How well do you know about Samson’s riddle?
In this article, discover the following:
- 4 interesting facts about it
- Its 4 spiritual implications
But first, let’s get to know Samson and explore his story.
Samson’s Story in Brief
His birth and family background
In Judges 13, we meet Manoah and his wife.
His wife hasn’t borne children until an angel told her that she would conceive and bear a son (verses 2-3). And you’re right. This child was Samson (verse 24).
But raising Samson required some divine responsibilities and extra care, which we will discuss next.
The Nazarite vow
Vow? Yes, something like a pledge or an agreement for life.
Nazarite? Sometimes spelled as Nazirite, it was a name Hebrews used to call a devotee taking a holy vow 1.
So, what are the requirements and prohibitions of this vow?
“Drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean.” And “no razor shall come upon his head” (Judges 13:4-5, ESV).
Also, “eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, not even the seeds or the skins.” And he “shall not go near a dead body” (Numbers 6:4-6, ESV).
Sounds restrictive, huh? Why were these even necessary?
Well, as a Nazarite from birth, Samson was destined to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines, their enemies (Judges 13:5).
Married a Philistine girl
Have you ever fallen in love at first sight? How was your experience?
Samson experienced the same when he saw one of the daughters of the Philistines at Timnah (Judges 14:1).
He liked her so much that he wanted her to be his wife. His parents didn’t like her at first because she originated from uncircumcised Philistines. But eventually, everything ended up in marriage (verses 2-8).
To celebrate their marriage, Samson held a feast for her and her fellow Philistines (verse 10). But when they came, he game them a riddle to solve in one week (verse 12).
What was the riddle and its answer? Did the Philistines figure it out?
We’ll talk about the details of Samson’s riddle later. For now, let’s continue with the rest of the story.
Revenge against the Philistines
The Philistines finally figured out the answer to Samson’s riddle but through dishonest means. And even if they kept it a secret, Samson knew it.
What was this dishonest act? We’ll discuss it later.
Going on with the story, Samson got angry enough to take revenge against the Philistines. He burned some of their fields and olive orchards (Judges 15:5).
He tried to rescue his wife and her father but the Philistines burned them too (verses 6-7).
After striking some of them, Samson hid and stayed in Etam (verse 8).
Later, the surviving Philistines followed him and encamped in Judah. Wanting to see Samson, they asked the men of the town to hand him over to them (verses 9-13).
When Samson met the Philistines in Lehi, the Spirit of God rushed upon him and the ropes on his arms melted (verse 14).
Then, he found a fresh jawbone of a donkey and used it to strike a thousand of those men (verses 15-16).
With this, the place was named Ramath-lehi, which literally means “hill of the jawbone” (verse 17, ESV).
Almost put himself in danger
Imagine how Samson might have felt when he lost his first love. That must have been a tragic heartache.
Anyway, time passed.
Samson went to Gaza, where he met a prostitute and spent the night with her (Judges 16:1).
When the people knew he was there, they waited all night and planned to kill him in the morning (verse 2).
But Samson woke up at midnight. He grabbed the city gate doors and its two posts, pulled them out along with the bar, and brought them to a mountain facing Hebron (verse 3).
That was close! Good thing, he was able to escape his enemies’ plot.
Fell in love with Delilah and faced another threat
Samson went to the Valley of Sorek (Judges 16:4). There, he fell in love with another Philistine woman named Delilah.
The other Philistines saw this as an opportunity to trick him once more.
They convinced Delilah to find out about Samson’s source of strength by seducing him. If she did, she would be rewarded 1,100 silver coins (verse 5).
But Samson was wise enough not to reveal his secret right away.
In the first attempt, he lied to Delilah, saying he would lose his strength if he was bound with 7 fresh bowstrings that have not been dried (verse 7).
The Philistines did. But when Samson woke up, he was able to split the strings apart like a thread (verses 8-9).
In the second attempt, Samson told Delilah he would become weak if he was bound with new ropes that have never been used (verse 11).
But, as in the first attempt, he was able to split the ropes apart (verse 12).
In the third attempt, Samson told Delilah to let the Philistines weave 7 locks of his hair into the fabric of the loom and fasten it with a pin (verse 13).
Delilah was hoping he was telling the truth this time. But when he got up, he was able to break the fabric and the pin (verse 14).
How mischievous! Samson must have been enjoying these cunning pranks.
In the fourth attempt, Delilah threatened Samson, pleading, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me?” (Judges 16:15, ESV).
Samson finally gave up and told the truth that if his hair was cut, he would lose all his strength (verses 17-19).
