The Solving of The Philistine Riddle

In the days of the Judges of Israel, Samson the twelfth judge being a very strong man, killed a young lion with his bare hands. Many days later, passing by the carcass of that lion, he noticed that a swarm  1 of bees had made their habitation in the carcass and that there was honey within the remains of the lion. Samson ate and had his fill of the honey, and took and gave some to his father and mother "and they did eat, but he [Samson] did not tell them that he had taken the honey out of the carcass of the lion" - Judges 14:9.

When the time came for Samson's marriage to a Philistine damsel, thirty young Philistine men came to spend time with Samson as companions of the bridegroom, to participate in the celebrations before the marriage, as was the custom in those days. It was then that Samson said to the young men: "Let me put forth a riddle to you. If you can correctly solve and explain it to me within the seven days of the [marriage] feast, then I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothing but if you cannot explain it to me then you shall give me thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothing" - Judges 14:12-13. And Samson gave them his riddle to ponder, saying to them:

"Out of the eater came forth something to eat,
And out of the strong came forth something sweet" - Judges 14:14
.

Obviously, Samson was referring to the episode where having torn apart the strongest  2 of carnivores, he found later on that bees had hived in the carcass of that lion and produced the sweet honey he and his parents ate.

The thirty men could not solve the riddle. However, by threats to Samson's Philistine wife and her family, they prevailed on her to extract from him the answer to the riddle which she then gave to them. And "on the seventh day before the sun went down" the Philistines gave Samson the answer to his riddle. But this they did by hiding the answer within a riddle they in turn put forth to him. They mockingly asked Samson:

"What is sweeter than honey?
And what is stronger than a lion?" - Judges 14:18.

Samson then knew that they had extorted from his wife the right answer to his riddle, and so he said to them:

"If you had not plowed with my heifer you would not have solved my riddle" - ibid.

By the use of the key words "honey" and "lion" in their questioning, Samson knew that the Philistines had plumbed the secret of his own riddle. But why did he not reply to their query then? Perhaps because only later on in his life when he was rendered powerless, chained, and imprisoned, Samson had time to ponder, and realize that in a very mysterious way it was really the Lord who was asking him those two questions.

"What is sweeter than honey?" - Judges 14:18.

But first we should know that Samson was chosen by the Lord and dedicated to "be a Nazarite 3 to G-d from the womb until the day of his death" - Judges 13:7, 3-4; 16:17. For the Lord had chosen Samson son of Manoah of the tribe of Dan, to be a deliverer of His people from the oppression of the Philistines. Samson was also appointed by the Lord to be a judge among the tribes of Israel. For in those days the Lord raised up "judges [shophetim]" to be "deliverers [moshi`im]" of His people from the oppression of those who held them in captivity in the land of Israel. These judges were also raised up by the Lord to judge His people, besides leading them in battle against their enemies. Thus, it is written concerning Othniel, the first judge of Israel, that in "the spirit of the Lord...he judged Israel, and [also] went out to war" - Judges 3:10.

It was a great thing to have been called and raised up by the Lord to be a Judge and a Deliverer of His people Israel. Samson was particularly chosen and dedicated to the Lord from the womb, to be a Nazarite before Him all the days of his life. They knew then, that to be able to judge rightly, and have the knowledge to know between good and evil, and right and wrong, one had to be righteous and upright and have "the Spirit of the Lord...upon him," and the Lord with him in all his endeavors - Judges 3:10; 6:14.

When he was very young "the Lord blessed" Samson, "and the Spirit of the Lord began to move upon him" and was with him when he mightily tore the lion apart - Judges 13:24,25; 14:6. But Samson broke one of his Nazarite vows when he touched the carcass of the lion and ate and gave to his unknowing parents the honey he had collected from the remains of the dead lion. He thereby jeopardized his capacity to judge rightly, and learned the hard way what is sweeter than honey - to be a good Judge and be at one with the judgments of G-d because:

"The judgments of the Lord are Truth and righteous altogether...sweeter than honey and the honey in the combs" - Psalm 19:9[10], 10[11].

Furthermore, "there is nothing sweeter than to hold on to the commandments of the Lord" (Sirach 23:27), which is what Samson should have done.

"O Lord...how sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!" 4

 

"What is stronger than a lion?" - Judges 14:18.

The righteousness and godliness of a man of G-d. For it is written that "the righteous are bold as a lion" and "godliness is more powerful than anything" - Proverbs 28:1; Wisdom 10:12. The righteous one knows that if "the Lord is on my side, I will not fear, what can man do to me?" because "the Lord is my strength" - Psalms 118:6; 28:7. "The righteous also shall hold on to his way, and he who has clean hands shall be stronger and stronger" 5 - than any lion. 6

"You are righteous, O Lord, and
upright
7 are Your judgments!" 8

 

 

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References

 

1 Swarm. Samson knowing the uncleanness of partaking anything produced by a swarm of insects within a carcass [Leviticus 5:2; 11:23,27; 22:5; Deuteronomy 11:19], yet nevertheless being attracted by the abundant honey the bees had produced within the carcass of the dead lion, touched and ate what was in the carcass, and gave some to his parents to eat not telling them where he had taken the honey from. We can also see some humor in calling that particular swarm of bees a "congregation [edah in Judges 14:8]," not a "swarm [arob] of bees".

