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Jdg 13:1 The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of Yahweh and Yahweh delivered them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years-
"The children of Israel did evil in the sight of Yahweh" is a refrain which occurs seven times in Judges (Jud. 2:11; 3:7,12; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6; 13:1), recalling how Israel both over history and in the last days were to be punished "seven times" for their sins (Lev. 26:23,24).

Biblical history is unlike any other national history of a people in that it seems to emphasize the spiritual weakness of Israel. The heroes are nearly all flawed- and that, surely, is so as to give us realistic inspiration to rise up to their spirit, knowing how flawed we also are. And yet there's a tendency amongst some of us to idealize these men, in the same way as the Catholic and Orthodox churches portray them as white faced, haloed saints. Judaism has done the same. Despite the evident weaknesses of Samson (and other judges, e.g. Gideon) as revealed in the inspired record, later Jewish commentary sought to idealize them. Take Ecclesiasticus 46:11,12: "The judges too... all men whose hearts were never disloyal, who never turned their backs on the Lord...". Perhaps the psychological basis for this tendency is that we simply don't want to be personally challenged by the fact that heroes of faith were so much like us...

We know, or we ought to, how weak our moral judgment is, how prone we are to forget the degree to which God has justified us from our sins. This weakness is seen in the difficulty we have in analyzing the characters we read of in Scripture. For example, from reading the record of Lot in Genesis, it would seem that Lot was a materialistic, weak, faithless man who is shown to be the exact opposite to Abraham, who is held up as the example of real faith. Yet in the New Testament record, Peter points out that Lot was a righteous man. We are therefore left to conclude that the Genesis record is highlighting the weaker aspects of Lot's character, without commenting on the good points. We may have the same sort of surprise when we read in Hebrews 11 that Samson was a man of outstanding faith- yet the record we are reading at the moment in Judges seems framed to paint Samson as a womanizer, a man who lacked self-control and who only came to God in times of dire personal need.  

But just imagine if only the negative incidents in our own lives, over a period of 20 (or 40?) years, were recorded. Anyone reading it would conclude that we were a complete hypocrite to claim to have any hope of salvation. In our self-examination, we sometimes see only this negative record; we fail to see that God has justified us, that in His record book, we are ranked among the faithful, as Samson was in Hebrews 11. Any character study of Samson needs to bear this in mind. Samson, over 40 years of service, courted a girl not in the faith and tried to marry her; once went to a prostitute in Gaza; and had an on-and-off relationship with a worthless woman in Sorek for a few months (?). And yet he seems to have lived the rest of his life full of faith and zeal- although I say this not in any way minimizing the mistakes he made. This is hardly evidence that Samson was the renegade sex-maniac that he is sometimes made out to be. 

Jud. 17-21 contain various pictures of and insights into the apostacy of the tribe of Dan, providing the backdrop for a character study of Samson. These chapters seem chronologically out of place; they belong before the Samson story. 18:30 speaks of Jonathan the grandson of Moses, and 20:28 of Phinehas the grandson of Aaron (cp. Num. 25:11), which would place these events at the beginning of the period of the Judges, once Israel had first settled in the land. Dan's apostacy is suggested by the way in which he is omitted from the tribes of the new Israel in Rev. 7. Zorah, Samson's home town, was originally Judah's inheritance (Josh. 15:33-36), but they spurned it, and passed it to Dan (Josh. 19:41), who also weren't interested; for they migrated to the north and too over the land belonging to the less warlike Sidonians (Jud. 18:2,7-10). Their selfishness is reflected by the way they chide with him: "What is this that you have done unto us?" (15:11). "They had become reconciled to the dominion of sin since it did not appear to do much harm. They could still grow their crops etc.". It is even possible that his parents had elements of weakness in them; for his name doesn't include the 'Yah' prefix, and 'Samson' ('splendour of the sun') may be a reference to the nearby town of Beth Shemesh ('house of the sun-god'). It could be argued that because the father was responsible for his son's marriage partner (Jud. 12:9; 14:2; 15:2; Gen. 24:3-9; Neh. 10:30), therefore Samson's father was equally guilty for Samson's 'marriage out'. Many of the commands against intermarriage were directed to parents, commanding them not to give their children in intermarriage. All the Judges were preceded by a period of Israel prostituting themselves to the surrounding nations (Jud. 2:16-19); and this was evidently true of the period in which Samson grew up. From this apostate tribe and background came Samson. The way his own people angrily rebuked him that " Don't you know that the Philistines are lords over us?" (Jud. 15:11) was tacit recognition of the depth of their apostacy. They seemed to have no regret that they were fulfilling the many earlier prophecies that they would be dominated by their enemies if they were disobedient to Yahweh. The fact that Israel were dominated throughout Samson's life by the Philistines is proof enough that they were apostate at this time (Jud. 13:1; cp. Jud. 15:20; 16:31).  

