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THE Israelites had not long been in the possession of the promised land before they relapsed into idolatry. They forsook their King, Jehovah, and were given over by him successively to the yoke of Mesopotamia, Moab, Canaan, Midian, and Ammon. When they cried for deliverance, however, he raised up judges to rescue them from these oppressors. They were freed from their yokes, and the land had rest. Thus taught by experience that punishment is the natural concomitant of rebellion, had the Israelites been wise they would, henceforth, have cleaved to their Divine Ruler with full purpose of heart. But history unfolds the fact, that neither wisdom, obedience, nor gratitude, were their characteristics. During the peaceable administrations of Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon, they again relapsed into idolatry, and drew down on themselves a rigorous servitude to their western foes, the Philistines, who oppressed them for forty years; that is, from B.C. 1222 to B.C. 1182. Yet, while it pleased Jehovah to punish his revolted subjects, tenderly caring for them, he provided for the commencement of their deliverance from this galling servitude on a future day. About the same time that the Philistines were permitted to oppress them, his angel appeared to the wife of Manoah, a Danite, and promised to her a son, who was to be a Nazarite, or a person consecrated to God from the womb, and that in time he should begin to deliver Israel from their yoke. The promises of Jehovah are ever fulfilled. In due season the woman gave birth to a son, who was called Samson, and who manifested the most extraordinary bodily powers in his early youth. It was in the twentieth year of the age of Samson, which was also the twentieth year of the bondage to the Philistines, that his administration commenced. Samson sought a wife among the Philistines. He went, with his parents, to Timnath, to seek her in marriage, and it was on this journey that he gave the first recorded indication of the prodigious strength with which he was endowed: without any weapon he slew a young and fierce lion, by which he was assailed. The proposal made was favourably received by the parents of the damsel sought in marriage; and, when the usual period between such a proposal and the celebration of the marriage had elapsed, namely, one month, Samson, accompanied by his parents, went again to Timnath to claim his bride. On his way he turned aside to see what had become of the carcase of the lion he had slain on the former journey, and he found only its clean skeleton, partially covered with the undevoured hide, and tenanted by a swarm of bees.
In oriental countries it was usual, at this period, for the young men assembled at wedding feasts to amuse themselves by proposing riddles. Samson proposed the following:—
Out of the eater came forth meat,
This riddle was suggested to Samson by his adventure with the lion; and it proved so intricate, that his hearers could not offer even a probable solution. For three days they vainly tried to discover its meaning; and, at length, rather than incur the heavy forfeiture of “thirty shirts and thirty suits of raiment,” they applied to the bride, and threatened destruction to her family if she did not extract the required solution from Samson, and unfold it to them. The bride did this, and on the seventh day, when the given time for the reply was about to expire, the guests said to him:
What is sweeter than honey?
And now commenced the fierce struggle between Samson and the Philistines. Convinced that they could only have obtained the solution by tampering with his bride, he went and slew thirty Philistines, near Ascalon, and gave their raiment to those who had expounded his riddle. At the same time he left his wife in anger, and returned home. The breach thus made gradually became widened. Some time after, Samson returned to visit his wife, but found her married to his friend who had been his brideman at the wedding. Her father offered him his youngest daughter in lieu of his wife, but Samson rejected the offer with disdain, and bent his thoughts upon revenge. He collected three hundred jackals, and, fastening them tail to tail, and placing a firebrand between them, he let them loose upon the standing corn of the Philistines, which, being ripe, was quickly consumed: so also were their vines and their olive trees. The Philistines now saw that they had no common enemy to deal with, and they ferociously burned his wife and her father with