Judges chapter 13
The core issue in culture is always religion. This is because ultimately what makes any culture what it is are value judgments. Values have to do with absolutes; absolutes always derive from some sort of religious framework. So the core issue in any culture or any subculture always relates to religious beliefs—beliefs about God, beliefs about man, what man is like, what man's problems are—and every culture is always a mixture of a certain amount of false thinking, which we identify as non-biblical thinking, human viewpoint, or paganism by its technical definition. It is always a certain amount of paganism and a certain amount of Christianity. There is always a large body of people who aren't believers and there are always believers who aren't operating oin the truth, and there is always a web of ideas—also called the cosmic system—influencing people within any culture. So every culture and everybody in a culture or subculture, whether it is Asian, African, western European, or whatever, needs to have the courage to be self-corrective. There is no culture that is autonomous. What has made much of western European what it was historically was the influence of Christianity. If you took the Judeo-Christian influence out of western civilization there would be no difference in western Europe today from that which you find in Asia, India, Africa, or any other raw pagan environment. What made western Europe what it was in all of its good points was the influence of Christianity. But there are always those who seek to destroy a civilization.
There are self-appointed intellectual elites in our culture that have been working for at least the past thirty or forty years as a sort of self-appointed vanguard to try to restructure American thinking. Usually this is dominated by people on the liberal left. It is often the situation that most people don't understand what is going on and they don't realize the power bases that these people have accumulated at the university level, as well as politically and in the media. One way in which they have affected us is a subject which is addressed in this chapter in Judges in a somewhat subtle, yet nevertheless important way, and that is the way we view ourselves as male and female, the way we view ourselves in the role as men and women in society. And what we see here in the interplay between Samson's father and Samson's mother is a reflection of the fact that under paganism there is always a destruction of the role relationship as defined by God, and the result is that there is always a breakdown in the family and in the marriage. As a result of that ultimately society crumbles because any culture is based and built upon the correct use and correct view of the divine institutions of marriage and family and when that falls apart then ultimately the culture, the society itself falls apart. One of the things that has happened in recent years as a result of the radical feminist movement, which is quite different from the suffragette movement that originated in the 19th century, is that there has been a very successful attempt at redefining the male-female role as not complementary, which is what the Bible defines and where the male and female have distinct roles—they are not better than one another but are to complement each other, they are to work together. The feminist movement has redefined male-female roles as competition, so that women are in competition with men.
What has happened with the Philistines is something that we don't find before, and that is, rather than fighting them off as we have seen before with the Midianites, the Moabites, the Ammonites, the Canaanites who were continuously oppressing Israel and the Jews fought back. Then there was resistance, even though they were defeated, even though they were under the hand of the oppressor, but now we find that rather than resistance there was compromise and assimilation. There is no sense on the part of Israel of fighting off the influence of this pagan culture. We have to remember that the problem Israel faced was the same problem we face in our culture today, and that is relativism, the idea that there are no absolute values and everything is relative—you worship your god, I'll worship my gods, and everything is just fine because after all there is no objective reality, these gods exist simply as part of our own creation, part of our imagination, and if we simply manipulate or placate the gods and give them what they want then the gods will do what we want them to do. You find this is all systems of paganism, the idea of manipulating God to get what you want. It is impacting Christianity today, you always find these pagan ideas present and reflected in the church. For the past forty years, coming out of what was a fringe element of the Pentecostal movement there was the development of the health and wealth gospel, the so-called prosperity gospel, that came out of a mind-science cult going back to the mid-nineteenth century. It is the pagan idea that if we give God money God will give us ten-fold back.
We find the same kind of thinking affects us when we live in a pagan society, that we can somehow manipulate God, that there is some magic pill, some secret formula that if I can just latch on to that that God then will bless me. This was typical even in the paganism of the days of the judges. They called it the fertility religion, i.e. that somehow if they impressed God with the sexual activities with the temple prostitutes then God in turn would make their land fertile. So they are involved in all of the fertility religions and it is a breakdown of values, a breakdown of absolutes, and God is going to send a deliverer who is going to be really a bull in a china shop who is going to go in there just to create havoc and to create a war basically, because the Jews just want to passively assimilate to the Philistines and no longer maintain their distinction. What God is going to have to do is shake everybody up and create some sort of antagonism between the Jews and the Philistines so that they will wake up to the reality of their own heritage. Before God can deliver them though they have to get to the point where they want deliverance, where they are willing to admit their sin and confess their sin. The same is true for an individual. A nation and an individual cannot return to God and confess without some concept of absolutes. If you are operating on a concept of pure relativism then what is sin? Sin is just the violation of some human standard and sin has nothing to do with any absolutes so why worry about confessing sin? And so we end up having its mirror image in the church we where we have those that teach you don't have to confess your sins, Jesus paid the price for them and it doesn't really matter what you do anymore. People and individuals cannot return to God without absolutes in the soul, and absolutes can only come from one source, and that is Bible doctrine. That is what is going to happen. There is going to be a return to doctrine but it doesn't occur until the second half of this story which comes in the person of Samuel.
