Judges 14:8, 9: Honey from the Lion

Verse 8:[1] And after a time he returned to take her, and he turned aside to see the carcase of the lion: and, behold, there was a swarm of bees and honey in the carcase of the lion.


[And after some days (thus the Syriac, Arabic, Munster, Pagnine, Tigurinus)] After days (Septuagint); after a year (certain Hebrews in Vatablus). This is not satisfying. It is not likely that either a year came between the betrothal and the marriage, or the corpse of the lion was able to continue for so long a time (Bonfrerius), or Samson never visited his betrothed in a whole year. Then, nine or ten days suffice for the generation of bees from a corpse, as Virgil testifies in Georgics 4, Later when had ushered in its beems, etc. And below, in Judges 15:1, מִיָּמִים, from/after days, is found, where it does not signify a year[2] (Serarius). They say that it was the custom of that time, that a whole year was given to the betrothed, in which they might attend to themselves, and preparing wedding vestments and ornaments (Kimchi and Rabbi Salomon in Serarius). But that custom is not able to be confirmed, not even out of Genesis 24, Let the girl remain יָמִים/days (Serarius). [See the annotations on that place.]


After a time; Hebrew, after days, that is, either after some days; or rather, after a year, as that word oft signifies; as Exodus 13:10;[3] Leviticus 25:29;[4] Numbers 9:22;[5] Judges 17:10;[6] 1 Samuel 1:3;[7] 27:7;[8] when the flesh of the lion, which by its strong smell is offensive to and avoided by bees, was wholly consumed, and nothing was left but the bones.


[He turned aside] Because, evidently, it was in a secluded and out of the way place (Bonfrerius).


[And behold, a swarm of bees in the mouth of the lion (thus the Septuagint), בִּגְוִיַּת[9]] In the carcase (Jonathan, Pagnine); in the carcase of bone (the Syriac in Bochart’s Sacred Catalogue of Animals); in the body (Munster, Tigurinus, Castalio); in the breast (Arabic, Josephus in Bonfrerius). Question: But how are bees found in the corpse of a lion, when they delight in cleanness, as Columella testifies, Concerning Rural Business 9:5.? Ælian teaches that sees are exceedingly offended by foul smells.[10] Of these Varro wrote, No one sees these in flesh, or blood, or fat.[11] And Pliny, in his Natural History 11:21, says, Bees touch no body (still less that of a lion, the grievous odor and exhalations of which are well-known) (Serarius). Response 1: Bees are of two sorts: 1. an urbane sort, which flees from unclean things; 2. a wild sort, which have less concern about foul-smelling things (Lyra, Tostatus). But this appears to be a vain escape, neither is this distinction of bees derived from approved authors (Bonfrerius). Response 2: Why could not those bees have been generated from the corpse of the lion (Lapide)? That bees are naturally generated from the corpse of an ox, is taught by Virgil in his Georgics 4, Ovid in his Metamorphoses 4, Varro in his Of Agricultural Topics 2:5; 3:15, Columella in his Concerning Rural Business 9:14, and Pliny in his Natural History 11:20. When bees are called βούγονοι, born of an ox, or βουγενεῖς καὶ βούπαιδες, born of an ox and child of an ox, in Suidas, Varro, etc. That verse is cited out of Varro, Ἵππων μὲν σφῆκες γενεὰ, μόσχων καὶ μέλισσαι, indeed, hornets are the offspring of horses, but bees of calves (Bochart’s Sacred Catalogue of Animals almost out of Serarius). It is verified that thus wasps and hornets are generated from horses, beetles from the ass, serpents from the body of man. And God was certainly able to make the character of a leonine corpse similar to a bovine corpse. If this be so, it is not strange that they did not flee the corpse from which they proceeded (Bonfrerius). Response 3: These bees, although born elsewhere, were able to make honey in the corpse of the lion, especially when the skull was dry and the flesh stripped off (Menochius, Bonfrerius). They did the same thing in the head of Onesilus, the hanged King of Cyprus, since it had been dried,[12] as Herodotus relates.[13] It is related in the Life of Hippocrates that thus in the sepulcher of Hippocrates a swarm of honey-making bees persisted for a long time.[14] Aldrovandus relates that bees did the same thing in the sepulcher of Verona[15] (Bonfrerius). This was a corpse of bone, as the Syriac rightly has it, that is, σκελετὸν/dried, a skeleton, as it is evident from the word מִיָּמִים, after days, which here signifies after a year, as often elsewhere (Bochart’s Sacred Catalogue of Animals 2:4:9:505). [Which places you will previously noted.] A swarm of bees and honey is an ἕν διὰ δυοῖν, an hendiadys, for a swarm of honey-making bees (Bochart’s Sacred Catalogue of Animals 2:4:9:511). I attribute this entire thing to Divine providence, so that God might give to him an occasion of assaulting the Philistines (Martyr).


