This series takes us into the life of Samson. Some of us may vaguely remember the narrative from Sunday School classes, but as we take a closer look at each verse in this series, some parts may surprise you!
(A) Samson was born to a sinful and needy people (Judges 13:1-3)
Judges 13:1 begins with this phrase "and the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord". This is not the first time that the people of God did evil in God's sight.
- In Judges 2:6-11, Joshua led the people to the land but Joshua and that generation that entered the land passed on. There is an issue of national memory being lost, and Judges 2:11 also tells us that they turned to serve and worship Baal. This verse defines evil for us -- forgetting who the Lord is, turning away from God and serving another God. In verse 11, the phrase "in the sight of the Lord" appears and will be repeated throughout the book. Evil, according to Judges, is defined according to God's standard. This is also our basis for the understanding of Samson.
- In Judges 3:7, 12, we are told that Israel serve Baals and the Ashtaroth,
- In Judges 4:1, we are told that Israel did what was evil in God's sight. This wa repeated in Judges 6:1, in the time of Gideon.
- Judges 10:6-9 records for us the extent of Israel's idolatry. They served "Baals, Ashtaroth, gods of Syria, gods of Sidon, gods of Moab, gods of the Ammonites, gods of the Philistines". Not only that, they also "forsook the Lord and did not serve Him".
This context is important for us to help us understand Judges 13. Judges 13 focuses on the circumstances before Samson's birth, and this is not an accident. As the narrative unfolds, it is also helpful for us to consider if these reactions are standard reactions, and if the people in the narrative know something that we do not. Judges 13 contains a common trope, that of an angel appearing to barren women about a child that they will bear. It happened with Sarah and a similar promise was made to Hannah previously and each time it happens, there is a carryover meaning.
As we read the opening verse of Judges 13, we have to understand what salvation means. According to the Bible, what do God's people need saving from? This word demands that we understand the nature of oppression, tyranny and evil. We need to be saved from something! Middle class Christianity may not understand this, when we seek to lead a comfortable life and be a good person. But good people don't need to be saved and are not interested in salvation. To understand the life of Samson, we need to understand the national situation of Israel, and see where their hearts really are. These are people that turn away from the Lord and serve other gods. Their hearts have left God. And we are exactly the same. Just today, how often have you remembered God? We rush through our prayers this morning, eager to start our day at work or school. We have also taken all His provisions without thanking Him and remembering that all of our good come from Him alone.
We also learn something about the Lord. In Judges 13:1, we read of how God gave them into the hand of the Philistines for 40 years. God was willing to give them up and did not intervene in the nation of Israel for a generation. Sometimes, God lets us live in our sin. Rom 1 tells us that God is not obliged to intervene. It might be shocking for you to think that when we choose to run away from God, God lets us have our choice. But this is exactly the case in Judges 13.
After this long introduction, let's take a look at the family of faith here. In Judges 13:2-3, we are introduced to a man who lived in Zorah of the tribe of the Danites. The writer goes into such detail historical cross-referencing and verification is possible because each tribe had a particular portion/location of the land.
We are introduced to Manoah and his wife, who remains nameless, and they have a problem -- she was barren and they had not children. This is interesting because names are important, but the absence of name is also significant. In leaving her unnamed, it heightens the shame associated with being barren. In Gen 1:28, having children were part of God's original plan and blessing. From Gen 3 on, childbearing is cursed and pain is part of the process. The idea of childbearing therefore is wrapped up in the idea of God's blessing and curse, a visible sign of God's favour (or lack thereof). Furthermore, in their agrarian society, children are important for work too.
It is to this family, poor and lacking, that God comes to when the nation was sinful and turned away. God does not use the strong, the efficient, the equipped, the most logical people to do His work. Again and again, He uses the foolish things of the world. If you're a Christian today, how do you see yourself? Do you see yourself as barren, sinful, needy or do you think that you are a good person, who serves God and does Him favors?
(B) Samson was born to save his people (Judges 13:4-14)
There are two divine encounters. In the first instance, the angel meets with the woman (Judges 13:3-5) and she proceeds to recount it to Manoah (Judges 13:6-7). She speaks about meeting a strangely divine man ("man of God", "very awesome" i.e. Inspiring awe). In that meeting, the angel tells her that she is barren and childless, but she will conceive and bear a son (Judges 13:3). "Therefore" she has to live in a certain way. In Num 6:1-21, the Nazirite vow is recorded for us. It is a life of specific mission and purpose. Tim Keller explains the significance and purpose of the vow as follows,
“The purpose of the Nazirite vow was to ask for God’s special help during a crucial time. It was a sign that you were looking to God with great intensity and focus. Keeping one’s hair uncut refraining from the fruit of the vine were ways of showing that you were “in training” towards a goal.”
Manoah knows this when his wife tells him what she heard.
