1. Review of the Book of Judges
Samson was born during the seventh of the seven cycles that keep recurring throughout the book of Judges. Cycles of sin, suffering, supplication and salvation. Each section begins with a phrase like: “And the children of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” because everyone was “doing what is right in their own eyes” rather than what is right in God’s. So the Lord allows them to enter a time of suffering, being oppressed by those same nations that they were supposed to have conquered when they entered the Promised Land. This suffering would eventually open their eyes and they would cry out to God for deliverance. Then He would send a judge, a savior, to set them free from whoever was oppressing them and they would walk in this freedom for the rest of the days that judge was them.
We saw how closely this cycle often parallels our own lives: After coming to Christ and experiencing some amazing victories we become complacent and we don’t completely conquer the “sinful nations” in our heart that we struggle with. We start to make compromises and live like Canaanites. Then we begin to feel the oppression of allowing unconquered sins to abide in us until we come to a point where we cry out to God for help. Then He sends us the true Savior of whom the judges were a type and we again walk in “the freedom for which Christ has set us free”- and we begin conquering the Promised Land of our souls once again. Until and unless we choose to begin another cycle, of course…
Have you noticed how the situation in the book of Judges is going from bad to worse? Later in the book, each Israelite is primarily loyal to his tribe and there are sometimes even civil wars between the twelve tribes but in the first two chapters the children of Israel were still operating as a single Chosen People although their victories following the death of Joshua were only a shadow of what they had experienced under him. Then the seven cycles of sin-suffering-supplication-salvation begin. In the first five cycles the Israelites follow the Baals and the Ashtoreths. Each time they called on God for deliverance and He immediately sends someone to save them. But in our last lesson the sixth cycle with Jephthah was different, we found them following not only the Baals and Ashtoreths but the gods of all seven nations of their enemies! We also see that when they cried out for help God told them to get one of their other gods to deliver them instead! But they cried out even more earnestly (which was God’s intention) and He sent Jephthah. Pay close attention to Samson’s story today and you will see that the Israelites don’t even try to call out to God for deliverance this time but He sends a savior anyway because He is so merciful and loving.
We also see that the quality of the judges mirror this gradual slide into chaos that we see in the people. The first judge, Othniel, is virtually the only one for whom the Fathers had no criticism at all. He was the classic hero. He trusted God, he rose up to fight the enemy, he beat them with the Lord’s help, and he spent the rest of his days guiding the Israelites in a godly manner. The next judge, Ehud, also delivers the children of Israel from their oppressors but the Fathers find some fault in the way he used deception to do it. Then we come to Deborah and Barak. Barak seems to doubt God’s promise and insists that he will not go to fight the Canaanites unless Deborah goes with him. Next there is Gideon who experiences some amazing victories but he makes a big mistake and leads the children of Israel astray by making an ephod which they begin worshiping after his death. The next major judge is Jephthah. We can easily see why St. Paul includes him in the “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11 as we watch him defeat the Ammonites who had been invincible for eighteen years but then we are shocked as we watch him offer his only daughter as a burnt sacrifice and then starts a civil war with the Ephraimites all because of his rash mouth.
We started with Othniel, upon whom the Spirit of God abided throughout his forty-year ministry as a judge, and traveled with the rest of the judges (who only experienced the Spirit of God at critical moments), until we came to Jephthah who only two verses after the “Spirit of God came upon” him was vowing to offer as a burnt offering “whosoever shall first come out of the door of my house to meet me.” (Jdg. 11:31). Conditions in Israel are so bad, and the compromise with the heathen nations is so deep, that now not even their spiritual heroes know God’s Word well enough to be aware that something like human sacrifice is wrong- until they feel the pain of that sin personally! How much pain could we avoid in our own lives if only we knew and lived the Scriptures better than we do?
Now we come to Samson and the children of Israel are so far gone in their sins that they no longer even call to God for deliverance. But because God loves His people He sends Samson through a miraculous birth to deliver them anyway. But we will see that Samson is in many ways the most flawed of the judges. Then the last five chapters of Judges after Samson show a total spiritual breakdown as the Israelites give themselves over completely to immorality and idolatry.
But now we need to read the story of Samson who, in spite of all his weaknesses and mistakes, remains an incredible type or foreshadowing of Christ.
2. The Nativity of Samson (Judges 13)
Let’s begin reading the story of Samson’s birth and let’s look closely to see if there are any similarities to the Nativity of Christ:
Jdg 13:1 And the children of Israel yet again committed iniquity before the Lord; and the Lord delivered them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years.
