Samson, the young Danite who insisted on marrying a Philistine woman, was on his way with his parents to where the woman lived. Suddenly he was attacked by a full-grown lion.
When he saw the beast coming for him from among the rocks that lined the trail (Judges 14:1-5), Samson swiftly moved off his mount. Instead of trying to escape he deliberately lunged toward the lion. Just as it leaped for him, he dodged. The mighty cat landed on the ground instead of on Samson, who swiftly leaped on the lion the moment it was confused by its failure. Samson straddled the animal’s back, locked his arms around the shaggy neck and squeezed hard against the lion’s throat. The beast emitted a short roar of rage that trailed off to a gasp as its wind was cut off. It struggled over on its back frantically pawing the air with claws-extended, pinning Samson to the ground.
The thumping weight of the lion might have fatally crushed as ordinary man, but Samson was far from ordinary physically. He hung on, constantly tightening his grip. His head was buried in the beast’s thick mane, and breathing was difficult. Summoning all his strength, Samson jerked the massive head backward. He heard the bones snap, and felt the great body go limp. The lion rolled off him, and he lay for a few moments renewing his breath. He staggered to his feet to stare at the dead beast. Samson was a little surprised that he was able to overcome such a powerful animal. He didn’t fully understand that he had been given special protection and a great amount of extra strength by a loving God (Judges 14:6).
Not wishing to startle or concern his parents with what had happened, Samson dragged the dead lion back from the trail before they rode into sight. He regained his mount and continued with them to the town of Timnath, where arrangements were made for his marriage to the Philistine woman whom God had put in Samson’s life so that he would have a necessary closer association with philistine oppressors (v. 7).
In those days it was a custom for a period of time to pass after a couple decided to marry till the time of the wedding. It was many months later, therefore, that Samson and his parents set out for the marriage ceremony at Timnath.
When they arrived at the place where Samson had slain the lion, the young Danite went aside by himself to the spot where he had left the carcass. Animals and insects had long since consumed the flesh of the animal. Only the bleached skeleton remained. Samson discovered that bees had built their comb inside the rib cage, and that there was honey inside. Although bees were swarming about, he surprisingly managed to get some of the honey to eat without being stung. Neither did the bees attack him while he filled a leather bag with honey. He brought some of the honey also to his father and mother, but he told them nothing about the lion (Judges 14:8-9).
Samson’s wedding turned out to be quite a social event in Timnath. It included a seven-day feast to which thirty young men were invited as friends of the bridegroom.
Young women were also invited as companions of the bride. Beside these, there were friends and relatives. Most of the people were Philistines, a fact that caused Samson’s parents to be rather uneasy, what with some of the Philistine overlords acting unfriendly and suspicious.
At that time riddles were a popular form of conversational entertainment. In the course of the festivities, Samson posed a riddle to his thirty companions, basing it on his experience with the lion and the honey.
“If you men can give me the answer to a certain riddle before this feast is over,” Samson told them, “I’ll give each of you a fancy shirt and costly robe. Here’s the riddle: ‘Out of the eater came something to eat; out of the strong came something sweet.’ Now if you fail to give me the right answer before the feast is over, then you shall give me thirty expensive shirts and thirty fine robes. Agreed?”
The thirty men nodded in agreement. They welcomed any opportunity for something that might develop into an argument or trouble for Samson. They acted friendly toward him, but inwardly felt just the opposite. Some of them resented Samson’s marriage to a woman with whom they had been more than friendly with from time to time, and who had no intention of changing her ways (Judges 14:10-14).
The thirty men had no intention of providing shirts and robes for Samson. They therefore went to his wife to force from her the answer to the riddle.
“I would tell you if I knew,” she told them. “Samson didn’t give me the answer.”
“Then find out before this feast is over!” they said to her. “Otherwise, we’ll burn you together with your parents’ home!”
Fearful of what would happen, Samson’s wife tried to get the answer to the riddle from her new husband. At first he refused to tell her. She wept bitterly, complaining that it wasn’t fair of him to start out their married life by keeping secrets from her. Samson finally was so moved by her tears, pleas and feminine wiles that he told her all about the lion and the honey. Although she didn’t believe the story, Samson’s wife disclosed to the men who had threatened her at the first opportunity, all that had been told to her.
“Your husband’s story is ridiculous,” they told her. “No man could kill a full-grown lion with his bare hands. Possibly he told you this tale to avoid giving you the right answer. And if you’re not providing the right answer, we’ll carry out that threat we made!”
