Judges 15:15 Parallel Verses [⇓ See commentary ⇓]

Judges 15:15, NIV: Finding a fresh jawbone of a donkey, he grabbed it and struck down a thousand men.

Judges 15:15, ESV: And he found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, and put out his hand and took it, and with it he struck 1,000 men.

Judges 15:15, KJV: And he found a new jawbone of an ass, and put forth his hand, and took it, and slew a thousand men therewith.

Judges 15:15, NASB: Then he found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, so he reached out with his hand and took it, and killed a thousand men with it.

Judges 15:15, NLT: Then he found the jawbone of a recently killed donkey. He picked it up and killed 1,000 Philistines with it.

Judges 15:15, CSB: He found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, reached out his hand, took it, and killed a thousand men with it.

What does Judges 15:15 mean? [⇑ See verse text ⇑]

Samson has been brought, bound in new ropes, to be handed over to a Philistine army tasked with killing him. The Lord has been using Samson as an agent of disruption against Philistine rule (Judges 13:5; 14:4; 15:5, 8). Samson is motivated by revenge. He certainly wants to kill his hated enemies. The Lord's Spirit rushes on Samson, giving him the power to do exactly that (Judges 15:13–14).

In the instant after Samson tears the ropes from his arms, he is unarmed. On the ground nearby is the jawbone of a recently deceased donkey. That the bone was relatively fresh meant it was not brittle, still heavy, and would not easily break. A donkey's jawbone is about the length of a person's forearm, made of two J-shaped segments, right and left. These are joined at the end of the straight segment, while the thicker, curved side is at the hinge of the donkey's jaw. Most likely, Samson picked one of these halves; perhaps breaking it free from the carcass as he charged the Philistine army. This would produce a weapon roughly the same shape and size as a hand-axe or hatchet. It may have still contained the donkey's teeth.

In front of Samson are a considerable number of Philistines. In Hebrew, the term for "thousands" is the same as the word used for "divisions" and "clans." Context is needed to know whether it's a number or a noun. In some cases, both are possible. Samson might have killed a tally of one thousand men. Or he may have "only" wiped out the entire contingent of Philistine soldiers, likely between two and three hundred fully equipped troops. Either feat is beyond impressive; it would be miraculous.

No matter how strong, no mortal man could expect to kill multiple hundreds of enemies in hand-to-hand combat. Even with sophisticated weapons, it would verge on physically impossible. Yet Samson is armed with an extremely crude bone club. Further, one would expect Samson's opponents to scatter once they realized what was happening. If Samson killed a literal "thousand" men, they would have been the unlucky ones who couldn't outrun their companions.

The astonishing victory is meant to be understood as a supernatural work of God, through Samson. That's not to say it was easy: Samson will exit the fight so physically drained that he thinks he is going to die (Judges 15:18). His strength lasts long enough for a poetic, taunting shout of triumph, fitting for someone with Samson's vengeful spirit (Judges 15:16).