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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Judges 14



Verse 1

1. Went down to Timnath — About five miles southwest from Zorah, and identical with the modern Tibneh. To reach it from Zorah one has to “descend through wild rocky gorges, just where one would expect to find a lion in those days, when wild beasts were far more common than at present.” — Thomson.

Verses 1-20


“Samson keeps his vow of abstinence from intoxication,” says Ewald, “but is all the weaker and wilder with regard to the love of women, as if he could here make up for the want of freedom elsewhere; and by a singular sport of chance, or, rather, by the secret revenge of a heart warped by the vow, his love is always excited by women of that very race which the vow urges him to combat with all the might of his arm, and on whose men the weight of his own strength always falls at the right time.”

Verse 2

2. Get her for me to wife — Proposals for marriage were made by parents at the request of their sons, (Genesis 34:4; Genesis 34:8,) and hence must Samson’s parents go down with him to Timnath.

Verse 3

3. Daughters of thy brethren — That is, women of the tribe of the Danites.

All my people — All Israel, in distinction from the tribe of Dan.

A wife of the uncircumcised — The law forbade marriages with Canaanitish women, (Exodus 34:16; Deuteronomy 7:3,) and therefore the opposition of Samson’s parents to his marriage was well founded. The Philistines are not usually classified with the Canaanitish tribes, but in respect to Israel and the law they were aliens and idolaters. Compare Joshua 13:3.

She pleaseth me well — Literally, She is righteous in my eyes. Samson saw in her no evil, no wrong.

Verse 4

4. It was of the Lord — Our historian is writing SACRED history, and he marks everywhere the working of Divine Providence. Samson was raised up of God to begin to deliver Israel, and therefore every event of his life that was associated with that work was providentially ordered.

That he sought an occasion — Not that Samson had a foreknowledge of what would be the outcome of this marriage, and purposely sought this woman to wife that he might find some opportunity of working mischief and ruin among the Philistines; but that the Lord overruled all these events for the purpose of weakening the Philistines’ power. Samson evidently had some suspicion or impression that the marriage would lead to great results. He at least recognised, as his parents did not, the hand of God in the matter, and he felt assured that his love for the woman, and her righteousness in his eyes, were providential indications that in marrying her he was boldly entering on the great mission of his life. But how the matter would terminate neither he nor his parents then knew.

Against the Philistines — Rather, From the Philistines. The provoking and responsible occasion for Samson to injure the Philistines was to be on their side, not on his.

For at that time — This sentence is added as the general reason why the Lord was providentially preparing the way to weaken and overthrow the Philistine dominion over Israel.

{The theory of the Old Testament language in regard to God’s providence seems to be this: Whatever act of man, however free or wicked, contributes to the higher scheme of Jehovah’s purpose, and so, though divinely disapproved, is divinely recognised, and wrought into the series of events, is roughly said to be of the Lord, and his act and doing. The old Hebraic age had not yet attempted to draw the metaphysical line between God’s will and God’s non-prevention of those sins which are necessarily to be admitted into that system of free-agency from which the highest good shall accrue. Those sins, therefore, which are seen by the inspired writer to adjust into the high scheme of God, and to bring out his intended results, are, in lump, attributed to him. They are not his by approval, by decree, by direct production, nor by fore-ordination; but are only indiscriminately said to be his, because, foreseen by him, they are simply non-prevented, and woven into his complex plan for bringing out the highest good. This is not rightly called a Hebraism in the sense of a Hebrew idiom; but it is a Hebraism in the sense of being a Hebrew style of thought and expression. The Hebrew knew, indeed, that Jehovah was absolutely holy, and men’s sins were wicked, but had never fully adjusted the relation between the two. A later age, when moral thought becomes more defined, raises the question of God’s exact collision with sin, and draws the discriminating line. See notes on Matthew 11:25; Acts 2:23; Acts 4:28; and introductory note to Romans 9.}

Verse 5

5. Then went Samson down, and his father and his mother — He overcame their scruples, and they accordingly accompanied him to Timnath to consummate the betrothal. The laws and customs of the age required the parents of the bridegroom to be parties in negotiating the marriage of a son, and for this purpose must Samson’s parents go down with him to the residence of the desired maiden.

