A Promising Beginning

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Judges 13:1-25 (Samson’s birth)

INTRODUCTION: Today we start a brand new series on the life of Samson in the Bible. Samson is a character we are all familiar with from Bible stories as a kid. We know that he had long hair and that he was exceptionally strong, and of course we all know about Samson and Delilah. But although we may know some isolated facts about Samson, many of us don’t really know his whole story. Who was Samson, why was he important, and what do we learn from his life?

Our message series is called “Samson: Strong Man Gone Wrong,” and as we will see, a lot went wrong in Samson’s life. But he got off to a great start, which is what today’s message is all about. We will be looking at all of Judges 13 in our message today, but as it is a fairly long chapter, we will start just by reading verses 24-25. (Read Judges 13:24-25 and pray.)

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Samson is an enigma. He is called by God, yet he never takes his call seriously. He is listed as one of the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11, and yet he disobeys God at every turn. He is supposed to fight the Philistines, and yet he pals around with them instead. He likes women, a lot, and he especially likes Philistine women, and so Samson is literally sleeping with the enemy. As we shall see throughout this series, God fulfills his purposes through Samson not because of Samson but in spite of Samson, and Samson kills more Philistines at his death than during his lifetime.

Samson was one of the judges in the book of Judges. The judges were military leaders who served during a time when Israel was in a downward spiral. God gave Israel a great start when they entered the Promised Land, but through lack of faith, they entered a dangerous cycle of disobedience, discipline, despair and deliverance. The Israelites would disobey God, so he would discipline them by handing them over to their enemies. The Israelites would cry out to God in despair, and then he would raise up a judge who would deliver them. The Israelites would serve God during the lifetime of the judge, but when the judge died, they would go back to disobedience and the whole cycle would start all over again. (Judges 2:10-19)

And each time they went through this cycle, things got worse and worse. Even their judges got worse! As the cycle continues, the judges rule for lesser years. Their families get smaller with fewer and fewer children, a sign of God’s judgment on the nation. As Robert Godfrey points out: “Gideon had many children; Jephthah had one daughter and killed her; Samson had no children and killed himself.” And so, as Israel declined, so did their judges. Samson is the twelfth and final judge, and he is the worst of all!

And yet, just like Israel in the promised land, Samson had a promising beginning. God gave Israel everything they needed to succeed in the Promised Land, and God gave Samson everything he needed to succeed as Israel’s deliverer. So, let’s get started with Samson’s story.

I. A promise of deliverance (1-5)

Samson’s story begins with a promise of deliverance. Look at Judges 13:1 with me:

Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, so the LORD delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years. (Judges 13:1)

The word “again” reminds us that this was nothing new. Remember Israel had been through this cycle of disobedience, discipline, despair and deliverance many times before. But this time something is missing from the cycle. This time we do not read anything about Israel crying out to God in despair.

Israel is in such bad shape, they are not even crying out for deliverance anymore. And yet God will deliver them anyways. They skipped their step, but God won’t skip his. God is faithful even when we are not. Israel got comfortable in their slavery, just as we can get comfortable in our sin. As a result, they spent a much longer time in misery than they needed to, just as we do when we get comfortable with sin.

Samson’s story begins with a promise of deliverance – a promise to his parents that they will give birth to a son who will begin the deliverance of Israel from the Philistines. This will be both a personal deliverance for Samson’s parents as well as a greater deliverance for all of God’s people.

   A. Personal deliverance (1-3)
      – Psalm 34:17

First, this was a personal deliverance for Samson’s parents. Look with me at verses 2-3:

A certain man of Zorah, named Manoah, from the clan of the Danites, had a wife who was sterile and remained childless. The angel of the Lord appeared to her and said, “You are sterile and childless, but you are going to conceive and have a son.” (Judges 13:2-3)

Manoah’s wife was barren, and yet God promised her that she would have a son. And so, Manoah’s wife joins a long line of barren women in the Bible whom God blesses with a child. Sarah was barren and gave birth to Isaac. Rebekah was barren and gave birth to Jacob and Esau. Rachel was barren and gave birth to Joseph. Hannah was barren and gave birth to Samuel. Elizabeth was barren and gave birth to John the Baptist. All of these miraculous births point forward to Mary who gave birth to Jesus. Jesus’ birth was the greatest miracle of all, because his mother was not just barren, she was a virgin, and so hers was truly a miraculous birth.

