So Much Promise
Judges 13 & 14
So Much Promise
This week I had a haircut! I thought what better way to get prepare myself to study the story of Samson with you, than to get my haircut!
I’m sure you’re pleased at the lengths I will go to, to get into the Bible text! Put my body on the line.
But that’s probably, the sum total of what most of us we know about Samson, he had a bad haircut!
And so when we come to this story, whether we’re Christians, which I imagine most of us are, or if we’re not Christians but we’re here today because we want to find out about Christian things, I reckon there are 2 questions that this story raises for us.
Firstly, we might wonder “Why is this story in the Bible in the first place?”,
And then a follow-up question, since it is in the Bible, what are we supposed to get out of it?
What does God want us to learn from reading the rather, sorry tale of Sampson.
And numbers of you have done some thinking about this passage already in your Bible Study Groups, which is really helpful, you’ve got a head start already.
We’re going to tackle things slightly differently today. In order to find some answers to those questions and to try and see how Samson fits in the whole story of the Bible, we’re going to look at 3 characters in turn.
Manoah’s wife: God uses the broken and powerless
So we start with Manoah’s wife.
And probably the first thing we notice about this woman, is that she doesn’t have a name. Of course, she has a name, but it doesn’t make it into the story. She is referred to as the wife, the woman and so on.
Her bio, as its presented to us, is a repeated statement about her inability to have children.
Verse 2, she was childless, , unable to give birth
Put yourself in her moment in history, about the 14th century BC, or around the time when the book of Judges was all written down and collated a few hundred years later,
For a woman to be given no name,
To be described as childless in such stark terms,
Is to say that socially, in her day, she is of little significance.
She always seems to be pictured as being on her own. No one else apparently witnesses the angel’s message,
She has to run and get her husband, see there verse 10, The woman hurried to tell her husband, “He’s here! The man who appeared to me the other day!”, the narrator is deliberately picturing her as someone for whom society cares very little.
The people of her day,
The original readers of the book of Judges would not have expected anything significant to happen in the life of this woman.
I saw a documentary once where Derryn Brown, the famous illusionist, got a bunch of old age pensioners to pull off a spectacular art heist!
His thinking was that older people are constantly overlooked in society,
No one pays any attention to them,
No one expects anything of them.
That was his assessment of our society.
And that was exactly how Manoah’s wife would have been thought of in the ancient world.
And there’s one more little detail that emphasises the insignificance of both this woman and her husband; There’s a deliberate error in verse 2, from the clan of the Danites. Dan wasn’t actually a clan, it was in fact one of the 12 tribes of Israel.
Calling Dan a clan is a little jab at how weak and powerless this tribe was. In the book of Judges, we see that the Danites weren’t able to occupy the land that God had given to them, and they were really at the mercy of the Philistines, who confined to just the hill country, according to chapter 1.
Before we started our church, Paul Harrington and I met with a very senior leader in the Anglican Church, and throughout the meeting, even in his prayer at the end, he couldn’t bring himself to call our church , a church, because it didn’t fit with all the , bells and whistles that he thought was necessary for a church to be a church. So he resorted to calling us a fellowship.
That’s what it’s like to call Dan a clan!
But in case you’re worried, theologically, we are a church!
So you get the picture.
We are set up to know that humanly speaking, nothing significant is going to happen.
But to this woman,
Looked down upon, even despised among her household and neighbours
To this woman, who her friends would have thought was cursed by God because she didn’t have any kids,
To just such a person, an angel of the Lord appears, not once, but twice.
And so if we’re familiar with our Bibles, If we know how the story of God’s plan of salvation unfolds throughout the Bible, we should actually be tingling with excitement at this point!
Were you tingling?! We should be!
Whenever we find a woman in the Scriptures presented in these kinds of terms, what we discover is that God’s plan of salvation is about to take a great leap forward!
God chooses those who are broken and powerless, to achieve his purposes.
Think of the promise of the birth of Isaac in Genesis 17,
The promise to Hannah, and the birth of her son, Samuel, in 1 Samuel 1,
The story of Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, in Luke 1,
And of course the similar though slightly different situation of Mary, mother of Jesus, also in Luke 1.
This unnamed woman is in great company, for through her son, God will advance his plans and purposes for his world, specifically, for his chosen people, Israel.
