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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Judges 13

 

 

Introduction

Samson the Deliverer

God’s Sixth Lesson - the Rise of the Philistines - God Raises Up Samson (Judges 13:1 to Judges 16:31).

The story of Samson is one of the most remarkable in the Bible. It demonstrates quite clearly that God can use the inadequacies of a man within His purposes. When God raised up Samson from birth He knew the propensities that he would have for good or evil. He gave him every opportunity for success but knew that he would eventually fail. Yet from that failure He purposed to produce success. Samson is an encouragement to all, that if the heart is right, God can use a man, even in his weakness, in His purposes.

Chapter 13. The Birth of Samson (Judges 13:1-24).

This chapter relates the birth of Samson, another ‘judge of Israel’. His birth was first foretold by an angel to his mother, who told her husband about it, and on his entreaty the angel appeared again, and related the same thing to them both. The Angel of Yahweh was very reverently treated by the man, and was known by him to be the Angel of Yahweh, because of the wonderful things He did, and the chapter closes with an account of the birth of Samson, and of his being early endowed with the Spirit of God.


Verse 1

Samson the Deliverer

God’s Sixth Lesson - the Rise of the Philistines - God Raises Up Samson (Judges 13:1 to Judges 16:31).

The story of Samson is one of the most remarkable in the Bible. It demonstrates quite clearly that God can use the inadequacies of a man within His purposes. When God raised up Samson from birth He knew the propensities that he would have for good or evil. He gave him every opportunity for success but knew that he would eventually fail. Yet from that failure He purposed to produce success. Samson is an encouragement to all, that if the heart is right, God can use a man, even in his weakness, in His purposes.

Chapter 13. The Birth of Samson (Judges 13:1-24).

This chapter relates the birth of Samson, another ‘judge of Israel’. His birth was first foretold by an angel to his mother, who told her husband about it, and on his entreaty the angel appeared again, and related the same thing to them both. The Angel of Yahweh was very reverently treated by the man, and was known by him to be the Angel of Yahweh, because of the wonderful things He did, and the chapter closes with an account of the birth of Samson, and of his being early endowed with the Spirit of God.

Judges 13:1

And the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of Yahweh, and Yahweh delivered them into the hands of the Philistines forty years .’

The sad story of Israel’s failure was again repeated here. It reminds us how little men learn from history or from what happens to others. For Israel were not unique in this failure. The nations continually did evil in the sight of Yahweh. But Israel were the more blameworthy because they had received the revelation of Yahweh, and had become His own people bound by the covenant of Sinai. For a generation after entering Canaan they had remembered Him, meeting together at the three annual feasts at the central sanctuary and maintaining a general unity. But then they had begun to go astray. And as they went astray so their attachment to the covenant weakened. Not all came together for the periodic feasts, the three gatherings a year before Yahweh, although at times particular situations could arouse them to act together (Judges 19-21). The past became a distant memory, gloried in when some of them came together for their united feasts, sung about at their local feasts, but in practical terms almost forgotten by many. They began to compromise with their neighbours, they turned to worship foreign gods or to syncretise them with their own worship of Yahweh, they made light of the requirements of the covenant, their unity was loosened and they failed to live in accordance with God’s requirements (Judges 3:6). And yet every now and again something would occur to unite them and bring them back to Yahweh. That this was so comes out in that in the time of Eli (1 Samuel 3:20) the central sanctuary appears to have had a strong influence, while under Samuel it was resurgent. Nevertheless it probably did not include all Israel, for Samuel’s control was mainly exercised in the central part of the land, especially in the hill country west of Jordan, and in Beyond Jordan. There is no mention of the farthest Northern tribes, and it is questionable how many of them were included in 1 Samuel 10:20. On the other hand contacts must have been maintained in order for their later unity to come about.

