Before Samson was even born, God was painting a beautiful picture of salvation with his life.
Good morning! Please open your Bibles to Judges 13.
As we move through the book of Judges… we come now to one of the most interesting stories in the Bible… maybe one of the most well-known—Samson. When I say, “Samson,” what do you think of? [hair, strength, Delilah…]
Yeah. Nearly everyone, when they think of Samson, have a picture in their mind of someone like Jason Mamoa. Or maybe Maui from Moana. Who’s basically The Rock, but with hair.
But before we get into anything about Samson’s life, I want to push back on this a little. If you know anything about the details of the story, you know that Delilah (under pressure from the Philistines) was obsessed with learning “the secret” of Samson’s great strength. So think about it: if he already looked like Aquaman, it wouldn’t have been much of a secret. So maybe instead of picturing Jason Mamoa, maybe we should think about some skinny long haired rock and roll dude, like Tom Petty, or Edgar Winter Its true: If this guy killed a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey (Judges 15:15, we’d be, like, “Well, yeah. He’s Aquaman.” But if this guy does it, then we’re gonna realize it had nothing to do with him.
And that’s the whole point of the book of Judges. That the deliverance is never about the human deliverer. It wasn’t about Ehud, our southpaw Savior. It wasn’t about Jael and her tent peg, or Gideon with his 300 trumpet players. Its always, only about God working through flawed people for divine purposes.
Samson’s story comes toward the end of the book of Judges. In fact, he’s the last Judge specifically talked about. And we get a lot more material on him than we do the other Judges—3 whole chapters worth! God is going to give us the picture of how he saves his people… By this point in Judges, we’ve seen the basic cycle play out at least six times:
[TRANS EACH ONE]
• Stability: They follow God;
• Wickedness: Their heart is drawn away to worship other gods…
• Oppression: God punishes them by allowing those gods to enslave them…
• REPENTANCE: They suffer and repent and cry out to God…
• DELIVERANCE: God raises up a judge to save them…
• STABILITY: They go along ok for a while until they forget what they’ve learned and the cycle starts over…
So this is the last trip around on this hamster wheel. At first we hoped they would ‘snap out’ of this sinful cycle, but now we’ve seen this again and again and again and we’re ready to throw our hands up in despair and give up on Israel, when suddenly the narrative structure of Judges changes and we get this really in-depth story… loaded with symbolism.
Here we go:
13 And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, so the LORD gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years.
40 = number of judgment and completion. This is ultimate judgment on sin.
The Philistines were bad people. We use the word ‘philistine’ today to mean someone uncultured, but the real Philistines were actually very sophisticated. . Their weaponry, architecture, and culture were far beyond any other civilization at the time. They were the first ones to work with iron and make iron weapons. They were the first ones to employ battle formations in war. But they were unspeakably cruel: When they capture a town, they would mutilate the captives while they while they were living, and then impale them.
Now, we’ve already seen this phrase “did evil in the sight of the Lord” or “in the eyes of the Lord” (NIV), six times in Judges. It’s how the SWORDS cycle is introduced. But as we go through the rest of Judges, I want you to pay attention to how often something is said about eyes or sight.
When Samson sees a hot looking Philistine girl, he tells his dad, “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes.” (14:3). It says it again, in 14:7 that she was right in Samson’s eyes. Then when the Philistines do capture Samson, what do they do? They gouge out his eyes (16:21). When Samson prays to God to be with him one last time, it isn’t so that God will be glorified. It’s so Samson can be avenged “for his two eyes.” (16:28)
And after Samson’s death, you get the statement that really sums up all of Judges: 6 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
What’s the point of all this? Well, again, the book of Judges in general, and the story of Samson in particular is intended to answer a fundamental question for our lives and for our culture. And the question is,
Who gets to define sin? Who defines what’s right and wrong? You know, that was essentially the first temptation Satan gave to human beings. Way back in the garden of Eden, Satan slithered up to Eve and said, “You know why God doesn’t want you to eat from that tree, right? It’s because that tree is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” And look at the language Satan uses. After seeing all this about “eyes” in Samson’s story, this will blow your mind.
5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise,[b] she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. (Gen 3:5-7)
Maybe you’ve had the same question I had growing up: what’s so bad about knowing the difference between good and evil? Wouldn’t that help God out if we could figure that out for ourselves? But the problem wasn’t that they knew the difference between good and evil. It’s that they started believing they could decide for themselves what was good and what was evil.
And that’s been the problem ever since. We always get in trouble when we start making decisions about what’s right and wrong without checking it against God’s absolute standard. Case in point: Adam and Eve get it wrong right out of the gate. Their eyes are opened, and they’re like, “Oh no, we’re naked! We have to hide!”
