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Bible Commentaries
Judges 14

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-4

Samson’s decision to marry a Philistine 14:1-4

Timnah was only about four miles southwest of Zorah. The word "woman" in Judges 14:2 is in the emphatic position in the Hebrew text. Samson described her to his parents as the ideal woman from his viewpoint. Dating as we know it in the West was unknown in Samson’s culture. The parents of young people contacted each other and arranged for their children to meet and eventually to marry.

Samson’s godly parents’ response to his desire was undoubtedly a mixture of brokenhearted grief and anger. Instead of opposing the Philistines he now wanted to ally with them in marriage. His intention reveals disregard for his divine calling in life (Judges 13:5). The reference to this woman as an "uncircumcised Philistine" stresses the fact that she was an unbeliever in Yahweh. Circumcision was the rite that identified believers in God’s promises to Abraham (Genesis 17). It was inappropriate for Israel’s deliverer to marry someone who did not share a common faith and purpose with God’s people (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:14).

"Mixed marriages were uniformly disastrous early (Genesis 26:34-35) and late (Nehemiah 13:27) in Israel’s history. Moreover, the Philistines were the one nation near Israel that did not practice circumcision of any kind. In Egypt, Moab, and elsewhere, circumcision was often associated with reaching puberty or with premarital rites; but at least it was circumcision." [Note: Wolf, p. 466.]

Evidently the appeal of this woman was her external appearance only. Judges 14:2-3 paint Samson as an oversexed, very strong-willed child.

"It is true that the only marriages expressly prohibited in Ex. xxxiv. 16 and Deut. vii. 3, 4, are marriages with Canaanite women; but the reason assigned for this prohibition was equally applicable to marriages with daughters of the Philistines." [Note: Ibid., p. 409.]

Samson’s parents viewed his plan to marry the woman as unwise, but it was "of the Lord." This means that God permitted it, though it was not a marriage that He preferred. It did not violate the Mosaic Law, and it was a situation God would use to punish the Philistines (Judges 14:4; cf. Judges 14:19). This fact did not mitigate Samson’s guilt, but it shows how God providentially overrules human folly and brings His will to pass in spite of it (cf. Psalms 76:10; Romans 8:28).

"Judges 14:4 is not only shocking, but it is also the key to chaps. 14-15. Accordingly, although Yahweh is largely absent from the narrative, in one way or another his agenda is being achieved in Samson’s life. At the same time, while Yahweh’s agenda is being achieved, the course of Samson’s life is all downhill, a fact reflected by the fivefold repetition of the verb yarad, ’to go down’ (Judges 14:1; Judges 14:5; Judges 14:7; Judges 14:19; Judges 15:8)." [Note: Block, Judges . . ., p. 422.]

Verses 1-20

2. Samson’s intended marriage to the Timnite ch. 14

Chapter 13 describes Samson’s potential: his godly heritage, supernatural birth, calling in life, and divine enablement. The Israelites enjoyed each of these privileges, as does every Christian. Chapter 14 reveals Samson’s problem and God’s providence.

"Despite all these advantages and this special attention, Samson accomplishes less on behalf of his people than any of his predecessors. Perhaps herein lies his significance. . . . Though Samson is impressive as an individual, he turns out to be anything but a military hero. He never leads Israel out in battle; he never engages the Philistines in martial combat; he never experiences a military victory. All his accomplishments are personal; all his victories, private." [Note: Block, Judges . . ., p. 420.]

Verses 5-9

Samson’s disregard of God’s grace 14:5-9

The first recorded indication of Samson’s superhuman strength is his ability to tear the lion apart with his bare hands (Judges 14:6). A young lion tried to leap on Samson (Judges 14:5), but instead the Spirit of the Lord leaped upon him (Judges 14:6). The writer probably intended this incident to show Samson that God could empower him to dismember the Philistines. However, Samson did not abandon his plan to marry the Timnite but proceeded down to her home to continue his courtship. The phrase translated "looked good to Samson" (Judges 14:7) literally means "was right in the eyes of Samson." Likewise the phrase "looks good to me" (Judges 14:3) is literally "is right in my own eyes." Thus Samson was typical of the ordinary Israelite who also "did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 17:6; Judges 21:25).

Even though God strengthened him, Samson used that strength for his own purposes, not to fulfill God’s will. Note David’s very different reaction to God enabling him to kill a lion and a bear in 1 Samuel 17:34-37.

"Like bees in a carcass, Israel was to inhabit a country of idolaters, a country that became habitable for God’s community only through the death of God’s enemies." [Note: Martin Emmrich, "The Symbolism of the Lion and the Bees: Another Ironic Twist in the Samson Cycle," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 44:1 (March 2001):70.]

Bees normally do not inhabit cadavers; flies and maggots do. This unusual situation provided a temptation and a test of Samson’s character. When he scraped the honey out of the lion’s carcass with his hand (Judges 14:9), he broke part of his Nazirite vow. Nazirites were not to touch dead bodies (Numbers 6:6). He thought so little of his privileged position as separated to Yahweh that he forfeited some of that separate condition to satisfy his appetite (cf. Esau). Perhaps he did not tell his parents about the honey because he knew that he would have disappointed them for having broken his vow. By giving them some of the unclean honey without telling them that it was unclean, Samson callously led them into defilement. His parents had previously sanctified him, but now he desecrated them.

