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Judges 15:5: Samson's Fox-Fire

Verse 5:[1] And when he had set the brands on fire, he let them go into the standing corn of the Philistines, and burnt up both the shocks, and also the standing corn, with the vineyards and olives.

He let them go, to wit, successively at several times, and in divers places, with great care and discretion, so as they might not hinder one another, nor all run into the same field; but being dispersed in all parts, might spread the plague further; and withal might be kept at a distance from the fields and vineyards of the Israelites. It is not worthy of our inquiry what became of these foxes afterward, whether they were burnt by the firebrands, or run into holes, or were taken and killed by the Philistines. The truth of this history is notably attested by a custom of the Romans, which it is very probable they had from the Phœnicians, upon this occasion; for every year they had a solemnity in April, the very time of Canaan’s wheat harvest, wherein foxes were let loose with burning torches fastened to their backsides, etc.

[And the crops already gathered in, etc., מִגָּדִ֥ישׁ וְעַד־קָמָ֖ה[2]] From the heap (from the threshing floor [Septuagint]) all the way to the grain field (Vatablus, Pagnine, Montanus), unto the standing grain (Syriac, Arabic, Tigurinus), that is, standing in the stalk (Osiander). Both the grain that had been arranged by heaps, and the standing grain (Vatablus). Both the heaps and the grain fields (Junius and Tremellius). Both the grain gathered, and the grain not yet gathered, were burned up (Bonfrerius).

[That the vines also and the olives, וְעַד־כֶּ֥רֶם זָֽיִת׃] Verbatim: and unto the vineyard olive (Montanus); unto the vineyard of olives. A vineyard of olives is an olive-yard, as a vineyard of grape vines, is a vineyard (Drusius). A vineyard of many olive trees that are planted together (Kimchi in Drusius). But this, if I might speak freely, is a monstrous translation. There is nothing in an olive tree similar to a grape vine: Neither is it likely that Samson refrained from the grape vines of the Philistines, which they had of the most excellent quality, especially around Sorek, Judges 16:4, the vines of which are especially commended, Genesis 49:11; Isaiah 5:2; Jeremiah 2:21, near which was also the valley of Eshcol, or of the Grape,[3] whence the spies brought their cluster.[4] Finally, since at the time of the harvest the grapes were already edible by foxes, the foxes were carried there by natural impetus and appetite, so that they might satiate their hunger, raised by long captivity (Bochart’s Sacred Catalogue of Animals 1:3:13:854). For foxes especially love grapes, as testify the Song of Solomon 2:15, and Nicander[5] in his Alexipharmaca 185, Varro in his Of Agricultural Topics 1:8, and Galen in his Of the Powers of Aliments[6] 3:2 (Bochart’s Sacred Catalogue of Animals 1:3:13:849). [And so others translate it otherwise:] Unto the vines (understanding, and) olive trees, or, olive-yards (thus Pagnine, Vatablus, Junius and Tremellius, Tigurinus, Septuagint, Jonathan, Syriac, Arabic, Bochart’s Sacred Catalogue of Animals). Therefore, vineyard olive-tree is ἀσύνδετον/asyndeton (Drusius), and the copula is to be supplied, as it is done elsewhere: in Exodus 22:30, thus shalt thou do concerning thine ox, thy sheep, that is, and thy sheep;[7] in Deuteronomy 24:17, thou shalt not pervert the judgment of the stranger, of the orphan, that is, and of the orphan;[8] in 2 Chronicles 18:30, against the great, against the small, that is, and, or neither, against the small;[9] in Habakkuk 3:11, the Sun, the Moon stood, that is, and the Moon[10] (Bochart’s Sacred Catalogue of Animals 1:3:13:854).

[1] Hebrew: וַיַּבְעֶר־אֵשׁ֙ בַּלַּפִּידִ֔ים וַיְשַׁלַּ֖ח בְּקָמ֣וֹת פְּלִשְׁתִּ֑ים וַיַּבְעֵ֛ר מִגָּדִ֥ישׁ וְעַד־קָמָ֖ה וְעַד־כֶּ֥רֶם זָֽיִת׃

[2] גָּדִישׁ signifies a heap or stack.

[3] Numbers 13:24: “The place was called the brook Eshcol (נַ֣חַל אֶשְׁכּ֑וֹל), because of the cluster of grapes (עַ֚ל אֹד֣וֹת הָֽאֶשְׁכּ֔וֹל) which the children of Israel cut down from thence.”

[4] Numbers 13:23, 24; Deuteronomy 1:24, 25.

[5] Nicander was a second century BC Greek poet and physician.

[6] De Alimentorum Facultatibus.

[7] Exodus 22:30: “Likewise shalt thou do with thine oxen, with thy sheep (לְשֹׁרְךָ֖ לְצֹאנֶ֑ךָ): seven days it shall be with his dam; on the eighth day thou shalt give it me.”

[8] Deuteronomy 24:17: “Thou shalt not pervert the judgment of the stranger, of the fatherless (מִשְׁפַּ֖ט גֵּ֣ר יָת֑וֹם); nor take a widow’s raiment to pledge…”

[9] 2 Chronicles 18:30: “Now the king of Syria had commanded the captains of the chariots that were with him, saying, Fight ye not with small, with greatאֶת־הַקָּטֹ֖ן) אֶת־הַגָּד֑וֹל), save only with the king of Israel.”

[10] Habakkuk 3:11: “The sun, the moon stood (שֶׁ֥מֶשׁ יָרֵ֖חַ עָ֣מַד) still in their habitation: at the light of thine arrows they went, and at the shining of thy glittering spear.”

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Dr. Dilday
Dr. Dilday
Jan 10, 2019

Matthew Henry: 'Now the way Samson took to be revenged on them was by setting their cornfields on fire, which would be a great weakening and impoverishing to the country, Judges 15:4-5.... The mischief he hereby did to the Philistines was very great. It was in the time of wheat harvest (Judges 15:1), so that the straw being dry it soon burnt the shocks of corn that were cut, and the standing corn, and the vineyards and olives. This was a waste of the good creatures, but where other acts of hostility are lawful destroying the forage is justly reckoned to be so: if he might take away their lives, he might take away their livelihood. And God was righteou…


Dr. Dilday
Dr. Dilday
Jan 10, 2019

Hebrew Observations:

1. This is an opportunity to grow in your understanding of Hebrew agricultural terms.

2. In Biblical Hebrew, asyndeton (the absence of the conjunction) is a fairly common feature. You will see that illustrated in the notes. The question: Is there asyndeton in this particular verse?

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