Tagged: Manoah and his wife

The angel of the Lord appears to Manoah and his wife

Judges 13

The sixth and final cycle of judges involves Samson from the tribe of Dan (13:1 – 16:31). By this time, the Danites have abandoned their God-given territory in the land of the Philistines, leaving Samson’s family and a few others in a refugee camp (13:25). Even before he is born, Samson is under a Nazirite vow, which he violates eventually by touching an unclean dead lion (14:8-9), taking part in a drinking feast (14:10), and shaving his head (16:19).

Equally tragic, his Spirit-charged physical strength proves no match for his untamed sensual passions. Encounters with three women, presumably all Philistines, lead to his capture and blindness. As the hair of his Nazirite vow begins to grow back, and especially as he calls out the LORD, Samson receives the power for one last feat: the ability to pull down the pillars of a pagan temple and kill more Philistines in death than throughout his life (16:30).

But this story has a most curious beginning, one that features two visits from the angel of the LORD. Judges 13 opens with a familiar refrain: “The Israelites again did what was evil in the LORD’s sight” (v. 1). In response, Yahweh hands them over to the Philistines for forty years. Normally at this point we see a cry for deliverance, but there is nothing of the sort here – although Judges 14:4 and 15:1 hint at an Israelite cry for deliverance. It seems Israel’s attitude toward its oppressors has changed. Rather than plead for Yahweh’s help, the people are resigned to coexistence with the Philistines. Thus, “Yahweh must seek and create an occasion to disturb the relationship between oppressor and oppressed (14:4).”

Enter the angel of the LORD, who appears to the barren wife of Manoah. The angel confirms the woman’s inability to bear children, then promises her a son. He instructs her to follow strict dietary laws during her pregnancy, and not to cut her future son’s hair. The reason: Her son is to be a Nazirite to God from birth and will begin to save the people from the Philistines (13:5). Nazarite vows include abstinence from wine and other alcoholic beverages, separation from corpses and other sources of defilement, and uncut hair. 

This is a peculiar prophecy. According to Numbers 6:1-21, Israelite men or women could voluntarily take a Nazarite vow, yielding themselves completely to God for a period of time. But the angel tells Manoah’s wife that her future son, Samson, would have no say in the matter; rather, the boy would be a Nazirite from birth. And since his hair never is to be cut, he is dedicated to the LORD his entire life. Like the prophet Jeremiah, Samson is called to the role of deliverer before he is born.

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