Samson's Wedding Wrumble

Usually when you think of Samson, you think of long hair, pillars, and a couple kegs of testosterone. Weddings and food probably aren’t anywhere near the top of the list. In fact, chances are that you had long forgotten that Samson ever got married, or maybe you never knew about it at all.
But Samson’s career in the Book of Judges actually starts out with a wedding banquet. Samson, a nice Danite boy, fell in love with a pretty little Philistine girl named Anat. Now, in those days, it was understood that a Hebrew was supposed to marry a Hebrew. Goys and goyls were were off limits. But there she was, a gorgeous little Philly. Samson was in love. His parents protested, but head-strong Samson was dead-set on her.
Allow me an excursus on covenant:
In the ancient Near East, you didn’t eat with just anybody, and you certainly didn’t marry just anybody. You kept everything in the family. It was an “us and them” mentality. “Us” entailed everyone and everything that was a part of your tribe. This included the gods and certain animals and the “spirits” of certain locales. “Them” was everything else, and “them” was the enemy. Now, if for some reason, “them” wanted to become one of “us,” it wasn’t an impossibility. A sacrifice was made to the deity of the tribe in question, the life-blood of the animal was applied to all parties involved in some way or other, (like sprinkling), and everyone ate together. Families eat together. You would very rarely invite a stranger to eat with you. If you ate with someone, there was “salt between you,” and you were kin.

Remember all this, because it’s about to get reeeally important.
So when Samson requested that his parents bless his marriage to a Philistine girl, it shook them up a bit. But worse than that, he went to Timnah for the marriage to receive her at THEIR wedding banquet.
While they were still making wedding preparations, Samson went down to visit his fiancé, Anat, one day. As he was going along a lion attacked him. The Spirit of the Lord fell upon Samson and he tore the beast apart with his bare hands, dusted himself off, and continued on his way.
Several weeks later the big day had arrived, and he was going down the same road to Timnah. He came to the spot where he had fought the lion, and walked over to where he had left its carcass. A swarm of bees had taken up residence in the lion’s body. Samson was a bit hungry, so he stuck his hand in and grabbed a big bunch of honey. After licking off his sticky fingers, he continued on his way.
In Timnah, Samson was a big hit. The town was abuzz over the big Israelite who had come over to the Philistines. They selected thirty groomsmen for him, “companions” as they are called in the RSV Bible, for the banquet. They ate and drank with one another till late in the night. For all practical purposes, Samson was becoming a Philistine.
And THAT’S what makes this such a great story. Because just when it looked like Sammy was about to slip over the edge into gentile oblivion, one of his drunken groomsmen, a lout named Achish, thought a game was in order. They would challenge one another to riddles.
“Hey, Shammy, do you Danites know any good puzzlers?”
Samson didn’t feel like playing. He was tired, and the wine was making his head swim.
“The sheep and goats the Hebrews hang out with aren’t very clever. Samson might not know what a riddle is!” one of the louder groomsmen guffawed.
The blood began to rush to Samson’s face, but he remained silent, and tried to find his fiancé in the crowd from the couch where he was reclining.
Enjoying the joke at Samson’s expense, Achish defined “riddle” in a superior fashion: “A riddle is” and now in mock intellectualism, “a question or statement requiring thought to answer or understand; i.e., a conundrum.”
Samson’s nose began to redden ….
Another groomsman laughed and said, “Careful now. Don’t frighten off the Hebrew boy with big, scary words like ‘conundrum’ … or ‘thought!’”
The crowd of thirty groomsmen, (at least those who had not yet passed out), erupted into laughter.
Samson clapped his hands on his thighs. “Fine. Fine. I have a riddle for all of you.” The Philistines looked up in expectation. “But let’s make this more interesting for everyone involved. How about playing for a prize?”
His pickled audience cheered through their sloppy lips.
“Very well. Here are the terms. If you cannot solve my riddle by the end of our seven days of feasting, then each of you will owe me a set of linen garments and a banquet suit. If you solve it, then I will owe each of you the same. How about it?”
The groomsmen cheered again.
Samson stood up. “Ok. Listen up:
Out of the eater, something to eat.
Out of the strong, something sweet.”
Samson sat down.
Suddenly, the banquet-hall was silent.
“Samson,” Achish pleaded, “In Dagon’s name, what kind of ridiculous riddle is that?”
One of the stupider groomsmen snickered, but the fellow sitting next to him gave him an elbow in the ribs.
Samson lazily nibbled at a piece of baklava. The honey dripped down his forearm. It made him laugh. Without glancing at Achish he cooly answered, “You agreed to my terms. The hall is full of witnesses. The terms shall stand.” Then he looked directly into his groomsman’s eyes. “Come. Let us eat together. Have a piece of baklava.”

