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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Judges 14

 

 

Verses 1-4

SAMSON'S FIRST DEALINGS WITH THE PHILISTINES;

HE CHOOSES A PHILISTINE WIFE

"And Samson went down to Timnah, and saw a woman in Timnah of the daughters of the Philistines. And he came up, and told his father and mother, and said, I have seen a woman in Timnah of the daughters of the Philistines: now therefore get her for me to wife. Then his father and mother said unto him, Is there never a woman among the daughters of thy brethren, or among all thy people, that thou goest to take a wife of the uncircumcised Philistines? And Samson said unto his father, Get her for me; for she pleaseth me well. But his father and his mother knew not that it was of Jehovah; for he sought an occasion against the Philistines. Now at that time the Philistines had rule over Israel."

"Samson went down to Timnah" (Judges 14:1). "This was one of the daughter cities of the Philistine city of Ekron, located four miles west of Zorah."[1] The words "went down," and "came up" refer to the respective altitudes of the two places.

"Samson ... saw a woman" (Judges 14:1). Here was the first of many foolish mistakes this hero made. He chose a wife, contrary to the Word of God, contrary to the pleadings of his father and mother, and did so solely upon the basis of seeing a woman, with whom he had never even had a conversation!

  1. Deuteronomy 7:3-4 forbade the Israelites to intermarry with the Canaanites. "But the reasons assigned for that prohibition were equally applicable to marriage with the daughters of the Philistines."[2]
  2. Also, "The uncircumcised Philistines were despised by the Israelites."[3]
  3. It would have been impossible for Samson to have brought such a wife into his father's house, and therefore, "The marriage was of the type in which the wife resided in her father's house."[4]
  4. Such a marriage was courageously opposed by Samson's parents, but in spite of all these reasons against it, Samson had only one word - "Get her for me; she pleaseth me well."

"Get her for me, she pleaseth me well" (Judges 14:3). Thus, very early in Samson's career, his character is revealed in this single sentence. "As nothing else could, that simple sentence epitomizes the kind of man Samson was."[5] "How ironic were Samson's words to his parents that he had seen a woman that looked good to him when those very eyes would be put out because of the betrayal of another eye-pleasing woman."[6]

"His father and his mother knew not that it was of Jehovah" (Judges 14:4). This does not mean that God approved of Samson's sinful marriage, but that God overruled Samson's strong-headed determination to marry a Philistine woman and turned it into an occasion for God to show his displeasure with the Philistines.

"Now at that time the Philistines had rule over Israel" (Judges 14:4). The city of Timnah was once an Israelite city, or, at least it seems so from Joshua 15:10, but at this time the Philistines had control of most of Israel. "Archaeological remains point to an extended period of intercourse (social contact) and trade between the two peoples (Philistines and Israelites) from about 1150 B.C., which corresponds exactly with the date Boling determined for Judges."[7]


Verses 5-9

SAMSON SLAYS A LION WITH HIS BARE HANDS

"Then went Samson down, and his father and his mother, to Timnah, and came to the vineyards of Timnah: and, behold, a young lion roared against him. And the Spirit of Jehovah came mightily upon him, and he rent him as he would have rent a kid; and he had nothing in his hand: but he told not his father or his mother what he had done. And he went down, and talked with the woman; and she pleased Samson well. And after a while he returned to take her; and he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion: and, behold, there was a swarm of bees in the body of the lion, and honey. And he took it into his hands, and went on, eating as he went; and he came to his father and mother, and gave unto them, and they did eat: but he told them not that he had taken the honey out of the body of the lion."

The picture that emerges here requires us to understand that a considerable time-frame is necessary to encompass all that is recorded here. The swarm of bees in the body of the lion and the amount of time needed for them to produce what appears to be quite a bit of honey means that weeks or even months might have elapsed before the wedding feast, the propounding of the riddle, etc. "`After a while' here can mean a relatively longer period of time."[8]

"A young lion roared against him" (Judges 14:5). "These words designate a lion between the age of a cub and a full-grown lion."[9]

"He rent him as he would have rent a kid" (Judges 14:6). Josephus wrote that "Samson strangled the lion,"[10] but the statements are not contradictory, for he probably did both." The explanation of such a super-human feat was simply that "the Spirit of God came mightily upon him."

