by Pastor Mark Hudson
Judges 13 is an extended and unusual birth narrative. We do not often see this in Judges, nor do we often get a birth to death narrative of a person. We start off with a truncated cycle. If you can call it a cycle. “The people again did what was evil, so the Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years” (v. 1). There is no crying out to God, just this brief verse. This signals that the cycle and God’s patience is coming to an end. This feels different because it is.
Verse two is somewhat familiar, “his wife was barren and had no children.” This theme is drummed into the reader and Manoah’s nameless wife. The first word the angel says to her in v. 3 is “Behold, you are barren and have not borne children. . . .” Maybe the author thinks we don’t know what ‘barren’ means. But following up with the angel’s assessment of her, the angel announces words that must have made Manoah’s wife rejoice, “but you shall conceive and bear a son.”
She is given specific instructions about her rules for pregnancy. Verse five repeats, “you shall conceive and bear a son” and she is given instruction for him. The angel ends with, “and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” This news prompts Manoah’s wife to tell her husband her version of what she witnessed. She describes the man of God, but does not know much about him and she leaves off the saving part of the angel’s message. She ominously ends with the word ‘death.’ Does she not include the saving part of the message because it sounds dangerous? Have they become accustomed to Philistine dominance?
Manoah then prays to the Lord and asks for a repeat performance. I find v. 9 astounding, “And God listened to the voice of Manoah.” Why should God ever listen to us? Listen? To us? He not only listened to Manoah, but God also (this is almost certainly the pre-incarnate Christ) comes again to the woman. She runs to her husband, panting to retrieve her husband. This narrative speed is very slow. We cover 40 years in verse 1 and now we are practically crawling.
Manoah expresses belief as he questions the angel, wanting to do what is right. The question seems to be, ‘what is this child going to do? Why are you (whoever you are) here talking to us about this baby?’ The angel now only concentrates on what the mother should and should not do. The summary statement tells it all, “All that I commanded her let her observe.” But nothing about the boy is mentioned in this conversation. So, the instruction, albeit not verbatim, are repeated twice to Manoah and his wife
In verse 15ff, we begin to see the mysterious nature of this visitor. We are told who he is in v. 16. Manoah is in the dark, but the reader is not. For the second time, the name of the visitor is brought up. The response is puzzling, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?” This must have caused confusion. Yet, Manoah, after being rebuffed to enjoy a meal in v. 16 is told to offer the food as a burnt offering. Manoah offers it “to the One who works wonders” almost setting the reader up for what follows. Some think the angel worked wonders with the sacrifice and flames and then went up in the flames. Yet, the “man of God” somehow left in the flame.
Manoah and his wife fall on their faces to the ground. Then they knew he was an angel. His response in v. 22 may make some sneer at his response. Some may think, “How we know better than simple Manoah.” But that is what people in the O.T. thought when they saw an angel. But the wisdom of women comes through. He was not wrong, but she adds perspective. She sees (or is beginning to see) in this entire series of events, God’s gracious provisions for her family and Israel.
What can we gather from the early chapters of Samson’s story? “We must not allow our focus on the savior God raises up to eclipse the God who saves” (D. R. Davis p. 157). God uses proud, sinful, weak people because that is the only people there are. Samson made a lot of mistakes, but God raised him up, not someone else. And Samson accomplished his appointed task.
God also uses obscure people. Manoah’s wife is never named. “To her sterility God added obscurity” (Davis, p. 159). We are not anything special. We try to impress others, but we really are not gifts to God. He makes us gifts to others when we trust in Christ, embrace and accept our weakness, and serve others. Most believers are not known. Embrace that and serve God in obscurity. Who need the recognition of others?
We have seen the story of a barren women in the Bible: Sarah in Gen 11:30-21:1; Rebekah’s first twenty years of marriage in Gen 25:19-26; Rachel in Gen. 29:31-30:24; Hannah in I Sam 1 and Elizabeth in Luke 1. As Derek Kidner wrote, this is another example of “God’s way of prefacing an exceptional work with exceptional difficulties” (Genesis commentary, p. 15). When we see difficulties, we are prone to give up. But God doesn’t just strengthen people. He also weakens His own people. Gideon is a case in point. God loves to show His power in weakness according to the Apostle Paul (II Cor 12:9) in the lives of weak people.
Father, we will never understand why or how You can use such sinful people like Samson and . . .us. How can You love us so deeply when we turn away? Why do you seek us out and listen to our prayers. Why should you serve us? To grasp the part of Your grace and mercy is to be changed by the power of the Holy Spirit. We long for more of You. Thank You for a Savior that is perfect. Keep us grounded in Christ and Your word. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen