Attention was directed to the reactions of the Philistines to Samson’s exploits among them. First they chose to regard Samson’s attacks on them as the evil work of a Hebrew stung by personal insults and injuries, thus as a private quarrel between himself and a few Philistines, and therefore took no notice of his doings. But when, as a result of Samson’s slaying them with a great slaughter, it became plain that he had designs upon them all and that his real grievance was their oppression of his people, they bestirred themselves. They were decided to get Samson in their power. The menace has to be removed at all costs. So did they, in their unbelief, continue to fight God. They would not discern that in Samson they had to do with Israel’s mighty God, Samson, so they reasoned, could be overpowered and rendered harmless in bonds. There must be a limit to his power. And they wanted him not dead but alive and helpless. As was said, it would be soothing to their wounded pride, compensate them for the deep humiliation that they had suffered at his hands, could they deride him, shout their curses in his ears, with him alive and in bonds, helpless at their feet, and under their heel, utterly powerless to avenge himself. So they suddenly appeared on the soil of Judah with an army. They had come, they said, to bind Samson. The men of Judah, hearing this, were relieved. For they had concluded that the Philistines had come with warlike purposes against them. To save themselves from the wrath of the Philistines, they agreed to cooperate with the adversary for the capture of Samson, their deliverer. Three thousand of their number now hastened to the rock of Etam to bind Samson. For their sakes he delivered himself into their hands. And they bound him with new cords and brought him up from the rocks.” Judah did not recoil from delivering his deliverer into the hands of the enemy of God and His people. The Philistines, who must have been doubtful of the success of that perilous expedition, were awaiting their coming at Lehi. Seeing the Hebrews with Samson among them in bonds, they were jubilant. Yet, they were not without their misgivings, premonition of evil. They must have doubted whether the Hebrews could be trusted. Where was the evidence that a struggle had taken place. There was none. The three thousand Hebrews had returned none the worse for their undertaking. And not one of their number was missing. True, Samson was in bonds, if their eyes were not deceiving them. But did those cords on his hands mean that he had been overpowered? And were those cords a hindrance to him? Doubtless, the Philistines were skeptical. And their skepticism tempered their vile glee. They would put the matter to a test. Keeping themselves at a safe distance, they shouted against him. That was a challenge for him to break asunder his cords, if he could. It was a challenge for God to deliver his servant. And He did so. ”The Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon Samson. . . .” His heart boiled with indignation. His strength kindled, and he was ready for resistless deeds. The “cords that were upon his arms became as flax that was burnt with fire, and his bands loosed from off his hands.” He was free; and the enemy was before him. Onward! To battle! Any weapon would do. The jawbone of an ass recently fallen was at hand. One instant, and he was among them, dealing out deadly blows. When he came to rest, the dead lay about him in heaps. A thousand of the enemy had fallen.
The ensuing slaughter and victory were extraordinary. A great miracle again had been performed. There must have been many more Philistines on hand than the thousand that had been slain. And all must have been armed. How could a lone warrior slay a thousand armed men and put to flight perhaps several times that number? There is but one explanation. The Lord had fought for Samson in this way. When the Philistines saw that he was free, their souls must have been seized by a paralyzing fear and their will to resist was broken. Throwing away their weapons, they took recourse to flight with the terror of God in their hearts and with Samson in hot pursuit dealing out his deadly blows. What an amazing spectacle! A whole army routed and destroyed by a lone warrior armed with nothing more formidable than the jaw bone of an ass. That, plainly, was the Lord’s doing. But the Philistines would not be instructed. As we shall see, in their unbelief they continued to oppress God’s people and to plot Samson’s downfall.
