An answer to prayer

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount included many practical teachings about spiritual life. One of the important topics that Jesus addressed was prayer. Jesus told his followers:

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from evil.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:5-15)

Jesus contrasted public prayer with private prayer and referred to those who were fond of praying in the sight of others as hypocrites. The Greek word that is translated hypocrites, hupokrites (hoop-ok-ree-taceˊ) means “an actor under an assumed character (stage-player)” (G5273). Instead, Jesus said that believers should, “go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6). The Greek term that is translated secret, kruptos (kroop-tosˊ) has to do with that which is hidden in the human heart. Jesus concluded that forgiveness, or the lack thereof, was the deciding factor when it came to God answering our prayers.

Jesus used the parable of the unforgiving servant to illustrate his point about God’s attitude toward forgiveness. When Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (Matthew 18:21). Jesus said to him:

“I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:22-35)

Jesus indicated that we must forgive our brother from our heart. The phrase from your heart denotes a change in attitude toward something or someone. In Jesus’ parable, mercy was the key to being able to forgive others (Matthew 18:33). The Greek word eleeo (el-eh-ehˊ-o), which is translated mercy in the English Standard Version of the Bible and compassion in the King James Version of the Bible, is “spoken of the mercy of God through Christ or salvation in Christ: to bestow salvation on…The general meaning is to have compassion or mercy on a person in unhappy circumstances. Used transitively in the passive, to be pitied, obtain mercy, implying not merely a feeling for the misfortunes of others involving sympathy (oiktirmos [3628], pity), but also an active desire to remove those miseries” (G1653).

“The book of 1 Samuel presents in detail the transitional phase between the period of the judges and the period of the kings…Samuel bridged the gap between the periods of the judges and kings in that he was the last one to serve as a judge in all Israel and that he anointed the first two kings of Israel, Saul and David” (Introduction 1 Samuel). The book of 1 Samuel opens with the birth of Samuel which was the result of God answering his mother Hannah’s prayer. 1 Samuel 1:9-20 states:

After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”

As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.” But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.” Then Eli answered, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.

They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered her. And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the Lord.”

Hannah’s emotional plea for a child was witnessed by Eli the priest, but 1 Samuel 1:13 tells us, “Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard.” Hannah described herself as “a woman troubled in spirit” and she told Eli, “I have been pouring out my soul before the LORD” (1 Samuel 1:15). The Hebrew word qasheh (kaw-sheh), which is translated troubled, indicates that Hannah was in a painful situation (H7186). Hannah’s complaint was that her rival’s constant provocation had made her bitter and her misery was beyond what she could bear. It says in 1 Samuel 1:6, “And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the LORD had closed her womb.”

Hannah’s situation was attributed to the LORD’s sovereign control of her ability to have children. The Hebrew word that is translated closed in 1 Samuel 1:6, çagar (saw-garˊ) means “to shut up” and is used figuratively as “to surrender.” “In the books of Samuel, cagar is used in the special sense of ‘to deliver up,’ implying that all avenues of escape ‘are closed’” (H5462). It seems likely that the LORD had intentionally kept Hannah from having children so that she would surrender this aspect of her life to him. When Hannah got to the point where she was deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD, “the LORD remembered her. And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, ‘I have asked for him from the LORD’” (1 Samuel 1:19-20). The Hebrew word that is translated remembered, zakar (zaw-karˊ) is properly translated as “to mark (so as to be recognized), i.e. to remember; (by implication) to mention…Remembering in ancient Israel was a major aspect of proper worship, as it is today” (H2142).

