Saturday, October 25, 2008

Manoah's Wife

The man was so bright... so awesome. He looked like an angel of God - think of that, an angel, appearing to me! In the awestruck wonder of it all, I forgot to ask him where he came from, and he never told me his name. But he did tell me that I would have a son, and that was news enough. After all these years of being sterile and childless, am I to now have a little one of my own? What's more, the man said that my son would grow up to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines, our accursed oppressors. It's all too much... I can't make sense of it... I must find Manoah and tell him all about it. Just think... we may soon have a child of our own!

Judges 13:1 sets the stage for the story of Samson and his family:
"Again the Israelites did evil in the yes of the LORD, so the LORD delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years."
This is a recurring theme throughout the book of Judges. Again and again the Lord would appoint judges to lead his people, and again and again, as soon as the judge died, the people would again turn away from the Lord. This had happened again, and the Israelites were again under oppression. In the midst of it all, there lived a man named Manoah and his wife, a woman whose name is not recorded, but who would be the mother of Samson, another judge of Israel.

We can imagine her surprise when an angel of the Lord appeared to her and said,
"You are sterile and childless, but you are going to conveive and have a son. Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean, because you will conceive and give birth to a son. No razor may be used on his head, because the boy is to be a Nazirite, set apart to God from birth, and he will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines." (Judges 13:2-5)
It's amazing to notice in Scripture just how many stories there are of barren women in whom God miraculously worked to allow them to conceive a child when they had given up hope. Each time, the child they bore grew up to do something special for the Lord. Manoah's wife was given the promise of a child, and also special instructions concerning his upbringing. He was to be set apart to God from birth, a Nazirite for life, and his task to begin Israel's deliverance would make him a hero.

The woman quickly went to her husband, and told him what had happened, how the man looking like an angel had appeared, and what he had told her. Manoah believed in faith that a son would be born, yet at the same time he and his wife felt inadequate to be the parents of such a special boy. Wisely, they sought the Lord for help:
"Then Manoah prayed to the LORD: 'O Lord, I beg You, 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.'" (Judges 13:8)
God answered their prayer, and sent the angel again. He appeared to the woman while she was alone out in the field, so she ran to bring her husband, and he came and questioned the man, making sure that he was the one who had spoken to his wife before.
"So Manoah asked him, 'When your words are fulfilled, what is to be the rule for the boy's life and work?'

The angel of the LORD answered, 'Your wife must do all that I have told her. 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.'" (Judges 13:12-14)
The instructions probably weren't as detailed as Manoah would have hoped, but he was grateful for what they were told, and asked the man, whom he didn't yet realize was an angel of the LORD, to stay until they had fixed a young goat for him to eat. He told them that he couldn't eat their food, but that they should offer it to the LORD, which they did. As they watched, the LORD did an amazing thing, allowing them to see the angel ascending in the flame from the offering and going up to heaven. Terrified, Manoah and his wife fell down with their faces to the ground, realizing that this was indeed the angel of the LORD.
"'We are doomed to die!' he said to his wife. 'We have seen God!'

But his wife answered, 'If the LORD had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and grain offering from our hands, nor shown us all these things or now told us this.'" (Judges 13:22-23)
What an amazing thing for Manoah and his wife to look back on, as they looked forward to the birth of their son! In due time, Samson was born, and he grew and the Lord blessed him, causing His Spirit to stir in him as he became a man.

If you are familiar with the story of Samson, you know that he did not turn out to lead a very exemplory life. He was incredibly strong through the strength the Lord gave him as he kept his Nazirite vows, and he did fight against the Philistines and begin to deliver Israel from their hands. However, he was very impulsive, childish at times, and too much swayed by lust for women. God worked through it all to accomplish His plans, but Samson's lifestyle is definitely not one we'd want to emulate!

The Bible doesn't give details on whether or not Samson's parents raised him well. From the manner of Samson's demand for a Philistine wife and the way his parents gave in and got her for him (Judges 14:1-7) seems to show that they were a little too indulgent and permissive. Perhaps they thought that because Samson was a special child, one devoted to the Lord, they wouldn't have to discipline him and train him in righteous ways. We can't truly know, however. They may have been wonderful parents, for there are many children rebel when parents have done all they could to raise them in God's ways. We do know that God was using the circumstances, even Samson's demand for a Philistine wife, to accomplish His purposes (Judges 14:4).

What can we learn from Manoah's wife? We can strive to emulate the faith that she showed when the angel appeared to her and told her that she was going to have a son. It was an impossible thing in her mind, yet she and her husband believed, and instead of asking for another sign that this would occur, as others in Scripture did, they instead asked for God to teach them how to raise this special boy. It should remind us to ask God for wisdom when we lack it, for He will give it generously (James 1:5).

We should also be reminded that just because the Lord promises something, doesn't mean that everything will turn out to be picture-perfect. We mustask for His strength and guidance day-by-day, trusting Him to work His purposes out as we follow Him. Situations may seem hopeless, but God knows what He's doing.

Read all about Manoah's wife in Judges 13-14. For more about previous women in the Bible, click here.

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