In this essay, we analyze the reactions of the Philistines to Samson’s attacks upon them, and with them the responses of Samson’s own brethren. The import of these reactions and responses can be grasped only in the light of the following considerations. Samson, as was said, was wonderfully strong, physically; but no statement occurs indicating that he was big and course, a man of giant stature. There is every reason to believe that he was a man of ordinary build. This explains the inability of his enemies to know his strength. It could not be explained on the ground that he was a man with a bodily frame of uncommonly large proportions. What man, though he were many times as big a man as the giant Goliath, could have done the things that he did, meeting and vanquishing, in battle, as a lone hero, an army of Philistines whose number ran into the thousands, bearing away on his shoulders the doors of the gates of Gaza, the doors and their two posts. As was said, the only possible explanation of his prowess was that God wrought wonderfully in him and through him. Thus Samson was a wonder of God both to the Philistines and to Israel. No one had ever seen and heard of the like of him. Undeniably, he was the outstretched arm of God, a wonder of God’s grace and as such an unmistakable sign to the adversary that God fought for Israel, and that in Samson they stood face to face with Jehovah.

The first indication of Samson’s being the outstretched arm of Jehovah for the liberation of Israel, was his rending asunder, with no effort to speak of, the jaws of that rapacious beast that roared against him on the road to Timnah. Doubtless he had told his young wife all about that incident in connection with his divulging to her the answer to his riddle; told her that the eater in his parable was a lion that with no effort at all he had dispatched by the power of his own hands. If she told her countrymen, the treatment that they afforded Samson on his marriage feast in the matter of his riddle takes on a new significance. Hearing of the incident, it must have occurred to them that no man could do that miracle—and a miracle it was—except Israel’s God be with him, that thus this God—the God of wonder-working power, whose fame had gone forth through all the earth, bad again risen to scatter His enemies and was thus serving them notice to cease oppressing His people or look forward to being destroyed by the strokes of the Almighty. But the Philistines would not be instructed. They mocked God by making sport of Samson, His servant, and by retaining their hold on God’s people. They refused to perceive that the Lord had spoken to them.

Then the Lord spoke to them again. Once more He put His Spirit upon Samson; under the prompting of the Spirit, Samson went down to Ashkelon and slew thirty men of them. Those slain must have been together when surprised by Samson. They may have been thirty groom’s men, gracing a nuptial party. That they were unable to stand before a lone Hebrew was truly astounding. The fame of Samson must have resounded through the land. Why did the authorities among the Philistines take no action? The slaying of thirty Ashkelonites for their clothing by a Hebrew was no small matter. Why did the Philistine princes not advance charges of murder and highway robbery against the man? Why did they refrain from notifying the men of Judah that, unless they track the criminal down and make him atone for his crimes, there would be severe reprisals? Why did the Philistines ignore the affair and leave the deed unpunished? What could have been the reason for this inaction? The Philistine lords were afraid. For the Lord had laid this stroke upon their hearts. They understood that, whereas they had dominion over Israel, they were being attacked not by a criminal to be charged with murder and robbery, but by a servant of Jehovah raised up to deliver His people. Yet, they repented not but hardened their hearts and retained their hold on God’s people. Holding the truth in unrighteousness, they chose to regard the slaying in Ashkelon as the work of a Hebrew stung by a personal insult and out for personal revenge; they looked upon the occurrence as a private affair between Samson and some Philistines, thus as an affair that did not concern them at all and about which they were obliged to do nothing. It means that they refused to see any connection between the occurrence and their oppressing God’s people. It means, in a word, that they refused to discern that they had been smitten by the rod of God’s anger, by the outstretched arm of Jehovah.

