Bible Reference: Judges chapter 14
Heart of the Story: Although Samson had a superlative example of a husband and wife relationship in his parents, seemingly he ignored their example when he married. Further, he ignored the Nazarite vow he may have taken for himself.
Back Story: As an adult, Samson went to Timnah where he saw a Philistine woman. When he returned home, Samson told his parents that he wanted the woman for his wife. They asked Samson why he wanted a Philistine wife, rather than a woman from his relatives or from his own people. Samson’s parents were in agreement that Samson shouldn’t marry a Philistine. Probably, they remembered Gods words to Moses that Israelites should not marry unbelieving foreigners to include the indigenous people who lived in Canaan and didn’t worship the God of Israel (Deuteronomy 7:3). Samson’s parents wanted him to marry a woman of the Danite tribe, or at least an Israelite woman. Neither was aware that their son’s motivation for marrying a Philistine woman came from God. The marriage was part of God’s plan for freeing the Israelites from Philistine tyranny.
Story Line: Living in the 21st century, our minds boggle when we read that Samson was sure he wanted to marry a woman who he only saw. At this point, Samson had not even spoken with the young Philistine woman. Likely, she was very attractive and this attraction appealed to Samson. Possibly, Samson saw his parent’s marriage which was likely arranged. He could have thought that his marriage to the Philistine woman would have the same positive outcome.
Samson was adamant – he wanted this woman for his wife. His exact words were, “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes” (Judges 14:3, ESV). Manoah, his wife, and Samson went to Timnah to meet the young woman. On the way, Samson was attacked by a wild lion while he was alone in some vineyards. With his bare hands, Samson killed the lion; but didn’t tell his parents of the lion’s attack. After talking with the young Philistine woman in Timnah, Samson liked her. Interestingly, the Bible used the word “like” for Samson’s feelings toward the young woman. At no point do we read that Samson “loved” the woman who he wanted to became his wife. The parents of the young couple arranged a marriage between them.
Usually, the time lapse between a betrothal and a wedding was about a year. When Manoah, his wife, and Samson traveled to Timnah for the wedding feast, Samson looked at the lion’s carcass which he killed earlier. By this point, all that remained of the lion was the skeleton. Bees build a hive in the carcass and produced honey. Samson took part of the honeycomb, ate it, and gave some to his parents. He didn’t tell them that that the honeycomb came from a lion’s carcass. Samson’s parents would have been more scrupulous than Samson about ceremonial defilement involved in eating anything which had touched a dead carcass. Part of the Nazarite vow was to not touch anything dead.
So far in this story of Samson’s life, we read about Samson’s physical strength, but we also read that his moral compass was off target. He planned to marry a foreign woman who worshiped idols rather than the God of Israel. Likely, he didn’t follow the Mosaic Law that forbids a Nazarite coming into contact with a dead body.
Samson arrived at Timnah and prepared a wedding feast. In the ancient Near East marriages were celebrated with seven days of feasting. When the Philistines saw Samson, they brought thirty companions to be with Samson during the feast. The thirty companions could have had been there to protect the wedding guests from marauders and as companions to Samson during the feast. Samson brought no friends with him from his home town. Alternatively, the thirty companions were there to prevent Samson from creating a disturbance and destroying Philistine property. Often at a seven day wedding feast, the groom and bride spend their nights together from the first day of the feast onward (Genesis 29:22-28). At other times, the bride does not go to the groom until the last night of the festival. The Bible is not clear if Samson spent his nights with his bride or not. During a wedding festival, guests drank wine freely. Conceivably, Samson drank wine, thus, breaking another of the Nazarite vows to consume nothing made from grapes.
Early in the seven day wedding celebrations, Samson proposed a riddle to the Philistines. Riddles were common way to entertain guests in both the Philistine and Israelite cultures. Trying to figure a riddle out was a source of discussion and enjoyment. Samson’s riddle was based in reality. It was about the lion his killed a year ago and the bees that produced a honeycomb in its carcass. The riddle was, “Out of the eater came something to eat. Out of the strong came something sweet” (Judges 14:14, ESV). Samson and his Philistine guests agreed that if they answered the riddle in the seven days of the marriage feast, he would give them thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothes. Thirty meant that each Samson’s male companions would have a linen garment and a change of clothes. If the guests could not interpret the riddle in the allotted time, they must give Samson thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothes. Thirty changes of clothes and linen garment constituted a costly gift in the ancient Near East culture.
On the fourth day third day of the wedding feast, Samson’s “friends” still had no idea what Samson’s riddle meant. They went to his bride and told her to entice Samson to tell her the riddle’s meaning. If she refused, they would burn her and her father’s house with fire. They noted that purchasing the linen and clothes was going to impoverish them. Naturally, the Philistine bride was terrified, but, instead of going to her new husband with the threat, she spent the next three days seducing the riddle’s answer from Samson. She accused Samson of not loving her. If Samson really loved her, Samson would tell her the answer to the riddle. After three days of denying her the solution, Samson explained the riddle to her. She told the answer to the Philistine wedding guests.
Pondering Relationships: When the Philistine men gave the riddle’s answer to Samson, he knew that his bride betrayed him. Yet, Samson still owed the linen and clothing to his guests. The Bible recorded that Samson left his bride’s home and went to Ashkelon, killed thirty Philistines, and plundered their bodies. He gave the dead men’s garments to the thirty men who solved the riddle. Prior to Samson killing the thirty men at Ashkelon, the Spirit of God came upon him indicating that God approved Samson’s actions (Judges 14:19).
Even after taking his anger out on the thirty Ashkelon men, Samson was still furious. Instead of going to his bride, Samson went back to his parent’s house. Believing that Samson no longer wanted his new bride, her father gave his daughter to Samson’s best man at the wedding festival. Although Josephus recorded that Samson divorced his Philistine bride, the Bible doesn’t provide any such information (Whiston, 1987). Further, sometime later Samson went to Timnah. He wanted to be with his new wife; but, her father refused Samson access to her chamber. The father admitted that he gave Samson’s wife to another man thinking that Samson no longer wanted her. Trying to make amends, the father suggested that Samson take his bride’s younger sister as a wife.
Samson was not interested in a substitute wife. He was angry that he lost his bride to another man. In response, he caught 300 foxes, and tied the fox’s tail-to-tail so that there were 150 pairs of foxes. Then, Samson placed a torch between each pair of fox tails. He lit the torch and drove the foxes into the Philistine grain fields, stacked grain, and olive orchards. Because it was harvest season, the loss of Philistine food supply was devastating. When the Philistines asked who destroyed their crops, they were told that Samson did the act because the Timnite man gave Samson’s wife to his companion. In response, the Philistines burned Samson’s wife and father to death. The way Samson’s wife died, i.e., burned alive, was the same method that Samson’s companions threatened when they approached her about getting the riddle’s solution from Samuel. The Philistine murder his wife caused Samson to revenge her life. The Bible recorded that Samson struck the Philistines hip and thigh with a great blow (Judges 15:8).
Reflection: Does Samson seem immature in his relationships? How did his rejecting his parent’s advice lead to problems?
Copyright: July 27, 2016; Carolyn A. Roth