In our last “visit with Samson” we looked at Manoah’s response to the testimony of his wife. Today we want to look at God’s response to Manoah’s response.
God listened to the voice of Manoah; and the angel of God came again to the woman as she was sitting in the field, but Manoah her husband was not with her. So the woman ran quickly and told her husband, “Behold, the man who came the other day has appeared to me.” Then Manoah arose and followed his wife, and when he came to the man he said to him, “Are you the man who spoke to the woman?” And he said, “I am.”
I read this story all last summer, and in this answer to prayer I cannot help but see some real humour. Manoah entreats the Lord out of a genuine faith regarding the promise of God, but when God answers his prayer He does so in another person, and in another place.
Apart from the humour, there is a vital lesson regarding answered prayer. How God answers prayer, when He answers prayer, where He answers prayer, and in whom He answers prayer is quite obviously a matter of His sovereignty- and the one doing the praying has no authority in these matters. The purpose of prayer is not to direct or manipulate God.
It is possible that some of those “unanswered” prayers of ours have in fact been answered in someone else’s life, and in some other geographical location. Personally I feel this is going to be one of the great revelations when we see this thing from the other side.
According to the story, Manoah’s wife informs him of the answer to his prayer. At verse 11 we find his response to that report: Then Manoah arose and followed his wife. And again I see both humour and tragedy in this. I just find it hilarious that this guy prays the prayer, and God answers in such a way that the only way Manoah can discover the reality of the answer to his prayer is by breaking with the convention of the culture he lived in and follow his wife. In those ancient cultures as in many yet today men did not follow women for any reason.
It is difficult to follow at the best of times, but when that “followship” (new word not even in the dictionary yet) demands a break with convention, and custom, and the accepted norm then it really becomes a challenge. I think it is legitimate to suggest that there are times in our experience when the realisation of answered prayer is dependant upon our willingness to follow- which means our willingness to be led- and especially when to follow brings us into real vulnerability with the expectations of conventional practise and wisdom.
It may well be possible that the reason we seem so limited in our realization of answered prayer is because we refuse to go where that answered prayer takes us. For the most part when we pray to God we have already set in some measure of definition regarding the answer to that prayer. And for the most part when God answers that prayer it rarely fits that definition.
Only those willing to follow the answer of God beyond their own set definitions are going to discover the full wonder of answered prayer.
Think what Manoah would have missed had he not followed the answer to his prayer beyond the defined box of accepted convention.
I am not going to deal with this visitation and the exchange between Manoah and the angel of the Lord. However, there is one verse we need to note because it gives us some insight into why Manoah and his wife named their son Samson. But beyond that I believe it gives us important insight into what went wrong so far as that wrong related to parental failure.
But before that let me remind you of a central truth we have referred to quite frequently in this series; that truth is that no one can be fruitful in a vacuum; there will be others involved in the fulfilment of the promise of God you carry.
After the personal encounter with the angel of the Lord, after receiving the redemptive promise of God that her bareness was going to be replaced with fruitfulness we read these words at the end of chapter 13: ‘Then the woman gave birth to a son and named him Samson.’
How did this woman’s fruitfulness appear? It appeared within the very practical dynamics of the marital relationship she had with Manoah. To state this negatively, what do you think would have happened if Manoah’s wife had concluded that because of her encounter with the angel of the Lord, and because she was given the promise of the Lord she certainly did not need to engage in something as practical and as earthy and as natural as sexual relations with her husband?
There are two things we need to take away from this. First, the manifestation of the promises of God take place within the practical realities and details of life. Failure to understand this leads to a very exhausting search for some fantasized definition of the supernatural, while overlooking in the practical details of our life the very thing we are looking for.
Secondly, the promises of God manifest within the relational realities of our life. Samson appeared within the covenant relationship of marriage between Manoah and his wife. And whatever promise we now carry within our own spirit- it too will manifest within the community of the covenant relationships God has appointed to our lives.
Now we come to that part of the study where we will begin our examination of the mess. Before we are done with this there may be a tendency to think that we have become bogged down in the mess- that we have become too mess conscious. But let me remind you going in that the heart of all I am presenting- that the real story in all of this is the story of God’s redeeming grace and love- but the depth of that redemption cannot be arrived at without a deep understanding of the mess from which we have been redeemed.
