on Judges 15 :4
Went and caught three hundred foxes - There has been much controversy concerning the meaning of the term שועלים shualim, some supposing it to mean foxes or jackals, and others handfuls or sheaves of corn. Much of the force of the objections against the common version will be diminished by the following considerations: -
1. Foxes, or jackals, are common and gregarious in that country.
2. It is not hinted that Samson collected them alone; he might have employed several hands in this work.
3. It is not said he collected them all in one day; he might have employed several days, as well as many persons, to furnish him with these means of vengeance.
4. In other countries, where ferocious beasts were less numerous, great multitudes have been exhibited at once.
Sylla, in a public show to the Roman citizens, exhibited one hundred lions; Caesar, four hundred, and Pompey, nearly six hundred. The Emperor Probus let loose in the theater, at one time, one thousand ostriches, one thousand stags, one thousand wild boars, one thousand does, and a countless multitude of other wild animals; at another time he exhibited one hundred leopards from Libya, one hundred from Syria, and three hundred bears. - See Flavius Vopiscus in the Life of Probus, cap. xix., beginning with Dedit Romanis etiam voluptates, etc.
That foxes, or the creature called shual, abounded in Judea, is evident from their frequent mention in Scripture, and from several places bearing their name. It appears they were so numerous that even their cubs ruined the vineyards; see Sol 2:15 : Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil our vines. Jeremiah complains that the foxes had occupied the mountains of Judea, Lamentations 5:18. They are mentioned as making incursions into enclosures, etc., Nehemiah 4:3. Ezekiel compares the numerous false prophets to these animals, Ezekiel 13:4. In Joshua 15:28 we find a place called Hazar Shual, "the court of the foxes:" and in Joshua 19:42 a place called Shaal-abbin, "the foxes;" no doubt from the number of those animals in that district. And mention is made of the land of Shual, or of the fox, 1 Samuel 13:17.
The creature called shual is represented by travelers and naturalists who have been in Judea as an animal between a wolf and a fox. Hasselquist, who was on the spot, and saw many of them, calls it the little Eastern fox. They are frequent in the East, and often destroy infirm persons and children.
Dr. Kennicott, however, objects to the common interpretation; and gives reasons, some of which are far from being destitute of weight. "The three hundred foxes," says he, "caught by Samson, have been so frequently the subject of banter and ridicule, that we should consider whether the words may not admit a more rational interpretation: for, besides the improbability arising here from the number of these foxes, the use made of them is also very strange. If these animals were tied tail to tail, they would probably pull contrary ways, and consequently stand still; whereas a firebrand tied to the tail of each fox singly would have been far more likely to answer the purpose here intended. To obviate these difficulties it has been well remarked, that the word שועלים shualim, here translated foxes, signifies also handfuls, Ezekiel 13:19, handfuls of barley; if we leave out that one letter ו vau, which has been inserted or omitted elsewhere, almost at pleasure. No less than seven Hebrew MSS. want that letter here, and read שעלים shealim. Admitting this version, we see that Samson took three hundred handfuls or sheaves of corn, and one hundred and fifty firebrands; that he turned the sheaves end to end, and put a firebrand between the two ends in the midst; and then, setting the brands on fire, sent the fire into the standing corn of the Philistines. The same word is now used twice in one chapter, (Ezekiel 13:4, Ezekiel 13:19); in the former verse signifying foxes, in the latter handfuls: and in 1 Kings 20:10, where we render it handfuls, it is αλωπεξι, foxes, in the Greek version." - Remarks on Select Passages.
The reasoning of Dr. Kennicott in the first part of this criticism has already been answered; other parts shall be considered below. Though there are seven MSS., which agree in the reading contended for by Dr. Kennicott, yet all the versions are on the other side. I see no improbability in the common version.
Turned tail to tail - Had he put a firebrand to each, which Dr. Kennicott thinks more reasonable, the creature, naturally terrified at fire, would have instantly taken to cover, and thus the design of Samson would have been frustrated. But, tying two of them together by their tails, they would frequently thwart each other in running, pull hither and thither, and thus make the greater devastation. Had he tied them all together, the confusion would have been so great that no execution could have been done.
on Judges 15 :4
Foxes - Rather, "jackals," which are still very common in Palestine, especially about Joppa and Gaza. 1 Samuel 13:17 and Joshua 15:28; Joshua 19:3, are indications of the abundance of foxes or jackals giving names to places, especially in the country of the Phililstines. It belongs to Samson's character, and agrees with the incident about the lion, that he should be an expert hunter. Ovid relates a very curious custom at Rome of letting loose foxes with lighted torches fastened to their tails in the circus at the Cerealia, in commemoration of the damage once done to the standing grain by a fox which a rustic had wrapped in hay and straw and set on fire, and which, running away, put the grain-fields in a blaze. This custom, which may have had a Phoenician origin, is a curious illustration of the narrative.
on Judges 15 :4
15:4 Foxes - Of which there were great numbers in Canaan. But it is not said that Samson caught them all, either at one time, or by his own hands; for being so eminent a person, and the judge of Israel, he might require assistance of as many persons as he pleased. And it must be allowed, that the God who made the world, and by his singular providence watched over Israel, and intended them deliverance at this time, could easily dispose things so that they might be taken. He chose to do this not by his brethren, whom he would preserve from the hatred and mischief which it might have occasioned them, but by brute creatures, thereby to add scorn to their calamity, and particularly by foxes; partly, because they were fittest for the purpose, being creatures very fearful of fire; and having such tails as the fire - brands might most conveniently be tied to; and not going directly forward, but crookedly, whereby the fire would be dispersed in more places. Fire - brands - Made of such matter as would quickly take fire, and keep it for a long time; which was easy to procure. And put, and c. - That the foxes might not make too much haste, nor run into their holes, but one of them might delay another, and so continue longer in the places where they were to do execution.