The Meaning Of Honey From The Lion, Judges 14

What is the meaning of Judges 14, wherein Samson kills a lion, and then eats honey from the lion carcass? 

In my view, this chapter is about how God used the weaknesses of humans as part of His plan (of which the people were unaware) to ultimately serve His purpose in bringing the people of Israel to the promised 'Land of Milk and Honey'. 

The lion is a symbol of the strength of the mighty enemy, defeated by God through Samson, and honey is the sweet reward.

Honey From The Lion And The Meaning Of Judges 14

Samson And The Lion - Judges 1414A statue of Samson and the lion in Kiev, Ukraine: "The Fountain of Samson"

Here we’ll break down the chapter of Judges 14 in The Bible, into sections and examine the potential meaning – I have used bold highlights and underscore for emphasis.

1Then Samson went down to Timnah, and he saw a woman in Timnah, one of the daughters of the Philistines. 2So he came back and told his father and mother, “I saw a woman in Timnah, one of the daughters of the Philistines; so now, get her for me as a wife.”  3But his father and his mother said to him, “Is there no woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” Yet Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, because she is right for me.” 4However, his father and mother did not know that this was of the LORD, for He was seeking an occasion against the Philistines. And at that time the Philistines were ruling over Israel.

In this part, we are told of Samson’s disobedience and disregard for the laws and customs, the anguish of his parents and Samson’s stubbornness. 

However, we are also told that this was all part of the Lord’s plan in the fulfilment of His promise to the people of Israel. 

It also serves as a reminder, that despite appearances, God ultimately works out all to achieving His final plan.

5Then Samson went down to Timnah with his father and mother, and came as far as the vineyards of Timnah; and behold, a young lion came roaring toward him. 6And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him, so that he tore it apart as one tears apart a young goat, though he had nothing in his hand; but he did not tell his father or mother what he had done. 7So he went down and talked to the woman; and she looked pleasing to Samson. 

Samson and the lion, Medieval illustrationA medieval illustration of Samson rending the lion.

God preserves Samson, because Samson will play a part in God’s plan for Israel.  This is in contrast to later, when Samson has served his purpose, and he is not saved, but killed along with the Philistines.

8When he returned later to take her, he turned aside to look at the carcass of the lion; and behold, a swarm of bees and honey were in the body of the lion. 9So he took out the honey on his hands and went on, eating as he went. When he came to his father and mother, he gave some to them and they ate it; but he did not tell them that he had took the honey out of the body of the lion.

Meaning of the lion's carcass

Samson with the carcass of the lion as described in Judges 14Illustration dating from 1549 depicting Samson with the carcass of the lion. Image from Rijksmuseum.

The Bible is a book that presents us with the meaningful details, and omits the unimportant trivialities.  Because of this, on first reading, ‘time’ as the events happened, may be distorted in the interpretation of the reader. 

For example, where it says “When he returned later to take her..” I suspect that ‘later’ would refer to a period that probably spanned some weeks, and not later within that same day.

Thus when I think of a swarm of honey bees in the body of the lion, I believe the body would have been the skeletal remains, not a bloody carcass of lion flesh. 

A dead animal carcass would certainly have been picked over by scavenging animals and vultures, and no doubt the bones would be 'cleaned' by insects and various other invertebrates

Furthermore, for honey to be present, the swarm of bees had to have settled, created wax combs, and needed time to forage on flowers to create the honey

It is not difficult to imagine the rib cage of the lion serving as ‘top bars’ or ‘frames’ from which the bees would build their hanging honeycombs.

wild honey combs hanging from a tree branchHoney combs

But why the lion’s carcass, instead of, say, honey from combs hanging within a cave or from a tree branch? 

In this context, the lion symbolized a mighty enemy (just as the Philistines were for the people of Israel) that was defeated by Samson with God’s help – demonstrating that God’s plan could not be thwarted.

