In the book of Judges, what do the bees in a lion’s carcass mean?
Samson’s life is one of contradiction. He was a man of great physical strength yet displayed great moral weakness. He was a judge for 20 years and “a Nazirite, set apart to God from birth” (Judges 13:5), yet he continually broke the rules of a Nazirite. The Spirit of God came upon him many times, giving him great strength to fight the Philistines, the oppressors of the Israelites. This in spite of the fact that Samson was a womanizer and a vengeful man. Samson’s life illustrates the necessity of saying “no” to fleshly temptation, God’s use of even flawed, sinful men to accomplish His will, the consequences of sin, and the mercy of God.
Samson wanted to marry a Philistine woman despite his parents’ protests and in violation of God’s law against intermarriage with pagans. His mother and father accompanied Samson to Timnah to make the arrangements for his betrothal. On the way a lion attacked Samson. “The Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him so that he tore the lion apart with his bare hands” (Judges 14:6). Later, Samson passed by the carcass of the lion and found it filled with a honeycomb, which he ate. This was a violation of the Nazirite law.
“All the days that he separateth himself unto the Lord he shall come at no dead body.” Numbers 6:6.
Samson knew he had done wrong because, when he gave the honey to his parents, he did not tell them where he got it. “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.” Judges 14:9
The significance of the bees and honey within the carcass of the lion, is that the lion being dead, was a violation of Samson’s requisite to touch no dead thing, and further to eat the honey is to eat of a rotting dead animal compounding this violation against the Nazarite law and Gods command. Demonstrating how far Samson routinely fell out of Gods will.
The customary wedding feast described in Judges 14:10 was, literally, a “drinking party.” As a Nazirite, Samson was to “abstain from wine and other fermented drink” (Numbers 6:3). Although the author of Judges does not indicate whether Samson personally drank wine or fermented drink at this feast, it was yet another occasion that led to sin. During the feast, Samson offered a wager: whoever could solve his riddle would receive thirty changes of clothes and thirty linen garments (Judges 14:12). Samson’s new Philistine wife betrayed him and gave the answer to his riddle to her countrymen. Furious, Samson killed thirty Philistines and gave their possessions to those who had “solved” the riddle. Samson’s wife was then given to another man. The whole sordid matter was used by God for His purposes:
“But his father and his mother knew not that it was of the Lord, that he sought an occasion against the Philistines: for at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel.” Judges 14:4
Samson willingly went into situations that led to sin, but, each time, God used him for His glory. Even our sin cannot prevent God’s sovereign will from coming to pass. Samson, full of anger and vengeance, swore to “get even with the Philistines” for stealing his wife from him (Judges 15:3). He burned the Philistines’ crops (Judges 15:4–5) and, later, after the Philistines murdered his wife, “attacked them viciously and slaughtered many of them” (Judges 15:8).
Samson hid out in Judah for a while, but the Judeans, worried that Samson was worsening their situation with the Philistines, tied him up and delivered him to the enemy (Judges 15:8–13). As the Philistines approached their incapacitated prey, “And when he came unto Lehi, the Philistines shouted against him: and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him, and the cords that were upon his arms became as flax that was burnt with fire, and his bands loosed from off his hands.” Judges 15:14.
Samson picked up the jawbone of a donkey and slaughtered 1,000 Philistines with it (Judges 15:15).
In Gaza, Samson hired a prostitute. That night, the people of Gaza learned that Samson was in their city, and they lay in wait to kill him at dawn. Samson escaped by rising in the middle of the night..“And Samson lay till midnight, and arose at midnight, and took the doors of the gate of the city, and the two posts, and went away with them, bar and all, and put them upon his shoulders, and carried them up to the top of an hill that is before Hebron.” Judges 16:3
God’s purpose of defeating the Philistines was advancing through Samson, but Samson was still held accountable for his sin, and he experienced consequences for his foolishness and disobedience. Samson met and fell in love with a Philistine named Delilah. The rulers of the Philistines bribed Delilah to discover the secret of Samson’s strength and betray him into their hands (Judges 16:5). Delilah began to beg Samson to know the secret of his strength. After telling her some lies, Samson finally revealed that his strength was due to his separation to the Lord; specifically, the fact that his hair had never been cut (Numbers 6:5). Delilah informed the Philistine rulers of Samson’s secret and then waited until Samson was asleep, and she called for someone to come shave his head. She woke him with a cry: “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” (Judges 16:20). Samson stood up to fight, but he did not know that the LORD had left him.
Samson’s continual, willful disobedience had reached an end. He had grown confident in his strength to the point that he felt he could spurn any law; as a result, “the Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza. Binding him with bronze shackles, they set him to grinding grain in the prison” (Judges 16:21). Samson finally had to face the consequences of his actions.
The Philistines thought they would celebrate their capture of Samson, and the rulers assembled in the temple of their god, Dagon, to praise him for delivering Samson into their power (Judges 16:23). During the festivities, they brought Samson from prison to entertain them. Leaning against the support pillars of the pagan temple..
“And Samson called unto the Lord, and said, O Lord God, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.” Judges 16:28
God granted Samson’s request. Samson “And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.” Judges 16:30
Samson killed more when he died — about 3,000 Philistines — than while he lived.
Samson was a man of faith — at the same time, he was a man of the flesh, and his many mistakes serve as a warning to those who may be gifted by the Lord and use those gifts for their own desires rather than the service God gave the gifts for. Samson’s life reminds us that even when he ignored the calling and instructions for his life, God still used him for His purpose. The greater reality is that God did not take away the gift once He gave it to Samson in spite of his sinful behavior.
“For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance” Romans 11:29
For this reason, many who were called and given gifts from the Lord and use those gifts sinfully, like those who were given the gift prophecy and use their gifts as soothsayers, witchcraft and the like, can still use those gifts though sinfully, like Balaam. There is however, a heavy price to pay. The life of Samson shows us the importance of relying on God’s strength, not our own power; following God’s will, not our own stubbornness; and seeking the Lord’s wisdom, not our own understanding.