Ah, Samson. What a bizarre, vengeful, deceptive guy.
What astounds me, more than how a swarm of bees might be inside a lion’s carcass (this guy did his homework on the matter), is how Samson, clearly a man of great strength but perhaps even greater anger, might represent Israel when he was so terribly bloodthirsty.
It seems to me that God has a taste for violence — and there are plenty of verses previous that attest to this sentiment — but why would he choose such a hate-filled man to fulfill His work?
Context is incredibly important in this case. Isolate chapters 14 and 15, and you have a vicious man bent on destruction. Tie it to the remainder of Judges, and the behavior doesn’t seem as extreme. Let’s take a look at some symbolism.
The Philistines represent Israel’s disobedience. Israel has forgotten who is in charge; the opening of multiple chapters states that Israel “did evil in the sight of the Lord,” and further elaborates at the beginning of the book that the Israelites were often stubborn and that each person did what they saw fit. It’s easy to live in sin when you don’t care what anyone else, including God, thinks.
In another stint of rebellion, the Philistines end up consuming Israel, and ironically, Israel is forced to serve the nation whose gods they sought to worship instead of the Lord. God gives them what they want, and then some.
Samson’s wife represents a oneness with the land the Philistines possess. In order to get even, Samson has to become socially even with the enemy. God breaks up social norms and traditions in order to get some work done, pushing Samson to defy social conventions and marry an outsider. Samson becomes “hand in hand” with the Philistines — and the plan works.
During the feast following their marriage, Samson baits his wife’s household, full of Philistines, to show they care more about what they can get out of this marriage (they have a thing for linens, apparently) than the potential for unity, compromise, and even peace.
The showdown also displays Samson’s weakness: women. His decision to let the answer to the riddle be known to his wife is inconsequential, but it is a precursor to the debacle in chapter 15. Just because he’s God’s homeboy doesn’t make him non-human.
The lion/bees represent the Philistines encompassing Israel. The riddle, and the previous encounter with the lion, are nonsense without checking the symbolism of it all and its context with the situation. The article I linked above does a better job treating the topic, but if reading a lengthy description isn’t your thing, know at least that the bees are an unnatural occupation of the lion; the Israelites don’t belong under their rule of Philistia. Samson will soon rip apart the Philistines, and subsequently, Israel will taste victory and take over anew.
Samson represents a minority with the majority strength. After Samson’s loses it and resorts to an elaborate method of destroying some crops using 300 foxes with their tails tied together, he is confronted by 3000 of his people (1/10th as foxy?) and they plead for him to chill out. Samson allows them to tie him up, but didn’t bother to cut his hair as he quickly wriggles out of their feeble trap and slays a thousand Philistines with a donkey jaw.
All three thousand Israelites believe that the Philistines are the ruling party, since they have the majority share of the land. Samson recognizes that, even in being outnumbered and with less resources, Israel has the upper hand by the Lord Almighty. The Philistines even get a taste of their own idolatry, getting smacked down by an unclean creature’s yapper at the hand of one man.
It is hard to recognize God’s power when you live in disobedience. Today, I encourage you to consider how Samson, a faulty character, severely outnumbered ideologically, broke conventional norms and obeyed God, who empowered Samson to do what was impossible otherwise.