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Nobodies of the Bible: Manoah and his wife, Samson's parents

Almost everybody knows about Samson and Delilah. Samson had superhuman strength. He seems not to have had even normal human intelligence, because Delilah tried to wheedle the secret of his strength three times before he broke down and told her. Of course, she made sure he got a haircut and lost everything. What people may not recognize is that Samson started life with greater spiritual advantages than almost anyone in Scripture--and spectacularly failed to live up to them. No one can blame his sorry fate on his parents, Manoah and his unnamed wife. They did everything right.

Like most Old Testament stories, information about Samson's life was probably passed down orally for generations before anyone wrote anything down. Oral tradition can remain accurate over remarkably long periods of time, but by the time Samson's story was written, no one had seen fit to preserve the name of his mother. God, however, clearly considered her more important for his purposes than Manoah.

Israel's habitual corruption

The story of Samson's conception and birth--and therefore his parents--is told in Judges 13. It begins with the statement that Israel again did what God considered evil. Actually, Judges 2:11-23 summarizes the entire book--especially verse 19: "And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they reverted and behaved more corruptly than their fathers, by following other gods, to serve them and bow down to them. the did not seas from their own doings nor from their stubborn way" (emphasis added).

Here are the judges and deliverers mentioned that God raised up to deliver Israel from various oppressors: Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah and Barak, Gideon, Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon. Each of these delivered Israel, kept the people more or less in line and preserved peace for the rest of their lives, and then died. In between, the people sank lower into depravity than before, and then cried out to the Lord for deliverance.

By Samson's time, they had lived under Philistine domination for 40 years. An entire generation of people became so complacent about living under oppression that they didn't even bother to cry out to God. God chose not to wait any longer than that and decided to prepare a special judge for a special mission.

The angel of the Lord appeared to a barren woman identified only as Manoah's wife and told her she would have a son. That son would begin to deliver Israel, whose situation had become so dire than one superhero's lifetime would not be enough to finish the task. Right away, discerning readers will remember Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, and Elizabeth, barren women whose sons became giants of the faith.

Fire Angel

Fire Angel

Manoah and his wife

The angel gave Manoah's wife special instructions. Her son was supposed to live as a nazirite his entire life, from the moment of conception. Therefore, she had to live as a nazirite from that moment until her son was born. In an ordinary nazirite vow, a person voluntarily set him or herself apart from the rest of society for a limited period of time. During that time, the nazirite gave up grapes and everything made from them: not only wine, but wine vinegar and raisins. Nazirites could not cut their hair during the time of their vow and could not make themselves unclean by handling a dead body. Even if their parents or siblings or children died during the time of the vow, they were forbidden to assist in preparing them for burial or even caressing their bodies one last time.

The woman ran to tell Manoah the news. Manoah immediately prayed that God would send the same man (neither had any idea that she had spoken with the angel of the Lord) to teach them in more detail how to raise this special son. In answer to that prayer, the angel again appeared to the woman, but not when Manoah was with her. So she ran to get him. The angel told Manoah everything he had already told his wife. He was to make sure that she followed those instructions in detail.

As was the custom, Manoah invited the visitor to stay for supper. The angel declined the invitation and suggested that Manoah offer a burnt offering to the Lord. Manoah immediately did so, and as the flame rose to the sky, the angel merged with the flame and ascended into heaven. Samson was born on schedule, and God greatly blessed him. Eventually the Spirit of God began to move on him, meaning that he began to show his super-human strength. Let's not imagine Samson as someone whose picture could grace the cover of modern body-building magazines. If he had looked like that, no one would have wondered where his great strength came from. He was a perfectly ordinary looking man who could do freakishly impossible deeds of strength when the Spirit moved on him.

Samson turned out to be a bust. He showed no interest in delivering Israel from the Philistines. He performed most of his recorded feats either as a practical joke or to seek personal revenge. Although he obviously never forsook God to worship Philistine deities, he had a dangerous attraction to Philistine women. He never displayed his parents' faith, piety, or faithfulness to God. As judges go, Samson came closer to mirroring the corruption of his people than any of the others. Concerning his mission in life, Samson appears an abject failure. And yet by God's grace, Scripture forbids us to consider his a wasted life.

Samson (with the jawbone of the ass) and his parents

Samson (with the jawbone of the ass) and his parents

Lessons from Samson's parents

Manoah and his wife actually make much better role models than their famous son. We need to take note of the implications of their lives.

