Have you heard of Samson’s riddle? Do you know what inspired it? What did it mean? What consequences did it bring?
Know them all in this article as we discover:
- 4 interesting facts about the riddle
- 4 spiritual implications from it
But first, let us get to know Samson and 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. And you’re right. This child was Samson (verses 2 and 3).
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 (Bible Study Tools).
So, what are the requirements and prohibitions?
“Drink no wine or strong drink and eat nothing unclean.” And “no razor shall come upon his head” (Judges 13:4-7, ESV).
Also, “eat nothing…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, right? But why were those 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 in Timnah (Judges 14:1).
He liked her so much that he wanted her to be his wife. Though his parents didn’t like her at first, knowing she came from uncircumcised Philistines, he eventually married her (verses 2-7).
To celebrate their marriage, Samson held a feast for her and her fellow Philistines (verse 10). But when they came, Samson 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 figured out the answer to Samson’s riddle. Unfortunately, they got it dishonestly. And even when they tried to keep it a secret, Samson already knew about it.
So, in anger, he burned some of their fields and olive orchards as revenge (Judges 15:5).
He tried to rescue his wife and her father but the Philistines burned them, too (verses 6 and 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. And they did (verses 9-13).
When Samson met the Philistines in Lehi, the Spirit of God rushed upon him and the ropes on his arms melted.
Then, he found a fresh jawbone of a donkey and used it to strike a thousand of those men (verses 14-16).
With this, the place was named Ramath-lehi, which literally means “hill of the jawbone” (verse 17).
Almost put himself in danger
Imagine Samson’s feeling when he lost his first love. That must have been a tragic heartache.
Anyway, time passed.
Samson went to Gaza. There, 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).
However, 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 near Hebron (verse 3).
That was close! Good thing, Samson escaped 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 Delilah, another Philistine woman.
The other Philistines saw this as an opportunity to trick him once more.
Specifically, they convinced Delilah to find out about Samson’s source of strength by seducing him. If she did, she would be rewarded eleven hundred silver coins (verse 5).
But Samson was wise enough not to reveal his secret.
During the first attempt, he lied to Delilah, saying he would lose his strength if he was bound with seven 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 (verse 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, Samson was able to split the ropes apart (verse 12).
In the third attempt, Samson told Delilah to let the Philistines weave seven locks of his hair into the fabric of the loom and fasten it with pin (verse 13).
Delilah determined to be smarter this time. But when Samson got up, he was able to break the fabric and the pin (verse 14).
In the fourth attempt, Delilah finally threatened Samson, pleading, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me?” (verse 16, ESV).
Samson finally gave up and told the truth that if his hair was cut, he would lose all his strength (verse 19).
And so, he woke up fully shaven and couldn’t break free.
As such, his enemies won and God had left him (verse 20).
What would you do if you were in Samson’s situation where you had no more escape?
And did you know what’s worse? The Philistines took his eyes and brought him to Gaza to be chained and imprisoned (verse 21).
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?
Fortunately, he had been in Gaza before so he was familiar with the structure of the temple (Siegfried Horn, The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary 1979, 974-75).
Still, he was humble enough to pray for God’s strength, saying, “Lord God, remember me, I pray! Please strengthen me just this once” (verse 28).
And, with God’s help, he was able to destroy the entire temple and killed the people, unfortunately including himself.
It took Samson to be blinded and imprisoned for him to see God’s purpose of choosing him as Israel’s judge who would deliver his people from their enemies.
Being in such a hopeless situation made him understand the sacredness of the Nazarite vow. As a result, he humbly acknowledged that without God, he had no power.
And although Samson’s situation was hopeless, God used it to accomplish His purpose.
What Was the Riddle?
The riddle went like this: “Out of the eater came something to eat. Out of the strong came something sweet” (Judges 14:14, ESV).
Sounds figurative, isn’t it? What do you think it means?
4 Facts You Shouldn’t Miss About Samson’s Riddle
1) It was given during a wedding at Timnah.
You’ve learned from Samson’s story earlier about the first Philistine woman he fell in love with and married.
During the feast, he gave the Philistines a riddle to solve (Judges 14:10-12).
He promised them, “If you can tell me what it is, within the seven days of the feast, then I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothes” (verse 12, ESV).
Otherwise, they would reward Samson 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 (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible XIV).
But to make a serious deal out of it, don’t you think Samson had a secret motive?
Well, the truth is that “Samson, under the extraordinary guidance of Providence, seeks an occasion of quarreling with the Philistines, by joining in affinity with them—a strange method,” Matthew Henry added in his commentary mentioned previously.
And he made sure it was difficult enough to guess that even after seven 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 the 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” (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible XIV).
Then, a young lion came roaring. It was “one of the fiercest sort…roaring for his prey and setting his eye particularly upon him,” Matthew Henry added.
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, wasn’t he?
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 seven-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 agree with the plan if you were worried about your family and home?
So, the woman 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 it must have been the only way she thought could soften his heart enough to surrender.
But 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 (verses 17 and 18).
What a betrayal!
Well, what could Samson expect? Just a weak 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 thirty Philistine men in town (verses 19).
4 Spiritual Implications of the Riddle
Based on his encounter with the lion, we can say that the “eater” and the “strong” in Samson’s 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.
There’s an instance in the New Testament where Satan is likened to a “roaring” lion.
That is in 1 Peter 5:8 (ESV), which 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” (Ellen White, SDA Bible Commentary volume 2).
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,” Ellen White wrote in Maranatha 90.2.
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…surrounded me on every side; 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 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) The “sweet” (honey) refers to Samson’s victory out of 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,” Ezekiel described in 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.”
On first glance, honey seems to be a metaphor for the Scriptures. But, analyzing the verses, it denotes a delightful experience one gets from reading the Scriptures.
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 Samson’s disobedience from God, something good came out in the end.
That is, he was able to deliver Israel from the Philistines as God destined him to accomplish (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 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” (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible XIV).
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.
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