And Samson went down to Timnath, and saw a woman in Timnath of, the daughters of the Philistines. And he came up, and told his father and his mother, and said, I have seen a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines: now therefore get her for me to wife . . .
But his father and his mother knew not that it was of the LORD, that he sought an occasion against the Philistines: for at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel.
Samson had decided upon the course that his life would take. He would dedicate himself to exposing the wickedness of the Philistines, to seeking occasion against them. He .had gone to his own countrymen and had tried to convince them that the Philistines were an enemy against whom they must rise up and fight. But the people would not listen. They were confident that the Philistines were a trustworthy people and that it was quite possible to co-exist peaceably with them. Now Samson was determined to show how completely false this was. He would make his own life a living demonstration of the wickedness of the Philistines by joining himself to them in the closest possible union, in marriage. He could not expect that it would be a pleasant marriage; he could not expect that it would be easy. He would surely end up suffering under the crafty wickedness of those people. But when he did, he would not allow it to be forgotten. He would hold the Philistines responsible for every dishonest deed that was committed against him. He would not let them rest. He would be a thorn in their side.
It was very soon after Samson made this commitment that God in a very special way set His seal of approval upon it. It was not that God thereby approved the means that were used by Samson, namely, his marriage to the woman of Timnath. Samson was still in many ways a weak and sinful man, and God did not prevent these shortcomings from exerting themselves. But God did approve of the determination of Samson’s heart to wage a personal war against the Philistines. Thereby He gave testimony to the fact that Samson was a true Nazarite, dedicated to the salvation of Israel and the destruction of its enemies.
It happened in this way. One day as Samson was traveling on the road to Timnath, he was passing through the underbrush of a Philistine vineyard when a young lion leaped out upon him. Now Samson was not a man of unusual strength or stature, and ordinarily this would have been a fearful thing. But Samson felt no fear. Moved by an inner power which he had never felt before, he stepped forward, and grasping the mighty beast with his bare hands, tore it apart as though it were a little kid. Before he realized completely what had happened, he found the carcass of the lion dead in his hands. Deeply affected, he hid the body carefully and proceeded on his way.
For many days thereafter Samson thought and meditated upon what had happened. He was deeply impressed; but he kept it to himself, not telling anyone, not even his father and mother. This was a power not his own. He could come to no other conclusion; it was the Spirit of God. Now he knew God was watching over him and working through him. His Nazarite vows were not in vain. He in his generation was found holy before the Lord.
It was many days later when this event took on still another dimension. He was returning this time from another stay in Timnath when he passed by the place where he had been attacked by the lion. That event still played upon his mind and he thought about it often. The memory of it now moved him to turn aside and look at the carcass which he had hidden. There he found a strange thing, for in the carcass of that mighty beast a swarm of bees had built their hive. It was now filled with honey, and he took some with him to eat as he continued on his way. As he thought upon it, he seemed to find in this a parable on his own life. Out of the eater there came food, and out of the mighty came sweetness. So he was assured that out of his campaign of violence against the Philistines would come a blessing from God.
All of this time Samson’s plans were gradually being realized. In spite of their strong objections, his parents had gone down to Timnath and made the needed arrangements for Samson to be married there. The Philistines also had consented, not because they had any special love for Samson, but because they thought that once he was married in their midst they would have him under their influence and power. It appeared to be a sure way to silence his opposition to them. The result was that the wedding was finally ready. To all appearances it would be a gala time such as was customary in that day. The Philistines especially knew how to make the most of such festivities. Everything was provided, even to thirty honorary guests to serve as companions for Samson. But underneath it all there was a feeling of tension. Samson had no true love for these Philistines, and they knew it. There was a spirit of competition which divided them. The Philistines were determined not to let Samson gain the upper hand.