As expected, he woke up fully shaven and couldn’t break free. Obviously, his enemies won. And unfortunately, God had left him (verse 20).
And did you know what’s worse? The Philistines took his eyes and brought him to Gaza to be chained and imprisoned (verse 21).
Can you imagine that?
The Philistine rulers gathered in the temple of Gaza to celebrate and offer a sacrifice to their god, Dagon (Judges 16:23-24).
Later, they called Samson from the prison and placed him between the two pillars of the temple (verse 25).
But wait, Samson was blind and weak. How could he destroy the temple?
Well, good thing, he had been in Gaza before so he was familiar with the structure of the temple 2.
Still, he was humble enough to seek and pray for God’s strength, saying, “Lord God, remember me, I pray! Please strengthen me just this once” (Judges 16:28, MEV).
And, with God’s help, he was able to destroy the entire temple and kill all people therein (verses 29-30).
Now, that’s something to celebrate, isn’t it? Samson has finally fulfilled God’s plan to avenge Israel from the Philistines (verse 5 of chapter 13).
But sadly, it also meant his death. The destruction of the temple didn’t exempt him, especially knowing that he himself asked for it: “Let me die with the Philistines!” (verse 30 of chapter 16, MEV).
What Was His Riddle?
“Out of the eater came something to eat. Out of the strong came something sweet” (Judges 14:14, ESV).
Sounds figurative, huh? What does it mean?
4 Facts You Shouldn’t Miss About Samson’s Riddle
1) It was given during a wedding at Timnah.
We learned from Samson’s story earlier about the first Philistine woman he fell in love with and married.
During their wedding feast, he gave the Philistines a riddle, which we’ve just discussed, to solve (Judges 14:10-12).
He promised them, “If you can tell me what it is, within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothes” (verse 12, ESV).
Otherwise, they would reward Samson with the same gifts (verse 13).
Now, come to think of it.
A mere riddle wouldn’t ruin the fun of the wedding. In fact, Samson gave it to entertain the Philistines 3.
But to make a serious deal out of it, don’t you think he had a secret motive?
Well, the truth is that Samson “seeks an occasion of quarreling with the Philistines, by joining in affinity with them—a strange method.”
And he made sure it was difficult enough to guess that even after 7 days, no one would figure it out. True enough, who could actually get it if it was taken from a situation only Samson experienced?
2) It had something to do with a lion, a swarm of bees, and honey.
Prior to their marriage, Samson went with his parents down to the vineyards of Timnah one day (Judges 14:5).
Later, while his parents remained on the road, Samson took a different route, “probably to eat grapes” 3.
Then, a young lion came roaring. It was “one of the fiercest sort…roaring for his prey and setting his eye particularly upon him.”
If you were Samson, knowing you were all alone, would you run away or fight?
Thankfully, the Spirit of God rushed upon him. Although he had nothing in defense, he was able to tear the lion in pieces (Judges 14:6).
Can you believe that?
After the incident, Samson went down and talked with the Philistine woman, determined to marry her (verse 7).
Coming back to the place some days later, he saw the dead body of the lion. Now, there was a swarm of bees and honey in it (verse 8).
And would you believe what he did? He scraped the honey out and ate it. He even shared some with his parents. But he didn’t tell them it came from the carcass of the lion.
Such a mischievous son!
3) The Philistines got the answer through a secret, dishonest act.
Three days after Samson gave them the riddle, the Philistines still couldn’t solve it (Judges 14:14).
In fact, Samson was confident that no one could solve it until the end of his 7-day probation.
But little did he know that the Philistines secretly made a deal with Samson’s wife: “Entice your husband to tell us what the riddle is, lest we burn you and your father’s house with fire” (verse 15, ESV).
If you were this woman, how could you not give in to this request if your family and home would be at stake?
As expected, she did as she was asked to.
She confronted Samson, “You only hate me; you do not love me. You have put a riddle to my people, and you have not told me what it is” (verse 16, ESV).
Such a good actress!
Well, she knew Samson could not stand it when his love was being questioned. She probably didn’t intend to do it but she thought it would be the only way to soften his heart enough to surrender.
Sadly, Samson refused to tell her the riddle. Yet, she cried and pressed him hard enough for him to reveal it on the seventh day. Then, she shared it with her people (verse 17).
What a betrayal!
Well, what could Samson expect? Just a week of feast could not guarantee the commitment and loyalty of a spouse.
And although she was his wife, her heart still belonged to the Philistines, her people, who unfortunately were Samson’s enemies.
