Judges 15:4 Parallel Verses [⇓ See commentary ⇓]

Judges 15:4, NIV: So he went out and caught three hundred foxes and tied them tail to tail in pairs. He then fastened a torch to every pair of tails,

Judges 15:4, ESV: So Samson went and caught 300 foxes and took torches. And he turned them tail to tail and put a torch between each pair of tails.

Judges 15:4, KJV: And Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took firebrands, and turned tail to tail, and put a firebrand in the midst between two tails.

Judges 15:4, NASB: And Samson went and caught three hundred jackals, and took torches, and turned the jackals tail to tail and put one torch in the middle between two tails.

Judges 15:4, NLT: Then he went out and caught 300 foxes. He tied their tails together in pairs, and he fastened a torch to each pair of tails.

Judges 15:4, CSB: So he went out and caught three hundred foxes. He took torches, turned the foxes tail-to-tail, and put a torch between each pair of tails.

What does Judges 15:4 mean? [⇑ See verse text ⇑]

The term "heroic" applies awkwardly to many figures in the book of Judges. Samson was designated to be one of Israel's rescuers (Judges 13:5), though his role seems to be entirely as an agent of chaos (Judges 14:4). He has broken several of God's restrictions for Nazirites (Judges 13:7), and defied God's will for Israelites, in general (Judges 14:1–3; Deuteronomy 7:1–4). His immature, vengeful nature has already caused one major scandal (Judges 14:15–20); now it will escalate the situation into pure carnage.

His wager over an unfair riddle provoked anger and betrayal from thirty Philistine men of Timnah. Because of their death threats, this affected Samson's own new bride. He left in a rage, but without indicating whether he would return, causing her father to give her to another man for the sake of her future. And yet, Samson seems convinced he is the real victim. From his perspective, he has been betrayed by his wife and by his father-in-law and even by the people of Timnah. He devises a plan to cause vast destruction as revenge for offending him. It is the time of the wheat harvest in this Philistine-controlled region (Judges 15:1–3). Samson decides to attack the Philistines where it will do the broadest damage.

Samson somehow rounds up several hundred animals. The Hebrew root word here is su'āl, and like most translated animal names, it is subject to interpretation. Most Bible versions use the traditional word "fox," though some translate this as "jackals." "Golden jackals" are pack animals which resemble a coyote or small wolf, are comfortable living in burrows near humans, and often gather in groups to scavenge from a carcass. That makes them an excellent fit for Samson's plot.

It's worth noting that Scripture only provides the barest details about these events. We're not told explicitly that Samson caught and released all these animals at once, or even on the same day. Those particulars don't matter to the point of the story. What matters is what he does with them: pairs are tied together at the tail, with a burning torch in between. When released, they panic and run—probably seeking their burrows near or in the middle of wheat fields, olive groves, and related areas. This ignites the fields, and Samson makes sure to also fire the harvested crops (Judges 15:5).

Lighting crops on fire is a common military tactic meant to terrorize and cast wide destruction on an enemy. Samson applies the technique using animals, probably so he can spread mayhem faster than he'd be able to do alone.