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Did evil again. It by no means follows from this phrase that this chapter is in direct chronological sequence to the preceding The scene is shifted to the tribe of Dan, and to the Philistines on the west, and there is nothing to guide us as to the exact time when the things narrated occurred. But the end of the forty years probably coincided with the judgeship of Samuel; for there was no complete deliverance in the time of Samson, only occasional cheeks to the Philistine domination (see Judges 13:5). It was not till the days of Samuel that the Philistines were really smitten (see 1 Samuel 7:3-9.7.14). We may suppose the date of the ensuing narrative to be somewhere in the first decade of the Philistine oppression.
Zorah. Enumerated among the cities in the tribe of Dan in Joshua 19:41, but ascribed to Judah, ibid. Joshua 15:33 (there transliterated Zoreah) and in 2 Chronicles 11:10. Probably the boundary passed through the city, ,as that of Judah and Benjamin did through Jerusalem. In Nehemiah 11:29 it is transliterated Zareah, and also ascribed to Judah. It is almost always coupled with Eshtaol, as in Nehemiah 11:25 of this chapter. It was situated in the Shephelah, or plain country, and was fortified by Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 11:10). It is supposed to be represented by the modern Surah, at the entrance of the Wady Ghurab. The family of the Danites. It appears from Numbers 26:42, Numbers 26:43 that there was only one family in the tribe of Dan, so that in this case tribe and family were co-extensive.
Thou shalt … bear a son. It is obvious to compare the promise to Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 17:19; Genesis 18:10, Genesis 18:14), to Hannah (1 Samuel 1:17), to Elizabeth (Luke 1:13), and to the blessed Virgin (Luke 1:31).
The child shall be a Nazarite, etc. So it was said, though not in the same words, concerning Samuel (1 Samuel 1:11) and concerning John the Baptist (Luke 1:15). A Nazarite (or, more correctly, a Nazi-rite) means one separated, and specially dedicated to God. The law of the Nazarites is contained in Numbers 6:1-4.6.27; where, however, only Nazarites of days, i.e. Nazarites for a definite time, arc spoken of. Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist were perpetual Nazarites, Nazarites of for ever, as the Mishna classifies them. Abstinence from strong drink, and from anything made of the grape; letting the locks of the head grow unchecked by the razor; and keeping quite clear of any pollution from a dead body, even in case of the death of his nearest relations, were the chief articles of a Nazarite's vow. St. Paul took the vow of a Nazarite of days, and offered the prescribed sacrifices, together with "the hair of the head of his separation," as we read in Acts 18:18; Acts 21:23-44.21.26. He shall begin, etc. This is an exact description of what Samson did. He did not "deliver Israel" as the other judges did; but he began to shake the Philistine power, and prepared the way for the deliverance of Israel in the time of his worthier successor Samuel.
A man of God, i.e. a prophet, applied to Moses, Samuel, David, Shemaiah, Elijah, Elisha, and other prophets, and to Timothy in the New Testament. Manoah's wife applies it to the angel, not being sure that he was not human. It would not be improper to apply to an angel, seeing that Gabriel means man of God. I asked him not, etc. No doubt from awe. Jacob, on the contrary, asked the angel with whom he had wrestled, "Tell me, I pray thee, thy name" (Genesis 32:29). See Judges 13:17, Judges 13:18. In the Septuagint (Cod. Alex. ) and Vulgate the not is omitted. "I asked him, but he did not tell me."
And the woman … ran, etc. Acting in the true spirit of a loving and trustful wife, and showing that she felt that neither angel nor man of God stood before her own husband in the claim to her confidence and obedience.
Let thy words come, etc. The verb is singular in the Hebrew here and in Judges 13:17. Possibly the true reading is word, as in the Septuagint. If the text is correct, words must be taken collectively, as making one promise. The saying marks Manoah's earnest desire for a son. Some, however, construe it, If thy words come. How shall we order, etc.—literally, What will be the manner of the child, and what will be his doing? i.e. either, What will be his manner (cf. 1 Samuel 8:11, and following verses), and what will be his action or work? or, What will be his proper treatment, and what shall be done to him? The former is the most natural rendering of the words, and though the latter seems at first more suitable to the angel's reply, yet if we take the angel's reply as referring Manoah to what he had said before in Judges 13:4 and Judges 13:5, we have a distinct answer to the questions. His manner will be to live as a Nazarite, and his action or work will be to begin to deliver Israel (cf. Genesis 16:12, where both the manner and the actione of Ishmael are foretold). In fact, Manoah's question refers directly to Judges 13:4 and Judges 13:5, and is a request to have a confirmation of what was then said; just as David asked again and again, What shall be done to the man that killeth this Philistine? (1 Samuel 17:26, 1 Samuel 17:30).
She may not eat of anything, etc. Nearly the identical words of Numbers 6:4.
Let us detain thee, etc. He wishes to detain him as a guest till he has had time to cook a kid for him (cf. Genesis 18:7). For thee. The Hebrew is before thee. The phrase is elliptical. The full sentence would be, until we have dressed a kid and set it before thee, as in Genesis 18:8.
I will not eat of thy bread, etc. The angel refuses to eat of his meat, but suggests that if he would offer the kid as a burnt offering, he must offer it to the Lord. The angel, perhaps perceiving that Manoah was in doubt as to who he might be, had a holy dread lest he might offer the kid to him, just as the angel whom St. John was about to worship said, "See thou do it not" (Revelation 22:9); and Barnabas and Paul ran in among the people of Lycaonia to restrain them from offering sacrifice to them (Acts 14:14-44.14.18). The order of the words, which is rightly given in the A.V; makes it a clear direction to offer the sacrifice to no one but the Lord.