God’s messenger speaks, and says “You are barren and childless, but you are going to become pregnant and give birth to a son. 4 Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean. 5 You will become pregnant and have a son whose head is never to be touched by a razor because the boy is to be a Nazirite, dedicated to God from the womb. He will take the lead in delivering Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”
Here we have an insight into how God so frequently works;,
Taking the lowly,
Those considered of little value, and through their weakness, brining about his purposes.
Neither this woman nor her son were the logical choice,
But everything good that comes out of this story comes from God.
It is God’s work, though and despite the weakness of the people he uses.
Samson was no more deserving of God’s favour than the next guy, and in fact in many ways we’d be tempted to say even less so, if that were possible.
But Samson was no more deserving of God’s favour than you, and yet see how God used him.
There’s no room at all for thinking, “God could never use me”,
I don’t have enough going for me,
I don’t have enough influence,
I’m not important enough.
We see it right through the Scriptures, God uses broken and flawed people, transforming them, and bringing them into his purposes.
If you’ve ever thought “I’m not important enough, significant enough, to be used by God”, let Judges 13 correct your thinking!
This woman, of little significance to those around her, gives birth, verse 24, to a boy and named him Samson. He grew and the Lord blessed him, 25 and the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him.
Manoah: God condescends to our frailty
Let’s turn our attention, though to Manoah. He does have a name, but he’s not portrayed in an especially positive light throughout this whole episode.
The narrator pictures him as someone who doesn’t get stuff, doesn’t understand what’s going,
Even down towards the end of the chapter, when the angel’s said everything that he’s come to say, he tells Manoah and his wife to prepare a burnt offering to the Lord, verse 16. Then, verse 20, 20 As the flame blazed up from the altar toward heaven, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame. Seeing this, Manoah and his wife fell with their faces to the ground. 21 When the angel of the Lord did not show himself again to Manoah and his wife, Manoah realized that it was the angel of the Lord.
And then he says, “We are doomed to die!”, “We have seen God!”
Now, ordinarily, that’s a fairly natural, indeed an , an appropriate response to seeing God.
But the angel’s just told them,
“You’re going to have a son,
He’s going to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines,
God’s probably not going to strike them dead now, when he’s just them that they’re an essential part of his plan to save the nation!
As far as I could figure out, Manoah is the only person in the whole of the Bible who actually asks God to send an angel back to repeat himself!
See verse 8, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I beg you to let the man of God you sent to us, come again to teach us how to bring up the boy who is to be born.”
So he asks for some more detail, and then in verse 12, “what is to be the rule that governs the boy’s life and work?”
But the angel more or less just repeats what he’s already said.
13 The angel of the Lord answered, “Your wife must do all that I have told her. 14 She must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, nor drink any wine or other fermented drink nor eat anything unclean. She must do everything I have commanded her.”
There’s a slight expansion when it comes to what Samson’s mother can’t consume while she’s pregnant, although that’s probably just a detail that was condensed in the earlier 2 statements.
But here’s the thing.
It’s worth noting, it’s encouraging, the way that God deals with these 2 people, particularly Manoah, and his human frailties.
See the angel really does say, in verse 13, “I’ve told you everything you need to know.” The child’s going to be a Nazirite, which we’ll come back to in a moment.
There’s really no more that Manoah needs to hear,
And yet isn’t God kind, to answer his prayer, to send the angel back a second time, so that Manoah can be absolutely confident that what God has said will come about.
But I think it’s such a gentle and compassionate act on God’s part, even though there’s nothing new to tell, “yeah, you can have the guy back,
You can hear it for yourself,
Let me remove your doubts.”
It’s not even like this is something new in Judges. It reminded me of Gideon, especially him laying the fleece. Back in chapter 6 you may know the story, God calls Gideon to save Israel, just like Samson’s going to do, and an angel from God spells out exactly how God’s going to use Gideon to save the people,
And Gideon says, “I don’t believe you entirely, so give me a sign. And when God gives him the sign that he asks for, Gideon says, “Well, I’m still not sure, how ‘bout another sign.”
Now, by this time, if I’m God, Gideon’s zapped, and I’ve found someone else who’s a little less painful to deal with!”
But no, God graciously condescends, and I don’t mean condescends in a bad way, but he puts himself out to accommodate Gideon’s weakness.
