Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 14. The wedding at Timnah
Samson asks his parents to arrange a marriage for him in the usual way; but finding them unwilling, he takes the matter into his own hands. There was another way of gaining the bride, and this he determines to adopt. Among the Hebrews, as the present story shews, and among the Arabs in early days, it was considered lawful for a man to contract a union for a limited time; no intervention of the parents was necessary; the woman remained in her own home (cf. Jdg 8:31), and was visited at intervals by her husband. An alliance of this kind, for which the Arabic term mot‘a (or ṣadâḳa) marriage1 is used, was condemned by Islam as ‘the sister of harlotry,’ and it received no sanction from later Jewish custom or opinion. Accordingly the original tradition of Samson’s marriage has been modified in order to bring it into conformity with prevailing usages, chiefly by the addition of and his father and his mother in Jdg 14:5 and by corresponding changes in Jdg 14:6-10. These insertions have introduced confusion into the text, which, however, becomes perfectly intelligible when once they are recognized. See Rob. Smith, Kinship and Marriage in early Arabia, 67 ff., 76; S. A. Cook, Laws of Moses and Code of Ḫammurabi, 76 f.
 Mot‘a marriage is defined in Arabic law as ‘marriage for a period,’ Jus Safiticum, ed. Juynboll, p. 195. It was allowed by Mohammed as a temporary concession, and then abrogated; the tradition may be found in Muslim (Cairo, a.h. 1290), vol. i. p. 395. Cf. Jacob, Altarab. Beduinenleben (1897), p. 54. These references are due to Prof. Margoliouth.
And Samson went down to Timnath, and saw a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines.1. Timnah] now Tibneh, about 4 m. S.W. of Zorah, on the low hills of the Shephçlah: hence went down is the word for reaching it from Samson’s house (Jdg 14:1; Jdg 14:5; Jdg 14:7; Jdg 14:10), and go up, for the journey in the opposite direction, Jdg 14:2 and 1 Samuel 29:9. According to Joshua 15:10 Timnah lay on the N. border of Judah (cf. 2 Chronicles 28:18), and is assigned to Dan, ib. Joshua 19:43 (P). It is mentioned in the Prism Inscr. of Sennacherib as one of the places which he captured after Altaḳu (Eltekeh), just before he ravaged Judah in 701 b.c., Keil. Bibl. ii. 92 f.
And he came up, and told his father and his mother, and said, I have seen a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines: now therefore get her for me to wife.2. Samson at first behaves as a dutiful son, and consults both parents about his marriage. It is hardly necessary to strike out the reference to his mother.
Then his father and his mother said unto him, Is there never a woman among the daughters of thy brethren, or among all my people, that thou goest to take a wife of the uncircumcised Philistines? And Samson said unto his father, Get her for me; for she pleaseth me well.3. It was the father’s business to arrange a marriage and the amount of the dowry, e.g. Genesis 24:2 ff; Genesis 34:4; Genesis 38:6. Hence the father alone is named in clause b; in cl. a the words and his mother look like an insertion to harmonize with Jdg 14:2 : note my people; said is singular.
the uncircumcised] A standing term of contempt in Judg. and Sam., pointing to the alien origin of the Philistines, the only uncircumcised people known to the early Israelites; see on Jdg 13:1 and cf. 1 Samuel 18:25. A marriage outside the tribe was looked upon with disfavour, Genesis 29:19; both tribal feeling and religious motives would combine against an alliance with a Philistine; cf. Genesis 24:3, Exodus 34:16 (JE), Deuteronomy 7:3.
But his father and his mother knew not that it was of the LORD, that he sought an occasion against the Philistines: for at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel.4. It is not actually said that Manoah refused, but the sequel (Jdg 14:5-7) in its original form implies that he did.
he sought an occasion] The subject is Jehovah, cf. Joshua 11:20; an occasion, i.e. for a quarrel, cf. 2 Kings 5:7. The Philistines had always been the aggressors; an act of retaliation was justifiable.
over Israel] Israel as a whole did not yet exist. The generalized statement probably comes from the editor; cf. Jdg 13:1.
Then went Samson down, and his father and his mother, to Timnath, and came to the vineyards of Timnath: and, behold, a young lion roared against him.5. and his father and his mother] A later addition made for the purpose of conforming Samson’s marriage to the ordinary type, in which the preliminaries were arranged by the parents. The encounter with the lion and the interview with the woman clearly shew that Samson was alone.
a young lion] The lion was once common in Palestine, especially in the desert S. of Judah (Isaiah 30:6), and in the valley of the Jordan; it has disappeared since the time of the crusades.
