Chapter 14


Samson’s Marriage and Riddle

        • Samson went to Timnah and saw a woman there, one of the daughters of the Philistines. He went back and told his mother and father, “I saw one of the daughters of the Philistines at Timnah. Now, get her for me as a wife.” But his parents replied, “Is there no woman from among the daughters of our relatives, or among our people? Must you go to the uncircumcised Philistines to get a wife?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me; she looks good to me.”

          • ESV Archaeology Study Bible notes, “Timnah is located at Tel Batash in the territory of the Philistines, where excavations have revealed a city that changed hands from Canaanites to Philistines to Israelites.”

Remains of Timnah/Tel Batash
        • On Samson’s parents’ response to his choice of bride, the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible writes, “In Israel, marriages were generally endogamous- ie, within the clan or tribe- though there were no laws against marrying someone from another tribe. For an Israelite to marry a Philistine poses a special problem, a commitment to peaceful coexistence between the clans (cf Ge 34:14-17). This is precisely what Dt 7:1-8 forbids on spiritual and theological grounds: Israel is Yahweh’s holy people…”

        • However, his parents didn’t know that this was of Yahweh, because He was looking for an opportunity against the Philistines. At that time the Philistines were ruling over the Israelites.

        • On this verse, Pulpit Commentary writes, “It was of or from the Lord It was the method decreed by God’s providence for bringing about a rupture with the Philistines. That he sought Rather, because he sought. The writer explains the purpose of the providence…the statement that Samson’s obstinate determination to take a Philistine wife was the means which God’s secret purpose had fixed upon for bringing about the eventual overthrow of the Philistine dominion is in exact accordance with other declarations of Holy Scripture (cf. e.g. Exodus 7:3, 4; Joshua 11:20; 1 Samuel 2:25; 1 Kings 12:15; 2 Chronicles 10:15; 2 Chronicles 22:7; 2 Chronicles 25:20). An occasion. The noun only occurs here; but the verb, in its several conjugations, means, to happen at the right time; to bring a person or thing at the right time (Exodus 21:13, deliver, A.V.); to be brought at the right time (Proverbs 12:21, happen, A.V.); to seek the right time for injuring any one (2 Kings 5:7, seeketh a quarrel, A.V.).”

          • Guzik adds, “In accomplishing this purpose, God did not make a reluctant Samson pursue the Philistine woman for marriage. God allowed Samson to do what he wanted to do, though the act itself was sinful. God allowed it for reasons in both Samson’s life and for reasons on a larger scale.”

        • Samson went with his parents down to Timnah, and went as far as the vineyards of Timnah. Suddenly, a young lion came roaring toward him. The Spirit of Yahweh rushed upon him, and although he had nothing in his hands, he tore the lion apart as easily as one might tear a young goat. But, he didn’t tell his parents what he had done. Then, Samson went down and talked to the woman and she looked good to him.

        • ESV Archaeology Study Bible explains, “Most cities and towns were encircled by an agricultural belt containing orchards, vineyards, and fields.”

        • A quick translation comparison will reveal that there is some variation in how the first portion of the verse is rendered. Depending on which version you’re reading, this scenario seems confusing. If Samson is traveling with his parents, they come to the vineyard, and Samson is attacked by the lion, how is it that his parents somehow do not see the attack? I have opted to go with the NASB rendering since it seems to offer an interpretation that allows that Samson and his parents parted ways at the vineyard on the outskirts of Timnah, while heading into Timnah. Jews have answered this question by referring to the Pesachim, which is “the third tractate of Seder Moed (‘Order of Festivals’) of the Mishnah and of the Talmud. It is concerned mainly with the laws of the Jewish holiday Passover as well as the Passover lamb offering. The first four chapters cover the laws of chametz, chapters 5–9 discuss the laws of the Passover lamb offering, and the tenth and final chapter discusses the order of the Passover seder, as well as the law of pairs.” The relevant portion, Pesachim 40b, reads:

          • …as per the well known addage: Go around, go around, and do not approach the vineyard, they say to the nazirite. Since a nazirite is prohibited from drinking wine and eating grapes, it is preferable for him to avoid a vineyard entirely. A similar principle applies to other prohibitions.”

          • Therefore, the reasoning is that since Samson was a Nazirite he went around the vineyard, while his parents, not Nazirites, traveled through it. So, they were separated at the time of the attack. Is this accurate? Who knows? But, exegetically, the NASB shows the text could support such a scenario.

        • On the presence of the lion, the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible notes, “Although lions are found in Israel only in captivity today, in ancient times Asiatic lions were common throughout the Fertile Crescent…”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible adds, “Samson was first explicitly empowered by the Spirit (cp 13:25) when he was attacked by a lion.”