For we must remember that the children of Israel were scattered throughout the land of Canaan, with some separated off from others by other peoples within the land. Different groupings had seemingly arisen. So for example we have no mention of powerful Judah to the south in the accounts of previous Judges in 2-9, and their absence is especially noticeable in the Song of Deborah, although no blame was assigned to them. They were seemingly not even expected to be there (although that may have been because they were hard pressed by the Philistines). Against Sisera it was the northern tribes who came together, and even then there were a number of absentees. Those beyond Jordan in the east refused or hesitated, while Asher in the west avoided the call. Ephraim and Benjamin were, however, responsive, although Dan ignored the call. Dan were probably too involved with the Philistine menace on their southern border, and indeed within their borders. In 2-9 the accounts have dealt mainly with the more Northern tribes (against Sisera), the central tribes (against Midian) or the tribes in Beyond Jordan (against Ammon), although Ammon had affected parts of Judah (Judges 10:9), and thus it is possible that some men from Judah served under Jephthah. But each on the whole faced their own enemies, and when the call to arms has come to the other tribes, only some have responded, often those in their particular (loose) grouping, or affected by the situation.

In this particular situation now in mind we are speaking at the most about Judah, Simeon and the remnants of Dan, all of whom were affected by the Philistines who were their neighbours. Dan were to the north of the Philistines, stretching eastward. Judah and Simeon were to the east and the south. And what is described here may well have been going on at the same time as the invasion of Gilead by the Amorites. Different parts of Israel were being affected by different enemies. The word ‘again’ does not necessarily mean after the Ammonite oppression, for that was pictured as going on at the same time (Judges 10:7). It simply means ‘again’ in comparison with all previous examples of the same. Indeed constant pressure from the Philistines helps to explain why Judah was so rarely able to participate in the call to the tribes.

“And Yahweh delivered them (mainly Judah and Dan) into the hands of the Philistines forty years.” The Philistines were not like any other opponents that the Israelite faced at that time. They were not local warriors, but had come across from Crete and the Grecian mainland, and were fierce and uncompromising fighters who were seeking to establish themselves in this new land, and form a military elite over the local inhabitants. Having taken their time establishing themselves in the coastal plain, they had made an abortive attempt on Egypt, but had suffered a retaliatory attack by Raamses III. Slowly recovering from this they were now beginning to expand their empire northwards and eastwards.

The Philistines were a part of the inflow of Sea Peoples from Crete and the Aegean, who had fairly recently invaded the coasts of Syria and Egypt. They wore head-dresses of feathers, and were armed with lances, round shields, long broadswords and triangular daggers. They gradually incorporated iron into their lifestyles and weaponry, something which they had learned from the Hittites and which gave them great superiority. Repelled from Egypt they became a ruling class over the native Canaanites, and at certain stages parts of Israel also submitted to them, especially Dan and those in the lowlands bordering the Coastal Plain. The Philistines quickly acquired Canaanite culture, religion and language, for their gods were Near Eastern, but some of their temples were certainly patterned on similar examples in the Aegean. They were a formidable foe.

The Philistines were a type of foe that Israel had never faced before since leaving Egypt. They were united under five ‘Tyrants’ (seren - used only of Philistine leaders) in their five principle cities, and, as a military ruling class, had to keep together a strong army and maintain firm unity and discipline, carefully watching over those who reluctantly lived and served under them. They maintained a monopoly on working iron, (learned from the Hittites), and were thus more powerfully armed than those around. They were a genuine occupying army, controlling the conquered almost literally with a rod of iron. In the days of Samson’s escapades the territory they controlled was the coastal plains and the surrounding lowlands, and the Danites and parts of Judah at least were crushed under their weight to such an extent that they offered little resistance (Judges 15:11). See 1 Samuel 14:19-21 for a partial indication of what conditions would have been like. They were in complete subservience. That was probably why a large number of Danites had left their inheritance and had settled in Laish (Judges 17-18).

The Philistine aristocracy were established in many towns, and were so hated that they had themselves constantly to be on guard, and as a result they would react violently to any attempt to undermine them. Because of this it was indeed difficult to see how they could be attacked in any way, for they held all in iron control under a kind of martial law, and reacted violently. Any disobedience would have been stamped on, and any reaction or retaliation severely dealt with. The country that they controlled was held in thrall. But God raised up a kind of one man army by the name of Samson, an Israelite aristocrat (a judge of Israel) who mingled with the Philistine aristocracy, probably welcomed by them because of his status and his phenomenal strength. And he developed his own way of attacking the Philistines, and did it in such a way that no repercussions were brought on his people. Indeed by the time of his death the Philistines had been severely weakened as a result of his activities.