That afternoon, only two or three hours before the feast ended, the men approached Samson to inform him that they at last had an answer to his riddle. Samson noted that some of them looked very confident. Inasmuch as only he and his wife supposedly knew the answer to the riddle, he could think of only one reason why the men should display such an expression.
“Give me your answer,” Samson said to them. “If you have it, I’ll stick to my offer to reward you.”
“We gave your riddle much thought,” one of the men told Samson, “and we were really stumped for days. After some time in conference, we believe that we have the answer. Here it is: ‘What is sweeter than honey? And what is stronger than a lion?’”
Samson wasn’t too surprised by such an accurate answer. He realized that it was as he had lately suspected, that his wife was overly familiar with these men, and that she didn’t care for him much more than she cared for them.
“Your answer is right, and I congratulate you on your cleverness,” Samson informed them. “You mentioned how hard you worked to find the answer. That was a lie! You found the answer only because you forced it from my wife, whom you have known too well” (Judges 14:15-18)!
These accusations, though true, would ordinarily have brought men swarming over the accuser. Not one man, however, moved against Samson. None was inclined to tangle with this broad-shouldered, powerful man in his time of anger. There was an awkward silence as Samson surveyed the crowd.
“I’ll go now to get those thirty shirts and thirty robes I promised you!” he muttered as he stalked out.
“All those clothes would cost him too much,” one man remarked with a grin as Samson disappeared. ‘That’s the last we’ll see of him!”
But Samson did return. It was a few days later. He was carrying a large, bulging bag. He called the thirty men together and emptied the contents of the bag – thirty shirts and thirty robes!
“Where did you get these?” the men inquired as they picked them up and admiringly examined the fine material.
“What does it matter to you?” Samson replied tartly. “I took them from thirty well-dressed Philistine men I met on the various streets of Ashkelon. But they don’t need the cloths any more because they’re all dead now!”
Jaws dropped in consternation at the same moment the men dropped the pieces of clothing as though they were sizzling hot potatoes. Samson walked away, leaving the Philistines wondering if he were a muscular monster or merely a purveyor of tall tales – or both.
Later they learned that the bodies of thirty Philistines had been found one morning in various parts of their city of Ashkelon, about twenty-four miles southwest of Timnath. All thirty of the bodies were found to be without shirts and robes.
On hearing this report, the so-called companions of the bridegroom were convinced that a monster had indeed been in their midst. They had no way of knowing that Samson’s violent action had been inspired by the God of Israel, who was directing the young Danite in a move for freedom for the southern tribes of Israel against their Philistine oppressors. After delivering the shirts and robes, Samson returned in anger to his home at Zorah without making any effort to visit his bride (Judges 14:19).
As the weeks went by, his anger and disgust diminished, and he decided to return to his wife. Taking a young goat as a gift, he went to the home of his wife’s father, who was surprised and uneasy when he opened the door and saw Samson.
“I’ve come to see my wife,” Samson said firmly to his father-in-law. “I trust she is here.”
“She – she is,” the father answered hesitantly. “But weeks ago you gave me the definite impression that you would have no more to do with her, and consequently I gave her in marriage to the man who was your chief companion at your wedding!”
Samson was stunned by this news, though he might have known that anything could have happened among Philistines during his long absence.
“I should have expected something like that,” he murmured bitterly. She seemed to like him more than me or any of the other twenty-nine.”
“Forget her!” the father exclaimed in an attempt to pacify Samson. “As you know, I have a younger and prettier daughter. If you would take her for your bride, I would be greatly pleased, and so would she!”
“But I wouldn’t!” Samson retorted. (Judges 15:1-2).
Burning with anger, he returned at once to Zorah. On the way he devised a plan to chastise at least some of the Philistine overlords because of their unjust treatment to him and to most other Israelites.
Within the next few days, with the help of several friends, he trapped three hundred foxes. These animals were especially abundant in Canaan, and were a special great nuisance in raiding the vineyard areas.
Samson and his helpers took the caged animals, by night, down into Philistine farming territory where various grains were raised. It was the dry harvest season. Some of the corn, oats, wheat and barley was still standing. Some of it had been cut and stacked or stored.