The men of Judah must have been spectators of that battle. Though they had not participated in the conflict in order not to be held responsible by the Philistines, it is not likely that they had taken themselves off. Thus it must have been his own brethren, to which he had returned after the conflict, that he was addressing when, pointing to the jaw-bone that he still grasped, he said, “With the jaw bone of an ass, heaps upon heaps, with the jaw bone of an ass have I slain a thousand men.” This was meant as a rebuke of the treachery and cowardice of their unbelief. Had they gotten their way, he would have been a prisoner. Could they go on denying that the Lord was with him? He had slain a thousand men. Would they not decry their unbelief and receive him as their deliverer? “And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking, that he cast away the jawbone out of his hand and called that place “the lifting up of the jawbone.” Such is the meaning of the name “Ramath-Lehi”. So did he give a name commemorative of the victory of his faith. It was too great to allow the historical recollection of it to perish.
The exertion of the day and the burning sun overhead had combined to exhaust the strength of the strong man. He was sore athirst, “and called on the Lord, and said, 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 clave a hollow place that was in the jaw (this should be translated, that was in Lehi), and there came water thereout, and when he had drunk, his spirit came again, and he revived: wherefore he called the name thereof Enhakkore (meaning, the well of him that calleth), which is in Lehi unto this day.”
Samson’s giving names to commemorate his achievement on the battlefield of Lehi and God’s answer to his prayer, the prayer as such, the sentiments expressed therein, confirm the view of the man that we thus far have sought to develop. The prayer lays bare his spiritual life; it forms the index to his mode of thought and volition and to the mainspring of his conduct in the hours of spiritual elevation of soul. He confessed that the source of his strength was the Lord. He gave God the glory for his achievements. He discerned that the victory that overcometh the world is faith. His great grief was the desecration of God’s name by the uncircumcised in the oppression of his people; and the ends that he pursued were the liberation of Israel that God might be feared. In the heart of his disposition he hated the world, understanding, as he did, that the friendship of the world is enmity of God. To the warfare that he warred he knew himself called of God. And the love of God constrained him. Therefore he was not discouraged by the treachery and the cowardice of the carnal Israel. He represented God’s believing people for whom he cherished the fondest affection. For them he fought and jeopardized his life. For upon such, he knew, are the mercies of God everlastingly. And the token thereof was his victories. Therefore he could not fall into the hands of the uncircumcised. For the Lord had given this great deliverance into his hand. What he dreaded is not death for thirst but the enemy’s shouts of triumph over the faith of Israel and over Israel’s God on account of his death. What would the enemy say should they next see him a lifeless corpse. Thus he did not pray for the prolonging of his life but for the prospering of the cause of his God through the prolonging of his life. He was the sole champion of this cause, the only representative of the true Israel at this time. Should he fall, the last bulwark would be leveled.
Samson’s victory at Lehi made a deep impression. His brethren received him now as their deliverer and judge; for it is in connection with the great victory at Lehi that the sacred writer reports that Samson “judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years.” Now the men of Judah acknowledged his divine sending and yielded him their confidence.
The sacred writer goes on to say, “Then Samson went to Gaza. . . .” For what reason went he thither? Some maintain that the motive was unquestionably bad. But the only proof that is offered is a view of Samson’s spiritual life that is purely fictitious not only but negatory of the testimony that the Scriptures give of the man. From his youth, it is said, Samson was reckless, adventurous, ever craving some new excitement good or bad. He could do anything but quietly pursue a path of duty; and in the small towns of Dan and the valleys of Judah he had little to excite and interest him. Had he been deeply interested in religion, he would have found opportunity enough for exertion. Had he been a reformer of the right kind he would have found opportunity enough for a task into which he might have thrown all his force. But Samson did not incline to any such doings. We never see in his life one such moment as Gideon and Jephthah knew of high religious daring. Thus in default of any excitement such as he craved in the towns of his own land, he turned his eyes to the Philistine cities which presented a marked contrast. Where life was energetic and gay, there many pleasures were to be had. The strong eager man, full of animal passion, found the life he craved in Gaza. There was opportunity for enjoyment which at home he could not indulge. There in Gaza he could take his fill of sensual pleasure.
