Friday, December 08, 2006

Jawbone Hill

            The men's legs trembled as they made their way in silence through the stony crevice. Each one of them knew the danger they were in, yet they were all aware that they had no choice but to face this peril. Behind them lay a vast army of their oppressors; before them was an unknown dread. The further into the rock they passed, the smaller and more constricting the way seemed to become. Finally they reached their destination. In absolute silence, the men gathered around the yawning mouth of the cave that broke off from the narrow path. Looking at each other, each saw a mirror of his own terror on his neighbor's face. One man cleared his throat and glanced around.
            "Well? Who's going to call him?" he asked. No one replied. The man wiped sweat from his forehead, then stepped forward. "I'll do it," he muttered. "We'll probably die either way." He drew a deep breath, then lifted his voice. "Samson! We know you're in here! Come out to us, your brothers!" His voice seemed to be swallowed by the emptiness of the cave, then a voice replied.
            "Brothers? My brothers, you say?" Footsteps grew audible, and as they drew nearer, the men facing the cave grew pale and pressed themselves back toward the wall. A man stepped out of the cave, blinking in the brighter light of the outdoors. He was a rather unremarkable man; his arms and legs were well-muscled, and he wore a thin robe, as if he had been caught in the middle of resting. The most striking part of his appearance, however, was not what he was wearing, or how he was built. What all the men noticed first was his hair, which flowed down his back and was longer than many women's hair. It was pulled back and tied behind his head with a piece of leather. The man who had called into the cave surveyed the other, his eyes flicking over Samson's body. Samson laughed and spread out his hands. "You needn't worry, friend," he said in a deep, rich voice. "I have no weapons with me. Here in my cave, it is just me and my clothes and food." In a split second, his voice slipped from teasing to dead serious. "But now, come, why are you disturbing me?" The men stared at the ground, scraping their feet against the rock and avoiding Samson's gaze. "Tell me, friend." Samson's voice was firm as he laid his hand on the shoulder of the man who had spoken. The man cringed, but met Samson's eyes.
            "The Philistines have come for you, Samson." His voice was barely louder than a whisper. Samson's eyes darkened, and his hand flexed on the man's shoulder.
            "They have come here, to Etam? They are in Judah?" The man shook his head.
            "They are encamped at Lehi." Samson's eyes flashed, then he dropped his hand and threw back his head, roaring with laughter.
            "They have come looking for me," he gasped, his sides shaking. "They want more trouble, eh? Was it not enough for them that they lost their crops? Was it not enough that I killed some of their finest men? They want more?" The man facing Samson flushed and drew himself to his full height. As he did, he realized he could see over the other's head. Emboldened by this realization, he glared at Samson.
            "Do you not know that the Philistines are rulers over us?" he snapped. "What then is this that you have done to us?" Samson's face darkened.
            "As they did to me, so I have done to them." His voice was quiet and dangerous. Looking around at the men, he clenched his fists, opening and closing his hands over and over. The men stirred, their faces showing the fear and discomfort they had in the presence of Samson. Finally Samson broke the silence.
            "Why have you come, then, my brothers?" The anger had left his voice, and the men relaxed slightly. One by one, they turned their eyes to their spokesman. He turned to Samson.
            "We have come down to bind you," he said, his voice hoarse and cracking with fear. He cleared his throat and started over. "We have come down to bind you, Samson, so that we may give you into the hands of the Philistines." Samson stared at the man, who dropped his eyes and stared at his own feet. For a moment, it seemed that no one breathed. Then Samson sighed, a sigh that almost sounded like a chuckle.
            "Swear to me, my brothers, that you will not kill me," he murmured. The men bobbed their heads, muttering their eager assent. The corners of Samson's mouth turned up in mirth. "I know none of you wish to tangle with me anyway. Just let me get dressed, please, before you take me."
            "Of course," the speaker replied. "We will wait here for you." Samson nodded, then disappeared into the cave. In uncomfortable silence, the group of men waited for him. When he reappeared, he was dressed in rich clothing, such as none of the men expected to see on someone living in a cave. Samson saw their bewildered glances and smiled, tugging at one corner of his garment.
            "My wedding clothes." He looked to the spokesman. "You swore you would not kill me," he repeated. The man nodded.
            "But we will bind you fast and give you into their hands; yet surely we will not kill you." Other men stepped forward, then, holding two new ropes. Carefully yet securely they tied Samson's arms tightly to his body, and hobbled his feet. When they were done, the group turned and began to retrace their steps, the man in front of Samson leading him along with the end of one rope, and the man behind watching him closely.

