Story of the Chosen People - Helene Guerber

Samson's Riddle

When Jephthah went forth to fight the Ammonites, he did not ask any help from the Ephraimites. They resented this oversight bitterly, and behaved so insolently that the followers of Jephthah made war against them, and defeated them in a pitched battle.

When the fight was won, Jephthah was afraid that some of the Ephraimites might cross the Jordan, and, returning home, give a wrong impression of the quarrel and stir up their whole tribe to war; so he and his followers decided not to let a man of the conquered army escape.

To make sure of this, they placed a guard at all the fords of the Jordan, with orders to make every man who wished to cross pronounce the word "shibboleth;" for the Ephraimites could not pronounce this word.



After judging Israel six years, Jephthah died in Gilead, where he was buried. He was succeeded by three judges in turn, after whose rule the disobedient Israelites fell into the hands of the Philistines. This time their bondage lasted forty years, and Samson, who lived during the first half of this period, has been called the thirteenth judge of Israel.

Born in the days when Eli was high priest, Samson was the son of a Danite. Before his birth, an angel had appeared to his mother, telling her that she would have a son, who was to be dedicated to God by a special vow, and hence called a Nazarite.

The woman was so amazed at this prophecy that she called her husband, and the angel repeated it to him before vanishing. The child Samson was born as the angel had foretold, and his mother duly dedicated him to the service of the Lord, and never cut off his long hair, which was the outward sign of a Nazarite.

All the tribes of Israel were now under Philistine oppression, and when Samson became a man, the spirit of God began to move him, and revealed itself principally in the matchless strength and courage with which he was endowed.

As this strength all depended on the keeping of his vow to be a Nazarite, the Bible tells us that Samsonís strength was in his hair. The young man, conscious of his unusual power, was very brave indeed, and tried hard to provoke a quarrel with the oppressors.

With this purpose in view, he once asked for the hand of a certain Philistine woman. On his way to visit her, a lion rushed out upon him from a neighboring thicket, and would have eaten him up, had not the spirit of God come upon him at the moment of greatest need, and enabled him, although unarmed, to seize and tear the lion to pieces. Sometime after, when passing along the same road, Samson saw a swarm of bees building their honeycombs in the lionís sun dried carcass; and he ate some of the honey. As it was customary to ask riddles at marriage festivals, he gave the following to the Philistines when his own wedding took place:

"Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness."

The Philistines made vain efforts to find the answer of this riddle, and thus secure the prize of garments which Samson had promised them. At last, however, they coaxed the young manís bride to reveal the answer, and, going to him, triumphantly cried:

"What is sweeter than honey, and what is stronger than a lion?"

Samson, of course, was surprised to hear that they had solved his riddle; but when he found out that they had done so only by fraud, he was very indignant, and resolved to take his revenge. To pay the promised reward, therefore, he slew thirty Philistines, and gave their spoil to the wedding guests.

A few months later, when Samson would fain have claimed his wife, and taken her home, he was told that she had been given in marriage to another. To avenge this insult he tied firebrands to the tails of three hundred captive foxes, and then let the animals loose in the ripe grain fields. The grain soon caught fire, and all the Philistine harvest was destroyed.

In anger, the Philistines now burned Samsonís wife and her father, and thereby so enraged the young man that he fell upon them, and "smote them hip and thigh with a great slaughter." Then he went and took refuge on the top of the rock of Etam in the territory of Judah.