What is thy name? See note to Judges 13:6. The phrase is very peculiar, literally, Who is thy name? as if he had been going to say, Who art thou? and then changed the form to is thy name. The Hebrews seem to have attached great importance to names, a circumstance due, in part, to every name being significant in the spoken language (see Genesis 4:1, Genesis 4:25; Genesis 5:29; Genesis 16:5, etc.; Genesis 17:19; Genesis 25:25, Genesis 25:26; Genesis 29:1-1.29.35. and 30.; 1 Samuel 1:20 Isaiah 9:6; Isaiah 62:4; Jeremiah 23:6; Ephesians 1:21; Philippians 2:9, Philippians 2:10; Revelation 19:16, etc; and. many other passages). Compare also the phrase, the name of the Lord (Isaiah 30:27; Exodus 23:21; Exodus 33:19; Exodus 34:5, Exodus 34:6, Exodus 34:7). Manoah had certainly some suspicious as to the mysterious character of his visitor, and expected the name to reveal his true nature. We may do thee honour. Manoah seems throughout to use ambiguous language, suitable either to a man, if he was speaking to a man, or to a celestial visitant, should he be angel or God.
It is secret. The Hebrew word does not mean secret, but wonderful, as it is rendered in Isaiah 9:6, and elsewhere. His name was one which, as St. Paul expresses it, it is not lawful, or possible, for a man to utter (2 Corinthians 12:4), it was so transcendently wonderful. The feeling of the Hebrews in abstaining from uttering the name יוֲה was akin to this. Some take the angel to say that WONDERFUL is his name, but the A.V. is right in prefixing seeing—seeing it is wonderful.
Offered it, etc. He had the angel's sanction for doing so in Judges 13:16. But we must not look for strict compliance with the Levitical law in the lawless days of the Judges, though we find many of its prescribed ordinances in use, as, for instance, the institution of Nazarites, and here the offering of the meat offering with the burnt offering (Le Judges 2:1, etc.). And the angel. These words are rightly inserted, to give the sense of the original, as more fully explained in the following verse. Did wonderously—literally, was wondrous in his doing. The verb here is the same root as the substantive or adjective wonder, or wonderful, in verse 18. Compare the similar account in Judges 6:21.
Looked on it. There is no occasion for the italic it, the phrase is identical with that at the close of Judges 13:19; but the rendering would be better, And when Manoah and his wife saw it, they fell, etc.
But. It is better rendered and, in close sequence to the preceding words. It follows, Then, i.e. when they saw him go up, they knew that he was an angel.
We shall surely die, etc. Similarly Gideon (Judges 6:22, Judges 6:28) expressed his alarm because he had "seen an angel of the Lord face to face," but was assured, "Thou shalt not die." And so Isaiah said, "Woe is me! for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts" (Isaiah 6:5). So again the Lord said to Moses, "There shall no man see me and live" (Exodus 33:20). The name of the well, Beer-lahai-roi, is also thought to mean the well of him that is alive after seeing God (Genesis 16:14). And Jacob called the name of the place where he wrestled with the angel Peniel, "for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved" (Genesis 32:30). See too Exodus 20:19. The same belief also prevailed amongst the heathen, that seeing a god without his special permission was visited by death or some grave calamity, as Callimachus, quoted by Grotius, says-
''The laws of Saturn thus decree,
Who dares immortal gods to see
Shall suffer loss, whoe'er he be."
But his wife said, etc. The woman's faith saw more clearly than the man's fear. With the acceptance of the sacrifice the conscience was cleared from guilt. The ascent of the angel in the flame of the altar was to her the same evidence of an accepted sacrifice as the resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus are to us.
Called his name Samson. No doubt the name was significant of what the child should be (see note to Judges 13:17), but the etymology and meaning of the name are doubtful. Josephus ('Antiq.,' Judges 8:4) says the name means "a strong one," but he does not say in what language, and it does not appear to have such a meaning in any Semitic dialect. It is commonly interpreted to mean like the sun, from shemesh, the common word for the sun; and so Jerome in his 'Onomasticon' expounds it as the sun's strength,' possibly with an allusion to Judges 5:31. Others make it equal shimshom, from the Pilpel conjugation of shamem, to devastate. Another possible derivation is from the Chaldee shemash, to minister, specially in sacred things, a root from which the Nestorian, Syriac, and Arabic names for a deacon are derived. If this were the derivation, it would be a reference to his dedication to God as a Nazarite from his mother's womb, the only thing his mother knew about him when she gave him the name.
The Spirit of the Lord, etc. See Judges 3:10, note. To move him—to urge and impel him to strange actions by fits and starts. It is an uncommon expression. In Genesis 41:8 the passive of the verb means to be troubled or agitated, and the substantive is the common word for a time in the phrases time after time, twice, thrice (according to the number specified), other times, etc.; also a footstep; and its derivatives mean an anvil, a bell. The idea is that of sudden, single impulses, such as are described in the following chapters. In the camp of Dan, or, as in Judges 18:12, Mahaneh-Dan, where the reason of the name is explained. For Zorah see Judges 18:2, note. Eshtaol has not hitherto been identified with any existing place, but it ought to lie east or north of Mahaneh-Dan, since this last was between Zorah and Eshtaol (see note on Judges 18:12). Kustul, a conical hill one hour west of Jerusalem, has been suggested.
