“God’s anonymous: Samson’s mother”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.
A little over forty years ago, back in February of 1978, author James Dobson wrote a book called, The Strong-Willed Child. And in that book, he tells of a father who took his three-year-old daughter to a basketball game. And to his unfortunate surprise, the child was interested in everything in the gym except for the basketball game. So having no other choice, he let her roam free, but set definite limits on how far she could go.
And to be sure she would understand, he took her by the hand and led her to a stripe painted on the gym floor. Then he said, “You can play wherever you want. Just don’t go past this line.”
So what was the very next thing that little girl did? No sooner had he returned to his seat that she scurried in the direction of that very line. Then she stopped for a moment, flashed a grin over her shoulder, and deliberately placed one foot over that line as if to say, “Whatcha gonna do about it?”
What’s it like to raise a strong-willed child? It’s like shopping in a grocery store with a cart who’s wheels are just plain “off.” When you push it forward, as much of a struggle as that might be, it swerves off to the left and knocks over a stack of bottles. Then with all your might, you push it back again, only to have it dart in the direction of some poor, unsuspecting grandmother. Then when you’re finally done shopping, after you’ve shoved that awful thing all the way through the store and to the checkout counter, you’re exhausted.
That’s what it’s like to raise a strong-willed child.
Sound familiar? It should, for in a survey of three thousand parents, a full 85% of them admitted to having at least one strong-willed child.
So what do you do? Dobson writes, first, know that you are not to blame for their temperament. They are simply tough kids, and your task is to rise to the challenge. Second, he said, don’t panic, even during the storms of adolescence. Better times are ahead. And third, hold them in prayer before the Lord, bathe them in prayer. “After all,” he wrote, “the One who made them has promised to hear you.” And he said, “He knows your name, and He’s seen every tear you’ve shed.”
The book of Judges introduces us to one of the biggest, baddest, and most famous strong-willed children of all, a boy named Samson. I’ll read the words of chapter 13: “There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. And his wife was barren and had no children. And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, ‘Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines’” (Judges 13:2-5).
It was a thousand years before Christ, and the people of Israel had once again turned away from the Lord. As it says in chapter 17: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6). Or as another translation puts it, “They did whatever they wanted” (GNT).
And in their time of moral and spiritual collapse, God had no choice but to punish them by raising up a foreign power, a people called the Philistines, to fight against them and oppress them. As it says in verse 1: “So the Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years” (Judges 13:1).
But along with God’s word of anger and judgment came His promise of grace and mercy. Which takes us to the words of verse 2: "There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. And his wife was barren and had no children” (Judges 13:2).
It’s strange if you think about it. We know so very little of who she really was. The Bible doesn’t say. No name, no age--just a woman, the wife of Manoah-- one of God’s anonymous.
But there is one thing it does tell us. It tells us she was barren. And to be absolutely sure we got the point, it tells us four times. It says she was ”childless”... ”unable to give birth”...”barren”...”she had no children.”
And knowing that one fact gives us a glimpse into the pain she must have felt in her heart, for in that place and time, it was one of the worst things that could ever happen. How the villagers must have whispered and wondered just what it was that she had done wrong for God to punish her like this.
But it wasn’t true. It’s never true. God isn’t like that. He never has been, and He never will be.
But even though she was barren, it put her in very good company, for there was a string of Bible women, like Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Hannah who, for a time, were childless too.
But by God’s incredible grace and mercy, all that was about to change.
Verse 3: “And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, ‘Behold, you are barren and have not borne children…”
“Yup, got that. Don’t have to tell me,” she thought.
Then came that amazing word of gospel: “But...” “You are barren and childless, but you shall conceive and bear a son.”
And wonder of wonders, the angel wasn’t done. Verse 4: “Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for behold you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines” (Judges 13:4-5).
“Nazirite,” he said. What’s a Nazirite?
The word itself, simply enough, means “to set apart,” “to consecrate,” and “to separate.” A Nazirite was one who gave themselves completely to God. It was a promise that would last a whole life long.
Let’s look again at the text. First, verse 3: “And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said…” Then verse 9: “And the angel of God came again to the woman as she sat in the field.”
Did you notice anything peculiar? Who’s the angel appearing to? Not the man of the house like we would expect. Not Manoah. Instead, the angel came to his wife.
Which makes us wonder why. Was it because her husband’s faith wasn’t as strong? Or was it because the angel knew he’d never believe after waiting so long?
Whatever the reason, it was to her, and not to him, that the angel came to say, “But you shall conceive and bear a son.”
But what a son he would be! As it says in verse 5: “He shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.”
But as I mentioned before, their son Samson, soon became one of the biggest, baddest, and most famous strong-willed children of all.
How strong was he? One day, as he was walking through the vineyards in Timnah, a lion rushed at him, roaring. So what did he do? The Bible says the Spirit of the Lord fell on him and he, with his bare hands, tore the lion apart like a man would a young goat. That’s strong.
Another day, when the Philistines captured him and bound him with ropes, he broke those ropes, then took the jawbone of a donkey and killed 1,000 men.
And one night, just out of spite, he ripped the gates of a city, bars and all, up from the ground. Then he carried those gates thirty-eight miles, and slammed them down hard to the ground.
He was strong, stronger than any man who’s ever lived. But in spite of his great, great strength, he had one great, great weakness—women. The first was some girl in Timnah. The second was a prostitute in Gaza. And the third was Delilah—enchanting, mesmerizing, tempting Delilah—one of the most beautiful women of all.
And as she fussed and cooed and buried her face in his long, black hair, she said, “O Samson, dear Samson, handsome Samson, tell me the secret of your great strength.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
And who stood on the sidelines, all the while waiting, watching, worrying, and wondering? His mother.
How she must have prayed for him during his early years, and how she tried her absolute best to lead him in the right direction. And how disappointed she must have been to see him chasing after women, and behaving in the worst possible way.
Yet for all her prayers and tears and heartache, what did she get? Believe it or not, she got one of the best and brightest men ever to lead the nation of Israel.
So why didn’t the Bible choose to give us her name? Why is she one of God’s anonymous? After all, she’s not just the “wife of Manoah.” She’s the mother of one of Israel’s greatest heroes of all time!
Maybe the Bible didn’t tell us her name because it left room for the rest of us who raise a child who’s a lot like him.
Was Samson perfect? Absolutely not. Still God used him in spite of his great weakness and great strength to accomplish His will.
In fact, if you’d take a look near the end of the New Testament, to a book called Hebrews, you’d find his name once again, this time in God’s “Hall of Fame.”
Listen to this: “And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets--who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight...The world was not worthy of them” (Hebrews 11:32-34, 37).
As one author put it, “If your child is difficult and impulsive and is doing what’s right in his eyes, but wrong in your eyes, don’t despair. God isn’t done with him yet. And though his character qualities may seem impossible to deal with now, God will accomplish His purpose.”
So is there a way to find Jesus in all of this? You’d be surprised! In fact, Samson and Jesus have a lot more in common than you might think.
For example, just as an angel came to announce Samson’s birth, a whole chorus of angels came to announce Jesus’ birth. Samson was a Nazarite. Jesus was a Nazarene. And while Samson came to save Israel from the Philistines, Jesus came to save us from our sin.
But while Samson was arrogant, violent and rude, Jesus was humble and meek. And while Samson gave in to temptation, Jesus never sinned. And while Samson was captured reluctantly, Jesus gave Himself willingly.
And so, at His name, every knee will bow.
We thank You, dear Father, for the story of Samson and all that it means for us today. When temptation comes, help us, by Your grace, to live as Jesus lived and to walk as Jesus walked. This we ask in His name. Amen