  • In a time of utter social corruption and decay, they remained faithful to God. In a time when the behavior of church people in general is not noticeably different from that of society as a whole, we need as many Christians as possible to live faithful, pious, and humble lives.
  • The wife's anonymity demonstrates how much more important ordinary, anonymous people are to God than to their fellow humans. If you feel like you don't matter to anyone, in fact you matter very much to God. He knows your name even if no one else does.
  • She very much wanted a son and had probably prayed about it all her adult life. She never thought of accepting out of the ordinary responsibilities along with the answer to her prayer, but God frequently answers prayer by giving more than people bargain for. Whatever burden comes with answered prayer is as much a gift of grace as whatever it is we want in the first place.
  • Nazirite vows were generally voluntary. To be told that she must observe it and raise a son to observe it all his life must have been unnerving. Yet Manoah's wife accepted her responsibility without hesitation.
  • After she received the good news from the angel, she immediately went to tell her husband. That ought to be a normal pattern. Whenever we receive any kind of grace from God, we ought to share it with someone else.
  • Manoah's wife came to him with a fantastic tale. Mary Magdalene had her own fantastic tale for the disciples, too, but what a difference. Manoah took her at her word.
  • He realized that her story of a son with a life-long nazirite vow and a divine calling on his life had important implications for himself as a father. He did not shy away.
  • Therefore he immediately turned from listening to his wife to praying for guidance. How many of us today turn to prayer only after heading out on our own and running into trouble? For that matter, how many turn to prayer only as an absolutely last resort?
  • The angel's repetition of instructions about the nazirite vow does not mean that Manoah was not worthy to hear anything new. He probably did get a more detailed understanding. As far as literary structure is concerned, though, the three-fold repetition underscores how important revelation knowledge is and how important it is to act on it.
  • When the angel ascended on the flame, Manoah and his wife fell on the ground face down in worship--certainly an appropriate response to such a miraculous occurrence. Throughout biblical times, it appears that the various social orders all assumed that men were more spiritually mature and discerning than women. Manoah was immediately afraid they would both die from seeing God, and there seems to be good historical precedent in the stories passed down from Moses' time to justify his fear. It was the wife who pointed out that they couldn't die for seeing the manifestation of God. If they did, his words could not come true. In our society, "religion" seems most suited for women. That imbalance is as seriously wrong as the older one.
  • We all need the fellowship of sharing in order to fully understand whatever revelations come our way. In this case, the woman corrected her husband's misunderstanding. Undoubtedly he performed the same service for her on other occasions.
  • From all appearances, Manoah and his wife did all the right things as parents, but Samson turned out to disappoint them anyway. Granted that there has been an unbroken chain of parental failure to one degree or another since Adam and Eve raised Cain, children are responsible for their own mistakes once they grow up. Take responsibility for whatever mistakes you know you made, but don't accept any blame (or credit for that matter) from anyone for how your children turned out.

Photo credits:

Fire angel: Some rights reserved by Clearly Ambiguous

Samson and his parents: Some rights reserved by Sue Hasker - Catching up slowly


David Guion (author) from North Carolina on March 16, 2013:

Actually, this article is not about Samson, but his parents. I have written about Samson himself here:

Jimsy on March 15, 2013:

I see you tactically forgot to mention that he judged for 20 years, and the dead whom he slew at his death was more than those whom he slew in his life. (Old testament, Judges 16:30-16:31)

David Guion (author) from North Carolina on August 09, 2011:

Yes, ruffridyer, loving anybody or anything more than God is dangerous. It's a pretty good rough definition of idolatry. Samson lusted not just for women in general, but Philistine women in particular. Especially unwise for someone with a divine calling on his life!

ruffridyer from Dayton, ohio on August 09, 2011:

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Samson's greatest weakness was he loved women more than God. He was destroyed by his worldly lust.

Brenda Barnes from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on August 08, 2011:

I do not argue about the Bible. God's Word speaks for itself. Joy in Jesus, Hyphenbird.

David Guion (author) from North Carolina on August 08, 2011:

I can easily enough edit the sentence you quote.

There is only one person named Abimelech in the book of Judges. He was definitely not a judge by any stretch of the imagination. The book of Judges never calls him a judge. He was simply a thug and an outlaw important enough to have his own chapter. If one comments about Biblical matters one must be accurate.

Brenda Barnes from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on August 08, 2011:

You wrote, "Here are the judges mentioned that God raised up to deliver Israel from various oppressors: Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah and Barak, Gideon, Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon." My objective is not to argue but to keep the integrity of the Word. One seeking or just learning may become confused by a mistake. Barak does not belong on the list if he was not a judge. There actually were several men named Abimelech in the Bible. Regardless of his actions, if he is listed as a judge, we cannot just remove him because we don't like him.

If one writes about Biblical matters one must be accurate. That is all I mean with this. Thank you, Hyphenbird.

David Guion (author) from North Carolina on August 06, 2011:

Thanks, Hyphenbird. I agree the integrity of the Word must be preserved. It was not my intention to list all the judges, but to list those who had delivered Israel from oppression before Samson. Barak worked closely with Deborah, so he belongs on the list. What's Abimelech doing there? He appointed himself king and killed his brothers in order to dominate.

As for Samson's mother accepting a nazirite vow, consider Judges 13:4, 7, 14. If Samson was to be a nazirite from the womb, his mother had to be a nazirite while she was pregnant. I never said Manoah took the vow, but he had to know and respect his wife's obligation in order to support and cooperate with it.

Brenda Barnes from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on August 05, 2011:

I respectfully must say that you need to research your facts again. Barak was not a judge. The 15 judges were:

1. Othniel

2. Ehud

3. Shagmar

4. Deborah

5. Gideon

6. Abimelech

7. Tola

8. Yair

9. Jepthah

10. Ibzan

11. Elon

12. Abdon

13. Samson

14. Eli

15. Samuel

Also, where did you read that Samson's parents were also Nazarites? They did seem to be wonderful parents and faithful to the Lord's commands.

I am not being argumentative. I just know the integrity of the Word must be preserved. Thank you, Hyphenbird.

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