It’s the same picture here, God condescending to Manoah’s weakness and frailty. He is aware of Manoah’s weakness, his uncertainty, his doubts, and he chooses to act in a way that allows for those weaknesses, and yet allows them to be stretched,
Allows Manoah’s faith to be stretched, such that Manoah is a different person at the end of his encounter with God than he is at the beginning.
Even the way that the angel of the Lord appears, in the first instance, as a prophet, just as a “normal” prophet, if we can say that, seems to be a recognition of the human frailties of this couple.
Back in verse 6, when Manoah’s wife tells him about the first visit, she says, “A man of God came to me.”
And when Manoah prays in verse 8, as far as he knows, the visitor is just A man of God.
That was just the way you talked about a prophet. A human being who carried a message from God. They were called “A man of God.”
Judging from the reaction when Manoah does realise who he’s face to face with, it’s very kind of God, not to have turned up like that in the first place.
I’m sure you noticed the significance of poor Manoah’s comment “We have seen God!” , as is frequently the case in the Old Testament, “the angel of the Lord” isn’t just an angel from God, but God himself, and most likely it’s the second person of the Trinity, the pre-incarnate Christ who breaks into human experience and speaks to his people.
But how gracious and accommodating of God, to break into his world in this way, first, just apparently as a man, only later then reflecting something of his own glory.
Don’t you think it’s encouraging?
I wonder if that’s your picture of God?
And if that is your picture of God, one who understands weakness, and frailty, and doubts and slowness of mind, and is able to constrain himself to work within that, what does that mean for you?
How does that shape your life?
We run a 4 week course here at TMB, once or twice a year. It’s called God, Church and Me, and it’s for people who are new to our family, to help them find out about Trinity, and to find their place at Trinity. And we spend some of our time together looking at the Bible, and one of the questions we ask in our Bible study time is, “what aspects of God’s character, make you pray, the way that you do?”
“What is it about your understanding of God that makes you pray the way you do?”
Who we understand God to be will necessarily affect our lives.
Whether you’re a Christian or not yet a Christian, you know this is true, don’t you?
There is no entrance exam to the Christian faith. Beyond believing that Jesus, God’s king, died the death that you should have died you’re your rebellion against God, God is not waiting for you to achieve a certain level of understanding, before you’re any use to him.
But if you think that’s what God is like,
If you think that God can only work with a certain type of person, you’ll be sitting around waiting for God to use someone, when maybe God wants to use you,
In your family,
In your work place,
In your classroom,
And of course, if we want to know what God is like, the clearest picture we get is where this story ultimately leads us, to Jesus. And when we look at the life of Jesus he certainly didn’t wait for people to get their act together before he drew them into his mission
Maybe some of us need to sharpen up our picture of God today.
Maybe we need to do that so that we’re ready to be used by God, flaws, frailties, doubts and all.
Samson: God provides a saviour
And if Manoah is a flawed and weak individual, then Samson, his son, is even more so. And Samson’s physical strength shows his true weakness all the more clearly, doesn’t it?
But even so, Samson is the saviour that God raises up.
You’ll see printed on your outline the very last words from the book of the Judges, chapter 21 verse 25:,
In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit
Or as some of the translations say, “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”
This is the final note on which the author finishes his historical record, and it’s a pretty sombre note, isn’t it?
But this isn’t just a commentary on where the story finishes. This is the picture of what was frequently the case throughout all 21 chapters of the book. In fact the same statement is made just after the story of Samson, in 17 verse 6.
The story of Scripture as it unfolds in the book of Judges, is a story of wickedness and rebellion, in which the people of Israel have no human king, but neither do they recognise God’s kingship over their lives.
The book of Judges contains lots of stuff that is awful, but that doesn’t mean that God approves of it all. The story of Judges is that everyone does what they see fit, not what God thinks is fit.
And so Judges presents a cycle, or a spiral, where God’s people Israel turn their back on God,
So God delivers them in to the hands of their enemies, like here in verse 1,
Then the people cry out to God, they recognise that they were wrong to turn away from God,
And so God raises up someone to lead them, commonly called a judge, but we could just as easily call them a saviour. They are chosen by God to save his people.
What’s missing in this episode though, is the crying out to God for help.
