March 23 Reading: Judges 13-15 Commentary

Below is our Judges 13-15 commentary from our Beginning to End Bible reading program. You can find an email link at the end of this page to share your thoughts or comments with us.

Key Verse(s):

“And no razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.” (Judges 13:4)

“But his father and mother did not know that it was of the Lord—that He was seeking an occasion to move against the Philistines.” (Judges 14:4)

Samson Introduction

commentaryIn Judges 13, we are introduced to the most recognized judge of them all – Samson. His story covers the next four chapters in the Judges timeline. He also has the distinction of being the 12th and final judge in the era of judges.

Samson was special from the beginning, his birth being announced to his mother by an angel. The angel said that Samson would be dedicated to God from birth (a Nazirite) and adhere to the stipulations of the vow all his life. As judge, Samson acted more like a renegade, working against the Philistines individually instead of with an army.

How could he do that? God supplied Samson with supernatural strength from time to time to defeat his enemies. In almost superhero like fashion, his individual feats of strength are unprecedented in the Old Testament.

But Samson led an up and down life. He was constantly getting into trouble and doing things that serve as poor examples of godly leadership. In many ways, the peaks and valleys of his life mirror those occurring in Israel during the time frame of the judges.

In the end, he ended up breaking all the vows he was supposed to keep. And his fatal flaw (women) would be his undoing. He serves as an example of someone being used by God despite the fact he had difficulty staying the course.

Judges 13 – Samson’s Birth

Judges 13 begins with a familiar description: “Again the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord delivered them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years” (v. 1). At 40 years in length, it’s the longest recorded oppression in the book. And there is no mention of Israel repenting of sin or calling out to the Lord for deliverance. God just decided to act.

A Heavenly Visitor

How did God act? He sent the Angel of the Lord to the wife of a man named Manoah from the tribe of Dan (v. 3). The angels message? Probably not what she was expecting:

“Indeed now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Now therefore, please be careful not to drink wine or similar drink, and not to eat anything unclean. For behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. And no razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines” (vv. 3-5). 

(For more on the Nazirite vow, read our commentary on Numbers 6.)

When Manoah’s wife tells him what happened, Manoah prayed that the man of God would return and teach them how to raise the child (v. 8). The Angel did return, with some clarifications for Manoah (vv. 11-14). At this point, Manoah nor his wife knew the importance of this visitor (v. 16).

Manoah graciously offers the man some food, although the Angel refuses. Instead, he tells Manoah to offer a burnt offering to the Lord (v. 16). When said offering occurs, the Angel ascends in the flame towards heaven (vv. 19-20). Manoah and his wife then knew they had seen the Angel of the Lord. They “fell on their faces to the ground” (v. 20) out of fear they were going to die (vv. 22-23).

God did not harm Manoah and his wife. Instead, He blessed them with a son which they named Samson (meaning “sun”)(v. 24). Samson began to grow and the Lord blessed him.

Judges 14 – Samson Gets a Wife

Marriage was a huge issue for God. In the law, He commanded that Israel not intermarry with the other nations (see Deut. 7).  They were only to marry other Israelites. The reason was that God knew that foreigners would bring in their own culture and own gods to the marriage and pull the people away from him. Time and time again though, we see Israel getting trapped by this, including Samson.

Samson saw a Philistine woman in the city of Timnah and asked his father and mother to get her for him (v. 1). His parents objected (v. 2) but Samson was insistent saying “she looks good to me” (v. 3). It’s the ultimate in selfish behavior, looking to please oneself instead of obeying the Lord.

As parents, this must have been discouraging. They knew what God required for marriage. Not to mention their encounter years earlier with the Angel of the Lord who had said Samson would be special. This probably looked like their son was headed down the wrong path.

Samson was clearly not making the wisest choice. However, verse 4 gives us perspective on the situation: “But his father and mother did not know that it was of the Lord—that He was seeking an occasion to move against the Philistines.” God was using Samson’s disobedience and selfishness with this woman as a method to confront the Philistines for their oppression of His people.

A Lion Attack

Samson took his father and mother to Timnah to meet the young woman (v. 5). Along the way, Samson was attacked by a young lion, evidently when his father and mother were not around. In that moment, “the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him, and he tore the lion apart as one would have torn apart a young goat, though he had nothing in his hand” (v. 6). However, for some reason, he did not tell his parents about this.

The conversation with the woman goes well. Later when Samson returned to have a wedding and take her as wife,

“…he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion. And behold, a swarm of bees and honey were in the carcass of the lion. He took some of it in his hands and went along, eating. When he came to his father and mother, he gave some to them, and they also ate. But he did not tell them that he had taken the honey out of the carcass of the lion” (vv. 8-9).