First Samuel 1:11 tells us that Hannah vowed a vow and said that, if the LORD would remember her and give her a son, “then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.” A vow is a “voluntary promise to give or do something as an expression of consecration or devotion to the service of God” (H5087). After Samuel was born, Hannah told her husband, “As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, so that he may appear in the presence of the LORD and dwell there forever” (1 Samuel 1:22). Hannah’s understanding of the temple of God’s purpose was that it functioned in a similar way to what heaven does now that Jesus is seated at the right hand of his Father. In order for Samuel to appear in the presence of the LORD, he would have to have access to the holy of holies, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. Leviticus 16 indicates that only Aaron, the high priest, was allowed to go inside the veil, before the mercy seat that was on the ark once per year on the Day of Atonement. The book of Hebrews explains that Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf into the inner place behind the curtain, “having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:19-20). The earthly holy place was a temporary structure that provided a way for sacrifices to be made to God, “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood thus securing an eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:11-12). Thus, Samuel’s dedication to the LORD was meant to be a type of spiritual rebirth, similar to what Christians experience when they are regenerated by the Holy Spirit (G3824). Hebrews chapter 10 tells us that Christ’s sacrifice was once for all and states specifically, “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:12-14).

Samuel’s sanctification was attained through Hannah’s Nazarite vow on her son’s behalf. Hannah said, “then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head” (1 Samuel 1:11). “The term Nazarite means one who is consecrated to God” (H5139). The Hebrew word naziyr (naw-zeerˊ) is derived from the word nezer (nehˊ-zer). “A masculine noun meaning consecration, an ordination. This could be the consecration of the high priest (Leviticus 21:12); or of a person taking a vow as a Nazarite (Numbers 6:5, 7, 9, 12)” (H5145). It says of the person who has taken the Nazarite vow, “All the days of his separation he is holy to the LORD” (Numbers 6:8). The Hebrew word qadosh (kaw-dosheˊ), which is translated holy in Numbers 6:8, is also translated saint (Psalm 106:16) and is derived from the word qadash (kaw-dashˊ) which means “to be holy, to sanctify” (H6942).

When Hannah brought Samuel to the temple to give him to the LORD, she told Eli the priest, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the LORD. For this child I prayed, and the LORD has granted my petition that I made to him” (1 Samuel 1:26-27). The fact that the LORD granted Hannah’s petition was a remarkable feat in and of itself, but the important thing to note about Hannah’s situation was that she had the kind of faith that prompted her to go to God for help. There are very few instances recorded in the Old Testament of the Bible where an individual prayed to God and only once do we see a situation like Hannah’s where a woman prayed for her individual need and received an answer from God. Jesus said that when we pray to our Father in secret, or as Hannah did, from our heart, he will reward us. The idea behind the Greek word that is translated reward is that of repayment or of giving something back (G591). Hannah’s reward is mentioned in the context of Eli’s negligence as a parent. It says in 1 Samuel 2:12, “Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the LORD.” The text goes on to state, “Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the LORD, for the men treated the offering of the LORD with contempt” (1 Samuel 2:17). Then, 1 Samuel 2:18-21 tells us:

Samuel was ministering before the Lord, a boy clothed with a linen ephod. And his mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, “May the Lord give you children by this woman for the petition she asked of the Lord.” So then they would return to their home.

Indeed the Lord visited Hannah, and she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters. And the boy Samuel grew in the presence of the Lord.

One way of looking at Hannah’s reward was that the LORD gave her back what she gave to him, but even more so, because she had three additional sons, as well as two daughters.

When Hannah gave Samuel to the LORD, she prayed a second prayer that is recorded in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. Hannah’s prayer was similar to Mary’s song of praise, also known as The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). Hannah’s prayer opened with the statement:

“My heart exults in the Lord;
    my horn is exalted in the Lord.
My mouth derides my enemies,
    because I rejoice in your salvation. (1 Samuel 2:1)