        • Some time later, when he went back to get her, he went to look at the lion’s carcass and found that there was a swarm of bees with honey in it. He scooped some of the honey into his hands and ate it as he went along. When he came to his parents, he gave some of the honey to them and they ate it. But, he didn’t tell them that he had scooped it out of the body of a lion.

          • Guzik points out, “When Samson gathered honey from the dead carcass of a lion, he expressly violated his Nazirite vow, which stipulated that a Nazirite should never touch a dead body or carcass (Numbers 6:6-7)…Significantly, Samson did this after he was remarkably filled with the Holy Spirit. This shows that an outpouring of the Holy Spirit does not automatically make a person godlier. An outpouring of the Holy Spirit gives one the resources to be godlier, but it doesn’t “do it to” them. A person can be wonderfully gifted by the Holy Spirit and yet very spiritually immature…Samson did not tell his parents where he got the honey because he knew it was a compromise of his Nazirite vow.”

        • His father went down to the woman and Samson prepared a feast there, as it was customary for young men to do. When the people saw him, they brought thirty companions to be with him.

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible provides some insight, “The word for ‘feast’ in this context refers to a seven-day feast at the home of the bride’s parents, climaxing in the consummation of the marriage. The picture of drunken revelry at a Philistine event is quite realistic. The seriousness of the issue for Samson is heightened, inasmuch as his Nazirite status specifically prohibits him from consuming products derived from grapes. We know of no civil or sacred ceremonies for marriage in the ancient world. People were officially married when their families came to agreement, the dowry and bride-price were exchanged, and the match was officially celebrated. The marriage then was consummated, and the two became man and wife.”

          • On the thirty companions, the same source adds, “Their role is uncertain. Traditionally, the response of the Philistines has been interpreted as arising out of concern to maintain Philistine custom. Apparently grooms did not host feasts without attendants…”

        • And Samson said to them, “Let me give you a riddle. If you can find the answer and tell me within the seven days of the feast, I’ll give you thirty linen robes and thirty sets of festival clothing. But if you can’t give me the answer, you must give me thirty linen robes and thirty sets of festival clothing.” They replied, “Tell us your riddle, let’s hear it.”

          • What was the prize? NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible says, “The first expression is cognate to an Akkadian term that refers to an item of clothing. Traditionally, the former has been understood as a luxurious cape, and the latter as festal clothing, in contrast to everyday garments.”

        • And he said to them: “Out of the eater came something to eat, and out of the strong came something sweet.”

        • In three days they couldn’t solve the riddle. On the fourth day they said to Samson’s wife, “Persuade your husband to tell us the answer to the riddle or we will burn you and your father’s household with fire. Did you invite us to make us poor?”

        • So Samson’s wife came before him crying and said, “You don’t love me, you must hate me! You have given my people a riddle, but you haven’t told me the answer.” Samson replied, “I haven’t told my parents the answer. Why would I tell you?” She cried before him the whole seven days of the feast, and finally, on the seventh day, he told her the answer because she had nagged him so much. Then, she gave her people the answer. Before sunset on the seventh day, the men of the city gave him their answer: “What is sweeter than honey, and what is stronger than a lion?”

        • And Samson said, “If you hadn’t plowed with my heifer, you wouldn’t have found the answer to my riddle!”

        • For those who are wondering, the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible confirms, “Samson’s reference to his new bride is as disparaging in the Hebrew as it is in the English.”

        • Then the Spirit of Yahweh rushed upon him and he went down to Ashkelon, killed thirty of their men, stripped them of their belongings, and gave the clothing to those who had answered the riddle. Samson returned to his father’s house in a rage. His wife was given to the companion that had been his best man.

          • Guzik writes, “The Spirit of the LORD did not come upon Samson to avenge the hurt feelings of a husband. God’s strategy was larger: He was seeking an occasion to move against the Philistines (Judges 14:4). Therefore, He used this occasion to pour out His Spirit on Samson to fight against the Philistines.”

        • On Samson stripping the men of their belongings, the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible says, “The expression occurs elsewhere only in 2 Sa 2:21, where it denotes the equipment stripped from a slain man, particularly the belt from which weapons and tools were hung. Carrying these items 20 miles back to Timnah in a mocking gesture, Samson presents them to the Philistine guards as their promised change of clothes. Within the context of ancient Near Eastern marriage customs, the fact that Samson went home after the wedding was probably not unusual. In a cultural context where weddings were patrilocal, his new father-in-law could have interpreted his action as a return home to get the house in order. These periods of separation often lasted several months. Meanwhile, the wife continued to live at home, and the husband would visit her at more or less regular intervals, bringing gifts and enjoying a night of love. According to 15:1, Samson seems to think he can return to his wife at any time.”

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