The verse we need to note is- JDG 13:17 Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “ What is your name, so that when your words come to pass, we may honour you?” Join that verse with this event: For it came about when the flame went up from the altar toward heaven, that the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame.
It is clear from Manoah’s conversation with the angel of the Lord that he wanted to name the promised son after the name of the visitor who had brought the promise to them. That is why he asked what his name was, before he knew he was the angel of the Lord.
The name Samson means light, or sun, or of the sun, or sunlight, or sunshine. It seems clear enough that this whole concept of light relates back to the encounter with the angel of the Lord, when before their very eyes they saw him ascend in the light of the flame of fire upon the altar. So while they never knew his name, they would forever associate his identity with the light of the flame of fire upon the altar; thus the name Samson.
To express the meaning of the name Samson in everyday speech- or what I would describe as “down home colloquialism”- the term would be “Little Sunshine.” And again let me suggest that right there we have some insight into how his parents related to him; and the first detail of the mess has to do with how they related to him.
Before we come to chapter fourteen we should note how the first chapter of Samson’s story ends. Then the woman gave birth to a son and named him Samson; and the child grew up and the LORD blessed him. And the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.
There’s a part of me that wishes the rest of the story had never been written down; but in and by the wisdom of God it is written down- and that fact alone tells me it was written down for a very important purpose. If I see the rest of the story as being a mess then I must honestly search out before the Lord why He reported the mess. In fact, why is it that from Genesis to Revelations the Bible makes no attempt to cover the mess? Is it the mess God wants us to see? Or is there something in the mess- something of His own incredible, creative wonder and purpose He wants us to see?
Are we looking at a Samson story, or are we looking at a God story? And if it is a God story then at some point the mess gets redeemed. And that, I would suggest, is the only real story here- a story of redemption.
The very first thing this means is that I must interpret the mess through the reality of God’s redemption. In doing this I make this fundamental discovery that without a mess there is no need or call for redemption. And secondly the depth of my understanding of the mystery of and gratitude toward God for His redemption is proportionate to my real understanding of the depth of the mess He has redeemed me out of. The issue of redemption is not the covering up and denial of the mess- rather it is the freedom to shamelessly face and deal with the mess through the redemptive grace of God.
When you read the first chapter of Samson’s story- the chapter contains such wonderful and incredible events so full of hope and promise. How do you get from that incredible beginning to this; Then the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes; and they brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze chains, and he was a grinder in the prison.
And beyond that how do you get to this: Then his brothers and all his father’s household came down, took him, brought him up and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of Manoah his father.
At some very fundamental level it is not unlike what we find in Genesis. How does a book open with- In the beginning God- and end with- So Joseph died at the age of one hundred and ten years; and he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt.
Between these two verses we have in some very wonderful way the story of God’s grand design with respect to mankind. In a word that design is redemption. We know that the last word concerning the dead man in the coffin in Egypt is that he will not remain in Egypt, but will be transported into the promise of God.
And the last word of Samson’s story is not the messy ending reported in the Old Testament, but rather that single reference to his name, listed among the heroes of faith in Hebrews eleven. HEB 11:32) And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets.
HEB 11:39 And all these, having gained approval through their faith…
Whatever else that may mean it most certainly means that God’s story in Samson’s story is one of redemption; the message is not the mess but the Messiah.
But a true understanding of redemption includes a mature understanding of the mess, and at Judges 14 we come face to face with the mess. That is where we will pick this up next week.
Before leaving off this morning, notice that they did not gain approval through their works- not even their works of faith. They did not gain approval through their performance. They did not gain approval through their deeds of ministry.
They gained approval through their faith- and while that faith most certainly affected their life, it is equally true that it never produced a life of sinless perfection- and even if it had their justification would still have been on the basis of faith and not on the basis of that sinless perfection.
This is the truth we are most in danger of forgetting; we begin in faith but look more and more to the life we live as the ongoing means of our justification. For this reason the Bible calls for a healthy remembrance of the past; what I call a mature understanding of the mess.