This chapter opens, once again, with the Israelites doing evil “in the sight of the Lord.” And this renewed declension resulted in the longest period of oppression yet – 40 years of subjugation under the powerful and tyrannical Philistines, lasting from 1141-1101 BC. (The Judgeships of Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon overlapped the first 20 years of this period.) The Philistines were a far more powerful enemy than any with whom God’s people had yet contended. Strong in weapons and in wealth, these tyrants carried on a system of intrusions which kept the Israelites in a state of perpetual disquietude, destroyed the security of the roads, put an end to trade and business dealings, and enriched the invaders with plunder. But meanwhile, a deliverer for Israel was being raised up in seclusion – right on the very border of the oppressors’ land! This deliverer was destined to “begin” the long struggle for freedom from the Philistine yoke (verse 5). And the Scriptures tell us more about the personal life of this hero of the Danites than it does about any of the other Judges of Israel.
The circumstances surrounding the birth of Samson are described with great minuteness. Of his parents, Manoah and his wife, hardly anything is known. We read that “the angel of the Lord” – the pre-incarnate Christ, Who appeared to Gideon at Ophrah – manifested Himself to the childless wife of this pious Danite, announcing that she would bear a son! The prediction was accompanied with a command that he should be separated to God from his birth as a Nazarite – meaning that he was to drink no wine nor strong drink, nor eat anything that was ceremonially unclean, nor allow a razor to come upon his head. And the command was accompanied with a promise which was very inspiring during that time of servitude and suffering: “He shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hands of the Philistines.”
Manoah’s wife told him of the appearance and the words of this Messenger; and in the spirit of humble faith, he seems to have immediately perceived the communication as being from God. And in the simplicity and faith of his heart, he entreated the Lord that “the man of God” might be sent again to them, with further commands. He desired to know the will of the Lord more perfectly, and to participate in the grace with which his wife had been honored. Godly parents must beg the Lord for His wisdom and teaching, as Manoah did; for there much care is needed for the proper instruction of both ourselves and our children, so that we may be truly separate from the world.
Manoah’s prayer was answered. “The angel of God came again unto the woman as she sat in the field,” and He waited for her to bring her husband. No new directions were given to the couple; but like Gideon, Manoah begged the Visitor to remain until he had offered Him the hospitality of a meal – not realizing that He was anything other than an ordinary prophet. In his simplicity, he asked Him the direct question, “What is thy name, that when thy sayings come to pass we may do thee honour?” It was at this point that the eyes of the believing Danite began to perceive the real character of his mysterious Guest. To this inquiry, He replied, “Why askest thou thus after my name, seeing it is secret?” This word for “secret” may also be translated as “wonderful” – the Hebrew word being nearly identical with that word which was employed by Isaiah (9:6), when speaking of Jesus, saying, “His name shall be called Wonderful!”
The goat which Manoah had hastily fetched, with a grain-offering, was laid upon a rock which served for an altar; and thus it was presented in sacrifice to the Lord. And in the flame of the burnt-offering, the mysterious Visitor vanished – having first brought fire out of the rock to consume the offering, and then ascending and vanishing in the flame! This picture is an illustration of prayer, which is the ascent of the soul to God. Without Christ in our hearts by faith, our prayers are offensive smoke; and yet in Him, they are an acceptable flame. Christ – by His sacrifice of Himself – ascended in the flame of His own offering; for by His own blood, He entered once into the holy place (Heb. 9:12).
The man and his wife were overpowered by this wondrous sight and fell on their faces. Like Gideon, Manoah supposed that he could no longer remain in this world after seeing such a sight. But he certainly had “a help meet for him!” And in this instance, the woman was wiser and more believing than the man. Hear her reasoning in her reply to her alarmed husband: “If the Lord were pleased to kill us, he would not have received a burnt-offering and a meat-offering at our hands, neither would he have showed us all these things!” The reflections of Manoah’s wife showed great faith. And all believers may take encouragement from her words in a cloudy, dark day! God would not have done what He has done for our souls, if He had intended to forsake us and leave us to perish; for His work is perfect, and He will bring His works to perfection (Ps. 138:8; Phil. 1:6). If God intended for us to perish under His wrath, He would not give us such tokens of His favor in His Son!
When the child of promise was born, he was given the name Samson (meaning “sunny”). He was born around 1140 BC, shortly after the Philistines began to exercise their dominion over Israel, which would last for a total of 40 years. The blessing of Jehovah which rested upon his childhood was both a result and a reward of the care with which his parents instructed him in the law of the Lord, and in the special nature of that vow by which he had been separated for life as a witness for the Covenant-God of Israel.
Lord, thank You for sending Jesus to be our Ultimate Deliverer – unlike Samson, who only “began” to break the yoke of bondage. Amen.
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