Samson gets married and divorced
Samson wants a woman1Samson once took a trip down to Timnah town, where he met a Philistine woman. 2After he climbed the hills back up to his home, he told his parents, “I met the woman I want to marry. Get her.”
3But his parents pushed back, “Come on, isn’t there one woman you could marry from your own people? Do you really have to pick a Philistine woman? Her daddy wasn’t circumcised. Philistines don’t do that.” Samson told his dad, “She knows how to make me happy. Get her.” 4His parents didn’t realize God was going to use this marriage to start a war between Israel and the Philistines. At that time, the Philistines dominated Israel.
Samson kills a lion5Samson led his dad and mom down to Timnah to arrange the marriage. When Samson reached some vineyards in the area, a young lion came at him, roaring. 6The LORD’s Spirit enveloped him, and Samson tore the lion apart with his bare hands. He did it the way a person might rip open a baby goat. His parents didn’t see it and he didn’t tell them. 7When Samson reached Timnah, he talked with the woman. He liked her.
8Later, when Samson went back to marry her, he came to the skeleton of the lion he had killed. He saw a swarm of bees had been storing honey inside it.
Samson eats honey from a lion9Samson scooped the honey out with his hands and ate it as he walked along. When he met up with his parents, he gave them some honey, too. But he didn’t tell them where he got it. 10Samson’s dad went down to Timnah to see the woman. Samson was there to party, as young men like to do when they’re about to get married. 11The bride’s family brought in 30 men to celebrate with him.
Samson’s riddle, a sure bet12Samson said, “Gentlemen, let me tell you a riddle. We’re going to celebrate here for seven days. If you can solve the riddle before this party’s over, I’ll give each of you a set of clothes, with short linen tunics and long robes. 13But if you can’t solve this riddle, you each owe me a set of clothes.” They said, “It’s a bet. Tell us you’re riddle. You’ve got our attention.” 14Samson told them:
“Out of the eater came food to eat.
Out of the strong came something sweet.”
Samson’s bride nags out the answer16Samson’s bride hounded him for an answer and cried her eyes out. “You don’t love me,” she said. “You hate me. You tell my people a riddle. And you don’t even trust me enough to share the answer.” Samson said, “Hey, I haven’t even told my dad and mom. And you expect me to tell you?” 17She harassed him for the rest of the week. Finally, on the seventh day, he told her. She nagged it out of him. Then she told the guys. 18Before the sun went down on that final day of the celebration, the guests from town answered Samson’s riddle:
“What is sweeter than honey?
“What is stronger than a lion?”
If you hadn’t used my little heifer
to plow through this riddle
This riddle would never have been plowed.
Samson pays his debt19The LORD’s Spirit flooded into Samson, who stormed out of the house, and went down to Ashkelon. There, he murdered 30 men, stole their clothes, and delivered the clothes to the 30 men who won the bet by solving his riddle. Still livid, Samson went home to his parents. 20During that time, Samson’s wife married the best man.
Timnah is now a ruins six miles (10 km) west of Samson’s hometown of Zorah. The ruin is called Tell el-Batashi.
That’s a whopper of an insult, associating Samson’s beloved with her daddy’s unacceptable penis. But that really wasn’t what he was talking about. Israelite boys were circumcised when they were eight days old. Though God made a contract agreement with Abraham to protect and prosper his descendants, every generation of males had to sign the contract like Abraham did—in blood, through the circumcision ritual. “This way, your bodies will carry your signature of the contract” (Genesis 17:13). Philistines were not in on that, and that’s what Sam’s dad was talking about. The Israelites were God’s people, and Philistines were not. Israelite ancestors of today’s Jewish people weren’t the only group practicing circumcision. Some Egyptian mummies from before the time of Abraham show evidence of circumcision. And there are Egyptian pictures of men getting circumcised before entering the priesthood. But Israelite circumcision was a uniquely religious ritual for every male in the nation, including their slaves.
In Israelite culture, marriage wasn’t just about the couple. Perhaps even more so, it was about the families of the couples, and how the marriage could make life better by alliances sealed with the marriage. For Samson to make marriage about his own happiness, he was perhaps more in touch with today’s culture than his own. In his culture, his blunt response to his parents is the first we see of his selfishness, which will continue throughout his story until he dies praying for revenge.
Some scholars say the Philistines more than dominated Israel. They say the Israelite people were in danger of becoming assimilated into Philistine culture. Samson changed that. Israelites were already breaking the laws of Moses by intermarrying with Philistines (Deuteronomy7:1-5). And here, at the first spark of daylight in the Iron Age, Philistines controlled the science of producing iron tools and weapons. Israelites had to get their metal plow tips and other tools made and repaired by Philistines (1 Samuel 13:19-20).
How did his parents miss seeing this? And why didn’t he tell them about it? We can only guess. His parents may have been traveling behind him at a slower pace. Why he didn’t tell them is a tougher question. This story about killing a lion seems to be something a person would brag about—especially someone as self-centered as the stories suggest Samson was. Perhaps Samson feared his parents would take the story as a bad omen, and a sign that God was against it. More guesses are welcome.
Eating honey seems innocent enough. But Samson broke several rules. First, he touched a dead animal, which rendered him ritually unclean. A person ritually unclean was not supposed to touch another person or go to the worship center because they ritually defiled whatever they touched. Israelites were able to get ritually clean again by following a set of procedures that included bathing, washing their clothes, getting sprinkled with “water of purification” (Numbers 19), and waiting for a stretch of time, often seven days. Second, Samson was a Nazirite living by rules that included: “Don’t touch a dead person…Stay ritually clean for as long as you devote yourself to God—for the duration of this special vow” (Numbers 6:6, 8). Third, he contaminated his parents. They presented him to God as a holy child, completely devoted to the LORD. But with a scoop of honey, he turned them unholy, and ritually unfit to worship God.
Samson’s father may have been negotiating or finalizing the marriage details. This often involved agreeing on a gift exchange. A groom would give a gift to his father-in-law to compensate him for the loss of his daughter’s help around the house. And the bride would bring a dowry to the marriage, whatever her father could afford or was willing to part with: jewelry, kitchen utensils, clothing.
Ashkelon was one of the five biggest Philistine cities, along with Ashdod, Ekron, Gath, and Gaza. Ashkelon was on the Mediterranean coast, roughly 20 miles (32 km) southwest of Timnah.
This might suggest the woman was still a virgin, since, in this patriarchal age, men didn’t seem especially interested in marrying used women—perhaps especially freshly used. The bride’s father may have insisted on the couple waiting to consummate the marriage until after the week of celebration. It’s unlikely Samson would have suggested that, given what the story will reveal about the animal instincts that drive him. It’s an odd combination. He’s sometimes driven by the LORD’s Spirit. Sometimes by sex. Sometimes by anger and revenge. And once by the consideration of others (15:11-13).
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