Later after the battle of Aphek this control by the Philistines would extend further, although areas of resistance held out, and this continued until the mighty Samuel drove them back to the plains (1 Samuel 7). Later they returned again and gained iron control over a wide area (1 Samuel 14:19-21), causing great trouble to Saul, and building forts in the highlands, and this continued until they were finally subdued under David. They do not appear to have troubled the area Beyond Jordan, nor the farther tribes to the north.

“Delivered into the hands of the Philistines” indicated that at least Dan and parts of Judah had become tributary to them. ‘Forty years’ indicated a long period of domination, a whole generation and more, longer than any other of the previously mentioned trials. The Philistines would not be so easily dealt with now they were settled in. It should be noted that there was no cry to Yahweh for help from ‘Israel’. Those under Philistine control appear to have been fairly content with their lot, which suggests that the Philistines, while maintaining iron control, did not treat them too harshly. But God knew that left in these circumstances they might well lose their faith in Yahweh altogether and be assimilated into the surrounding peoples.

It should be further noted that Samson did not try to raise the tribes and rebel against the Philistines. They were too powerful for tribes whose faith was as weakened as that of Judah, Simeon and Dan, and the other tribes probably did not want to get involved. This was possibly a part reaction to past attitudes. Samson was instead a provocative one man band, and God used his propensities as tools against them (Judges 14:4), in order to weaken them until someone would arise with faith to defeat them (1 Samuel 7:10-11). We can indeed interpret his life as being that of a great buffoon whom God used in spite of himself, but careful examination rather suggests that he had considerable acumen and cleverly played with the Philistines like a fisherman will play with a fish. That is not to deny his weaknesses. But it does help to explain why God used him.


Verse 2

And there was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah, and his wife was barren, and did not bare.’

Zorah (modern Sar‘ah?) was a town in the lowlands of Judah (Joshua 15:33). It was on the north side of the valley of Sorek (called Zharka in the Amarna letters). Manoah belonged to those of the Danites who had not migrated to Laish (Judges 18:29). Note that it is ‘the clan of Danites’ not the tribe. The name ‘Manoah’ means ‘resting place, condition of rest’. It may be intended to indicate that his spirit was at rest even in the trying circumstances. But he shared one sadness with his wife. She had had no children, she was barren. When God wished to show His power He often chose a barren woman for the purpose (compare Sarah -Genesis 16:1; Rebekah - Genesis 25:21; Hannah - 1 Samuel 1:2; 1 Samuel 1:5; Elizabeth - Luke 1:7). This was to indicate that the resulting birth was God’s work and the child born was thus His in a special way. This was also true in this case.


Verse 3

And the Angel of Yahweh appeared to the woman, and said to her, “Behold now, you are barren, and are unproductive, but you will conceive, and bear a son.” ’

Once again, as with the needy people in Judges 2:1-5, and with Gideon (Judges 6:11), the Angel of Yahweh appeared when God’s people needed deliverance. In other words God Himself came to their assistance. This time His promise was of a special child who would be set apart as God’s, even from the womb (compare 1 Samuel 1:11). But the writer went out of his way to demonstrate that the woman was not aware Whom the Angel represented. As far as she was at first aware (until Judges 13:16) He could have been any divinity. Such was the parlous state of her religious beliefs and those of their countrymen.


Verse 4-5

‘Now therefore beware, I pray you, and drink no wine nor strong drink, and do not eat any unclean thing. For, lo, you will conceive and bear a son, and no razor shall come on his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he will begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.’

The child that was to be born would be dedicated to God from the womb. He was to be a permanent Nazirite. Thus his mother was to abstain from wine and strong drink, and be especially careful of unclean food. Nor was his hair to be cut. For he was to be God’s initial weapon in preparing to deal with the Philistine menace.