The Hebrew word that is translated salvation in this verse, yᵉshuwʿah (yesh-ooˊ-ah) means “something saved” (H3444). Jesus is a Greek form of yeshu’ah. In the final verse Hannah’s prayer, there is a reference to Israel’s Messiah (1 Samuel 2:10), suggesting that Hannah knew about and had personally received salvation through Jesus Christ. Whether Hannah was already saved when she asked God to give her a son or her salvation was the result of her receiving an answer to prayer isn’t clear in her story, but it can be assumed that she believed God was listening when she spoke to him in her heart (1 Samuel 1:13). After a fig tree quickly withered that Jesus had cursed earlier in the day, his disciples were amazed and asked him, “’How did the fig tree wither away so soon?’ So Jesus answered and said to them,  ‘Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, “Be removed and be cast into the sea,” it will be done. And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive’” (Matthew 21:20-22, NKJV)

Incomprehensible strength

Sanctification was a central characteristic of the Israelites’ relationship with God. When the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai, they were told, “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:4-6). The Hebrew word that is translated holy, qadowsh (kaw-dosheˊ) means sacred. “It is used to denote someone or something that is inherently sacred or has been designated as sacred by divine rite or cultic ceremony…This word is often used to refer to God as being inherently holy, sacred, set apart (Psalm 22:3[4]; Isaiah 6:3; 57:15); and as being free from the attributes of fallen humanity (Hosea 11:9)…God instructed that humanity should be holy because He is holy (Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2)” (H6918). Qadowsh is derived from the word qadash (kaw-dashˊ) which means, “to be (causative, make, pronounce or observe as) clean (ceremonially or morally)…The tabernacle, the ark, the table of showbread, the altar of burnt offering, and all the smaller accessories and utensils used in the cult of Israel were anointed with a special anointing oil so they became holy. Whatever came in contact with them became holy (Exodus 30:26-29)…The word is used most often in the intensive stem, meaning to pronounce or to make holy, to consecrate” (H6942). Exodus 19:8 tells us, “All the people answered together and said, ‘All that the LORD has spoken we will do.’” And then, “When Moses told the words of the people to the LORD, the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people’” (Exodus 19:9-11). The Israelites’ encounter with God on Mount Sinai was a unique experience in that they could hear what God was saying to Moses. When they heard God speak the words of the Ten Commandments, “the people were afraid, and trembled, and they stood afar off and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die’” (Exodus 20:18-19).

“God made a conditional promise to the Israelites that if they would obey him and keep his covenant, he would regard and treat them in a special way. The people chose instead to make a golden calf and forsake the God who had rescued them from Egyptian slavery (Exodus 32:1-24). That event, as well as persistent infidelity throughout most of their history, greatly limited the extent to which the Israelites could realize these promises. The designations ‘royal priesthood’ and ‘a holy nation’ are also applied to Christians in 1 Peter 2:9, 10” (note on Exodus 19:5, 6). Peter addressed his letter to the “elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Capadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling in his blood and said:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:9-12)

Peter’s mention of the sprinkling in Jesus Christ’s blood is related to the Old Testament process of sanctification. During their ordination, the blood of a bull and two rams were used to consecrate Aaron and his sons so that they could serve God as priests (Exodus 29:1). Exodus 29:19-21 states, “You shall take the other ram, and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on the head of the ram, and you shall kill the ram and take part of its blood and put it on the tip of the right ear of Aaron and on the tips of the right ears of his sons, and on the thumbs of their right hands, and on the great toes of their right feet, and throw the rest of the blood against the sides of the altar. Then you shall take part of the blood that is on the altar, and of the anointing oil, and sprinkle it on Aaron and his garments, and on his sons and their garments with him. He and his garments shall be holy, and his sons and his sons’ garments with him.” The placement of blood on the tip of the right ear symbolized sensitivity to God and his word. The placement of blood on the right thumb and great toe of the right foot symbolized a life of service to others on God’s behalf (note on Exodus 29:20, KJSB). Peter wanted his readers to understand that as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, the elect exiles of the Dispersion were set apart to serve God and were expected to accomplish what the Old Testament priesthood failed to do, to be sensitive to God’s word and to serve others on God’s behalf.