They came to me, these brothers of mine, with terror on their faces and in their voices, and rightly they feared me. They knew of my deeds- how I killed thirty Philistines for their clothing, to fulfill a wager; how I burnt the crops of my enemies; how I wiped out those who pursued me. Yet against these men I would never lift my finger, for they have as yet done me no wrong. Their fault was fear, nothing else. I, though, have never known fear.

It was late afternoon when the three thousand men of Judah set out from Etam with Samson; they did not reach the Philistine camp at Lehi until the sun was becoming a dusky red. The group was nearly silent the entire journey. Only as they began their ascent of the hill of Lehi, where the Philistines were camped, did murmuring arise in the ranks of the Israelites. The man in front of Samson turned to speak to him.
"Do not hate us for this," he beseeched. Samson stared straight ahead, and the man swallowed hard and spoke again. "Samson, my lord, the Philistines are at the top of this hill. They are not expecting to see you." Samson did not look at the man, but his mouth twisted into a smirk. Trembling, the man turned back around and focused on climbing the rocky hillside. Once Samson slipped and nearly fell, but he regained his balance before anyone could help him. More and more admiration for this man was growing in the hearts of his countrymen; each one of them wished they could avoid handing him over to his enemies. At the lip of the hill, the group hesitated for a moment, then the spokesman stepped into the sight of the Philistines. The rest of the men followed reluctantly. Immediately rough voices assaulted them.
"What are you doing here? For your sakes, you better have brought us Samson!"
            "My lords," the spokesman called out, raising his hands to show he came in peace. "We have brought you the man you asked us for." As a hush fell over the Philistine camp, Samson and his keepers appeared over the edge of the hill. Immediately, noise exploded. The Philistines shouted, laughed, pointed, held their sides in mirth. Their savage joy at seeing their enemy bound helplessly was uncontrolled.
            "Send him forth to us!" a Philistine shouted.
            "Yes, let's see how this hero of yours can fight!" A grinning solider was shoved forward from the midst of the Philistines. He glanced at Samson, standing quietly with his arms pinned and his feet tied, and swivelled to his fellows.
            "Should be a fair fight, eh, boys?" He guffawed along with them, then turned back toward the Israelites and drew his sword. "Send me your hero!" he shouted, his voice stern and hard. Hurriedly the men of Judah pushed Samson forward. He did not resist them. A length of about twenty feet lay between the bound man and his foes. Samson stood completely still, as if waiting for something. From the Israelite men came scattered sounds of weeping as they waited to see this man slain by their enemies. Then Samson lifted his head, staring straight at the Philistines. In a moment, something changed in his expression, and he lifted his face toward Heaven with a smile.

As my enemies approached me, I felt the old tingling in my muscles. Immediately I recognized the Spirit which would bring my strength and ultimate victory. The ropes binding me had strength no longer; nothing could stop me!