The daily banquets were chilly over the coming days. Samson noticed that even his bride-to-be was subdued somehow. One night, after the festivities, he approached her while she stood outside gazing at the stars. He embraced her from behind, hoping to enjoy a foretaste of the days to come under the cover of darkness, but she whirled about with a troubled look, and pushed him away.
“What’s wrong?” Samson asked.
“You hate me!” she sobbed.
“You must surely hate me. Else you would give me the answer to your riddle!”
Samson scrunched up his brow. This didn’t feel right. Why should his bride want to know the answer to the riddle so badly? “My own parents don’t even know the answer! Don’t you think you’re blowing this out of proportion?”
His love delivered a well-aimed “hmmph!” and stormed off. Samson scratched his head. He began to have second thoughts about the girl. A life-time of dealing with such flightiness would be pretty miserable. But she sure was a beautiful sight storming off like that! Feisty!
The next few nights ended on the same discordant note. On the last day of the feast, as Samson was daydreaming of the delights of married life in her parents’ garden, his beloved stirred him out of his stupor with a look of desperation in her eyes. “How can we live our life together as husband and wife if you won’t share your secrets with me?”
“Oh brother! The riddle again? If it’s so very important to you, then I’ll tell you. On the way down here a few weeks ago, I killed a lion. Coming back for our wedding, I found a hive of bees that had taken up residence in its carcass, and I ate a bit of their honey.”
Quite suddenly, his beloved’s eyes dried up. Slowly, she drew down Samson’s head and gave him a deliberate kiss, not quite tender, but certainly not cold. Then she turned to go on some unspoken mission.
Samson felt chilled in the warm evening air.
On the next day, the wedding party assembled for the final banquet before Samson would take his bride away to live with him and his parents. Samson raised his voice and hushed the banquet. “I believe that my groomsmen owe me a suit of clothing.”
Achish smiled. “Hmm. Perhaps. But first, tell me, what is stronger than a lion, and what is sweeter than honey?” Samson was stunned. How? He saw his bride lower her head and dart out of the hall out of the corner of his eye. Yes. That must be it. She had been coerced to weasel the answer out of him.
“I have another riddle for you!” he bellowed. “You should not have been plowing with my heifer!”
He wheeled around to exit the hall.
“Where are you going, Samson?” asked the stupid groomsman.
Samson halted to blurt out, “I’m getting your prize.”
The feast continued without Samson. Everyone enjoyed themselves except for Anat, who could not help worrying for him.
Several hours later, long after the sun had gone down, long after Samson and his beloved should have finally retired to their marriage bed, Samson reappeared. On his shoulders he carried several large bundles.
“What have you got there, Samson?” Achish asked.
Samson said nothing. Silently, he dropped his bundles to the floor and kicked them open. Then he stooped and grabbed something, and threw it to one of the approaching groomsmen.
“This is a fine garment, Samson. Where did you get it?”
“You’ll find out soon enough. Enjoy the party.”
And Samson disappeared into the night.
About fifteen miles away, in Ashdod, mourning filled thirty homes.

A few weeks later, Samson cooled off and began to miss his Philistine sweetheart. He returned to Timnah to pick her up, carrying a kid as a gift, (no boxes of chocolates in ancient Israel!). His father-in-law met him in the courtyard. He was noticeably uncomfortable, and kept darting his eyes around to avoid contact with Samson’s stare.
“Hello, Samson. Good to see you. What can I do for you?”
“I thought I would pick up Anat.”
“Uh. Well. You can’t.”
Samson began to get hot. His father-in-law could feel the heat and took a step backwards. “Why not? She’s my wife, isn’t she?”
“Well, not exactly. I, well, oh, Samson … I’m sorry. I gave her to Achish. She’s his wife now. We had no idea you would come back! I thought that you were disgusted with her and wanted no more to do with her.”
Samson felt the rage boiling through him. He dropped the kid and stormed off without another word.
“Samson! Where are you going? Why don’t you marry Anat’s sister?”
“You Philistines!” Samson muttered under his breath. “I am guiltless of whatever misfortune befalls you.”
It was late May, and the wheat-fields were promising an abundant harvest. Samson took note of the laboring harvesters as he strode away, and began to put together a crafty plan.
For the next few days, Samson occupied himself with catching foxes. I have no idea how he did it, but he managed to get 300 of them. When he had collected his foxes, he prepared 150 torches, and then began tying pairs of foxes together at the tail, with torches bound up with their tails. Then he sent each pair, with its burning torch, into a wheat-field. Soon, the country surrounding Timnah was ablaze. Because the fields were narrow, with olive trees and grape-vines growing on their borders and terraces, much more than wheat was ruined, and the devastation to Timnah’s agriculture was incalculable.
When the smoke cleared, the men of Timnah wanted revenge, but no one wanted to take on Samson. Someone suggested that Anat and her father had brought all this trouble upon them. A short while later, an angry mob gathered in front of their home, dragged them out, tied them up, and burned their house on top of them.
When the news reached Samson, he was livid with grief for Anat. “Now I will have my vengeance, and I will not cease from slaying Philistines until I have littered the country-side with their dishonest carcasses for the birds of heaven and the beasts of the earth to dine upon.”
So began the wars of Samson. From that day forward, he smote the Philistines hip and thigh. You probably know the rest of the story well enough. But it all began with a wedding banquet, a wedding banquet that was supposed to make Samson a Philistine, but wound up turning him into their greatest enemy.