Many deep and valuable teachings may be gathered out of this chapter. The ministry of angels to the heirs of salvation, and, connected with it, the. sublime conception of the countless hosts of heaven; for the presence of one angel upon earth brings tidings, as it were, from distant spheres of principalities and powers, of thrones and dominions, of angels and authorities, of cherubim and seraphim, peopling the realms of space, filling the heavens with intelligence and praise, and having a community with mankind in the grace and love of God; and one converse of an angel with men suggests a future intercourse of inconceivable wealth of enjoyment, and unbounded variety of interchange of thought, and a fellowship in adoration and praise with unnumbered worlds of holy and mighty intelligences. The mysterious nature of the angel of the Lord, baffling all human attempts to explain it—at one moment seeming quite separate from the Godhead itself, and next moment seeming to be one with it, as if a kind of anticipation of the incarnation were taking place, and God himself were speaking by the angel's mouth. And then there is the predestinating grace of God, calling into being whom he will, assigning to his creature his proper work, and marking out his future course before he was born; endowing him with great and singular gifts, pouring freely and fully upon him his Holy Spirit, and yet leaving his free will unshackled, and his responsibility unimpaired. And there is the doctrine of sacrifice, and of answers to prayer; and there is the question of temperance, and total abstinence from the fruit of the vine; and the duty of hospitality, and of gratitude for kindness received; and that of giving honour to whom honour, and worship to whom worship is due, and other lessons besides. But the one lesson which stands out above the others and runs through the whole chapter is that of the conjugal relation of man and wife, which is set forth with inimitable simplicity and force, and which we shall do well to study for a few minutes as one that bears with singular influence upon the happiness and well-being of mankind. It is obvious to notice in the first place that Manoah was the husband of one wife, according to the institution of marriage in paradise. Such mutual confidence and help as we here see could not have been found in Gideon's harem, or in the households of Ibzan and Abdon. The real conjugal union of interests, and oneness of aim, and transparent openness of intercourse springing from having nothing to conceal, can have no existence where polygamy exists. Nor is it in the nature of things that a woman's entire love and trust should be given to the man who has only a fraction of affection to give in return. If Christianity had done nothing else for mankind than restore the primitive law of marriage, and guard it with the highest sanctions of religion, it would have conferred upon our race an inestimable boon. The holiness and happiness, the peace and union, of countless homes, is due to the marriage law of the gospel of Christ. But then this law must be kept in the spirit as well as in the letter. The conduct of Manoah's wife after her first interview with the angel is a beautiful exemplification of this spirit in the wife: "Then the woman came and told her husband." "Many things might have moved her to secrecy. The fear of exciting her husband s suspicions, the risk of being disbelieved, the possibility that the stranger had deceived her with false hopes; or, on the other hand, a feeling of pride and self-sufficiency at the marvellous apparition and revelation made to herself, not to her husband, and a spirit of independence engendered by such a distinction—such feelings as these, had they existed, or had they ruled her conduct, might have led her to conceal the mysterious interview. But the wife's instinct led her straight to the mark. "she came and told her husband." He was her husband, her natural, legitimate, only counsellor and adviser. His was the ear into which to pour her strange confidence. What she knew, he ought to know, and her conduct must be guided by his counsels. So she came at once and told her husband. But the lesson has peculiar force from the supposed office of the stranger. She took him for "a man of God," and his very announcement of what was to happen hereafter invested him with a sacred and awful character, which was likely to affect powerfully the sensibilities of a woman. But not for one instant was "the man of God" allowed to stand between her and her husband. She had no secrets for the "man of God" which were to be hidden from her husband, nor had the angel any counsel to give which her husband was not to know of. It was on the second time of his appearing as on the first: "she made haste, and ran, and showed her husband, and said unto him, Behold, the man hath appeared unto me." It is a very forcible lesson to the effect that no pretence of spiritual authority can justify interference with the laws of nature, which are the laws of God. If the mutual love and mutual confidence between man and wife in the holy estate of matrimony is the ordinance of God for the happiness of man, the secret influence of another man which is to override the influence of the husband is not, and cannot be, according to the will of God. If the wife is to obey her husband, no other man can of right exact a higher obedience; if she is to trust her husband, she may not keep secret from him what she reveals to others; she may not receive counsel from others which is to be hid from him. The function of a confessor and spiritual,, director is incompatible with the Christian law of marriage, as it is with the first commandment with promise," when it stands between children and their parents. Nor is Manoah's trust in his wife less conspicuous than her trust in him. Not a shadow of doubt as to the truth of her statement crossed his mind, not a shade of jealousy that the message came to her rather than to him. In the desire for further information his wisdom suggested prayer that the Lord would send again the man of God; but the language of his prayer was beautifully expressive of the union that was betwixt them two. "Let the man of God come again unto us, and teach us what we shall do unto the child." And when the second time the angel appeared to the woman alone, he took it as the answer to his prayer. As she came quickly to him, so he quickly followed her. With manly courage he asked the questions which her feminine modesty had not dared to put, and appeared at once in his proper place, ordering and directing what was to be done with regard to the rites of hospitality and piety; and yet when his own fears were excited by having seen the angel of God he sought counsel from his wife, and readily acquiesced in her pious trust in the mercy and loving-kindness of the Lord. And exactly the same perfect union between them appears many years afterwards, when Samson was grown up (Judges 14:2-7.14.5), so that the whole passage is a beautiful idyll of conjugal love and concord. They both fulfil their proper parts with the utmost simplicity and propriety; they both contribute to the common stock of wedded happiness what each had to contribute; neither of them had one word of reproach or bitterness to the other; neither of them attempted to usurp the other's place, or shrunk from occupying their own. And they have left for our study and imitation as beautiful an example of the mutual help and harmony of married life as is to be found in the whole range of Scripture. May it find its counterpart in every Christian family in the land!
