And there was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren, and bare not.
And the angel of the LORD appeared unto the woman, and said unto her, Behold now, thou art barren, and bearest not: but thou shalt continue, and bear a son. . . .
And the woman bare a son, and called his name Samson: and the child grew, and the LORD blessed him.
As the period of the judges went on, the depth of sin into which the children of Israel fell became increasingly greater. In the early days after Joshua, the nation of Israel generally had been responsive to the hand of the Lord when He chastised them. Under the oppression of an enemy, they would turn in repentance until the Lord delivered them. But as time went on, this responsiveness became less. In the days of Jephthah there had even been a false and insincere movement of repentance to which the Lord refused to listen. Only after the people turned sincerely away from their sins did the Lord deliver them. But then, after Jephthah and the minor judges which followed him, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon, even this was too much. God gave them over to the cruelest and most oppressive enemy they had ever known, the Philistines; but the people, rather than turning in repentance to God, submitted themselves and adapted to the every wish of their enemy. When God sent to them one of the most outstanding judges of all, the people refused to rally behind him and even betrayed him to the Philistines. Samson throughout his life remained a lone figure, fighting a lonely but valiant battle against the enemy of God’s people. His life was a testimony against the day in which he lived.
The parents of Samson were but common people from the tribe of Dan, inhabitants of the hills close to the border of Philistia. This couple, Manoah and his wife, were the exception in Israel; for they in their simple way had remained faithful to the worship of Jehovah. They refused to give recognition to any of the idol gods of the heathen round about them. The result was that in their worship they were left very much alone. By far the majority in Israel had long since joined the heathen in their wicked festivities, leaving the few remaining Jehovah worshippers done. For Manoah and his wife this was even more so because they had not been blessed with children with whom to share their faith and worship. Manoah’s wife, in spite of her personal faith, stood in her barrenness as a symbol of the spiritual state of Israel in that clay. But Manoah and his wife bore their loneliness and their reproach patiently, trusting still in the goodness of God and rejecting the ways of the heathen.
It happened, however, one day, as Manoah’s wife was laboring alone in the field, that suddenly a new thing was brought about in their lives. The angel of the LORD appeared unto her and spoke: “Behold now, thou art barren, and bearest not”: He said, “but thou shalt conceive, and bear a son. Now therefore beware, I pray thee, and drink not wine nor strong drink, and eat not any unclean thing: for, lo, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and no razor shall come on his head: for the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb: and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.”
For Manoah’s wife this was almost too wonderful to imagine. It meant, in the first place, that the reproach of her barrenness was to be lifted. It may well be difficult for us to understand how important this was for a woman of that day. Her life, as the life of every true Israelite, was bound up in the typical life of the nation. It was a life of hope, always looking ahead to the coming of the Messiah who would obtain the victory over sin and establish the kingdom of God forever. After their personal salvation, nothing was more important to the Old Testament saints than that their place should be retained in the typical life of this nation through the children which they brought forth. Thus, to have no children meant that one’s place in the nation would be lost. To the barren wife this was the severest of all reproaches. Many years Manoah’s wife had labored under it, no doubt with tears and prayers. But now the message of God was come that she was to have a child.
Even more, this child which she would receive was to be a Nazarite from his birth. This was of special significance in Israel. A Nazarite was a person whose life was given over in holy dedication unto God. This was symbolized in the threefold denial which he made in his life. First, he would drink no strong drink to symbolize his denial of the pleasures of life for the service of God. Secondly, he was not to come in contact with a dead body, because death was the result of sin and the curse. (Seemingly, however, in the case of Samson this was exempted because of his calling as judge to wage battle with the Philistines.) And finally, he was not to have his head shaved with a razor or his hair cut, to symbolize that he remained free from all of the fashions and influences of men. In all such a person was called to a holy life in complete dedication to the service of God. In the days of Manoah and his wife. such Nazarites were all too rare. Under the expanded influence of sin few cared to live in holy dedication. But they were different. They were still children of faith, and she could still rejoice in the thought of a child dedicated unto God from his very birth.
