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Judges 13-14: Expect the Unexpected Print E-mail
Sunday, 31 May 2015

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Some characters are more memorable than others. The most memorable character to me in the ‘Lord of the Rings’ series is not necessarily Frodo, the main character.  Many would argue that Gollum is the most memorable or Gandalf, the wizard.  But for me, the most memorable character in the series is Sam, Frodo’s faithful companion.  I will never forget sitting in a bookstore reading “The Two Towers”, the second volume in the series, and reading about Samwise’s choice to finish the task even though Frodo was dead (or so he thought).  He had been a weak, bumbling character up to that point, but when the moment came, he did what he had to do.  He became a memorable character to me in that moment. Probably all of us could make a list of characters that were memorable to us.

Perhaps Samson would be on some of those lists. He is one of the more memorable characters in the entire Old Testament. His story is told to us in Judges 13-16. More time is spent on him than any of the other judges in the book. And his story is unique.  Unlike the other deliverers, Samson is set apart from birth to fight against Israel’s enemies.  The others became leaders of armies, but Samson never has even one soldier follow him into battle. He is a one man army. The others died in peace after ruling in Israel, but Samson dies ‘in battle.’  Even though his physical strength is miraculous, his weakness in regards to women is glaring. His great potential is wasted upon wine and women for the most part. And once again in the weakness of the deliverer we see the grace and the love and the strength of God. These chapters are not primarily about Samson and his victories and defeats.  No, they are about Yahweh and His sovereign goodness in spite of the weaknesses of men.  They reveal again the greatness of His mercy and grace.  And they move forward the story of His redemption through the sending of Jesus, our great Deliverer.  Thus, we must not lose sight of God’s handiwork in and through the life of Samson.  And to be sure, what He does is unexpected.  We see this is the three main actions of these chapters.

The unexpected birth of Samson (13:1-25)

As usual, the story begins with the bad news.  Look at 13:1. Once again we see the downward spiral continuing.  Yet, it is interesting to note that there is no mention in the Samson story of the people crying out for deliverance.  Instead, the story goes immediately into God raising up a deliverer.  Why is this noteworthy?  As we will see, it seems that Israel has grown comfortable in their captivity to the Philistines, which is part of the reason why God works in the way that He does in the life of Samson.  We will look at this more in a moment.
The birth of Samson begins with the barrenness of his mother.  Look at verse 2. Manoah’s wife, Samson’s mother, was unable to conceive a child.  But the Lord had a plan for her.  Look at verses 3-7. The angel of the Lord tells this barren women that she is going to have a child.  And this child will be no ordinary child, for he will be a Nazarite to God from the womb and he will begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.  A barren woman is going to give birth to a man who will be a Nazirite from birth and will begin to defeat Israel’s enemies.  Only the Lord could do such an amazing thing.  He can give judges through barren women, which prepares us for the giving of our Savior through a virgin, foretold by the birth of another barren woman’s son. Our God works through the unexpected.

So what about the father?  He cries out to God for confirmation of what his wife has told him.  Look how that plays out in verses 8-14.  God graciously responds to Manoah and sends the angel again to his wife.  The wife gets her husband and all that she had said is confirmed by the angel.  Then Manoah asks to prepare a meal for the angel.  Look at that in verses 15-20. Manoah struggles with how to handle the ‘man of God.’  Perhaps the author uses this to show us just how rare such an occurrence was in the time of the judges. Manoah seems to have no idea what to do and does not even know that he is talking with an angel until it miraculously disappears into the flame of his burnt offering.  All of this is unexpected for Manoah.

The birth narrative ends with Samson’s actual birth.  Look at verses 21-25.  Again, Manoah is struggling.  Even though what he says is true, the application in this instance is not correct.  Rather, the unnamed wife sets him straight. We should note the role of women in the story of Samson.  His mother seems to be the faithful, wise one in the story of his birth.  Three other women will get the best of him in the stories that follow.  The men are struggling throughout. Again, the Lord is accomplishing His purposes through unexpected means.

The unexpected marriage of Samson (14:1-4)

The first glimpse we get of Samson’s character is not good.  Look at verses 1-3. This is a story of broken-hearted parents.  They did not want him to marry a Philistine.  Anybody but a Philistine. They pleaded with him to reconsider. But he would not change his mind.  Many parents have felt that sting. And why did Samson want this particular woman? He tells us: Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes.  He is saying in essence: ‘I don’t really care what you think. I want what I want and she is who I want. Who cares that she belongs to another nation? Who cares that she is a Philistine? I will do what is right in my eyes.’ Samson is embodying the spirit of the age.  The author will tell us that these were days when everyone did what was right in his own eyes (21:25). That is exactly what Samson is doing in this situation.

