October 19, 2007

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical women: The mother of Samson

John F. Fink(Twelfth in a series of columns)

Chapter 13 of the Book of Judges says that the Philistines ruled over the Israelites for 40 years. The number 40 is used often in Scripture, usually as a way of saying a long time. The Philistines were the ancestors of today’s Palestinians, who had settled originally in Gaza. The Israelites fought them during much of the Old Testament.

Manoah was an Israelite from the clan of the Danites. Dan was the northernmost tribe of Israel, located north of the Sea of Galilee. Manoah and his wife had been unable to have children.

One day while she was working in a field, an angel appeared to Manoah’s wife (her name is never mentioned). He told her that she would bear a son, and a special son at that. He was to be consecrated to God from the womb, and no razor was to touch his head because he would begin the deliverance of Israel from the Philistines. And the woman, too, was to abstain from wine or strong drink and eat nothing unclean.

The angel was telling her that the child was to be raised as a nazirite, as John the Baptist was to be raised centuries later.

Naturally, Manoah’s wife hurried to tell her husband what she had just experienced. After he heard what had happened, Manoah prayed that the man of God would come back to tell them what they were to do for the boy who was to be born. How should they raise this special child?

God heard Manoah’s prayer and sent the angel back to the woman. She immediately rushed to get Manoah so he could hear what the angel had to say. The angel basically repeated himself, not saying anything specific about how the child should be raised, but saying, as he had before, that Manoah’s wife was to abstain from drinking wine and strong drink and from eating anything unclean.

The woman didn’t seem to be nearly as curious as Manoah, who wanted to know the man’s name “that we may honor you when your words come true.” The angel didn’t tell his name, saying only that it was mysterious, above human understanding. When asked to stay and eat with them, the angel refused, but said that Manoah might offer a kid as a holocaust to God.

When Manoah and his wife offered the kid with a cereal offering, the flames from the fire rose to the sky. While the couple watched, the angel ascended in the flame.

Manoah became frightened. “We will certainly die,” he said, “for we have seen God.”

His wife, though, was more sensible. She pointed out that if God had meant to kill them, he wouldn’t have accepted the holocaust and cereal offering they had just sacrificed. Besides, she might have reminded her husband, how would she bear a special son as the angel said?

She did bear a son, of course, and named him Samson. He was the strongest man in the Old Testament, accomplishing great feats. †

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