Samson, Proverbs 25, and Honey

A curious connection exists between the meaning of some verses in Proverbs 25 and one of the most striking elements of the story of Samson, relating to the common theme of honey. Therefore, I would like to examine these connections, which will hopefully provide a little bit of depth to the study of Samson and examine how the symbol of honey (so prominent in his wedding-riddle) was utilized in the “Sayings of Wise” to examine the tendencies for gluttony in sin and military glory that the story of Samson so tragically demonstrates.

Twice Proverbs 25 refers to honey. Proverbs 25:16 reads: “Have you found honey? Eat only as much as you need, lest you be filled with it and vomit.” This verse suggests that while honey is an exceedingly good thing, that too much of it will make one sick and regretful of one’s gluttony, so one should only take what one needs and not eat or enjoy to satiety. Proverbs 25:2: “It is not good to eat much honey; so to seek one’s own glory is not glory.” This verse also cautions about honey, suggesting that it is not glorious to seek too much of one’s own glory. The Bible elsewhere says that glory ultimately belongs to God, not ourselves, so that selfish glory, especially about our own strength, wisdom, power, or beauty, is not glorious is and is likely to lead to inglorious results. The life of Samson very strongly supports both warnings, as he was a man who ate too much honey and paid the price for it, and also gloried too much in his own strength to find out too late that it was not glorious to do so.

Both of these tendencies are to be found in Judges 14. Let us examine this passage in some detail, as it demonstrates how God used a weakness of Samson’s for His glory, though Samson himself was (sadly) too concerned with his own cleverness and strength. Let us divide this passage into several parts and examine each of them separately before putting them together and examining both the theme of “honey” and the warnings that we saw earlier in Proverbs 25.

First, we find the lure of Philistine “honey” for Samson in Judges 14:1-4: “Now Samson went down to Timnah, and saw a woman in Timnah of the daughters of the Philistines. So he went up and told his father and mother, saying, “I have seen a woman in Timnah of the daughters of the Philistines; now, therefore, get her for me as a wife.” Then his father and mother said to him, “Is there no woman among the daughters of your brethren, or among all my people, that you must go and get a wife from the uncircumcized Philistines?” And Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, for she pleases me well.” But his father and mother did not know that it was of the Lord—that He was seking an occasion to move against the Philistines. For at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel.” We see here that God had deliberately placed the “honey” of the Philistines, in this case a beautiful young woman, as lure for Samson so that He could cause conflict between Israel and the Philistines and prompt Samson to work for His glory, though Samson and his parents appear ignorant of the plan.

Next, we find the deliberate (if implicit) connection made between honey and feats of glory on both the physical level and the moral level, in Judges 14:5-9: “So Samson went down to Timnah with his faher and mother, and came to the vineyards of Timnah. Now to his surprise, a young lion came roaring against him. And the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him, and he tore the lion apart as one would have torn apart a young goat, though he had nothing in his hand. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done. Then he went down and talked with the woman; and she pleased Samson well. After some time, when he returned to get her, he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion. And behold, a swarm of bees and honey were in the carcass of the lion. He took some of it in his hands and went along, eating. When he came to his father and mother, he gave some to them, and they also ate. But he did not tell them that he had taken the honey out of the carcass of the lion.” We see here that Samson is a lot like the fierce young lion, though he was not aware of it. God gave him the strength to do great works against the Philistines during his life, but all too often Samson forgot the requirements of his Nazirite oath from birth, and flagrantly disobeyed God’s law. We see here that he broke the first of the prohibitions of Nazirites in touching a dead carcass in order to get honey that was guarded by bees. He did not see that his own weakness for the “honey” of Philistine women would eventually lead him to get stung—and eventually killed. Nonetheless, God had given Samson strength for His glory, and would remain faithful despite the faithlessness of Samson, symbolic of Israel’s own unfaithfulness and the temptation of heathen worship practices.

Next, we see Samson glory in his own strength and cleverness in posing a riddle to the Philistines in Judges 14:10-14: “So his father went down to the woman. And Samson gave a feast there, for young men used to do so. And it happened, when they saw him, that they brought thirty companions to be with him. Then Samson said to them, “Let me pose a riddle to you. If you can correctly solve it and explain it to me within the seven days of the feast, then I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothing. But if you cannot explain it to me, then you shall give me thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothing.” And they said to him, “Pose your riddle, that we may hear it.” So he said to them: “Out of the eater came something to eat, and out of the strong came something sweet.” Now for three days they could not explain the riddle.” Here we see that Samson was glorying in his own strength and cleverness by making a bet and seeking to trip up the Philistines with a riddle. He did not realize that God was using his own weakness and desire for personal glory to strike a blow against the Philistines, nor did he realize that the riddle he posed also struck at his own personal weaknesses, but God is wise and strong where we are weak and foolish.

