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The Birth of Samson and Recognising the Messiah (Judges 13:1-25)

Samson’s parents encountered a mysterious guest foretelling his birth and instructing them to raise him as a Nazarite, since he would begin to deliver Israel. Interestingly this reading is the Haftorah passage accompanying the Torah portion ‘Naso’ from Numbers 4:21-7:89 since Numbers 6 expounds the law of the Nazarite. The exact identity of the Angel of the Lord also referred to in this passage as ‘the Angel of God’ and ‘the Man of God’ unravels throughout the course of the narrative and when compared with other related Scriptures.

The Israelites had rebelled and God had allowed the Philistines to oppress them for forty years. When we disobey God there is forgiveness, but we also reap the consequences. The Philistines were a powerful marine people and they adopted Canaanite gods and temples to Dagon, the fish God. Note that there are Philistine artefacts of pottery and coffin lids with human features from the time of the Judges that can be viewed today in the British Museum.[i] Consider also that one of those figures has six figures on the left hand reminiscent of one of the Philistine giants possessing six fingers and toes on each hand and foot (cf. 2 Samuel 21:20).[ii]

The Birth of Samson and a call to be holy

Manoah’s wife is not named yet she is of exemplary character and her role is of critical importance throughout the course of this narrative. The Angel of the Lord revealed to her, that her son will begin to deliver Israel. Like Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah and Elizabeth she was formerly barren yet would go on to raise children who were noteworthy Bible characters. She was not permitted to drink wine, alcohol or anything unclean and similarly when wise mothers are pregnant they avoid alcohol, smoking or a poor diet.

Therefore Samson was set apart, not merely from birth, but from conception in a similar way to that of Yochanan the Immerser (John the Baptist). This demonstrates the value of human life being created in the image of God and that a child in the womb should never be aborted. Remember John the Baptist leaped for joy inside his mother’s womb when Mary arrived to visit Elizabeth (Luke 1:44).

A Nazarite means ‘one separated,’ ‘consecrated’ and also ‘crowned one.’ Uncut hair according to the law of the Nazarite was a symbol of holiness to God. This vow would distance Samson from the pagan practises of the Philistines and believers must constantly consider whether they are distancing themselves from the pagan practises of their immediate environment prevalent on television, the internet, education, work, politics and society. They are to be in the world but not of the world.

The Philistines consumed vast quantities of beer but the Nazarites did not drink alcohol. Nazarites did not touch corpses and they avoided contamination and served God first and foremost. This was a particular vow for certain individuals. Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine and drinking alcohol in moderation is okay. Historically alcohol has been used for medicine, with food and pleasure though there are innumerable problems related to its misuse. I enjoyed alcohol too much in my younger years and that compromised my witness so I am better off abstaining from it. Go to an Accident and Emergency unit over the weekend and there will predictably be a disproportionate number of people there with unnecessarily alcohol influenced problems.

Maybe you cannot relate to uncut hair, keeping a distance from corpses and alcohol. Is there something in your life compromising your fellowship with the Lord such as food, unhelpful company, internet addictions, social media, computer games, shopping, money, or being famous? We need to be careful what we give time to since we resemble that to which we are committed.

Who was the Angel of the Lord?

Manoah’s wife told her husband that a Man of God with countenance like the Angel of God appeared to her and that He did not tell her His name. In this narrative the terms ‘the Angel of the Lord,’ ‘the Angel of God’ and ‘the Man of God’ are used interchangeably and the identity and the name of this mysterious guest are both puzzling and fascinating. Manoah prayed to the Lord that the Man of God would return and teach them what they should do for their child. The Man of God appeared again reiterating His former instructions.

Manoah then insisted on preparing a young goat, though the Angel of the Lord said that He would not eat their food and that if he must make an offering then they must offer it to the Lord. Verse 16 informs us (For Manoah did not know He was the Angel of the Lord). Hence Manoah enquired concerning His name so that when His words came to pass they might honour Him.

The Angel of the Lord replies with a typically intriguing Jewish response by answering a question with another question! “And the Angel of the Lord said to him, “Why do you ask My name, seeing it is wonderful (Judges 13:18)?” In the Soncino Press ‘Pentateuch & Haftorahs,’ the comment on this verse notes Manoah’s inability to grasp who he had entertained and cross references Jacob’s encounter ‘hidden. Lit. ‘wonderful’ ; above your comprehension; cf. Gen xxxii, 30.’[iii]Rashi stated, “When it is mystical. It is concealed. It changes constantly, so that its identity remains unknown on any given day.”[iv]

Indeed does this not echo Jacob’s famous wrestling match with his mysterious guest till the break of day? Jacob would not let Him go until he received a blessing and greatly desired to know His name. Again a cryptic yet telling response was given by answering a question with another question, “Why is it that you ask about My name (Genesis 32:29)?”