But there is a second encounter. Manoah responds in prayer, asking for God to also teach them (Judges 13:8). He does not know how to handle this! This is an extremely real reaction, and it's perfectly normal. We, too, can ask God for help to do what He calls us to! The angel returned because God listened to the voice of Manoah. The God who gave Israel up in their sin also hears the voice of a man. But look where God sends the angel. The angel was sent to the woman (Judges 13:9). God answers Manoah's prayer by sending the angel to his wife.Perhaps God answers your prayers by sending the answer to someone else unexpectedly? What is Manoah asking in verse 12? There is a hint of faith, because he accepts the announcement ("when your words come true"). He knows that the child will be a Nazirite. He probably knows that the same God who rescued them from Egypt and the God who used faithless Gideon is at work now.
In this second encounter, Manoah never gets the answer that he wanted, although it had already been revealed in verse 5. God doesn't need to answer his questions because He is not obliged to. And as the story unfolds, we realise that Saviors don't appear on white horses just when we want to. God doesn't play by our rules, and works within the boundaries that we try to restrict Him in. The God of the Bible is a terrifying God who doesn't do what we want Him to. That's why He sent His Son to the cross instead of a throne. This isn't he God who uses a donkey to rebuke a prophet. This God also uses adulterers and liars. He also takes a barren womb and causes it to flower with children. God doesn't announce this to everyone, but gives it to a nameless woman. Manoah was not told so that he couldn't train and work out everything ahead of time. All that God has given is enough to the people that He gives it to. If you have a relationship with God, you'll know this. God sometimes gives us weird answers to our questions.
Samson's birth was therefore no accident. He was born with a specific mission -- to save Israel.
(C) Samson was born according to the will of the “One who works wonders” (Judges 13:15-25)
In response, Manoah tried to show hospitality but the angel uses this generous offer to talk about worshipping the Lord (Judges 13:15-17). The angel redirects his attention to the one from whom all blessings flow, and calls him to present a burnt offering instead. This is specific to the sacrificial system in Leviticus. This is important because of Judges 13:1. In this day and age, a man of God could be serving any God. But Manoah prays to the LORD and the angel seeks to show that the LORD that he has been praying to answered his prayer.
The couple obey and offer their offering to the LORD, "to the one who works wonders" (Judges 13:19). Manoah responds to the work of this God specifically here! This is a faith statement, because they know that the wonders that God works can break the captives and set the people free. Manoah redirects his worship to Yahweh, the God of his fathers now. Israel might have strayed and worshipped other Gods, but through this encounter, Manoah turned back to the God of his ancestors, and the God worthy of worship. We are like Manoah, and it is so easy for us to forget who God.
The angel went up with the flame, a confirmation of everything (Judges 13:20) and when Manoah and his wife saw it, they fell to their faces. Manoah realised then, that that was the angel of the Lord (Judges 13:22). Manoah realised who he has just spoken with, and he also recognised something in himself. This is why he is so worried that he might die. He has encountered God and therefore sees himself clearly. God is God and when we see Him in His glory, we will be so overwhelmed with our inadequacies and our sin. He saw his sin as a result of this encounter. But his wife is also transformed too, and she understood something that clever Manoah overlooked (Judges 13:23). Manoah referred to God as "God", out of fear and reverence, but Manoah's wife called on "the LORD" in Judges 13:23. She was very certain that they were not going to die as she gave 4 reasons for why this was so -- God accepted their burnt and grain offering, He showed them these things and also announced all these things. She saw God's mercy. They are both worshipping, but one is caught up with sin and another is so assured. The proud are humbled in the presence of God, while the humble are strengthened. Isn't this amazing?
In Judges 13:24-25, the passage finally ends with the birth of Samson. We are introduced to this character, and are told that God blesses Samson, and God leads him and begins to do something in his life.
We mentioned earlier that the story of Samson is one of a few birth stories in the Bible. Ever since Genesis 3, we know that childbearing is cursed -- for in pain will children be born -- but still part of God's plan for reversing the curse and bringing blessing. A Promised Son will come and ever since then, mothers and children have been part of God's plan of redemption. For women to be barren was therefore an economic disadvantage, and also seen as lacking the blessing and favour of God. Shame would follow them, and this was the story of Sarah (Gen 17:15-21), Hannah (1 Sam 1:5-7, 19-20), Manoah's wife and Elizabeth (Lk 1:7-15). In each of their stories, their miracle birth served to deliver the mother, and also had a special significance.
- Sarah and Isaac: God's covenant is preserved for salvation
- Hannah and Samuel: God's prophet is produced for salvation
- Manoah's wife and Samson: God's judge is given for salvation
- Elizabeth and John the Baptist: God’s forerunner is given for salvation
Yet there was another mother, who was not barren and her child did not deliver her from shame. This mother was a virgin, and her child brought shame to her. For Mary, the mother of Jesus (Lk 1:26-38), there was no vindication and praise for her miracle birth. The Savior of God's people was not accepted with praise but ushered in with scorn to the world that had no room for Him.
Jesus was God's Son born for salvation, and His birth breaks the earlier pattern. Jesus was born in scandal and disgrace and there was no room at the inn. Instead of a big, joyous celebration at his birth, his birth caused a widespread infanticide. But just like how God gave Samson to humble parents to be the saviour of Israel at a time when they were under the rule of another nation, God provided Jesus to be the Saviour, not of just one nation, but the whole world. Samson, ultimately, shows us our need for a Saviour, and points us to Jesus.