There was a swarm of bees; not generated of the dead lion’s body, but elsewhere, and settling themselves there, as they have sometimes done in a man’s skull, and in a sepulchre, and such-like places.


Verse 9:[16] And he took thereof in his hands, and went on eating, and came to his father and mother, and he gave them, and they did eat: but he told not them that he had taken the honey out of the carcase of the lion.


[Which, when he had taken it in his hands, וַיִּרְדֵּ֣הוּ אֶל־כַּפָּ֗יו] And he received, or took, it into his hands, or, in his hand, or hands, etc. (Pagnine, Munster, Tigurinus, Jonathan, Arabic, Drusius, Vatablus); that is, With his hands he scraped it from the corpse (Vatablus). He took out (certain interpreters in Munster). רָדָה signifies to take, to remove from a place. Hence רדיה among the Rabbis, when bread is taken from the place of the oven; likewise מרדה is a baker’s peel, or a vessel on which place bread. The Septuagint has ἐξεῖλεν, he took out. I strongly approve of this (Drusius). When he had drawn it out into his hands (Junius and Tremellius). רָדָה signifies to exercise control. It is here set down by a metonymy of the efficient; which is to say, He, having become master of that honey, brought out a portion of that to enjoy (Piscator). Question: Would not Samson pollute himself by this contact with the carcass of the lion, contrary to the laws of the Nazarites (Bonfrerius)? Response: He did indeed transgress the law, but with impunity, and without blame, because God dispensed with it (Estius out of Theodoret, Bonfrerius): just as He also did when he touched the jaw of the ass.[17] And, when God provided honey from the corpse, and water from the jawbone, to the end that he might eat and drink, is he not to be ridiculed, who would convert these things to sin? It is certain that many legal uncleannesses were able to be contracted without sin: namely, all the involuntary and unavoidable ones, as in the case of leprosy, nocturnal emission, etc.; and even some voluntary ones, as in the case of those ministering to a menstruating or laboring woman, or the pollution of burial, a just killing, etc. On the other hand, whenever a law given concerning uncleanness at the same time sounds a prohibition, it was not able to be violated on purpose without sin, especially if a weighty punishment was attached. Such was that law concerning the eating of animals unclean of themselves. The matter was otherwise, if a clean animal was made unclean either by reason of the touch of a cadaver, or by way of a corpse; in that case the one eating was only unclean until evening, Leviticus 11; 17 (Bonfrerius). Furthermore, the observance of ceremonies is able to be omitted when the necessity of life urges; as hungering David ate the loaves προσθέσεως, of setting forth,[18] without scruple, which otherwise was allowed to the priests alone[19] (Bochart’s Sacred Catalogue of Animals 2:2:13:216).


He took thereof in his hands, out of the lion’s carcass. Question: Did not Samson transgress in touching a carcass? Answer: It was in itself a legal pollution; but some such pollutions were involuntary and unavoidable, as in one that hath an issue running in his sleep; and some were necessary duties, as in those who were to attend upon a woman in her month, or upon the burial of a dead body. And such was this pollution, being contracted by Divine instinct and direction, and in order to God’s honour, and therefore dispensed with by the author of that law, and required by him for his service.


[And coming to his father, etc.] That is, he followed them in the way, after he had turned aside from them for a brief while (Bonfrerius).


Came to his father and mother; from whom he had turned aside for a season, verse 8, upon some pretence or other.


