In this chapter the history of Samson begins. This history is divided into two parts. Both parts are concluded with the remark that he has judged Israel twenty years (Jdg 15:20; 16:31). In its history, we learn that God’s aim, which is put forward in Judges 13, and practice, are two different things. We also see, in a living illustration, how close strength and weakness are to each other. It is not about having a life without difficulties, but about having the strength to overcome them.
No one is without struggle. Someone can be strengthened by struggle, but also suffer defeat. This struggle can be caused by conflicts with parents, brothers or sisters, fellow believers. Fighting can also be the result of inner conflicts as a result of failure. The question is how we respond to it. We will never find complete ideal living and working conditions. We can think that if things were different around us, we could prove what we are worth. With Samson we see how he becomes powerless again and again because he is not able to say ‘no’ to the temptations around him. Sometimes he also seeks for these temptations himself. That is where even its history begins with.
1 - 2 First Contact of Samson with the Enemy
1 Then Samson went down to Timnah and saw a woman in Timnah, [one] of the daughters of the Philistines. 2 So he came back and told his father and mother, “I saw a woman in Timnah, [one] of the daughters of the Philistines; now therefore, get her for me as a wife.”
The first step someone takes on the way in the service of God is characteristic of the continuation. If it is a wrong step, the bad consequences will not be failing, especially if someone continues on that wrong path. The first step is the way to all the other steps. That is why it must be set in the right direction. Jonah is a telling example of this. God instructs him to go to Nineveh to preach there, but he is going in exactly the opposite direction. The result is that he gets into great difficulties and brings those difficulties over others as well (Jn 1:1-15). You never go the way away from God alone. You always take others with you. We see that here too, with Samson. He draws his parents along on his willful, wrong way.
Samson’s first step may apparently in the right direction. It would have been a good step if he had gone to Timna to drive out the Philistines from there. However, his actions make clear that he did not go to Timna to fulfill a command from God, but that he is driven by his own desires. There he actually falls in love with someone who belongs to the enemies of God. He is getting it done to connect himself with the enemies of God’s people.
From this we can learn how attractive something or someone can be of which or of whom God’s Word clearly says that we should not connect with it. We are no better than Samson. The Philistines, as has already been said, represent a system of so-called Christian thinking that can be understood by the natural, not born again human being. These are ideas that generate many followers in Christianity. They caress the flesh, it is pleasant to listen to or watch.
A simple example can be seen in the beautiful buildings that have been built and that are called the ‘house of God’, in which beautiful music, which enhances the service, must please the audience. All this can make a big impression and seem attractive, it can increase the prestige of the religion. What the Philistines represent is to apply to everything people have thought up to beautify the serving of God.
Such, purely human, inventions have the effect of making the Christian faith so attractive that even not born again people want such a belief. At least they can feel comfortable with that. Those who fall in love for such things, fall into the snare in which Samson has fallen. This is a spiritual lesson we can learn from this.
There is also a practical lesson to learn. If a young man wants to serve the Lord, it is important that he does not make any connections that will hinder him in that service. Therefore every step has to be done in prayer for guidance. This applies especially to the choice of the wife with whom he wants to serve the Lord. She must belong to God’s people and have the same faith and obedience. She must also have the same mind.
Samson’s connection to the enemy makes it impossible for him to testify against it. Women play a fatal role in his life. He has had three. They represent the devil’s snares. The devil knows exactly where the most powerful believer is weak, because everyone has a weak spot. Therefore, a powerful believer must also be constantly aware of this weakness. Only then he really is strong (2Cor 12:10).
Timna means ‘allocated part’. Samson leaves his own inheritance to seek one with the Philistines.
3 The Parents of Samson
3 Then his father and his mother said to him, “Is there no woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, for she looks good to me.”
Samson drags his father and mother along on his way of disobedience. They are emphatically involved in this history. They themselves are responsible for their compliance, for they have received personal instructions from the LORD. They should have said ‘no’. They protest, but still go along.