"And he had nothing in his hand" (Judges 14:6). This fact lends greater significance to the slaying of the lion, because it was done with no weapons except his bare hands.

In all probability there were a number of trips down to Timnah, and on one of these Samson's father and mother were making the journey, in all probability making plans for the forthcoming marriage of Samson. It was on one of those trips that Samson turned aside to see the carcass of the lion and found the honey. Not only on this trip, but also on another, Samson had probably traveled much faster than his parents, making excursions from the projected path of the journey and then returning to their company.

"He went down and talked with the woman, and she pleased Samson well" (Judges 14:7). Prior to Judges 14:1, Samson had only seen the woman, and, apparently, this reference is to the first time that he had an opportunity to talk with her. Samson continued to be very pleased with his choice.

"He gave (honey) unto them, and they did eat; but he told them not that he had taken it out of the body of the lion" (Judges 14:9). Here again, the lawless nature of Samson is evident. "As a Nazarite, Samson was forbidden in the Law to touch a corpse (Numbers 6:6),"[11] and Samson not only violated that law, but gave his parents to eat of the honey also. The reason why he did not tell them where it came from was apparently his knowledge that, if he told them, they would not have eaten it.


Verses 10-14

THE MARRIAGE; THE WEDDING FEAST; AND THE RIDDLE

"And his father went down unto the woman: and Samson made there a feast; for so used the young men to do. And it came to pass when they saw him, that they brought thirty companions to be with him. And Samson said unto them, Let me now put forth a riddle unto you: if ye can declare it unto me within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty changes of raiment; but if ye cannot declare it unto me, then shall ye give me thirty linen garments and thirty changes of raiment. And they said unto him, Put forth the riddle, that we may hear it. And he said unto them,

`Out of the eater came forth food,

And out of the strong came forth sweetness.

And they could not in three days declare the riddle.'"

"And his father went down unto the woman" (Judges 14:10). This was, at least, the third trip that Manoah had made down to Timnah, and the elaborate feast which lasted for seven days and was attended by such a large company, "indicates that Samson's family was one of wealth and position."[12]

"They brought thirty companions to be with him" (Judges 14:11). "The `they' here were the parents or the relations of the bride, after the customs of the times, these were called to be the `children of the bride-chamber' (Matthew 9:15), and were invited because Samson had brought no companions with him."[13] It appears that the Philistine parents and relatives of the bride were diligent at putting on a big feast at the expense of Samson and his family.

The matter of the riddle is perfectly clear to the reader, because of the explanation regarding the lion and the swarm of bees had already been related earlier.


Verses 15-20

BETRAYED BY HIS WIFE; SAMSON SLAYS 30 PHILISTINES AND LEAVES WITHOUT CONSUMMATING HIS MARRIAGE

"And it came to pass on the seventh day, that they said unto Samson's wife, Entice thy husband, that he may declare unto us the riddle, lest we burn thee and thy father's house with fire; have ye called us to impoverish us? is it not so? And Samson's wife wept before him, and said, Thou dost but hate me, and lovest me not: thou hast put forth a riddle to the children of my people, and hast not told it me. And he said unto her, Behold, I have not told it my father and my mother, and shall I tell thee? And she wept before him the seven days, while their feast lasted: and it came to pass on the seventh day, that he told her, because she pressed him sore; and she told the riddle to the children of her people. And the men of the city said unto him on the seventh day before the sun went down, What is sweeter than honey; what is stronger than a lion? And he said unto them.

`If ye had not plowed with my heifer,

Ye had not found out my riddle.'

