In those days, a man continued to live at home, with his parents, until he married, unless the Lord called him to go elsewhere, and so it was with Samson. As they raised this son the Lord had blessed them with, Samson’s mother and father were very careful to follow YHWH’s instructions, and train him in the way that he should go. And as Samson reached manhood, while still living with his parents, the Spirit of the Lord began to stir in him.
Samson was a virile young man, full of vim and vigor, and though his parents loved him dearly, and considered themselves very blessed to have him, the fact is that raising him according to the instructions laid out by the Lord, had proven to be quite challenging. For Samson was very headstrong, and often very belligerent as well, when he didn’t get his own way. And now, though he was no longer a child, he still worried his parents, who knew that God had created Samson for greatness. For although he was older now, and though the Spirit of the Lord had begun to stir in him, Samson was still very rebellious.
The couple had just finished praying for their beloved son, when the door opened with a crash, and Samson entered, kissing first his father, and then his mother on the cheek, before grabbing a hand full of figs from the table. “You seem very cheerful,” his mother said with a smile, as Samson joined his parents at the table. “Where did you go today?”
Grinning broadly, Samson responded, “I was in Timnah today, Imah, and I saw the most beautiful girl there.” Turning to his father, Samson continued, “She’s a Philistine, and I want to marry her, Abba. Go and make the arrangements for me to marry her, ok?”
“Son, surely you jest!” His mother exclaimed, while Manoah pounded his fist on the table and shouted.
“A Philistine?!? Samson, have you lost your mind? Isn’t there one woman in our tribe, or even among all of Israel, that you could marry?”
“No, Abba,” he replied. “I want her. Get her for me.”
“Son, must you go to the pagan Philistines for a bride?” both his father and mother pleaded. Neither of them realized that the Lord was at work, even in this.
Finally, seeing that they couldn’t change his mind about marrying the Philistine girl, Samson’s parents went with him to Timnah, where the girl lived. As his parents slowly trudged along, Samson walked much more briskly, exuberantly pulling ahead of his parents in his eagerness to get there as quickly as possible.
And so it was that as he was walking along, Samson heard the loud roar of a lion. His heart pounded loudly, as the lion lunged at him. Then, quickly, as the Spirit of the Lord fell upon him, without even thinking, Samson grabbed the open mouth of the lion before it closed on him, and ripped the beast in half. After killing the beast, he tossed the carcass into the vineyard by the roadside, and returned to hurry his parents along. Not wanting to trouble them, he kept the lion’s attack on him a secret.
When he saw the young Philistine woman again, Samson found her more desirable than ever, and so his father proceeded to arrange the marriage between his son and the Philistine. Finally, after nearly three months of negotiations, the marriage between the two was arranged. Samson was ecstatic, and when he was returning to Timnah for his wedding, he left the path and walked into the vineyard, where he had thrown the lion’s body. As he gazed at the dead animal’s body, he saw that a swarm of bees had made some honey within its cavity.
Grinning broadly, Samson scooped a handful of the honey, bringing its golden sweetness to his lips, tasting its syrupy goodness. After enjoying his fill of nature’s sweet nectarine, he carried some to his parents. “Oh Samson!” his mother exclaimed, “How wonderful! Where did you find it?”
Laughing joyfully, Samson ignored her question, instead urging his parents to hurry to Timnah, for his wedding. The Philistine girl was a beauty, and he was eager to make her his bride. Of course the truth is that he was looking forward to the party tonight, as well.
Once they got to town, while his father was making the final wedding arrangements, Samson threw a party for thirty young men, who were companions especially chosen for him by his bride’s parents. There was much fun and revelry at the party, as the young men all laughed and joked together. In the midst of all their merrymaking, Samson came up with a new game for his companions to play.
“Friends, who wants to join me in a new game?” The young men looked at him expectantly, as he continued, “I have a riddle for you, and if any of you solve the riddle during these seven days of my marriage celebration, I’ll give you thirty fine linen robes and thirty sets of festive clothing.” As the young men nodded eagerly, leaning closer to hear what he had to say, Samson lifted his right hand up to them, “But,” he said, “if no one can solve the riddle, then you must give me thirty fine linen robes and thirty sets of festive clothing. Agreed?”
“Agreed,” the young men shouted eagerly. “Now tell us the riddle!”
“Very well then,” Samson replied. “Out of the eater came something to eat, and out of the strong came something sweet.” After sharing his riddle with them, he burst out laughing. There was no way any of them would ever guess the answer to his riddle — not even if they had a million years to figure it out, for no one knew about the lion he had killed or the honey he had scooped up and eaten from it. He hadn’t even told his parents about it.
The men thought and thought about Samson’s riddle, only to become more and more frustrated with each wrong answer. As one day passed into another, and they were no closer to knowing the answer to the riddle, the young men began to get angry, and Samson’s laughter at their expense didn’t help their mood. For three days, they tried to guess the answer to Samson’s riddle with no luck, and finally, on the fourth day, they had enough.
While some of the young men distracted Samson, several others approached his wife, telling her, “You’d better coax your husband into telling you the answer to that stupid riddle for us. Otherwise, we’ll burn your father’s house down, with you in it! Did you all invite us to this party just to rob us and make us poor?”
With her life and the lives of her family at stake, Samson’s bride quickly approached him and tried to get him to tell her the answer to his riddle, but Samson laughingly brushed her aside, refusing to answer her, even when she burst into tears. “You don’t even love me, do you?” she cried. “You hate me, don’t you? How could you give my people a riddle and not even tell me the answer?” she desperately wept.
“Oh come on, honey,” Samson consoled her, as she lay in his arms later on that night, crying inconsolably. “I haven’t even told my parents the answer to my riddle, so why should I tell you?” At this answer, she just cried even harder.
During what should have been one of the most joyful occasions of their life, both Samson and the girl were miserable. She was despairing for fear that the men would murder her and her family, while Samson was tormented by her constant nagging and crying. Finally, on the seventh day of the celebration, unable to bear her weeping and whining any longer, Samson told her the answer to the riddle.
His young wife was both relieved and elated, and as soon as she was able to get away from Samson, she ran to explain the riddle’s answer to the young men. She knew that she was risking Samson’s wrath by doing so, but that seemed a minor thing in comparison to losing her life and the lives of her family members. The young men roared with raucous laughter when she told them. For now, the joke was on Samson, and not them.
They waited until just before sunset to approach Samson, bowing mockingly before him. Samson, certain that they couldn’t possibly know the answer to his riddle, looked down upon them, condescendingly saying, “So you think you can answer my riddle, do you?”
Then, altogether, as though they had rehearsed it, the thirty young men answered in unison, “What is sweeter than honey? What is stronger than a lion?”
At their response, Samson’s face turned beet red, as he realized that his wife had betrayed him after being married for less than a week. He was furious as he looked from one mocking face to another, and he bellowed, “If you hadn’t plowed with my heifer, you wouldn’t have solved my riddle!”
Then the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon the enraged bridegroom, and Samson went down to the town of Ashkelon and killed thirty men. Then, taking their clothing and their belongings, he then threw their clothing at the feet of the thirty young men. This was their payment for answering his riddle.
Afterward, still furious at his wife’s betrayal, Samson returned to his parents’ house.
Cheryl A. Showers