The Riddle


In Judges 14:14, Sampson propounded a riddle. He did so to confound and trap the Philistines. Below I offer my own riddle. My purpose is to teach and edify whoever is willing to hear …

What was:
Contained in the call and connected with the covenant?
Resulted in:
Waiting for a wife and water from the wells?
Affirmed by:
Fleeing as a fugitive and fulfillment in the funeral?
Seen through:
Exaltation in exile and expectation in the exit?

Have you figured it out? Here are some clues: The four couplets of the riddle are built on the lives of four men. The first involves Abraham, the second Isaac, the third Jacob and the fourth Joseph. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are fathers of the Jewish nation. In Romans 11:28, Paul explains that because of them, Israel remains beloved to the heart of God in spite of all our sins and failures. God identifies himself as eternally connected to them in Exodus 3:6, when he said to Moses at the burning bush,

“I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”

Of all the 12 sons of Jacob, Joseph was the most beloved. Even though through Judah would come the royal line and through Levi, the priestly line, it is Joseph whose life prophetically parallels the life of Yeshua. Joseph was a savior to his brothers. It was because of him that all the tribes were preserved alive.

Still having trouble? It’s okay, I’ll tell you the answer. The answer to all 4 couplets is the same: the promise of the land of Israel to the people of Israel forever. Let’s go back and look at these lines and see how it works.

Contained in the call Genesis 12:1-3, 7.

Connected with the covenant Genesis 15:18-21, 17:7, 8.

Genesis 12 is a major turning point in the history of the world. I would dare say it is the most significant event up to that point. As important as the building of Noah’s Ark was to the preservation of the human race, it was still just a stopgap measure. It was only with the call of Abram that the foundations of the ultimate solution to the problem of sin in the world were laid. Abram was called of God to leave everything and follow Him.

Incredible promises were made to him as to the outcome of his obedience – “all the families of the earth would be blessed.”God told Abram in Genesis 12:7, “To your descendents I will give this land.” The promise of the land was contained in the call. In Genesis 15:6, we see Abram believing God for a multitude of descendents that were at that point unseen and in the natural, impossible. As a result of Abram’s faith, God entered into covenant with him.

The promise of the land is a central feature of the covenant. In Genesis 15:7, God tells Abram he will give him the land. In verse 8, Abram asks, “How will I know I will possess it?” This question is not a lack of faith regarding God’s promise, but a concern that perhaps he or one of his descendents might do something that would cause the land be taken away from them. God’s response is demonstrated in the act of covenanting. Rather than both parties passing through the two altars with the pieces of the sacrificial animals on them, God puts Abram to sleep and takes full responsibility upon Himself by His fiery presence passing through on behalf of both Himself and Abram. Genesis 15:18, “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram saying, ‘To your descendents I have given this land.’” The promise of the land was connected with the covenant.

Waiting for a wife Genesis 24:1-9.

Water from the wells Genesis 26:1-5, 12-24.

Before Abraham passed away he made sure his son Isaac would have a godly wife. As important as this was, it could in no way overshadow the centrality of the land in fulfilling the covenant. In Genesis 24:5, after Abraham commissions his servant to return to the land of Abraham’s birth to find a suitable wife for Isaac, the servant asks,

 “Suppose the woman will not be willing to follow me to this land; should I take your son back to the land from where you came?” Abraham’s response is very strong. “Beware lest you take my son back there! The Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and the land of my birth, and who spoke to me and who swore to me, and who swore to me saying, ‘To your descendents I will give this land,’ he will send his angel before you, and you will take a wife for my son from there. But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this my oath, only do not take my son back there.”

The servant was successful and returned with Rebecca for Isaac, who was waiting for a wife in the land.

God told Isaac that what was promised to Abraham was also his and he began to assert himself in his possession of the land. Even when there was a famine, Isaac obeyed God and did not go down into Egypt. Because of Isaac’s wealth, the Philistines envied him. They stopped up the wells that Abraham had dug and gave them new names to break the continuity between Abraham and Isaac. The Romans did the same in 135 C.E., when they plowed over Jerusalem, forbade Jews to enter it and renamed the land of Israel, Palestine. Muslims are trying to do the same today by claiming that there never was a Jewish temple on Mt Moriah. But Isaac’s servants continued to dig in the face of Philistine contention until he came to a place they would not challenge. God came to him, blessed him and reiterated the covenant promises as he drew water from the wells.

Fleeing as a fugitive Genesis 28:10-15.

Fulfilled in the funeral Genesis 47:28-31/49:28-33/50:1-4.

In Genesis 28, after deceiving his father Isaac, in order to receive the blessing in place of his brother Esau, Jacob was running for his life. Esau was planning to murder Jacob. With just the clothes on his back and his staff in hand, he headed out to a frightening and unknown future. But even in his fleeing as a fugitive, Jacob was met by God, who once again emphatically promised him the land and the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant. He had much ahead of him to suffer and experience before he would be transformed into Israel, but the Lord promised to be with him all the way until all was completed.

Many years later, having lived for 17 years in Egypt with his 12 sons and their families, the promise of the land was never far from Jacob’s heart. When his time to die came close, Jacob made his sons promise that he would not be buried in Egypt. They were to take his body and place it in the cave of Machpela in Hebron, which Abraham had purchased for a burial site. It was a huge undertaking, with the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of Egypt, chariots and horsemen all accompanying Joseph and his brothers and their households in returning Jacob’s body to the land. Death did not release him from the land, but returned him to it, and this fulfillment in the funeral stood as a prophetic promise of the return of the entire family.

Exaltation in the exile Genesis 41:37-46.

Expectation in the exit Genesis 50:22-26.

Joseph had not left the land of promise willingly, but was sold as a slave by his jealous brothers. His coming to Egypt was a consequence of sin and seemed to be the very opposite of God’s purpose for his life. Yet, it was there in Egypt that he was raised up and became a savior, not only for the Egyptians, but also for the nations around them and for his own family. His exaltation in the exile was a guarantee that God’s promises would be fulfilled, a demonstration of the lengths to which the Lord will go to preserve his people that they might receive what was promised to them.

Even in Joseph’s royal status, the expectation of return to the land stayed with him. When he died he was not returned to the land of Israel as his father was, but on his deathbed he made his brothers promise that when (not “if”) God brought them back to the land, his remains would also be brought back. Hundreds of years later, when Moses led Israel out of Egypt, they carried the bones of Joseph with them, fulfilling Joseph’s expectation in the exit.

The Philistines thought that they would gain by cheating to get the answer to Sampson’s riddle. But instead, their losses were great at the hand of an angry Sampson. The answer to the riddle I have written here is not hidden; it is open for all to see. The danger to today’s Philistines is in their coming against that truth that the land of Israel has been given to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their children forever. Wherever the Bible promises that all the families/nations of the world will be blessed through the offspring of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob you will find in close proximity the promise of the land to their descendants. You can’t have one without the other. The people of Israel, in the land of Israel, is the will of the God of Israel, and a major component in blessing the whole world.