Samuel's life overlaps Samson's. They are living at approximately the same time. Samuel is just a few years younger than Samson. Samson is the negative side. He is the one who follows in his own lusts and never does God's plan God's way, he does it his way and all he does is stir up trouble. But it is Samuel who comes along as the last of the judges and who goes around the country from the north to the south, teaching Bible classes day in and day out, and trains men for the ministry, and creates a training centre at the temple in Shiloh called the school of the prophets where they were taught doctrine. These men went out as itinerate preachers throughout Israel and taught the Word. As a result of the teaching of the Word—not gimmicks, not songs, and not emotional campaigns—the people turned back to God. They confessed their sin and then God affects the deliverance at the battle of Mizpah, and then eventually as a result of doctrine they come to the high watermark of the Jewish kingdom which is the kingdom of David. But it started with the doctrinal teaching of Samuel. It was not Samson. The lesson we learn from all of this is that ultimately it is doctrine that divides people. Doctrine will always create divisions. When you teach the truth there are always going to be those who react. Some are just going to ignore passively; others are going to react with extreme hostility, anger and resentment. This is because anybody who is living life the way they want to be the captain of their soul and any time you teach that there are absolutes and you are not the captain of your soul , that there somebody else in charge, you can't do it your way no matter what you think, there is reaction in anger. That is part of what happens in the breakdown of values in a relativistic culture. We live in a culture of raw relativism where everybody thinks that there are no absolutes so they can do everything just as they want to. When they can't get what they want, what is the reaction? Anger, rage, hatred. What causes this rage and anger in society? Because we are not getting our way! Because there really is a God out there who is in control; we are not in control. We can't manipulate that God.
There are one or two things to note about Samson and his birth which make this a unique situation
1) The story of Samson is much more biographical than any of the other deliverers. We know more about him personally than we do anybody else.
2) Samson's birth is told in detail. We know nothing about the birth of other judges. Samson's birth is told in detail and he has a miraculous birth. Just as Israel is barren his mother is barren; just as God is going to bring life from the spiritual barrenness of Israel, God is going to bring life in the physical barrenness of his mother's womb. The symbolism that is present here is incredible. There is no doubt that Hebrew poetry is full of symbolism. By symbolism is not to say that there is no literal reality but what happens in Hebrew poetry and Hebrew narrative under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit is that the writer chooses historical events and emphasizes certain things in the telling of the story and those events also have a second level of meaning. The author is using these events to emphasize certain other things are brought to mind: the idea that the barrenness of the mother reminds us of the barrenness of Israel, and just as God brings life where there is death He is going to begin to bring life to Israel and restore and deliver Israel in the midst of their spiritually barren situation.
3) We are told about Samson's death. We are not told the details of other judges' death.
4) Samson does not complete the deliverance. The others all completed the deliverance and then the land had rest. But there is no complete deliverance and no rest for the land when Samson dies.
5) Samson operates alone. All the other judges called up armies and went into battle. With Samson it was just one man stirring up trouble amongst the Philistines.
6) Samson never seems to be concerned about his relationship with God. As we go back and observe what happens from Othniel to Ehud to Deborah to Gideon to Jephthah, each time there is less and less of an emphasis on God. God is hardly ever mentioned in the Samson narrative, except to show that God is working behind the scenes and that He hasn't given up despite Samson's negative volition.
7) Much, much more attention is given to Samson's personal life than any other judge. Key events in Samson's life and personality are highlighted by the author of Judges in order to draw out a parallel with what is going on as a nation. Samson represents the nation.
Nine points we need to pay attention to or we will miss the spiritual lesson of the passage
1) Both Samson and Israel are chosen by God to perform a mission of deliverance apart from their own volition. God chooses Samson, imposes a Nazirite vow on him, before he is ever born. Israel is called as Abram, but the nation isn't born until they go to Egypt and then come out oin the Exodus, but they are called by Abraham for a mission that they are going to be the means by which God is going to bless the entire world. Israel is going to be the light to the Gentiles. It is through Samson that God is going to bless and deliver the nation.
2) Both Samson and Israel are born miraculously. Israel is born miraculously at the Exodus through all of the ten plagues and then the departure and the parting of the Red Sea. Samson is born miraculously because his mother is barren and yet God brings life into that womb.
3) Both Samson and Israel are born in the midst of a pagan environment and called to a life of separation and devotion to God.