2 Strongest: "A lion is strongest [gibbor] among the beasts, and does not turn away from any (adversary)" - Proverbs 30:30. Therefore, "the lion has roared and who will not fear?" - Amos 3:8.

3 Nazarite. A Nazarite was a person separated from the rest, and who consecrated and dedicated himself to the service of G-d. He took a solemn vow to completely abstain from drinking wine or any other intoxicants and not to cut or shave the hair of his head, and also not to have any contact with the dead or touch any carcass - Numbers 6:1-21. This was "because the consecration of his G-d is upon his head, and all the days of his separation he is holy unto the Lord" - Numbers 6:7,8. Samson was to be a Nazarite all the days of his life for "the angel of the Lord" told the mother concerning Samson that "the child shall be a Nazarite to G-d from the womb to the day of his death" - Judges 13:3,7. Literally the word Nazarite derives from the Hebrew word nazir = "to vow," "to renounce," or "to abstain." Nazarites were looked upon as consecrated sons of G-d. As the Lord said through the prophet Amos to His people Israel: "I raised up of your sons for prophets, and of your young men for Nazarites [Nezirim]" - Amos 2:11. The Book of Lamentations, the poetic dirge on the fall of Jerusalem, the Temple and Judah in 586 BCE speaks concerning the Nazarites of the defeated kingdom of Judah that:

"Her Nazarites were purer [zakak] than snow, they were whiter than milk, they were more ruddy in body than rubies, and their appearance as of sapphire" - Lamentations 4:7.

4 Psalm 119:89,103.

5 Job 17:9.

6 Lion. Was Samson the only one among our ancestors who tore a lion apart? For as the brawny, tall, powerfully proportioned man that he was, Samson certainly had the physical strength to do so, with the help of G-d. However, we should remember that when King David was "but a youth" (1 Samuel 17:33), shepherding his father's flocks and the youngest and smallest among his brothers, David caught a lion "by his beard ("mane") and struck and slew him" (1 Samuel 17:35). He did one better than Samson because he also slew a bear which at the same time had attacked the flock of sheep - 1 Samuel 17:34-36. And David knew that it was not by his own prowess but by the aid of the Lord that he killed them both. Thus, he said to King Saul: "Thy servant slew both lion and bear and...the Lord who delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, He will deliver me [also] out of the hand of this Philistine [Goliath was a Philistine]" - 1 Samuel 17:36,37. King David never forgot what he said in his own Psalm 28:7: "The Lord is my strength." When it is said of the Lord that he "had sought a man after His own heart" (1 Samuel 13:14), whom Samuel was to anoint as king, the Lord had looked at the heart of David and caused him to be the one who was brought to Samuel. And the Lord said to the Seer: "Arise, anoint him for this is he" - 1 Samuel 16:7,12. "Then, Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers, and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward" - 1 Samuel 16:13. Did not the Lord refer to King David as "My servant David who kept My commandments, and who followed Me with all his heart, to do only what was right in My eyes"? - 1 Kings 14:8. The Lord was with David because David was there to the Lord to do His will in all things. It was the righteousness of David that made him "bold as lion" (Proverbs 28:1) before lions and bears, and before the giant Goliath whom he slew and decapitated. And it was the "godliness" of David who said: "O Lord...preserve my soul for I am godly [chasid]" - Psalm 86:1,2, that made him stronger than his adversaries, both man and beast, because:

"Godliness is more powerful than
anything" - Wisdom 10:12.

7 Upright judgments. We are told by the Holy Scriptures concerning the Lord that "righteousness and judgment are the foundation of Your throne" - Psalm 89:14[15]. For all His judgments are "righteous judgments" (Psalm 119:7, 62, 75, 106, 160, 164; Isaiah 58:2). But they are also "upright [yashar = "done rightly," "straight," "done in a right and orderly manner"] judgments", because "good and upright is the Lord" - Psalm 25:8. Therefore, "upright are Your judgments" - Psalm 119:137. In turn, when the righteous are called to judge, they long to be able to say: "I will judge uprightly" and "I have done judgment and righteousness," for "to do righteousness and judgment is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice" - Psalms 75:2[3]; 119:121; Proverbs 21:3. When the Psalmist said to the Lord: "I will praise You with uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned Your righteous judgments" (Psalm 119:7), it is because he knew along with King David that: "O Lord...Thy judgments are a great deep" (Psalm 36:6[7]), and they are unfathomable, unless the Lord reveals the depths of His judgments. And this He does because "the Lord is known by the judgment He executes" (Psalm 9:16[17]), and He is glorified by His righteous judgments for it is written that:

"The Lord of Hosts shall be exalted
in judgment,
And G-d who is holy shall be hallowed
in righteousness" - Isaiah 5:16.