Jdg 13:2 There was a man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah, and his wife was barren and childless-
Samson lived at a time when Israel were hopelessly weak. His great desire was to do the work of the promised seed, who would save Israel from their enemies. He resented the Philistine domination and sought, single-handed, to overcome it in faith, not only for himself, but for his weaker brethren. As predestiny would have it, in recognition of his zeal for these things, he came from Zorah, 'the hornet'- a symbol of the Divine power that would drive the foreign tribes out of the land, as Samson dedicated himself to do (Dt. 7:20). And his father's name, Manoah, meant "rest", or inheritance (cp. Josh. 1:13,15). Samson-ben-Manoah was therefore Samson, the son of the promised inheritance.

Jdg 13:3 The angel of Yahweh appeared to the woman and said to her, Look now, you are barren and childless but you will conceive and bear a son-
God's Angelic appearance to barren or childless women and promising them a very significant child is quite a theme. We think of Abraham and Sarah (Gen. 17:19; 18:10,14),  Hannah (1 Sam. 1:17), Elizabeth (Lk. 1:13) and Mary (Lk. 1:31). These women were intended to have reflected upon the experience of those previous women, and to have taken strength and guidance from their response. This is the advantage of daily Bible reading and familiarity with the text and historical narrative of the scriptures. Even if we 'don't get anything out of it' at the point of reading, when events occur in our lives, we are able to see them in the context of Biblical history, and are comforted that we are not alone. Our experiences are not so totally unique. And it is the sense of walking alone in unchartered, unexperienced territory which is where much of our fear comes from. And yet because the hand of God works according to a historical pattern, we need not feel so alone; through patience and comfort of the scriptures we have hope (Rom. 15:4), as if these historical records speak to us in a personified form and comfort us. See on :3,24.

Jdg 13:4 Now therefore you must be careful and drink no wine nor strong drink, and don’t eat any unclean thing-
As discussed on :4, Manoah's wife was here promised that her son would be a Nazirite from birth; and she was to become the pattern for later women who were told likewise (1 Sam. 1:11; Lk. 1:15).

Jdg 13:5 You shall conceive and bear a son, and no razor must come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he will begin to save Israel out of the hand of the Philistines-
It would be simplistic for a character study of Samson to see Samson as some kind of sex maniac of a believer. He was a man of faith who, amidst a weak and indifferent brotherhood, tried to rise up to the spirit of Messiah in delivering Israel from their spiritual enemies. In order to devote himself to this, it seems that he chose the single life. In common with others who trod that path of zeal (e.g. Timothy and possibly Hezekiah), he couldn't maintain it all the time. He stumbled, and his stumbling in this area resulted in him reasoning that the end (i.e. the work he was doing) justified the means, and that therefore he could do God's work in a way which in fact gratified his own flesh. He had to learn the spirit of the cross-carrying Christ; the lesson of the whole burnt offering: that the whole of a man's life must be affected by the cross- not just those parts which we are willing to surrender. We can't mix the service of God with the service of self. There is no third road. Because Samson failed to realize this (until the end), he was a man who in many ways never quite made it; he never quite lived up to the spiritual potential which he had.

Although he was to be the beginning of serious deliverance of Israel from the Philistines, the whole story of Samson is prefaced by the fact that during the 40 years of Samson's' ministry (15:20 + 16:31), "the Lord delivered (Israel) into the hand of the Philistines" (13:1). It is emphasized in Jud. 14:4 that "at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel" ; and the men of Judah chode with him: "Don't you know that the Philistines are rulers over us?" (Jud. 15:11). The point is hammered home in Jud. 15:20: "He judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years". God's intention was that Samson was to deliver Israel from the Philistines; but somehow he never rose up to it, and only 'began' to do it (Jud. 13:5). They remained under the Philistines, even during his ministry. He made a few sporadic attempts in red hot personal zeal, confirmed by God, to deliver Israel. But he never rose up to the potential level that God had prepared for him in prospect. And yet for all this, he was accepted in the final analysis as a man of faith. It may be possible to understand that the breaking of his Nazariteship was yet another way in which he never lived up to his God-given potential. He was "a Nazirite unto God from the womb to the day of his death" (13:7). Yet he broke the Nazirite vow by touching dead bodies and having his hair shaven (Num. 6:6). This may mean that he chose to break God's ideal intention for him, to take a lower and lower level of service to God until actually he had slipped away altogether. However, it may be that God counted his desire for the high standard of Nazariteship to him. He saw him as if this never happened, in the same way as He saw Abraham as if he had offered up Isaac, even though ultimately he didn't (Heb. 11:17; James 2:21). Intention, not the human strength of will to do the act, seems to be what God earnestly looks for.  

