Judges 14:12, 13: Samson's Riddle, Part 1

Verse 12:[1] And Samson said unto them, I will now (1 Kings 10:1; Ezek. 17:2; Luke 14:7) put forth a riddle unto you: if ye can certainly declare it me (Gen. 29:27) within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty sheets (or, shirts[2]) and thirty (Gen. 45:22; 2 Kings 5:22) change of garments…


[I will put forth to you a riddle, אָחֽוּדָה־נָּ֥א לָכֶ֖ם חִידָ֑ה] Enigmatically I will now speak an enigma, understanding, one, or, an enigmatic riddle (Vatablus). חִידָה signifies acumen, a thing acutely and cleverly spoken;[3] which requires acumen of mind both for its composition, and for its declaration. See Numbers 12:8[4] (Malvenda). It was customary at feasts to pronound riddles. The Greeks were calling them γρίφους/griphous/riddles,[5] and γρίφους συμποτικοὺς, convivial riddles. A prize was resolved upon for the solving of these riddles, for example, that he might drink a bowl full of wine; a penalty was imposed for failure to solve, for example, that he might drink water, or brine mixed with his drink. Thus Hesychius, Athenæus at the end of Banquet of the Learned 10, Pollux in his Onomasticon[6] 10:19, Favorinus, Eustathius on Odyssey[7] 10. In this riddle of Samson a certain number of coverings and linen garments is constituted as the prize and penalty (Bonfrerius). It was the ancient custom of distinguished men, to test their genius among themselves by the propounding of riddles. See the passages out of the histories of Dius[8] and Menander[9] concerning the riddles exchanged between Solomon and Hiram, in Josephus’ Against Apion 1. Add 1 Kings 10:1. You also have example in the works of Herodotus, and in the work of the writer of The Banquet of the Saven Sages among the works of Plutarch, and in the works of those that have written on the life of Æsop.[10] Such wagers [of which sort, of course, was this concerning the linen garments, etc.] were likewise wont to be made concerning riddles. There is a similar thing in Virgil’s Eclogue 3 (Grotius).


[Within the seven days of the feat] Wedding feasts were lasting just so many days (Bonfrerius, Drusius, Grotius); just as mourning for the dead was lasting seven days[11] (Drusius). See Genesis 29:27 (Bonfrerius).


[Thirty linen garments, סְדִינִים] They translate it, linen garments (Munster, Pagnine, Montanus, Tigurinus, Drusius); linen sheets (Septuagint, Arabic); linen cloths (Pagnine). A linen sheet is that in which we are covered by night or by day (Hebrews in Vatablus).

[Tunics, חֲלִפֹ֥ת בְּגָדִֽים׃] Garments changeable (Munster, Pagnine, Montanus, Tigurinus, Piscator, Drusius), to be changed (Junius and Tremellius). Hebrews: changes of garments, in the place of, garments of changes, that is, to change. Thus in the Judges 14:13,[12] 19[13] and Genesis 45:22[14] (Piscator out of Junius). Others: stoles of garments (Septuagint, Jonathan); pairs of garments (Syriac).


A riddle, that is, an obscure sentence for you to resolve and explain. The seven days of the feast; for so long marriage-feasts lasted. See Genesis 29:27. Thirty sheets; fine linen clothes, which were used for many purposes in those parts. See Matthew 27:59; Mark 14:51. Thirty change of garments, that is, changeable suits of apparel, as below, verse 19; Genesis 45:22.

Verse 13:[15] But if ye cannot declare it me, then shall ye give me thirty sheets and thirty change of garments. And they said unto him, Put forth thy riddle, that we may hear it.


[Propound…so that we might hear, וְנִשְׁמָעֶנָּה] And we shall understand it (Junius and Tremellius), that is, in stating the explanation, we shall show ourselves to be men of understanding. Thus to hear is taken in the place of to understand, Genesis 41:15[16] (Junius). But it is more simply translated, so that we might hear it (Piscator).

[1] Hebrew: וַיֹּ֤אמֶר לָהֶם֙ שִׁמְשׁ֔וֹן אָחֽוּדָה־נָּ֥א לָכֶ֖ם חִידָ֑ה אִם־הַגֵּ֣ד תַּגִּידוּ֩ אוֹתָ֙הּ לִ֜י שִׁבְעַ֙ת יְמֵ֤י הַמִּשְׁתֶּה֙ וּמְצָאתֶ֔ם וְנָתַתִּ֤י לָכֶם֙ שְׁלֹשִׁ֣ים סְדִינִ֔ים וּשְׁלֹשִׁ֖ים חֲלִפֹ֥ת בְּגָדִֽים׃


[2] Hebrew: סְדִינִים.


[3] Here, חִידָה is being related to חָדַד, to be sharp.


[4] Numbers 12:8a: “With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches (בְחִידֹת)…”


[5] A γρῖφος is literally a fishing basket, but figuratively anything intricate.


[6] Julius Pollux (second century AD) was a Greek grammarian and rhetorician. Only his Onomasticon, a dictionary of Attic phrases and an invaluable source of information concerning classical antiquity, survives.


[7] Eustathius (died 1198) was Archbishop of Thessalonica. Eustathius wrote a commentary on the Iliad and Odyssey, which is in fact a compilation of earlier commentators. This work is extremely valuable because most of the commentators cited by Eustathius are now lost.


[8] Josephus cites Dius as a writer of credible Phœnician history. Dius’ works are otherwise lost.


[9] Menander of Ephesus (flourished in the early second century BC) wrote a history of Tyre. His works are lost, but fragments are preserved in Josephus Antiquities and Against Apion.


[10] Æsop (c. 620-564 BC) has ever been famous for his collection of fables.


[11] See, for example, Genesis 50:10; 1 Samuel 31:13.


[12] Judges 14:13a: “But if ye cannot declare it me, then shall ye give me thirty sheets (חֲלִיפ֣וֹת בְּגָדִ֑ים) and thirty change of garments….”


[13] Judges 14:19a: “And the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon, and slew thirty men of them, and took their spoil, and gave changes (הַחֲלִיפוֹת) unto them which expounded the riddle….”


[14] Genesis 45:22: “To all of them he gave each man changes of raiment (חֲלִפ֣וֹת שְׂמָלֹ֑ת); but to Benjamin he gave three hundred pieces of silver, and five changes of raiment (חֲלִפֹ֥ת שְׂמָלֹֽת׃).”


[15] Hebrew: וְאִם־לֹ֣א תוּכְלוּ֮ לְהַגִּ֣יד לִי֒ וּנְתַתֶּ֙ם אַתֶּ֥ם לִי֙ שְׁלֹשִׁ֣ים סְדִינִ֔ים וּשְׁלֹשִׁ֖ים חֲלִיפ֣וֹת בְּגָדִ֑ים וַיֹּ֣אמְרוּ ל֔וֹ ח֥וּדָה חִידָתְךָ֖ וְנִשְׁמָעֶֽנָּה׃


[16] Genesis 41:15: “And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, I have dreamed a dream, and there is none that can interpret it: and I have heard say of thee, that thou canst understand (תִּשְׁמַע, thou hearest) a dream to interpret it.”

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.

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