This narrative seems like an odd story to tell. However, it is the first instance of Samson demonstrating supernatural strength brought on by the power of God. Additionally, it serves as the backstory for something to come at Samson’s wedding.

The bigger issue however is a spiritual one. Samson broke his Nazirite vow (Judges 13:5) by touching the dead carcass of the lion to get at the honey. It shows us that Samson did not value his walk with the Lord wholeheartedly.

Samson’s Riddle

At the wedding, Samson challenges the 30 men who are staying with him with a riddle. If they guess the answer within the seven days of the feast, Samson would give them 30 linen garments and 30 changes of clothes. If they could not guess the answer to the riddle, they would give those items to Samson.

Samson’s created a riddle based on his recent encounter with the lion. It went like this:

“Out of the eater came something to eat, And out of the strong came something sweet.” (v. 14)

The riddle stumped the guests. On the fourth day, they pressured Samson’s wife with violence to her family if she didn’t help them find the answer (v. 15). When she asked Samson to tell her the answer, he refused, saying, “Look, I have not explained it to my father or my mother; so should I explain it to you?” (v. 16).

His wife did not accept that response. She pestered him and “wept before him” until the 7th day of the feast (v. 17). You really can’t blame her. Her family’s lives were at stake and she knew it.

Lions and Honey

Finally, on the 7th day, Samson caved and told her the answer. She promptly told the men at the feast. Before the sun went down, they came to Samson and said, “What is sweeter than honey? And what is stronger than a lion?” 

To which Samson replied, If you had not plowed with my heifer [i.e. wife], You would not have solved my riddle!” (v. 18).

So Samson had to pay up. But he didn’t personally have the required payment. So:

“…the Spirit of the Lord came upon him mightily, and he went down to Ashkelon and killed thirty of their men, took their apparel, and gave the changes of clothing to those who had explained the riddle” (v. 19).

This incident angered and scarred Samson so greatly, that “…he went back up to his father’s house” (v. 19). Thinking he’d abandoned his new wife, her father gave her to Samson’s best man (v. 20). 

Judges 15 – Samson Defeats the Philistines

Sometime later, Samson returned to visit his wife (v. 1). When he asked the see her, the woman’s father said “No.” He explained that he thought Samson truly hated her, so he gave her to another man. He offers the woman’s sister to Samson but that does not sit well (v. 2).

Samson is enraged and vows vengeance. He captures 300 foxes [the text maybe means jackals], ties their tales together, and puts a torch between their tales. He then lets them run loose in the shocks (standing bundles of wheat stacked in a field), vineyards and olive groves of the Philistines (vv. 3-5). When the Philistines find out Samson has done this, they put his wife and father to death (by burning) (v. 6).

In response to their death, Samson “…attacked them [the Philistines] hip and thigh with a great slaughter; then he went down and dwelt in the cleft of the rock of Etam” (vv. 7-8).

Weapon of Choice: Donkey Jawbone

The Philistines are not having much success dealing with Samson. So they call in members from the tribe of Judah to help (vv. 9-10). After some convincing, 3,000 men of Judah go to Etam to arrest Samson.

Upon arrival, they blame Samson for the Philistine oppression (v. 11). Samson does not agree saying, “As they did to me, so I have done to them.” The men of Judah do not want a fight. They simply want to arrest Samson and take him to the Philistines at Lehi. When they tell Samson that they will not harm him, he goes with them, hands ties with two new ropes (vv. 12-13).

When the whole party comes to Lehi, God worked through Samson again:

“Then the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him; and the ropes that were on his arms became like flax that is burned with fire, and his bonds broke loose from his hands. He found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, reached out his hand and took it, and killed a thousand men with it.”

We don’t have any other details about the how the fighting happened. Was Samson surrounded by Philistines, wildly swinging an indestructible donkey jawbone at anyone who came near? Did he track people down as they ran from him? How could 1,000 men not subdue one man?

The answer is – as with many other things in the Bible – it’s a miracle. And it was God’s strength flowing through Samson which won the day.

Questions to Consider:

God can still use us despite ourselves. Even when we make improper choices, He’s still working in us and through us to accomplish his plan in this world.

Do you know someone who leads a rollercoaster spiritual life – one minute serving God and the next minute doing their own thing? How do you find consistency in your walk with the Lord? 

Samson was a mighty judge. But his personal life was a mess. Poor decision after poor decision (mostly with women) wrecked his ability to lead well. Yet, God still used him to free the people from the Philistines. How have you seen God use you despite your shortcomings?

What other points would you want to know about in our Judges 13-15 commentary? Email us here with questions or comments.