From five cities on the Mediterranean coast, the Philistines made inroads into the Israelite-controlled portions of Canaan during the era of the judges. In the first part of the historical account regarding Samson, we read that he took a wife from Timnah, a city on the tribal boundary between Dan and Judah that had fallen under Philistine control (Judg. 14:1). After killing thirty men from the Philistines, Samson apparently abandoned his wife, and her parents gave her to Samson’s best man (v. 20).
It turns out, however, that Samson had second thoughts about leaving his wife, apparently thinking that he could resolve the trouble with the gift of a young goat. She was living with her parents, but her parents would not let him in, offering Samson her younger sister (15:1–2). Of note here is the further evidence of Samson’s carnality. God would use this judge, but he is no model of personal piety.
Enraged at not being able to see his wife, Samson made pairs out of three hundred foxes, tying their tails together with a torch between them and letting them loose in the fields of the Philistines (vv. 3–5). In response, the Philistines killed his former wife and her father, and Samson then destroyed many of them (vv. 6–7). What are we to make of this? On the one hand, Samson was given by the Lord to Israel in order to begin to rescue God’s people from the Philistines (13:5). On the other hand, Samson seems to have been motivated not by the Lord’s glory in these episodes but by petty revenge. God worked through Samson to defeat His enemies, but Samson’s sins brought about much suffering in the process.
Despite Samson’s sins, he was a part of Israel, and so the other Israelites should have supported his efforts against the Philistines, at least when these efforts were rightly motivated. But as we see in Judges 15:9–13, the tribe of Judah was more angry at Samson for instigating trouble than they were at the Philistines for controlling the territory that really belonged to the Judahites. This is more evidence of spiritual apathy in Israel in those days. Instead of receiving Samson as their divinely appointed savior, the Judahites handed him over to the Philistines to keep the peace. But Samson ended up killing one thousand men with the jawbone of a donkey (vv. 14–17).
If there is any bright spot in Judges 15, it is that Samson for the first time cried out to the Lord for help when his battles made him thirsty (vv. 18–20). He had faith, but he was also a great sinner.