Samson and his men took short cords and tied the foxes together in couples, with one end of a cord tied to each animal’s tail. Then they fastened a firebrand to each cord midway between the tails, and freed them in various areas. The result was that each pair of foxes rolled, raced and struggled all over the fields, dragging their torches and setting fire to the tinder-like grain shocks and uncut fields for miles around. Dry breezes spread the many fires over wide territory, insomuch that there was a tremendous loss of crops to the Philistines during the next several hours (Judges 15:3-5).
After the fires were finally put out, the leaders in that area investigated to find out how the fires had started. When they discovered that Samson was responsible and that he had done it because his father-in-law had given Samson’s wife to another man, the Philistines became even more alarmed. Samson had become an object of their fear and respect in recent weeks because of his unusual strength and daring. No one, even in groups, wished to oppose him. The natural thing to do, therefore, was blame Samson’s wife and her father for the loss.
It wasn’t long before an angry mob converged on the home of Samson’s father-in-law, loudly demanding the appearance of the man and his daughter. The two feared the crowd too much to come out. After a while the house was set on fire. The occupants still refused to come out, and perished when the house burned to the ground (v. 6).
When Samson heard what had happened, he boldly appeared before the Philistine leaders. He told them that he was well aware that their actions were in vengeance against him. Then he shouted to them that he wouldn’t cease his violent action toward them until he considered the score settled. This statement greatly disturbed the Philistine oppressors. They decided that they should speak out against Samson so that they wouldn’t lose face in the estimation of the oppressed Israelites.
“You’ve had your way around here too long!” someone shouted.
This was the signal for the Philistines to choose what should be done. Some, though they disliked Samson, feared him too much to oppose him. These tried to quite others who wanted to make a stand against him. They quickly found themselves outnumbered as feeling against the Danite welled up within minutes.
One man, certain that he would have plenty of backing, and wishing to become a hero by opposing Samson, walked up to him and shook his fist in his face.
“We’ve had enough of you!” he screamed indignantly. “After all you’re only an Israelite who should realize that we are your masters!”
The unfortunate fellow couldn’t have made a poorer choice of words. Samson stared at him while all looked on in expectant silence. Like a cat leaping for a bird Samson pounced on the speaker, then snatched him up as though he were a light bundle of rags. Before anyone could move to interfere, he hurled the fellow into the men grouped before him. There were grunts and howls of pain as the Philistines were floored under the impact of the hurtling body.
Most of those who were able to get up left the vicinity as quickly as they could. A few joined forces to try to standup to Samson, coming at him from all sides. This was a foolish move. The Danite beat them off with a fury that spelled death for several.
The sound of the fight quickly attracted other men. Samson planned to get away before the Philistines could attack him in greater numbers, but it appeared that the opportunity had slipped by. From all directions he saw men moving menacingly toward him, men who were determined that his trouble-making for them was about to cease. Some of them carried knives and swords. Others carried clubs. There seemed to be no way of breaking out of the tightening circle of aggressors. The panting, sweating Danite realized that this could be the end.
As the crowd closed in tightly, one over-anxious Philistine leaped at Samson. He proved to be the heeded weapon for the man at bay. Samson caught him, flipped him upside down to seize him by his ankles and swing him around and around with such force and speed that those closing in on him were mowed down in a senseless heap.
The violence of Samson’s action, which left dead and dying all around, was a quick convincer to the Philistines that they were dealing with a man of super-human strength. And that further opposition would result only in more death and injury. They melted away in retreat, giving Samson the opportunity, at last, to get out of that region.
Instead of going to the home of his parents, where the Philistines would be certain to look for him, Samson went eastward into the land of the tribe of Judah. The Philistines were in power there, too, but he found refuge near Jerusalem in a cave-like fortress named Etam, where some Israelites had gathered to defend themselves against their oppressors (Judges 15:7-8).
The Philistines immediately formed an army which marched eastward into the territory of Judah, where the soldiers camped in a rugged area of limestone cliffs in Lehi, near where Samson was hiding. When the leaders of Judah inquired why an army had come against them, they were told that it had come to insure that the men of Judah would find Samson and deliver him, as a bound captive, to the Philistine army.
The men of Judah had no choice in the matter. They knew that the Philistines would attack them if they refused. They bowed to the wishes of their tyrants by promising that they would bring Samson back as a helpless prisoner.
Later, at the fortress of Etam where Samson was staying, a messenger excitedly rushed in with the news that an army was approaching from the north.
“There must be at least three thousand!” he panted. “They’ve come down to try to capture Samson, the long-haired Nazarite” (Judges 15:9-11).
Be watching for the next installment of The Story of the Bible.