Later in his twenty year career as “judge” of Israel Samson is still hanging out in Philistia, this time in one of the Philistine’s major cities, Gaza. Why? Is Samson so attracted to the Philistines that he cannot stay away? Is Samson so shunned by his own people for being a nonconformist that he has no social life in Israel? Surely, this was not God’s best plan for this man who had been anointed from a birth that had been announced by the Angel of the Lord?…hang out in Philistia, live like a Philistine, use the Pagan prostitutes and then rip up their city gates like a juvenile painting graffiti? Could this not have been another Joshua story or a victory account like David’s life?
There does appear to be a two sided attack in this story: one, against the Philistines in Gaza, and the second, against the people of Judah in Hebron (who had betrayed him for stirring up trouble with the Philistines in Judges 15:11-12). After spending time with the prostitute Samson rips up Gaza’s city gate after apparently walking (or, fighting) his way through the troops that had surrounded the prostitute’s house to wait for Samson make his exit. Samson again demonstrates to the Philistines that he (and, the Lord) were not limited by the Philistine’s restraints and could do what they wanted, when they wanted.
By taking the gates of Gaza into Judah to be displayed outside of Hebron for everyone in Judah to see, the Lord was announcing through Samson that the tribe of Judah, that they would have to answer to the Philistines for this action. Judah wanted compromise, but Lord would not let them rest peacefully under Philistine oppression. Samson’s motive was not to urge Judah to respond to their divine calling, but he was taunting them merely for personal vengeance for their betrayal and lack of support.
Samson carried the gates “to the top of the hill that faces Hebron.” The first hill outside of Hebron would be Jebel Jalis which sets 39 miles from Gaza outside Hebron on the west side or the mountain of Halhoul to the north of Hebron. Since Samson would have carried the gates 39 miles from sea level at Gaza up 3,040 feet above sea level to Hebron, some try to explain this Herculean feat by say Samson only took the lock and key of the Gaza gate to Hebron or that Samson took the gate of Gaza outside the city of Gaza and set it on one of the first hills facing Hebron, but did not carry them 39 miles away to set them on a hill outside of Hebron. But, this feat is possible for Samson if he would have ripped up the posts and the hinged wooden doors covered in metal plates that swung on the posts, as the context of the text likely indicates, and carried them through the night and into the next day.
Either way, the carrying off the gates of Gaza was a declaration of war against the Philistines assigned by Samson to the tribe of Judah. Israel’s warrior tribe had been handed the responsibility for further military interaction with the Philistines. The Lord had said that Samson would, “begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” The rest would be up to the tribe of Judah.