Bible study 224 – Judges 14: “Samson 2 – The riddle of the honey in the lion”

Here are the three things you need to know about Samson: He hates the Philistines (who are currently oppressing Israel); he’s pretty dense; and he has superhuman strength. The result is that he keeps making hopeless plots to get a pretext for violence against the Philistines, and when the plots inevitably fail he just indiscriminately murders Philistines anyway.

Samson’s first plot is to marry a Philistine woman, and then make her people so angry that they will attack him. To accomplish this, he makes them bet a bunch of expensive clothing on solving a riddle. The “riddle” references a weird event earlier, when he found honey inside the the carcass of a lion that he had killed: “Out of the eater came something to eat. Out of the strong came something sweet.” He is the only one to have experienced this event, and the riddle is thus basically impossible to solve. I don’t know the etiquette for betting on riddles in the ancient Middle East, but I’m pretty sure the riddles should be solvable.

The Philistines, though, won’t be coaxed into violence that easy; instead, they convince Samson’s bride to coax out the answer to the riddle from him. Samson for some reason tells her, she tells the Philistines, and they present Samson the correct answer. Samson correctly guesses that his wife told them, and is very angry that his plot failed. So he travels to a nearby Philistine city, kills thirty men, steals their expensive clothing, gives them to the Philistines at the wedding, and storms back to his father’s house, leaving his bride and her company behind.

Judges 14:18
… he said to them,
“If you had not plowed with my heifer,
You would not have found out my riddle.”

Full text.


Samson’s Fight with the Lion by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1525. Source.


Icelandic manuscript from the 15th century. Source.


Samson and the lion from Stavanger Domkirke church in Norway. Source.


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