Because of our departure for three weeks from this series on the life of Samson I think it would be good to refresh our minds of what we have considered up to this point.
This year began with a clear word from the Holy Spirit. That word was- ‘The corner is turned’- followed by the single word ‘redemption’. The growing sense in my heart around that word is that we have been brought into a season where we are going to see the manifestation of the redemptive heart of God in relation to some very longstanding issues of brokenness- especially regarding family members.
If you recall, the story of Samson begins with a national mess (Judges 13:1). It moves from that mess to a local or individual mess (Judges 13: 2). And then we make this wonderful discovery that the angel of the Lord shows up right in the middle of that local mess (Judges 13: 3). First he affirms the reality of the mess-“Behold now, you are barren and have borne no children”- but by that affirmation he lets us know that heaven is aware of the mess. Beyond that when heaven manifest itself in the mess you can count on the fact that the mess is about to be changed.
This is where we come to the reality of redemption. And in this we see the heart of God- the unchanging disposition of the Father’s heart in relation to the mess- and that disposition is always redemptive; He comes to redeem the mess.
If you recall- I have made the statement throughout that life is not about the mess- it is not about comparing messes; the real story, the only story is the redemptive heart of God in the mess. And the issue of that redemption is the transformation of my own heart and life so that I now live redemptively in relation to the ongoing sanctification of my own mess and the mess around me each and everyday.
This reality of redemption began with and moved around a promise given by the angel of the Lord, and received, believed and embraced by the woman in the mess.
The next movement within the story reveals that with the promise there comes a whole new level of responsibility and accountability; she was called to new demands of obedience:
“Now therefore, be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing.”
The next reality of the story was that having received and believed the promise, she immediately shared the whole thing with her husband- and the lesson there was and is that beyond our personal encounters with God, and beyond the receiving of the promise we must recognise that the fruit of the promise appears within the relational reality and dynamic of true covenant community. No one is ever going to be fruitful in a vacuum. So we need to know where God has set us in. We need to know the place of our covenant connections as determined and appointed by the Lord.
This summation brings us up to verse eight.
Then Manoah entreated the LORD and said, “O Lord, please let the man of God whom You have sent come to us again that he may teach us what to do for the boy who is to be born.” 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.
The first response of Manoah to the testimony of his wife was to entreat the Lord. Whatever else this demonstrates it certainly demonstrates that he believed. People do not sincerely entreat the Lord about something they do not believe.
The word ‘entreat’ in the original language does not imply passivity or mere religious correctness. There is something in it, along with the word “said” that implies deep passion of the heart- in the sense of the determined and set direction, the strong intention and desire of the heart- regardless of the physical expression of it.
You do not come to this deep level of prayer without first believing. It is only out of a living faith at the core of consciousness that this dynamic of prayer can be experienced.
This tells us that Manoah had come to faith- and we must conclude that he had come to this faith the same way his wife had. She heard the word of the Lord through the agency of the angel of the Lord. Manoah no less heard the same word of the Lord through the agency of the testimony of his wife. And from this we understand that the issue in faith is the hearing of the word of the Lord and not the instrument through which He speaks that word.
This is a very important consideration because God often speaks through instruments that offend our standards of acceptability. He deliberately does this to test our hearts regarding our focus- is our focus on God or is it on the scaffolding? I have often found that the first voice of doubt concerning what I just heard comes around the issue of the instrument God spoke through.
The second major issue in this part of the story is the issue of covenant, and community, and relationship. I am suggesting that the reason the witness of the promise was so immediate within Manoah regarding the testimony of his wife was because of the level of covenant reality they had come to relationally.
Notice what he prayed: “O Lord, please let the man of God whom You have sent come to us again that he may teach us what to do for the boy who is to be born.”
Manoah did not merely pray a bunch of words based upon past experience and religious training. His prayer utterance was the disciplined expression of the faith to which he had come regarding the very specific promise of the Lord.
Because of that he did not pray that this thing would come to past; he prayed beyond that- as if it had already come to past. He prayed into the reality and responsibility of the promise fulfilled and the appearing of the gift.
There is a reality of faith that does not spend its energy reciting the promise back to God- as though He were unmindful of it- but rather speaks into the finished work and the responsibility that comes with that finished work.
If ever I have read a prayer of faith this is it. And look at what the next verse states; 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.
I cannot tell you how for the last five months these words have absolutely gripped my soul- and in the right use of the word, have haunted my consciousness: God listened to the voice of Manoah.
There are three considerations I want to point out here. The first is the word ‘listened’. The word in the Hebrew text in part means this: to take heed, pay attention, hear, i.e., to believe the information and respond on the basis of having heard.
The second thing to note is that the text does not read that God listened to the words of Manoah, but rather God listened to the voice of Manoah- and I would suggest there is a difference. This deserves a great deal more consideration than this, but I would only note in passing that the greater part of communication is not a matter of words but of voice.
The word found in the Hebrew text means this: any type of noise which breaks the sound waves and so enters the perception of hearing- and many of these sounds act as a signal, as opposed to a voice giving verbal communication.
The issue in prayer is voice rather than grand articulations. The apostle Paul wrote:
In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words;
If we always have words to express our praying then we have not been to the deepest reality of prayer.
Please do not hear this as mean criticism- but I have reached a place (right or wrong) where much of the prayer exercise of the church leaves me very weary- mentally and even physically weary, as well as deeply frustrated and very sad. Words, words, words…..the grand articulations of the well trained and religiously experienced soul but lacking the dynamic life and revelation of the Spirit.
My praying can become (more quickly than I care to accept) the articulation of good ideas, personal agendas, and even doctrinal positions- it can become my way of making a point, usually to contradict your point- and in all of this there is no mind of Christ ministered by the Holy Spirit.
If you are tempted to feel handicapped in prayer because of a lack of ability to formulate grand articulations- if you look into your heart and find there are desires there which are beyond words- then remember this one thing, God listens for and to the voice- and not just the words. In fact the Psalmist wrote that God heard his desire; it mentions nothing of words or even voice.
The third thing I would ask us to do this morning is to read these words of the text, and insert our name into the place where Manoah’s name appears. God listened to the voice of Dale………
In fact I am going to ask that we participate in this corporately. I will read the words- God listened to the voice of- and at that point you shout out your own name. The intent here is not manipulation- the need to draw some kind of validating response out of you; the issue is to give you the opportunity to express the reality of the covenant agreement within your own heart with what the Spirit is saying here today. This is your way of adding your own covenant “Amen!”, and thus confirming the faith God has brought us to in this. And we should never underestimate the power of this expression of our covenant agreement in moving the whole process along.