October 26, 2007

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical women: Samson’s Philistine wife

John F. Fink(Thirteenth in a series of columns)

Quick, who was Samson’s wife? If you automatically said Delilah, you’re wrong. I’ll write about Delilah next week, but she was not Samson’s wife.

Samson went down to Timnah, which is due west of Jerusalem, where he saw a Philistine woman who pleased him.

Returning home, he asked his parents to get her for him as his wife. They tried to persuade him to choose a wife among the Israelites, but Samson simply replied that the woman pleased him. So the three of them went down to Timnah and successfully made a bargain for the Philistine woman.

As part of the wedding celebration, Samson gave a feast—a seven-day feast. The father of the bride appointed 30 Philistine men as Samson’s “companions” for the feast. Samson proposed a riddle for them and made a bet. The loser would have to provide 30 linen tunics and 30 sets of garments for the winner.

The riddle Samson proposed was: “Out of the eater came forth food, and out of the strong came forth sweetness.”

The riddle had been set up on Samson’s trip to Timnah. A lion had attacked him, but he was able to kill it with his bare hands. When he returned to marry the Philistine woman, he stopped to see the remains of the lion and found a swarm of bees and honey in the lion’s carcass. The answer to the riddle, therefore, would be a lion and honey.

Naturally, none of the 30 “companions” could solve the riddle so they coaxed Samson’s wife to learn the answer for them. They threatened to burn her and her family if she didn’t. So she used all of her womanly wiles to learn the answer. Samson said that he hadn’t even told his parents so why would he tell her? But she wept until Samson finally gave her the answer.

On the seventh day of the banquet, the men told Samson, “What is sweeter than honey, and what is stronger than a lion?”

Samson knew immediately how they learned the answer. He said, “If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have solved my riddle.” He stormed out of the house, went to Ashkelon, killed 30 Philistines and brought their garments back to the men in Timnah. Then he went off to his own family in anger.

Sometime later, Samson returned to see his wife, only to learn that her father, assuming that Samson no longer wanted anything to do with her, had married her off to the best man at Samson’s wedding.

He offered Samson her younger sister instead. This really infuriated Samson. He caught 300 foxes, tied their tails together and tied a torch between each pair of tails. He then set them loose and they burned up the Philistines’ standing grain, vineyards and olive orchards.

When the Philistines were told that this had been done by Samson because his wife was given to his best man, they retaliated by burning Samson’s wife and family. †

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