Notes on Judges 14, verses 8-20
by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
Judges 14:8, KJV: And after a time he returned to take her, and he turned aside to see the carcase of the lion: and, behold, (there was) a swarm of bees and honey in the carcase of the lion. the riddle, lest we burn thee and thy father's house with fire: have ye called us to take that we have? (is it) not (so)?
There is no indication how much time took place between verse 7, where Samson and his parents had come to Timanth, and the journey in this verse. This interval was long enough for bees to make a hive or “swarm” and make honey in the lion’s carcase. The size of the lion is not mentioned but was apparently large enough to interest Samson, and large enough for a beehive to be established inside the carcase.
9 And he took thereof in his hands, and went on eating, and came to his father and mother, and he gave them, and they did eat: but he told not them that he had taken the honey out of the carcase of the lion.
Samson had no business coming in contact with the carcase of the lion, even if honey was available (how did he avoid being stung by the bees is nowhere explained). He somehow was able to get enough honey for both of his parents, but he said nothing about where or how he got it. By touching the carcase (how could he avoid it?) he made himself unclean (Lev. 5:2, 11:26-28).
10 So his father went down unto the woman: and Samson made there a feast; for so used the young men to do.
This may have been the final set of arrangements before the actual wedding ceremony, Samson’s father spoke to the woman, but nothing is mentioned about Samson’s mother in this verse.
Oddly enough; Samson made a feast for an unspecified amount of people. Seldom if ever was this custom or practice mentioned elsewhere in the Bible. The “young men” may refer to the Philistines and their customs but the text does not provide other information.
11 And it came to pass, when they saw him, that they brought thirty companions to be with him.
“They” is not specified. Regardless of whom “they” were, Samson now found himself with 30 (additional?) guests for the feast. Nothing is known of their identity except they were most likely Philistines.
12 And Samson said unto them, I will now put forth a riddle unto you: if ye can certainly declare it me within the seven days of the feast, and find (it) out, then I will give you thirty sheets and thirty change of garments:
Samson must have thought he couldn’t lose with this riddle. Note how he offers to give the 30 guests each a “sheet (function and definition unknown)” and a change of garments if they could not figure out the meaning of his riddle.
13 But if ye cannot declare (it) me, then shall ye give me thirty sheets and thirty change of garments. And they said unto him, Put forth thy riddle, that we may hear it.
He must have spent a great deal of money for at least 30 guests (were they invited? Or did they just “crash” the party?) Was he trying to perhaps recoup some of the cost? If they couldn’t guess the riddle, each one of them was to give Samson a “sheet” and change of garments.
Then they asked for the riddle. One wonders what they might have been expecting to hear.
14 And he said unto them, Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness. And they could not in three days expound the riddle.
Samson’s riddle surely puzzled the 30 guests. The Philistines were not under the Law of Moses so they had no known restrictions to dietary laws. Even so, they may not have been used to eating carnivorous animals like lions, bears, etc. They may also have been unaware of anything sweeter than honey but bees, the only source of honey, were never considered strong (except, perhaps, for the strength of their stings!). They must have been getting close to desperate: Samson only gave them seven days to guess the riddle, and this third day was half of the allotted time. They did not have an answer!
15 And it came to pass on the seventh day, that they said unto Samson's wife, Entice thy husband, that he may declare unto us
This was the seventh day and the last of the days Samson gave the 30 guests to figure out his riddle. They had still not guessed the meaning of the riddle and rather than do the honest or right thing, giving Samson the 30 promised changes of clothes, they pressured Samson’s wife to find the meaning. They threatened to burn down her and her father’s house with fire if she didn’t deliver the answer to the riddle. Worse, they insulted her by asking if she was on Samson’s side: in their minds, she tried to find a way for Samson to get the 30 changes of clothes.
16 And Samson's wife wept before him, and said, Thou dost but hate me, and lovest me not: thou hast put forth a riddle unto the children of my people, and hast not told (it) me. And he said unto her, Behold, I have not told (it) my father nor my mother, and shall I tell (it) thee?
She must have quickly gone to Samson in order to find the answer to the riddle. The first tactic she used was to weep before (in front of?) him and then insult him! She said, “you hate me, you don’t love me, you told my people a riddle but you didn’t tell me!” Samson’s reply was rather bland, “I didn’t tell it to my people either—so why should I tell you?” Did he suspect already that she couldn’t keep a secret? One possible piece of evidence is how the 30 extra guests showed up to the feast (see verse 11)!
17 And she wept before him the seven days, while their feast lasted: and it came to pass on the seventh day, that he told her, because she lay sore upon him: and she told the riddle to the children of her people.
This had to be miserable: a wedding feast should be a happy time, but not this one. Samson’s wife seems to have kept on crying for the whole seven days of the feast and who could be happy about that. One wonders what “lay sore upon him” entails or implies. Maybe Samson told her the answer to the riddle just to get her to stop crying!
And what did she do? She went and told the answer to her own people, including, most likely, the 30 who had placed a wager with Samson—and lost.
18 And the men of the city said unto him on the seventh day before the sun went down, What (is) sweeter than honey? and what (is) stronger than a lion? And he said unto them, If ye had not plowed with my heifer, ye had not found out my riddle.
This may mean that sundown was the deadline for the Philistines to either answer the riddle or admit defeat. Thanks to Samson’s wife, who betrayed Samson’s trust, they answered the riddle. Now Samson was obliged to find and give them the 30 sheets and changes of clothes as agreed to in the original wager (verses 12-13). Samson’s reply indicates he was disgusted with all of them.
Why Samson used the figure of speech, comparing his wife to a heifer, is not certain. This saying may have been a proverb current in Samson’s day but seldom if ever repeated.
19 And the Spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon, and slew thirty men of them, and took their spoil, and gave change of garments unto them which expounded the riddle. And his anger was kindled, and he went up to his father's house.
Why Samson went all the way to Ashkelon is not stated. These two cities were a good ways apart; the exact distance was unknown. Samson was still very angry so he left the land of the Philistines and returned to his father’s house in Israel.
20 But Samson's wife was (given) to his companion, whom he had used as his friend.
“Friend”, here, most likely refers to the “best man”. Since Samson was gone, and apparently had not given any indication he would ever return, it would follow that the bride would be given to the bridegroom’s “friend”. One wonders how these two treated each other.
Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).