They’re not in sin because they don’t have any clothes on. They’re in sin because they’ve disobeyed God. We always get it wrong when we try to decide for ourselves what’s right and wrong. Everything from Nazi Germany to abortion on demand to no fault divorce to same sex marriage comes from us doing exactly the same thing we see in Judges: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
Okay, let’s get back to Judges: verse 2:
2 There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah.
(By the way, if you’re going to picture anyone as Aquaman, it ought to be Samson’s father—Jason Manoah) And his wife was barren and had no children.
3 And the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman said to her, “Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son.
Now stop there, and let me make some crucial observations about our salvation from these verses.
First, notice what is missing between vv. 1 and 2? there is no cry of repentance! If these people are going to be saved, it’s not going to be because God waits on them to seek him; he must seek them.
Second, this is the first time a Judge is promised before birth. You see, with every other Judge, God raised up someone who was already alive. It’s as if God is saying to them that the Savior they need is not someone from among them that he will just make stronger; he’s going to have to start from scratch.
Third, this promise is given to a barren woman. Barrenness in those days was the ultimate devastation for a woman. The society was agrarian: which meant the more sons you had, the more workers you had for the farm, and thus the more income you could generate for your family. For the nation itself, economic and military health was completely dependent on many children being born. So women had lots of babies were like heroes, but women who couldn’t bear children were seen as useless. And she’s not just useless, she’s also anonymous.
We are never told her name. We know the dad’s name: Manoah. But Samson’s mother is only referred to as, “the woman.” The author is intentionally painting her as obscure. And verse 4 gives us a hint that she’s not an especially religious woman. The angel tells her she must not eat anything unclean. Well, if she was an observant Jew, that would have gone without saying.
Here is the lesson about salvation, and it is so important. We talked about who gets to define sin. Answer, God.
Now, let’s talk about Who delivers from sin. Answer? Also God!
God brings his salvation to a people who are not crying out in repentance.
He does it in a new way; not through our talents or gifts or righteousness to distinguish them from others; and a people with no hope and no prospects in themselves. • God doesn’t love the lovely; he makes lovely those he loves. He doesn’t save the strong; he makes strong those he saves. He doesn’t choose the righteous; he makes righteous those he chooses. • Which means no matter who you are… or what circumstance you find yourself in in life, or what mistakes you have made, or what weakness you feel, there is hope for you. But that hope will not be found by you turning over a new leaf—by you (to use the metaphor) getting pregnant in your barrenness out of your own strength; it will be found by you receiving God’s gift of grace, his choice, of you. It is one of the most humbling, sweetest truths to me… God set his affection on me “just because.”
In Deut 7:7
 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, You weren’t the strongest, or most sophisticated, or even the most moral…  but it is because the LORD loves you (Deuteronomy 7:7–8)
And here’s the thing: I know that if God didn’t choose me because I was righteous, he’s not going to reject me because I struggle. [Latest Chosen episode?]
Ok, let’s keep reading:
4 Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, 5 for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb,
Let’s talk about the Nazirite vow. There were three parts to it: 1. You couldn’t cut any of your hair during the vow. 2. You couldn’t drink anything “from the vine,” alcoholic or otherwise. So, in that day, pretty much all you’re left with is milk or water… 3. You couldn’t touch any dead bodies of any kind. Usually, people would only commit to it for a short period of time when they were really seeking God about something because it was so intense. But Samson does this from birth. And its important, because next week you’ll see that Samson eventually trashes every one of these vows.
Notice the second part of verse 5:
…and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.”
Begin? That’s a weird word. Who will finish it? Samson is the last judge of Israel, and after he dies, Israel is still in pretty bad shape. So, if you’re asking “Who’s gonna complete this work of salvation, then congratulations! Now you are reading the Bible the right way! This story won’t be completed until the New Testament.
So in the next few verses, the woman tells Manoah, Manoah’s skeptical, and then Manoah prays that God will send the angel back so he can hear it for himself.
You know, typical husband move.
So God does, the angel appears to “the woman” (I really want her to have a name, so I’m gonna call her “Woman-oah…”) she goes and gets MANoah, and check out what he does,
15 Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “Please let us detain you and prepare a young goat for you.” 16 And the angel of the LORD said to Manoah, “If you detain me, I will not eat of your food. But if you prepare a burnt offering, then offer it to the LORD.” (For Manoah did not know that he was the angel of the LORD.)
Let’s talk about what’s happening here, because it gets to the answer to our third question:
What do we contribute to the deliverance?