If this depiction is true to the life of Samson, to the workings of his soul, there was nothing of true godliness in him. But, as has already been pointed out, the writer to the Hebrews says of him that he was a hero of faith who lived by the promise. Samson’s reason for going to Gaza was unquestionably good. After his victory at Lehi, the Philistines were leaving him severely alone. Never again did they confront him in open combat. They had learned their lesson. But their entire downfall was not yet completed and would not be until the judgeship of Samuel. Samson only began to deliver Israel (chap. 13:5). Thus Israel was still not dwelling in peace and security after the battle of Lehi. There doubtless had come some relief; but the enemy still lorded it over Israel, and thus the war between Samson and the Philistines continued. It is therefore a good conjecture to say that Samson went to Gaza in pursuance of his calling. He again sought occasion against the adversary. The fundamental good ness of Samson demands that we so interpret this move of his. It is even more than likely that he went to Gaza with the fixed plan of teaching the adversary a great lesson by taking off with the gates of their principle city. Certainly, his departure from Gaza, in the dead of the night, was deliberate; that is., his reason for leaving at that time was not that he would have been killed had he tarried until the morning. The Gazites dared not confront him at any time. But, though Samson did not go to Gaza to fraternize with the godless enemies of his people and of his God and because he craved the pleasures of sin—if this were true of him, he would have been reprobated—but in pursuance of his calling, he nevertheless again fell a victim to his sensuality there in that wicked city. He saw there a harlot and went in unto her. The Hebrew word translated “harlot” is “zonah” from the verb “zanah” to commit fornication. The word “zonah” has been given the double meaning of “female innkeeper” and “harlot”. The houses of harlots, it is said, were those that stood open to all comers, including such strangers as had no relations or acquaintance with anyone in the city. On this account, the spies, also, whom Joshua sent out could quarter themselves nowhere in Jericho but in the house of such a zonah. Samson did likewise; and he, no more than the spies, was influenced by sensual impulses. He wished to remain in Gaza overnight; and there was nothing for him but to abide with the zonah. The narrative gives no occasion to tax him with sensuality.
But this will be seen to be a doubtful reasoning when viewed in the light of the narrative. There is no ground to render “zonah” “hostess, one, who keeps a public house and though the notice “and he saw there a harlot” forbids the view that he came to Gaza for the purpose of forming an illicit connection with a harlot, he nevertheless did just that. What brings this clearly out is that his stay is spoken of in language that differs from that employed with respect to the abode of the spies in the house of Rahab. Of the spies it is reported, “And they came into a harlot’s house, named Rahab, and lodged there.” But of Samson it is written that, seeing there “a harlot, he went in unto her” and, in verse three, that, he “lay till midnight”. The text here makes no mention of a house. Doubtless, the time that they were together was spent in the open field. It was the exigencies of the hour that drove the spies into the house of Rahab. They were in the need of a place of refuge against the king’s deputies by whom they were being pursued. But Samson was driven into the arms of a disreputable woman, not certainly by fear of the Philistines but by the lust that rioted in his sinful flesh.
