Friday, January 21, 2022

The Judges. Day 51, Samson's Marriage, Part Three

Samson is on his way to Timnah for his wedding. In yesterday's passage we learned that on the way there he ate honey from a nest that bees had made in the carcass of the lion he killed on an earlier trip. He also gave some of the honey to his parents, who did not know its origin, and they ate it too. Yesterday we discussed how his contact with the carcass broke his Nazirite vow. 

Samson has not been living as carefully as he should. He is marrying a heathen wife from among the Philistines. He may have broken the rule against Nazarites consuming anything from the grapevine; he was in the vineyards of Timnah when the lion charged at him and he did not tell his parents about killing the lion, perhaps because he was doing something wrong when the incident occurred. Then he made himself ceremonially unclean by touching the carcass of the lion and consuming honey from it. Next he will use the incident of the lion to pose a riddle to the Philistine men who make up the groom's court during the days of his wedding feast.

"Now his father went down to see the woman. And there Samson held a feast, as was customary for young men. When the people saw him, they chose thirty men to be his companions." (Judges 14:10-11) A wedding feast went on for seven days. Some scholars suppose this particular wedding feast included a lot of drinking. Although we might suppose the Philistine men became drunk, the author of Judges does not say whether or not Samson also indulged. If he did, this was another breaking of his Nazirite vow, but we don't know whether he's in high spirits due to the special occasion or whether he and his companions are intoxicated. 

"'Let me tell you a riddle,' Samson said to them. 'If you can give me an answer within the seven days of the feast, I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty sets of clothes. If you can't tell me the answer, you must give me thirty linen garments and thirty sets of clothes.' 'Tell us your riddle,' they said. 'Let's hear it.'" (Judges 14:12-13) This was an expensive wager for whoever would have to pay up. The linen garments were likely an outer wrap and intended to be of fine linen. The sets of clothes are believed to be dressy clothes such as one would wear to an important occasion. In today's world, the items in Samson's wager could be compared to thirty overcoats and thirty business suits. 

"He replied, 'Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet.' For three days they could not give the answer." (Judges 14:14) The riddle refers to his secret killing of the lion in the vineyards. Out of the eater, out of the strong (the lion) came something to eat, something sweet (the honey). Samson knows this is a riddle that the men almost certainly cannot solve. He expects to be the recipient of thirty coats and thirty suits. 

The men don't want to have to come up with thirty coats and thirty suits. They made the wager when they were probably flushed with wine and not thinking about the high cost of failing to solve the riddle. Now, on the fourth day of the feast, the reality of their predicament is becoming clear and they are getting worried about it. "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 steal our property?' Then Samson's wife threw herself on him, sobbing. 'You hate me! You don't really love me. You've given my people a riddle, but you haven't told me the answer.'" (Judges 14:15-16a) 

These young men threaten violence and Samson's wife knows it's not an empty threat. Scholars are generally very critical of her for trying to coax the answer to the riddle out of Samson but I think she was between a rock and a hard place, as the saying goes. Whether she was in love with her new husband or not, she doesn't want her parents burned alive. She doesn't want herself burned alive either. Her concern for her own personal safety and for the safety of her family is stronger than whatever she might feel for her bridegroom. Had she been a woman of the Lord, she might have appealed to Him for protection against the angry and violent young men in the wedding party. But she is a pagan woman from an idolatrous culture and instead of calling upon the Lord she relies on emotional blackmail to get the answer from her new husband. Why did she not tell Samson about the threats and give him a chance to protect her and her family? We don't know. It could be that she did not have enough confidence in him---that she did not think highly enough of him. Or it could be that she didn't believe the God of Israel was powerful enough to enable Samson to defend herself and her family against violent men and the gods of the Philistines. 

