What does Judges chapter 15 mean?Samson believes he is still married to his Philistine bride. Scripture doesn't clearly state if the marriage had been consummated before the end of the seven-day wedding feast. However, Samson left that celebration in a rage after his bride betrayed the secret of his unfair riddle (Judges 14:14–19). His former father-in-law believed Samson was not coming back. To protect her interests, the woman was married to one of the thirty companions who threatened to kill her if she did not give them Samson's secret (Judges 14:20).
What happens in this chapter helps illustrate the danger of seeking revenge. Ultimately, no one ever "gets even" or "settles the score," as implied by those English expressions. Instead, vengeance leads to a vicious cycle of escalation. What starts with Samson's foiled attempt to cheat others climaxes in a scene of incredible carnage.
When Samson arrives at his father-in-law's home in Timnah, he is not allowed access to the woman he thought was his bride. His father-in-law explains why, but offers Samson his younger daughter, claiming she is even more beautiful. Samson believes he is the victim in this situation. His remark suggests that he knows his actions at the wedding (Judges 14:12) and afterwards (Judges 14:19) were wrong. What he is about to do, however, he thinks is justified (Judges 15:1–3).
The Hebrew word su'āl is subject to interpretation like any other animal name. It's commonly rendered as "fox," but many scholars believe it refers to a "jackal." Jackals common to Samson's area were pack animals about the size of a small dog or coyote. As scavengers who live in burrows near human settlements, they would make an ideal weapon for Samson's plot. He captures hundreds of these and sets them loose in Philistine grain fields, tied in pairs on either side of a burning torch. He also ensures that harvested wheat and olive groves are ignited. This would devastate the resources of an entire region (Judges 15:4–5).
The Philistines retaliate by killing Samson's former bride and her father (Judges 14:15). Why, exactly, they did so is unclear. They might have thought this would appease Samson. Or they were simply looking for a brutal response. Samson sees this as an attack on himself, so he seeks even more vengeance. That revenge isn't described in detail. The Hebrew words imply it was vicious and overwhelming. Most likely, it involved more death and destruction. He then runs to hide at notable landmark called "the cleft of the rock at Etam" (Judges 15:6–8).
With Samson established as a major threat, the Philistines gather an army and prepare to attack the people of Judah near where Samson is hiding. When asked why, the Philistines say they have come to capture Samson and avenge his attacks. The men of Judah agree to turn Samson over to avoid being attacked by the Philistines. They find Samson, who agrees to be tied up and surrendered so long as the Israelites don't attack him (Judges 15:9–13).
As Samson is brought to the enemy army, the Philistines start to cheer and shout. Samson is suddenly overcome with the power of God's Spirit. He rips the ropes from his arms as if they were burned threads. He tears the jawbone from the carcass of a donkey, giving him a crude club about the size and shape of a hatchet. With this, Samson utterly annihilates the enemy forces. Depending on how the Hebrew terms are translated, he either kills a tally of a thousand men, or at least an entire company of several hundred (Judges 15:14–15).
When the bedlam is over, Samson tosses the jawbone aside and shouts out a fierce, prideful, poetic celebration of his victory. This includes a play on words in Hebrew, as the terms for "donkey" and "heap" are identical. The spot of this slaughter becomes known as "Jawbone Hill," with the Hebrew name Ramath-lehi (Judges 15:16–17).
Samson was empowered by God's Spirit but is neither invincible nor immortal. The intensity of the battle would have left him exhausted, battered, and dehydrated. In fact, Samson is now so thirsty he thinks he might die. For the first time, he is recorded praying—but what he says is more an accusation and a demand than a humble request. The Lord graciously provides water, however, and Samson is revived (Judges 15:18–19).
There's more to Samson's story. Most of his life is not described in any detail. His purpose was to begin breaking Israel free from the Philistines (Judges 13:5). He will not accomplish that freedom, but those who come after him will (1 Samuel 7:11–14) The Bible notes that he served in his unique role for twenty years (Judges 15:20).