It was a custom in Samson’s day for the bridegroom to give a party which typically lasted for a week. Since Samson didn’t bring any friends to celebrate his marriage to the Philistine young woman, her people provided some for him–thirty in all. Samson made a wager with these men that lasted for the entire celebration week. If they could solve his riddle, he would give them thirty fine outer and inner garments. However, if they could not figure it out, they would have to give him thirty sets of clothing.
The riddle was stated as follows: “Out of the eater came something to eat, and out of the strong came something sweet” (Jud. 14:14). They struggled mightily with the riddle for three days but then let it rest until the seventh day. On that final day, they brought pressure upon Samson’s bride by threatening her life and her family if she didn’t help them solve the riddle.
“Then Samson’s wife wept on him, and said, ‘You only hate me! You do not love me! You have posed a riddle to the sons of my people, but you have not explained it to me.’ And he said to her, ‘Look, I have not explained it to my father or my mother; so should I explain it to you?'” (Jud. 14:16). Samson brought up a good point. He wasn’t being unkind or unloving to her by withholding the solution to the riddle. After all, he had not even shared it with his parents! His bride had wanted to know the answer all along, but after the threats were leveled against her she grows desperately persistent. She would have been much better off simply informing Samson of the threats her people had made against her.
Samson finally explained the riddle to her and she then communicated its meaning to the sons of her people. They gave the correct solution to his riddle and he reacted strongly. “The Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily, and he went down to Ashkelon and killed thirty of their men, took their apparel, and gave the changes of clothing to those who had explained the riddle. So his anger was aroused and he went back up to his father’s house” (Jud. 14:19). I find the order of the actions recorded here intriguing: (1) the Spirit came upon Samson, (2) he slew the Philistines, (3) then his anger was kindled, and finally, (4) he went back to his father’s house without his wife. The Lord was indeed seeking an occasion to move against the Philistines, and Samson was the man He would use for the job!
The chapter closes with Samson’s wife being given to his best man. Samson was not aware of this.
After a period of time, Samson returned to his wife but was offered her younger sister instead by his father-in-law. Samson was greatly displeased and declared his innocence for his actions to follow because of this injustice. He proceeded to burn the Philistine fields by releasing 300 foxes he captured (after tying them together in pairs with a lit torch between their tails). Surprisingly, the Philistine people do not pursue Samson after learning who was responsible for the destruction of their crops and why. They recognized that his rights as a husband had been violated. They show their cruelty, however, by burning his wife and father-in-law and their home. This action provokes Samson to seek further vengeance. He attacked them with “hip and thigh, with a great slaughter” (Jud. 15:8). In other words, his attack upon them was brutal and unmerciful. But, this was just the beginning of the bloodshed.