By Chuck Alley
Reading from Judges, 13:1-15
1 The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years.
2 There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. His wife was barren, having borne no children. 3And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Although you are barren, having borne no children, you shall conceive and bear a son. 4Now be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, or to eat anything unclean, 5for you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor is to come on his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from birth. It is he who shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” 6Then the woman came and told her husband, “A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like that of an angel of God, most awe-inspiring; I did not ask him where he came from, and he did not tell me his name; 7but he said to me, ‘You shall conceive and bear a son. So then drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from birth to the day of his death.’”
8 Then Manoah entreated the Lord, and said, “O Lord, I pray, let the man of God whom you sent come to us again and teach us what we are to do concerning the boy who will be born.” 9God listened to Manoah, and the angel of God came again to the woman as she sat in the field; but her husband Manoah was not with her. 10So the woman ran quickly and told her husband, “The man who came to me the other day has appeared to me.” 11Manoah got up and followed his wife, and came to the man and said to him, “Are you the man who spoke to this woman?” And he said, “I am.” 12Then Manoah said, “Now when your words come true, what is to be the boy’s rule of life; what is he to do?” 13The angel of the Lord said to Manoah, “Let the woman give heed to all that I said to her. 14She may not eat of anything that comes from the vine. She is not to drink wine or strong drink, or eat any unclean thing. She is to observe everything that I commanded her.”
15 Manoah said to the angel of the Lord, “Allow us to detain you, and prepare a kid for you.”
Something is missing, here. The people of God have again turned their backs on God, and God has brought in a foreign power to oppress them. We are familiar with that part of the formula. What is conspicuous is any mention of Israel crying out for deliverance. God simply sets about providing a deliverer.
The chapter also begins differently than usual: more like a sweet story about a simple couple than a description of the calling of a victorious leader. In fact, the focus stays on the couple for quite some time. What does this tell us?
First, we hear of the humble circumstances of Manoah and his wife. Physically they are childless, and economically they are manual laborers — she spends her days out in the field. And although central to the story, the woman remains unnamed. However, the couple — and especially the woman — are the centerpieces to this story of deliverance. They show themselves obedient to God even in the midst of the general disobedience of Israel. The woman recognizes the messenger as being from God, Manoah prays to God, and both the woman and her husband appear to believe that the messenger’s promise is true.
The namelessness of the woman and the humility of the couple serve as a backdrop for understanding that once again the deliverance of Israel would be a sovereign act of God. He already knows what he will do for them. The salvation of God’s people is according to a divine plan and not based on either the expressed need of his people or their own power to provide a prestigious champion. Our deliverance is due to God’s grace and mercy — it always begins with his love for us and not our love for him. God smiles on us before we even cry out to him; he knows who he is creating us to be.
Chuck Alley is a retired Episcopal priest and an adjunct associate professor of anatomy on the medical faculty of Virginia Commonwealth University. He and his wife, Scottie, have three children and nine grandchildren.
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