Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Samson's First Transactions with the Philistines. - Jdg 14:1-9. At Tibnath, the present Tibne, an hour's journey to the south-west of Sur'a (see at Jos 15:10), to which Samson had gone down from Zorea or Mahaneh-dan, he saw a daughter of the Philistines who pleased him; and on his return he asked his parents to take her for him as a wife (לקח, to take, as in Exo 21:9).
His parents expressed their astonishment at the choice, and asked him whether there was not a woman among the daughters of his brethren (i.e., the members of his own tribe), or among all his people, that he should want to fetch one from the Philistines, the uncircumcised. But Samson repeated his request, because the daughter of the Philistines pleased him. The aversion of his parents to the marriage was well founded, as such a marriage was not in accordance with the law. It is true that the only marriages expressly prohibited in Exo 34:16 and Deu 7:3-4, are marriages with Canaanitish women; but the reason assigned for this prohibition was equally applicable to marriages with daughters of the Philistines. In fact, the Philistines are reckoned among the Canaanites in Jos 13:3 upon the very same ground. But Samson was acting under a higher impulse, whereas his parents did not know that it was from Jehovah, i.e., that Jehovah had so planned it; "for Samson was seeking an opportunity on account of the Philistines," i.e., an occasion to quarrel with them, because, as is afterwards added in the form of an explanatory circumstantial clause, the Philistines had dominion over Israel at that time. תּאנה, ἁπ. λεγ., an opportunity (cf. התאנּה, Kg2 5:7).
When Samson went down with his parents to Timnath, a young lion came roaring towards him at the vineyards of that town. Then the Spirit of Jehovah came upon him, so that he tore the lion in pieces as a kid is torn (lit. "like the tearing in pieces of the kid"), although he had nothing, i.e., no weapon, in his hand. David, when a shepherd, and the hero Benaiah, also slew lions (Sa1 17:34-35; Sa2 23:20); and even at the present day Arabs sometimes kill lions with a staff (see Winer, Bibl. R. W. Art. Lwe). Samson's supernatural strength, the effect of the Spirit of Jehovah, which came upon him, was simply manifested in the fact that he tore the lion in pieces without any weapon whatever in his hand. But he said nothing about it to his parents, who were not eyewitnesses of the deed. This remark is introduced in connection with what follows.
When he came to Timnath he talked with the girl, and she pleased him. He had only seen her before (Jdg 14:1); but now that his parents had asked for her, he talked with her, and found the first impression that he had received of her fully confirmed.
When some time had elapsed after the betrothal, he came again to fetch her (take her home, marry her), accompanied, as we learn from Jdg 14:9, by his parents. On the way "he turned aside (from the road) to see the carcase of the lion; and behold a swarm of bees was in the body of the lion, also honey." The word מפּלת, which only occurs here, is derived from נפל, like πτῶμα from πίπτω, and is synonymous with נבלה, cadaver, and signifies not the mere skeleton, as bees would not form their hive in such a place, but the carcase of the lion, which had been thoroughly dried up by the heat of the sun, without passing into a state of putrefaction. "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" (Rosenmller, Bibl. Althk. iv. 2, p. 424). In a carcase dried up in this way, a swarm of bees might form their hive, just as well as in the hollow trunks of trees, or clefts in the rock, or where wild bees are accustomed to form them, notwithstanding the fact that bees avoid both dead bodies and carrion (see Bochart, Hieroz, ed. Ros. iii. p. 355).
Samson took it (the honey) in his hands, ate some of it as he went, and also gave some to his father and mother to eat, but did not tell them that he had got the honey out of the dead body of the lion; for in that case they would not only have refused to eat it as being unclean, but would have been aware of the fact, which Samson afterwards took as the subject of the riddle that he proposed to the Philistines. רדה, to tread, to tread down; hence to get forcible possession of, not to break or to take out, neither of which meanings can be established. The combination of רדה and אל־כּפּיו is a pregnant construction, signifying to obtain possession of and take into the hands.
Samson's Wedding and Riddle. - Jdg 14:10. When his father had come down to the girl (sc., to keep the wedding, not merely to make the necessary preparations for his marriage), Samson prepared for a feast there (in Timnath), according to the usual custom (for so used the young men to do).