Unfortunately, this is often the attitude of parents whose children go away a willful way. The devil knows that if he can lead the children on the wrong way, there is a good chance that the parents will follow. When Moses had to deal with one of the same stratagems, he saw through the stratagems. He did not accept Pharaoh’s proposal that the parents should go, as long as the children would stay in Egypt (Exo 10:8-11). He knew that if the children didn’t leave Egypt, the parents would want to return to Egypt once they were in the wilderness.
It is not the case that Samson’s parents follow him without blow or bump. They raise their objections. In veiled terms they refer to the precept of God in Deuteronomy 7 (Deu 7:3). It says that an Israelite may not marry any of the peoples still dwelling in the land.
Despite the objections of his parents, Samson sticks to his intention. In his answer, following his own desires emerges. His statement, “she looks good to me”, is not a language for a Nazirite who has renounced his own pleasure. Self-denial should be characteristic of one who is separated by and for the Lord. He does not ask whether she looks good to the LORD.
4 It Is of the LORD
4 However, his father and mother did not know that it was of the LORD, for He was seeking an occasion against the Philistines. Now at that time the Philistines were ruling over Israel.
This verse seems to contain a contradiction. How can God work something wrong? But we have to read well. It does not say that God works wrong. He does not cause sin. What He does do, however, is to use Samson’s wrong deed for His purpose. Thus God stands above all our follies; He can use them for His purpose.
That God can use our follies for His purpose, may and can never be an excuse for committing them, for He is not the processor of our follies. We read an example of this in Peter’s address in Jerusalem on Pentecost. He says to the people: “This [Man], delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put [Him] to death” (Acts 2:23).
Here we see on the one hand the counsel and foreknowledge of God and on the other hand the evil actions of man. The wonderful thing is that man’s evil actions, what he did with the Lord Jesus, fit into God’s plans. God has used the crime that man has committed against the Lord Jesus to carry out His plans.
It does not acquit man. He is guilty of the death of the Lord Jesus. God’s use of this makes Him great. He uses man’s guilty actions to glorify Himself thereby. All this shows how far God is elevated above what we, men, do.
Something like this we find in what God says about the division of Israel into two and ten tribes, which is the result of the unfaithfulness of Solomon and Rehoboam. Of that He says: “For this thing is from Me” (2Chr 11:4). Does that mean that God has worked this split? Not at all! God is not the processor of evil. It only means that God uses man’s unfaithfulness to fulfil His counsel. Once again: this is not acquitting man, he receives the fruit of his deeds. It shows that God is above the deeds of man, He is not embarrassed by them, but knows how to use them to complete His purpose.
Another example, is from the practice of life. It is very much in line with what is being said here about Samson and could clarify a few things. If a believing man enters into a relationship with an unbelieving woman or a believing woman with an unbelieving man, it is a relationship that the Bible clearly forbids: “Do not be bound together with unbelievers” (2Cor 6:14). The fact that God is able to use this relationship to save the unbeliever is totally independent of the believer’s actions. The salvation of the unbeliever is exclusively pure grace from God. It is in no way a merit of the believer. He must confess his sin, otherwise there will be no lasting happiness for the earth from that relationship.
5 - 7 Samson Kills a Lion
5 Then Samson went down to Timnah with his father and mother, and came as far as the vineyards of Timnah; and behold, a young lion [came] roaring toward him. 6 The Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily, so that he tore him as one tears a young goat though he had nothing in his hand; but he did not tell his father or mother what he had done. 7 So he went down and talked to the woman; and she looked good to Samson.
Samson’s parents follow him on his wrong way. Let us imagine that he, the Nazirite, of whom God has said that “he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines” (Jdg 13:5), will marry a Philistine woman! On his way to Timnah, close to the vineyards, a lion comes toward him. It seems that he took a different road than his parents, because later they don’t know what happened, see also verse 9. From this we can learn some lessons.
Take a look at the vineyards. This is an extremely dangerous environment for a Nazirite, who is not allowed to eat anything from the vine (Num 6:3). Samson looks for the danger. He walks on the border. Anyone who wants to be a true Nazirite will stay as far away from dangerous places as possible.
Samson does what also can happen in the lives of young Christians. They go out of curiosity to places that they know are better not to go. The pub, the cinema, the funfair, the red light district of the big city, these are all areas where a Christian should not be without the command of God.