It was impossible to say exactly what happened in the next few moments. In what seemed like one movement, Samson raised his arms, snapping the rope that bound them to his sides, and tore the rope from his ankles. He stooped and snatched something from the ground, then bounded forward, straight into the gaping Philistine. Instantly, the man was sprawled on the ground, his face broken by Samson's weapon. Before anyone could react, Samson was among the rest of the Philistines, swinging his arms with fury, smashing skulls, tearing limbs, and wrenching life from them. Clumsily, the commanders attempted to organize the soldiers into their battalions, but it was too late. As soon as one group was ready to charge, Samson would be upon it, scattering men before him, then bounding from the pile of bodies to the next group of men who came toward him. The Israelite men merely stood there, drawn back to the edge of the hill, almost as petrified as the Philistines themselves.
The sun continued to slip toward the horizon, and stars were appearing in places when Samson finally ceased his slaughter. His rich clothing was covered in dust and the blood of the Philistines. In the half-dark, the Israelite men could make out dark masses of lifeless bodies, huddled here and there on the hill. No living Philistines remained on the hillside; all of them were dead, or had fled in horror. Samson raised his weapon above his head; it shone white and curved against the darkening sky.
"With the jawbone of a donkey!" he shouted. His voice cracked with dryness, and he coughed and went on.
"With the jawbone of a donkey,
Heaps upon heaps,
"With the jawbone of a donkey,
I have killed a thousand men!
"I shall call this place Ramath-lehi, for here did I raise the jawbone; here did I make donkeys of the Philistines!"
Laughing crazily, he tossed the object he held to the ground. It clattered sharply against the rocks, bouncing, until it came to rest near an Israelite's feet. The man knelt, and gingerly touched the thing. His head snapped up, and, his eyes wide, he stared at Samson, then spun to the other men around him.
            "It is a donkey's jawbone," he whispered. He stood and picked the jawbone up, as the other men gathered around, exclaiming with wonder. A sudden fit of coughing from Samson drew their attention back to him. He stood with his feet spread apart, shaking from exhaustion, and shook his fist at the sky.
            "Will you let me die now, God?" he shouted, his voice furious. Spreading his arms to encompass the hilltop, he raised his voice even more. "Look at this great slaughter! Look at what I've done!" Samson's knees buckled under him, and he crumpled to the ground.

Every part of my body screamed for water. I felt the burning thirst in my hands, my arms, my shoulders, my throat. It was so intense I did not understand how I had not already died. The last time the Spirit of the LORD came upon me, the same utter exhaustion had followed- but the thirst! I could barely breathe. Every time I inhaled my chest burned as if there were coals in my lungs.

Some of the Israelites rushed to Samson, and flung themselves on their knees next to him. They began to cry out and chatter, trying to help him.
"Samson, are you wounded? Where are you hurt?" Samson shook his head, gasping.
"Water, water!" he sobbed. "Give me water!" None of the men had a waterskin with him.
"Check the Philistines' tents!" someone cried.
"No!" Samson bellowed. "I will not drink the water of my foes!" Pain evident in every movement, he dragged himself up off the rocky ground until he was crouching. Once again, he glared up at the sky. "O LORD," he rasped. "You have given this great deliverance by the hand of Your servant, and now shall I die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?"
The men were silent, nearly expecting a voice from Heaven to answer Samson's challenge. For a moment, the only sound was the birds of night, chirping in their flight across the purple sky. Then, suddenly, a cry burst forth from the man clutching the jawbone. As the others looked at him, they saw water, running down over his hands, drenching his garments. He dropped the jawbone on the ground, backing away quickly. Samson dropped to his hands and knees and crawled over to where the bone lay. He pressed his mouth against the place from where the water spurted and began to drink.

Though it was only water that I drank, it brought into my body a greater strength and revival than any drink I had ever known. With every mouthful, I felt renewed, as if I had just wakened from a full night of sleep.

            For many long minutes, Samson sucked at the jawbone. More water than he could drink flowed out from it, spilling around the corners of his mouth, running down his beard, and spreading out along the rock. When his thirst was finally quenched, Samson cradled the jawbone in his hands and let the water pour over his body.
            "I cried out and You answered," he whispered, his voice smooth again. "This is a place of great victory and a great miracle. This is where the LORD heard the caller. Because of this great deed, this place shall be remembered as En-hakkore." Rising to his feet, still clutching the jawbone, Samson stared at the men around him, as if he had forgotten they were present. Without a word, he stepped to the lowest point of the hilltop and placed the jawbone inside it. In minutes, the hollow was full of water. Samson surveyed it for a moment, a satisfied smile playing on his lips, then turned and strode down the hill. The other men remained frozen in place, watching the water bubble up and cleanse away the blood of their enemies.

So [Samson] judged Israel twenty years in the days of the Philistines.
~Judges 15:20~

Works Consulted
Enns, Paul P. Judges: Bible Study Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: The Zondervan Corporation, 1982.
The Holy Bible. New American Standard Bible Updated. La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.
The Holy Bible. New International Version Schofield Study Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004
Winter, Willard W. Studies in Joshua, Judges, Ruth. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1969.

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