Jdg 13:2 And there was a man of Zorah, of the family of the kindred of Dan, and his name was Manoah, and his wife was barren, and bore no children.
Jdg 13:3 And the Angel of the Lord appeared to the woman, and said to her, Behold, you are barren and have not given birth; yet you shall conceive a son.
How long were the Israelites oppressed by the Philistines? The text says “forty years”. This is the longest period of oppression we find in the entire book of Judges. There is no doubt that the reason for this long oppression is because the children of Israel were no longer repenting. They were not calling out for deliverance as they had so many times before, they had become complacent in their sins and decided that this was just the way things were.
Perhaps even Samson’s mother, who was a very pious and faithful Israelite like her husband, perhaps even she had come to accept the status quo?
The Scripture notes that she was barren and yet here an angel says “You shall conceive a son.” But God does not see things as we do, we look at the outward appearance, He
looks at the heart. We look at some of these judges before they were called- or even ourselves- and say, “He is not heroic.” But God says, “You are right, he is not heroic, he is pre-heroic.”
How often do we look at God’s commands and plan for our life and say, “I can’t do that, I can’t be like that. I can’t bear fruit like that- I am spiritually barren!”
The Lord’s answer is always the same, “Behold, you are barren and have not given birth; yet you shall conceive a son.”
With our God it is always: “Yes, you are this….. but yet, with My help, you shall be that!”
NOTE: This is the first way in which Samson’s nativity mirrors the Nativity of Christ. Samson’s birth was foretold by an angel of the Lord, so was the birth of Jesus. Compare Judges 13:3 with Lk. 1:30-31:“Then the angel said to her, “Fear not, Mary, for you have found grace with God. And behold, you shall conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS.”
So with this annunciation, Samson’s mother joins the many other women of faith who gave birth to remarkable children after years of barrenness. Remember the mothers of Jacob,
Joseph, Samuel and St. John the Forerunner. Let us follow the example of these women who, as the Venerable Bede noted, were “for a long time barren in body but always fruitful in
virtues” so we can inherit a blessing and be fruitful, too!
And just how are Samson’s parents supposed to take care of this miraculous baby?
Jdg 13:4 And now be very cautious, and drink no wine nor strong drink, and eat no unclean thing;
Jdg 13:5 for behold, you are with child, and shall bring forth a son; and there shall come no razor upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazarite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.
Jdg 13:6 And the woman went in, and spoke to her husband, saying, A Man of God came to me, and His appearance was as of an angel of God, very fearful.
And I did not ask Him where He was from, and He did not tell me His name.
Jdg 13:7 And He said to me, Behold, you are with child, and shall bring forth a son; and now drink no wine nor strong drink, and eat no unclean thing; for the child shall be holy to God from the womb until the day of his death.
Samson is supposed to be raised in a very special way by being “set apart” and consecrated to God as a Nazarite from his birth. Even his mother is
supposed to live as a Nazarite until he is born! We will talk more about what this means and how the Nazarite vow is a foreshadowing of how we are
to live as Christians in the next lesson; here it is good to notice how the birth of Samson and Christ parallel each other in these verses…
NOTE: This is the second and third ways in which Samson’s nativity mirrors the Nativity of Christ: Samson was sanctified unto God from the womb as we see in verses 5 and 7. Compare Judges 13:5, 7 “for behold, you are with child, and shall bring forth a son… or the child shall be holy to God from the womb until the day of his death” with Lk. 1:31-32a:“And behold, you shall conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High…“
Notice what else it says in Judges 13:5, “and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines”. In the same way Jesus delivers the New Israel, the Church, out of the hands of her oppressors forever: He has and will yet deliver His people from sin and death. But Samson only began to deliver, Jesus is the “Author and Finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2)”.
It is worth noticing again that Samson would only “begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines”. That work would continue with Samuel, Saul, and only be finished in the time of David. Because of the people’s spiritual state there is no complete or quick deliverance this time as there had been in the past.
Jdg 13:8 And Manoah prayed to the Lord and said, I pray to You, O Lord my lord, concerning the Man of God whom You sent; let Him now come to us once more, and teach us what we shall do with the child about to be born.
Jdg 13:9 And the Lord heard the voice of Manoah, and the Angel of God came yet again to the woman. And she sat in the field, and Manoah her husband was not with her.
Jdg 13:10 And the woman made haste and ran, and brought word to her husband, and said to him, Behold the Man who came in the other day to me has appeared to me.
Jdg 13:11 And Manoah arose and followed his wife, and came to the Man, and said to Him, Are you the Man that spoke to the woman? And the Angel said, I am.