If we choose to take such a ‘side road’ ourselves, there is a good chance that a ‘lion’ will come to us. The lion is here a picture of the devil. “Be of sober [spirit], be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1Pet 5:8). When we leave the path of obedience, the devil comes towards us. In 1 Kings 13 there is also mention of someone who meets a lion on his way (1Kgs 13:23-24). The lion is used by God to kill the man of God from Judah, who has deviated from the way God has appointed for him.
This is not the case with Samson, as fortunately it is not always the case with young believers, when they look for wrong places out of curiosity. When the brutal violence or the sucking power of seduction suddenly penetrates them, they run away quickly. Running away from a wrong place where someone has ended up through one’s own fault is a defeat that must be confessed. Such a one leaves no witness for the Lord in that place.
Samson uses his strength to free himself and not to defeat the enemy. Characteristic of Samson is his great strength. God has given him that enormous physical strength to overcome the Philistines. For us this means that we need strength to overcome what the Philistines represent. God has also given us this power: “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline” (2Tim 1:7). By being dependent on the power of the Holy Spirit, we will be able to overcome the things that people have come up with to make the Christian faith attractive. That is to say, we will recognize and reject such things.
But the power of the Spirit is not experienced when we let our flesh work. We then easily fall under the spell of what in faith makes the experience of man central and not what God says about it. In their eyes, the experience of faith must be a cheerful one. The fact that the Spirit came upon Samson mightily proves that God is above Samson’s self-will. Without the power of the Spirit Samson would have been lost, for he was not in the way of obedience. Sometimes, where the flesh reveals itself, God can still, through His Spirit, do something above that which is to protect His own, even though they behave fleshly.
Samson has overcome the roaring lion in the power of the Spirit. However, he does not realize this, because he follows his own path. That is why he falls for the seduction of a woman. The daughters of the Philistines represent principles that make religion pleasant, attractive to the flesh. All kinds of regulations are created to make serving God ‘tastier’, such as music, impressive speakers, flags, dances, external frills. People must be lured by what appeals to them. All these things are not a help for the Nazirite, but an obstacle.
8 - 9 Honey from the Dead Lion
8 When he returned later to take her, he turned aside to look at the carcass of the lion; and behold, a swarm of bees and honey were in the body of the lion. 9 So he scraped the honey into his hands and went on, eating as he went. When he came to his father and mother, he gave [some] to them and they ate [it]; but he did not tell them that he had scraped the honey out of the body of the lion.
When Samson sets off to marry the Philistine woman, he visits the place where he killed the lion. There he sees a swarm of bees that has made honey in the lion’s body. Death gives rise to an abundant and ordered activity, which is represented in that swarm of bees. The product of bees, the result of their activity, is honey. Together with the milk, honey is the blessing of the land. Israel is a land flowing with milk and honey (Exo 3:8).
Here we see in picture that life arises from death. This picture speaks, despite that it is connected with a deviated Samson, of the death of Christ “who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light” (2Tim 1:10). The believer derives everything from the death of Christ.
Honey is the product of diligently cooperating bees in the body of a dead lion. Honey represents the sweet, the lovable in creation, something God has given in the natural relationships between people. One of the characteristics of the “last days” (2Tim 3:1) is that people are “unloving”, which is ‘without natural love’ (2Tim 3:3).
To enjoy the sweetness of mutual love in marriage and family, that love must be based on the death of Christ. If that is the starting point of our lives, we will work together in preparing honey. This requires an active cooperation, nourished by love. There is no ‘Philistine’ who knows this. In the days that 2 Timothy 3 describes, having an active spiritual life is necessary, and the power of God comes to our aid.
Samson takes the honey in his hands and eats it. The hand that killed the lion is also the hand that holds the blessing. Every victory a believer gains over the devil in his life, for example by resisting a certain temptation, gives him food. After all, it is through God’s power that he gained this victory, didn’t he? That awareness makes grateful and prevents self-esteem.
However, it is a pity that Samson doesn’t tell his parents anything about his experiences. It is a good thing to share as a young person with your parents the experiences you have with the Lord. If parents do not know the Lord, it is difficult, but it is not impossible. The Lord wants to give wisdom for that. There are also parents who know the Lord, but show little interest. In that case, your experience may be an incentive for them to become more involved with the Lord and His Word. Then you can experience the opposite of what we saw earlier with Samson, that he dragged his parents along on the wrong road.
It’s an assumption, but it may be that Samson didn’t want to tell his parents because deep in his heart he knew that he was implementing a wrong plan. His physical strength was great, but he did not have enough spiritual strength to free himself from this snare. We can draw this conclusion from what we read from him.
10 - 11 The Feast Starts
10 Then his father went down to the woman; and Samson made a feast there, for the young men customarily did this. 11 When they saw him, they brought thirty companions to be with him.
Once the way down is taken, it goes from bad to worse. Samson, in the words of Psalm 1, puts himself here “in the seat of scoffers” (Psa 1:1). This is partly due to the powerless performance of his father. He did make a protest, but he adapted himself further to the wishes of his son. A strong protest without a consistent attitude is unsuccessful. A proverb in Proverbs 29 warns against such an attitude: “A slave will not be instructed by words [alone]; For though he understands, there will be no response” (Pro 29:19).
Samson is already so far under Philistine influence, that he organizes a feast according to the customs that are common among Philistine youth. It is a feast in which the world can participate. It is held in accordance with the insights and standards of a new generation. For young believers there is always the danger of celebrating in a way that is customary in the world. The expression ‘they all do it like this’ is often heard among young people.
In this way, the masses are followed in fashion, in celebrating and even in holding the meetings of the church. What the Word of God has to say about all these things is hardly asked anymore. Anyone who wants to place these things in the light of the Bible will be confronted with remarks such as ‘outdated’ or ‘not of this time’.
Samson also doesn’t wonder how God wants him to proceed. He can’t do that either, because he is working on the wrong case. We cannot expect anything else now but to be given the wrong means. But not only that. He has come to marry one woman, but he gets thirty companions added.
This means that if you reach a compromise on one point, you will adopt that attitude on many more points. Whoever allows one Philistine principle, takes over more and more. More and more useful arguments are arising. Such reasoning then becomes ‘spiritual friends’.
12 - 14 The Riddle
12 Then Samson said to them, “Let me now propound a riddle to you; if you will indeed tell it to me within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty linen wraps and thirty changes of clothes.
13 But if you are unable to tell me, then you shall give me thirty linen wraps and thirty changes of clothes.” And they said to him, “Propound your riddle, that we may hear it.”
14 So he said to them,
“Out of the eater came something to eat,
And out of the strong came something sweet.”
But they could not tell the riddle in three days.
Then Samson uses an experience he gained through the Spirit of God to amuse the Philistines. Philistines are people who can never solve such a riddle themselves. They cannot possibly understand that life can come from death. They may be able to give the right answers. However, this can only be done by borrowing or stealing the answers from others, but that is also acting ‘like a Philistine’.
We must be able to solve the riddle. Whoever solves the riddle will get different clothes. That is the reward that is promised. Changing clothes is a picture of changing lifestyle habits. Clothes we can see; they belong to the part of man that is visible. The saying ‘clothes make the man’ is well known.
We can look at the riddle from the side of God. Then it means that our lives will change as we gain a real understanding of the fact that the death of the Lord Jesus has emerged for our lives. This will affect our attitude and behavior, everything that people see of us. We will show a new style of life.
Solving the riddle must be the result of inner, spiritual exercise. When we have come this far, we learn to see that nothing has any value if we have not received it through the death of Christ. The result of this is visible in the way we interact with each other within the family or the local church: in love from which food and sweetness originate.
However, if we look at riddle from Samson’s side, we see that he represents someone who communicates a ‘spiritual’ experience as a kind of entertainment to the religious world. If the riddle is not guessed, Samson is given thirty linen wraps and thirty changes of clothes. From whom? From the Philistines. It will not bring him profit, but loss.
Someone who is advertising with his experiences runs the risk of taking over the habits and behavior of the Christian world. Even if the riddle is solved in a Philistine way, the result is not that the one who solves the riddle changes by it. We see what happens with Samson. What he finally did was to provide the Philistines with a number of extra Philistine clothes (verse 19). The changing is not a substantial change.