Temporary Nazirites (from nazar - those ‘set apart, consecrated’ because Yahweh’s, compare nazir which means ‘untrimmed’) are mentioned in Numbers 6, when men and women (Judges 13:2) who wished for a period to set themselves apart to God took a Nazirite vow. They were to abstain from wine and strong drink, and even from grapes or anything connected with the grape vine (Judges 13:3-4 compare Amos 2:11-12; Luke 1:15), were not to cut their hair but let it grow long (verse 5 compare 1 Samuel 1:11; Judges 5:2 literally), and were to avoid all contact with dead bodies, even of relatives who died (Judges 13:6-7), for they were to be continually ‘holy to Yahweh’. They were in many respects thus similar to the high priest when he went into the Holy Place (Leviticus 10:9; Leviticus 21:11; compare Ezekiel 44:21). They were especially ‘holy’, set apart to God alone.

But the length of their vow was limited and after that they were released from it. At which point their hair must be shaved off and burnt on the altar with suitable offerings (Numbers 6:18). The hair especially was the sign of their separation and holiness and was thus seen as holy to Yahweh. That was why once the vow was past it had to be shaved off and burnt in a holy place. Similar significance and practise with regard to long hair, as dedication to gods and seeking of divine assistance, is known elsewhere among Semites, and among primitive peoples from ancient times, a practise which was here taken up and refined.

Abstinence from the fruit of the vine was possibly to ensure that the Nazirite never lost their full faculties which might put them in danger of breaking their vows unwittingly. Full dedication can be marred by the influence of wine and strong drink, which can produce unseemly behaviour. This was one reason why ‘the Priest’ must not be under its influence in the Holy Place. But that it symbolised more comes out in that here Samson’s mother was to abstain from wine and strong drink and to abstain from eating any unclean thing. She too was under a vow, although possibly not a full Nazirite one. ‘Unclean thing’ possibly here refers to grapes and other products of the vine (Numbers 6:3), for all Israelites abstained from unclean foods. Or it may simply be to emphasise that to the Nazirite wine too was unclean. Either way the parallel shows that wine and strong drink were looked on as ‘unclean’, unworthy of God. It was an earthly pleasure not a heavenly activity.

The abstinence may symbolise a return to the purer wilderness life, away from ‘modern’ influences and the pleasures of the world, to a more dedicated manner of life. Compare how John the Baptiser was to refrain from wine and strong drink (Luke 1:15). But the fact that the mother was to abstain from them emphasises that there was certainly an aspect of ‘uncleanness’ to them. They were not God’s best and unsuitable for His presence. (In the New Testament ‘uncleanness’ from this point of view ceases. Nothing is unclean of itself. Thus wine can take on a new meaning).

We note that the only restraint specifically placed on Samson himself was that his hair should remain permanently long and uncut. This was to be the sign of his consecration to God. But the other requirements for a Nazirite vow would be assumed to apply equally, as witness the requirement of his mother similarly to abstain from wine and strong drink (as also was hinted at in Samuel’s mother - 1 Samuel 1:15). It was simply assumed that they would apply to a Nazirite.

Lifelong separation from touching dead things was not said to be required, possibly because recognised as not feasible (provision was made for short term Nazirites in that they could begin their dedication again and fulfil the whole term of their vow. This was not possible with a lifelong Nazirite). On the other hand it may again have been assumed. All knew that a Nazirite had to avoid wine and strong drink and contact with the dead. But the essential aspect of Naziriteship was found in the hair. It symbolised a man untouched by human activity. He was God’s man. We can compare how the grapes of untrimmed (nazir) vines in the sabbatical year were not to be eaten (Leviticus 25:5). They too were God’s handywork.

It should be noted that only Samson was called a Nazirite. Neither Samuel nor John the Baptiser were given the title, even though there were similarities. However the growing of the hair unshaven was clearly essential to being a Nazirite and as Samuel too was to be like that it would seem that his mother intended a Nazirite vow in respect of him (1 Samuel 1:11).

“And he will begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.” This was the reason for his dedication. He was to be an instrument of Yahweh in beginning to deliver Israel from the Philistines, and it would require the whole of his life to achieve it. But in this word ‘begin’ was intrinsic the fact that final deliverance would take longer than the life of Samson. The Philistines were to be a continual test for Israel as to whether they would obey Yahweh and turn to Him, especially when they saw Samson’s deliverances (Judges 3:4).


