The Riddle Solved
The seventh day of the feast dawned cloudy and gray. By this time the wedding guests were groggier than usual, having spent a week in the tavern, taking advantage of the free wine provided by Manoah.
Baasha was the last to arrive at the tavern just as we were finishing up our breakfast with Manoah and Naamah. It appeared that Baasha had been away on some errand, and he was in a good mood.
“Ho, there, my friend!” Samson greeted him. “Where have you been? We have been waiting for you. It is time for me to claim my bride, and I have had to wait for the Best Man!”
“I have been riding my horse on this fine morning in order to clear my head and pray to the gods.”
“What about?” Samson inquired.
“Your riddle, of course!” Baasha replied. “We have thought about it for the past week, but we could not figure out the answer.”
“Well, then,” Samson said, “as agreed, all of you owe me a new change of garment as my wedding gift.”
“Perhaps,” Baasha said with a sly look. “But we still have a few moments to venture our final guesses.”
“And have you come up with a new answer this morning?” Samson asked. “Have your gods given you this revelation?”
“Well, that remains to be seen,” Baasha responded vaguely. “As I was pondering and praying, it occurred to me that what is sweeter than honey? And what is stronger than a lion? The answer is obvious. Bees have taken up residence in the carcass of a lion and have brought forth honey.”
Samson was shocked and surprised. He looked intently at Baasha, and finally he began to understand what had happened. With growing anger, he said, “If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have found out my riddle. 46 You did not know the answer until after I revealed it to Eglah last evening. Now her tears have meaning to me, and the source of her fear is uncovered. You used threats to force her to extract the secret from me. I trusted her love, but underestimated the power of fear.”
“You have lost the wager,” Baasha said with a laugh. “I propose a toast to Samson to thank him for the gifts which he is about to give to his friends!”
They all raised their mugs to toast Samson, but he was neither pacified nor flattered. Seething with anger, he spoke in a subdued tone, “I will fetch your gifts and will give them to you tomorrow.” With that, he stalked out of the tavern.
I followed him, but he paid no attention to me. “Samson! Samson!” I shouted at him, but he only broke into a run, exited the city gate, and disappeared from view.
“Let him go,” Sipporah said. “It’s no use trying to reason with him until he has cooled down.”
“By that time, it will probably be too late,” I answered. “He does not have thirty garments to give them, so He means to obtain thirty garments by any means possible just to fulfill his promise. Given his current state of mind, I do not think he intends to go to work to earn those garments.”
“He claimed that he would return tomorrow,” Sipporah observed. “That would not be enough time to earn enough money to buy thirty garments. What should we do?”
“I think we ought to see if we can talk to Eglah,” I said. Returning to the tavern, I asked Manoah to excuse us, as it was urgent that we talk to Eglah immediately. He agreed. “May God go with you,” he said. “Do what you can to get to the bottom of this. I fear the wrath of Samson.”
We were soon riding hard toward Avoda’s house, over the bridge and west along the main road. As we approached, Dogma came out to meet us and then ran with us toward the house. “Stay close by,” I said to Pegasus. “I do not know how long we will be here or even what kind of reception we will receive.”
“We will remain here with Dogma,” Pegasus assured us.
By this time, Avoda and his wife had come to the door. “Greetings, Anava,” he said. “Is the wedding party on its way?”
“I am afraid there has been a delay,” I said. “May we talk to Eglah? It is quite urgent.”
“Your wife may see her,” Avoda replied, “but it is not right for you to talk to her before she has been given in marriage. This is, after all, her wedding day.”
“Then I will see her,” Sipporah replied, glancing at me and nodding her head. In a whisper that only I could hear, she added, “It might be best if I can talk to her woman to woman.”
She was right, of course, and I trusted her instincts.
“Thank-you for letting my wife speak to Eglah,” I said to Avoda. “There is a rather urgent matter to discuss.”
“Then come in and let me offer you a drink while they talk,” Avoda said in a friendly tone. It was obvious that he knew nothing about the developing crisis. We sat at the table and engaged in small talk for a half an hour until Sipporah emerged from the back room with Avoda’s wife, who seemed to be clearly anxious.