From the very first day of the wedding feast this division was evident. It was Samson who brought it out into the open. Samson gave to his thirty companions what would have ordinarily been a friendly challenge; he presented them with a riddle. The riddle was this, “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness.” On the surface this was nothing more than a friendly contest of wits. It was no doubt understood by the thirty men of the wedding party that there was some event in Samson’s life which could be identified in this way. It was now for them to see if they could find it, But underneath there was much more involved. Samson was setting before them and challenging them to interpret the deepest riddle of his own life. The meat and sweetness of his own life was exactly in the strength which the Lord gave him to devour the Philistines. The Philistines immediately sensed the seriousness of this wager. It was evident in the size of the stakes which Samson laid before them. If they succeeded in interpreting the riddle, Samson would give to each one of them a change of garments; but if they failed, each one of them would have to give the same to him. By the outcome of this their future relations with this Samson would be determined. Samson was not a man of such means that he could afford to pay a price like that. If they would succeed, he would be indebted to them forever; but if they failed, he would be well on his way to prosperity. But Samson did not expect them to succeed. That was evident from the terms.
From the moment the riddle was given, the thirty Philistines applied all of the ingenuity of their minds to interpreting its meaning. Carefully they went over every aspect of Samson’s life known to them to try to find something which could shed light upon this extremely dark saying. Individually and together they went over it again and again, examining it from every conceivable point of view. Undoubtedly they carried it with them to their homes and to their cities, seeking assistance from the wisest people of the country. By the time that three days were passed, they had been brought to the point of desperation. They would have to have help from someone more intimately acquainted with Samson, or they would surely fail. And there was only one such whom they knew, Samson’s wife. Unashamedly they went to her and demanded that she assist them. But even here they met with nothing. Samson had not shared with her his secret. She did not know.
Already from the first day of the wedding feast, Samson’s newly married wife bad felt the seriousness of his challenge; and, although she was taking Samson to be her husband, her heart was still with her people. She could not countenance the idea that her people should be humiliated by Samson even if be was her husband. After all, he was a Jew, and she was a Philistine. Immediately she began to search for a way to give to her people some assistance.
By Samson’s riddle the marriage feast, supposedly a gay event, was torn apart by dissension. It was more like a field of battle. On one side were the Philistines endlessly consorting together trying to find the answer to Samson’s challenge. On the other side stood Samson, the Jew, self-assured and confident, taunting them to show their superiority, to give him his answer. But still, even for him, that wedding feast provided no real pleasure. He had married a wife, but she would allow him no peace. She was determined that she should be in on the answer to his riddle. From the first day she taunted him with the demand, “Thou dost but hate me, and lovest me not: thou hast put forth a riddle unto the children of my people, and hast not told it me.” There was a point to that which she said. If she was worthy of being his wife, she should also be worthy of sharing his secret. Yet Samson knew better. She was a Philistine and not one with him in her loyalties. Though she wept before him, be dared not give in. Again and again be tried to put her off with the answer, “Behold, I have not told it my father nor my mother, and shall I tell it thee?” It was to no avail. Always she came again weeping, and it made the feast for him a week of misery.
By the time that the seventh and last day of the wedding feast arrived, tensions had reached a feverish pitch. Infuriated by the chiding of Samson, the Philistines were determined at all costs to have the answer. Again they came to Samson’s wife, this time not just with a request, but with a demand and a threat. “Entice thy husband,” they demanded, “That he may declare unto us the riddle, lest we burn thee and thy father’s house with fire: have ye called us to take that we have? is it not so?”
Again she returned to Samson, even more insistent than before; and now her pleas were beginning to wear on him. He was a man with courage to resist an army; but his nature was such that he always found it difficult to withstand a beautiful woman. Finally, at the last hour he gave in and told her about how he bad met with the lion and how it had led to his riddle. Quickly she hurried to her people and told them all he bad said.
It was a jubilant group of men that hurried to search out Samson. The hour was late and the deadline close. They fairly shouted at him, “What is sweeter than honey? and what is stronger than a lion?” The whole thing was perfectly transparent; but the Philistines did not care. They had met Samson’s challenge and bad won.
Samson was furious. His actions had bad their desired end. They had brought out into the open the scheming dishonesty of the Philistines; but it had surely not been in the way that Samson had anticipated. Angrily he shouted back at them, “If ye had not Plowed with my heifer, ye had not found out my riddle”; and he stormed out of their presence.
Now he had a true occasion to answer the Philistines according to their deserts. The Spirit of God came upon him just as with the lion. He went down to Ashkelon and slew thirty men, taking their garments. These he brought to the thirty men of Timnath. And with that be returned to his parents’ home.