And the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and he rent him as he would have rent a kid, and he had nothing in his hand: but he told not his father or his mother what he had done.6. came mightily upon him] Cf. Jdg 14:19, Jdg 15:14, 1 Samuel 10:6; 1 Samuel 10:10; 1 Samuel 11:6; the expression denotes a sudden rush of superhuman power.
and he rent him … a kid] rent him as a man rends a kid; the verb only here and in Leviticus 1:17, where it is used of the ritual learing asunder of a fowl in burnt offering. The comparison as one rends a kid may refer to some ceremonial act, as Moore suggests, but we have no evidence of such a practice. Milton’s version, ‘Who tore the lion, as the lion tears the kid,’ Samson Agonistes, l. 128, gets over the difficulty by substituting ‘the lion’ for the indefinite subject (as one rends). The hero’s fight with a lion is a favourite theme in ancient mythology and folk-lore; e.g. the scene represented on early Bab. seals, above, p. 130; the reliefs from the palace of Ashurbanipal (A. Jeremias, l.c. 479); Herakles and the Nemean lion figured on Greek coins1; the stories of David and of Benaiah (1 Samuel 17:34-36, 2 Samuel 23:20).
 Hill, Catal. of Gk. Coins in the Brit. Mus., Cyprus, Pl. xxv. 6–8; Lycaonia, etc., Pl. xvii. 5, xl. 12. Instances of this motif from ancient sources are collected by Stahn, Die Simson-Sage, 1908, pp. 32 ff.
but he told not etc.] The clause introduces some confusion, and may be an interpolation from Jdg 14:9.
And he went down, and talked with the woman; and she pleased Samson well.7. Samson acts on his own account; the parents remain at home, and take no part in the arrangements.
And after a time he returned to take her, and he turned aside to see the carcase of the lion: and, behold, there was a swarm of bees and honey in the carcase of the lion.8. he returned] i.e. to Zorah; the woman stays in her father’s house, as was the rule in a mot‘a marriage. The natural sense of the narrative is destroyed by the expression to take her, i.e. to marry her (a single word in the Hebr.); obviously it has been inserted. The marriage does not begin till later, Jdg 14:10.
a swarm of bees] Though in a hot country the carcase would quickly decay and shrivel up, some time must have elapsed before the bees could hive in it and form honey-comb. But in a popular story, so full of marvels, this matter-of-fact detail would not be considered. The tale of Onesilus told by Herodotus, 14:114, has been quoted to illustrate the incident. If we wish to look for the origin of this popular story, Stahn (l.c. on p. 140) offers an explanation which is certainly plausible. The connexion between the lion and the honey may be founded on the observed fact that when the sun stands in the sign of Leo, i.e. in the month of May–June, bees in Palestine produce their honey. This would be common knowledge, and would suggest an answer to the riddle in Jdg 14:14, which the Philistines might have answered if they had used their wits.
And he took thereof in his hands, and went on eating, and came to his father and mother, and he gave them, and they did eat: but he told not them that he had taken the honey out of the carcase of the lion.9. And he took it … had taken] The word, which occurs only here (? in Jeremiah 5:31), is used in the Talmud for taking honey out of the hive, detaching bread from the sides of the oven; so we may render he scraped off the honey into his palms. It is one of the household words of old Hebrew which rarely find their way into literature (Moore). For wild honey as food cf. 1 Samuel 14:25 ff., St Mark 1:6.
So his father went down unto the woman: and Samson made there a feast; for so used the young men to do.10. his father] Again, an insertion. If the father was out of place in Jdg 14:5, he is more impossible at this stage. Originally the text ran and he went down … and made, or and Samson went down … and made.
a feast] The LXX adds of seven days, perhaps merely an inference from Jdg 14:12. The young men mean bridegrooms. It was customary for the wedding feast to be held in the bridegroom’s home (cf. 2Es 9:47, Tob 8:19 f., Jdg 11:19, St Matthew 22:2); in the present case, however, Samson gave the feast in the bride’s village, if not in her father’s house, Jdg 14:15.
And it came to pass, when they saw him, that they brought thirty companions to be with him.11. when they saw him] With a slight change LXX. cod. A etc. read because they feared him; they must be the Philistines, though not mentioned in the context. The sight of Samson, or their fear of him, induced the Philistines to procure thirty companions (cf. Jdg 14:20), nominally as friends and supporters, but really in self-defence. The text does not give an altogether satisfactory sense, and may have suffered from alterations. If we read that he brought, which would be an improvement, we must treat when they saw him as an interpolation. This is Moore’s view, and Budde proposes further re-arrangements; the original state of the verse is not easy to recover. The thirty (cf. Song of Solomon 3:7 sixty) are of course Philistines, Jdg 14:18. At village weddings in Syria the bridegroom is still attended by a body-guard of young men with their leader (Jdg 14:20), who superintend the festivities and bear the cost. This ancient institution probably goes back to days when the party really needed protection (Wetzstein, Z. f. Ethnologie, 1873, 288 f.).