Honey from the lion

Fresh, light-golden honeycomb showing hexagonal shaped cellsHoneycomb

As to why Samson ate the honey and gave it to his parents without telling them where it had come from, I believe again we can look to symbolism, in which I believe the Bible is rich. 

In my view, the honey is symbolic of God’s promise to deliver the Jews to the ‘Land Of Milk And Honey’. 

In other words, the honey in the carcass is symbolic of a sign post along the intended plan, that Samson – who is on his way to take the Philistine woman (contrary to laws and customs in Judaism) nevertheless, serves God’s purpose. 

With God’s assistance, Samson defeats the mighty lion, then later moves in to take the sweet honey reward. That Samson does not tell his parents where the honey comes from is symbolic of their ignorance of the Divine plan.

What is sweeter than honey and stronger than a lion? – Samson’s riddle

As Samson journeys to the Philistine woman, in a sense, he journeys toward God’s plan to bring His people to the land of milk and honey

10Then his father went down to the woman; and Samson held a feast there, for the young men customarily did this. 11When they saw him, they brought thirty companions to be with him.


Samson’s Riddle
12Then Samson said to them, “Let me now propose a riddle for you; if you actually tell me the answer within the seven days of the feast, and solve it, then I will give you thirty linen wraps and thirty outfits of clothes. 13But if you are unable to tell me, then you shall give me thirty linen wraps and thirty outfits of clothes.” And they said to him, “Propose your riddle, so that we may hear it.” 14So he said to them,

“Out of the eater came something to eat,
And out of the strong came something sweet.”

But they could not tell the answer to the riddle in three days. 15Then it came about on the fourth day that they said to Samson’s wife, “Entice your husband, so that he will tell us the riddle, or we will burn you and your father’s house with fire. Have you invited us to impoverish us? Is this not so?” 16So Samson’s wife wept in front of him and said, “You only hate me, and you do not love me; you have proposed a riddle to the sons of my people, and have not told it to me.” And he said to her, “Behold, I have not told it to my father or mother; so should I tell you?” 17However she wept before him for seven days while their feast lasted. And on the seventh day he told her because she pressed him so hard. She then told the riddle to the sons of her people. 18So the men of the city said to him on the seventh day before the sun went down,

“What is sweeter than honey?
And what is stronger than a lion?”
And he said to them,

“If you had not plowed with my heifer, You would not have found out my riddle.” 19Then the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon and killed thirty men of them and took what they were wearing and gave the outfits of clothes to those who told the riddle. And his anger burned, and he went up to his father’s house. 20But Samson’s wife was given to his companion who had been his friend.

Ultimately Samson’s wife betrays Samson, her father gives her to Samson’s companion, and later, when Samson goes to retrieve his wife, is offered her sister instead. 

This sets off a further chain of events wherein Samson seeks revenge on the Philistines (then ruling over the Jews).  Samson is then handed over by the Jews to the Philistines, but he defeats them. 

Later, he is betrayed by Delilah, but as the Philistines praise Dagon, their god for delivering Samson into their hands, God infuses Samson once more, and for a final time, with the strength to defeat the Philistines.

Samson brings down the pillars that support the building in which thousands of Philistines have come to watch Samson, thus killing not only himself, but his enemies, thereby moving the Jews closer to the promised "Land Of Milk And Honey".

Was the honey from the lion unclean?

Honey is kosher and is eaten by Jewish people during important Jewish traditions and customs.  Despite the fact that the bee is seen as an ‘unclean’ animal, the honey itself is only made by bees, not derived from them (i.e. honey is made by bees from nectar).

Given this fact, if honey can be considered clean, despite coming from an unclean animal, then arguably, it could be clean even if the combs were found inside the skeletal remains of a lion.  This is my personal view only, and scholars and teachers of Judaism may disagree. 

Why Samson decided not to tell his parents may, as described above, illustrate the fact that, even despite their faith, they were ignorant of God’s Divine plan.

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leafcutter bee on sweet pea plant sweet peas for bees