Verses 10-14

Samson’s further willful behavior 14:10-14

It was customary among the Philistines for a seven-day feast to precede the actual wedding ceremony (Judges 14:10). In Samson’s case the groom provided this feast, and it took place at the bride’s home. It is most probable that during this seven-day feast Samson drank wine. Drinking was a standard activity at this type of celebration, especially among the pagans. Since he had previously disregarded the Nazirite prohibition against touching a corpse, it is likely that he also broke the prohibition against drinking wine (Numbers 6:4). If this is true, Samson indulged his desire for drink as well as food (Judges 14:9) even though that affected his separated relationship with God adversely.

The bride’s family invited 30 guests to the feast (Judges 14:11). They were evidently proud of their prospective son-in-law. He fit into Philistine society quite comfortably. It was also common in ancient times for people to propound riddles as entertainment (Judges 14:12). [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, p. 411. For an evaluation of various interpretations of Samson’s riddle, see Philip Nel, "The Riddle of Samson (Judg 14,14.18)," Biblica 66:4 (1985):534-45.] The same Hebrew word, hidot, occurs in 1 Kings 10:1 where we read that the Queen of Sheba tested Solomon with "difficult questions." [Note: See Harry Torcszyner, "The Riddle in the Bible," Hebrew Union College Annual 1 (1924):125-49.]

The "linen wraps" (Judges 14:12) were "large rectangular pieces of fine linen that were worn next to the body by day or by night." [Note: Cundall and Morris, p. 166.] The Hebrew word translated "clothes" means festal garments, namely, garments for very special occasions that were quite expensive and very beautiful. We now discover that Samson not only lusted after women and food and drink, but clothing as well. Fancy clothes were items that connoted wealth and status in the ancient world (cf. Genesis 45:22; 2 Kings 5:22). If Samson owned 30 fine changes of clothing, he would have been wealthy indeed.

Verses 15-20

Samson’s losses 14:15-20

The writer called the Timnite "Samson’s wife" even though the engaged couple had not yet consummated their marriage (Judges 14:15).

"The usual length of a [wedding] celebration was seven days and the marriage was not consummated until the end of that period." [Note: Cundall and Morris, pp. 165-65.]

Samson’s loyalty to his parents above his "wife" is understandable since he had not yet consummated his marriage to her (Judges 14:16). Samson’s "wife" was afraid that her guests would kill her and her family because of Samson’s riddle. Ironically, Samson could have defended her and her family easily with his great strength. Evidently the Philistines thought she had some part in proposing the riddle and either knew the answer to it or could find out what the answer was.

Samson "could not withstand the corrosive influence of three or four days of weeping." [Note: Ibid., p. 166.]

He finally told her the answer, and she then passed it on to the Philistines in a misguided attempt to protect herself and her father’s household.

"In calling her a ’heifer’ he was ridiculing her for her untamed and stubborn spirit (cf. Jeremiah 50:11; Hosea 4:16)." [Note: Lindsey, p. 405.]

Perhaps to avoid recognition or to preclude having vengeance taken on him by the Philistines in Timnah, Samson trekked down to Ashkelon 23 miles southwest of Timnah. There he killed 30 Philistine men and took their clothes as booty. He gave these garments to the wedding guests and went back home to Zorah in disgust without claiming his bride, who had deceived him.

The writer said God’s Spirit motivated Samson to slaughter the 30 Philistines in Ashkelon (Judges 14:19). Samson was not just taking personal revenge for what his Timnite guests had done to him. He was perhaps unwittingly fulfilling his role as a judge in Israel by slaying the enemies of God’s people. This was an act of holy war, though Samson appears to have carried it out with carnal vengeance. He did God’s will but for the wrong reason. God had chosen Samson as His instrument to begin defeating the Philistines, and He would use him for that purpose even though Samson was a reluctant servant. Thus we see God’s providence overcoming the problem that Samson posed.

It was after Samson had paid his debt of 30 garments that the text says he became angry. The object of his wrath here was his "wife," not the Philistines. Samson did not intend to abandon his plan to marry the Timnite (Judges 15:1-2). He went back home to let his anger cool.

". . . instead of looking at the wrong by which Samson felt himself aggrieved, and trying to mitigate his wrath, the parents of the woman made the breach irreparable by giving their daughter as a wife to his companion." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, p. 413.]

Samson’s self-will ironically yielded no satisfaction for him. By disregarding his God-given privileges he lost his bet with the Philistines, his wardrobe, his wife, and his honor. Samson’s basic problem was that he did not submit to God’s authority over his life. This authority problem manifested itself first in his refusal to submit to his parents’ authority (Judges 14:3; cf. Judges 17:6; Judges 21:25). Samson did not exercise self-discipline. He let his passions control him (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:27). Self-discipline is essentially a matter of submission to God’s authority, not a matter of self-denial. Separation is essentially unto God, not just from things.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Judges 14". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/judges-14.html. 2012.
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