So the Lord struck again, this time, much harder by far than before. Samson set fire to their standing corn. The damage done was great. As was said, the destruction of all that grain was a calamity of the first magnitude. Also this evil had been wrought by Samson, the lone hero, as assisted by no one. What other man with no hands but his own could have constituted three hundred jackals, wild beasts of the forest, his army in the way that it was done by him? And how remarkable that all those beasts to the very last pair had run, swift as the wind, through the standing grain of the foe! That plainly was the doing of the Lord, a visitation of Israel’s God. It formed the unmistakable evidence that once more they had been smitten by the rod of His anger. But did they now repent and release their hold on God’s people? To the contrary. Now again they hardened their hearts and thus refused to give God the glory. They ended with the catastrophe in Samson, insisted that it had been wrought by a mere man in a carnal rage that had been kindled by another injury done to his person. To their question, “Who hath done this?” they answered, “Samson, the son-in-law of the Timnite, because he bath taken his wife, and given her to his companion.” Thus they insisted that in the ruin of their fields of grain, they had to do not with the anger of God but with the spite and malice, with the rage, of a mere, man, with the injured feeling of a mere mortal. Thus, the situation was not one with which they could not cope. All they had to do is to appease the anger of a mere man. This could easily be done by punishing the Timnite. And they thought it wise to take recourse to the extremist measures in dealing with that miscreant, the father-in-law of Samson. In that way they would show Samson that they were as indignant about the vile treatment that had been afforded him in the matter of his wife as was he. In that way they would show him that they were as strong in their denunciation of the foul deed as any righteous man could be and that they were willing to go to any length to make amends. With the culprit having been made to atone for his sins, Samson, they reasoned, would cause them no more trouble. But in their hearts they knew different, knew that it was Israel’s God with whom they had to do. But in their perversity, they were unwilling to face the truth about themselves, unwilling to confess that they were being smitten not by Samson but by Samson as an agent of the Almighty and not because of the treachery of the Timnite but because of their own evil treatment of God’s people. Such a confession, backed up by fruits worthy of a true repentance, would not be to their material advantage. So, passing by themselves, shutting their eyes to their own abominations as the basic reason of their present troubles, they turned to the Timnite. The blame was all his. Coming up to Timnah, they burned Samson’s wife and her father. And they hoped that they had satisfied Samson’s hostility.

But to their dismay and consternation, Samson remained hostile. “And Samson said to them, Though ye have done this, be assured that I will be avenged of you, and after that I will cease.” There is this in his reply. They must not imagine that he would cease to make war upon them, just because they had put to death his wife and her father. For his conflict was not personal but national. His great grievance was not the: treachery practiced against his person by a lone Timnite but the great wrong done his people by them all. They were oppressing his brethren. And for this wrong, done also to him, he being a Hebrew, he must be avenged of them all. This necessity had been laid upon him by his God. Hence, the death of the lone Timnite could not appease his anger. For all deserved to die for a sin that was national. And it was on account of this sin—the sin of oppressing his brethren—that he was waging war against them—waging that war as the servant of his God, raised up, sustained and inspired by Jehovah. Had he been desirous of personal vengeance on his wife’s family, he could have inflicted it himself. But this must not be taken to mean that the injuries done to his person left him unaffected, and had no bearing on his hostile attitude toward the enemy in general. Such a view militates against his telling them that he would be avenged of them all. His telling them this must mean that he smote them also on account of the sins committed directly against his person only. But, as already has been explained, the basic reason of his attacking them was that, they had dominion over his people. The injuries done to his person formed only the immediate instigating circumstances of the conflict, so that, in waging war with his foe, he was identifying himself with his people and was regarding all the injuries done to his brethren as injuries done to himself. That he must be avenged of them must not be taken to mean that he warred that warfare in love of self and not in love of God. Being a true believer his love of self was at bottom love of God; and his avenging himself was at bottom his avenging his God and the cause of his God.