But now to the meaning of the riddle. What does it represent? The devil is the eater, the lion. A conquered lion provides ‘food’, spiritual food. On the cross the lion is defeated. The Lord Jesus destroyed on the cross by death “him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb 2:14). As a result, the treasures of God have opened and we can feed ourselves with all the spiritual delicacies that result from the victory of the Lord Jesus. Applied to our own experience a victory over the devil gives strength and refreshment.
15 - 18 How the Riddle Is Solved
15 Then it came about on the fourth day that they said to Samson’s wife, “Entice your husband, so that he will tell us the riddle, or we will burn you and your father’s house with fire. Have you invited us to impoverish us? Is this not [so]?”
16 Samson’s wife wept before him and said, “You only hate me, and you do not love me; you have propounded a riddle to the sons of my people, and have not told [it] to me.” And he said to her, “Behold, I have not told [it] to my father or mother; so should I tell you?”
17 However she wept before him seven days while their feast lasted. And on the seventh day he told her because she pressed him so hard. She then told the riddle to the sons of her people.
18 So the men of the city said to him on the seventh day before the sun went down,
“What is sweeter than honey?
And what is stronger than a lion?”
And he said to them,
“If you had not plowed with my heifer,
You would not have found out my riddle.”
The way in which the Philistines work to find the solution to the riddle shows their merciless character. They threaten Samson’s wife with burning if she doesn’t take the solution from him and pass it on to them. The woman shows that, despite a connection with Samson, she has remained essentially a Philistine woman. Her contact with him did not affect her heart. She still feels one with the Philistines and speaks in verse 16 of “the sons of my people”.
She blackmails him with one of the strongest weapons a woman has: her emotions. The strong Samson is not resistant to this. He becomes a poor, weak Samson who cannot keep secrets. This will happen again later and then it will be fatal to him. From both cases we can learn that something that we allow as an illicit ‘partner’ – in the sense of illicit ideas, behaviors, connections – in our lives, becomes the traitor of our secret.
Betrayal stands for hooking up with the enemy. The betrayal consists in the application in this, that we know the meaning of the riddle as a believer, but that we treat it the way the enemies treat it. So it does not bring about any real change in our lives.
Samson did not have much joy at the whole feast. There’s nothing festive about your wife trying with tears to fidget a secret you want to keep to yourself. The whole relationship makes it clear that they both live for themselves. Yet the most affected person in this story is the woman. She did not look up Samson, he wanted her. Through his performance he makes sure that the feast is not an undivided pleasure for her either.
That’s still the practice today. When a believer and an unbeliever marry, the victim is the unbeliever. The unbeliever thinks to marry someone with whom he/she can have fun in life. Such a person does not marry a Christian but a wife/husband. Soon it turns out that the believer, if he still attaches any value to the faith, does not want to go to all kinds of occasions or friends where the unbeliever wants to go to. Of course, this was discussed in the time before the marriage, but the reality only really presents itself when one is married a bit longer.
19 - 20 The Reward
19 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily, and he went down to Ashkelon and killed thirty of them and took their spoil and gave the changes [of clothes] to those who told the riddle. And his anger burned, and he went up to his father’s house. 20 But Samson’s wife was [given] to his companion who had been his friend.
Samson is the loser. He first loses the challenge related to the riddle. He has to keep the agreement and has to give thirty pieces of clothing. For that he goes to Askelon, one of the five Philistine cities. There he kills thirty men and gives their clothes to those who have given the solution of the riddle. The admission is that ‘the riddle’ of the cross of the Lord Jesus can be ‘answered’ by unbelief, but that this does not really change lives inward. The clothing remains Philistine.
It is remarkable that here we read again that the Spirit of the LORD comes upon Samson mightily, while he is still busy fulfilling an agreement he should never have made. Possibly this has to do with the fact that here he is fighting the enemies of God’s people and is therefore busy with the execution of his actual task.
He also loses his wife. She is given to another. His father-in-law has no idea if Samson will ever come back. The man, when he gave his daughter to another person, did not suspect what the consequences would be for him and his daughter.