The vineyards of Timnath — “There were then vineyards belonging to Timnath,” says Thomson, “as there now are in all these hamlets along the base of the hills and upon the mountain sides. These vineyards are very often far out from the villages, climbing up rough wadies and wild cliffs.”

A young lion roared against him — His parents seem to have been in advance. “At present lions do not exist in Palestine, though they are said to be found in the desert on the road to Egypt. They abound on the banks of the Euphrates between Bussorah and Bagdad, and in the marshes and jungles near the rivers of Babylonia. But though they have now disappeared from Palestine, they must in ancient times have been numerous. The names Lebaoth, (Joshua 15:32,)

Beth-lebaoth, (Joshua 19:6,) Arieh, (2 Kings 15:25,) and Laish, (Judges 18:7,) were probably derived from the presence of lions, and point to the fact that they were at one time common. The strength, courage, and ferocity of the lion are proverbial. The terrible roar of the lion is expressed in Hebrew by four different words, between which the following distinction appears to be maintained: shaag (here and Psalms 22:13; Psalms 104:21; Amos 3:4) denotes the roar of the lion while seeking his prey; naham (Isaiah 5:29) expresses the cry which he utters when he seizes his victim; hagah (Isaiah 31:4) the growl with which he defies any attempt to snatch the prey from his teeth; while naar is descriptive of the cry of the young lions. Jeremiah 51:38.” — Smith’s Bible Dictionary.

A recent ingenious attempt (in “Scribner’s Monthly” for July, 1871) to explain away the common and traditional sense of this passage, and to give a new solution of Samson’s riddle, demands, perhaps, a notice here. It asserts that Samson rent no young lion, but smashed or demolished a winepress, and renders this sentence, “Behold, the lion-cup called loudly to invite him.” It affirms that כפיר, young lion, is meant for כפור, a cup, and that cup of lions means a winepress, which was made of hewn stone and resembled a great cup or goblet, and was hence called cup of lions, or lion-cup. The roaring ( שׁאג) is explained of the raging of wine when it is red in the cup. Samson being a Nazarite, wine was his enemy, and when he heard it raging, and saw it giving its colour in the mammoth cup, he treated it as a tempting foe, and rent the winepress to fragments. It is also claimed that מפלת, in Judges 14:8 means properly a ruin, or heap, and is applicable to a broken winepress, but not to the dead carcass of a lion; and גֶוית rendered carcass in the same verse, is, when we leave out the matres lectionis וand י, the same word ( גת) which is rendered winepress in chap. Judges 6:11. Further, it is argued that a broken winepress would be a tempting receptacle for bees, while a dead carcass would be repulsive; and that by destroying this property of the Philistines he was injuring the enemies of his people and thus fulfilling his mission, while the rending of a lion would have been no act of destruction against the Philistines, but a blessing, in thus ridding their vineyards of dangerous beasts. The writer finally gives the following solution of the riddle: Out of the wine-press, which consumes or eats grapes by the million, came forth wine, one of the three leading meats of the Bible, (corn, wine, and oil;) and out of the strong (or the lion-cup, capable of overcoming the mightiest potentates of the earth) came forth sweetness, (or the honey Samson had taken out of the ruins of the winepress.)