But the Philistines would not understand. So the Lord again struck. Samson smote them hip and thigh with a great slaughter. No figures are given. But the number of slain must have run into the thousands. The Philistines, whom he smote, in all likelihood, were those who had burned the Timnite. The expression, “He smote them hip and thigh calls for some comment. The English equivalent for the Hebrew word rendered hip is shank. In man, the shank is the part between the knee and the ankle. The thigh is the segment of the leg between the knee and the trunk. In the mind of the Hebrews it was especially the shank and the thigh that represented the strength and stability of the body. “God”, says the psalmist, “takes no delight in the shank of a man.” Ps. 47:10. The phrase is therefore equivalent to, “He smote them upper and lower leg,” i.e., overturned, hewed them down completely, he, the solitary warrior of Israel’s God and they an army whose number was great. The Lord had wrought wonderfully in him and through him. A miracle again had been performed. The Lord had once more exhibited his power through His servant, this time to a degree so astounding as to render utterly senseless the denial that the Lord was with the man and that in him the Philistines had to do very actually with God. Yet both Philistines and Israelites continued unbelieving As to the Philistines, that latest exploit of Samson compelled them to face the real issue which thus far they had been unwilling to do. When they had heard of the slaying of the thirty Ashkelonites, they acted as if nothing had taken place. When he had set fire to their standing corn, they chose to ascribe the deed to a desire for personal vengeance on his part, to regard it as an outburst of anger that had been kindled by the treatment afforded him by the Timnite. But it would be sheer folly to interpret the slaying of thousands of their number as a private quarrel between himself and at best a few Philistines. It had become too plain that the Hebrew had designs upon them all, that his real grievance was the oppression of his brethren at their hands. Besides, it was time that they bestirred themselves, take action against the man, or the Hebrews, as inspired by his audacity and by his great successes in his combat with them, and as encouraged by their reverses and inaction, might conclude that the time was at hand for them to break asunder the bands of their oppressors and to cast away their cords from them. They must act instantly, lest the rebellion that now slumbered in the bosom of the oppressed awaken and the oppressors find themselves fighting for their very existence. For the lesson of history was that the Hebrews, once aroused, were fierce men in combat, warriors invincible. Let them then be up and doing, delayed action might prove disastrous. But their problem was exactly Samson. They stood in awe of the man. They marveled at his strength. And they knew in their hearts that the only explanation of his wonderful achievements as a lone warrior was that his God wrought wonderfully in him. But this they would admit neither to themselves nor to one another. For God hardened their hearts. And therefore God was not in all their thoughts, in all their conscious deliberations. However strong, Samson was still a mortal man certainly. There must be a limit to his power. It must be that he could be overpowered and rendered helpless and impotent in bonds. So they reasoned among themselves, though they had come into the possession of the most conclusive evidence that no man or combination of men could overpower and render him impotent in bonds against his will, in that, being of the party of his God, God was His strength and the source of his power. Had he not just recently smote them with a great slaughter? But such is the amazing blindness and stubbornness of the unbelief of the wicked.

Samson could be overpowered. He would be helpless in bonds. And they wanted the Hebrew not dead but alive in bonds. It would be soothing to their wounded pride, somewhat compensate them for the deep humiliation that they had suffered at his hands, could they hold him in derision, bury him with maledictions, shout their curses and mockery in his ears, with him alive and in bonds, helpless at their feet, under their heel, utterly powerless to avenge himself. They could always attend to his death afterwards. But how were they to get him in their power? Who would bind him? Supposing the accumulative strength of an army of ten thousand was greater than his, how could all that strength be put to use at once in binding the man? Only a limited number of hands could take part in the performance of the task. How with the terrific strength of the man could they hope to be successful! They knew not. Rut rid themselves of him they must at all costs. “Then the Philistines went up, and pitched in Judah, and spread themselves in Lehi.” Beholding the maneuverings of the Philistines, the men of Judah were sorely afraid. They concluded that the Philistines had come with warlike purposes against them. “And the men of Judah said, Why are ye come up against us?” Let us not fail to grasp the thrust of that terrible question, for a terrible question it was. “Why, O Philistines, are ye come up against us? ‘What is our offence? Have we not faithfully served thee all these years? Have we once given thee cause for complaint?’ The Philistines were pleased. It was the very question they wanted to hear and also had purposely solicited by their suddenly appearing on the soil of Judah with an army. The question pleased them immensely. It was revealing. The Hebrews were the same docile slaves. Samson had little influence with them. How fortunate for the Philistines. The cowardice of the Hebrews could stand them in good stead. Perhaps they might even prove willing to bind Samson for them. It would be the solution to their problem. So they replied, “To bind Samson are we come up, to do to him as he hath done to us.” Hearing, the men of Judah were relieved. They had feared that the Philistines were holding them accountable for what Samson did to them. But let them not lay his sins to their charge. They were as much against the man as were the Philistines. They, too, decried his works. They deplored that he was a Hebrew. Curse the man and his deeds. They stood ready to help the Philistines rid the earth of him. Indeed! The Philistines had already gathered that much from their anxious inquiring, “Why are ye come up against us?” They would now show the Philistines how they were disposed to Israel’s deliverer. Right there and then they resolved to bind him and to deliver him in bonds to the adversary. The Philistines, with malicious cunning, had probably demanded this as the price of peace. For either Samson would resist their efforts and smite them, which would be gain to the Philistines, or he would be captured and given over to them, in which case they would fill them with wrath toward each other. “Then three thousand men of Judah went to the top of the rock Etam, and said to Samson, Knowest thou not that the Philistines are rulers over us? What is this that thou hast done unto us.”

