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Sefer Shoftim Chapter 14
Shimshon's Questionable Marriage

In Chapter 14 we are introduced to Shimshon as a grown man. He met a Philistine woman and desired to marry her. His parents, confused by this, expressed preference for a Jewish wife for their only son. However, Shimshon prevailed upon them and they agreed to arrange the marriage. The text states that his parents “did not know that it was from God” (14:4). Shimshon was entering into the marriage in order to find pretexts to lash out against the Philistine oppressors without it coming from an identifiable Jewish source. Commentators explain that he feared reprisals on the Jewish community for his aggressive actions, which is why he did it in an “undercover” manner.

On the journey to his wedding, Shimshon was attacked by a lion. He fought and killed it. He did this with the “spirit of God” which came over him (14:6), hinting that he was acting with Divine intervention. When he made the same journey later, Shimshon found bees living in the lion’s carcass and he ate the honey they had made there. He told no one about these events, not even his parents.

 

During the wedding celebrations, Shimshon offered a riddle for the Philistine guests: “from the eater came forth food, and from the strong came forth sweetness” (14:14). The Philistines were unable to solve the riddle and blackmailed Shimshon’s new wife into finding out the answer for them. At first Shimshon refused to tell her, but finally she bothered him so much that he told her. The answer was “what is sweeter than honey, and what is stronger than a lion”.

 

When the Philistines gave the correct answer, Shimshon knew they had cheated and used this as a pretext to kill 30 of them and return home. His wife was given in marriage to someone else instead. Once again, “the spirit of God” enabled him to carry out this act.

 

What is Shimshon doing?

Shimshon’s role of a Shofet is vastly different to those who came before him. He does not appear to lead the people in a traditional sense, rather he acts as a “lone wolf”, attacking the enemy here and there. His actions of marrying a non-Jewish woman appears to be questionable. Even his own parents do not understand why he is doing it.

 

However, the repeated mention of “God” and the “spirit of God” in this chapter reassures us that he is acting for the sake of Heaven. The Gemara (Sotah 10a) even states that just like God protects the whole world, Shimshon protected his entire generation! Even if it may be hard to comprehend, Shimshon does seem to have righteous motives.

 

Shimshon is a character of great strength. We see his physical strength when he killed a lion and 30 Philistine men on his own. We also see his mental strength when he prevailed over his parents to marry the Philistine woman and over the Philistine guests with his riddle. However, Shimshon has a weakness. That women will cause his eventual downfall is apparent in this chapter. He allows his new wife to “distress him” and gives up the answer to the riddle. This word “distress” appears in a later chapter regarding another woman. We will see in the coming chapters that whilst Shimshon has great strength, he allows this one weakness to trip him up repeatedly.

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