"And when they saw him, they fetched thirty friends, and they were with him." The parents or relations of the bride are the subject of the first clause. They invited thirty of their friends in Timnath to the marriage feast, as "children of the bride-chamber" (Mat 9:15), since Samson had not brought any with him. The reading כּראותם from ראה needs no alteration, though Bertheau would read כּראתם daer from ירא, in accordance with the rendering of the lxx (Cod. Al.) and Josephus, ἐν τῷ φοβεῖσθαι αὐτούς. Fear of Samson would neither be in harmony with the facts themselves, nor with the words אתּו ויּהיוּ, "they were with him," which it is felt to be necessary to paraphrase in the most arbitrary manner "they watched him."
At the wedding feast Samson said to the guests, "I will give you a riddle. If you show it to me during the seven days of the meal (the wedding festival), and guess it, I will give you thirty sedinim (σινδόνες, tunicae, i.e., clothes worn next to the skin) and thirty changes of garments (costly dresses, that were frequently changed: see at Gen 45:22); but if ye cannot show it to me, ye shall give me the same number of garments." The custom or proposing riddles at banquets by way of entertainment is also to be met with among the ancient Grecians. (For proofs from Athenaeus, Pollux, Gellius, see Bochart, Hieroz. P. ii. l. ii. c. 12; and K. O. Mller, Dorier, ii. p. 392). As the guests consented to this proposal, Samson gave them the following riddle (Jdg 14:14): "Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness." This riddle they could not show, i.e., solve, for three days. That is to say, they occupied themselves for three days in trying to find the solution; after that they let the matter rest until the appointed term was drawing near.
On the seventh day they said to Samson's wife, "Persuade thy husband to show us the riddle," sc., through thee, without his noticing it, "lest we burn thee and thy father's house with fire. Have ye invited us to make us poor; is it not so?" In this threat the barbarism and covetousness of the Philistines came openly to light. הלירשׁנוּ without Metheg in the י is the inf. Kal of ירשׁ, to make poor-a meaning derived from inheriting, not the Piel of ירשׁ = רוּשׁ, to be poor. הלא, nonne, strengthens the interrogative clause, and has not the signification "here" = הלם. Samson's wife, however, wept over him, i.e., urged him with tears in her eyes, and said, "Thou dost but hate me, and lovest me not; thou hast put forth a riddle unto the children of my people (my countrymen), and hast not shown it to me." חדתּה is from חוּד. Samson replied, that he had not even shown it to his father and mother, "and shall I show it to thee?"
"Thus his wife wept before him the seven days of the banquet." This statement is not at variance with that in Jdg 14:15, to the effect that it was only on the seventh day that the Philistine young men urged her with threats to entice Samson to tell the riddle, but may be explained very simply in the following manner. 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 on the part of the Philistines. And "Samson showed it to her, because she lay sore upon him;" whereupon she immediately betrayed it to her countrymen.
Thus on the seventh day, before the sun went down (חרסה = חרס, Jdg 8:13; Job 9:7, with a toneless ah, a softening down of the feminine termination: see Ewald, 173, h.), the men of the city (i.e., the thirty young men who had been invited) said to Samson, "What is sweeter than honey, and what stronger than a lion?" But Samson saw through the whole thing, and replied, "If ye had not ploughed with my heifer, ye had not hit upon (guessed) my riddle,"-a proverbial saying, the meaning of which is perfectly clear.
Nevertheless he was obliged to keep his promise (Jdg 14:12). Then the Spirit of Jehovah came upon him. He went down to Ashkelon, slew thirty men of them, i.e., of the Ashkelonites, took their clothes (חליצות, exuviae: see Sa2 2:21), and gave the changes of garments to those who had shown the riddle. This act is described as the operation of the Spirit of Jehovah which came upon Samson, because it showed to the Philistines the superior power of the servants of Jehovah. It was not carnal revenge that had impelled Samson to the deed. It was not till the deed itself was done that his anger was kindled; and even then it was not against the Philistines, to whom he had been obliged to pay or give the thirty garments, but against his wife, who had betrayed his secret to her countrymen, so that he returned to his father's house, viz., without his wife.
"And Samson's wife was given to his friend, whom he had chosen as a friend." מרע is not doubt to be understood here in the sense of "the friend of the bridegroom" (Joh 3:29), ὁ νυμφαγωγός (lxx), the conductor of the bride-namely, one of the thirty companions (Jdg 14:10), whom Samson had entrusted with this office at the marriage festival. The faithlessness of the Philistines towards the Israelites was no doubt apparent here; for even if Samson went home enraged at the treacherous behaviour of his wife, without taking her with him, he did not intend to break the marriage tie, as Jdg 15:1-2 clearly shows. So that 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.