remained untouched as though kept by the hand of God. They, the Philistines, would move against him again if they had to; but they far preferred not to do so if it could be avoided. No matter how large their force of heavily armed men, they had no desire to tangle with this man of God if there was any other way in which they could get him in their power. But the children of Israel felt no such restraint. To take Samson seemed to them but a small thing. They readily agreed to do so and to deliver him bound to the Philistines as the price which they would pay for peace.
Quickly they gathered a force of some 3,000 men who could spread out and search for Samson among the rocks of Etam. It was, not long before they found him, and they showed no hesitation in letting him feel their irritation. “Knowest thou not,” they demanded, “That the Philistines are rulers over us? What is this that thou hast done unto us?”
Samson was disheartened. He could fight against the Philistines; but these were the people he loved; these were the people he fought to deliver. Still he tried to explain himself. “As they did unto me; so have I done unto them.” He was a judge who had gone against them to punish them move for move just as they deserved. The Philistines were a wicked people who had brought upon themselves all that he had done.
But the Israelites had no time for such explanations. Quickly they came to the point, “We are come down to, bind thee, that we may deliver thee into the hand of the Philistines.”
Rather than carry on a futile argument with these who were evidently unreceptive, or what was even worse, to risk a struggle in which he might have to harm some of his own countrymen, Samson submitted to them after extracting from them one condition. “Swear unto me,” he said, “That ye will not fall upon me yourselves.”
To this the Israelites readily agreed saying, “No; but we will bind thee fast, and deliver thee into their hand: but surely we will not kill thee.”
It was a triumphant party which came down from the rocks of Etam to the camp of the Philistines. In their midst they led Samson, strongly bound with new cords sufficient to hold the strongest of men or animals. They felt proud of their accomplishment, for they had done with ease what the Philistines had hesitated to do themselves. They were quite convinced that Samson had submitted to them out of fear of their great power.
Even more overjoyed were the Philistines. Now they would have Samson in their power. Already the plans were forming in their minds how they would take him back to their land in triumph. They would hold him as a great trophy. They would humiliate him and persecute him without mercy. They would make him suffer for every bit of damage which he had done to them. They would show to all the world that they were stronger and more powerful than this man who stood in the name of Israel’s God. The shout of triumph filled the camp of the Philistines.
It was then, at the moment when the children of Israel turned Samson over to the Philistines, that the Spirit of God came mightily upon Samson. With one powerful thrust Samson broke apart the cords as though they were old, burnt and weakened by fire. In shocked amazement the Philistines drew back trembling, and there at his feet Samson saw lying the jawbone of an ass which had died at that spot. Picking it up, he lunged forth once again into the very center of the Philistine army. Though all he had was a dry bone while they were armed with swords and spears and protected by strong armor, it meant nothing. Not a sword or spear was able to harm him. Philistine after Philistine fell before the swing of the ass’s jaw, until no less than 1,000 men lay dead about him. This again was the judgment of God.
Exhilarated by that which God had wrought through him, Samson broke forth in song. He cried with a loud voice,
“With the jawbone of an ass,
heaps upon heaps,
with the jawbone of an ass
have I slain a thousand men.”
But then he looked about for his fellow countrymen, and he found that like the Philistines they had fled. At that the spirit of depression set in upon him. They had not remained to share his joy. They had left him alone and. did not care if he should die. So troubled was his heart that now he felt exhausted. A great and painful thirst rose up in his throat that seemed greater than he could bear. In his agony he cried to God, “Thou hast given this great deliverance into the hand of thy servant: and now shall I die for thirst, and fall into the hand of the uncircumcised?”
But God was with him; and there in Lehi (Lehi means jawbone, and was given that name because of this event) God caused a spring of water to come out of the ground to revive him. It was to him the assurance of God’s abiding love.
But also after this there was another wonderful thing that took place. The children of Israel, having seen Samson in actual battle under the Spirit of God, began to respect him as never before. They received him as their judge, and listened to him when he brought to them the Word of God. For twenty years this continued, as Samson judged Israel in the name of the Lord.