Jdg 13:6 Then the woman went and told her husband, A man of God came to me, and his face was like the face of the angel of God, very awesome. I didn’t ask him where he was from, neither did he tell me his name-
LXX "I did not ask him His Name". Therefore the husband did ask His Name when He appeared again. She assumed this was a prophet, a "man of God", but she had the suspicion that it was in fact an Angel.

Jdg 13:7 but he said to me ‘You will conceive and bear a son; drink no wine or strong drink, and eat no unclean thing, for the child shall be a Nazirite unto God from the womb to the day of his death’-
He was a Nazirite to God (i.e. in God's eyes?) all his life- although he broke his Nazariteship by contact with dead bodies (Jud. 14:19; 15:15 cp. Num. 6:6) and probably by drinking wine at his wedding (Jud. 14:10 "feast" = 'drinking', Heb.). This was not only imputed righteousness, but God counting the essential intentions of a weak willed man to him as if he had actually achieved what he fain would do.

Or it could be that we are to read this as meaning that it was God's intention that Samson should be a Nazirite to the day of his death- but he failed to live up to that Divine intention and potential. Which is a sad theme of the Judges record. Jud. 13:7 cp. Jud. 16:17 implies that Samson himself felt he had broken his Nazariteship. Likewise Zacharias was "blameless" in God's sight, even though in this very period of his life he was in some ways lacking faith that his prayers would be answered (Lk. 1:6). It is our holding fast that is our acceptable service (Heb. 12:28 mg.); not the occasional heroics of outstanding acts of obedience.  

We know that we sadly oscillate between the flesh and the spirit. And yet Scripture abounds with examples of where God sees us as in a permanent state of either sin or righteousness. We are fountains that bring forth good water, and therefore by that very definition cannot occasionally bring forth bitter water; we are good fruit trees or bad ones. We aren’t a little of both, in God’s sight. This is surely because He sees us on the basis of the fact that we are in Christ, clothed with His righteousness, rather than as individuals who sometimes act righteously and sometimes not during the course of a day. Thus God saw Samson as a lifelong Nazirite, although we know there were times when he broke the Nazirite vow by, e.g., touching dead bodies and having his hair cut. The challenging thing is to behold our brethren as having the “in Christ” status (for we can’t impute anything else to them, lest we condemn them), and not to see them from the point of view of people who sometimes act righteously and sometimes don’t.

Likewise the Angel declared that he would “begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines” (Jud. 13:5). Yet he died with the Philistines firmly in control over himself and Israel. This was potentially possible in the Angelic plan; but he didn’t live up to what had been made possible in prospect. Significantly, Samson’s mother omitted to repeat this part of the Angel’s conversation when she relayed the incident to her husband (Jud. 13:7)- perhaps because she didn’t believe that her child would be capable of this. And perhaps this was a factor in his failure to achieve what God had intended for him.  

Jdg 13:8 Then Manoah entreated Yahweh and said, Oh Lord, please let the man of God whom you sent come again to us and teach us what we should do to the child who will be born-
The Angel had explained already; they were to raise him as a Nazirite. But as with Gideon, Manoah had a weak faith and wanted continual confirmation. And there was also the fact that he may well have doubted how a woman could speak to him God's words. He wanted to hear them for himself. And God made a concession to that weakness, as He does to many cultural mores which are a denial of deeper spiritual principle.

Jdg 13:9 God listened to the voice of Manoah, and the angel of God came again to the woman as she sat in the field, but Manoah her husband, wasn’t with her-
I suggested on :8 that he may well have doubted how a woman could speak to him God's words. He wanted to hear them for himself. And God made a concession to that weakness. But He does so by all the same first appearing to the woman alone, and not directly to Manoah in the first instance.

Jdg 13:10 The woman quickly ran and told her husband, and said to him, The man has appeared to me, who came to me that day-
The record of Samson's birth frequently uses the phrases "the man" and "the woman" (:10,11), as if to send the mind back to Eden- with the implication that Samson was the seed of the woman, in type of Christ. "The woman" is a phrase nearly always associated in Scripture with the birth of someone who was to be a seed of the woman. "Of all that I said unto the woman, let her beware", coming from the mouth of an Angel (:13), surely confirms the Eden allusions.