Besides being righteous and upright, the judgments of the Lord are holy for the Lord has a hand in His judgments. But even when He executes judgment upon the wicked "G-d does not rejoice at the punishment of sinners." It is said that at the very time that the Egyptians were drowning in the Red Sea, G-d silenced the song of the angels saying to them: "The work of My hands is drowning in the sea, and ye wish to chant songs!" - Sanhedrin 39b; Megillah 10b, Babylonian Talmud. Thus, Lot and his wife were not to look back at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrhah, and His people had to shut their windows when the Angel of Death came for the firstborn of all the Egyptians. For although the judgments of G-d are inexorable, they concern only Him and those who are judged. We have no right to sit in judgment or rejoice in the downfall of those afflicted by His justice, lest we be judged ourselves.

We have heard that "Samson's stubborn disobedience was due to his eyes":

"For Samson saw a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines (forbidden to him as a Hebrew)...and Samson said to his father get her for me for she is pleasing to my eyes" - Judges 14:1,3 Literal Translation.

"Then Samson went to Gaza and saw there a harlot and went into her" - Judges 16:1.

"And...(after he saw her) he loved a woman in the valley of Sorek whose name was Delilah" - Judges 16:4.

For it is said that it was through his eyes that "he lusted after whoredom," and that as a result, because Samson went after the desire of his eyes - the Philistines put out his eyes - Midrash Numbers Rabbah 9.24; Sotah [Mishnah] I.8; Sotah 9b-10a, Babylonian Talmud; Judges 16:21.

What was so special about Samson being a Nazarite, is that it was the determined will of G-d for him to be one from the very time that he was in the womb of his mother. And because of his presence in her womb - for she was told by the angel that "the child shall be a Nazarite unto G-d from the womb" - she herself while in pregnancy was to "beware...not to drink wine or any strong drink nor eat any unclean thing" - Judges 13:5,4. Ironically, because it was also said that "Samson was filled with longing for something unclean" (re the honey in the carcass and cohabiting with Philistine women), it was from the unclean jawbone of an ass (which Samson was using as a weapon) that the Lord miraculously made a stream of water spring forth for Samson, when he was dying of thirst - Sotah 9b, BT; Judges 15:17-19.

When Samson saw and desired the Philistine damsel at Timnah, his cohabiting with her was condoned because he made arrangements to marry her and she became "Samson's wife" - Judges 14:1-4, 10-15. But later on, when strongman Samson entered a Philistine city called "Stronghold" [Gaza = "stronghold," "fortified," derived from the word az: "to be strong"], and "saw there a woman, a harlot, and went into her" (Judges 16:1), Samson's downward journey towards being deprived of his strength began. This was achieved by the wiles of a woman he loved, called Delilah ["the weakener," from the word dalal = "to languish," "to be exhausted"], who lived in the valley of Sorek. When she succeeded in prying from Samson the secret of his strength, she had the seven locks of his hair shaved off by the Philistines while he was asleep, Samson was thereby rendered powerless, and the Lord left him. The Philistines then bound him and cruelly put out his eyes, and brought him blind, and in chains to the prison house in Gaza. There, the former strong man who had once referred to his wife as his "heifer," now had to do the work of a bull or ox turning the large grindstone of a mill to crush grain, day after day. "But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved" - Judges 16:22.

Now, on the day the lords of the Philistines had a great feast in their Temple, to honor their god Dagon, they had Samson brought in from prison to make sport of him before the very large crowd of Philistines who had gathered there. The large building 'was full of men and women and all the lords of the Philistines were there and even upon the roof of the Temple there were about three thousand men and women, who had come to behold Samson being made sport of' - Judges 16:27. It was then that Samson used his judgment and asked the lad who was leading him around by the hand to "let me feel the pillars on which the house rests that I may lean against them." Then, Samson called to the Lord and said, "O Lord G-d, remember me I pray Thee and strengthen me, I pray Thee, only this once, O G-d, that I may be avenged upon the Philistines for one of my two eyes." And grasping the two middle pillars upon which the whole structure rested, he bowed his weight upon them, his right hand on one pillar and his left hand on the other. And Samson cried to the Lord, "Let me die with the Philistines." Then, he bowed with all his might and the whole Temple fell upon the lords and upon all the people that were inside. So the dead whom he slew as a Deliverer at his death were more than he slew in his life - Judges 16:23-30. Thus died Samson as Judge and Deliverer of his people. For by his knowledge of the crucial importance of those two pillars, he executed judgement on the Philistines by tumbling the whole structure of their temple upon them. And by the destruction of "all the lords [seren = "leaders," from the word for "axles": seren] of the Philistines who were there" (Judges 16:27), Samson left them leaderless and thereby delivered his people from their oppression. Thus, was the wisdom of the Lord's upright and righteous judgements made manifest, alongside His lovingkindness towards His servant Samson.

8 Psalm 119:137.

 

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