I just wrapped up three weeks of teaching adult Sunday School on Samson, so I’ve been thinking about his interactions with the Philistines quite a bit (see Judges 13-16 to brush up on the stories). If you line up Samson’s time line with Samuel, it looks like Samson took down the Philistine temple, along with all five lords of the Philistines, a bit prior to battle of Mizpah when the 40 years of Philistine rule over the Israelites (see Judges 13:1) was ended.
Samson was a strong man and a terror to the Philistines. As they said of him once he was captured and blinded, “Our god has given our enemy into our hand, the ravager of our country, who has killed many of us.” After Mizpah, the Philistines show up a couple times with Saul and Jonathan before we quickly arrive at Goliath in 1 Samuel 17.
The whole David and Goliath story now seems to me to be a giant joke on the Philistines by God based on the setup of Samson… that it is a “laugh at your calamity” (see Proverbs 1:26) sort of moment. Think of it. For 20 years Samson had devastated the Philistines, and the men of Philistia could not stand against him. He was an Israelite strong man, and the Philistines had to seek help from a third party to deal with him. Now the Philistines bring forward their “Samson”, a strong man of outstanding proportion, and what happens? In his first encounter with the Israelites, a little shepherd boy kills him with a toy! What could have been more humiliating? Perhaps if a little Israelite girl had kicked him between the legs…
Goliath himself understood (sort of) that the God of Israel was treating him as a joke. “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” (see 1 Samuel 17:43) he asks rhetorically… only it turns out it wasn’t merely rhetorical, it was actually worth pondering, because the answer was a resounding “Yes!” This too parallels Samson, when the 30 companions answer his riddle with rhetorical questions that were actually the heart of the matter (see Judges 14). “What is stronger than a lion?” they ask. Well, duh! Samson is… he just ripped one limb from limb.
God’s enemies are not merely defeated, they are mocked. Perhaps this theme is lurking behind Colossians 2:15, when Christ does not merely defeat his enemies, he puts them to open shame.