After this Samson’s weakness for Philistine honey, in the form of beautiful young woman, first begins to cost him, as we see in Judges 14:15-20: “But it came to pass on the fourth day that they said to Samson’s wife, “Entice your husband, that he may explain the riddle to us, or else we will burn you and your father’s house with fire. Have you invited us in order to take what is ours? Is that so?” Then Samson’s wife wept on him, and said, “You only hate me! You do not love me! You have pose 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 and mother; so should I explain it to you?” Now she had wept on him the seven days while their feast lasted. And it happened on the seventh day that he told her, because she pressed him so much. Then she explained the riddle to the sons of her people. So the men of the city said to him on the seventh day before the sun went down: “What is sweeter than honey? And what is stronger than a lion?” And he said to them: “If you had not powed with my heifer, you would not have solved my riddle!” Then 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. And Samson’s wife was given to his companion, who had been his best man.”

Let us examine this passage in a little bit of detail, so that we can see some patterns. For one, we see Samson’s weakness to the nagging of women. One is reminded of another verse, Proverbs 25:24: “It is better to dwell in a corner of a housetop, than in a house shared with a contentious woman.” Samson’s strength did not extend to the strength of will to withstand the nagging of the Philistine women of his life, which would prove to be a fatal flaw. Not only would Samson’s love for Philistine honey lead him to marry this cowardly woman from Timnah, but his dalliance with a harlot from Gaza nearly led him to be trapped by the Philistines (Judges 16:1-3), and his love for Delilah, and his inability to overcome her nagging, led him to break the last parts of his Nazirite vow and be captured and blinded, where eventually he was slain calling vengeance upon the Philistines for his eyes. Additionally, let us note that the threatened fate that led Samson’s wife to betray him was meted out when Samson vengefully burned the vineyards of the Philistines in Timnah. She and her father’s house were destined to be burned. Ulitimately, God was in charge, using Samson’s anger and lust in order to strike a blow against the Phillistines, while Samson was slave to his own desires and not strong in the discipline of self control. As Proverbs 25:28 says: “Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls.” And so Samson was.

Let us therefore learn from the folly of Samson and from his own weaknesses. Where God gives us great wisdom or strength, it is not for our glory, but for His glory, and we will only be blessed so long as He obey His word and seek His will. Samson’s fatal flaw was to be governed by his lusts and desires rather than by obedience, and though God used him for great and mighty works, we ought to prove ourselves more faithful and more wise than he. For his life is an example of the price of our folly if we allow ourselves to be governed by our lusts for the sweet “honey” of the world around us, and if we trust in our own strength to deliver us from the consequences of our errant folly. Proverbs 25 correctly notes that the love of honey (sweetness) and our own personal glory is a lure that can eventually lead to great loss of glory and very bitter outcomes. All too often what we think of as sweet honey is really only bait on a trap to lead us into grave troubles. Let us therefore be wise and circumspect and heed the warnings set out from those who have come before us.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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10 Responses to Samson, Proverbs 25, and Honey

  1. Cathy Martin says:

    Samson did get the last laugh, though. God used physical blindness to help him spiritrually see, and Samson repented while imprisoned. Although his last act of destruction against the Philistines took him out as well, he undertook the task cheerfully knowing that by doing so, their yoke of oppression against his countrymen would be broken. The final revenge was sweeter than any honey he’d ever tasted. Samson’s flaws may have been flagrantly out there for all to see, but so was his irrepressible sense of humor. He’ll be quite a force to be reckoned with in the resurrection and I look forward to meeting him at that time.

    • Indeed, he did. That is “the rest of the story,” as it were. My focus was on how the “sayings of the wise” in Proverbs 25 seemed to so closely refer to the follies of Samson that endangered him, though the discourse on the symbol of honey, showing that even in ancient biblical times the lessons of past heroes of faith were used to teach moral lessons to those seeking wisdom, which is the use of the entire Hebrew scriptures according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 10.

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