Verse 6

Judges 13:6 a

‘Then the woman came and told her husband, saying, “A man of God came to me and his countenance was like the countenance of an angel of God, very terrible.” ’

The visitor was in human form but his appearance was ‘very terrible’ (awesome). The woman was filled with awe at her experience. This is why to the wife the messenger is ‘the angel of God’. (Possibly here we should translate this as ‘a divine messenger’ as indicating awesomeness and mystery). He had not told her His name, thus He was to her an unidentifiable divine being. On His second appearance to her He thus came as ‘the messenger (angel) of God’ (not Yahweh) (Judges 13:9), the latter referring back to her previous usage and experience, even though He had first come to her (but not with her realising it) as the angel of Yahweh (Judges 13:3). Her concentration was on the ‘otherness’ (that which is beyond human experience and comprehension) of the visitant. To her He was an unknown divine visitant (see Judges 13:22).

Judges 13:6 b

“But I did not ask from where he came, nor did he tell me his name.”

This is her confession of her own failure. She had been so awestruck that she had not asked where He came from. She had been silent before Him and He had not revealed His own identity, He had not revealed His name. To reveal the name would have been as a bond between the two, as it would mean that the angel revealed something of His inner qualities and being. But this had not happened, and thus there was no personal bonding. It is intended to be a condemnation on her, and a sign of her religious syncretism, that she was not aware that He was the Angel of Yahweh.


Verse 7

But he said to me, ‘Behold, you will conceive and bear a son, and now drink no wine nor strong drink, neither eat any unclean thing, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death.’ ”

All she could do was repeat the message given to her, that she must herself refrain from wine and strong drink, and was to bear a child who was to be a lifelong Nazirite. That Samson failed in this stressed the greatness of his sin, for which he paid heavily. But God in His mercy ensured that his hair grew again and partially renewed his Naziriteship on the day of his death.


Verse 8

Then Manoah entreated Yahweh, and said, “Oh my Lord, I pray you, let the man of God whom you sent come again to us and teach us what we shall do to the child who will be born.” ’

Manoah stands out here as the firm believer in Yahweh. He recognised Who it was Who had revealed Himself, and so he prayed to ‘Yahweh’. He was clearly not convinced by his wife’s message as to what should be done and prayed for clarification and confirmation. She had been too vague. The whole circumstance was unusual.


Verse 9

And God heard the voice of Manoah, and the angel of God came again to the woman as she sat in the field, and Manoah her husband was not with her.’

Again we have the stress that to the woman He was ‘God’. She had yet to appreciate the full truth. ‘As she sat in the field (the countryside).’ She may have been watching the sheep. He wanted her to know that His dealings were in fact with her, for she would be mother to the one who was to be born and was herself to come under a solemn vow.


Verse 10

And the woman hurried , and ran, and told her husband, and said to him, “Behold, the man has appeared to me who came to me that day.” ’

Immediately she ran back home to find her husband to tell him that the Man whom she had previously described to him had returned.


Verse 11

And Manoah rose up and went after his wife, and came to the man, and said to him, “Are you the man who spoke to the woman?” And he said, “I am.” ’

When Manoah approached the man he asked him whether he was the man who had spoken to his wife. By this, of course, Manoah meant the Man who had given his wife the divine message that she had received. He wanted to know that this was the direct answer to his prayer to Yahweh. But he was not yet aware that this was the Angel of Yahweh Himself. The angel replied positively.


Verse 12

And Manoah said, “Now let your words come about. What will be the ordering of this child, and what will be his work?” ’

Manoah submitted humbly to Yahweh’s will and sought further guidance on the bringing up of the child. How were they to bring him up? What was his future work to be?

“The ordering”. The word is mishpat usually meaning ‘judgment’. It may here mean ‘what is to be his mode of life’ or ‘how should we bring him up’.


Verse 13-14

And the angel of Yahweh said to Manoah, “Of all that I said to the woman, let her beware. She may not eat of anything that comes from the vine, nor let her drink wine, or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing. All that I commanded her, let her observe. ” ’

The Angel of Yahweh renewed His instructions. She was to be under a vow and to abstain from wine and strong drink and unclean foods. This latter stress may be an indication that many Israelites had now begun to ignore the dietary requirements of the Law for it is additional to ‘anything that comes from the vine’. Ungodly practises produced ungodly eating.