Jdg 13:11 Manoah arose and went after his wife and came to the man and said to him, Are you the man who spoke to the woman? He said, I am-
To hear the words of God directly, Manoah has to follow after his wife. I suggested on :8,9 that he may well have doubted how a woman could speak to him God's words. He wanted to hear them for himself. And God made a concession to that weakness. But He does so in such a way that still requires him to follow behind his more spiritual wife (see on :23), in order to hear those words.

Jdg 13:12 Manoah said, Now may your words come true. What should the child’s way of life and mission be?-
There may be here the slight hint that he did not have total faith in the words of promise. For we could understand him as meaning 'Well I hope what you say is true. Should it be true, then how should we, in that case, raise the child; what is his mission going to be, so that we might raise him towards it?'. I note on :23 that his wife has more faith and perception than he does. And it is highly significant that the description of the "mission", to deliver Israel from the Philistines, is told only to the woman and not to Manoah.

Jdg 13:13 The angel of Yahweh said to Manoah, All that I said to the woman she must do-
Although God is making a concession to Manoah's weakness in appearing to him, He emphasizes that His primary word had been to the woman, not to Manoah. The concession to his chauvinistic weakness was therefore not total, but done in such a way that he was reminded that God had chosen his wife before him in revealing His word. See on :14.

Jdg 13:14 She may not eat anything that comes from the vine, neither let her drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing; all that I commanded her let her observe-
"Let her observe" may have been the command to Manoah, to not stand in the way of her obeying the call to also be a Nazirite. See on :13.

Jdg 13:15 Manoah said to the angel of Yahweh, Please, let us detain you so that we may make a young goat ready for you-
The record of Samson has a large number of examples of the repetitions in Biblical narrative. They are situations where he was connected into the experience of those who had gone before- e.g. Manoah's desire to detain the Angel recalls Jud.  6:18; Gen. 18:5. His desire to detain the Angel and offer sacrifice was exactly that of Gideon (6:18). His belief after he had seen the Angel ascend (Jud. 13:20 = Jud. 6:21), and his subsequent fear, were again expressed in the words of Gideon (Jud. 13:21,22 cp. Jud. 6:22). As Gideon was, perhaps subconsciously, the hero of Manoah, so Samson followed his father's spirituality in this, wanting likewise to copy Gideon. It seems he lived out parental expectation, and imbibed the spirituality of his father without making it his own. Born and raised believers, beware.  

 The whole scene is very similar to that of Gen. 18:7,8. Manoah responded as Abraham did, and later he would have perceived the similarities, and therefore grasped that this "man" was indeed an Angel.

Jdg 13:16 The angel of Yahweh said to Manoah, Though you detain me, I won’t eat your food, and if you prepare a burnt offering, you must offer it to Yahweh. Manoah didn’t know that he was the angel of Yahweh-
And yet as noted on :15, the whole scene was so very similar to that of Gen. 18:7,8 that we conclude that Manoah ought to have perceived ["know"] that this was an Angel. The fact he didn't is therefore an indication of lack of spiritual perception on his part. See on :23. The fact the Angel didn't eat of his food and meat, whereas the Angels who visited Abraham did so, could be read as a possible rebuke of Manoah for not perceiving this was an Angel. See on :17.

"Detain" is the word used for the Angelic restraining of the womb from bearing children (Gen. 20:18), and had been used specifically about Sarah (Gen. 16:2). And this whole incident was intended to help them see the similarities with Abraham and Sarah's Angelic visitation. The Angel may intend them to grasp the point- that they thought they were detaining / restraining Him, when He had been restraining them from having children until this point. Perhaps only later did they perceive this, if at all. There are many such Biblical allusions built in by God to our life experiences; and we may or may not ever perceive them in the course of our lives. Self examination of the path and details of our lives is clearly intended by God.

Jdg 13:17 Manoah said to the angel of Yahweh, What is your name, that when your words come true, we may honour you?-
The record says that Manoah said this "to the Angel", whilst clearly thinking this was a mere man. He acts and reasons as if this is a man, and he needs to know his name so that he can give him honour. When surely his mind should have been upon honouring God. "When" may also bear the implication of "if", as if he still didn't completely believe these words (see on :12). As noted on :16, his lack of perception that this was an Angel is criticized implicitly.

Jdg 13:18 The angel of Yahweh said to him, Why do you ask about my name, since it is beyond understanding-
Or, "wonderful", implying 'miraculous'. This again was urging Manoah to understand that this was not a human prophet, but an Angel with the power to do miracles. I have noted on :16,17 that Manoah is being implicitly criticized for not perceiving this was an Angel. And so the Angel replies with exactly the Angelic words to Jacob (Gen. 32:29). Their subsequent fear (Jud. 13:22) is that of Gen. 32:20. See on Jud. 14:12. Yet despite this, Manoah fails to make the connection, for only at the point :21 does he realize this was an Angel.