To all this it may be easily replied: 1. The changing of כפיר into כפור is wholly arbitrary, and opens the way to such unbounded license in criticism as is not to be accepted unless for weightier reasons than this expositor has offered. 2. To speak of a winepress roaring to meet one, is, to say the least, a very strange expression, and a use of Hebrew that has no parallel in the Bible. שׁאג is often used of the roaring of the lion, but never of the fermentation of grapes, or the raging of strong drink. 3. The rent carcass of a lion may be as appropriately called a ruin ( מפלת) as a smashed winepress, or the fallen trunk of a tree, (Ezekiel 31:13,) or the misfortunes of the wicked, Proverbs 29:16. 4. To omit the two letters וand יfrom the word גוית, in which they each have the full power of a consonant, and thus make the word גת, is to set at defiance all sound principles of criticism. To omit or ignore the so-called matres lectionis, or assume that they are nowhere consonants, is violently to change the orthography of perhaps a tenth or more of all the words in the Hebrew language. 5. The notion that bees would not have entered a lion’s carcass is sufficiently refuted in our note on Judges 14:8; and the idea that Samson, when suddenly attacked by a lion, would have paused to reflect whether he would injure or bless the Philistines by rending it, may be safely passed over without further notice. 6. Finally, this new solution of Samson’s riddle is less apt and clear than the traditional one, and is of too little worth to justify such a laboured effort and such arbitrary criticism as must be undertaken to make it even plausible. We should add, that, contrary to the evident import of Judges 14:17, which says that Samson told his wife the riddle, and she explained it to the Philistines, this new exposition assumes that Samson, by a play on words, (like lion-cup and lion-cub,) deceived his wife, and so his thirty companions never correctly solved his riddle. In this case he surely should have demanded of them the thirty changes of garments, and not have succumbed to their treachery and fraud.

Verse 6

6. Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him — A remarkable supernatural quickening and strengthening of his physical powers, which enabled him to perform a feat beyond the measure of his ordinary strength. Observe that here the expression does not imply any great sanctity or moral purity in Samson, and is therefore not to be confounded with the New Testament gift of the Holy Ghost.

Verse 7

7. Talked with the woman — He had only seen her before, (Judges 14:1,) but found no opportunity to talk with her till the betrothal was arranged by his parents.

Verse 8

8. After a time he returned to take her — That is, to consummate the marriage. Several months, often a year, elapsed between the betrothal and the wedding.

A swarm of bees and honey in the carcass of the lion — “This, it must be confessed,” says Dr. Thomson, “is an extraordinary occurrence. The word for bees is the Arabic for hornets, and these we know are very fond of flesh, and devour it with the greatest avidity. I have myself seen a swarm of hornets build their comb in the skull of a dead camel, and this would incline me to believe that it was really our debabir — hornets — that had settled in the carcass of Samson’s lion, if it were known that they manufactured honey enough to meet the demands of the story. However, we find that not long after this bees were so abundant in a wood at no great distance from this spot that the honey dropped down from the trees on the ground, (1 Samuel 14:26;) and I have explored densely-wooded gorges on Hermon and southern Lebanon where wild bees are still found, both in trees and in clefts of the rocks. It keeps up the verisimilitude of the narrative that these are just the places where wild beasts still abound, and though bees ordinarily avoid dead carcasses, it is possible that they on this occasion selected that of the lion for their hive.” Rosenmuller in his “Bible Archaeology” says: “In the desert of Arabia the heat of a sultry season will often dry up all the moisture of men or camels that have fallen dead, within twenty-four hours of their decease, without their passing into a state of decomposition and putrefaction, so that they remain for a long time like mummies, without change and without stench.” In such a case it would be very possible and likely that a swarm of bees would take up their abode in what more resembled a crust of rock than a decayed carcass. Or we may suppose that the carcass had become a dry and naked skeleton, and that some sort of wild bees had formed their nest and combs within it. On this point we may well add the weighty testimony of Dr. Kitto: “In the East, vultures and insects, particularly numerous swarms of ants — and these abound in vineyards — will, in an astonishingly short time, clean completely out all the soft parts of any carcass, leaving the skeleton entire, covered by its integuments, for, the flesh having been picked out, the skin would not be rent and destroyed. All the softer parts being thus removed, the bones and skin will rapidly be deprived of all their moisture by the heat of the sun; and the skeleton, covered over with the dry parchment into which the skin has been turned, becomes a sweet and very convenient habitation, in which a swarm of bees would be very likely to settle, especially in a secluded spot, among the shrub-like vines. In the East, bees establish themselves in situations little thought of by us; many wild swarms, being left to find homes for themselves, fix in any hollow which seems to them suited to their wants.”