But her deepest reason for joy was to be found in the promise that this child would “begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.” The Philistines were the most terrible enemy that Israel had ever known. Not only did they go through the land oppressing the people and bringing misery upon them, they encouraged and instructed the people in the practices of idolatry and sin. They were undermining and destroying the moral life of the nation. Even stronger than her personal craving for a child was her desire that this enemy should be driven from the lad which she loved. And now both desires were to be fulfilled together.
No sooner had the angel departed than she turned and hurried to her husband that she might share with him the revelation she had witnessed. “A man of God came unto me,” she excitedly confided, “And his countenance was like the countenance of an angel of God, very terrible: but I asked him not whence he was, neither told he me his name: but he said unto me, Behold, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and now drink no wine nor strong drink, neither eat any unclean thing: for the child shall be a Nazarite to God from the womb to the day of his death.”
Manoah listened to his wife’s account with surprise and with mixed feelings. He knew the honesty of his wife and the reliability of all that she said. He indeed wished with all of his heart that the promises reported might truly come to pass. But still there remained so many questions unanswered, so many things which he would have asked the angel had he been there. Actually Manoah found it hard to rise to the level of believing confidence which his wife manifested. He really wanted very badly to witness himself the vision his wife had seen. Thus he cried out in prayer to God, “O my Lord, let the man of God which thou didst send come again unto us, and teach us what we shall do unto the child that is born.”
This prayer of Manoah was not altogether commendable. It reflected as much idle curiosity as serious concern; it reflected in its desire to question the angel of God less understanding than the simple unquestioning faith of his wife. Nevertheless, Manoah was a true child of faith, and it was important that he should be assured of the way of the Lord for his family. Thus God listened to his prayer.
This second appearance began in the same manner as the first. He came to Manoah’s wife while she was alone in the field. But she realized that this was an answer to her husband’s prayer. Without questioning the angel herself, she ran to tell her husband, “Behold, the man hath appeared unto me, that came unto me the other day.”
Manoah came quickly, full of questions which he had been mulling over in his mind. Immediately he began, “Art thou the man that spakest unto the woman?”
The answer of the angel was short and curt, “I am.”
Undaunted Manoah continued, “How shall we order the child, and how shall we do unto him?”
Briefly the angel only repeated what he had told unto the woman already, “Of all that I said unto the woman let her beware. She may not eat anything that cometh of the vine, neither let her drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing: all that I commanded her let her observe.”
His enthusiasm and confidence growing, Manoah thought to become more intimate and said, “I pray thee, let us detain thee, until we shall have made ready a kid for thee.”
Patiently the angel explained, “Though thou detain me, I will not eat of thy bread: ad if thou wilt offer a burnt offering, thou must offer it unto the LORD.”
Still Manoah would not be discouraged. Pushing to learn more he asked, “What is thy name, that when thy sayings come to pass we may do thee honour?”
Laconically the angel replied, “Wherefore askest thou after my name, seeing it is wonderful?” Here was the crux of the whole matter. It anticipated the prophecy of Isaiah, “And his name shall be called Wonderful.” This was Jesus Christ in His Old Testament form as the angel of Jehovah preparing the way for the salvation of His church. He was truly Wonderful,—the miracle of all time, the very Son of God sent to redeem His people from the curse of sin. Nevertheless, even in all of His greatness, He did not assume unto Himself the glory. He directed that worship and sacrifice should be directed to Jehovah, the Triune God.
At last Manoah seemed to sense some of the awful greatness that was being revealed to him. Ceasing to ask his prying questions, he obediently went and prepared a kid for sacrifice. There upon the rock in the presence of the angel he offered it unto Jehovah. Then, while Manoah and his wife looked on, the angel did wondrously, and shining with heavenly glory ascended in the flame of the altar unto heaven.
Struck with awe, Manoah and his wife fell with their faces to the ground and worshipped. Now truly Manoah began to realize the terrible presumption of his many prying questions. Turning to his wife in despair he cried, “We shall surely die, because we have seen God.”
It was the quiet strength of faith which answered him, “If the LORD were pleased to kill us, he would not have received a burnt offering and a meat offering at our hands, neither would he have showed us all these things, nor would as at this time have told us such things as these.”
“And the woman bare a son, and called his name Samson: and the child grew, and the LORD blessed him.”