By Dr. Mark Scott
I do not like Samson. Like Esau, he was a sensualist (Hebrews 12:16, 17). He lived by his glands instead of his God. He was a playboy. The Samson narrative in Judges (chapters 13-16) is filled with rebellion, sexual immorality, anger, revenge, disappointment, heartache, and a glimmer of hope.
That being said, Samson judged Israel for 20 years (Judges 16:31). Most of the Samson narrative is negative. But we must remember that we know only a sliver of his actual life. One frame of the film is not the whole film. In addition to this, he defeated the Philistines at almost every level. In the end he defeated more enemies with his death than he did with his life (v. 30). Perhaps most significant of all is that he is included in the faith chapter (Hebrews 11:32).
However our text today is about Samson’s parents. Manoah and his wife did their best to dedicate Samson to the Lord’s work. Samson frustrated that effort many times, but his parents cannot be blamed for not trying.
Dedicated from the Womb
The narrative begins with the same broken record—Israel did evil and God delivered them into the hands of their enemies (Judges 13:1). This time it was the Philistines. The punishment by God via the Philistines lasted forty years. In fact, the Philistines became a noose around the neck of the Israelites for generations (way into the times of the kings).
The severity of this punishment was evident by the barrenness of Manoah’s wife. This was the narrator’s subtle clue of telling the reader that someone was not living by Deuteronomy’s standards. If Israel were obeying God, their fields would produce a bumper crop and their quivers would be full (Psalm 127:5). But barrenness became an avenue for God to bring life. This happened enough in the Bible to form a pattern (Genesis 16:1; 25:21; 30:1; 1 Samuel 1:5; Luke 1:7).
The angel of the Lord (who is described in v. 6 as a man of God who looked like an angel) appeared to Manoah’s wife and made a birth announcement. (Birth announcements were common enough in the Bible that they assume their own genre. This story may well be in the Bible in part because of what it shares in common with the announcement of Jesus’ birth in Luke 1.) The angel promised a pregnancy to Manoah’s wife and then gave instructions about her life and the baby’s life.
Samson’s mother was to drink no wine or other fermented drink. Neither was she to eat anything unclean. In addition to this, the baby was never to cut his hair. Samson was to be a Nazirite—this means dedicated or consecrated. Those words were to describe Samson’s life, but in the pages that follow, those words were compromised in a big way. The section ends as it began, with a word about the Philistines. First God delivered Israel into their hands. Next he would raise up a judge who will deliver Israel from their hands.
Dedicated to the Tomb
Judges 13:6, 7, 24, 25
Manoah’s wife had to be terribly excited. The shame of her barrenness was to be removed, and the child was to be special. She told Manoah that the angel who visited her was awesome. There were details that she did not think to trace (where he was from and what his name was)—something Manoah wanted to pursue (Judges 13:17, 18). But she remembered the most important part of his message—she would be pregnant and have a son. She also remembered to tell Manoah about the Nazirite vow for Samson. This dedication was to last until the day of Samson’s death.
In the nonprinted part of our text we learn that Manoah really wanted to meet this strange visitor. The angel showed up again, renewed the commitment concerning Samson’s dedication, and what started out as a meal of hospitality ended up as a burnt offering for the Lord. The angel went back to Heaven in the midst of the burnt offering (a picture of God sacrificing himself?).
In time Manoah’s wife gave birth to Samson. In words that make one think of John the Baptist and Jesus (Luke 1:80; 2:52), Samson began to make his debut. The Holy Spirit began to stir him for his ministry of 20 years. Samson was a loose cannon, but it was not due to the efforts of his parents.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.