Psalm 34:17 says: “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.” (Psalm 34:17) Samson’s story begins with a promise of personal deliverance for Manoah and his wife. God saw them in their distress, and he gave them a son.

   B. God’s greater purpose (4-5)
      – Numbers 6:1-21; Matthew 1:21

And yet we also see that God had a greater purpose in all this. Listen to what the angel told Manoah’s wife in verses 4-5:

“Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean, because you will conceive and give birth to a son. No razor may be used on his head, because the boy is to be a Nazirite, set apart to God from birth, and he will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines.” (Judges 13:4-5)

God provided a personal deliverance for Manoah and his wife, but this was all part of his greater purpose to deliver Israel from the Philistines. Manoah and his wife had been barren for some time. You might wonder, why didn’t God help them earlier? Because it was not the right time. God had great plans for their son, but it had to take place in God’s time, not theirs.

This helps us understand why God does not always answer our prayers right away. Whatever you are waiting on God for, whether it has to do with dating or marriage or healing or employment, know that God loves you and cares for you, but he is also working out his greater purposes. God is always up to something good!

The angel tells Manoah’s wife that Samson will be a Nazirite. A Nazirite was someone who dedicated themselves to the Lord by taking a three-part vow (Numbers 6:1-21): 1) they would drink no wine or any grape juice; 2) they would not touch or even go near a dead body; and 3) they would not cut their hair. This was a voluntary vow for a temporary season. After they fulfilled their vow, they could go back to normal living. Samson’s case was different in that his vow was not voluntary but imposed on him by God from birth. And it was not for a season but for the rest of his life.

The key verse of chapter 13 and indeed of Samson’s entire life story is right here in verse 5. Samson would begin to deliver the Israelites from the Philistines. This was God greater purpose in Samson’s life. Notice that Samson would only begin the task. The Philistines would not be completely defeated until the time of King David.

God had an even greater purpose than all this, because this was simply foreshadowing Christ who would come and work the greatest deliverance of all – the deliverance from sin and Satan and death. As the angel told Joseph in Matthew 1:21: “She [Mary] will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

There are so many parallels between Samson’s birth account and that of Jesus. Both births are announced by angels. In both cases the angel appears to the mother first and then to the husband. Both mothers show a willing attitude of obedience. Yes, God works personal deliverance for us, but we must always remember God’s greater purpose which he is fulfilling through his Son, Jesus Christ.

II. Obedience and faith (6-14)

So, Samson’s story begins with a promise of deliverance. Samson’s parents respond with obedience and faith.

   A. Prayer for instruction (6-8)
      – Psalm 86:11

First, they ask God to teach them how to bring up their son. Look at verses 6-8:

Then the woman went to her husband and told him, “A man of God came to me. He looked like an angel of God, very awesome. I didn’t ask him where he came from, and he didn’t tell me his name. But he said to me, ‘You will conceive and give birth to a son. Now then, drink no wine or other fermented drink and do not eat anything unclean, because the boy will be a Nazirite of God from birth until the day of his death.’” Then Manoah prayed to the Lord: “O Lord, I beg you, let the man of God you sent to us come again to teach us how to bring up the boy who is to be born.” (Judges 13:6-8)

Manoah’s wife tells her husband what the angel told her. And then Manoah prays for instruction. “O Lord, I beg you, let the man of God you sent to us come again to teach us how to bring up the boy who is to be born.”

This is a good prayer for all parents. “Lord, teach me, how to raise my child. Show me how to raise my child right.” Here’s a good prayer for all Christians – Psalm 86:11: “Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.” (Psalm 86:11) Part of obedience is asking God for instruction. “Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth.”

   B. Believing God’s promise (9-14)
      – Ephesians 2:8-9

Samson’s parents respond with obedience and faith. First, they ask God to teach them how to bring up the boy who will be born. Then they believe God’s promise that God’s words will be fulfilled. Look at verses 9-14:

God heard Manoah, and the angel of God came again to the woman while she was out in the field; but her husband Manoah was not with her. The woman hurried to tell her husband, “He’s here! The man who appeared to me the other day!” Manoah got up and followed his wife. When he came to the man, he said, “Are you the one who talked to my wife?” “I am,” he said. So Manoah asked him, “When your words are fulfilled, what is to be the rule for the boy’s life and work?” The angel of the Lord answered, “Your wife must do all that I have told her. She must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, nor drink any wine or other fermented drink nor eat anything unclean. She must do everything I have commanded her.” (Judges 13:9-14)

Notice Manoah’s faith here. He doesn’t say, “If your words are fulfilled,” but “When your words are fulfilled.” God has promised them a son, and Samson’s parents believe God’s promise.

The obedience of Samson’s parents was important, but it’s their faith that really counts. Ephesians 2:8-9 says: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) Obedience to God’s commands is important, but obedience doesn’t save. Only faith saves. Samson’s parents responded to God’s promise with both obedience and faith.

III. Worshiping the Lord (15-23)

Next, Samson’s parents move from obedience and faith to worship.

   A. Bringing an offering (15-16)
      – Deuteronomy 16:16

They begin by bringing an offering to God. Look at verses 15-16 with me now:

Manoah said to the angel of the Lord, “We would like you to stay until we prepare a young goat for you.” The angel of the Lord replied, “Even though you detain me, I will not eat any of your food. But if you prepare a burnt offering, offer it to the Lord.” (Manoah did not realize that it was the angel of the Lord.) (Judges 13:15-16)

We should pause here for a moment and say a few words about the angel of the Lord in this story. The angel of the Lord is a mysterious person who shows up at key moments in Old Testament history. He appears in human form and is not always recognized as an angel at first. And yet he is more than an angel, because he is also presented as God himself. And so, what we have with the angel of the Lord is not just an angel sent from God but an appearance of God himself in human form.

The angel of the Lord is another foreshadowing of Jesus. In Jesus God would take on actual flesh and blood and become an actual human being. In the Old Testament he merely appeared in human form. Many scholars believe that the angel of the Lord was actually a preincarnate appearance of Jesus Christ.

Either way, Samson’s parents recognize that this man has come from God and so they bring an offering. Bringing an offering is an important part of our worship of God. Deuteronomy 16:16 says: “No one should appear before the Lord empty-handed.” (Deuteronomy 16:16)

Don’t confuse worship with salvation. Salvation is about what God gives to you. Worship is about what you give to God – whether thanks or praise or repentance or a financial offering or works of service. Worshiping the Lord involves bringing an offering.

   B. Seeking God’s name (17-18)
      – Isaiah 9:6; Acts 4:12

Next, they seek God’s name. We read in verses 17-18:

Then Manoah inquired of the angel of the Lord, “What is your name, so that we may honor you when your word comes true?” He replied, “Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding.” (Judges 13:17-18)

The word translated “beyond understanding” in this verse is the same word that is translated “wonderful” in Isaiah 9:6: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given … and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6) Manoah asks the angel of the Lord, “What is your name?” and God answers, “Why do you ask? It is wonderful. It is beyond understanding.”

Isaiah 9:6 is a prophecy about Jesus of whom it is said in the New Testament: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) God has a name. He is Wonderful. He is Beyond Understanding. God’s Son has a name. His name is also Wonderful. He is the Savior. His name is Jesus.

   C. God’s holiness and our need for a sacrifice (19-23)
      – Hebrews 9:22, 10:22; 1 Peter 3:18

Jesus is the Savior because he offered his life as a sacrifice for our sins, which leads us to our third point under worship: God’s holiness and our need for sacrifice. Back to Judges 13 look at verses 19-21 with me:

Then Manoah took a young goat, together with the grain offering, and sacrificed it on a rock to the Lord. And the Lord did an amazing thing while Manoah and his wife watched: As the flame blazed up from the altar toward heaven, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame. Seeing this, Manoah and his wife fell with their faces to the ground. When the angel of the Lord did not show himself again to Manoah and his wife, Manoah realized that it was the angel of the Lord. (Judges 13:19-21)

When Manoah sacrifices the young goat together with the grain offering, something amazing happens. The flame blazes up toward heaven, and the angel of the Lord ascends in the flame, just as Jesus would ascend to heaven when his time on earth was done. Manoah and his wife fall with their faces to the ground, which is a good place to be, and they wait. When he doesn’t appear again, they realize that this was the angel of the Lord. They have been face to face with God all this time.

Now there’s a problem with seeing God face to face. You’re supposed to die. God is holy, and no one can see the face of God and live. Manoah recognizes this and cries out in verse 22:

“We are doomed to die!” he said to his wife. “We have seen God!” But his wife answered, “If the Lord had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and grain offering from our hands, nor shown us all these things or now told us this.” (Judges 13:22-23)

Why can Samson’s parents see God face to face and still live? Because God accepted their offering. This incident reminds us of God’s holiness and our need for a sacrifice. Hebrews 9:22 says: “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Hebrews 9:22) All the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament pointed forward to Jesus – the one, true sacrifice for our sins.

Because God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf, we can approach God with confidence and assurance instead of fear and avoidance. As Hebrews 10:22 says: “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.” (Hebrews 10:22) 1 Peter 3:18 says: “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” (1 Peter 3:18)

Samson’s parents model true worship for us. They bring an offering to God. They seek God’s name. They understand God’s holiness and the need for a sacrifice. When we bring an offering to God, when we approach him in the name of Jesus and when we accept Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross, our worship is pleasing to God and accepted by him.

IV. God’s promise fulfilled – birth and blessing (24-25)

Samson’s story begins with a promise of deliverance. Samson’s parents respond with obedience and faith. They worship the Lord, and then the chapter closes with God’s promise fulfilled – the birth of Samson, and God’s blessing on him. Look at verses 24-25:

The woman gave birth to a boy and named him Samson. He grew and the Lord blessed him, and the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him while he was in Mahaneh Dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol. (Judges 13:24-25)

   A. A miraculous birth (24a)
      – Matthew 1:25

First there is the miraculous birth. Manoah’s wife, who was barren remember, gives birth to a boy, and she names him Samson, which means “little sun.” He is her sunny boy. He is her little ray of sunshine. We sometimes sing that song, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.” You can just imagine Samson’s mother holding this beautiful baby boy in her arms and singing, “You are my Samson, my little Samson.”

Remember, as deliverer of Israel Samson points forward to Jesus who would deliver us from all our sins. Samson is a “little sun,” but Jesus shines brighter than the sun. Jesus is the light of the world, but sadly Samson won’t bring much light of his own into the world.

Just like Samson, Jesus also had a miraculous birth. The gospel of Matthew describes Jesus’ birth with similar words to Samson’s birth in Judges 13. Judges 13 says: “The woman gave birth to a boy and named him Samson.” Matthew 1:25 says, “She gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.” (Matthew 1:25)

   B. God’s blessing and Spirit (24b-25)
      – Luke 2:40; Mark 1:9-11; 2 Peter 1:3

Judges 13 tells us that God’s blessing was upon Samson as he grew. In the same way we read about Jesus in Luke 2:40: “And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.” (Luke 2:40) And just as the Spirit of God began to stir Samson as an adult, so the Spirit of God came upon Jesus as he began his ministry. When Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove (see Mark 1:9-11).

And so, Judges 13 ends on a positive note as God’s promise is fulfilled. The miraculous birth takes place just as God said it would. God’s blessing is on the child as he grows, and God’s Spirit begins to stir him as an adult. God has given Samson everything he needs to succeed.

God has also given you and I everything we need to succeed. 2 Peter 1:3 says: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” (2 Peter 1:3) When God calls you, he equips you. He gives you new birth; he gives you his Spirit; he gives you his word; he gives you gifts for service. He gives you everything you need to succeed in the Christian life.

CONCLUSION: Samson had a promising beginning. You read chapter 13 and you just know great things are ahead for Samson and Israel – or not.

We have seen many similarities between Samson and Jesus in these verses:
– both of their births were announced by angels
– both were given miraculous births
– both were set apart to be deliverers
– both were given everything they needed to succeed

And yet we have also seen some key differences:
– Samson was the son of Manoah; Jesus was the Son of God
– Samson was born to a barren woman; Jesus was born to a virgin
– Samson was set apart to deliver Israel from the Philistines; Jesus was set apart to deliver us from our sins. And here is one other key difference:
– Samson was disobedient to God; Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience to God.

And yet God fulfilled his purposes through both of them. He fulfilled his purpose in Jesus through Jesus’ perfect obedience. And he fulfilled his purpose in Samson despite Samson’s disobedience.

As is true with all the Bible stories, God is the real hero of the story, not Samson. We will see some mighty acts of strength from Samson in the chapters ahead, but Samson is not the hero in his own story. Just as you and I are not the heroes in our stories either. God is the hero. Everything you have comes from God, and God gets all the glory.

The story of Samson teaches us that there are two ways you can live your life – God’s way or the hard way. In Christ you have a promising beginning. God has already given you everything you need to succeed. Don’t make things hard on yourself. Go God’s way, and be blessed.

© Ray Fowler

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