[That he had taken the honey from the corpse of the lion[20]] [A second time they translate the רָדָה as he received, or he took: but the Syriac and Arabic, he drained. Therefore, they take רָדָה in the signification of the cognate root, יָרַד, which signifies to go down, and, concerning liquids, to flow down, to run down.]

[1] Hebrew: וַיָּ֤שָׁב מִיָּמִים֙ לְקַחְתָּ֔הּ וַיָּ֣סַר לִרְא֔וֹת אֵ֖ת מַפֶּ֣לֶת הָאַרְיֵ֑ה וְהִנֵּ֙ה עֲדַ֧ת דְּבוֹרִ֛ים בִּגְוִיַּ֥ת הָאַרְיֵ֖ה וּדְבָֽשׁ׃


[2] Judges 15:1: “But it came to pass within a while after, in the time of wheat harvest (וַיְהִ֙י מִיָּמִ֜ים בִּימֵ֣י קְצִיר־חִטִּ֗ים), 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.”


[3] Exodus 13:10: “Thou shalt therefore keep this ordinance in his season from year to year (מִיָּמִ֖ים יָמִֽימָה).”


[4] Leviticus 25:29: “And if a man sell a dwelling house in a walled city, then he may redeem it within a whole year (שְׁנַת) after it is sold; within a full year (יָמִים) may he redeem it.”


[5] Numbers 9:22: “Or whether it were two days, or a month, or a yearאֽוֹ־יֹמַ֜יִם אוֹ־חֹ֣דֶשׁ) אוֹ־יָמִ֗ים), that the cloud tarried upon the tabernacle, remaining thereon, the children of Israel abode in their tents, and journeyed not: but when it was taken up, they journeyed.”


[6] Judges 17:10: “And Micah said unto him, Dwell with me, and be unto me a father and a priest, and I will give thee ten shekels of silver by the year (לַיָּמִים), and a suit of apparel, and thy victuals. So the Levite went in.”


[7] 1 Samuel 1:3: “And this man went up out of his city yearly (מִיָּמִ֣ים׀ יָמִ֔ימָה) to worship and to sacrifice unto the Lord of hosts in Shiloh. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests of the Lord, were there.”


[8] 1 Samuel 27:7: “And the time that David dwelt in the country of the Philistines was a full year and four months (יָמִ֖ים וְאַרְבָּעָ֥ה חֳדָשִֽׁים׃).”


[9] גְּוִיָּה signifies body or corpse.


[10] History of Animals 1:58.


[11] Of Agricultural Topics 3:16.


[12] Onesilus (died 497 BC) usurped the throne of Cyprus, leading a rebellion against the Persians. Onesilus was ultimately defeated, and his head hanged as a trophy. When bees began to nest in it, it was taken down as an evil omen.


[13] Histories 5:114.


[14] Soranus of Ephesus was a first/second century Greek physician. He wrote several medical texts and a biography of Hippocrates.


[15] De Insectis 1:115. Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522-1605) was an Italian naturalist. He wrote voluminously.


[16] Hebrew: וַיִּרְדֵּ֣הוּ אֶל־כַּפָּ֗יו וַיֵּ֤לֶךְ הָלוֹךְ֙ וְאָכֹ֔ל וַיֵּ֙לֶךְ֙ אֶל־אָבִ֣יו וְאֶל־אִמּ֔וֹ וַיִּתֵּ֥ן לָהֶ֖ם וַיֹּאכֵ֑לוּ וְלֹֽא־הִגִּ֣יד לָהֶ֔ם כִּ֛י מִגְּוִיַּ֥ת הָאַרְיֵ֖ה רָדָ֥ה הַדְּבָֽשׁ׃


[17] Judges 15:15.


[18] 1 Samuel 21:6: “So the priest gave him hallowed bread: for there was no bread there but the showbread (לֶ֤חֶם הַפָּנִים֙; τοὺς ἄρτους τῆς προθέσεως, in the Septuagint), that was taken from before the Lord, to put hot bread in the day when it was taken away.”


[19] See 1 Samuel 21:1-6; Luke 6:1-5; Leviticus 24:9.


[20] Hebrew: מִגְּוִיַּ֥ת הָאַרְיֵ֖ה רָדָ֥ה הַדְּבָֽשׁ׃.

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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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