"And the Spirit of Jehovah came mightily upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon, and smote thirty men of them, and took their spoil, and gave the changes of raiment unto them that declared the riddle. And his anger was kindled, and he went up to his father's house. But Samson's wife was given to his companion, whom he had used as his friend."

Samson received an object lesson in this disastrous sinful marriage, but there is no evidence that he paid any attention to it.

Some commentators have trouble with the references here to "three days" and to "seven days," but as Hervey noted, There are two streams of the narrative here: (1) one tells what the young men did; and (2) the other tells what Samson's wife did."[14]

Unraveling the tangled narrative, we see that:

  1. From the first, Samson's wife, anxious to have her husband confide in her, tearfully attempted to find out the riddle, pressing her request with cajolery and petulance.
  2. The young men tried for three days to solve the mystery, and being unable to do it they began to tamper with Samson's wife.
  3. On the seventh day, they were desperate, and threatened to burn her and her father's house unless she extracted the secret and made it known to them.
  4. Under that awful threat, she extorted the secret from Samson and made it known to her countrymen.

"If ye had not plowed with my heifer" (Judges 14:18). Samson, of course, knew instantly what had happened, and he moved at once to pay the thirty changes of raiment which he had promised in case they "solved" his riddle.

"He went down to Ashkelon, and smote thirty men of them, and took their spoil" (Judges 14:20). The city of Ashkelon, one of the Big Five of the Philistine cities was located at the southern extremity of their territory on the very edge of the Mediterranean Sea. "It still preserves its ancient name and was famous in the times of the Crusaders. Within its walls and towers now standing, Richard Coeur de Lion held his court. The variety of onion called the `eschalot' or `shallot' derived its name from this city, Eshkalon or Ashkalon."[15]

This killing of thirty Philistines, according to Keil, should not be understood merely as carnal vengeance on the part of Samson. "This act is described as the operation of the Holy Spirit which came upon Samson, because it showed to the Philistines the superior power of the servants of Jehovah. It was not carnal revenge that impelled Samson to the deed, because it was not until the deed was done that his anger was kindled. Even then, his anger was not against the Philistines, but against his wife."[16]

There is some question of whether or not Samson actually consummated this marriage or not. Some believe that the marriage was consummated on the first day of the wedding feast, but Moore stated that, "Samson rushed away without consummating the marriage,"[17] an opinion that was also accepted by Strahan. "He rushed away leaving the marriage unconsummated, regardless of the feelings of the bride and her family."[18] However, both of those writers rejected the plain statement of the text here that Samson's journey to Ashkelon was inspired by the Holy Spirit, labeling Judges 14:19a as, "a later insertion,"[19] and attributing Samson's action in that verse to his carnal rage. There being no evidence whatever to support such an allegation regarding Judges 14:19a, we reject it as nothing more than another example of radical critics tampering with the Word of God!

The opinion of Keil on this point is far more dependable. There is also another sharp disagreement among scholars as to Samson's intention when he rushed away to his father's house. Dalglish thought that, "He never intended to go back. "At least, this was how his father-in-law interpreted the situation; and so he gave his daughter to Samson's `best man.'"[20] We consider that comment incorrect, because, as Keil said, "Even though Samson went home enraged at the treacherous perfidy of his wife, he did not intend to break the marriage tie, as Judges 15:1-2, clearly shows."[21]

It is clear enough that the Spirit of God was working in the events of this tragic chapter in order to teach the Israelites that:

  1. The Philistines did not honor the marriage tie.
  2. They were a vicious and ruthless people as indicated by their vicious threat to burn the home of Samson's wife (a threat they later carried out).
  3. And they relied upon falsehood and treachery to achieve their objectives. The supreme tragedy of the chapter is that Samson learned nothing whatever from this disastrous "deal" with the Philistines. He would go right on trusting that pagan people. The sad termination of this shameful marriage fully justified the opposition to it which Samson's parents had manifested from the very first.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Judges 14:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/judges-14.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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