We have here an account of Samson’s wedding feast and the occasion it gave him to fall foul upon the Philistines.
I. Samson conformed to the custom of the country in making a festival of his nuptial solemnities, which continued seven days, Jdg. 13:10. Though he was a Nazarite, he did not affect, in a thing of this nature, to be singular, but did as the young men used to do upon such occasions. It is no part of religion to go contrary to the innocent usages of the places where we live: nay, it is a reproach to religion when those who profess it give just occasion to others to call them covetous, sneaking, and morose. A good man should strive to make himself, in the best sense, a good companion.
II. His wife’s relations paid him the accustomed respect of the place upon that occasion, and brought him thirty young men to keep him company during the solemnity, and to attend him as his grooms-men (Jdg. 13:11): When they saw him, what a comely man he was, and what an ingenuous graceful look he had, they brought him these to do him honour, and to improve by his conversation while he staid among them. Or, rather, when they saw him, what a strong stout man he was, they brought these, seemingly to be his companions, but really to be a guard upon him, or spies to observe him. Jealous enough they were of him, but would have been more so had they known of his victory over the lion, which therefore he had industriously concealed. The favours of Philistines have often some mischief or other designed in them.
III. Samson, to entertain the company, propounds a riddle to them, and lays a wager with them that they cannot find it out in seven days, Jdg. 13:12-14. The usage, it seems, was very ancient upon such occasions, when friends were together, to be innocently merry, not to spend all the time in dull eating and drinking, as bishop Patrick expresses it, or in other gratifications of sense, as music, dancing, or shows, but to propose questions, by which their learning and ingenuity might be tried and improved. This becomes men, wise men, that value themselves by their reason; but very unlike to it are the infamous and worse than brutish entertainments of this degenerate age, which send nothing round but the glass and the health, till reason is drowned, and wisdom sunk. Now, 1. Samson’s riddle was his own invention, for it was his own achievement that gave occasion for it: Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness. Read my riddle, what is this? Beasts of prey do not yield meat for man, yet food came from the devourer; and those creatures that are strong when they are alive commonly smell strong and are every way offensive when they are dead, as horses, and yet out of the strong, or out of the bitter, so the Syriac and Arabic read it, came sweetness. If they had but so much sense as to consider what eater is most strong, and what meat is most sweet, they would have found out the riddle, and neither lions nor honey were such strangers to their country that the thoughts of them needed to be out of the way; and the solving of the riddle would have given him occasion to tell them the entertaining story on which it was founded. This riddle is applicable to many of the methods of divine providence and grace. When God, by an over-ruling providence, brings good out of evil to his church and people,—when that which threatened their ruin turns to their advantage,—when their enemies are made serviceable to them, and the wrath of men turns to God’s praise,—then comes meat out of the eater and sweetness out of the strong. See Phil. 1:12. 2. His water was more considerable to him than to them, because he was one against thirty partners. It was not a wager laid upon God’s providence, or upon the chance of a die or a card, but upon their ingenuity, and amounted to no more than an honorary recompence of wit and a disgrace upon stupidity.
IV. His companions, when they could not expound the riddle themselves, obliged his wife to get from him the exposition of it, Jdg. 13:15. Whether they were really of a dull capacity, or whether under a particular infatuation at this time, it was strange that none of the thirty could in all this time stumble upon so plain a thing as that, What is sweeter than honey and what stronger than a lion? It should seem that in wit, as well as manners, they were barbarous—barbarous indeed to threaten the bride that, if she would not use means with the bridegroom to let them into the meaning of it, they would burn her and her father’s house with fire. Could any thing be more brutish? It was base enough to turn a jest into earnest, and those were unworthy of conversation that would grow so outrageous rather than confess their ignorance and lose so small a wager; nor would it save their credit at all to tell the riddle when they were told it. It was yet more villainous to engage Samson’s wife to be a traitor to her own husband, and to pretend a greater interest in her than he had. Now that she was married she must forget her own people. Yet most inhuman of all was it to threaten, if she could not prevail, to burn her and all her relations with fire, and all for fear of losing each of them the value of a shirt and a coat: Have you called us to take what we have? Those must never lay wagers that cannot lose more tamely and easily than thus.
V. His wife, by unreasonable importunity, obtains from him a key to his riddle. It was on the seventh day, that is, the seventh day of the week (as Dr. Lightfoot conjectures), but the fourth day of the feast, that they solicited her to entice her husband (Jdg. 13:15), and she did it, 1. With great art and management (Jdg. 13:16), resolving not to believe he loved her, unless he would gratify her in this thing. She knew he could not bear to have his love questioned, and therefore, if any thing would work upon him, that would: “Thou dost but hate me, and lovest me not, if thou deniest me;” whereas he had much more reason to say, “Thou dost but hate me, and lovest me not, if thou insistest on it.” And, that she might not make this the test of his affection, he assures her he had not told his own parents, notwithstanding the confidence he reposed in them. If this prevail not, she will try the powerful eloquence of tears: she wept before him the rest of the days of the feast, choosing rather to mar the mirth, as the bride’s tears must needs do, than not gain her point, and oblige her countrymen, Jdg. 13:17. 2. With great success. At last, being quite wearied with her importunity, he told her what was the meaning of his riddle, and though we may suppose she promised secresy, and that if he would but let her know she would tell nobody, she immediately told it to the children of her people; nor could he expect better from a Philistine, especially when the interests of her country were ever so little concerned. See Mic. 7:5, 6. The riddle is at length unriddled (Jdg. 13:18): What is sweeter than honey, or a better meat? Prov. 24:13. What is stronger than a lion, or a greater devourer? Samson generously owns they had won the wager, though he had good reason to dispute it, because they had not declared the riddle, as the bargain was (Jdg. 13:12), but it had been declared to them. But he only thought fit to tell them of it: If you had not ploughed with my heifer, made use of your interest with my wife, you would not have found out my riddle. Satan, in his temptations, could not do us the mischief he does if he did not plough with the heifer of our own corrupt nature.
VI. Samson pays his wager to these Philistines with the spoils of others of their countrymen, Jdg. 13:19. He took this occasion to quarrel with the Philistines, went down to Ashkelon, one of their cities, where probably he knew there was some great festival observed at this time, to which many flocked, out of whom he picked out thirty, slew them, and took their clothes, and gave them to those that had expounded the riddle; so that, in balancing the account, it appeared that the Philistines were the losers, for one of the lives they lost was worth all the suits of clothes they won: the body is more than raiment. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him, both to authorize and to enable him to do this.
VII. This proves a good occasion of weaning Samson from his new relations. He found how his companions had abused him and how his wife had betrayed him, and therefore his anger was kindled, Jdg. 13:19. Better be angry with Philistines than in love with them, because, when we join ourselves to them, we are most in danger of being ensnared by them. And, meeting with this ill usage among them, he went up to his father’s house. It were well for us if the unkindnesses we meet with from the world, and our disappointments in it, had but this good effect upon us, to oblige us by faith and prayer to return to our heavenly Father’s house and rest there. The inconveniences that occur in our way should make us love home and long to be there. No sooner had he gone than his wife was disposed of to another, Jdg. 13:20. Instead of begging his pardon for the wrong she had done him, when he justly signified his resentment of it only by withdrawing in displeasure for a time, she immediately marries him that was the chief of the guests, the friend of the bridegroom, whom perhaps she loved too well, and was too willing to oblige, when she got her husband to tell her the riddle. See how little confidence is to be put in man, when those may prove our enemies whom we have used as our friends.