I can’t think of a life more tragic than the life of Samson. If I had to pick one word to describe it, I would have to say Samson’s life was stupid. That is probably because I don’t understand it. It doesn’t make sense to me. One of the first things recorded about Samson’s life is that he chose a wife of the daughter of the Philistines and “it was of the LORD” (Judges 14:4). How could it be God’s will for a man like Samson, a man separated unto God, a Nazarite from a miraculous birth, to marry a woman from an enemy country?
The only explanation given is that the LORD sought an occasion, which means he was looking for an opportunity, that there was some purpose for Samson to marry this woman because “at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel” (Judges 14:4). I think Samson knew what he was doing. Even though there is little information given about the situation, it appears the LORD directed Samson to the woman and Samson was acting in obedience to the LORD when he asked his father to get her for him to be his wife.
A tactic that Samson used to gain an advantage over his Philistine companions was to “put forth a riddle” to them (Judges 14:12). It seems kind of strange that days before his wedding Samson would want to insult the members of his wedding party, but it is clear Samson was not trying to win them over. In fact, he may have been trying to start a fight.
The issue that started the conflict may have been a custom of the Philistines that required the groom to supply everyone in the wedding party or what was referred to as his companions, with a set of wedding clothes. It says of Samson in Judges 14:11, when they saw him, that they brought thirty companions to be with him.” I don’t know what was typical in that day, but 30 seems like a lot of companion. The reward for solving the riddle was thirty sheets and thirty changes of garments, so it could have been that Samson intended that if they didn’t solve the riddle, they would have to pay him back for the wedding clothes he had provided them with.
The part of the story that doesn’t make sense is that when the companions went to Samson’s wife to find out the answer to the riddle, they threatened to burn her and her family to death, so Samson told her the answer to the riddle. This seems like a lot of drama over 30 changes of clothes. I can’t help but wonder why did the conflict become so heated and why Samson gave in to his wife’s plea if he was trying to teach the Philistines a lesson?
The Philistines gained dominion over the Israelites not because they were strong, but because they were smart. I believe Samson put forth a riddle to his companions for two reasons, first to demonstrate he could out smart them, and second because he wanted them to find out that he had killed a lion with his bare hands. He wanted them to know about his supernatural strength.
The answer to Samson’s riddle was a two-part question: 1) What is sweeter than honey?, and 2) What is stronger than a lion? The answer to the second question was obvious, Samson was stronger than a lion because he killed one in the vineyards of Timnath. The answer to the first question was not so obvious. What is sweeter than honey?…revenge?