In our series Be Strong, the life of Samson is our topic. Please join us in reading along in Judges Chapters 13-16. Today we’ll look at God’s plan for his life and how his parents were involved. (Judges 13: 1-5)
Consider two great responsibilities that were given to Samson. He had:
1. A nation to serve (v. 1). With monotonous regularity we’ve read this phrase in the Book of Judges, “Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD” Judges 13:1 NIV
This phrase is also found in (3:7, 12; 4:1-2; 6:1; 10:6-7), and here it appears for the last time. It introduces the longest period of oppression that God sent to His people, forty years of Philistine domination.
* Life Application: The Israelites would not turn to God unless they had been stunned by suffering, oppression, and death. This suffering was not caused by God, but resulted from the fact that the people ignored God, their Judge and Ruler. What will it take for you to follow God? The warnings in God’s Word are clear: if we continue to harden our hearts against God, we can expect the same fate as Israel.
The Philistines were among the “sea people” who, in the twelfth century B.C., migrated from an area of Greece to the coastal plain of Canaan. The Jews weren’t able to occupy that territory during their conquest of the land (Josh. 13:1-2). As you study a map, you’ll note that their national life focused around the five key cities of Ashdod, Gaza, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron (1 Sam. 6:17). The land between Israel’s hill country and the coastal plain was called the “Shephelah,” which means “low country”; and it separated Philistia from Israel. Samson was born in Zorah, a city in Dan near the Philistine border; and he often crossed that border either to serve God or satisfy his appetites.
Samson judged Israel “in the days of the Philistines” (Judg. 15:20), which means that his twenty years in office were during the forty years of Philistine rule. Dr. Leon Wood dates the beginning of the Philistine oppression about 1095 B.C. and the end in 1055 B.C. with Israel’s victory at Mizpeh (1 Sam. 7). About the middle of this period occurred the battle of Aphek when Israel was ignominiously defeated by the Philistines and lost the Ark and three priests (1 Sam. 4). Dr. Wood suggests that Samson’s judgeship started about the time of the tragedy at Aphek and that his main job was to harass the Philistines and keep them from successfully overrunning the land and menacing the people.
It’s worth noting that there is no evidence given in the text that Israel cried out to God for deliverance at any time during the forty years of Philistine domination. The Philistines disarmed the Jews (1 Sam. 13:19-23) and therefore had little fear of a rebellion. Judges 15:9-13 indicates that the Jews were apparently content with their lot and didn’t want Samson to “rock the boat.” It’s frightening how quickly we can get accustomed to bondage and learn to accept the status quo. Had the Philistines been more severe on the Jews, perhaps the Jews would have prayed to Jehovah for help.
Unlike most of the previous judges, Samson didn’t deliver his people from foreign domination, but he began the work of deliverance that others would finish (13:5). As a powerful and unpredictable hero, Samson frightened and troubled the Philistines (16:24) and kept them from devastating Israel as the other invading nations had done. It would take the prayers of Samuel (1 Sam. 7) and the conquests of David (2 Sam. 5:17-25) to finish the job that Samson started and give Israel complete victory over the Philistines.
2. A God to serve (vv. 2-5). The tribe of Dan was originally assigned the land adjacent to Judah and Benjamin, extending to the Mediterranean Sea (Josh. 19:40-48). Since the Danites weren’t able to dislodge the coastal inhabitants, however, the tribe relocated and moved north (Judg. 18-19), although some of the people remained in their original location. Zorah is about fifteen miles from Jerusalem in the foothill country near the border of Philistia.
* Life Application: Samson’s part in subduing the Philistines was just the beginning, but it was important nonetheless. It was the task God had given Samson to do. Be faithful in following God even if you don’t see instant results, because you might be beginning an important job that others will finish.
When God wants to do something really great in His world, He doesn’t send an army but an angel. The angel often visits a couple and promises to send them a baby. His great plan of salvation got underway when He called Abraham and Sarah and gave them Isaac. When He wanted to deliver Israel from Egyptian bondage, God sent baby Moses to Amram and Jochebed (Ex. 6:20); and when in later years Israel desperately needed revival, God gave baby Samuel to Hannah (1 Sam. 1). When the fullness of time arrived, God gave Baby Jesus to Mary; and that baby grew up to die on the cross for the sins of the world.
Babies are fragile, but God uses the weak things of the world to confound the mighty (1 Cor. 1:26-28). Babies must have time to grow up, but God is patient and is never late in accomplishing His will. Each baby God sends is a gift from God, a new beginning, and carries with it tremendous potential. What a tragedy that we live in a society that sees the unborn baby as a menace instead of a miracle, an intruder instead of an inheritance.
We have every reason to believe the “angel of the Lord” who visited Manoah’s wife was Jesus Christ, the Son of God (see Gen. 22:1-18; 31:11-13; Ex. 3:1-6; Judg. 6:11-24). Like Sarah (Gen. 18:9-15), Hannah (1 Sam. 1), and Elizabeth (Luke 1:5-25), Manoah’s wife was barren and never expected to have a child. Since it would be the mother who would have the greatest influence on the child, both before and after birth, the angel solemnly charged her what to do.
Like John the Baptist, Samson would be a Nazirite from his mother’s womb (Luke 1:13-15). The word Nazirite comes from a Hebrew word that means “to separate, to consecrate.” Nazirites were persons who, for a stated period of time, consecrated themselves to the Lord in a special way. They abstained from drinking wine and strong drink; they avoided touching dead bodies; and as a mark of their consecration, they allowed their hair to grow. The laws governing the Nazirite vow are given in Numbers 6.
Manoah’s wife had to be careful what she ate and drank because her diet would influence her unborn Nazirite son and could defile him. It’s too bad every expectant mother doesn’t exercise caution; for in recent years, the news media have informed us of the sad consequences babies suffer when their mothers use tobacco, alcohol, and narcotics during a pregnancy. Samson’s Nazirite vow wasn’t something he voluntarily took: God gave it to him; and his mother was a part of the vow of dedication. Not only was she to avoid anything related to the grape, but also she was to avoid foods that were unclean to the Jews (Lev. 11; Deut. 14:3-20).
Ordinarily, a Nazirite vow was for a limited period of time; but in Samson’s case, the vow was to last all his life (Judg. 13:7). This was something Manoah and his wife would have to teach their son, and they would also have to explain why they didn’t cut his hair. The claims of God were upon this child, and it was the obligation of the parents to train him for the work God sent him to do.
We can be strong with God’s help.
Bible Exposition Commentary (BE Series) – Old Testament
Life Application Bible Notes