Verse 9

9. Came to his father and mother — His parents seem to have accompanied him down to Timnath this second time in order to be present at the wedding feast.

He told them not — He perhaps at once conceived the riddle he would propound, and for that reason kept it secret from his parents. But also he might have thought that his approach to the dead carcass was a violation of his Nazarite purity, and he might better keep it to himself; or he may have thought that his parents would regard the honey as unclean if they knew whence he had taken it.

Verse 10

10. Samson made there a feast — The marriage feast lasted seven days, (Genesis 29:27,) at the close of which the bridegroom led his bride in joyful procession from her father’s house to his own, or to the house of his father. Samson probably held his feast at the house of a friend or acquaintance in Timnath, for as the sexes did not feast together, and the nuptials were not completed till the close of the seventh day, the feast of the bridegroom would not have been held in the house of the bride’s father. Had his own residence been in Timnath, Samson would have made his feast at home; but as Zorah was some five miles away, it only remained for him to hire a house for his feast, or else use the house of some friend.

Verse 11

11. When they saw him — That is, when the bride’s parents and relatives saw him. Bush and others think these words indicate that they saw in Samson’s stature and bearing something that aroused their suspicions, and told them he was a man to be watched, and they therefore brought thirty companions more, for the purpose of setting so many spies about him rather than for showing him respect or honour. But the phrase to be with him hardly harmonizes with such a thought, and the joviality and good cheer of their intercourse is against it. The parents and friends of the bride had seen Samson before, and had there been any thing suspicious about his stature and countenance they would have discovered it before this time. The verse merely means that when they saw him make his appearance with his parents in Timnath, to celebrate the wedding feast, they proceeded at once to do their part in furnishing him guests.

Verse 12

12. I will now put forth a riddle unto you — Literally, I will twist you a knot. The custom of telling riddles at banquets for the purpose of entertainment was an ancient custom, and is often mentioned or alluded to by Greek writers.

Within the seven days — That is, within the rest of the seven days which now remained of the feast. See notes on Judges 14:14; Judges 14:17. Probably the amusement of telling and guessing riddles had been going on for several days of the feast before Samson proposed this one.

Thirty sheets — One for each guest. Sheets is not a proper rendering of the Hebrew word, but shirts, as in the margin. They were under-garments woven of fine linen, and probably very costly.

Change of garments — Costly dresses, which were frequently changed on festal occasions. Compare Genesis 45:22; 2 Kings 5:5. The prize of such inner and outer garments was therefore worth contending for.

Verse 14

14. Out of the eater came forth meat, And out of the strong came forth sweetness.

Riddles were generally put in a poetical form, and so here the two parts of the riddle are made to form a distich. Out of the carcass of a lion, a ravenous and devouring beast, Samson had taken food which both he and his parents had eaten; and out of the strong beast, for the lion is a symbol of strength, had he taken the sweet honey. One would not look into the body of the strong lion to find sweetness. This was a riddle which surpassed the ordinary powers of man to solve, for the facts on which it was built were unknown to any one but Samson. To solve it would be like interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream when the dream itself was not made known.

Could not in three days expound — Probably the three remaining days of the feast, for very possibly the riddle was not proposed till the third or fourth day of the feast. Keil thinks they occupied themselves three days in trying to find the solution, and after that let the matter rest till the seventh day.

Verse 15

15. On the seventh day — Not of the week, (as Bush,) but of the feast. It was not till the last day of the feast that, feeling their case was hopeless, they went to the barbarous extreme of threatening to burn her and her father’s house with fire. It is probable, as Keil remarks, that “the woman had already come to Samson every day with her entreaties, from simple curiosity; but Samson resisted them until the seventh day, when she became more urgent than ever in consequence of this threat of the Philistines.” It is probable, too, that they had, without any threat, asked her before the seventh day to find out for them the meaning of the riddle.

