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Sefer Shoftim Chapter 15
Shimshon's Revenge

Sometime later Shimshon returned to reclaim his Philistine wife, only to be told that she had been given in marriage to another man. Shimshon was outraged at this open act of adultery and punished the Philistines. He took 300 foxes, tied their tails together in pairs with burning torches in between them. He set them free in the fields of the Philistines, causing their crops to be destroyed. This caused the local Philistines to put Shimshon’s wife and her father to death for their crimes of adultery. However, Shimshon rebuked them for acting too late.

The Philistines prepared for war and encamped near to Jewish areas in Yehuda. They had come to arrest Shimshon for his crimes against their people. The Jewish community were scared that Shimshon’s actions would cause increased hardships and persecution. Thus, Shimshon allowed them to hand him over to the enemy. When placed before the enemy, Shimshon broke the ropes that bound him and struck out at the Philistines, killing one thousand people with the jawbone of a donkey. Following this, Shimshon complained of thirst and God miraculously sent forth water for him from the jawbone of the donkey.

 

It is curious that Shimshon suffered from thirst after killing one thousand men. What is the significance of this? Immediately before the thirst is mentioned, Shimshon stated: “I have struck down one thousand men” without attributing his victory to God (15:16). After this, he suffered from thirst and called out to God: “You have granted me this great salvation” (15:18). By responding miraculously, God showed that Shimshon spoke correctly the second time. This was a clear reminder to Shimshon that he must recognise the Divine source for his strength and successes. Likewise, for us today we should try our best to remember the true source of all that we have.

 

The chapter ends with the statement that Shimshon judged “Israel in the days of the Philistines for twenty years” (15:20). This verse is unusual for two reasons. Firstly, the phrase “in the days of the Philistines” (15:20) emphasises that despite Shimshon’s small victories against the Philistines, they still maintained control over the Jewish people. Secondly, and more significantly, usually this statement is given at the end of the textual discussion of a shofet’s life. However, we have another chapter about Shimshon yet to read. Interestingly, this phrase is repeated at the end of his lifetime as well (16:31). The Radak (biblical commentator from medieval France) explains that the reason this is stated earlier is to indicate that this was the high point of his career as a shofet. After Chapter 15, Shimshon’s position, impact and influence declines. We will learn about his final downfall in our next chapter.

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