Jdg 13:19 So Manoah took the young goat with the grain offering and offered it on the rock to Yahweh. Then the angel did a wonderful thing as Manoah and his wife looked on-
Manoah had initially wanted to prepare food for the visitor, but He had declined it, and told him instead to offer it to Yahweh. And Manoah does so.

Jdg 13:20 When the flame went up toward the sky from the altar, the angel of Yahweh ascended in the flame of the altar, and Manoah and his wife looked on-
The fact they had an altar on their property indicates that they did serve Yahweh, although not in the ideal sense of offering at His sanctuary. "Ascended" is the word usually translated "offering". The idea is that the Angel was identified with the sacrifice, meaning that it had been accepted. Despite all Manoah's lack of spiritual perception throughout the encounter, as lamented on :16-18. 

And they fell on their faces to the ground-
The phrase used of men doing this with a sense of unworthiness and conviction of sin (Gen. 44:14; Josh. 7:6; Ruth 2:10). Now that they had been humbled, God could work further with them. And that is an abiding principle. 

Jdg 13:21 But the angel of Yahweh didn’t appear to Manoah or to his wife any more. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of Yahweh-
See on :16,17,18. It was the very absence of God’s direct appearance in his life that in the end persuaded Manoah that truly, he did have a fully valid relationship with Him. And the apparent silence of God is intended to teach us likewise.

Jdg 13:22 Manoah said to his wife, We shall surely die, because we have seen God-
He failed to learn the lesson from Gideon, who had likewise wrongly panicked (Jud. 6:22,28); and likewise of Jacob and others who saw the face of an Angel and lived (Gen. 16:14; 32:30). Isaiah too failed to learn this lesson from history (Is. 6:5). 

Jdg 13:23 But his wife said to him, If Yahweh wanted to kill us He wouldn’t have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering from us, neither would He have shown us all these things, nor would He have told us such things as these-
Here we have a repeat of the essence of the situation between Deborah and Barak, where again a woman’s faith was greater than a man’s fear; see on :12. Such interconnections within the Biblical record reveal an overall Divine mind behind the entire volume. And we see too how Biblical history is intended to serve as a precedent for us, teaching us that we are not alone, not on unmapped territory never passed before. But all is working out as God has worked previously.

Jdg 13:24 The woman bore a son, and named him Samson, and the child grew and Yahweh blessed him-
"The child grew, and Yahweh blessed him" is the language used of Samuel, John and the Lord Jesus- all likewise chosen from the womb, with births announced by Angels to childless women. See on :2,3. It is possible that his parents still had elements of weakness in them; for his name doesn't include the 'Yah' prefix, and 'Samson' ('splendour of the sun') may be a reference to the nearby town of Beth Shemesh ('house of the sun-god'). It could be argued that because the father was responsible for his son's marriage partner (Jud. 12:9; 14:2; 15:2; Gen. 24:3-9; Neh. 10:30), therefore Samson's father was equally guilty for Samson's 'marriage out of the faith'. Many of the commands against intermarriage were directed to parents, commanding them not to give their children in intermarriage.

Jdg 13:25 The Spirit of Yahweh began to trouble him in the camp of Dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol-
Samson was possessed of a finely tuned conscience. The first instance of this is when we read how the Spirit of Yahweh troubled him (Heb.) from time to time in the camp of Dan, in the very places where his people had earlier failed to follow up the victories of Joshua-Jesus by their spiritual laziness. He was troubled, deeply, by the Philistine dominance and Israel's unfaithfulness to Yahweh (s.w. Gen. 41:8). God works directly on the human spirit by His Spirit. And so He provoked Samson to have these concerns in his spirit, and God's Spirit confirmed Samson's positive response to these proddings, which were initially of God's working directly on his heart. This is how the Holy Spirit likewise works today.   

The context of Samson's marriage does seem to suggest that Samson himself sought occasion against the Philistines; for the Spirit of the Lord had been troubling his conscience as to why the people of Dan had not followed up Joshua's victories, and had allowed themselves to be overrun by the uncircumcised (13:25 Heb.). The only other references to "troubled" are in Gen. 41:8; Ps. 77:4; Dan. 2:1,3. The Spirit of God worked with Samson's spirit, so that it was troubled as he went for his solitary walks of meditation. It was no accident that he was buried in the very place where his conscience was first awakened (Jud. 16:31); he maybe asked for this burial place, to show he had at last returned to his innocent spiritual beginnings.