1 The Israelites again did things that the Lord saw as evil, and he handed them over to the Philistines for forty years.
2 Now there was a certain man from Zorah, from the Danite clan, whose name was Manoah. His wife was unable to become pregnant and had not given birth to any children. 3 The Lord’s messenger appeared to the woman and said to her, “Even though you’ve been unable to become pregnant and haven’t given birth, you are now pregnant and will give birth to a son! 4 Now be careful not to drink wine or brandy or to eat anything that is ritually unclean, 5 because you are pregnant and will give birth to a son. Don’t allow a razor to shave his head, because the boy is going to be a nazirite for God from birth. He’ll be the one who begins Israel’s rescue from the power of the Philistines.”
6 Then the woman went and told her husband, “A man of God came to me, and he looked like God’s messenger—very scary! I didn’t ask him where he was from, and he didn’t tell me his name. 7 He said to me, ‘You are pregnant and will give birth to a son, so don’t drink wine or brandy or eat anything that is ritually unclean, because the boy is going to be a nazirite for God from birth until the day he dies.’”
8 Manoah asked the Lord, “Please, my Lord,” he said, “let the man of God whom you sent come back to us once more, so he can teach us how we should treat the boy who is to be born.”
9 God listened to Manoah, and God’s messenger came once more to the woman. She was sitting in the field, but her husband Manoah wasn’t with her. 10 So the woman hurriedly ran and informed her husband. She said to him, “The man who came to me the other day has just appeared to me.”
11 Manoah got up and followed his wife. He came to the man and said to him, “Are you the man who spoke to this woman?”
“I am,” he replied.
12 Manoah said, “Now when your words come true, what should be the rules for the boy and how he should act?”
13 The Lord’s messenger answered Manoah, “The woman should be careful to do everything that I told her. 14 She must not consume anything that comes from the grapevine, drink wine or brandy, or eat anything that is ritually unclean. She must be careful to do everything I have commanded her.”
Although the book of Judges held stories of many leaders who temporarily delivered Israelites from the power of various enemies, the book only gave a birth story for the colorful strongman Samson. The story reflected its male-dominated times by giving the father’s name while calling Samson’s mother simply “the woman.” Nevertheless, as happened again in the story of John the Baptist, she showed greater hope and faith than her husband.
Lord God, help me to match whatever efforts I make to build my physical strength with a determination to work with you in building robust inner, spiritual strength. Amen.
* J. Clinton McCann, study note on Judges 13:1-25 in The Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible. HarperSanFrancisco, 2005, p. 366.
** Brad E. Kelle, study note on Judges 13:4-5 in The CEB Study Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013, p. 392 OT.
Just as the quote in today’s GPS said, in this story of Samson the hero is the mother who remained nameless. Samson’s mother was visited by an angel who told her that she would give birth and how exactly to raise Samson. Manoah wanted more information. When the angel visited the mother again (notice that he did not visit Manoah), he explained to Manoah, “Do everything that I [had already] told her.”
Now on one level, I can understand his skepticism. They were unable to have children, so of course he wouldn’t know what to make of this surprise news. Yet he didn’t have enough faith to believe his wife’s word of what God’s messenger had told her. In essence, he didn’t know what his purpose was in all of this and lacked the faith to trust his wife or the messenger who spoke to her. When you think through the multiple stories of couples in the Bible who were told they would bear children, there was almost always at least one person whose faith was weaker (I think of Sarai the wife of Abraham, Zachariah the husband of Elizabeth and father of John, and several others). That is, until Joseph.
When Mary told Joseph about her pregnancy he stood by her. Yes, there was the initial doubt and “he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:19) as he did not yet understand what God was up to. Yet even in this act or thought of divorcing her quietly, he still showed great commitment and faith. He didn’t immediately ask for a sign or proof, but (after being visited in a dream himself by an angel) he believed her. In a time when divorce was shameful and a pre-marriage pregnancy was punishable by stoning, Joseph was still there beside Mary. The great faith of both Mary and Joseph would have had a great deal of impact on Jesus as he was growing up.
Regarding Manoah, this story makes me think of how easy it is to want to be “the one” who receives the good news directly or “the one” who receives a great calling. But maybe this is a lesson in humility. We may not immediately see what purpose we play in a given situation or in someone else’s faith story, but God uses each of us, even if at times we don’t realize how that is happening. Faith,after all, is a humble action. Sometimes it involves supporting those who have heard good news and standing by those who have heard the worst news. In those moments, God is using your strong faith to fulfill his ultimate purpose.
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