What did Samson have to work with, in his exploits and in his offensive against the Philistines?
The answer is — not very much.
The first time he attacks, it is with three hundred foxes whom he binds tail to tail, each carrying a flaming torch which ransacks the wheatfields and vineyards of the Philistines. These foxes spoilt the vines of the Philistines. We are given no indication of how this was done, but if he could strike 1000 men, presumably he had no difficulty in catching and harnessing these animals for his purpose. Some argue that jackals are meant here, partly because of the fact that they tended to hunt in packs, rather than foxes which tend to be solitary animals.
The passage may raise some practical difficulties for us, but the theological import is clear. These animals will symbolise the judgement of God on the land. In the Book of Jeremiah, this is God’s judgement over an unrepentant nation: ‘I will appoint over them four kinds of destroyers, declares the Lord: the sword to kill, the dogs to tear, and the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth to devour and destroy’ (Jeremiah 15:3). This is picked up in the Book of Revelation, with the opening of the fourth seal of God’s purpose. John says, ‘I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a quarter of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine, and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth’ (Revelation 6:8).
So here are the wild beasts — weak instruments — yet they are made instruments of judgement by God in the hand of Samson.
Then we find Samson striking the Philistines ‘hip and thigh with a great blow’ (Judges 15:8). Here he just uses his bare hands, just as later he uses the jawbone of a donkey and strikes 1000 men (v15).
The emphasis falls constantly on the superhuman nature of these victories. Samson had nothing; yet, weak and slender though his means and instruments were, he was able to do great things. Paul learned that it was when he was weak that he was strong (2 Corinthians 12:10), and he had learned to glory in that weakness.
We so often think that we need to have things, to have resources at our command. But the God who does his work in spite of us (as he has already done with Samson), is the God who does his work through us, showing his power.
It is very interesting to note that this emphasis on power from above runs through Paul’s epistles. Romans 1:16 — ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation’. 1 Corinthians 2:3-4 –– ‘I was with you in weakness … and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power’. Ephesians 1:19 — ‘the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe’. Philippians 3:21 — ‘the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself’.
This was the apostle’s confidence — the POWER of God. We need to recover that emphasis. We too may have weak instruments, but we have a strong God.