There’s no recognition on Israel’s part, “We’ve done wrong,
We’ve turned away from the Lord,
The reason these Philistines are oppressing us is because we’ve abandoned God and taken up the worship of false gods.
See there in verse 1, Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, so the Lord delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years.
This is the 3rd time in the book of Judges that the Philistines are oppressing Israel,
And yet there’s no crying out to God,
They don’t recognise the seriousness, the consequences of their sin,
There’s just a satisfaction with the presence of God’s enemies, who Israel was supposed to drive from the land because of their wickedness.
Later in the story the men of Israel even side with the Philistines against Sampson!
Talk about being blind to your sin!
Talk about being tolerant of things which God hates!
Those questions we started with, why is this recorded for us?
What could God possibly want us to learn?
Well, the situation’s not all that dissimilar to ours is it?
We’re not Israel,
We don’t possess a land that God promised to our ancestors or anything like that, and yet the danger of being blind to our sin,
Of being content with a life lived more or less apart from God,
The danger of being comfortable with sin and idolatry,
Well, those are dangers for us, aren’t they?
How fortunate for us, that God doesn’t wait for us to call on him before he acts.
How fortunate for us that God did not wait for humanity to call out to him, “send us a saviour,
We’re drowning in our sin,
Our wickedness is tearing us apart,
We cannot save ourselves.
God didn’t wait for us to recognise our sin and turn to him, but as the Apostle Paul says in Romans chapter 5 , at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.
In the same way that God didn’t wait for , Israel to ask him to send them this saviour, he didn’t wait for us to ask for our greater saviour, Jesus Christ.
God is gracious, compassionate,
He knows our need,
Even when we don’t see it, recognise it ourselves.
Samson is set apart by God to deliver Israel
But for this task, this ministry of deliverance that Samson is to offer, he is set apart by God,
We’ve looked at the angel’s words already, verse 5, the boy is to be a Nazirite, dedicated to God from the womb
Now, a Nazirite, was ordinarily someone who had taken a vow, as a means of dedicating themselves to God’s service. It’s got nothing to do with Nazareth, but it comes from a word that means “to separate.”
The details about the Nazirite vow are explained back in Numbers chapter 6, although most people who took a Nazirite vow did so for a set period of time, Samson is to be a Nazirite even from before he’s born, to his death.
And it’s not a voluntary vow that Samson takes, his Nazirite identity is given to him by God. He is divinely set apart for the task of delivering Israel.
The chief requirements of the Nazirite vow were to abstain from wine and grape juice, and anything that grows on a vine,
Not to touch a dead body, of any kind,
And not to cut your hair.
Now, think back to what we heard in chapter 14, or take a look at it if you have it open there in front of you. How does Sampson seem to be going with keeping his vow?
In verses 8 and 9, he touches, and eat honey out of the carcass of a dead lion. A lion that he himself killed a few verses earlier. So “no touching dead things”, Samson fails that one.
And in verses 10 and 17 Samson holds a party that goes for 7 days. Now the narrator doesn’t tell us explicitly that Samson drank wine there, but I think the carelessness he displays towards the touching of dead things, probably doesn’t bode well for the no drinking wine part.
The one part of his Nazirite identity that Samson does seem to take seriously, is the “no cutting your hair” bit, but as we’ll see in 2 weeks’ time, even that Samson gives so little regard, and allows his hair to be cut off.
There’s another difference between Samson and the “typical” Nazirite, and that is that Samson’s mother is to abstain from wine and from anything that comes from a grapevine.
There’s research these days that suggests mothers can pass on taste preferences their children depending on what they eat while they’re pregnant? Do you know this?
It’s very handy, it means I can blame my mother’s frequent trips to the Stirling Cake shop during 1977 for my sweet tooth!
But it’s not that Samson is going to be contaminated or anything by what his mother eats! Mrs Manoah, taking on some of the requirements of the Nazirite vow herself, just goes to underscore how serious God is about setting Samson aside for this task.
The extra requirements on Samson’s mum, highlight the “set apartness” of Samson.
God is serious about this.
And what we find as chapter 14 unfolds, and then the following chapters, is that God is more serious about Samson being set apart for this task of deliverance than Samson is.
God is more committed to Samson’s holiness, and separate-ness than Samson is,
God is more eager for his people to be saved, than his people are.