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
A natural desire and its gracious fulfilment.
In the East it is a reproach to be childless, and the greatest anxiety is displayed by married people to have a son. In ancient times the possibility of becoming the mother of the promised Messiah was a hope which greatly influenced this, but it had its root in the natural longing to continue one's name and influence after death. This "will to live," which is so strong in the natural man, God sanctified by religious sanctions. It is ever a healthful and lawful desire when the "chief end" of man is respected.
"Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates and men decay.
The natural life of man or woman is incomplete apart from the married state, and children are the blessing and crown of marriage. But they may also he its curse. It is only as God shapes their destiny and moulds their character, only as he "builds the house," that happiness and prosperity can be insured. Improvident marriages and parental neglect have been amongst the greatest causes of misery and vice in all ages. As in later ages we have learnt that there is no virtue in being a mother, so we have discovered that the single life is not the only possible one for the saint.
I. GOD DELIGHTS IN GRATIFYING OUR LEGITIMATE NATURAL DESIRES. It is but fitting that he who made us as we are constituted should supply, or place within our reach, that which shall satisfy our natural cravings. To do otherwise would be a refined and terrible cruelty. But our sin has forfeited for us this claim upon his providence. It would be perfectly lawful for him to withdraw natural supplies, and leave a rebellious world to perish, because of a broken covenant. But it has been far otherwise. The providence of God has been extolled by the heathen as by the Christian, by the sinner and the saint. He makes his sun to rise and his rain to fall upon the just and the unjust. Save his grace, there is no more pathetic and wonderful thing in the doings of God than this persistent and impartial providence. And in visitations like this to Manoah's wife we have glimpses of the feeling which inspires it. A real pleasure is felt by our Father in helping and gratifying his children. The mother has no more pleasure in giving suck to her infant than God has in making it possible for her to do so. Care and interest like this prepare us for the grander exhibitions of his grace in the gift of his only begotten Son. It could only be sustained in the breast of one who "so loved the world." A part of this Divine love is due, doubtless, to the possibility of some of those he fosters becoming his spiritual children and heirs of his kingdom.
II. HE DOES IT IN SUCH A MANNER AS TO IMPRESS UPON THE SUBJECT OF THE BLESSING THE SACREDNESS OF THE GOD-GIVEN LIFE, AND THE TRUE GLORY OF MOTHERHOOD. The child promised is to be devoted to God from his birth. His whole life is to be a Divine service. A special commission is to be given him for the deliverance of God's people. To this end a life of self-denial—a Nazarite life—is to be his. Thin conception of Samson's future is typical and representative. Every first-born in Israel was so regarded. And every child should be so regarded, and taught so to regard himself or herself. There is nothing so beautiful under the sun as a life wholly and from beginning to end devoted to God. And this, though it may seem a hard and difficult thing to realise, is the shortest and truest way to happiness. The mother of such a child—every mother—is therefore called upon to sanctify herself, that her offspring shall receive from her no evil tendencies or desires. Hereditary influence is everywhere recognised throughout Scripture.
III. THE OFFSPRING THUS GRANTED IS MADE THE INSTRUMENT OF BLESSING AND DELIVERANCE TO HIS PEOPLE. There are always considerations for and against granting a boon outside and independently of the ordinary course of nature. Consecration of the gift thus bestowed is the surest way of avoiding injustice to others, and justifying our own super-abounding good. What a thought this for every mother to ponder! In lesser proportion and degree hers may be the wonder and forethought of Mary, the mother of our Lord, when "she hid these things in her heart."—M.
The difficulty of salvation.
"And he shall begin to deliver Israel." There is a parsimony of expression here that is highly expressive. It is not said, "he shall deliver," as of a complete work, but only "he shall begin" to do so. How many reasons were there for this! Do they not also hold good for the grander work of human salvation?
I. HINDRANCES TO THE COMPLETE SALVATION OF ISRAEL.
1. It was a work which required to be, in the first place, and mainly, spiritual in order to its being thorough
2. In order to this the penalty of past transgression had in greater measure to befelt. The transgression had been great, repeated, and habitual. A stern lesson had to be read to the guilty. It was an evil inflicted in order to induce repentance. The moral depths of human nature were being sounded and discovered to itself, that in the fulness of time a Divine Saviour might be sought.
3. Meanwhile the nature and character of the deliverer did not admit of such a work being completed. He was but a man: his consecration was merely or chiefly external; the faults of his character were glaring, His deeds, accordingly, are those of physical heroism and strength. Only once or twice do any hints of more than human wisdom occur.
II. CONSOLATIONS ATTACHED TO THIS INCOMPLETE SALVATION.
1. It was actually begun.
2. God had undertaken it, and provided the instrument.
3. As being a professedly partial undertaking, it showed a far-reaching and thorough scheme.
4. The conditions of its ultimate accomplishment were with themselves.—M.
God's use of unlikely means for gracious ends.
The crisis was grave, relief being, humanly speaking, impossible. The family chosen for the experiment an ordinary one, of no social standing. The mother of the promised child barren. The sustenance enjoined of the most meagre description, not likely to produce strength or furnish artificial stimulus. No inward holiness is shown by Samson.
I. IT SHOWS A PURPOSE OF ENGAGING THE SINNER, EITHER PERSONALLY OR REPRESENTATIVELY, IN THE TASK OF HIS OWN SALVATION. The humblest transgressor cannot be saved without his own self-surrender and willing co-operation.
