Judges 13 introduces us to Samson, the last judge recorded in this book. Everybody knows his story. Every little boy wishes he could have Samson’s herculean prowess and massive muscles. Samson, however, is not the role model that he is made out to be. In fact, being the last judge in this book’s downward spiral into ultimate depravity, he is actually a horrible example. Our introduction to him in Judges 13 does not tell us much about Samson; in fact, almost all of it is about his parents, Manoah and his wife.
The first verse of the chapter gives us the standard introduction, the news that we hate to hear but have sadly gotten used to hearing: “And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD.” Israel had fallen into sin again. As we keep reading, we would expect God to hand them over into oppression, they would cry out for mercy, and He would send a deliverer. That has been the pattern throughout Judges. As expected, the LORD did hand them over, this time to the Philistines. He gave them over for forty years, the longest period of oppression recorded in this book. The Israelites, however, did not cry out for deliverance. Nowhere in chapter 13, nowhere in chapter 14, nowhere in the entire account of Samson did Israel cry out for deliverance. The pattern is utterly broken. We started our cycle of judges with Othniel, who followed the pattern. But ever since Othniel, the pattern became more skewed, more confused, and more obscure. Ehud used trickery, Barak was a wimp, God sent a condemning prophet before he chose a judge (and when He did choose a judge, it was the doubting Gideon), and Abimelech just threw the whole thing off. In fact, since Abimelech, there had been no rest anywhere in the book of Judges. Jephthah died, and instead of the typical “and then the land had rest for such-and-such years,” the book just moves right into the next chapter. Now, in the story of Samson, Israel did not even cry out to the LORD. They had become satisfied in being with the Philistines, synchronizing their culture, lifestyle, and religion with them. They were at peace with their bondage and did not make any attempt to get out.
Often we, too, are quite happy to be left in our bondage to sin. We are quick to tell people that we are God’s children by letting them see us go to church or toting a Bible around in our briefcases or purses, but we really do not truly want to be delivered from our slavery. We are at peace with sin’s occupation. The world offers us a lot of pleasantries. Abusing alcohol and drugs and having all kinds of sex really do bring pleasure and enjoyment. Wealth, power, and fame really do hold great appeal and become our first love. We fail to see what they actually are. These worldly, sinful pleasures are just as much a bondage as was Israel’s bondage to the Philistines. These things end up controlling us, bringing us into a vicious cycle of addiction and sin. The trouble is, we kind of like it there, and we end up so addicted that we cannot bring ourselves to ask for help. Human beings always think that they are in control of their own addictions until it is too late. I have seen it happen many times. Someone thinks that he knows how much alcohol he can handle without falling into the sin of drunkenness; someone else thinks that he knows what kinds of movies he can watch without giving in to lust; and someone else convinces himself that “just one look at pornography and then I’ll quit” is okay. But we always keep going, we always keep giving in; seldom are we able to quit or ask for help.
That is the case where the Israelites found themselves. They thought they had it sorted. They enjoyed living mingled with the Philistines, worshipping their gods and co-inhabiting the land with them (the very sin that God had warned against in Judges 2 and other places). So for forty years they lived with the Philistines.
There are three ways that the story could develop from here. Option one is the path of judgment. God could have finally decided that He was fed up with the Israelites and sent His complete and total judgment upon them, destroying that ungrateful ,sinful people once and for all. One certainly would not blame Him for losing patience with Israel. Thankfully for Israel, God is a God of longsuffering, covenant love. We should be thankful, too, because we are just as ungrateful and sinful as these Israelites! Option two would be just to leave it. God could have left the Israelites where they were and not have raised up a deliverer. They would have been stuck where they were, which apparently was fine with them. But God loves His elect people too much to leave them in their sin forever. He may let us backslide for a time, maybe to teach us a lesson and to bring us down a few notches, but in the long run, nothing can separate us from the love of God. He will always redeem His elect in His grace. Finally, option three would be that God would send a deliverer in spite of their behavior. This is where chapter 13 lead us. Human action (Israel crying out to God) is not so important in salvation, after all. God is completely sovereign over the act of salvation, choosing to save those whom He wants to save. God loves His elect so much that He would save us while we were yet sinners, without us crying out to Him first.