Samson is a representative of his people
Samson serves , not just as the rescuer of his people, but also as a representative of his people.
The way that Samson thinks about things and responds to things, gives us a sense of the way in which the nation of Israel more generally thinks and acts.
What is the main subject of chapter 14?
Samson’s marriage to a Philistine woman.
Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman. 2 When he returned, he said to his father and mother, “I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.”
It strikes us as rather brutish, now get her for me, it’s a “me Tarzan, you Jane” kind of approach! But even more appallingly, she is a Philistine.
So Samson can apparently just wander into Philistine territory, then verse 7, strike up a conversation with a Philistine woman!
You want to grab him and shake him, although , he’s massive so I wouldn’t! But you want to ask, “What’s wrong with you?”
Don’t you remember?
She’s a Philistine!
These people area enemies of God!
God commanded your nation to drive them from the land because of their utter wickedness.
So it’s not racism or xenophobia that leads his parents to object to the match, , “Isn’t there an acceptable woman among your relatives or among all our people?” No, his parents give the answer straight away;, the Philistines were uncircumcised.
Circumcision, the mark of belonging to God’s people,
The sign that set Israel apart as separate,
And here you are, taking a stroll down to Timnah,
You see a woman you like the look of, you think she’d make an ideal wife
Samson, God is more committed to your holiness than you are!
And though, by the end of the chapter, the bride ends up marrying the best man, instead of Samson, verse 20, Samson’s wife was given to one of his companions who had attended him at the feast, that doesn’t let Samson off the hook!
He doesn’t marry a Philistine in the end, but he sure wanted to.
Throughout Judges, in fact throughout the story of Israel, when the people intermarried with the nations around them, they also then took on the worship of the gods of those nations.
So in Judges 3:6, the narrator tells us about the Israelites, they lived among these foreign nations, They took their daughters in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods.
The two, unfortunately, go hand in hand for God’s people
And so when we see Samson seeking a wife from among the idol-worshipping Philistines, we’re reminded of that pattern of that pattern of behaviour of God’s people.
You know, we should be yelling out, “Look out! Behind you!”
We see in Samson’s failure to hear God’s word, and hear God’s warning, the bigger picture of Israel’s repeated failure to maintain faithfulness to God.
God is more concerned for your holiness than you are.
See, Samson, we find out in chapter 16 knows at least something of his calling, And his parents certainly know the task for which God has set him apart, but they go along with this plan, don’t they?, Verse 5, verse 10.
But God is not content, for the Philistines to continue to oppress his people.
I’m sure you noticed that there in verse 4, really the verse that makes sense of the whole chapter, His parents did not know that this was from the Lord, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel.
Now, again, this doesn’t get Samson off the hook. He is still entirely responsible for his choices in wanting to marry a Philistine, but God in his sovereignty, is going to use this for his purposes.
Samson, his mum and dad, the rest of Israel, they might all be OK, with the pattern of sin that has lead to God’s people being oppressed by the wicked Philistines,
But God is not.
God is more concerned for his people than they are for themselves.
Do you see the pattern, right throughout this story?
God is not standing far off, withholding things from his people,
God doesn’t force us to beg for the things that we need, as if we could finally wear him down or convince him that something really is for our benefit.
God is more concerned for his people than they are for themselves.
And of course the depths of concern for his people come into sharpest focus, 1400 years or so after this event, when God raises up another saviour.
When God speaks to another childless woman, and says you’re going to have a Son,
When God, in the most deep and profound way possible condescends to human weakness and frailty, and takes that weakness and frailty on himself,
Breaking into his creation as man, the man, Jesus Christ.
We’re halfway through the story of Samson, and so far, he’s only brought God’s righteous judgment on 30 Philistines.
And as I said at the beginning, this is the 3rd time just in this book that God has needed to raise up a saviour against the Philistines,
And at the end of the story of Samson, the people forget the salvation God won for them through him, they turn their back on God, and the cycle continues.
Something needs to change.
Judges is a picture of temporary solutions, to a long-lasting problem.
But in Jesus we see a lasting solution.
It’s in Jesus that we see that God is more concerned for our holiness than we are,
God is more eager for a relationship with us than we are with him,
God is more concerned for our well-being than we are,
He is more broken-hearted at our sin , than we are.
God did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us.
Hallelujah, what a saviour!