II. THE HIGHER SPIRITUAL PRINCIPLES, FAITH, HOPE, etc; ARE EVOKED IN THOSE WHO ARE THUS SAVED. The human agent is thus put in his right place. He secures the sympathies of his fellow-countrymen. Their hopes rise or fall as he prospers or is hindered in his task. The blessing of God must therefore be invoked, and the promise of God implicitly believed.
III. ALL THE GIFTS OF OUR NATURE ARE SHOWN TO BE DIVINE IN THEIR ORIGIN, AND THEIR CONSECRATION IS ENCOURAGED.
IV. THE SAVING GRACE OF GOD IS THUS VINDICATED AS HIS OWN, AND HE HIMSELF DECLARED THE ONLY SAVIOUR.—M.
Divine punishment and preparation of deliverance simultaneous.
The heaviest judgments in human history have been secretly charged with such merciful provisions. This circumstance alters the character of the infliction; it ceases to be mere vengeance, and becomes discipline.
I. INSTANCES OF THIS IN SACRED HISTORY. The Fall and promise of the Seed. In Joseph's sale and slavery we see the anticipation of an evil not yet experienced. Esther is raised up in the Persian captivity. The age of the destruction of Jerusalem was the age of the gospel.
II. WHAT THIS PROVES.
1. God does not "afflict willingly" and for the sake of afflicting, but for ultimate good.
2. The wrath of God exists at the same time as his love, and is penetrated and overruled by it.
3. The mercy of God is far-seeing, wise, and painstaking.—M.
Repetition of Divine favours.
There are visitations of God and signs of his favour that are not fully comprehended the first time, and their repetition alone can satisfy the cravings of the heart and the wonder of the spiritual understanding. And God is considerate of our human weakness. "In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established." The blessing is then realised in absolute certainty, and a communion of faith.
I. GOD'S PROMISES ARE SO PRECIOUS THAT WE WISH TO BE ASSURED OF THEM. His words, so mysterious and far-sent, are like clouds full of rain for the thirsty soil, if we can only secure the blessing. When he condescends to visit thus the home of men it is for good, and not evil. And the blessings which he promises are not such as the world can give. The spiritual understanding can alone discern their true worth, and alone yearns for their fulfilment. The mere repetition of the terms and words is soothing and confirming. And to the faithful they will be spoken again as a token of favour, and the signs will be repeated; but to a "faithless generation shall no sign be given," save that which plunges in deeper wonder or increases the certainty of doom.
II. How ARE GOD'S PROMISES TO BE REALISED?
1. By interested attention to them. Manoah's mind is full of the message received by his wife. He does not dismiss it from mind and memory as a trifling thing. It is this pondering and waiting and searching spirit that is blessed. "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?"
2. By implicit faith. He does not question the reality of the Divine message. He is eager to hear it, so that all its significance may be understood. He speaks even at first of "the child that shall be born."
3. By believing prayer. How earnest is this man! "Manoah entreated Jehovah." There is no unnecessary delay: "God hearkened to the voice of Manoah." He loves to hear the voice of praying men. He loves to be "inquired of," and "entreated," and "wrestled" with. "The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much."
4. By expectation, and diligent watching for the answer. The reality of our prayer is thus shown. How often is prayer but an idle word uttered thoughtlessly when in a devout frame I Let us look for what we ask, and God will not weary our patience or betray our confidence. Ask, seek, knock (2 Timothy 4:8; Titus 2:13).—M.
Parental anxiety and its satisfying.
Questions of great importance, which every parent ought to study. Circumstances may occur that render the responsibility of the parent peculiarly heavy.
I. ALL PARENTS, OR THOSE ABOUT TO BE PARENTS, SHOULD BRING THEIR PARENTAL CARES TO GOD.
1. It will relieve anxiety.
2. The sense of moral responsibility will be deepened and confirmed.
3. Direction will be given for duty and usefulness.
II. THE BEST SAFEGUARD OF THE CHILD IS THE CONSECRATION OF THE PARENT. To regard the child-blessing as a trust. To seek the benefit of others through that which is a joy and gratification to oneself. To keep oneself pure and temperate, that no taint or evil tendency may pass to one's posterity, and that in oneself, as in one's children, God may be glorified.—M.
Cf. on Judges 6:17-7.6.21.—M.
Judges 13:17, Judges 13:18
The wonderful name.
The balance of critical authority is in favour of the rendering "wonderful," or wonder-working, and not that of "secret." It is to be taken as expressive not only of the general character of God as mysterious, glorious, and ineffable, but as doing wonders, i.e. mighty deeds of manifestation and salvation. This characteristic of God is to be studied as—
I. PROVOCATIVE OF CURIOSITY. The Divine element has ever maintained its presence in human life, has kept the horizons of human consciousness wide apart and constantly extending, and has exercised the counteractive and saving influence required by the action of the world-spirit upon the nature of man. God has never left man alone. Ere a single page of inspiration was penned he dwelt "in the conscious breast," and drew reverent eyes and feet after his marvels in the physical world. Man is, perforce of his moral constitution being linked and blended with his physical, a being "between two worlds." The gate is ajar, and no mortal can ever effectually close it. Led by this "presence of the threshold," the fathers of faith began that religious movement that received its loftiest impulse and satisfaction in Christ. There were partial and progressive revelations, each new "wonder" laying firmer hold upon the imagination and the heart. Jacob at Bethel and at Penuel (Genesis 32:24-1.32.30), Moses at Horeb, Elijah in the cave of the desert, and David at the threshing-floor of Araunah, are grand typical figures, milestones in this spiritual pilgrimage. And there is no individual life, even of this secularised modern world, that is not the theatre of "even greater works than these," speaking in it of a heavenly Father, and keeping it within sound of his voice. If we are true to our own inner selves and to our spiritual history we must be worshippers of him whose name is Wonderful.
II. IN PROCESS OF REVELATION THROUGH MIRACLES. "And the angel did wondrously,'' i.e. true to his name, he acted miraculously. Creation, providence, the unfolding work of the world's salvation, are so many series of revelations in act and work. The general impression produced upon the mind by the scheme of the universe is enhanced and led up into religious fervour by these miracles, of which our latest physical science does not well know how to dispose. The moral and spiritual lessons they teach, and the impression they produce upon the human heart, run parallel with, but indefinitely above, the ordinary lines of (so-called) "natural religion," and constitute a distinct revelation, of which the core is reached in the miracles of Jesus Christ. As this moral or Divine side of miracle is increasingly studied, the riches of the Word made flesh will grow upon us, fascinate and convert the soul. At the tribunal of Jerusalem the old, old question is asked anew, and again in effect is the answer returned, "My name is Wonderful."
III. ASSERTIVE OF JEHOVAH AS THE SUPERNATURAL CAUSE OF THE DELIVERANCE OF ISRAEL. It is not Moses, or any judge, or David even, who is able to save. Jehovah is the great Deliverer, and he works above nature in a realm in which he can have no co-worker. Samson even is a "child of the promise," and no product of the influences of his time. His strength is to be from above, and its great exercises and feats are distinctly miraculous.
IV. PREPARING MEN FOR THE MESSIAH, IN WHOM IT WAS MOST PERFECTLY MANIFESTED. The depths of the world's consciousness, in seer and saint, are ceaselessly stirred until the look of the ages fastens itself on him whose name is "Wonderful, Counsellor, mighty God, everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6). And as we look back on the brief episode of his life, ever new wonders declare themselves, and we feel that his example, his sufferings, his sacrifice, his resurrection, and ascension are potent to save and to sanctify, etc. Truly "his name is Wonderful."—M.
Judges 13:22, Judges 13:23
Reassurance of Divine favour.
Manoah is now uncertain whether to consider himself blessed or miserable. He has the deep-rooted superstition of a fleshly age strong within him, and is alarmed. But this arises from a defective spiritual education. He does not consider sufficiently the method and the manner of God's approaches to him.
I. FEAR REGARDING GOD'S VISITATIONS IS A NATURAL FEELING. The consciousness of sin is easily roused to alarm, and the unknown is ever awe-inspiring. Our own littleness too is made the more manifest: "What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?" (Psalms 8:4).
II. How IT MAY BE OVERCOME. Considering,
1. The character of God;
2. His continuous scheme of redemption;
3. The blessings he has already bestowed;
4. The voice of Christ (" Fear not "), and the witness of the Spirit ("Abba, Father").
III. GOD WILL NOT LEAVE HIS CHILD IN UNCERTAINTY OF HIS MEANING. "Two are better than one." How often in life is the husband, wife, parent, child, brother, sister, or friend, close beside us, the witness of God and the spiritual help-meet! The simple soul teaches the more complex and experienced, being itself taught of God. And so: somewhere or other, he is never without a witness.—M.
Judges 13:24, Judges 13:25
Fulfilment of promise.
The history of this promise to the worthy pair reads like an unbroken tale. Outwardly it was with them only as it was with numberless others of their neighbours. The circumstance is woven into the web of contemporary village life. The birth is as any other, the child as any other, up to a certain point; and then the true character and destiny begin to declare themselves.
I. THE ORDINARY ASPECT OF DIVINE FULFILMENTS IN THEIR BEGINNINGS.
II. PRIVATE JOY AND SATISFACTION ACCOMPANYING THE GIFT OF A PUBLIC BENEFACTOR AND FULFILLER OF THE DIVINE PURPOSE. "The Lord blessed him."
III. THE GRADUAL DIFFERENTIATION OF THE DIVINE AGENT FROM THE MERELY HUMAN RELATION. It soon appears that the lad is not meant for the mere solace of his parents' age and light of their home. "The Spirit of the Lord began to move him at times." Like Christ, the time comes when he "must be about his Father's business."—M.
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY
Samson the Nazarite.
I. THERE ARE MEN WHOM GOD CALLS TO HIS SERVICE FROM THEIR BIRTH. This is seen in the fact that the earliest events of their lives are made to train them for their subsequent mission in the world. Parents should consecrate their children to God in infancy, and not wait for later years before using those means which will fit them for the work of life in God's service. Manoah. and his wife are taught these lessons with special reference to the condition of a Nazarite. Other vocations may require external varieties of training, but the essential characteristics which fit us for the service of God are the same in all cases, so that it is not necessary to know the exact form of service to which God will call a child, in order to lay the foundations of his character in the main principles which devotion to God's service in any form involves.
II. ABSTEMIOUSNESS IS FAVOURABLE TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF VIGOUR. Self-indulgence is enervating. Self-restraint both husbands and enlarges strength. That which is apparently most helpful to us may prove in reality to be a hindrance. Appetite and desire are neither to be regarded as masters nor as enemies, but as servants. As wine excites rather than strengthens, so there are influences of a mental character which add nothing to our power for work, although they appear to do so by rousing excitement. The soul will not grow strong on the heating, but not nourishing, diet of religious sensationalism.
III. DEVOTION TO GOD REQUIRES PURITY OF LIFE. The Nazarite was to touch no unclean thing. Unhappily Samson was satisfied with this ceremonial purity, and did not cultivate purity of soul, as the spirit of the Nazarite's vow plainly required him to do; hence his moral weakness and failure to attain perfect success. Samson "began to deliver Israel," he was not able to finish. Only the spotless One could say, "It is finished." In proportion to our holiness will be our spiritual strength. Religious devotion without moral purity cannot be accepted by God (Isaiah 1:11-23.1.15).
IV. FULNESS OF LIFE BELONGS TO THOSE WHO LIVE TO GOD. No razor, no iron (the symbol of death), was to come upon the Nazarite. Consecration to God involves self-denial, but it brings a deeper joy and a fuller life than a self-seeking course will secure.
1. Religion does not require the destruction of any part of our true human nature, not even to the injuring of one hair of the head.
2. Religion requires the consecration of our whole being unmaimed, even to the not severing of one hair of the head from the perfect sacrifice.
V. CONSECRATION TO GOD IS A SOURCE OF USEFULNESS TO MEN. Samson was a Nazarite; he was also a deliverer of his people. God calls us not to the hermit's life of useless devotion, but to the servant's life of devotion practised in active good works. The religiousness which forbids useful work in commerce, in politics, in literature is a false sentiment. The Christian can best serve God by labouring for the good of his fellow-men.—A.
The training of children.
I. CHILDREN NEED TRAINING.
1. Children do not attain to the best character and conduct spontaneously, by natural growth and development, Left to themselves they would make little progress and many errors. But they cannot be thus left. If good influences are not brought to bear upon them, they cannot be entirely shielded from evil influences which will prove fatal unless they are counteracted. Training is necessary
(1) to assist and promote the natural development of the good which is already in children,
(2) to check and eradicate hereditary tendencies to sin derived from parents, e.g. the inclinations to intemperance likely to be felt by the children of the intemperate, and
(3) to counteract the effect of the temptations of the world.
2. Children do not attain to the best character and conduct without care and effort. They need specific training. Example does much; the atmosphere of a Christian society is also effective. Yet these general and vague, though real and powerful, influences are not sufficient without definite teaching and personal discipline. Christianity must be taught, and it cannot be learnt from any spirit of Christianity in the air.
II. THE TRAINING OF CHILDREN SHOULD BEGIN EARLY. The danger accompanying the process of intellectual forcing which results in unnatural precocity is not so great in moral training. The intellect need not be taxed with complex dogmas, nor the feelings stirred with unhealthy emotions, and yet children may be trained in integrity and unselfishness, in love to God and man—the great fundamental principles of the highest moral character. It is foolish to postpone this training. It is most easy when the mind is plastic. A natural economy would teach us that it is better that the whole life should be right from the first, than that there should be an early time of mistakes and faults and a subsequent conversion to better things.
III. THE SUPREME END OF THE TRAINING OF CHILDREN SHOULD BE TO FIT THEM FOR THE SERVICE OF GOD. Samson is to be trained for God. Parents are too negligent of the highest ends of their children's lives. Careful to preserve their health and develop their natural powers of body and mind, anxious to instruct them in useful and liberalising secular knowledge, energetic in securing them a prosperous career in the world, parents often forget the real purpose of life, and fail to fit their children for the great mission of serving God. Children should be regarded as God's from their birth, and as only lent by him. The significance of baptism, as implying God's claim on the children and their dedication to him, should be remembered in all the subsequent training of them.
IV. THE CHIEF RESPONSIBILITY OF THE TRAINING OF CHILDREN RESTS ON THEIR PARENTS. This cannot be delegated to teachers. Though the work may be largely done by special teachers, the responsibility still remains on the father and mother, and can never be shifted. They too have the most influence by the constant intercourse of home, the force of parental example, authority, and affection, their knowledge of their children and interest in them.
V. GUIDANCE FOR THE TRAINING OF CHILDREN SHOULD BE SOUGHT FROM GOD. Manoah and his wife show their humility, their faith, and their devotion in praying for guidance. This is necessary for many reasons. The issues of the work are supremely important; error may lead to fearful disaster. The execution of the work is exceedingly difficult. The ideal to be aimed at is great and high. There is mystery in the character of every soul, mystery in the will of God as to its destiny, mystery in the innumerable subtle influences which play upon it. He who realises these things will seek light as to the end of the training of the children and the method of pursuing it.—A.
Judges 13:17, Judges 13:18
The mystery of a name.
Names denote persons and describe characters. The nameless one wraps both his individuality and his nature in mystery. Naturally Manoah, like Jacob, desires to solve such a mystery (Genesis 32:29), and in response to this wish, unlike "the traveller unknown," the angel reveals a name, though one of partial mystery.
I. MANOAH'S QUESTION (see Judges 13:17).
1. Manoah does not know that his visitor is an angel of the Lord (Judges 13:16). Divine visitations are not always recognised. The true nature of Christ was unknown to most of his contemporaries. We cannot always trace the hand of God in his providential action. Heaven is about us unnoticed; unseen ministries attend our lives; God is nearer to us than we suspect.
2. Manoah desires to know the name of his mysterious visitor—
(1) from natural curiosity,
(2) from a desire to strengthen his faith in the message of the unknown,
(3) from a wish to give him thanks when his promise should be fulfilled.
The thirst to solve the strange questions which surround our spiritual life is natural, and not inconsistent with humility nor with faith. It would be better if we were more anxious to inquire for indications of God and of his character in the experience of life.
II. THE ANGEL'S REPLY (see Judges 13:18).
1. He begins his reply with a question. We should not assail heaven with unjustifiable prayers, but should be ready to give a reason for our petitions. Revelation is not intended to quench human thought, but to stimulate it. Every new voice from heaven, while it answers some questions, starts new questions.