The Announcement of a Son
Never before have we been given so much of an introduction to a judge. Samson’s whole birth narrative is laid out for us. We are introduced us to Manoah and his wife, who is barren. Manoah is described as a “certain man,” which seems rather curious. I Samuel 1:1 introduces us to Elkanah, Samuel’s father, who also was described as a “certain man.” Both Manoah and Elkanah had barren wives, both of whom the LORD miraculously blessed with children who were prophesied to do great works. Godly Samuel was in many ways the last of the judges, and he is a strong contrast to Samson.
We are also told about Manoah’s wife, whose name is never given. Her defining features are that she has no name and no children. The fact that the narrator made a big deal out of her barrenness should raise our expectations. We should expect that God would provide a child, typically a son, and that this son would do something special. Think of Sarah, Rachel, Hannah, and Elizabeth. Get ready for a miracle!
We do not have to wait long. In Verses 3–5, the Angel of the LORD appeared with a special message for Manoah’s wife. The Angel pointed out that she was without child but that she would soon conceive and bear a son. The Angel used the exact phraseology that the LORD used when He told Abraham the same thing, which, again, raises our expectations. Here is a miraculous birth and a reference to Abraham. This child will most certainly be something special! With the promise, the Angel also delivered a requirement. The son needed to be a Nazirite. A Nazirite was a person who was especially dedicated to the LORD. The Angel instructed that he could not drink wine or alcohol of any nature (he could not even eat grapes, just in case), and he was to stay away from unclean food. But wait, none of the Israelites were supposed to eat unclean food, Nazirite or not. The fact that the Angel would even have to mention this tells us something about the worldly nature of Israel at this time—just how much they had mingled with the Philistines and other nations. As a Nazirite, this child was also not supposed to cut his hair. Ever. Not cutting your hair was an outward sign. It showed the period of time that the Nazirite was dedicated to the LORD. Most people only took Nazirite vows for a limited time only, as a special dedication or spiritual cleansing, or in a time of great spiritual need. This child, however, would be special, because he was to be a Nazirite from womb to tomb, from birth to earth. Why was this child so special? What was his function going to be? The Angel answers that he shall “begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” That seems an odd thing to say. We expected this child to be the ultimate deliverer. It appears that he was only going to be a forerunner. This makes sense in the broad scope of biblical history, since Israel struggled with the Philistines until the reign of King David.
What excellent and happy news for Manoah’s wife! She would finally have a child. In verses 6–7, Manoah’s wife excitedly told her husband about the Angel’s visit. She did not know who he was or where he was from. She was simply content to know that he was a man from God, awesome in appearance. We would expect that Manoah would have celebrated: “We are finally going to have a baby!” But that is not how he responded. Instead, he wanted the visitor to come back and talk to him, too. He prayed to the LORD, which was a good thing—probably a rare thing in those days. The essence of his prayer, however, was not good. “I want to see this man, too. My wife came back from the field babbling about this amazing man who prophesied that we are going to have a baby, and I want to see him.” Manoah’s wife had told him what they needed to do, but he kept asking that the man would return to talk to them both. His wife did not need a return visit; she believed the Angel the first time, but Manoah wanted a special visitation all his own.
In verse 9, the LORD answered his prayer, but with a slight sense of humor: the Angel did return, as Manoah had asked, but he returned when Manoah was not there! Do not think that this was an oversight on God’s part. The LORD answered Manoah’s request, but He answered it in a way that highlights the fact that Manoah was out of the loop, that he should have believed his wife. Upon seeing the Angel, Manoah’s wife ran quickly and told her husband to come see, for “the man who came to me the other day has appeared to me.” Manoah returned with his wife and promptly asked the angel, “Are you the man who spoke to this woman?” Remember that his wife had just told Manoah that this was the same man. Manoah obviously had some problems listening to his wife or did not think that women were an appropriate means through whom God could work. The LORD obviously did not agree since He appeared twice to Manoah’s wife and not to him.
Conversations with an Angel
Verses 12–14 record round one of the conversation between Manoah and the angel. Manoah asked some general questions about the child. The Angel answered by saying, “I already told your wife what she has to do. You, Manoah, do not have to do anything.
The Angel was giving Manoah a slap in the face: “You should have listened to your wife.” The Angel gave no new information, just repeating what he had already said to Manoah’s wife. It is interesting to note that all of the verbs in the Angel’s speech in these verses are feminine, drawing even more attention to the fact that the word of Manoah’s wife should have been sufficient.
In round two of the conversation (verses 15–16), Manoah announced that he wanted to make a meal for the angel and to detain him. That seems to be Manoah’s chief role in this story—delaying everything by not listening to his wife and by entering into this unneeded conversation. The Angel told Manoah that he would not eat of the food, but encouraged Manoah to offer the goat as a burnt offering. Sometimes the Angel of the LORD was comfortable eating with humans (think of Abraham or Lot), but here he was trying to make Manoah recognize whom he was dealing with. For dense Manoah to recognize the magnitude of his visitor, it would take a lot more than dining on a goat. Notice that our God is patient, willing to deal with Manoah, and with us when we are dense. He gives grace in the midst of human dawdling.
Round three of the conversation (verses 17–18) began with Manoah asking the Angel his name “so that when your words come true we may honor you.” Maybe Manoah had the intent of naming his son after the Angel or just wanted to tell all his friends that the Angel had prophesied the arrival of his son. Dr. Duguid suggests that perhaps Manoah recognized that the Angel was a powerful being and wanted to use his name in some religious incantation. In the ancient Near East, someone’s name was closely related to who he was. That is one reason why the LORD makes such a big deal about using His name properly. Perhaps Manoah wanted to control a little bit of the Angel’s power. The Angel answered mysteriously by saying his name was wonderful, or full of wonders. Who is the One who does wonders? Only God does wonders. “Wonderful” is a word solely used to describe God and His works in the Old Testament. This should have made it clear to Manoah and to us that this Angel of the LORD is either a direct ambassador from the LORD, or a theophany, a physical appearance of God Himself.
Manoah followed the recommendation of the Angel and offered the goat to the LORD, specifically offering it to “the LORD, the One who works wonders” (verse 19), specifically making the connection with the name of the Angel (and also paralleling the story of Gideon, where Gideon responds to a similar visit from the same Angel by sacrificing). As Manoah and his wife were watching, suddenly the Angel of the LORD disappeared amidst the flames of the altar. They fell down to the ground, and Manoah finally realized who the Angel was. Notice, however, that it only says, “then Manoah knew that he was the Angel of the LORD,” not “Manoah and his wife knew.” His wise wife already knew, since he had appeared to her in the first place.
Manoah’s response to these miraculous events was to get hysterical. “We are doomed! We shall surely die for we have seen God,” he lamented. His logical wife pointed out, “If the LORD is going to promise you a son, it would not be fulfilled if you were in a heap of dust and ashes! And He would not have accepted your offering if He was going to kill you.” Eventually, Manoah calmed down. The son was born and named Samson (“little sun”). The young man grew, and the LORD blessed him. Verse 25 leaves us with this news, “the Spirit of the LORD began to stir in him.” What a hopeful and powerful note for this chapter to end with! What is the expectation of the reader at the end of chapter 13? Samson is going to save Israel! He is going to be the one!
We can learn much from Manoah and his wife. Most of us are a lot like Manoah. Manoah, as the man of the house, was supposed to be the spiritual leader, but he does not do his duty. In fact, he was clueless. So many of us, men and women, are often the same way, unwilling to take on our spiritual responsibilities. We are unwilling to take our place in the Church, thinking that the ministers and the elders and deacons will handle these things. We do not stand up and volunteer or get involved; we do not speak out when we need to.
We should all learn from Manoah’s wife. So often, God works through the unexpected. The barren, the children, the women, the outcasts. This is especially applicable for teenagers and young adults. So often, it is expected that the young people will just sit and be quiet while the older people do all the thinking. I encourage you as young people to get up and take a stand in the church. Of course, respect the wisdom and experience of those older than you, but do not be afraid to express your zeal for the Church and to get involved. What are some ways to do this? I encourage all young people to get involved in Bible studies. Too often, high schoolers just go to the youth group meetings and think that is all they need to do. Get involved in the other Bible studies your church offers. Get involved in the adult Bible studies, in some small groups; search out an older Christian to mentor you; go to your congregational meetings; volunteer. There are so many ways to get involved. Sometimes the people that are supposed to be in charge can fail, like Manoah, so it is always good for those who are supposed to be weak and quiet like young people and women to be like Manoah’s wife, willing to speak out and follow the LORD’s will.
Often, we are a lot like Manoah, and like the Israelites in verse one. We are in love with our comfortable bondage to pagan gods and immorality. We become enslaved to what we watch on television. We are in love with Playboy magazine, with our alcohol addiction, with our drugs, with our escapist music. Why? These and other various forms of immorality offer fulfillment of carnal desires. These things offer pleasure, security, and escape from life. And sometimes life is unbearable. Sometimes it can be difficult to be a teenager, even in a Christian home. Your parents fight, your siblings are unbearable, your grades are down, and life is falling apart. Everyone goes through this (and raging hormones do not help). Pornography, drugs, alcohol, lust—they all offer a way out, if only for a few minutes.
What is the answer to this idolatry that, if we admit it, we all struggle with? We need to know the LORD. The trouble with Israel in this time was that they were part of the second generation of Judges 2, the generation who did not know the LORD. Knowing who the LORD is gives us the increasing ability to say no to godless behavior. Knowing what He has done for us gives us the motive for living a pure life. God is our refuge, our shepherd. He has promised us an inheritance that is lasting, eternal, and enormous. Dr. Duguid puts it this way, “As we come to know who God is and glory increasingly in who He is, we will reject inferior substitutes and see our idols for what they really are.”
What Manoah, Israel, and we really need is a Savior. We really need the gospel. Know God’s unconditional love. You cannot earn it by crying out to Him or by doing certain acts. He loves you, through no merit of your own. Know this not just in your head, but in your heart. Realize that this life is not about you; it is about Him. Know God in how big and mighty He is, and you will be surprised at how small you are. Look at the favor and grace He has shown you in Jesus Christ, through no merit of your own. He loves you simply because of Christ. Let Christ and what Christ did for you give you your true value and self-worth. Glory not in the things of this earth and in yourself, but in Christ, for He is the only thing of any value.
If you stop reading the book at 13:25, you are left with a lot of hope. Samson looks like he will be “the one,” the judge to end all judges. However, if you just turn to the next chapter (even as early as 14:2), you will see that all your hopes are terribly dashed. Samson did not turn out to be the great deliverer. He failed even more miserably than any other judge before him. However, his life just begs to be compared with that of true Deliverer, Jesus Christ. Even in this passage, the parallels jump out at us. Christ, too, was announced by an angel to a woman. Christ’s birth was indeed miraculous, just as Samson’s was. And Christ was dedicated to God for His whole life. Christ grew in wisdom and stature under the Lord’s blessing, just like Samson. Christ’s whole life was lived under the influence of the Holy Spirit. But Christ went beyond Samson. He did not “begin” to save His people; He saved all of God’s elect. He did not just save us from the Philistines; He saved us from all of the power of sin and tyranny of the devil. And He Himself was the ultimate sacrifice, the one that all of these burnt offerings were types and shadows of. He is the ultimate Judge and Deliverer. And He did not failas Samson did. He “saved His people from their sins,” as it was announced by the Angel to His mother Mary.
Lesson 13: Points to Ponder
1. Review the Nazirite vow in Numbers 6:1–21. What is this separation from? What is it a separation to? What was stressed by the Angel?
2. Is there any indication of the type of life Samson was expected to live? Is there any indication of the type of life he would live?
3. Can you list some things that your parents (grandparents) saw as sin that many Christians engage in today?
4. The Israelites had assimilated themselves with their culture and therefore did not cry out to God. In what ways have we assimilated ourselves to our culture?
5. How do we often use “Christian liberty” as an excuse to engage in the practices of our culture? What is the proper use of our Christian liberty?
6. In what ways can the church offer opportunities for Christian growth to her young people? What roles can young people take to help one another?
7. Why/how do we often focus on ourselves? How can we bring greater glory to God?