Judges 14

Judges 14,
Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The young man Samson prefers a Philistine woman to an Israelite bride.  I think the importance in the final edit of Judges in the Second Temple is one of assimilation risks.  If our sons just marry whoever is ‘right in my eyes’, there goes the nation!  

The editors justify the romance as instigated by God to pick a fight with the Philistine oppressors, by revealing the conflict between loyalty to blood and to in-laws.

We toy with the fable and the riddle of the hero killing the lion with his bare hands, or harvesting honey from the carcass.  It is, in the text’s terms, a violation of the nazirite vow not to have contact with traif dead and unclean things.  Worse, Samson indulges a drink-fest, another breach of the vows – and in more familiar terms, an inducement to error, as his wife ‘seduces’ him to reveal the riddle.

Samson’s anger seems strange to us, inviting differences of valuation among hearers.  Is he a hero, let alone a judge, or just another brute animal who thinks with the wrong head?  Is the slaughter of 30 men of Ashkelon justified by the deceit of his inlaws?

Who gives Samson’s wife to one of his drinking buddies?  His father-in-law?  What kind of misogyny is this?  It will only get worse tomorrow, and I can only suggest that we don’t ‘lionize’ Samson! 

Once Samson went down to Timnah, 
and at Timnah he saw a Philistine woman.
 2Then he came up, 
and told his father and mother,
 ‘I saw a Philistine woman at Timnah;
 now get her for me as my wife.’
 3But his father and mother said to him,
 ‘Is there not a woman among your kin,
 or among all our people,
 that you must go to take a wife
from the uncircumcised Philistines?’
 But Samson said to his father,
 ‘Get her for me,
 because she pleases me.’
 4His father and mother did not know
 that this was from the Lord;
 for he was seeking a pretext
 to act against the Philistines. 
At that time
the Philistines had dominion over Israel.
5 Then Samson went down
with his father and mother
 to Timnah. 
When he came to the vineyards of Timnah, 
suddenly a young lion roared at him.
 6The spirit of the Lord rushed on him,
 and he tore the lion apart with his bare hands
as one might tear apart a kid. 
But he did not tell
his father or his mother
 what he had done.
 7Then he went down
 and talked with the woman,
and she pleased Samson.
 8After a while
 he returned to marry her, 
and he turned aside to
see the carcass of the lion,
 and there was a swarm of bees
 in the body of the lion, 
and honey.
 9He scraped it out
 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 taken the honey
from the carcass of the lion.
10 His father went down to the woman,
 and Samson made a feast there
as the young men were accustomed to do.
 11When the people saw him,
 they brought thirty companions
 to be with him.
 12Samson said to them,
 ‘Let me now put a riddle to you. 
If you can explain it to me
within the seven days of the feast,
 and find it out, 
then I will give you
thirty linen garments
 and thirty festal garments.
 13But if you cannot explain it to me,
 then you shall give me
 thirty linen garments
 and thirty festal garments.’ 
So they said to him,
 ‘Ask your riddle;
 let us hear it.’ 
14He said to them,
‘Out of the eater
came something to eat.
Out of the strong
came something sweet.’

But for three days
they could not explain the riddle.
15 On the fourth day
 they said to Samson’s wife,
 ‘Coax your husband
 to explain the riddle to us,
 or we will burn you
and your father’s house
with fire.
 Have you invited us here
 to impoverish us?’
 16So Samson’s wife wept before him,
 ‘You hate me;
 you do not really love me.
You have asked a riddle of my people, 
but you have not explained it to me.’
 He said to her,
 I have not told my father or my mother.
 Why should I tell you?’
 17She wept before him
 for the seven days
that their feast lasted; 
and because she nagged him, 
on the seventh day he told her.
 Then she explained the riddle to her people. 
18The men of the town said to him
 on the seventh day
before the sun went down,
‘What is sweeter than honey?
What is stronger than a lion?’

And he said to them,
‘If you had not ploughed with my heifer,
you would not have found out my riddle.’
19Then the spirit of the Lord rushed on him, 
and he went down to Ashkelon.
 He killed thirty men of the town,
 took their spoil, 
and gave the festal garments
 to those who had explained the riddle. 
In hot anger he went back to his father’s house.
 20And Samson’s wife was given to his companion, 
who had been his best man.