It was told the Gazites that Samson was come hither; and they were sorely afraid as appears from their strange conduct. They knew Samson’s strength, knew that, should they attempt to lay violent hands on him, all would be dead men. So the silent and unexpressed resolve of them all was not to provoke the Hebrew by confronting him in combat, and, not to interfere with his coming and going. The resolve was adhered to, though actually expressed by no one. But there was no need of this as they well knew one another’s thoughts. Samson lay till midnight, when he arose and went calmly and unresisted to the city’s gate. With the bands that lay in wait looking silently on and pretending to hear nothing, he took the doors of the gate and their posts, placed them on his shoulder and proceeded on his way home. It is plain that the Gazites at no time had intended to attack him. For they knew that, when he was aroused, his strength far surpassed the accumulative strength of a thousand men. The thought was too terrifying for words, and just as humiliating to their pride. He had dealt them blow upon blow, without their being able to do anything about it so far as his person was concerned. Yet, when to their great horror, he suddenly appeared in their midst once more—for what reason they knew not, but they must have feared the worst—they pretended to be brave. They acted and spoke as though it were the easiest thing for them to do him to death at any time they should choose. So they compassed him in. Bands were stationed in the gate of the city. But, strange to say, they agreed to take no action against him until the morning. They “were quiet all night, saying, In the morning when it is day, we shall kill him”. But why should they wait until the morning? Because they were afraid and had no intention to attack him at any time, either in the night or at dawn. They were relieved when he was gone. But they boiled with anger at the thought of his having taken off with the gates of their city with themselves as helpless spectators. Yet they had also marveled once more at his power, and were now more determined than ever to learn its secret, as if they did not know—know that the mighty God of Israel was his strength. But of this they were, willingly ignorant. For God hardened their hearts. And therefore they persisted in fighting God through plotting the downfall of Samson whom they did not dare to meet in open combat.
The meaning and significance of Samson’s achievement at Gaza must not be allowed to escape us. The gates of a city symbolized its strength. To take possession of an enemy’s gates was to obtain a complete victory over him. One element in the promise made to Abraham was to the effect that “thy seed shall possess the gates of its enemies.”. Rebecca was sent away with the same blessing (Gen. 24:60), “May thy seed possess the gate of those that hate it.” Thus Samson’s taking off with the gates of Gaza was the worst humiliation which he could inflict upon the Philistines. It betokened his supreme mastery over the enemy, his reigning in their midst; it symbolized that he was their lord into whose hand they, the whole Philistine nation and not merely these Gazites, had been given and whose footstool they had been made. How obviously true this was. Samson did not escape from Gaza. The word “escape” is not in place here. It is the prisoner who escapes when the guards on duty fail to be watchful. It can be said of a man that he escaped only if his leaving could have been prevented. But who or what could have deterred Samson? Not the accumulative strength of all the Gazites. Calmly and majestically he proceeded to the gate of the city with his enemies all about him, silent and impotent by a paralyzing fear that his sudden presence among them had inspired. No Philistine or combination of Philistines dared waylay him, not even when they saw him calmly walking off with the doors of their city. He was no prisoner there in Gaza, but the master, the lord. Gaza was his prisoner. Gaza was the spoils with which he had victoriously emerged from his warfare with them. And the spoils he carried to the city of his God and thus gave glory to Him whose was the victory. “And (he) carried them up to the top of an hill that is before Hebron.”
It is this achievement of Samson that forms the climax of his whole career, which now drew rapidly to a sad but yet victorious close. In his carnality he now played into the hands of his enemy who, having learned the secret of his power through a woman in whose hands he became as clay, succeeded finally in getting him into their power. They put out his eyes and made him grind in their mill. They buried him with curses and maledictions and gave glory for their triumph over him to their gods. But at the high point of their jubilation they were pitched headlong into hell when he pulled down over himself and them the temple of their god where they were congregated. His soul died with the Philistines but his spirit was carried to heaven; for he had fought the good fight. Thus he died as he had lived—a king. We want to say more about this in a following article.
A man must be blind if, especially in this great achievement of Samson—his taking off with the gates of Gaza—he can’t see reflected the Christ of God, His warfare and victory over all the enemies of His people, His reigning in their midst with them at His feet at all times, His supreme Lordship both as the humiliated and exalted Savior. He was never the prisoner of men. All things were in His hands always. Of His power and glory and triumphs Samson’s triumphs were but a dim reflection. Samson bore all the defects of a type. He proceeded to the gates of Gaza from the embrace of a harlot. Yet fundamentally he was a man of faith. And it ought to have become plain now that his reason for going to Gaza was good. He went there on the great mission of his life. And of this he was aware.