Friday, June 06, 2008

Judges 14

Judges 14: Samson gets married


In the last passage, we read about Samson’s birth being foretold to his parents, and then the actual birth itself. The passage ended by saying that the Spirit of the LORD began to stir in Samson. So he was off to a very good start. However, in this passage, Samson’s personality begins to come through.

The passage begins with Samson going to a place called Timnah, seeing a young Philistine woman, and deciding that he would like to marry her. It seems impulsive, and even more so when you read how he phrases his request to his parents:

When he returned, he said to his father and mother, “I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.”

His father and mother replied, “Isn’t there an acceptable woman among your relatives or among all our people? Must you go to the uncircumcised Philistines to get a wife?”

But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me. She’s the right one for me.”

(verses 2–3)

His parents are rightfully worried, because the Israelites are only supposed to marry other Israelites, however, verse 4 tells us that “this [is] from the LORD, who [is] seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines” who are currently ruling over Israel.

So Samson and his parents head to Timnah, I assume so that Samson’s parents can arrange things with the woman’s parents. But on the way, Samson is attacked by a lion and kills it with his bare hands. In fact, we are told that he killed the lion as easily as he might have killed a young goat. But apparently his parents weren’t with him at the time, because we are told that he didn’t tell them about it. In any event, when they get to Timnah Samson talks to the woman, and likes her.

They go back home, and then, later on, as he is heading back to Timnah to marry her, he stops off to take a look at the lion’s carcass, and finds a swarm of bees has started living in it. He scoops out some of the honey, to eat on his way. I don’t know what was going through his head, to decide to eat some honey out of a lion’s carcass, but that’s what he did. Worse yet, when he rejoins his parents, he gives them some, too, but doesn’t tell them where he got it.

They get to Timnah, and while Samson’s father goes to talk to the woman—there is probably some cultural stuff going on that I don’t understand—Samson throws a seven day feast, as is customary for bridegrooms. He is also given thirty “companions” (verse 11), I assume by the Philistines. While at the feast, Samson decides to give the Philistines a riddle to solve: “Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet.” (verse 14). The prize for winning is thirty sets of linen garments and clothes; if the Philistines solve the riddle, within the seven days of the feast, Samson will give them the clothes, and if they can’t, then they have to give him the clothes.

Unfortunately, the Philistines aren’t able to solve the riddle. Even more unfortunately, they’re sore losers:

On the fourth day, they said to Samson’s wife, “Coax your husband into explaining the riddle for us, or we will burn you and your father’s household to death. Did you invite us here to rob us?” (verse 15)

Not surprisingly, this upsets Samson’s bride-to-be. She goes to see him, and throws herself upon him, crying because he has given the Philistines a riddle but hasn’t even given her the answer, and therefore he doesn’t really love her. He replies that he hasn’t even explained the riddle to his parents, so why should he explain it to her? But this doesn’t satisfy her of course—would it satisfy you, if your whole family was being threatened?—so she cries for the entire feast.

(As an aside, there seems to be some confusion about the timing of these events. The feast is seven days, but in verse 15 (quoted above), the footnote says that it might have been the fourth day that the people went to Samson’s bride-to-be, or it might have been the seventh day. So she had either four days to worry, or one. (Probably four, because in verse 14, it says that the Philistines couldn’t come up with an answer for three days, before going to the bride-to-be.) But then, in verse 17, it says that after her conversation with Samson, she cried for the whole seven days of the feast, which doesn’t agree with either of the numbers of days given in verse 14. So I’m not sure how long these events happened, but I don’t think it’s germane to the story, either.)

Finally, on the seventh day of the feast, because she’s been crying the whole time and pressing him, he breaks down and explains the riddle to her. She explains the riddle to the Philistines, and then they present Samson with the answer. But Samson does not seem to feel that they won fair and square, because they got the answer from his bride-to-be. (In verse 18 Samson says, “If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have solved my riddle.”)

So Samson fulfils his obligation, but he does it his own way: The Spirit of the LORD comes on him, and he goes to Ashkelon, strikes down thirty Philistines, strips them of their belongings, and gives those clothes to the people who had explained the riddle. Then, “burning with anger” (verse 19), he returns home to his parents’ house.

And he doesn’t bring his wife with him; she is given to the person who had attended Samson at the wedding. Which is an important point, that we’ll revisit in Chapter 15.


This passage begins to show us Samson’s impulsive side; he sees the Philistine woman, and wants to marry her, period. There’s no thinking about the decision, or seeking advice, or thinking about the fact that Israelites are not supposed to marry non-Israelites, it’s just immediate gratification of his desire. However, as stated above, his desire for the woman is also from God, because God is seeking an opportunity to put Samson into conflict with the Philistines.

I’m sure this brings up the usual question, for most people: does that mean that God caused Samson to sin? Or does it mean that Samson sinned, and God used that sin to produce good results? Neither of these can be the full answer; God does not cause people to sin (James 1:13–15), but God is in control (e.g. Philippians 3:20–21, Revelation 16:8–9), so He’s not just sitting back waiting to see what will happen, and then trying to make something good come out of it. (Credit where credit is due: I believe the phrasing for that last sentence came from my pastor; I do pay attention, during the sermons!)

But I’m not sure how much cause I can credit God with, and how much I can credit Samson with. Can we say—and these are honest questions, not rhetorical—can we say that God caused Samson to be attracted to the woman—believing, as I do, that attraction is not in and of itself sinful—but that Samson took that attraction into the realm of sin? When Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 10:13, that God will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear, I take that to apply to Christians, and not necessarily to non-Christians—but does that also apply to someone in the Old Testament, like Samson? If so, then I would say that Samson should have been able to withstand the temptation of being attracted to the woman, but God would have known, when giving Samson the attraction, that he wouldn’t. But I have to be careful how I phrase that—and may have phrased it incorrectly—because, as already stated, God wouldn’t cause Samson to sin. And now my head has exploded, and my confusion has splashed all over my monitors.

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