As I mentioned at the beginning of the study of the book of Judges, some of the episodes do not follow chronologically, and some may overlap. Most would place Samson as the last of the Judges before Samuel.
Here the oppression from the Philistines had become severe; they effectively ruled over a significant part of the land occupied by those of the tribe of Dan that had not moved north.
But as always it was the sinful behaviour of the people that had brought this punishment from God.
And Samson was not a paragon of virtue despite his upbringing. Yet the Lord chose to use him – there is hope for us too!
Read chapter 13:1-5
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.
2 A certain man of Zorah, named Manoah, from the clan of the Danites, had a wife who was childless, unable to give birth. 3 The angel of the Lord appeared to her and said, ‘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.’
Where else in scripture do we find that a son born to a childless couple becomes a significant person in the life of God’s people?
Sarai – Isaac (Genesis 11:30)
Rebekah – Jacob & Esau (Genesis 25:21)
Rachel – Joseph & Benjamin (Judges 13:3)
Hannah – Samuel (1 Samuel 1-20)
Elizabeth – John (Luke 1:7)
Who was Manoah? A ‘nobody’. Apart from in this chapter, and mentioning that Samson was buried in his tomb (16:31), his name is not mentioned anywhere else in scripture.
But as we will see, Manoah and his wife were quick to believe the Angel’s words, which suggests to me that they would have been faithful followers of the Lord.
Where can we read the rules for a Nazirite? Numbers chapter 6
Read verses 6-8
6 Then the woman went to her husband and told him, ‘A man of God came to me. He looked like an angel of God, very awesome. I didn’t ask him where he came from, and he didn’t tell me his name. 7 But he said to me, “You will become pregnant and have a son. Now then, drink no wine or other fermented drink and do not eat anything unclean, because the boy will be a Nazirite of God from the womb until the day of his death.”‘
8 Then Manoah prayed to the Lord: ‘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.’
For us these days, a woman meeting a handsome man and then telling her husband she is pregnant, would have many overtones. But Manoah trusted his wife and believed her completely. His biggest concern was the instruction that he must be brought up as a Nazirite – he didn’t have a bible that he could simply look up.
Read verses 9-10
9 God heard Manoah, and the angel of God came again to the woman while she was out in the field; but her husband Manoah was not with her. 10 The woman hurried to tell her husband, ‘He’s here! The man who appeared to me the other day!’
Did the angel overshoot his landing? Why not appear to Manoah?
His message was more for his wife!
Read verses 11-14
11 Manoah got up and followed his wife. When he came to the man, he said, ‘Are you the man who talked to my wife?’
‘I am,’ he said.
12 So Manoah asked him, ‘When your words are fulfilled, what is to be the rule that governs the boy’s life and work?’
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.’
Did the angel answer Manoah’s question? No.
What they both needed to hear was directed to his wife and her actions during her pregnancy (and presumably until her child had been weaned). There would be time enough to learn the rules that would govern the rest of his life.
Read verses 15-18
15 Manoah said to the angel of the Lord, ‘We would like you to stay until we prepare a young goat for you.’
16 The angel of the Lord replied, ‘Even though you detain me, I will not eat any of your food. But if you prepare a burnt offering, offer it to the Lord.’ (Manoah did not realise that it was the angel of the Lord.)
17 Then Manoah enquired of the angel of the Lord, ‘What is your name, so that we may honour you when your word comes true?’
18 He replied, ‘Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding.’
Names in the bible times were much more important and often had meaning which would describe or influence that person’s character. Sometimes people were re-named to indicate a change in direction.
The only angel who named himself in Scripture was Gabriel. Here the angel explained that they would simply not be able to comprehend his name.
Read verses 19-21
19 Then Manoah took a young goat, together with the grain offering, and sacrificed it on a rock to the Lord. And the Lord did an amazing thing while Manoah and his wife watched: 20 as the flame blazed up from the altar towards 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 realised that it was the angel of the Lord.
We’ve come across the expression ‘angel of the Lord’ before – what does it mean?
The Lord himself – a Theophany.
But that has implications:
Read verses 22-23
22 ‘We are doomed to die!’ he said to his wife. ‘We have seen God!’
23 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.’
‘Manoah’s reaction was great fear; his wife’s reaction was great faith’ (Matthew Henry). Sinful man cannot exist in the presence of the Holiness of Almighty God – but when manifested as an angel, they can talk face-to-face (Genesis 32:30, Judges 6:22-23, Isaiah 6:5-6.)
Some regard Samson as a ‘type’ of Jesus, based mainly on the similarity of their birth. But even though we may find more parallels from the rest of his life, and he gets a mention in Hebrews 11:32, we will find that there is little about him that we would call ‘Christlike’.
Read verses 24-25
24 The woman gave birth 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 while he was in Mahaneh Dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.
Don’t forget this was the baby promised to a childless couple by an angel, now being brought up as a Nazirite.
What do you understand by ‘the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him’?
Perhaps to recognize God’s call on his life?
Perhaps to recognize the perilous state of the tribe of Dan currently overrun by Philistines from over the border?
