Samson is of age now and goes to visit Timnah. While there, he sees a Philistine woman and is enamoured of her. Samson tells his parents that he wants this woman for his wife, but they are not in favor because of her Philistine heritage. The Philistines were in control of the Israelites at this time; Samson’s parents preferred that he take an Israelite woman for a wife. But see verse 4: this was all part of God’s plan.
So Samson went to Timnah with his parents to pursue the marriage. At one point, he is separated from them and encounters a lion. The Spirit of the Lord giving him great physical strength, Samson tears the lion apart with only his hands. He keeps this a secret from his parents and from the young Philistine woman he wants to marry.
Samson visits with the young woman, then returns to his parents. Along the way, he finds the lion carcass again and notices that there is a honeycomb with honey inside. He takes it out and eats it, also sharing some with his parents. But he does not tell them where he found it.
As according to custom, Samson throws a feast for some of the people of the area as part of the wedding festivities. Thirty Philistine companions joined the feast and Samson was compelled to pose a riddle to them:
“Out of the eater came something to eat,
And out of the strong came something sweet.”
If the thirty could answer within seven days, Samson would give new clothes to each of them. If not, they would give thirty new changes of clothes to him. Of course this riddle is in reference to the lion Samson killed, and the men could not answer it. So on the seventh day, the men compel Samson’s betrothed to get the answer out of him by threatening her. She accuses Samson of not loving her, of hating her in fact. Samson at first resists telling her, saying that he has not even told his mother and father, why should he tell her? But ultimately he relents and tells her due to her persistence.
In turn, she tells the companions and they guess rightly:
“What is sweeter than honey?
And what is stronger than a lion?”
To which Samson replies:
“If you had not plowed with my heifer,
You would not have solved my riddle!”
Samson’s retort shows us that he knows exactly what is going on. The Philistines conspired against him to find the answer. In an act of both honor and violence, Samson goes to Ashkelon and kills thirty men, takes their clothes, and makes good to the companions according to the terms of the riddle; he gives them the clothing. This he also does with strength from the Spirit of the Lord. After all this, the woman that Samson had been so enamored with, and who had betrayed him in telling the riddle answer, was given to another man in marriage, Samson’s best man.
God is working through Samson to bring down the Philistines, who have dominion over Israel at this time. Even though the entire experience for Samson is not positive, the sequence of events serves God’s will. For us, remembering this hard truth during times of trial will help us to serve Him better. It may seem darkest just before the dawn when we find ourselves cheated. Or, as we will see in the coming chapters as Samson’s story unfolds, it may remain dark forever.
The relief we seek is not always the relief we receive. Despite conditions, if we serve and seek God, He will be with us and we can do our small part in advancing His will. And that is the greatest honor of all.