Manoah wants to do something for the angel. He says, let us prepare a goat for you. And that sounds good and nice and hospitable, right? But understand that in the ancient near east, showing hospitality to a stranger obligated them to you. They would be considered in your debt. So this might have been a power play on the part of Manoah.
How often do we do that with God? “I give a lot of money to this church. God owes me.” When Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York, ran for President for a few minutes in 2019, he was asked by a reporter about his religious views. Here’s what he said:
“I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.”
I’m sure God is saying, “Oh wow! You got people to stop smoking? COME ON IN!”
But Bloomberg was simply doing what Manoah did, and what millions and millions of religious people have tried to do in between. Negotiate with God. But God wont have it. Bloomberg’s right about one thing: It’s not even close.
But Manoah tries another powerplay. Look at verse 17:
17 And Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “What is your name, so that, when your words come true, we may honor you?” 18 And the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?”
We’ve talked about this before: In many pagan cultures it was thought that if you knew the name of a God, it gave you power over that God. Like in the fairy tale Rumplestiltskin, or the movie Beetlejuice. We saw something similar in Genesis, when Jacob wrestles the angel and asks the angel his name. (Gen 32:22-32). We do that too. Politicians who have no heart for God will still invoke His name if they think it will get them elected. Or we believe we have eternal security because we repeated a prayer in vacation Bible school, or because we “believe in Jesus.” Be careful. The book of James reminds us that the demons believe in Jesus.
Here’s the truth. God won’t be bought off because we do a good deed. And he doesn’t save us because we repeat some words like a magic spell.
Our illustration for saving faith doesn’t come from Manoah. It comes from his wife. Womanoah. Follow along as I read to the end of the chapter:
19 So Manoah took the young goat with the grain offering, and offered it on the rock to the LORD, to the one who works wonders, 20 And when the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the LORD went up in the flame of the altar. And Manoah and his wife fell with their faces on the ground. 22 And Manoah said to his wife, (humor, speaking with his face to the dirt—muffled) “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.” 23 But his wife said to him, “If the LORD had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering at our hands, or shown us all these things, or now announced to us such things as these.”
Now, even though this woman is anonymous, and barren, and not very religious, she responds in a way that puts her among the greatest women of faith in the Bible. She says, simply, “I trust him, and I’m ready to obey all that he has said.”
That was better than Sarah, the wife of Abraham, who laughed when God told her she would a son in her barrenness. (She laughed) o Her response is better than Elizabeth’s, the wife of Zechariah the priest, who doubted the angel when he told her she’d have a baby in her old age.
There’s only one or two other women who responded with that same kind of faith, and one of them was Mary, who, when she heard about her impossible birth, said, “Well, be it unto me according to your word. I’ll believe what you promised and do all that you have said.” •
There is only response that pleases God: “I believe what you have promised and I’ll do whatever you say.” • This woman is not very impressive in really any way… she’s obscure; she’s lived a rough life… but here, she just says, “Yes, Lord.” That’s all he’s looking for. • Have you said that? That’s all it is: Yes, Lord. •
The difference between Manoah and his wife is the difference between religion and faith. Religion is built on negotiation: I’ll give you this, and I expect you to do this. But Jesus doesn’t negotiate. He owns it all, including you, already, and you can only be one of two postures with him… faith and surrender or rebellion.
The great Christian thinker CS Lewis put it this way: We are not merely imperfect creatures who must be improved; we are rebels who must lay down our arms.
Jesus doesn’t come into our lives to help us live our best lives now. He comes to take over.
And, by the way, you don’t have anything to negotiate with, anyway. We are like Manoah’s wife: barren; unrighteous; worthy of condemnation. But she demonstrates a trust in God and an absolute surrender to His plan. And that’s what God is looking for from us. You’ve either said to Jesus, “I believe all that you’ve said… that you have done everything necessary to save and accept me… and I’m ready to follow you with my whole life,” or you haven’t.
Religion negotiates. That’s what Jephthah did—remember? Faith just surrenders.
This morning, we’ve answered three questions:
Who gets to define sin? God does. So the question for you is, are you ready to admit that you have done what is evil in the eyes of the Lord, or are you still living by what is right in your own eyes?
Who can deliver us from sin? God can. Samson “began” to save Israel, but Jesus Christ finished the work. But our deliverance comes only by following God’s plan. Acts 4:12 says “Salvation is found in no one else.”
What do we contribute? Nothing. We can’t bribe God and put Him in our debt. We cant control God and put Him in our power. We can’t negotiate with God and work out more favorable terms of surrender. We can only offer God our absolute, unconditional, unnegotiated surrender.
Have you done that?