4) Both Samson and Israel succumb to the lure of the pagan environment. Samson is drawn to foreign women. He never saw a woman he didn't lust after. Israel is drawn to foreign gods, called in Scripture spiritual adultery and playing the harlot.
5) Both Samson and Israel seek peaceful co-existence with the pagan environment around them.
6) Neither Samson nor Israel seem overly concerned with God. They are not operating on positive volition, they don't have a tremendous spiritual inclination. Samson is physically blind at the end and that is a picture for us of Israel's spiritual blindness.
7) Both Samson and Israel want to manipulate God to their own ends and purposes. At the end Samson says, "God, if you'll just give me my strength back I'll attack the Philistines." What he really wanted was vengeance.
8) Both Samson and Israel are protected by God despite their disobedience. This gets to the heart of the whole issue. This shows the emphasis on free will and the way that God's sovereignty overrides the negative volition of man. God is still going to accomplish His purposes of blessing all the nations even when Israel just wants to play the harlot with all the idols and false religions of the cultures around her.
9) The plan of God is not creaturely dependent. None of us are so vital and so important that the plan of God hinges on our obedience or disobedience. God is going to accomplish His will and plan in human history despite our negative volition. The issue then is, are we going to be obedient and enjoy blessings of God in the midst of the outworking of His plan or are we going to be disobedient and just get a lot of suffering and heartache and misery? God is still going to accomplish His plan. The issue is whether we are going to have happiness and blessing or have misery and sorrow.
Verse 3, the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman: "you have conceived and will give birth to a son." Cf. Genesis 16:10, the angel claims the prerogatives of deity. The in verse 13, "Then she called the name of the Lord [Yahweh] who spoke to her." She recognized the angel of the Lord was not an angel like the other angels, it is the divine messenger from God, the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus Christ. She calls Him God. So we see from this passage that the angel of the Lord is full deity. The angel of the Lord is a theophany, the appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Old Testament appearing visibly as a divine messenger to man. Never did God the Father appear, John 1:18.
Verse 6, "...a man of God." She has no idea who He is; "his appearance was like the angel of God [Elohim]." Note that throughout this passage you never find them talk about Yahweh. There is no recognition of God's covenant with Israel. They just talk about God in a generic sense. The point that she reiterates to her husband is everything that Yahweh said to her. She doesn't leave anything out. Note how Manoah responds. V.8, "...teach us what we shall do unto the child that shall be born." The angel had already done that. Manoah feels left out and he is jealous, He has this negative view of his wife. "You have to come to me, God, I'm the man." Why is the angel of the Lord not speaking to the man, and never does speak to the man? Because He is dealing with the woman in terms of her divinely given role as the one who brings life into thee world as a mother. He is not talking to the man in terms of his role. The man has the typical pagan role reverses for distinctions between men and women. He is all out of kilter and he wants to be the one, the boss, and typical of paganism he wants to be a little assertive and overpowering, like, "I don't care what you said to her, she's just the woman, you talk to me, God." And he is rejecting the sufficiency of the instructions he has been given.
Verse 13, when Manoah asks again about the child the angel patiently tells him. But does Manoah learn anything he doesn't already know? Not one thing.
Verse 15, "Let us detain you until we have prepared a kid for you." In the ancient world this was not a simple task. It was a several hour operation.
Verse 16, "Though you detain me I will not eat your food." The angel recognizes that Manoah doesn't know who He is, so He is not going to validate Manoah's treating the angel of the Lord as a man; "if you will offer a burnt offering then offer it to Yahweh"— "for Manoah knew not that he was the angel of the Lord." The angel of the Lord ate with Abraham, and He waited for Gideon to prepare a meal and a sacrifice, but He is not going to wait here because Manoah is spiritually dense. The man is supposed to be the spiritual leader and Manoah is not.
Veers 18, "Why do you ask my name, seeing it is Wonderful?" This is the same word as used in Isaiah 9:6 where the Lord will be called Wonderful. This is a title of Yahweh indicating that His essence, His character is beyond human words. Even though we have many words we use to describe the character of God we cannot fully, exhaustively understand God.
Verse 20, the light finally dawns on Manoah and he begins to realize that they have been talking with God, and he and his wife fall on their faces to the ground.
Verse 22, typical pagan reaction: We have seen the Lord so now we are going to die!
Verse 24, the woman names the boy when he is born. The Hebrew root of the word for Samson is related to "sun." Samson is going to be the deliverer, in spite of his disobedience and everything else. He is bringing light into the darkness of this period of the judges. He is a sign of God's grace despite all of the disobedience of Israel. They haven't cried out for a deliverer, yet God is going to deliver them anyway. And this is the picture for us, that despite our disobedience and our failures God's grace is still operational in our lives, and God is the one who is going to work out His purposes, sometimes despite us, but God's grace is never abrogated by our disobedience.