The Riddler Judge

Characters in Scripture continually surprise me.  They bring out my prejudices revealing areas of pride in my heart. For some reason, I am constantly surprised at the sophistication of Bronze Age II people, including the Israelis.  What’s wrong with me?  How often does that need to happen before I simply accept that it doesn’t take a smart phone to make one brilliant?

Samson throws a party, because that was the custom of the time when one gets married.  He wasn’t from there, so thirty “friends” were found for him with whom to “party”.  So, Samson decides to have some fun and offers to challenge them with a riddle…

Then Samson said to them, “Let me now propound a riddle to you; if you will indeed tell it to me within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty linen wraps and thirty changes of clothes.  But if you are unable to tell me, then you shall give me thirty linen wraps and thirty changes of clothes.” And they said to him, “Propound your riddle, that we may hear it.”  So he said to them, “Out of the eater came something to eat, And out of the strong came something sweet.” But they could not tell the riddle in three days. (Judges 14:12-14 NASB)

Look at verse 14 in several translations.  This riddle which Samson “propounds” is a poetic oddity.  Normally Hebrew poetry doesn’t render into English well at all.  English poetry prefers rhyme (words end the same), and Hebrew prefers “euphony” (words begin the same).  This riddle begins the same in Hebrew, and rhymes in English.  Only the King James Version misses the rhyme because of an “eth” that just has to be in there.  That doesn’t happen.

And consider that the references also work well in both languages, “eater” with “something to eat” (actually “food”), and “strong” and “sweet”.  These same references are clear in Hebrew.  Normally, such ideas or references take a lot more words in English than they do in Hebrew poetic lines.  This riddle is a poetic anomaly, in that it works both in Hebrew and English.  It doesn’t work so well in Greek.  Ironic, that.

Anyway, if he wins, Samson gets 30 sets of clothes.  If they win, Samson buys 30 sets of clothes.  He’s definitely the bigger winner and the bigger loser in this wager.  They risk and stand to gain much less.  Sounds like a good deal, and they take him up on it.  As the readers/audience, we know to what the riddle refers.  But, since nobody seems to work in, or around, the vineyards of Timnah, nobody else does.

Now we run into the second set of weird literary pieces.  It seems our author/editor isn’t a mathematician.  How many days was that feast?

Then it came about on the fourth day that they said to Samson’s wife, “Entice your husband, so that he will tell us the riddle, or we will burn you and your father’s house with fire. Have you invited us to impoverish us? Is this not so?”  Samson’s wife wept before him and said, “You only hate me, and you do not love me; you have propounded a riddle to the sons of my people, and have not told it to me.” And he said to her, “Behold, I have not told it to my father or mother; so should I tell you?”  However she wept before him seven days while their feast lasted. And on the seventh day he told her because she pressed him so hard. She then told the riddle to the sons of her people. (Judges 14:15-17 NASB)

So, the 30 “buddies” can’t tell him he riddle in 3 days, so, on the fourth, they go extort Samson’s “wife”.  Think through what they say to her, “Have you invited us to impoverish us? Is that not so?”  Wouldn’t it make more sense that Samson offered to impoverish himself?  They’re only out a set of clothes apiece, he’s on the hook for 30.  But such they claim, and threaten to kill her and her family.

In order to follow up on the previous entry, notice the wife doesn’t look at Samson and figure he can protect her and her family.  Another reason I think he doesn’t look like a superhero.  Instead she employs the female default weapon…tears.  And, let me just ask this, since all guys are thinking it, but I’m going to verbalize it, “Why do women claim men aren’t emotional, and yet know they can sway us with tears?”  If we weren’t emotional, that wouldn’t work.  So, women, stop trying to have it both ways.  You don’t come out well in the bargain.

Now, they can’t answer Samson in 3 days.  They go to the wife on the fourth.  And, she pesters Samson with tears for how many days?  Seven?  In the Hebrew (which is not the oldest text) they go to her on the seventh day.  How, exactly, does that work?  How can she weep before Samson seven days, regardless of which day the 30 “buddies” went to her?  Unless she was already weeping before him when they went to her, maybe that’s why they went to her.  But, no, that doesn’t really make sense.  We’re left with the literary conundrum, probably caused by the writer having too many fragmentary versions of the story from which to choose.

Eventually Samson gives into the tears, and she, then, promptly betrays him to her people.  I laugh at the next passage, even though it’s actually tragic, it’s just so crazy:

So the men of the city said to 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 to them, “If you had not plowed with my heifer, You would not have found out my riddle.”  Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily, and he went down to Ashkelon and killed thirty of them and took their spoil and gave the changes of clothes to those who told the riddle. And his anger burned, and he went up to his father’s house.  But Samson’s wife was given to his companion who had been his friend. (Judges 14:18-20 NASB)

The thirty “friends” win the wager telling Samson the answer to the riddle.  Does Samson actually refer to his new wife as a “heifer”?  So, does this guy simply not get women in general?  That could not endear her to him.  But, again, we see the Spirit of Yahweh cause him to succeed, and he goes down to another city, a major Philistine city, and murder 30 men for their clothes.  Was there blood still on them when he delivers them?  The deception and greed of the 30 “friends” was actually more costly for them.

Samson, in anger, returns to his father’s house instead of to his wife, and she’s given to another.  She’s given to someone referred to as one of his companions, who had been his friend.  Perhaps not all 30 were selfish jerks?  But being Samson’s friend, or wife, does not make one safe in this story.

Did you notice that God used this circumstance to incite Samson to kill Philistines?  Samson seems inclined to join them, at least to an extent.  But, their refusal to accept him is used by God to incite Samson to kill 30; something God considers “a good start”.  It’s kind of ruthless of God, is it not?  But consider that friendship with the ruling pagans would be enmity toward God.  Yet God thwarts the extension of friendship, closing off that avenue for Samson, and directs him to damage them instead.  The superhero has a divine purpose, one he may fight against, but one which he cannot escape.

What divine purpose do you have?  I’m no superhero, but I believe I have a divine purpose, and I believe you do as well.  I pray that I won’t miss mine, but, is that even an option?  Won’t my Master drive me away from missing it?  Do I truly have so much power that I can escape the divine will of my Master?  He’s given me a choice, but does He also give up His power over His purposes and designs?  Samson would have been a much less tragic character had he gone along with the purpose of his Master.  So, I guess my (our) choice is whether to be a tragic or triumphant hero.  Let’s fight the right enemy.

What’s your view through the fence this morning?