While visiting Timnah on unspecified business, Samson falls in like-like with a Philistine woman. With no more description than her location and ethnicity, he rushes back to his parents and tells them: “now get her for me as my wife” (Judges 14:2). If that sounds really snotty and entitled to you, gird your loins because that’s apparently a major theme of the Samson story.
The parents are rather aghast that their son would fall for a shiksa and ask him if he couldn’t find some nice Jewish girl instead. But Samson has fallen completely in like-like and he is adamant that she is the one he wants (even though he hasn’t, so far as the text indicates, so much as talked to her by this point).
If you’re of a mind with Phinehas from Numbers 25, you might be inclined to agree with Samson’s parents here. But what you and Samson’s parents don’t know is that Samson’s predilections have been, in fact, orchestrated by God, who “was seeking an occasion against the Philistines” (Judges 14:4).
The movement in the following passages is a little odd. Best as I can figure, Samson tells his parents to go fetch the woman, but then goes along with them, then somehow meets with the woman alone, and finishes by returning to his parents with the wedding plans settled.
At some point during all this awkward travelling, Samson encounters a lion. The “Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him” (Judges 14:6) and he was able to tear the lion apart with his bare hands.
Later, when passing the same area, he stumbles on the lion’s carcass. Rather than rotting, it appears to have entered a second life as a bee’s hive. Samson shoves right into the rotting lion’s corpse, pulls out fistfuls of honey, and has a sweet snack. In the spirit of sharing, he brings some more home to his parents and feeds it to them, never letting them know that it came from a hive built in rotting meat.
A NOTE TO MY CHILD: If you ever come across an animal’s carcass, assume that it does not contain honey. Do not be fooled by squirming movement under the skin. Just leave it alone and, whatever you do, do not bring me the contents to eat. I hope you learned your lesson with that worm you were very interested in having me eat the other day.
Biblical Red Wedding
Samson prepares a wedding feast to last seven days. This, according to the text, is in keeping with what “the young men used to do” (Judges 14:10). The bride invites thirty fellow Philistines, to whom Samson poses a riddle:
Out of the eater came something to eat
Out of the strong came something sweet (Judges 14:14)
You can probably guess the answer, but keep in mind that Samson has told no one of his honey-containing lion-slaying. There is literally no way that anyone could guess the answer to this awful riddle.
If the Philistines can guess the answer within the seven day feast, Samson must provide each of them with one garment of linen and one festal garment. If they cannot answer, they must give Samson a total of thirty linen garments and thirty festal garments.
Three days pass and, on the fourth day, the Philistines start to realize that they aren’t going to figure this riddle out. So they go to the bride and ask her if she “invited us here to impoverish us?” (Judges 14:15).
I have somewhat mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, there’s nothing in the text to suggest that they were compelled to agree to the terms of the riddle. There’s also no reason to blame the bride for what her groom has chosen to do (other than the apparent fact that it is always a woman’s fault).
On the other hand, Samson knew quite well that his riddle is unanswerable. Not only that but, as we’ll find out shortly, he does not have the clothes to pay up should the Philistines win – showing, clearly, that he never expected them to solve the riddle.
So, yeah, he did intend to impoverish them. Or, at the very least, he had intended to profit from his wedding guests.
His wife, now working with her fellow Philistines, pulls the old “if you really loved me” trick, weeping for seven days (consistency error) until, on the last day of the wedding feast, Samson finally gives in and tells her the answer to the riddle. She immediately tells the Philistine guests.
When the Philistines give him the correct answer, he immediately figures out what happened: “If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have found out my riddle” (Judges 14:18).
But he did promise those garments, so the Spirit of the Lord comes to him and he heads off to Ashkelon. There, he kills thirty people, takes their clothes, and uses them to pay off the Philistines’ winnings.
If you’ll remember, Ashkelon was taken by Judah in Judges 1:18. If the continuity is accurate, that means that he just killed a bunch of Israelites to pay off his gambling debt to the Philistines.
A sore loser, Samson gives the Philistines their garments and then goes back to his parents in a huff. Unbeknownst to him, his bride – assuming herself abandoned – decides to make the best of the wedding and marries Samson’s best man instead.