Their very act of proceeding to Etam with an army of no less than 3000 men—3000 against the one—would testify, cry out, against them in the day of judgment. The doing indicated that they knew the might of Samson to be colossal, knew that the only possible explanation of the strength such as that with which he had been endowed, was that he was sent of God. Thus it was in deliberate defiance of God, in willing ignorance of what was known of God and of his servant Samson in Israel, that they proceeded to Etam to bind the man. It was in that same ignorance that they justified themselves in their doing and condemned Samson. Didn’t the man know that the Philistines had dominion over them? Assuredly he knew. But he behaved, they meant to tell him, as if he were totally ignorant of the fact. He, ignorant of this fact? It was his great grievance against the Philistines. It formed the very reason of his attacking them. To free his brethren from that dominion the Lord had raised him up! This they well knew. The evidence was there, conclusive and incontrovertible. Yet they insisted on interpreting his warfare with the Philistines as a private quarrel. The man was not called of God. But he was a miserable upstart, a disturber of the peace, always seeking and making trouble for himself and involving not only himself but fall his brethren, the whole tribe of Judah. And they indignantly ask, “What is this that thou hast done unto us?” “Thou hast in thy folly provoked against us the fierce wrath of the Philistines! Miserable man! Thou wretch! It were better for thee and for thy countrymen that thou were in bonds and not free, dead instead of alive.’ Come we will “bind thee, that we may deliver thee into the hands of the Philistines”, that thou mayest reap the fruit of thy folly and that we perish not at the hands of those whom thou hast so needlessly and without cause provoked against us. “To bind thee are we come down.” And what had Samson to say to them in reply? Only this, for he was a man of few words, “As they did unto me, so have I done unto them.” And though he could have smote them then and there as he had smitten the Philistines with a great slaughter, he forbears. For they are his brethren. He could not smite such whom he had been sent to deliver. For their sakes he would bear their reproach. And for their sakes he would allow them to bind him. So he willingly delivered himself into their hands. For also now he sought occasion against the Philistines for the sake of his brethren,— the Philistines, who at Lehi were awaiting the outcome of that perilous expedition against the dreaded Hebrew. As to Samson, he had but one request, “Swear unto me,” he said unto them, “that ye will not fall upon me yourselves.” They were willing to oblige him in this one thing. There was no need of them putting him to death with their own hands. Besides, the Philistines, they knew, wanted the man not dead but alive and in bonds. And they must please their masters. But there must be an added reason why they refrained from laying violent hands on the man. They knew his strength and they were afraid. Should he assert himself in his full strength, they would all be dead men. It must have therefore been a great relief to them, to hear him say, “Swear to me that ye will not fall upon me yourselves.” The man was thus of a mind to be docile and tractable, and to allow them to bind him with their chords. They were only to eager to pacify him. So they spake unto him saying, “No; but we will bind thee fast, and deliver thee into their hand: but surely we will not kill thee.” “And they bound him with two new chords, and brought him up from the rocks.” What a spectacle! Judah is not ashamed to drag its hero forward, bound with strong chords.