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Announcing the birth of a mixed blessing

December 12, 2023

Daily Scripture

Judges 13:2-24

2 Now there was a certain man from Zorah, from the Danite clan, whose name was Manoah. His wife was unable to become pregnant and had not given birth to any children. 3 The LORD’s messenger appeared to the woman and said to her, “Even though you’ve been unable to become pregnant and haven’t given birth, you are now pregnant and will give birth to a son! 4 Now be careful not to drink wine or brandy or to eat anything that is ritually unclean, 5 because you are pregnant and will give birth to a son. Don’t allow a razor to shave his head, because the boy is going to be a nazirite for God from birth. He’ll be the one who begins Israel’s rescue from the power of the Philistines.”
6 Then the woman went and told her husband, “A man of God came to me, and he looked like God’s messenger—very scary! I didn’t ask him where he was from, and he didn’t tell me his name. 7 He said to me, ‘You are pregnant and will give birth to a son, so don’t drink wine or brandy or eat anything that is ritually unclean, because the boy is going to be a nazirite for God from birth until the day he dies.’”
8 Manoah asked the LORD, “Please, my LORD,” he said, “let the man of God whom you sent come back to us once more, so he can teach us how we should treat the boy who is to be born.”
9 God listened to Manoah, and God’s messenger came once more to the woman. She was sitting in the field, but her husband Manoah wasn’t with her. 10 So the woman hurriedly ran and informed her husband. She said to him, “The man who came to me the other day has just appeared to me.”
11 Manoah got up and followed his wife. He came to the man and said to him, “Are you the man who spoke to this woman?”
“I am,” he replied.
12 Manoah said, “Now when your words come true, what should be the rules for the boy and how he should act?”
13 The LORD’s messenger answered Manoah, “The woman should be careful to do everything that I told her. 14 She must not consume anything that comes from the grapevine, drink wine or brandy, or eat anything that is ritually unclean. She must be careful to do everything I have commanded her.”
15 Manoah said to the LORD’s messenger, “Please let us persuade you to stay so we can prepare a young goat for you.”
16 But the LORD’s messenger replied to Manoah, “If you persuaded me to stay, I wouldn’t eat your food. If you prepare an entirely burned offering, offer it to the LORD.” Indeed, Manoah didn’t know that he was the LORD’s messenger. 17 Manoah said to the LORD’s messenger, “What’s your name, so that we may honor you when your words come true?”
18 The LORD’s messenger responded to him, “Why do you ask my name? You couldn’t understand it.”
19 So Manoah took a young goat and a grain offering and offered them on a rock to the LORD. While Manoah and his wife were looking, an amazing thing happened: 20 as the flame from the altar went up toward the sky, the LORD’s messenger went up in the altar’s flame. When Manoah and his wife saw this, they fell facedown on the ground. 21 The LORD’s messenger didn’t reappear to Manoah or his wife, and Manoah then realized that it had been the LORD’s messenger. 22 Manoah said to his wife, “We are certainly going to die, because we’ve seen God!”
23 But his wife replied to him, “If the LORD wanted to kill us, he wouldn’t have accepted the entirely burned offering and grain offering from our hands. He wouldn’t have shown us all these things or told us all of this now.”
24 The woman gave birth to a son and named him Samson. The boy grew up, and the LORD blessed him.

Daily Reflection & Prayer

After Isaac’s birth to Sarah and Abraham, this is nearly the only place in the Hebrew Scriptures where “The LORD’s messenger” announces a birth. Samson grew up to be a colorful character but not a shining example of a leader who was always faithful to God’s ways. The messenger said (verse 5), “He’ll be the one who begins Israel’s rescue from the power of the Philistines.” That phrase “hints that Samson will not be as successful as Othniel, Ehud, and Deborah, who completed their tasks.” *

  • The messenger said, “The boy is going to be a nazirite for God from birth.” In Hebrew, “a person dedicated [to God] is a nazir.” ** “Nazirite” rules were in Numbers 6: no alcoholic drinks, never cut your hair, no contact with anything dead. Samson broke them all: “drinking wine or vineyard products (Judges 14:5), contact with a corpse (Judges 14:8-9), and cutting his hair (Judges 16:19).” *** Yet God enabled even this flawed leader to wreak havoc on Israel’s enemies (cf. Judges 16:27-30). How does Samson’s sad obituary hint at God’s grace?
  • Later, God had the priest Eli (a human messenger) tell childless Hannah that God would answer her prayers for a son. That child, Samuel, had a long, fruitful life as a prophet, priest and leader in Israel. Hannah’s song of praise to God was much like Mary’s as she awaited Jesus’ birth. How does God’s work through such varied people resist the human instinct to limit God to only servants a lot like us?

God, I see your love of variety in the world you made—all the different kinds of flowers, animals, and yes, people. Thank you for your willingness to work with whatever human material is available to you, including me. Amen.

GPS Insights

Brandon Gregory

Brandon Gregory

Brandon Gregory is a volunteer for the worship and missions teams at Church of the Resurrection. He helps lead worship at Leawood's modern worship services, as well as at the West and Downtown services, and is involved with the Malawi missions team at home.

Infertility is a silent struggle for many people, so I do appreciate seeing a story about it in the Bible. That said, it’s not something I have any experience with, so I’m not going to attempt to speak to that specifically. Today’s story can absolutely apply to that situation, so if that’s you and this passage speaks to you, great! I’m going to speak a bit more generally about it, though.

I mentioned this in my last post here, but angel messengers are not something most of us experience. That doesn’t mean Biblical passages about angel messengers are irrelevant to us today; quite the contrary, I think that makes these passages more important because it reminds us that when similar things happen to us in our lives, there might be a divine message for us in that moment even if we can’t see and hear the messenger.

After years of infertility, Manoah’s wife was no doubt overjoyed to learn that she was pregnant—but as the angel messenger explained to her, this opportunity came with a responsibility. Her son, Samson, was to be offered up as a servant of the Lord, dedicated to his teachings and discipline pretty much from birth. When the parents understood this, they gladly agreed. But without that explanation, it would have been very easy for them to say, “Lucky us!” and move ahead with the plans they had. God instead explained his plans to them, giving a higher purpose to what could have just been considered a lucky accident.

Whether we’re facing infertility, illness, poverty, loneliness, or any other of a number of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, there’s a message here for us. Conceiving a child felt impossible to Manoah and his wife. When God achieved the impossible, it wasn’t just so they could get on with their lives. God had a larger purpose for Samson, and it was a purpose that benefited many others outside of Manoah and his wife. God gave them the impossible because he wanted it to benefit not only their lives, but the lives of everyone around them.

Sometimes an answered prayer isn’t the end of a story, but the beginning of a bigger one. It’s like Jesus later explained in a parable: to whom much is given, much will be expected. We might be given the things we desperately want and need and have been searching for, but picking up the themes from today’s passage, the goal of this newfound gift might be bigger than anything we had in mind. When you find your prayers answered, be looking for opportunities to share your newfound gift with the people around you. There might be a much higher purpose in what you find yourself given.

© 2024 Resurrection: A United Methodist Church. All Rights Reserved.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

* Brad E. Kelle, study note on Judges 13:5 in The CEB Study Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013, p. 392 OT.
** John Goldingay, Numbers and Deuteronomy for Everyone. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010, p. 18.
*** Brad E. Kelle, study note on Judges 13:4 in The CEB Study Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013, p. 392 OT.