What do you make of Samson’s encounter with the lion in the vineyard? He was on his way to Timnah with his parents, so they could meet his bride-to-be. He was separated from them on the journey and a young lion came towards him.
It is assumed that the lion was a male, but we don’t know for certain. A young male lion would be quite fitting and in fact has a lot in common with Samson. The mane of hair makes him look bigger than he is. We will find that Samson’s mane of hair, puffs him up, making him boastful and proud. Often solitary male lions have been excluded from their birth prides. Samson himself will be betrayed into the hands of the Philistines, excluded by his own people. Young nomadic male lions often don’t live long, because of the injuries they sustain during fights. Samson would die prematurely, the circumstances of his death brought about by the assault of Delilah.
Why does Samson have a confrontation with the lion? Is this creature sent from God? This encounter would turn out to be the beginning of a complex chain of events that would have positive results both personally and nationally. His battle with the lion is the inspiration for his wedding riddle – which is ultimately instrumental in keeping him out of a disastrous relationship and brings about an attack on the enemy Philistines. What is the lesson of the lion today? What do we make of its carcass and the honey?
We could take the approach that the encounter holds no meaning. Or we could suggest that the lion represents the Philistine nation Samson was to confront. Another, more useful, viewpoint is to see Samson’s struggle with the lion as a living parable of an internal struggle – a fight that we all face with temptation.
We have already seen that Samson’s relationship with the woman of Timnah displays the desire of his eyes and temptation. Have you considered the threat a vineyard would pose to a hungry and thirsty Nazarite traveler who was forbidden to eat grapes? It was an arena of temptation.
Battles and encounters with wild animals frequent the Old Testament – these records make for more than exciting children’s stories. Temptation and sin are first described as an encounter with a wild animal in Genesis 4:7, when God speaks to an angry Cain. Preceding this in the creation account, details of our formation in the image and likeness of God are directly followed by how we should have dominion over the animals. The Apostle Peter describes our adversary, the devil, prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8-11). Mark records, when Jesus was in the wilderness being tempted, in seven simple yet profound words:
“And he was with the wild animals.” Mark 1:13
Samson’s battle with desire and temptation was like wrestling a wild beast. The honey that he later found in its carcass, speaks of the spoils of victory. God shows Samson, and us, that He can give us the power to overcome temptation.
How do you picture Samson’s struggle with the lion? It came towards him roaring. The roar of a lion is a noise unlike anything else, it has it’s own place reserved in sound. It is felt deep inside as well as heard. Humans like the rest of the animal kingdom can respond in one of three ways to attack – freeze, flight or fight. At this moment, when Samson is face to face with the lion, the Spirit of the Lord rushes upon him. Again God is helping Samson exactly as he requires.
“And the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and he rent him as he would have rent a kid, and he had nothing in his hand: but he told not his father or his mother what he had done.” Judges 14:6
God’s Spirit rushes into Samson as swiftly as the lion rushes upon him. He had no weapon other than God working through him. He not only defeated the lion, he tore it apart – like tearing tender cooked meat.
We must rely on God to overcome temptation. We can’t achieve success on our own. If we freeze, failing to respond, temptation won’t go away – it will swiftly devour us. If we run away from temptation, we might escape for a short while but we do nothing to confront its danger. It will catch us up. We will most likely face it again and be just as vulnerable. We have to fight temptation. We all have our lions to face, our wild beasts to overcome. They might come rushing upon us but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through Christ Jesus, our Lord.
Any spiritual meaning the encounter might hold appears to be lost on Samson. We wonder what he made of it? Some time later, he went down the same route to marry the woman from Timnah. Upon this journey he looked at the lion he had conquered and found a swarm of bees and honey. In the remains of the lion lied a sweet reward. Tearing a lion in two is miraculous enough but we shouldn’t leave unmentioned the fact that Samson took honey from the swarm without a single sting.
Oh death, where is your sting? (1 Corinthians 15:55).
Honey is known as a long-lasting food, it doesn’t easily deteriorate. Fruit, vegetables, dairy products and meat, in the heat of the day don’t take long to wilt, rot and go foul. Honey however has an eternal and robust quality. In taking the honey from the corpse of the lion we are reminded that this perishable body must put on the imperishable. What can we find, and share, in our triumph over temptation?