Samson’s first direct contact with the Philistine tyrants who dominated his homeland was when he was about 19 years of age (around 1121 BC). By this point, the Philistines had exercised dominion over his nation for about 20 years. And it was also around this time that the Israelites went to battle with the Philistines and lost the Ark of the Covenant (1122 BC). Upon hearing of this, Eli the high priest died; and then the Ark was sent around the land of the Philistines for a while, until it was eventually returned to Israel at Beth-shemesh and then taken to Kirjath-jearim. These events are recorded in 1 Sam. 4:1–7:2, but they chronologically transpired around this time.
In this chapter, we see Samson exhibiting characteristic determination and perversity. He became strongly attached to a young woman of Timnath – a Philistine and an idolatress. It was weak and foolish indeed for Samson to set his affections upon a daughter of the Philistines – especially since he was a Nazarite, who was to be devoted to the Lord! Samson’s parents did well to try to dissuade him from yoking himself unequally with unbelievers. But at last, the marriage-feast was arranged. It seems that it pleased God to leave Samson to follow his own inclinations, intending to bring out good (for the nation of Israel) from his bad conduct (verse 4); however, Samson’s example is not recorded for us to imitate.
While on their way to Timnath, a young lion sprang out to meet Samson! Impelled by a mighty impulse, the young Danite seized the beast and tore it in pieces! This young lion, roaring against Samson, is a picture of the accursed rage of the devil against all the children of God. As soon as a soul is awakened from the death of sin to a life of righteousness, Satan comes against him – loudly roaring. But as Samson was a foreshadow of Christ, do we not see here an emblem of Jesus’ triumph over the powers of darkness? And by enabling Samson to thus kill a lion, God let him know what was possible for him to do in the strength of the Spirit of the Lord, so that he would never be afraid to look the greatest difficulties in the face.
Subsequently returning to Timnath to finalize his marriage, Samson observed that a swarm of wild bees had constructed their wax honeycomb in the dried skeleton of the lion. There is a beautiful instruction veiled under this! Just as no one would expect to find anything good in the carcass of a lion; so also, no one would suppose that the Lord Jesus would bring good out of the evil that we created by our sins. But truly, the victories of our Savior over Satan provide us with sweet food indeed! Our Lord Jesus has conquered the devil, the roaring lion; and now, like Samson, believers find spiritual honey in the carcass.
The most unlikely agents may become instruments in accomplishing the purposes of God, and it was that swarm of bees which led to Samson’s first open rupture with the Philistines. It was the commencement of an avowed enmity which never ceased until his death! For the seven-day-long wedding-feast, the bride’s parents invited 30 young men of Timnath to attend Samson and do him honor. In those days, riddles were a common amusement on festive occasions; and when it came to Samson’s turn, he proposed a riddle that was suggested by the honey which he had found in the lion’s skeleton. He even accompanied his riddle with a bet. If his 30 Philistine “friends” solved the riddle before the seven-day-feast was over, Samson would forfeit to each of them a change of clothing of superior description; but if it remained unsolved, then each of them would forfeit a similar change of clothing to him. The young men guessed and guessed in vain; the riddle could not be solved. So enraged did they become at the idea of being outwitted by this rough and long-haired Hebrew, that they persuaded the bride – under the cruel threat of burning her and her family – to extract the secret from her husband and thus save them from being plundered. The week was thus rendered strangely unlike a festival by the tearful entreaties of the bride. On the last day of the feast, Samson divulged the answer to her; and then the young men triumphantly reiterated it before him. But he rose up in anger and told them that they would never have solved the riddle if they had not extorted the answer out of his bride.
Impelled by the Spirit of the Lord, Samson now put forth his mighty strength against those who were both his public and private enemies. He went down to Ashkelon – a city on the sea-coast, which had long since been taken away from Judah by the Philistines, who were its original inhabitants. Falling upon the men of that place, Samson slaughtered 30 of them. Bringing back their garments, he flung them indignantly to his astonished groomsmen. And then, turning his back upon his bride, he went back home – in overflowing anger – to his father’s house. Without waiting or inquiring, the intended wife of Samson was then given in marriage to the young Philistine man from Timnath who had acted as Samson’s special attendant during the feast. These events served to bring Samson away from his new relatives. It would be well for us if the unkindness and disappointments of the world would oblige us – by faith and prayer – to return to our heavenly Father’s house and find rest there.
Lord, we thank You that Christ has victoriously overcome the devil, the roaring lion; and we give thanks that we, as believers, may freely partake of all the blessings which result from our Savior’s victory over Satan! Amen.
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