Gleanings from Judges [14]

judges13

The Birth of Samson [Judges 13]

Continuing in our study in the book of Judges, I come to the life of Samson. He is probably the most memorable of all the judges because of his feats of strength. In fact, it is his truly remarkable — or better, miraculous — judgeship of Samson that causes theological liberals to deny the historicity of these stories. They claim they are exaggerated hero stories because no man could single-handily destroy the Philistine army or carry the city gates of Gaza some 20 miles into the territory of Israel.

Samson was unique because he was anointed of God for a purpose: to stir up the Philistines so God could use Israel to destroy them. In children’s picture books and other Christian pop cultural references and artwork, Samson is shown as a brawny, muscular man who rivals a Gold’s gym user. The book of Judges tells us his strength came from the Spirit of God coming upon him, which makes me wonder if he was a small, averaged sized man that no one would ever think was physically strong.

Samson is also something of a mixed bag morally. Though he is called of the Lord and and anointed by the Spirit to do remarkable, supernatural feats of strength, he had a severe weakness for women, especially Philistine women. It is his lust for strange women that is what becomes his undoing and brings him to a sad end to his life.

But before we even get to those issues in his life, we need to consider his remarkable birth beginning in Chapter 13.

The Setting

Chapter 13 opens by reminding us of the situation in Israel. The people had done evil and God had given them over to a foreign oppressor, the Philistines. I pointed out when discussing Jephthah that it was an unusually wicked time in Israel’s history. According to 10:6ff., there was rampant apostasy on a wide-scale. God, 10:7 says, hands them over to two oppressors who troubled them simultaneously: The Ammonites on the eastern side of the Jordan, who Jephthah dealt with, and the Philistines on the western side, who Samson dealt with.

The Philistines were mentioned briefly before in chapter 3 of Judges when Samgar, quite possibly a non-Jewish judge, defeated 600 of them with an ox goad, 3:31. His defeat of them was merely a temporary fix. The Philistines are shrouded in mystery. It is believed they were sea people who came from the Aegean area around Greece. Some come by sea via Crete and Cyprus, known in the OT as Kittim. Others crossed the land, down from the north, displacing the Hittite empire. Their goal may had been to overrun  Egypt, the then major superpower in the region.

Around 1190 B.C., Ramses III defeated the Philistines in battle and then hired many of the defeated troops as mercenaries, putting them at the coastal towns of Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ashdod, three of the five major Philistine cities. If Israel had been faithful, they would have rooted them out like the other nations, but their apostasy brought Israel under their oppression.

Announcing a Deliverer

One interesting side-note to Samson’s story is the absence of the people crying out and repenting like those in Jephthah’s story. If Samson so readily fraternizes with them, the women particularly, as we shall see, one is left wondering if Israel genuinely wished to be delivered.

– Choosing the Parents – As we shall see, it is YHWH who provokes the Philistines (Judges 14:4, “God is seeking an occasion against the Philistines”). But before we get to Samson, we see God announcing his birth and special calling to his parents, especially his mother, an unnamed woman. His father was a man named Manoah, a name that plays of Noah and means, “resting place.” He was a “certain man” from Zonah located in the region where the Danites lived before they moved north. The people of Zonah may be from a smaller group of Danites who did not leave.

– Choosing a barren woman – Even though Manoah’s wife is not named, she was barren and had no children. Children are a mark of God’s blessing and sons, particularly, moved along the family name. If one does not have children, it was commonly believed the person or family had offended God and they were all cursed.

– Choosing the child – The Angel of the Lord (a Christophaney) appeared to Manoah’s barren wife. This one occasion was a special blessing if one thinks about it. He tells her He knows she is barren, which indicates that God knows our trials. He goes on to tell that she will conceive and have a son.

He is consecrated before the Lord before he is even conceived. His mother is also consecrated. He was placed under a Nazorite vow, a voluntary vow that was done by a person as an act of dedication to God for a period of time. The difference with Samson’s Nazorite vow was that it wasn’t voluntary, but divinely appointed. Even his mother is to take it until he is born. The vow takes effect the moment of Samson’s conception, and it is not temporary for him, but remains with him all his life.

– Fulfillment of the promise – After Manoah’s wife told him about her visitation from the Angel of the Lord, he goes to seek Him out. He then reappears to his wife and she goes to find her husband to bring him to the Angel. In a scene similar to what happened with Gideon in Judges 6, Manoah offers a meal, but offers it as a burnt offering. The Angel of the Lord says that His name is wonderful, a Messianic title of divinity like in Isaiah 9:6. They immediately recognize that he is divinity, God in the flesh (13:21-22)

True to His word, Manoah’s wife bears a son, Samson.

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