Perhaps to recognise the great strength he would display later?
Now into Judges 14
Before we read on we need to realise that the Philistines had often raided their Israelite neighbours and by now had settled in their towns and become accepted by many as neighbours.
Read verses 1-4
1 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.’
3 His father and mother replied, ‘Isn’t there an acceptable woman among your relatives or among all our people? Must you go to the uncircumcised Philistines to get a wife?’
But Samson said to his father, ‘Get her for me. She’s the right one for me.’ 4 (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.)
What a confusing passage. Here we have a headstrong young man (teenager?) who has seen an attractive heathen girl and wants her as his wife. His parents knew that any such alliance was directly against God’s laws (Exodus 34:15-16, Deuteronomy 7:1-4, Joshua 23:12-13) yet we are told ‘this was from the Lord.’
We are indignant and say ‘God can’t do that’ – but we are wrong. God is God and he can never be constrained by what we think. In fact we will find ourselves more confused as we continue in the story of Samson. But it is here for a reason, and perhaps one reason is to show that ‘God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform’ (Cowper 1773); and look at Romans 11:33-36.
Read verses 5-7
5 Samson went down to Timnah together with his father and mother. As they approached the vineyards of Timnah, suddenly a young lion came roaring towards him. 6 The Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him so that he tore the lion apart with his bare hands as he might have torn a young goat. But he told neither his father nor his mother what he had done. 7 Then he went down and talked with the woman, and he liked her.
More confusion – the Spirit of the Lord gave him superhuman strength to overcome the lion – but why? Was it a lesson showing that if a young man wanders away from the constraints of his parents and ‘gets into trouble’ he can rely on the Lord to rescue him? I don’t know.
And why did he keep his actions secret? Was he simply modest, or as a young man, was he still struggling with the part the Holy Spirit was to have in his life?
Read verses 8-9
8 Some time later, when he went back to marry her, he turned aside to look at the lion’s carcass, and in it he saw a swarm of bees and some honey. 9 He scooped out the honey with his hands and ate as he went along. When he rejoined his parents, he gave them some, and they too ate it. But he did not tell them that he had taken the honey from the lion’s carcass.
Surely by now he would have learnt that he was forbidden as a Nazirite to go near to a dead body (Numbers 6:6 – and actually it is odd that he should want to wander in a vineyard at all Numbers 6:3).
Are we ever tempted to wander into a ‘vineyard’ when we know it is where forbidden fruit grows? We may not be able to withstand unexpected attacks from other wild beasts that also roam there.
Read verses 10-14
10 Now his father went down to see the woman. And there Samson held a feast, as was customary for young men.
And also as was customary for young men at a wedding feast, it probably involved wine – again something from which Samson should have abstained.
11 When the people saw him, they chose thirty men to be his companions.
12 ‘Let me tell you a riddle,’ Samson said to them. ‘If you can give me the answer within the seven days of the feast, I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty sets of clothes. 13 If you can’t tell me the answer, you must give me thirty linen garments and thirty sets of clothes.’
‘Tell us your riddle,’ they said. ‘Let’s hear it.’
14 He replied,
‘Out of the eater, something to eat;
out of the strong, something sweet.’
For three days they could not give the answer.
A typical teenager: dying to boast about a shocking experience he had had yet reticent to do so. Wildly extravagant in front of others of his own age or older.
Read verse 15
15 On the fourth day, they said to Samson’s wife, ‘Coax your husband into explaining the riddle for us, or we will burn you and your father’s household to death. Did you invite us here to steal our property?’
Of course the young Philistine men would have none of this so they threaten Samson’s new wife.
Read verses 16-17
16 Then Samson’s wife threw herself on him, sobbing, ‘You hate me! You don’t really love me. You’ve given my people a riddle, but you haven’t told me the answer.’
‘I haven’t even explained it to my father or mother,’ he replied, ‘so why should I explain it to you?’ 17 She cried the whole seven days of the feast. So on the seventh day he finally told her, because she continued to press him. She in turn explained the riddle to her people.
To Samson it was simply a bit of fun, to the young men they could not afford to lose face in front of a young foreigner; to his wife it was deadly serious.
Read verses 18-20
18 Before sunset on the seventh day the men of the town said to him,
‘What is sweeter than honey?
What is stronger than a lion?’
Samson said to them,
‘If you had not ploughed with my heifer,
you would not have solved my riddle.’
19 Then the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him. He went down to Ashkelon, struck down thirty of their men, stripped them of everything and gave their clothes to those who had explained the riddle. Burning with anger, he returned to his father’s home. 20 And Samson’s wife was given to one of his companions who had attended him at the feast.
Again I am at a loss to explain why the Spirit of the Lord should encourage a Nazirite to murder thirty men and steal the clothes from their dead bodies.
It seems much more like a young man in a fit of temper who then stormed off abandoning his new wife.
The dowry price had been paid; the wedding celebrations had taken place, so the girl should now be married. To give her to another young man rather than Samson was perhaps actually being kind to her.