Yet, the author of the book lets us in on a secret.  There is more going on here than meets the eye.  Look at verse 4.  This verse is the key to the entire Samson story. One of my commentator’s notes: “Judges 14:4 is not only shocking, but it is also the key to chaps. 14-15. Accordingly, although Yahweh is largely absent from the narrative, in one way or another his agenda is being achieved in Samson’s life.” 1 Samson is wickedly doing exactly what he wants to do and yet the Lord is using his sinful actions to accomplish His sovereign purposes. The Lord is using Samson to create a riff between the Israelites and their enemies.  Samson is responsible for his stubborn choice of a wife, but God is sovereign over His plan of redemption.  He may use unexpected means to bring about salvation, but He will accomplish all of His purposes. 

Such truth should be a great encouragement to us when we cannot make sense of our circumstances.  How many times in the Bible do we see God at work through difficult circumstances?  God saves numerous people from famine through the unjust imprisonment of Joseph. God prepares the line of David through the bitterness of Naomi. And God puts His worthiness on display through the smiting of righteous Job. These are often the ways of Providence. So let me encourage you, whatever circumstances you might be facing, you cannot see the whole picture.  You cannot see behind the curtain.  But know this: Yahweh is there accomplishing His sovereign purposes for your great good. 

The unexpected riddle of Samson (14:5-20)

How will Samson’s marriage to this Philistine women lead to an opportunity against the Philistines? Well, it starts with a lion on the side of the road.  Look at verses 5-7. We see in this instance the power of the Spirit in Samson’s life.  He is able to kill a lion with his bare hands, which I would imagine is not all that easy to do (although I have yet to give it a try).  He tells nobody about what happens and then decides to visit the lion again on a return trip.  Look at verses 8-9. He finds some bees making honey in the carcass and he takes the honey and eats it.  This whole section seems odd, but it makes more sense as the story continues.

The time comes for the wedding feast. Yet, a strange thing happens.  Look at verses 10-14.  Samson seems to be having a little fun at the expense of his ‘companions’, who may have been there for security reasons.  He gives them a riddle that would be impossible for them to solve on their own. They thought that thirty of them would be able to figure out Samson’s riddle but they were wrong. Of course, we know the answer because we know the story, but these companions are lost. Refusing to be bested by Samson, they put the pressure on his new wife.  Look at verses 15-20. So these not so honorable men give Samson’s wife a choice: give us the answer to the riddle or we will burn you and your family. So she goes to Samson and uses her best weapon: consistent weeping (for seven days to be exact). Finally, Samson gives in and tells her the answer to the riddle, which she immediately gives to the companions. But Samson is not going to go down without a fight either. Knowing what they did, he simply goes down to another Philistine town and takes out thirty of their men to pay for his bet. Again, the author notes that it is the Spirit of the Lord that gives him power to overcome these Philistines. Samson returns to his father’s house without his new wife, but the stage is now set for more conflict with the Philistines, which is exactly the opportunity that the Lord was creating through Samson. Who knew that the riddle would lead to Samson in conflict with the Philistines? The Lord knew.

So then, Samson's birth was unexpected, his marriage to a Philistine was unexpected, and the riddle which lead to conflict was unexpected. At least it was unexpected to Samson's parents and to Samson and to us. But not to the Lord. He had a plan for Samson's life. Not only that, but He had a plan for delivering His people. And not only that, but the Lord had a plan for delivering us as well. The story of redemption involves many unexpected circumstances, but they all serve together to accomplish the purpose of the Lord, which is to rescue His people.

God's pattern of delivering His people through unexpected circumstances is seen most clearly in the life and work of Christ. The world was not expecting a Savior to be born of a virgin that night in Bethlehem. They were not expecting God in the flesh. They were not ready for a perfect life or a cruel death on the cross. People did not expect to be saved from death by death. They were not prepared for a King who would pay the ultimate price by suffering for His people. And once He was in the ground, they were not expecting what happened on the third Day! Yet, maybe we should have been. Perhaps if we would have paid a little more attention to what God did in the days of Samson we would have been ready. Maybe we could have learned to expect the unexpected from our God. God saved Israel from the Philistines through the offspring of a barren woman. He saves all those who repent of their sins and believe in Jesus through the offspring of a virgin. We cannot always see what He is doing, but we can trust that He is always working for the redemption of His people. Just like He was in the days of Samson. Amen.

1 Daniel I. Block, Judges, Ruth NAC (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 1999), p. 422.

~ William Marshall ~


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