Peter emphasized the importance of abstaining from the passions of the flesh and indicated that they “wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). The flesh represents the unregenerate part of man that is associated with human nature. The soul is regarded as a moral being designed for everlasting life. The soul as an essence differs from the body and is not dissolved by death (G5590). “The soul of man, that immaterial part, which moves into the afterlife [the body is buried and decomposes] needs atonement to enter into God’s presence upon death” (H5315). Peter’s determination that the passions of the flesh war against your soul was reinforced by James’ warning against worldliness. James said:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:1-10)

The war between the flesh and the soul of a man is a spiritual conflict that James associated with submission to God. James admonished believers to resist the devil and said, “He will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:7).

On an individual basis, the Israelites were able to consecrate themselves to God by making a special vow, “the vow of a Nazirite” (Numbers 6:2). “The term Nazarite means one who is consecrated to God. The Nazarite vow included abstinence from strong drink or the cutting of his hair, and no contact with dead bodies” (H5139) because of his separation to God (Numbers 6:7). If the vow of a Nazarite was broken, it was considered a sin (H5088). The person would have to go through a process of purification which included making atonement for his sin (Numbers 6:11). “The word ‘Nazarite’ (not to be confused with ‘Nazarene’) means ‘separated,’ and in this context refers to one who was specifically ‘holy to the LORD’ (Numbers 6:8). By the terms of the vow, men or women could voluntarily separate themselves unto the LORD for a specific period of time, even for life” (note on Numbers 6:2-21). Samson is one of the two Nazarites mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible. The circumstances of Samson’s birth are recorded in Judges 13:1-5. It states:

And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, so the Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years. There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. And his wife was barren and had no children. And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.”

Samson’s designation as a Nazarite was a life-long commitment that began even before his conception. His mother was told to “drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean” (Judges 13:4) in order to keep Samson from being defiled while he was in her womb. When Samson’s mother told her husband about what had happened, she said, “A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome” (Judges 13:6). The Hebrew word that is translated awesome, yareʾ (yaw-rayˊ) means “to fear…This is not simple fear, but reverence, whereby an individual recognizes the power and position of the individual revered and renders him proper respect. In this sense, the word may imply submission to a proper ethical relationship to God” (H3372).

“There is the distinct possibility that various Old Testament references to the ‘angel of the LORD’ involved preincarnate appearances of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Things are said of the angel of the LORD that seem to go beyond the category of angels and are applicable to Christ. When the angel of the LORD appeared to Hagar, she called him ‘a God of seeing’ (Genesis 16:7, 13). The designation ‘angel of the LORD’ is used interchangeably with ‘the LORD’ and ‘God’ in the account of Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3:2-6). Exodus 23:21 states that the angel of the LORD had the power to forgive sins, a characteristic belonging to God alone (cf. Mark 2:7; Luke 7:49) and that he has the name of God in him” (note on Exodus 23:20-23). When the angel of the LORD appeared a second time, Samson’s father, Manoah said to him, “’What is your name, so that, when your words come true, we may honor you?’ And the angel of the LORD said to him, ‘Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?’” (Judges 13:17-18). The Hebrew word that is translated wonderful, pilʾiy (pil-eeˊ) means “incomprehensible” (H6383) and is derived from the word pala (paw-lawˊ) which means “to separate, i.e. distinguish” (H6381). “While nothing is too extraordinary for God, various things are said to be beyond the abilities of some individuals to do or comprehend.” The angel of the LORD’s appearance to Samson’s parents was likely intended to prepare them for the incomprehensible things that God intended to do through their son Samson. “Samson was a Danite, living adjacent to the Philistines. He was selected before birth as the one who would begin to deliver the Israelites from the Philistines (Judges 13:5). God gave him superhuman strength to achieve this, but Samson’s life was filled with compromise in his repeated refusal to control his sensual desires and whims. His physical blinding by the Philistines (Judges 16:21) seems to have brought about the opening of his spiritual eyes; he gave his life for his people and is commended for his faith in the New Testament (Hebrews 11:32)” (note on Judges 13:24).