4) It resulted in a fight against the Philistines.
On the seventh day, the Philistines came back to Samson with the answer to the riddle: “What is sweeter than honey? What is stronger than a lion?” (Judges 14:18, ESV).
Although he didn’t see it on act, Samson was sure it was her wife who told the Philistines the answer. He told them, “If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have found out my riddle.”
Because of this, Samson had no choice but to give them their promised reward of clothes.
But it was done with revenge as he got those clothes by killing 30 Philistine men in town (verse 19).
4 Spiritual Implications of the Riddle
Based on Samson’s encounter with the lion, we can say that the “eater” and the “strong” in the riddle referred to that ferocious animal. And the “sweet” was, of course, the honey that the bees produced.
And while nothing in the riddle seemed to mean the swarm of bees that created a hive inside the carcass, it is still an important component of the equation.
Let’s discuss what each character of the riddle means.
1) The “eater” (lion) symbolizes the devil.
In 1 Peter 5:8 (ESV), Satan is likened to a “roaring lion.”
It says, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
Like a lion, “our great adversary is constantly seeking to keep the troubled soul away from God” 4.
As such, we must “be vigilant, watching diligently lest some carefully concealed and masterly snare shall take you unawares. Let the careless and indifferent beware lest the day of the Lord come upon them as a thief in the night” 5.
With this, while lion is also used as a metaphor for Jesus as in Revelation 5:5-6, we can say that the lion Samson encountered in the vineyard and used in his riddle is a picture of the devil.
Similar to how the lion attacked him, the devil tempted him to fall in love with Philistine women, among other instances that led him to violate the Nazarite vow and sin against God.
2) The “bees” represent the Philistines.
In Deuteronomy 1:44 (ESV), we read, “the Amorites…came out against you and chased you as bees do and beat you down in Seir as far as Hormah.”
In Psalm 118:10-12 (ESV), David says, “All nations surrounded me; in the name of the Lord, I cut them off! They surrounded me like bees…”
Lastly, in Isaiah 7:18 (ESV), “the Lord will whistle for the fly that is at the end of the streams of Egypt and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria.”
Jumping to verse 20 (ESV), “the Lord will shave with a razor that is hired beyond the River—with the king of Assyria—the head and the hair of the feet, and it will sweep away the beard also.”
As you can see, the Amorites and the Assyrians were among the Israelites’ mortal enemies. And the bees were used as a metaphor for them.
As such, we can say that the bees in Samson’s riddle represent the Philistines, who happened to be Israel’s enemies, too. For this reason, God chose Samson to be their deliverer (Judges 13:5).
3) “Sweet” (honey) refers to Samson’s victory over evil.
Revelation 10 talks about an angel and a little scroll.
A voice from heaven spoke, “Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land” (verse 8, ESV).
The angel said, “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter but in your mouth, it will be sweet as honey” (verse 9, ESV).
The same is mentioned in Ezekiel 3.
“Son of man…eat this scroll and go speak to the house of Israel” (verse 1, ESV). “Feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” And it tasted “as sweet as honey” (verse 3, ESV).
These verses talk about the scroll, which refers to the Scriptures or the Word of God. And they both mention the phrase “sweet as honey.”
At first glance, honey seems to be a metaphor for the Scriptures. But analyzing the verses, it denotes a delightful experience one gets from reading them.
So, comparing this with honey that came out of the lion’s carcass where the bees hived in Samson’s experience, it implies that out of his disobedience to God, something good came out in the end.
That is, he was able to deliver Israel from the Philistines as God destined him to fulfill (Judges 13:5).
Indeed, God made it possible that His plan would still be accomplished despite Samson’s failures.
4) Samson’s triumph over the lion mirrors God’s victory over Satan.
With God’s help, Samson was able to kill the lion (Judges 14:6). In the same way, Jesus rose victorious over Satan when He died for our sins and was resurrected.
He “engaged the roaring lion and conquered him in the beginning of his public work…spoiled principalities and powers, triumphing over them in Himself.” And He was “exalted in His own strength” 3.
Therefore, Samson’s victory embodies that of Christ on the cross of Calvary.
And like Samson, through the power of God, we can also be victorious against the wiles of the devil in our lives.
We’re Now Giving You the Floor!
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- Bible Study Tools
- Siegfried Horn, The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, 1979, 974-75
- Ellen White, Matthew Henry’s Complete Bible Commentary, 226.6
- Ellen White, The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, volume 2, 1008.4
- Ellen White, Maranatha, 90.2