There is unquestionably an indication here that the total separation to Yahweh of her baby required that she avoid all ‘uncleanness’ that could affect the baby. And yet the same prohibition against wine and strong drink was not specifically enjoined on Samson. It may well, however, have been assumed on the basis of Nazirite requirements. It was part of what was involved in being a Nazirite. It is one of the astonishing aspects of the life of Samson that while he did not fully fulfil the vow under which he was born, he yet experienced the power of God in his judgeship. It is probable, however, that we are to recognise that in his failure he constantly returned for forgiveness. And in the end he had sexual drives and cravings that he just could not fully overcome. The life of Samuel illustrates what he could have become if only he had been more obedient.

We note here that when dealing with Manoah (and when introduced to the reader in Judges 13:3) the angel is the angel of Yahweh, whilst when dealing with the woman he was the angel of God (elohim). This probably reflects her lack of recognition of who the angel strictly was, or it may indicate a less sure response to the covenant (women did not get involved in covenant affairs and she sees Him as the angel of Elohim, whilst Manoah immediately recognises that Yahweh is involved - Judges 13:8), or even her womanhood.


Verse 15

And Manoah said to the Angel of Yahweh, “I pray you, let me detain you, in order that we may make ready a kid for you.” ’

Aware that his visitor, who appeared to be a man of God, was from Yahweh, although not yet aware of precisely Who He was, Manoah sought to extend hospitality to him. This was a natural reaction in those days when travellers were dependent on hospitality for provision. Manoah desired to honour Him fully. Compare Gideon (Judges 6:18).


Verse 16

And the Angel of Yahweh said to Manoah, “Though you detain me, I will not eat of your bread, and if you will make ready a burnt offering, you must offer it to Yahweh.” For Manoah did not know that he was the Angel of Yahweh.’

The Angel replied that He would not eat food even if it were brought. This would often be a sign of hostility, but in this case should rather have suggested to Manoah the urgency of his errand and that he had come from an untainted place (compare 1 Kings 13:8-9; 1 Kings 13:16-17). He then suggested that instead he should prepare a burnt offering for Yahweh, as a sign of worship, dedication and obedience. His gratitude was due to Yahweh. We can compare with this where Gideon prepared a meal but it became a burnt offering (Judges 6:20-21).

“Manoah did not know that he was the Angel of Yahweh.” From Judges 13:8 we know that Manoah thought that the visitor was a ‘man of God’, a prophet, and he still held that view. Thus the offer of the meal. His wife may still not have been sure Who the visitor was, or even what God He represented. Thus the Angel’s reply clarified the situation for the wife, and directed Manoah as to where his main responsibility lay. Honour was not to be paid to the messenger but to God Himself.


Verse 17

And Manoah said to the Angel of Yahweh, “What is your name, so that when what you have said happens we may honour you?”

Manoah still desired to pay due respect to the messenger. He wanted to be able to give due credit to the prophet once his prophecy came to fulfilment, or even send him some present to express his gratitude. They had been longing for a son for so long (compare 1 Timothy 5:17 where ‘honour’ referred to a gift). So he asked his name.


Verse 18

And the Angel of Yahweh said to him, “Why do you ask after my name, seeing it is Wonderful?” ’

This may mean that His name was ‘beyond knowing’, because He was beyond knowing in His essence, absolutely and supremely wonderful, or it may mean that it was a secret not revealed to men because it was too high for them, or it may be indicating what he was, ‘Wonderful’, precious and important beyond measure. Compare the name given to the coming Messianic king in Isaiah 9:6.

Both Jacob (Genesis 32:27) and Moses (Exodus 3:13) had earlier sought to know God’s name. Like Manoah Jacob was asked why he wanted to know it. To Moses was revealed the full significance of the name Yahweh, that He was what He would be. But both through it had life-changing experiences. It is doubtful that any of them sought His name to give them power over Him (although in pagan circles that was often the purpose of finding a god’s name), rather it was that they may duly honour Him. Manoah certainly did not have the former in mind. He thought he was speaking to a prophet. But the words would undoubtedly stir questions in his mind.