2. The angel implies that Manoah's request was needless, either
(1) because he ought to have recognised the nature of his visitant from the character of his message and conduct, or
(2) because it was more important to consider the meaning of the message than to inquire into the nature of the messenger. We sometimes pray for more light when we only need better eyes to use the light we have; not a fresh revelation, but discernment, reflection, spiritual feeling to appreciate the revelation already received. God's truth is more important than the person of the prophet, apostle, or angel who brings it to us.
3. The angel gives Manoah a name. He is "Wonderful." This was a partial answer to Manoah's question.
(1) It carried his thought to God, who is the supreme mystery, and suggested the greatness, the wonder, the awe of all that pertained to him. Thus it was a revelation of the Divine.
(2) Nevertheless the name was but a partial explanation, as its very meaning suggested the unknown. The deepest questions cannot be solved on earth. But it matters little that the rays of revelation seem to melt into the darkness of the Infinite if only they shine bright and clear on our path of duty.—A.
Judges 13:22, Judges 13:23
The fear of the vision of God.
The Divine vision was connected with a blessing to Manoah and his wife. The vision of God by the soul is itself the highest blessing; yet, as in the case of Manoah, it fills men with fear.
I. THE CAUSE OF THE FEAR.
1. Mystery. We naturally dread the unknown. Darkness hides possibilities of danger. Superstition peoples the unseen with horrors.
2. Guilt. "Conscience makes cowards of us all." So Adam and Eve hid themselves from God in the garden (Genesis 3:8). Because we are all sinners before God we have a natural shrinking from him
(1) who knows our secret hearts,
(2) against whom we have offended,
(3) who is holy to hate sin and
(4) just to punish it.
3. Unbelief. We do not sufficiently understand the character of God nor trust his grace. If we did, we should feel safer with all our guilt in his hands than we are when left to ourselves and to the world. Men fear God because they do not know him.
II. THE REMEDIES OF THE FEAR. Manoah's wife encourages her husband. Though men may be brave before physical danger, women sometimes show more courage in spiritual difficulties. This moral courage is nobler than the brute courage which man shares with the lower animals. It has its source in true excellences of character.
1. Self-possession. Manoah is confused and dismayed by terror beyond the power of reflection; but his wife is calm and collected, and thus able to see indications of mercy in the vision.
2. Reflection on the character of the vision. God has given to us powers of observation, discernment, reasoning. Superstitious terrors more commonly haunt the minds of those people who have neglected to use those powers, while weakly yielding to foolish emotions. Religion to be healthy must be thoughtful. God has given us sufficient indications of his character in the Bible, in Christ, in life, to deliver us from slavish fear, if only we consider and reflect on these. The more we know of God, the less shall we be afraid of him. May not the most fearful learn to reason with Manoah's wife—"If God had meant harm to us, would he have blessed us as he has done hitherto?" The Christian may go further, and be sure that after the great gift of his Son, God must wish well to us in all lesser things (Romans 5:10).
3. Faith. We cannot see perfect evidence that God is blessing us in every mystery; but if we know his character we ought to trust his actions, even when they seem most alarming, as they cannot be contrary to his nature.
4. The acceptance of sacrifice. God had accepted Manoah's sacrifice, therefore he could not regard him with disfavour. He has accepted the sacrifice of Christ, and accordingly our guilt need not make us fear God if we rely on the atonement Christ has effected.—A.
Judges 13:24, Judges 13:25
The young Samson.
I. His NAME. Samson—the sun. This was a great name, full of inspiring significance. It is well to have a good name, one which is a constant appeal to a man to be worthy of it, and to live up to its meaning.
II. HIS GROWTH. Samson the hero was first a child at the mercy of the weakest. The grandest river springs from a little streamlet. The noblest man enters life, as the meanest does, in helpless infancy. So the spiritual life of the saint, the martyr, the apostle is seen first in him as in a babe in Christ. It is therefore no dishonour to have a small beginning, but it is a dishonour to remain small. The one question is, Do we grow mentally, spiritually, in knowledge, in holiness, in power? There is more to be expected of the minute growing seed than of the dead stump, which is at first vastly larger. Better be a growing child of the Lord than a dwarf adult Christian man.
III. HIS BLESSING. "The Lord blessed him." We are not told how; this matters not. Perhaps he did not recognise the blessing. God blesses us silently, with no formal benediction, and perhaps in ways which to us seem hard and injurious. Still better than health, riches, pleasure is the fact God does give a man the thing that is for his highest good, which is what we mean by "a blessing."
IV. HIS INSPIRATION. "The Spirit of the Lord began to move him."
1. Samson's heroic strength was an inspiration of God, not a mere brute muscular force. We see how in great crises men are nerved to do what is beyond their power in ordinary life. The abnormal strength of insanity is an instance of the same principle, applied in circumstances of disease.
2. Inspiration assumes various forms. To Samson it brought neither the grace of purity nor the gift of prophecy; but it gave him the special gifts which he needed for his special work. He would have been a nobler man if he had sought the Spirit of God also to help him in more spiritual ways. Samson had a supernatural gift of the Spirit with little of its ordinary grace of holiness. It is better to have this grace first, though, if God will, we may receive the gift also.
V. HIS IMPERFECT POSSESSION BY THE SPIRIT. He was moved at times.
1. God's special gifts are limited to occasion. There is an economy of Divine power. When we need extraordinary grace he will give this, but only then.
2. The receipt of spiritual gifts depends on the condition of our spirit. Samson was only rightly disposed to receive the Spirit at intervals. Our spiritual life fluctuates; we are not long at our best.
3. We are only moved when we respond. God may have visited Samson more often than Samson profited by his visit. We can resist the Spirit. We are helped only when we willingly yield to it.—A.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Judges 13". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany