Samson and the Lion


Judges chapter 14 records the first of many amazing stories about Samson. Samson stands out among all the judges because of his many amazing feats, and this particular story begins the account of his great strength. In chapter 14, Samson is attacked by a lion and kills it with his bare hands (v.6). Samson leaves the scene, then comes back later and finds a swarm of bees living in the carcass of the lion, which he eats and shares with his parents, but does not tell them where he got the honey. This story begs us to ask the significance of the event, which we will explore in this article in two ways. First, what is the purpose of the lion attacking Samson, and second, what is the significance of the swarm of bees living in the lion’s carcass?

To understand the significance of the story, we must first go back to the birth of Samson in chapter 13. One of the ways Samson stands out from the other judges is that his birth is foretold.  In 13:5, we are told that he will be a Nazirite, and “he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”  Notice that the passage says “begin,” implying that he will not finish this work. This is exactly what we find in Samson’s story. When we come to 1 Samuel  4, after Samson has been dead for quite some time, we find the Philistines still attacking Israel, this time capturing the Ark of the Covenant.  Samson’s deliverance from the Philistines was incomplete.

What does this have to do with the story of the lion? The lion is a figure of what Samson is going to do to the Philistines for Israel. Notice the similarities between this story and the account in chapter 15:14ff, when he kills a thousand Philistines: (1) the lion “roared”/the Philistines “shouted,” (2) “the Spirit of the Lord came upon him mightily,” (3) Samson comes to a certain location. The story of overcoming the Philistines parallels the story of overcoming the lion. Since we can see what the lion represents, we can then see the significance of this figure in the one who finishes Samson’s work. In 1 Samuel 17:36, the account of David and Goliath reads, “your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them.” It is David who finishes the work of Samson, delivering Israel from the hand of the Philistines, just as he rescued his father’s flock from the lion.

For us, this story is clearly Messianic. We have a king like David who has delivered us from the hands of our enemy. 1 Peter 5:8 compares the devil to a prowling lion. As our enemy, Satan once had power over us through death. We could never overcome death without someone to take on the enemy for us. Romans 5:21 says that “sin reigned in death,” but now “through Jesus Christ our Lord,” grace reigns. Jesus began and finished the work of rescuing us. As a result, we are now obligated to submit to His Lordship and prove ourselves as trusting in His power to rule our lives. Jesus didn’t rescue us just so that we can be free from death though. There is a purpose to His deliverance, which leads us to the next part of the account.

This second part of the Samson story concerns the “swarm of bees and honey” found in the dead body of the lion. We have seen that the lion represents the enemy of God’s people, and now, dwelling in the decay of the enemy, we can see that the bees represent God’s people. While all common versions of the bible translate “swarm of bees,” the typical Hebrew word for swarm is not used.  What Samson finds is a “community” of bees. Israel was to be a community of God’s people making something sweet in a defiled land. Remember that Canaan was a land full of wickedness, which Israel was to make their own and display themselves as God’s people. God was bringing them into a land that had been defiled by the nations in it, but they were not to defile themselves (Lev. 18:24, 25).  They stuck out as strangely from the other nations as unnaturally as a beehive living in the carcass of a lion.

As we are God’s new Israel, we are called to “make honey” in a decaying world. Often we are so concerned about the direction of America as we see its moral decline. I would suggest that we, in the bigger picture, not concern ourselves with his problem. There’s no reason for us to expect that America will increase in morality. The nature of a society that doesn’t submit to God is that it becomes only worse. We don’t need to worry about changing our country for our country’s sake, but rather to show others how sweet it is to live among God’s people. America may rise or fall from this point on, but our concern is for God’s glory to rise by showing Him in our lives; that others may see how sweet it is to be in a community in which God is the ruler. Let us then continue to let others “see our good works, and glorify our Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).

*This post was derived from a journal article from the Evangelical Theological Society: Emmrich, M. (2001). The symbolism of the lion and the bees: another ironic twist in the samson cycle. JETS, 44(1)

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The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. — Romans 13:9-10 (NIV)

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