Verse 19

So Manoah took the kid with the meal offering, and offered it on the rock to Yahweh, and the angel did wondrously and Manoah and his wife looked on.’

Manoah offered the kid and the meal offering on the rock to Yahweh at the direct command of the Angel of Yahweh. Compare and contrast Judges 6:20-21 where Gideon did not offer the sacrifice but stood by and watched the Angel do it. Here Manoah himself offered the burnt offering. There was no altar which suggests it was not his regular custom. It is possible that he was a priest, for although ‘related’ to the family of the Danites (Judges 13:2) he may have been a priest from a priestly family living among them and adopted by the tribe, a Danite Levite. Alternately under the Angel’s instruction he may have been a priest for the day. Either way this was a unique offering in a place where Yahweh had revealed Himself, offered under His direct instruction. It was not a pattern for others.

“And the angel did wonderfully.” His name was wonderful (Judges 13:18) and He behaved wonderfully. He performed a mighty wonder in front of them, inspiring awe and worship. The writer stresses that Manoah and his wife were witnesses to it. These are not just tales. The writer wants us to know that they did happen in front of reliable witnesses.


Verse 20

For so it was that when the flame went up towards heaven from off the altar, the Angel of Yahweh ascended in the flame of the altar, and Manoah and his wife looked on, and they fell on their faces to the ground.’

Notice the stress again on the dual witness. This incident was seen as so remarkable that such an emphasis was necessary. For as the fire burned, consuming the burnt offering, the Angel of Yahweh seemed to merge with the sacrificial flames and ascended upwards, disappearing from sight. He had returned to Yahweh to whom the offering was offered. Such was the mystery of it that both man and wife fell on their faces to the ground in awe and wonder.


Verse 21

Judges 13:21 a.

‘And the angel of Yahweh did not appear any more to Manoah or to his wife.’

Once the Angel had ascended in the flames He appeared no more. His visitation was over.

Judges 13:21 b

‘Then Manoah knew that he was the Angel of Yahweh.’

When Manoah saw the Angel of Yahweh disappear in the sacrificial flames he knew Whom He was, and that they had been face to face with God..


Verse 22

And Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, because we have seen God.” ’

Manoah was terrified when he realised what they had seen. It was a common perception among the Israelites that to see God face to face was to die. No man could see God and live (Genesis 32:30; Exodus 33:20; Isaiah 6:5; John 1:18). And they were right in fact, for as God told Moses in Exodus 33 none could see the fullness of what He was and live. The awesomeness of His fully revealed presence would be more than the human frame could stand. But as here, His revelation of Himself was always partly veiled, and thus men survived the experience.


Verse 23

But his wife said to him, “If Yahweh was pleased to kill us, he would not have received a burnt offering and a meal offering at our hand, nor would he have shown us all these things, nor would he, at this time, have told us such things as these.” ’

His wife, happy in the knowledge that she was to bear a son, was wiser. She pointed out that if Yahweh had intended to kill them He would not have sought or accepted their burnt offering, nor would He have revealed such wonderful things to them, nor would He have promised them a son. All this only served to demonstrate that He intended good towards them.


Verse 24

And the woman bore a son, and called his name Samson (Shimshon), and the child grew, and Yahweh blessed him.’

Eventually the son was born as Yahweh had promised, and they gave him the name Shimshon. Similar names have been discovered in Ugaritic texts of 15th and 14th centuries BC. It was probably a common name in Canaan. The name is based on shemesh, ‘the sun’. It is a diminutive (the -on ending). It may be that it was given to him partly because they lived near Beth-shemesh (the house of Shemesh).

But more emphatically they saw him as the sun rising on Israel, remembering the words of the song of Deborah, ‘let those who love Him be as the sun when it goes forth in its might’ (Judges 5:31). For he was dedicated to Yahweh and through him Yahweh had promised some measure of deliverance to Israel from their dreaded enemy. There may also have been some memory of ‘the face of the Angel of Yahweh, very terrible’ (Judges 13:6), probably revealing something of the glory of God (compare Exodus 34:29-30).