Samson, evidently unaware of the threat made against his bride and her family, tries to soothe what he assumes are just hurt feelings by telling her that he has revealed the answer to the riddle to no one. "'I haven't even explained it to my father and mother,' he replied, 'so why should I explain it to you?'" (Judges 14:16b) She continues to appeal to him for the remaining days of the feast. "She cried the whole seven days of the feast. So on the seventh day he finally told her, because she continue to press him. She in turn explained the riddle to her people. Before sunset on the seventh day the men of the town said to him, 'What is sweeter than honey? What is stronger than a lion?'" (Judges 14:17-18a)

Samson knows his wife has revealed the answer to them. He does not believe there is any way they could have figured it out on their own. The riddle he chose was impossible for anyone to solve who did not know the story of the lion and the honey, and he had never told anyone the story of the lion and the honey until he told his new bride. "Samson said to them, 'If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have solved my riddle.'" (Judges 14:18b) 

Many scholars propose that Samson's wife had been unfaithful to him not only emotionally but physically as well. They believe his accusation against the men of having plowed with his heifer means that one or more of them had slept with her during the week of the feast. Other scholars believe he's just saying something like, "If you had not interfered in my marriage and gone behind my back and coerced my wife into finding out and revealing the riddle, you could never have solved it." 

Samson is in a difficult position. He does not have thirty coats and thirty suits to give to these men but he's obligated to pay up. Had he not paid up, I think these violent men would have done to his family what they had threatened to do to his bride's family. Though Samson got himself into this fix through poor judgment (being in a vineyard where he was attacked by a lion, eating honey from the carcass later on, marrying a heathen woman, proposing a wager he thought he couldn't lose), the Lord gives him the strength to make good on the wager. In doing so, the Lord fulfills a purpose which He had in mind all along, which was "seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines". The Lord intends to help the Israelites who are under Philistine oppression and He intends to use Samson as an instrument in this conflict. In order to make good on his wager, Samson kills thirty Philistines and gives their garments to the men from his wedding party. "Then the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him. He went down to Ashkelon, struck down thirty of their men, stripped them of everything and gave their clothes to those who had explained the riddle." (Judges 14:19a)

"Burning with anger, he returned to his father's home. And Samson's wife was given to one of his companions who had attended him at the feast." (Judges 14:19b-20) It is thought that Samson didn't bring his wife to live with him at his father's house because, as a heathen woman, she would not have been welcome there. It will be clear to us in our next chapter that Samson is not the one who gave his wife to his best man from the wedding. We will see that he still considers her his wife even though they are not currently living in the same house. During his absence his wife was given to another man by her father, according to what we'll read in Chapter 15. When Samson goes back to Timnah to visit his wife, her father will refuse to let him see her and will inform him that she's the wife of another man now. We don't know whether or not Samson consummated the marriage with his wife during the seven days of the feast, but either way she is his wife in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of the Lord. This probably didn't mean much to the wicked Philistines but it meant something to Samson. In revenge he will ruin their crops and they will retaliate by murdering his wife and her family. Samson will then make war with them.

We are going to find Samson behaving in ways that aren't always admirable. The Lord will use him in Israel's fight against the Philistines not because he's perfect but in spite of his imperfections. This doesn't mean it's okay for Samson to break his Nazirite vows or to have an obsession with Philistine women or to have such a weakness for the approval of women that he's willing to violate his principles. But it shows us that the Lord's purposes are never thwarted by man's actions. The Lord even uses unbelievers in His plans, as evidenced by the occasions in the Bible where He uses heathen nations to correct His wayward children and bring them back to the right path. Samson is not an unbeliever but he'll fall prey to his carnal inclinations from time to time, and yet we'll find his name in the list known as the "Hebrews Hall Of Faith". When speaking of the men and women of the Old Testament who had the faith to accomplish great things, the Apostle Paul concluded, "And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies." (Hebrews 11:32-34) 

Samson is going to make some mistakes but he's going to finish strong. And isn't that better than starting strong and finishing in weakness? In spite of going off course at times, Samson's name is one of the most famous names in the Old Testament. This doesn't give any of us license to sin with the attitude that the Lord can use us anyway, but it ought to encourage us that we haven't been disqualified by mistakes of the past. If we Love the Lord and commit ourselves to Him, He's not going to reject our willingness to serve. No matter what we did way back when, He can enable us to finish strong.

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