And Samson said unto them, I will now put forth a riddle unto you: if ye can certainly declare it me within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty sheets and thirty change of garments:12. a riddle] This is the only specimen in the O.T. of a riddle in our sense (1 Kings 10:1); elsewhere the word means a sententious maxim Proverbs 1:6, or a parable Ezekiel 17:2.
the seven days] Cf. Genesis 29:22; Genesis 29:27, Tob 8:19 f., Jdg 11:19. Similarly among the early Arabs (Benzinger, Hebr. Arch.2, p. 109 n.).
linen garments] The garment referred to (Hebr. sâdîn, Isaiah 3:23, Proverbs 31:24, perhaps of foreign origin, cf. Assyr. sudinnu) was of fine material, and seems to have been worn sometimes outside the other clothes, sometimes next the skin. The Talmud implies that it was a linen sheet or wrapper of considerable size, and put to various uses. The LXX render by sindôn, cf. Mark 14:51 f., Mark 15:46.
changes of raiment] Hebr. ḥalîfôth begâdîm, generally explained as clothes which might be exchanged for ordinary raiment on festal occasions, gala dresses; Genesis 45:22, 2 Kings 5:5; 2 Kings 5:22-23. But ḥalîfôth may be a loan-word from the Babylonian (ḥalâpu = ‘clothe’) with the sense of clothings; if this is the case, the two words ḥalîfôth begâdîm will each mean the same thing (like our ‘dress-clothes’), the foreign word being explained by the native one. It is worth noticing that LXX here render στολὰς ἱματίων, and that in Jdg 14:19 ḥalîfôth occurs alone, robes.
But if ye cannot declare it me, then shall ye give me thirty sheets and thirty change of garments. And they said unto him, Put forth thy riddle, that we may hear it.13. The loss of the wager would leave the thirty companions practically naked; no wonder they express themselves strongly in Jdg 14:15!
And he said unto them, Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness. And they could not in three days expound the riddle.14. The riddle is cast into poetical form; the verse consists of two members with three beats in each. The structure of the retort in Jdg 14:18 is the same.
And it came to pass on the seventh day, that they said unto Samson's wife, Entice thy husband, that he may declare unto us the riddle, lest we burn thee and thy father's house with fire: have ye called us to take that we have? is it not so?15. on the seventh day] Would the young men have waited all this time before pressing the woman to extract the answer? In Jdg 14:17 she is said to have tried herself to find it out all the seven days. The two statements are inconsistent. The LXX and Peshitto read on the fourth day; but this is suspiciously like what we should expect after in three days Jdg 14:14. Most critics think that the numbers in Jdg 14:14-15 were added to the original text in order to heighten the difficulty of the riddle and the despair of the Philistines.
unto us] LXX unto thee. Samson could not be expected to tell the Philistines himself.
to impoverish us] lit. take possession of, dispossess us. The reflex. stem has the meaning come to poverty in Genesis 45:11, Proverbs 20:13 etc.
is it not so?] The Hebr. requires a slight correction: ‘was it to impoverish us that ye invited us hither?’ So five Hebr. mss., Targ.
And Samson's wife wept before him, and said, Thou dost but hate me, and lovest me not: thou hast put forth a riddle unto the children of my people, and hast not told it me. And he said unto her, Behold, I have not told it my father nor my mother, and shall I tell it thee?16. before him] upon him and Jdg 14:17, i.e. on his neck; the same idiom in Genesis 45:15. For the woman’s wile cf. Jdg 16:15.
And she wept before him the seven days, while their feast lasted: and it came to pass on the seventh day, that he told her, because she lay sore upon him: and she told the riddle to the children of her people.17. she pressed him sore] lit. reduced him to straits by her importunity; again in Jdg 16:16.
And the men of the city said unto him on the seventh day before the sun went down, What is sweeter than honey? and what is stronger than a lion? And he said unto them, If ye had not plowed with my heifer, ye had not found out my riddle.18. before the sun went down] lit. went in. But the word for sun (ḥeres) is rare and poetical, and it has the accus. ending which denotes motion towards. A slight correction proposed by Stade gives the right sense: before he went into the chamber, the same word as in Jdg 15:1. They wait till the last moment before the wedding was completed.
And the Spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon, and slew thirty men of them, and took their spoil, and gave change of garments unto them which expounded the riddle. And his anger was kindled, and he went up to his father's house.19. The sudden access of superhuman power seems to coincide with the outburst of natural passion, as in Jdg 14:6, Jdg 15:14.
Ashkelon] Perhaps Khirbet ‘Asḳalûn, about 4 m. S. of Tibneh (Timnah), rather than the well-known Ashkelon on the sea-coast, 24 m. or 8 hours distant. The anger ought to precede rather than follow the exploit; but the writer probably did not trouble about logical sequence in his narrative of marvels. There is no need to regard the feat at Ashkelon as a later addition (Moore, Budde, Nowack) because it leads to nothing in the sequel.
their spoil] lit. things stripped off a dead enemy, exuviae; only again 2 Samuel 2:21.
he went up] without consummating the marriage, as the previous verses seem to imply (esp. Jdg 14:18); although it is true that sometimes the consummation took place on the first and not on the last day of the feast, Genesis 29:23.
But Samson's wife was given to his companion, whom he had used as his friend.20. After this violent rupture, and to make up for the disgrace inflicted upon the bride, she was given to his groomsman who had acted as his groom; cf. Jdg 15:2; Jdg 15:6, St John 3:29. LXX. cod. A renders by the technical word νυμφαγωγός, the leader of the bride.