Jdg 13:12 And Manoah said, Now shall Your word come to pass: what shall be the ordering of the child, and our dealings with him?
Jdg 13:13 And the Angel of the Lord said to Manoah, Of all things concerning which I spoke to the woman, she shall beware.
Jdg 13:14 She shall eat of nothing that comes of the vine yielding wine, and let her not drink wine or strong liquor, and let her not eat anything unclean: all things that I have charged her she shall observe.
What was Manoah’s response to his wife’s story? Some people have suggested that he was moved by jealousy because a strange man had comeand visited his beautiful wife when she was alone. But St. Ambrose says this is wrong, Manoah was actually motivated by spiritual hunger and a desire to share in his wife’s blessing, “When he learned (about this), he devoutly begged God in prayer that he might also be granted the favor of a vision, saying, ‘O Lord, let Your angel come to me.’ I do not think, as a certain author has suggested, that he did this out of jealousy for his wife, who was remarkable for her beauty, but rather because he was moved by a desire for a favor from heaven and wished to share the benefit of the
heavenly vision. One depraved by vices of the soul would not have found such favor with the Lord that an angel would return to his house… (Letter 35)”
I was particularly struck by verse 9 where it says of Manoah’s wife “and she sat in the field”. I picture her sitting there in one of their cultivated fields (Angels we have heard in rye?), having stopped her work to think about all that the angel had said. This sounds a lot like what Mary, the Theotokos, did after the Annunciation she had been blessed with by the Archangel Gabriel and at other spiritually significant moments, “But Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Lk. 2:19)
So Manoah and his wife remind us of the blessings we have when we marry a wife or a husband we can share spiritual blessings with, “He that has found a good wife has found favours, and has received gladness from God.” (Prov. 18:22) And we also learn from his example that we should seek spiritual gifts, especially love, with all our hearts as St. Paul commands, “But strive earnestly for the better gifts. And yet I make known a more excellent way.” (1 Cor. 12:31)
Jdg 13:15 And Manoah said to the Angel of the Lord, Let us detain You here, and prepare before You a young goat.
Jdg 13:16 And the Angel of the Lord said to Manoah, If you should detain Me, I will not eat of your bread; and if you would offer a whole burnt offering, you shall offer it to the Lord: for Manoah knew not that He was the Angel of the Lord.
Jdg 13:17 And Manoah said to the Angel of the Lord, What is Your name, that when Your word shall come to pass, we may glorify You?
Jdg 13:18 And the Angel of the Lord said to him, Why do you thus ask after My name; seeing it is Wonderful?
Jdg 13:19 And Manoah took a young goat, and its grain offering, and offered it on the rock to the Lord; and the Angel wrought a distinct work, and Manoah and his wife were looking on.
Jdg 13:20 And it came to pass when the flame went up above the altar toward heaven, that the Angel of the Lord went up in the flame; and Manoah and his wife were looking, and they fell upon their face to the earth.
Who is this “Angel of the Lord”? He appears many times in Scripture, sometimes being identified as a messenger for God and at other times He appears to be God Himself. He can perform the miraculous, and while He is not always immediately recognizable, the sight of Him is overwhelming and leads most of those who encounter Him to refer to Him as “the Lord”. We have seen Him before in our studies and noted that it is the usual view of the Church Fathers that this “Angel of the Lord” is a theophany, that is, an appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ.
Is there anything in this story that tends to support this idea? What sort of being is this “Man of God” said to be? An angel. What is he giving to Samson’s parents? Counsel. What does He say His name is? Wonderful. Does this remind you of a promise concerning another Nativity?
“Unto us a Child was born, and to us a Son was given; whose government was upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called: Angel of Great Counsel, Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Potentate, Prince of Peace, Father of the Age to Come” (Isaiah 9:6)
Isaiah prophesied the Child’s birth, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive in the womb, and shall bring forth a son, and you shall call His name Emmanuel (God with us).” (Is. 7:14)
St. John tells us why the Son was given, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (Jhn. 3:16)
And when the prophet Isaiah says, “(His) government was upon His shoulder” this refers to Christ taking up of the Cross which is the throne from which He rules.
There is also a foreshadowing of the Lord’s ascension in verse 20, “the Angel of the Lord went up in the flame”.
So here we have Christ announcing a nativity which was a foreshadowing of His own birth! By the way, this phrase “the Angel of the Lord” appears more often in the book of
Judges than in any other single book of Scripture. Isn’t it comforting that there would be so many appearances of Christ at a time when everything was so dark for His people? This is
why one of our names for Jesus is the Philanthropos, the “Lover of Man”.
