This story is framed by the oft repeated clause in Judges “Again Israel did evil in the eyes of YHWH” (cf. 3:12-15, 4:1-4, and 10:6-14). However, it does not mention Israel crying out to YHWH in response to their enemies oppressing them. The absence of Israel’s cry cast this story within a theological setting were the Israelites no longer recognize YHWH even in times of oppression. Manoah embodies this lack of spiritual perception and insensitivity in chapter 13.
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. A certain man of Zorah, named Manoah, from the clan of the Danites, had a wife who was childless, unable to give birth (13:1-2).
These introductory verses present Israel’s blurred perception of and numbness to the things of YHWH which resulted in the Philistine oppression and the barrenness of Manoah’s wife (MW) as the main problems to be resolved in the narrative. Chapter 13 will handle the matter of MW’s barrenness at the surface level of the narrative and the spiritual matter of the nation in Manoah’s lack of perception and spiritual insensitivity at a deeper level.
A messenger of YHWH appears to MW in verse three relaying that she will give birth (answer to the surface problem) to a son who will be dedicated (a Nazarite) to YHWH from the womb. She is instructed not to drink wine or liquor, eat any unclean food, or cut the boy’s hair. The boy, in turn, will begin to deliver Israel from the Philistines (resolution to Israel’s “presenting problem”).
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 become pregnant and have 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 the womb until the day of his death (13:6-7)
One would expect at this point that MW would be overjoyed that she will have a child, a son! Her speech, however, focuses more upon the messenger and his message than upon the end of her barrenness and the deliverance the child will initiate. Note also MW’s perception of the messenger. She rightly perceives that the messenger is a “godlike” being. Thus, MW seems to function in this narrative as a foil for her husband.
Manoah confirms this focus by his prayer to YHWH:
"Pardon your servant, Lord. I beg you to 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."
Manoah’s lack of perception begins here as he fails to perceive that his wife has actually had an encounter with an angelic messenger. He has to hear it for himself. God graciously sends the messenger back in response to Manoah’s request, but ironically the messenger returns to MW. She quickly runs and tells Manoah that the man has return. Manoah follows her to the angelic messenger and says to him:
"Are you the man who talked to my wife?"
Manoah still does not perceive the truthfulness of his wife’s claims and now he cannot perceive that the messenger is in fact “godlike.” He inquires of the messenger how the boy should be raised. The messenger responds by telling him, in essence, your wife knows what she needs to do so trust what she has told you. Manoah responds by asking the messenger to stay for dinner. This request further exhibits Manoah’s blurred perception of the spiritual. The messenger refuses to eat his food, but prompts Manoah to offer a sacrifice to YHWH. After which an editorial aside informs the reader, in case their lack of perception is as bad as Manoah, that he “did not realize it was the angel of YHWH” (13:16). The aside sets in perspective the next words to come from Manoah and the messenger’s response.
"What is your name, so that we may honor you when your word comes true?"
"Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding" (13:17b-18).
Manoah then offers his sacrifice and YHWH received it in a miraculous way. A flame shot up from the altar toward heaven taking with it the sacrifice and the messenger, never to be seen again by Manoah and his wife. In these verses (13:19-20), the narrator emphasizes the fact that Manoah and his wife saw this supernatural occurrence. The remaining verses of the episode (13:21-23) again set MW’s perception as foil to her husband’s.
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.
"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" (13:21-23).
Finally, he realizes the man he had been speaking to was in fact the messenger of YHWH; however, he fails to correctly perceive the situation. MW, in contrast, displays perception into the spiritual matter at hand. Manoah remains spiritually “slow.”
Chapter 13 ends with the birth of Samson and YHWH’s blessing on him. This “birth” narrative cuts to the root issue plaguing Israel, namely, its blurred perception of and insensitivity to the ways of YHWH. As we will come to see, this very same issue plagues Samson and eventually will lead to his demise.
Judges 13 forces you to evaluate your own perception of and sensitivity to spiritual matters. It teaches us that those who are the spiritually competent are more likely to be nameless and barren. In your daily course of life are you more like Manoah or more like his nameless wife? Fortunately, Christ aids us by abiding with us through his Spirit who instructs us in the spiritual.