I got up from the table, thanked Avoda for the wine, and left the house. The horses were waiting for us just outside the door, but we said nothing until we were out of earshot down the road. Dogma followed us all the way to the bridge outside of Timnah.
“Eglah confirmed that Baasha had threatened her and her family with death and said he would burn down their house as well, if she did not succeed in extracting the answer to the riddle from Samson. She is more concerned about her family than with herself, for she loves them dearly—especially her little sister.”
“They are all innocent victims,” I commented. “It appears that her only choice was to betray Samson. Either that, or her family would have had to flee and leave everything behind. But where could they go? They would have to leave the country, or else Baasha and his friends would certainly find them and kill them.”
“Baasha’s heart has been exposed,” Pegasus observed, and his friends are all complicit in his wickedness. Baasha did not devise this plan all by himself.”
“Or if he did,” Dogma added, “the others certainly agreed to it and intended to benefit by it.”
Just then, Sippore landed on Sipporah’s shoulder. After a moment, Sipporah said, “Samson is heading southwest toward Ashkelon. 47 Perhaps he intends to find garments there.”
“Ashkelon!” Dogma said. “I know that place well. I was born there, and I always figured that I would be buried there with honors at the great dog cemetery. 48 But if our house is burned down and the family is killed, I can kiss that dream goodbye.”
“Ashkelon has a popular shrine to Sirius, the Dog Star,” Pegasus explained. “Sirius is the brightest star in the heavens, and this evening, after the sun sets, you can see it from here hovering over Ashkelon. It is 8.6 light years away…”
“Please, Pegasus! We are in the middle of an emergency!”
“Ashkelon is important,” Pegasus persisted, “because it is where Samson begins to judge the Philistines, and also where God will judge Samson himself. His end will be as at the beginning, betrayed by a woman he loves, who will again extract a secret from him.”
“So Ashkelon has a role to play,” I mused. “Why Ashkelon?”
“That is obvious,” Dogma interjected. “It is because Ashkelon is derived from shakal, “to weigh.” The name refers to weighing silver to make payments. In fact, shakal is the root of shekel, Israel’s standard silver coin. Ashkelon is the largest city of the Philistines, and it uses a silver standard of its own. It contains the official standard of weights to ensure honest payments in this country.”
“What does that have to do with Samson?” I asked.
Dogma replied, “Samson is going to Ashkelon in order to obtain the payment of thirty garments in order to clear his debt. But his method will not be in accordance with God’s heart, so in paying off one debt, he will incur a greater debt that must yet be paid. He will be judged by the same standard of measure that he used to judge the Philistines.”
“And that standard,” Pegasus added, “is a Philistine invention. It is legal, but the weights are not based on the revelation of Yahweh.”
“In fact,” Dogma said, “their entire monetary system is blessed by a bronze calf 49 that is enshrined just outside of the main gate of the city. Men and women who pass by on their way into the city pay homage to this idol to express their submission to Ashkelon’s standard of weights and measures.”
“How do you know this?” I asked with amazement.
“The idol is located not far from the dog cemetery,” Dogma said.
“Well, then,” I said, “it appears that the divine drama has entered Act Two of its three-act play. I am afraid that we have entered a more violent part of the story, one that can end only in tragedy, at least for Samson.”
“Well, at least we have warned Eglah and her mother of possible trouble ahead,” Sipporah interrupted. “But what shall we do now?”
“I think we should go back to the tavern and keep an eye on Baasha and his friends,” I said. “There is nothing more we can do until Samson returns from Ashkelon.”
“I will stand guard at my house,” Dogma said.
“And I will send Sippore to watch Samson,” Sipporah said, as the dove leaped off her shoulder and flew high into the air.
“Then let us return to The Tipsy Tavern,” I said.
- Judges 14:18. Eglah means “heifer.”
- Judges 14:19
- Archeologists have discovered a large dog cemetery outside of Ashkelon.
- Archeologists have discovered this bronze calf outside of Ashkelon.