Summary: Samson may have thought revenge was sweet, after he took his own revenge on the Philistines, but revenge surely seemed to leave a bitter aftertaste.
Introduction: Between chapters 14 and 15, a period of time has gone by. Samson, at the end of chapter 14, was furious with his bride after she used her tears to basically ruin their week-long wedding feast. Several of the wedding guests—whom Samson didn’t seem to invite in the first place—placed a severe threat on the bride if she didn’t get the answer to Samson’s riddle. He gave in after her seven days of weeping (at a wedding feast or reception!) and she apparently went promptly to the others with the answer. Worse, the bride’s father gave her to Samson’s “friend” or “best man” in today’s terms. No wonder Samson felt betrayed and angry.
If you can’t trust your spouse, even at the first, who, then, can you trust?
The text comes from Judges 15, verses 1-8. The first two verses speak of Samson’s state of mind after his emotions seemed to have healed. He apparently wanted his marriage to be real and to last, in spite of the fact he had married an unbeliever, a pagan Philistine.
Clearly, it didn’t work.
[Judges 15:1, KJV] 1 But it came to pass within a while after, in the time of wheat harvest, that Samson visited his wife with a kid; and he said, I will go in to my wife into the chamber. But her father would not suffer him to go in. 2 And her father said, I verily thought that thou hadst utterly hated her; therefore I gave her to thy companion: [is] not her younger sister fairer than she? take her, I pray thee, instead of her.
Verse 1 says Samson was heading back to his bride’s home in the time of wheat harvest, which seemed to take place in the drier seasons. For example, Samuel declared to Israel that their demand for a king, which God allowed, was so wicked in God’s eyes that He would send thunder and rain. Had this been in the rainy season, this would not have been remarkable. This happened on the day the wheat harvest was to begin and definitely was something the Israelites were not expecting to (see 1 Samuel 12).
Now with wheat harvest in progress, Samson leaves his home (why? Didn’t the family need his help with the harvest?), and then heads back to his bride’s hometown. His thought was, “I’m still married and I want to visit my wife.” He even brought her a gift, a kid (probably of the goats) to perhaps demonstrate his sincerity.
Some have been puzzled about why Samson left, the bride stayed home, and Samson decided to come back to her with a gift. Among the reasons given was that this was not a traditional marriage, where the bride leaves her family and moves in with her husband—like Rebekah. There is no record the bride wanted anything to do with Israel or Israel’s people. Her siding with her own people against her own husband speaks volumes about her character.
Dr. Ed Hindson, a former professor at Liberty University in the mid-1970’s, gave another possibility: paraphrasing the text, the “marriage” was more or less sanctioned payment in exchange for her love (described further in his book “The Philistines and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1972)”. Thus he brought along the gift, and thus he expected all to be well.
He was in for a surprise, though! When he got to Timnath, his father-in-law told him no! The first thing he said was, “I thought you hated her (and, Samson probably did)”’ then adds, “I gave her to your companion (best man)”—without even asking if Samson wanted a divorce or annulment or whatever options were available back then! Finally, he offered his younger daughter as a replacement bride to Samson. At the very least, this was forbidden under the Law of Moses (see Leviticus 18:18) and at worst, Samson might have had visions of Jacob and his “sister wives” in Genesis. Besides, there is no record Samson found this younger daughter attractive or even that he paid her any attention. The father was in a bad situation and he was only making things worse.
And this brought about Samson’s first act of revenge.
3 And Samson said concerning them, Now shall I be more blameless than the Philistines, though I do them a displeasure. 4 And Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took firebrands, and turned tail to tail, and put a firebrand in the midst between two tails. 5 And when he had set the brands on fire, he let [them] go into the standing corn of the Philistines, and burnt up both the shocks, and also the standing corn, with the vineyards [and] olives.
Verse 3 is puzzling: how could Samson call himself blameless, more so than the Philistines, when he’s planning to do them a disservice? Admittedly he was no doubt twice furious, not only because his wife betrayed him to her own people but also because her father kept him from visiting her, even when he had brought a present along. In a word, Samson was mad—he was “seeing red”, as some might say. True, he had done nothing wrong by honoring his wager, but now he had been double-crossed again.