Entice thy husband — Persuade him; induce him.

That he may declare… the riddle — Evidently their meaning was, that she should persuade Samson to tell her the solution of the riddle, and then that she should privately make it known unto them.

Have ye called us to take that we have — Literally, Is it to make us poor ye have called us? Do you intend to rob us of our property, that you and your father are leagued together to make us the victims of Samson?

Verse 16

16. I have not told it my father nor my mother — A thing kept secret from one’s parents is, with the Orientals, a thing not to be told in other ears, or, at least, very rarely. “The greatest proof of confidence,” says Roberts, “is to say, I have told you what I have not revealed to my father. In proof of the great affection one has for another, it is said, He has told things to him that he would not have related to his parents. ‘My friend, do tell me the secret.’ ‘Tell you? Yes, when I have told my parents.’”

Verse 17

17. She wept… the seven days — That is, the rest of the seven days after he put forth the riddle, and while their feast lasted. See notes on Judges 14:14-15. “Samson’s wife was a weak and wicked woman, who had no real love for her husband, and this is certainly common enough at the present day. Wives are procured now as then by the intervention of parents, and without any of that personal attachment between the parties which we deem essential. They are also very often ready to enter into any treacherous conspiracy against their husbands by which they can gain some desired advantage for themselves or their friends. Indeed, there are very many husbands in this country who neither will nor dare trust their wives. And yet these distrusted but cunning wives have wonderful power over their husbands. “By their arts and their importunity they carry their points, often to the utter and obvious ruin of their husbands. It is not at all contrary to present experience, therefore, that Samson’s wife should conspire against him in the matter of the riddle, nor that she should succeed in teasing him out of the secret.” — Thomson.

Verse 18

18. Men of the city — The thirty companions mentioned in Judges 14:11.

Before the sun went down — Just in time to save themselves the mulct.

What is sweeter than honey? And what is stronger than a lion?

They answer thus sententiously, and by a distich similar to that in which he propounded the riddle. It was not necessary that they utter particulars, but only say so much as to assure him that they knew his riddle. Their triumph had been gained at such pains that they seem to have sought to make their answer poignant, in order to irritate Samson.

Ploughed with my heifer — A proverbial expression implying the illegal use of that which was not their own. The expression was, indeed, not a delicate or chaste one, but does not charge, as some have thought, lewd and criminal intercourse between Samson’s wife and his thirty companions.

Verse 19

19. Ashkelon — Some twenty-five miles distant to the southwest.

Slew thirty men of them — That is, men of Ashkelon. He would not stain his hands with the blood of the citizens of Timnath, but goes far off to take his spoil; yet will he make Philistine blood pay for this Philistine treachery. His whole object in going to Ashkelon to get his spoils is not clear. To justify this wholesale murder by any standard of New Testament morality is idle and absurd.

His anger was kindled — He doubtless felt that he did well to be angry, and his slaughter of the thirty men of Ashkelon is to be regarded largely as a fearful revenge, by which he would awe and terrify the Timnathites who had treated him so treacherously. The changes of garments which he paid them he probably flung at their feet all stained with human blood, and in a spell of ferocious indignation at their perfidy left them, and went up to his father’s house at Zorah.

Verse 20

20. To his companion — One of the “thirty.” “To treason she adds infidelity. Meanness of disposition gives birth to every thing that is bad. It can neither love nor be faithful; but least of all can it comprehend such a man as Samson was.” — Cassel.

Whom he had used as his friend — Used most confidentially of the thirty, and had intrusted the most delicate matters to his hand. The one who was used for this purpose is called in the New Testament the friend of the bridegroom. John 3:29. The father of Samson’s wife understood from his anger that he utterly hated her, (Judges 15:2,) and renounced all claim to her; but, instead of apologizing, or trying to turn away his wrath, he gave another exhibition of Philistine perfidy by giving her to a rival, and so made the breach utterly irreparable. Here notice how low was this Philistine’s notion of the sanctity of marriage.


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Judges 14:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.

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