It says of Samson in Judges 13:24-25, “The young man grew, and the LORD blessed him. And the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.” The Hebrew word that is translated stir, paʿam (paw-amˊ) means “to tap, i.e. beat regularly; hence, (generally) to impel or agitate” (H6470). It was as if God was continually tapping Samson on the shoulder and asking him, when are you going to do something about this? Samson’s marriage to a Philistine woman was used by God to begin the process of change. Judges 14 tells the story of Samson’s embarrassing disappointment from the vantage point of a young man in love for the first time. It states:

Samson went down to Timnah, and at Timnah he saw one of the daughters of the Philistines. Then he came up and told his father and mother, “I saw one of the daughters of the Philistines at Timnah. Now get her for me as my wife.” But his father and mother said to him, “Is there not a woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you must go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes.”

His father and mother did not know that it was from the Lord, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines. At that time the Philistines ruled over Israel.

Then Samson went down with his father and mother to Timnah, and they came to the vineyards of Timnah. And behold, a young lion came toward him roaring. Then the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and although he had nothing in his hand, he tore the lion in pieces as one tears a young goat. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done. Then he went down and talked with the woman, and she was right in Samson’s eyes.

After some days he returned to take her. And he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion, and behold, there was a swarm of bees in the body of the lion, and honey. He scraped it out into his hands and went on, eating as he went. And he came to his father and mother and gave some to them, and they ate. But he did not tell them that he had scraped the honey from the carcass of the lion.

His father went down to the woman, and Samson prepared a feast there, for so the young men used to do. As soon as the people saw him, they brought thirty companions to be with him. And Samson said to them, “Let me now put a riddle to you. If you can tell me what it is, within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothes, but if you cannot tell me what it is, then you shall give me thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothes.” And they said to him, “Put your riddle, that we may hear it.” And he said to them,

“Out of the eater came something to eat.
Out of the strong came something sweet.”

And in three days they could not solve the riddle.

On the fourth day they said to Samson’s wife, “Entice your husband to tell us what the riddle is, lest we burn you and your father’s house with fire. Have you invited us here to impoverish us?” And Samson’s wife wept over him and said, “You only hate me; you do not love me. You have put a riddle to my people, and you have not told me what it is.” And he said to her, “Behold, I have not told my father nor my mother, and shall I tell you?” She wept before him the seven days that their feast lasted, and on the seventh day he told her, because she pressed him hard. Then she told the riddle to her people. And the men of the city said to him on the seventh day before the sun went down,

“What is sweeter than honey?
What is stronger than a lion?”

And he said to them,

“If you had not plowed with my heifer,
you would not have found out my riddle.”

And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon and struck down thirty men of the town and took their spoil and gave the garments to those who had told the riddle. In hot anger he went back to his father’s house. And Samson’s wife was given to his companion, who had been his best man.

“Mixed marriages of Israelites with other races were forbidden (Deuteronomy 7:3, 4). Samson’s parents were right to oppose his marriage to a heathen woman from the Philistines, who constantly oppressed the Israelites” (note on Judges 14:3). “God did not force Samson into the marriage; Samson made his own decision. God used Samson’s marriage to accomplish his will in spite of the lack of wisdom on Samson’s part. It proved to be a crucial step in the liberation of the Israelites from the Philistines (Judges 15:1-8)” (note on Judges 14:4). It says in Judges 14:19, “In hot anger he went back to his father’s house.” Samson’s passion for the woman that he wanted to marry was turned into zeal for the LORD because of his personal experience which revealed to him how the Philistines were taking advantage of the Israelites. Samson’s slaughter of thirty men so that he could pay his debt to the men who solved his riddle also demonstrated to the people of Ashkelon the incomprehensible strength that he was capable of exerting in order to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.