The renegade Samson was captured by his own countrymen to be handed over to the Philistine oppressor. Samson had caused too much trouble and his violent and destructive escapades had brought the enemy into Israel’s backyard.
It is in this moment of captivity that we read about the Spirit of the Lord rushing upon Samson again. The Israelites had bound him with two new ropes. They had heard of his strength. They knew what he was capable of. Not one rope would suffice. Two would be more secure. Old rope might be frayed and fragile – one tug from the mighty Samson and it would perish. Fresh rope would cost them, but it would bind him best. They wanted to show the Philistines they meant business.
The Spirit-fueled Samson broke the ropes upon his arms, like flax caught fire. The bonds on his hands melted. Samson was freed by God and stood face-to-face with the Philistine army. One man before more than a thousand.
The Philistine army was a fierce sight. Unlike the Israelites with their primitive weapons crafted from wood and stone, the Philistines had metalwork shields, spears and swords.
They also had rather tall warriors.
With names like Goliath.
Samson, recently freed from his bonds, looked everywhere for a weapon. His eyes scanned the ground for something, anything, to help him attack. A stone? Too small. A fallen branch? It would snap in his clenched fist.
What did he find?
The jawbone of a dead donkey. Not an old dry one. The jawbone of a freshly dead donkey, having had all its flesh quickly picked by cliff-side scavengers.
I once tried getting a donkey’s jawbone. I looked everywhere (including eBay) to no avail. The painting above by Salomon de Braymight might give you some idea of the size and shape of Samson’s weapon – although in my impression it would have looked far more grotesque after war.
We might expect the Deliverer of Israel to use a more noble weapon? If it had to be a jawbone, at least it could have been the jaw bone of a more wild or ferocious animal. A donkey? With this weapon of weakness, Samson strikes down countless men.
This event tests the limits of our imagination. The sights, sounds and smells of the battlefield can only be a true terror. Did Samson count his fallen foes? How long would such a battle last?
“With the jawbone of a donkey,
heaps upon heaps,
with the jawbone of a donkey
have I struck down a thousand men.”
As the cacophony of war subsides Samson sings a self-praising victory song, without acknowledging God’s involvement. Moses had set the benchmark for Israel’s victory songs – with his opening lines, “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously.”.
He invites us all to bring glory to God in our victory songs.
Samson’s song was different, a self-glorying type.
He looked down to his hand and noticed that ugly and weak weapon of his, clutched in his blood-drenched hand. I can imagine his disgust as he threw it away, hurling it far from his body.
This discarded weapon has more to say. In a sense the exhausted Samson sympathizes with it. He is dying of thirst and in that moment feels like an unlikely, unclean weapon of God.
Used and then dropped.
…and now shall I die for thirst, and fall into the hand of the uncircumcised?
God is teaching Samson to trust.
We might be exhausted but we haven’t been extinguished.
In fact, unknowingly it is this very experience of isolation, emptiness and rejection that was transforming Samson. Preparing him.
You have granted this great salvation by the hand of your servant
Samson stopped singing about himself and starting praying to God Most High. Sometimes you might find yourself in the depths. Don’t cast your eyes deeper into the darkness, rather use it as an opportunity to fix your gaze on the heavens, to the one who works wonders.
The King James rendition of Samson’s salvation contains an interesting translation error. It is an error which is in fact captured in the painting above, which shows the water of Samson’s saving squirting from the jawbone. As many modern translations reflect, the water to quench his thirst came from the rock, that was named after the victory-jawbone
Samson’s plea changed the landscape, and he drank freely of God’s living water. His spirit returned and he revived. Figuratively speaking, he was raised from the dead. The place was named after Samson – the spring of him who called.
The thirsty plea that Samson made is the first record of his communication with God (in which he doesn’t refer to Him by name). I certainly don’t think it was the first time that he had prayed. In fact, this prayer helps us glimpse the faith of Samson, which is mentioned in ‘The Letter to the Hebrews’.
Samson lived in a king-less age of anarchy. Yet, he pleaded with a Heavenly Sovereign at a time when all around him accepted the rule of the enemy.
Do you not know that the Philistines are rulers over us?
Samson’s faith in the Kingdom of God shines through. He was betrayed by his wife and his people. His heart was fragile but Samson knew, in faith, that the Eternal rules.