We are however told by the Angel of the Lord/Man of God that His name is ‘wonderful.’ Would this be an appropriate response from a prophet, man of God or an angel? There is another passage speaking of Messiah who is ‘wonderful’ in Isaiah 9:6-7 (5-6).

“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgement and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”

Commenting on this verse, John Gill (who was expressly familiar with the Rishonim (Jewish Medieval Commentators) on Tanakh and also Josephus and cites them throughout his commentary); additionally noted that the Divine nature and essence of this Person may be meant by His name and surpasses knowledge and is infinite and comprehensible. In support, he cross references Proverbs 30:4, concluding that this speaks of Messiah as both God and Man and in His offices and relations.[v]

In Proverbs 30:4 Agur asks these questions.

“Who has ascended into heaven, or descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has bound the waters in A garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is His Son’s name, if you know?”

Yet there are still further interrelated and comparable passages that lead us to the conclusion that Manoah and his wife encountered the preincarnate Messiah, the Son of God. When Manoah offered the young goat on the rock together with the grain offering; as the flame went toward heaven from the altar, the Angel of the Lord ascended in the flame of the altar. In addition, when the Angel of the Lord appeared to Moses, God spoke to Him from the burning bush which was not consumed (Exodus 3:1-4). Notably and similarly, the terms ‘Angel of the Lord,’ ‘God’ and ‘the Lord’ are used interchangeably throughout Exodus 3. Also when Daniel’s three friends were saved from their fiery trial in Babylon, King Nebuchadnezzar noted that there was a fourth Person, that they were not hurt and that the form of the fourth was like the Son of God (Daniel 3:25).

Recognising and responding to Messiah

These appearances of Yeshua (Jesus) in the Tanakh (Old Testament) are not random and there are numerous similarities with regard to these theophanies (God appearing/Messiah appearing). In the book of Judges, Gideon and Samson’s parents are informed of a call to be used by the Lord to deliver Israel and they both have a desire to learn more about His plans. In both instances a meal or an offering is made and accepted and instructions are given and obeyed. Gideon and Manoah wanted to know who was with them.

Significantly, both Gideon and Manoah were concerned that they would die because they had seen God! Yet the Angel of the Lord assured Gideon that he would not die and Manoah’s wife assured her husband that he would not die. Have we lost our reverence, awe and fear of the Lord? The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10). Is God safe now? What does the Bible say? God has appointed a  Judgement (Hebrews 9:27). Will you be ready and will you meet Him as your Saviour or your Judge? Will you plead your righteousness which is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) or His righteousness that you might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21)?

What was it that enabled Manoah to realise that he had seen the Angel of the Lord? Was it the reassurance from his wife? What is meeting Him? Was it what He said? Was it the Angel of the Lord’s question in response to His question? (Why is it that you ask My name seeing that it is wonderful?) Was it His instructions concerning the offering? Was it the miracle in the altar? Although the Jewish Publication Society Study Bible is not definitive concerning the identity of the Angel of the Lord it notes that it was only after the angel disappears that Manoah realised that God’s messenger had been revealed to them, though his wife was assured of this from her first encounter.[vi]

It takes some people longer than others to recognise who Jesus really is. Some say He was merely a gifted teacher or a prophet, others finally recognise Him as the Messiah and Son of God, fully Man and fully God. Messiah removes the veil of reading the Tanakh and when one turns to the Lord the veil it is taken away (2 Corinthians 3:7-18).

Judges 13:21 states, “When the Angel of the Lord appeared no more to Manoah and his wife, then Manoah knew that He was the Angel of the Lord.” Think about the irony of Jesus’ ascension from the Mount of Olives, which is where He shall return. His talmidim (disciples) did not want Him to leave them. But Yeshua would be with them always and He would send His Holy Spirit who would lead them and guide them into all truth.

Do you believe that Jesus is the Messiah and are you trusting in Him and following Him? Do you believe that His perfect offering is sufficient to atone for your sins? Do you know Him and have you asked Him to forgive your sin? Someone says, “If only I could see Messiah then I would believe.” Really? The disciples saw Him fulfil prophecy, cast out demons, perform miracles, teach as no one has ever taught and even when He appeared after the resurrection Thomas still doubted until He felt His scars. Is seeing really believing or is believing seeing? Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God and blessed are those who have not seen, yet believe.

[i] Brian Edwards & Clive Anderson Through the British Museum with the Bible 5th Edition (Day One, 2015; Leominster), p93

[ii] Ibid, 93

[iii] The Pentateuch And Haftorahs Edited by Dr. J. H. Hertz, C.H. Late Chief Rabbi of the British Empire (Soncino Press, 1960; London), p603

[iv] Rashi on Judges 13

[v] Gill on Judges 13

[vi] The Jewish Study Bible JPS Tanakh (Oxford University Press, 1999; Oxford), p541