Webster’s Dictionary defines riddle as, “Something proposed to be solved by guessing or conjecture; a puzzling question; an ambiguous proposition; an enigma; hence, anything ambiguous or puzzling.” Encyclopedia Britannica describes a riddle as a, “deliberately enigmatic or ambiguous question requiring a thoughtful and often witty answer.
The riddle is a form of guessing game that has been a part of the folklore of most cultures from ancient times. Western scholars generally recognize two main kinds of riddle: the descriptive riddle and the shrewd or witty question.” Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary calls a riddle, “a mystifying, misleading, or puzzling question posed as a problem to be solved or guessed.”
The Hebrew word ‘hdyx’ (chiyah) is the original word translated to ‘riddle’ in the Old Testament. ‘Hdyx’ is also translated in some scriptures as, ‘dark sayings’ and ‘difficult questions’.
The Hebrew word ‘hdyx’ is translated into English as, “riddle, difficult question, parable, enigmatic saying or question, perplexing saying or question”.
Form of Entertainment
In today’s society it is common for family members to watch television and play video games as a means of entertainment and (sometimes) education. It is quite conceivable that even our TV popular games shows have their root in the ancient times riddle contests which enlivened ordinary meals and marriage feasts.
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia tells us that, ‘Riddle-making and riddle-guessing were in favor in the ancient East, both in educated circles and in comparatively common life.
There is a table in the British Museum from the library of Ashur-bani-pal which attests the use of riddles not only by the Assyrians of the 7th cent. BC, but also in a far earlier age, for it contains a Sumer as well as a Sem text… ”
From the Writings of Josephus it is reported that historians of Phoenicia recorded a riddle-contest between Solomon and the Phoen Hiram in which the latter finally won with the help of a Tyrian named Abdemon.
In the heading of the canonical Book of Proverbs, the general term ‘Proverbs’ is made to include, “A proverb mashal, and a figure (or, an interpretation, melitsah) the words (singular Dabhar) of the wise, and their dark sayings (or, riddles)”.
“To understand a proverb and an enigma, The words of the wise and their riddles”. (Proverb 1:6)
King Solomon is generally credited as the writer of a larger portion of the Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament.
From his commentary, ‘The Book of Proverbs’ author Roger Norman Whybray notes, “The asking and answering of riddles was a form of entertainment which also had its serious side. Solomon’s reputation for wisdom depended partly on his ability to answer questions”. King Solomon’s good reputation brought attention from foreign dignitaries including the Queen of Sheba.
“Now when the Queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the LORD, she came to test him with hard questions (hdyx). She came to Jerusalem with a very great retinue, with camels that bore spices, very much gold, and precious stones, and when she came to Solomon she spoke with him about all that was in her heart. So Solomon answered all her questions, there was nothing so difficult for the king that he could not explain it to her”. (I Kings 10:1-3). After hearing his response to all her riddles, seeing with her own eyes the extension of his kingdom and the contentment of his servants, Queen Sheba declared, “Your wisdom and prosperity exceed the fame of which I heard”.
Samson’s Famous Riddle
In the book of Judges, chapter 14, is recorded the famous riddle which Samson put forth at his seven day wedding feast. Since the stipulation of a prize or penalty according to the success or failure of the persons challenged to solve the riddle was a custom, in this case the winners would be given thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothing.
Even in today’s society thirty new sets of clothing would be considered a huge reward!
“So Samson said to them: “Out of the eater came something to eat, And out of the strong came something sweet”. Now for three days they could not explain the riddle. (Judges 14: 14)
During the next few days when the Philistines couldn’t solve the riddle, they began to press and threaten Samson’s new bride. After many tears, Samson finally relented and explained the riddle to her, which she secretly related to her own people.
“So 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 solved my riddle!” Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily, and he went down to Ashkelon and killed thirty of their men, took their apparel, and gave the changes of clothing to those who had explained the riddle. So his anger was aroused, and he went back to his father’s house. And Samson’s wife was given to his companion, who had been his best man”. (Judges 14:18-20)
Jesus Entertained Riddles
“All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: “I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 13:34-35)
According to Matthew’s recorded account, Jesus quoted from Psalm 78:2 and identified himself as the One who Asaph prophetically sang of, “I will open my mouth in a parable, I will utter dark sayings (riddles) of old”.
The question of Jesus’ authority to teach was put to him in a riddle by the chief priests and elders when they asked, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?”
Jesus response to their riddle was also put in the form of a question:
“I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things: The baptism of John, where was it from? From heaven or from men?” And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ “But if we say, ‘from men,’ we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus and said, “We do not know.” And He said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Matthew 21:23-27)
God Still Speaks in Riddles
While it is quite likely that the Holy Spirit has spoken to me in riddles for many years, it has only a short time ago when I began to realize their significance.
In May 2006, I had been asked to join three prophets to pray over two teenage graduates at a conference meeting in Minot, North Dakota. In the week proceeding the conference, I spent some time waiting upon the LORD for His direction.
The word, ‘riddle’ came to my mind which I immediately knew was for one of the young women but in the days that followed, that ‘rhema’ word was forgotten. The following Sunday morning, these two young ladies (who were strangers to me) were presented for prayer. Imagine my amazing delight when one of the male prophets began to prophesy over one young woman that she would be given ‘riddles’.
Although I had forgotten it was God’s direction for her life, the Holy Spirit was quick to bring that truth to another of His servants to be released as a word of encouragement.
My good friend Bonnie Wiesner carries an Anna type intercessory anointing. She often spouts off some of the most unusual one-liners which could be considered, God-given riddles. In late 1990’s, Christians from various local churches were meeting together to conduct a spiritual mapping of our region and had asked for prayer coverage.
The word Bonnie received when she held this request up in prayer was, “The strongman is a lady and the lady is a tramp” Bonnie discerned this to mean the Church and in the passing years, the spirit of Jezebel upon our city has been exposed in a greater manner.
New Riddles for the Day!
The following are a few riddles which I have personally received.
- Q. What is the best part of being taken off a case?
- A. Because you are no longer investigating it you can no longer discuss it.
Spiritual insight: This legal question is useful in our spiritual walk. We may be tempted to gossip or others may want to drag us into a discussion about people, situations or even church matters. But as a police officer or lawyer taken off that case, you have no legal jurisdiction to discuss it. So it is in the spiritual arena, the LORD as the Judge no longer gives us any authority to discuss situations which are not in our case-files. And the best thing about it is that we don’t have to be drawn in and ensnared to other people’s issues. We are free to continue on to the next case our LORD assigns us.
- Q. If you do this, you will never have to worry about not having my anointing?
Spiritual Insight: This came as I was worshipping on my piano just prior to a speaking engagement. Previously when given the opportunity to share my faith publicly, I always cried out to the LORD that His presence and anointing would be with me. After that evening I knew that if I worship Him in Spirit and in Truth before I share my faith, I can always expect His anointing will be upon me.
- Q. What about the ministry of the Jerome?
These words came very early one morning as I was coming out of a deep sleep. I knew it was the Holy Spirit but I was tired and didn’t want to wake up. My thoughts were, “Yeah, what about the ministry of Jerome?” and desperately tried to fall back asleep. When the question came the second time, I was immediately wide-eyed and asking, “Who is Jerome and what was his ministry?”
This question has lead to much research on the life and ministry of St. Jerome, the light he imparted to his generation and his lasting writings which established him as an early Church father. I am still trying to discover the deep significance of his ministry, why our LORD has brought Jerome to my attention and what it means to my own personal walk of faith.