“And the child grew, and Yahweh blessed him.” Samson grew up under his godly father and mother, for we can have little doubt that the visitation had changed their whole lives. They knew now that they were an essential part of the covenant of Yahweh through which He intended good towards His people. And as he grew they taught him in the way of Yahweh, and Yahweh blessed him, especially in giving him a strong body which, especially when inspired by His Spirit, was able to accomplish mighty things.

The birth of Samson is the only birth of a Judge detailed in Judges (but compare Samuel in 1 Samuel 1 who achieved what Samson failed to do). His life began with such promise. Such a great future awaited him. But towards the end at least he became slack in his vow and much of it was frittered away on casual living. It was the grace of God that used his exploits, for they no doubt greatly encouraged his fellow-Israelites who were in no state to fight, and through him He continually weakened the Philistines, preventing them encroaching too far into the hill country, and finally dealing them a devastating blow which kept them from becoming too powerful.

A comparison between Jephthah and Samson is significant. The former was a bastard son of a prostitute, rejected and cast out by his family and countrymen, but disciplining his life, shaping his own future (although we cannot doubt that God had a hand in it), and rising to become a great deliverer and dedicated man of God, who gave his own daughter fully to the service of God and died respected and honoured.

The latter forecast by the Angel of Yahweh, wonderfully born, brought up in a godly home, provided with a good background, given a strength beyond that of normal men, but finally led astray by a woman, and succumbing to her wiles. Yet eventually he would come good in his death, the death of one who was pitifully blind, in the face of much mockery, but triumphant in the end through the grace of God. If only he had had Jephthah’s faith and strength of purpose, what a man he might have been.

This reminds us that God uses all types of people from all kinds of backgrounds. Jephthah provides hope to all who come from unpromising beginnings. But the message of Samson comes home especially to those who find themselves weak, and failing again and again, those who struggle with their sexual desires and almost despair. It gives them hope that the God Who used a Samson, can also use them if only they repent when they have sinned, and constantly return to Him. He is the God of the weak as well as the strong (and Samson was possibly basically weak). Not all are of the stuff of giants.

In contrast again, Samuel had the same beginning as Samson, but he was fully faithful to Yahweh and grew to be the deliverer of Israel and founder of its future.

So we must ask, why was Samson’s life recorded in such detail? It was because it spoke to men in their weakness when they were almost despairing. It was because he was a light in the darkness. They remembered Samson and it gave them hope. It was because his exploits against their enemies encouraged them, and tales about his exploits were spread ‘in the places of drawing water’ and by wandering storytellers to a people feeling burdened and deprived, a subject people, who dared not themselves take on the Philistines but rejoiced in one who did. They liked constantly to remember him. In its own unique way his life spoke to their hearts, and it made them think of Yahweh and return in their hearts to Him. It helped them to continue to have hope in the midst of darkness.

Finally to put his life in context. ‘Israel was delivered into the hands of the Philistines for forty years’ (Judges 13:1). We may consider that it is quite possible that this period was seen as ending when Samuel defeated the mighty Philistine forces at Mizpah (1 Samuel 7). This might suggest that Samson and Samuel were to some extent contemporary. Thus Samson’s activities may well have been enough to prevent total Philistine control sufficiently to allow Samuel to grow and become established, for Samson operated in the border areas, in the plains and the lower hills of Dan/Judah, while Samuel operated from Shiloh.


Verse 25

‘And the Spirit of Yahweh began to move him in Mahaneh-dan (‘the camp of Dan’), between Zorah and Eshtaol.’ The place was called ‘the camp of Dan’ because it was there that the Danites who had previously moved to Laish encamped at the commencement of their journey (Judges 18:12). It was close to Kiriath-jearim (city of forests) on the Judah/Benjaminite border.

“The Spirit of Yahweh began to move (disquiet) him.” Compare Judges 14:4. Perhaps the memory of the great trek of his ancestors stirred his spirit. As a result of the work of the Spirit within he became disquieted and dissatisfied, and the surprising result was that he sought a Philistine wife. But it may well be that this move was a part of his personal campaign against the Philistines, for in order to attack them without bringing their wrath on Israel he knew that he would have to become familiar with them and find personal reasons for attacking them.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Judges 13:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/judges-13.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, November 11th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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