Jdg 13:21 And the Angel appeared no more to Manoah and to his wife. Then Manoah knew that this was the Angel of the Lord.
Jdg 13:22 And Manoah said to his wife, We shall surely die, because we have seen God.
Jdg 13:23 But his wife said to him, If the Lord were pleased to slay us, He would not have received of our hand a whole burnt offering and a grain offering; and He would not have shown us all these things, neither would He have caused us to hear all these things as at this time.
Jdg 13:24 And the woman brought forth a son, and she called his name Sampson; and the child grew, and the Lord blessed him.
Jdg 13:25 And the Spirit of the Lord began to go out with him in the camp of Dan, and between Zorah and Esthaol.
What an incredible thing it will be for us when one day we stand in the presence of God! There we will have been changed and the experience will be one of unending joy for us. It is something we cannot even imagine or put into words now. St. Paul says of that Ultimate Reality, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Cor. 2:9)
And that is about when we experience the real Presence of God, look at how Manoah responded to what was just a vision of the Reality- he fell on his face and believed he was undone, that he could not even survive the experience. St. Gregory the Theologian says about Manoah’s response that, “even a vision of God is too much for human beings, let alone God’s nature.” And his friend, St. Gregory of Nyssa, says this is why the Angel told Manoah that His name was “Wonderful”. There is no name that can carry any significance when we try to describe who God is, the best way for us to describe Him is not with words but by our overwhelmed response when we experience Him. He says, “by this we learn that there is one name significant of the divine nature- the wonder, namely, that arises unspeakably in our hearts concerning it.”
NOTE: By the way, this is the fourth way in which Samson’s nativity mirrors the Nativity of Christ. Look at verses 24-25, “And the woman brought forth a son, and she called his name Sampson; and the child grew, and the Lord blessed him. And the Spirit of the Lord began to go out with him in the camp of Dan, and between Zorah and Esthaol.” Compare Luke 1:80: “So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.“
Now look at verse 21, isn’t it amazing? “Then Manoah knew that this was the Angel of the Lord.” When did Manoah recognize the Angel of the Lord? When is “then”? After he had worshiped (look at verses 19-20 again). Often the circumstances of our life get complicated and we lose sight of the fact that the Lord is always with us. When that happens the best thing we can do to clear our heads and see properly with our spiritual eyes is by worshiping regularly so we can always be aware of the Lord’s presence in our lives. This is one reason why it is so important to come to Church often so we can be better aware of Him.
Have you ever come to the point in your reading of Scripture or attending the services where you say – I read, I read but I cannot remember most of what I read? Or, I come to Church but I don’t get anything out of it?
Well, don’t get discouraged, this is quite normal. In Psalm 118(119):113, we read “I hate vain thoughts: but I love Your law.” When we read the Bible on a regular basis, it becomes our spiritual nourishment and we do tend to forget specific passages, but it does its work in spite of our lack of retention. In the same way attending the services is sometimes very interesting and sometimes very boring to us but both the Scriptures and the services are working a change for the better in us even if we are unaware of it.
There is a story about a wise old Christian monk who was asked by a novice what to do because he had difficulty in remembering what he read. So the wise old monk gave him a little object lesson – he handed him an old basket and asked that he go and fill it with water at the creek nearby. The young monk went and filled the basket with water; but as he was returning to the man’s house, the water leaked out. The wise old monk asked that he do it again; he did, and the same thing happened – the basket was empty when arrived back. He did this three times and the wise old monk asked the young novice, “Now do you understand?” To which the man said “No, I don’t, what is the meaning?” The wise old monk told the young monk that although the basket had not retained any of the water, in the process, it was cleansed; the dirty old basket was now clean. He said the same thing applies to us when we read Scripture. It’s possible that we do not retain everything we read but in the process, our hearts are purified. It’s also possible that we do not feel we are gaining anything from coming to church and standing in the services but still, our hearts are being purified.
We do not come to church or read the Bible based on whether it is always fun and exciting but because these things are pure and we want to be pure too. The Bible says “Your word is very pure: therefore Your servant loves it” (Ps 118:140). And in the New Testament, we read “Since you have purified your souls by obedience to the truth through the Spirit in sincere love for the brothers, love one another fervently from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22).
If we hang in there and read Scripture continuously and come to Church regularly, the result will be the same as with the basket – our thoughts, words, and actions will become pure. You see, today we may be just baskets that can’t retain the Living Water but if we are persistent we will become clean and God will change us into buckets or jars that can retain what we read in the Scriptures and experience in the services. Growing in Christ as Orthodox Christians is a work in process, it does not happen overnight.