Open your Bibles to Judges chapter 12.
We started the “cycle of judges” back in chapter 3 with two major judges – Othniel and Ehud. They were followed by Shamgar the minor judge. Then we saw the two major judges Barak and Gideon. And they were followed by two minor judges – Tola and Jair. Then, last week we saw another major judge – Jephthah.
And he’s followed today by three minor judges. Let’s get acquanited with them in 12:8-15.
KJV Judges 12:8 ¶ And after him [That is, Jephthah] Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel. 9 And he had thirty sons, and thirty daughters, whom he sent abroad, and took in thirty daughters from abroad for his sons. And he judged Israel seven years. 10 Then died Ibzan, and was buried at Bethlehem.
11 ¶ And after him Elon, a Zebulonite, judged Israel; and he judged Israel ten years. 12 And Elon the Zebulonite died, and was buried in Aijalon in the country of Zebulun.
13 ¶ And after him Abdon the son of Hillel, a Pirathonite, judged Israel. 14 And he had forty sons and thirty nephews [Or that could be “grandsons”], that rode on threescore and ten ass colts: and he judged Israel eight years. 15 And Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite died, and was buried in Pirathon in the land of Ephraim, in the mount [Or “hill country”] of the Amalekites.
Now, as always, the details of the minor judges are scant. So, we’ll try to piece some things together.
So we have the first judge from Bethlehem. The King James Version says that Ibzan sent his daughters abroad. Well, hey – it kind of sounds like he was getting his kids involved in Study Aboard opportunities. That sounds enriching. But no, unfortunately it wasn’t that positive. Ibzan sent his daughters abroad in the same sense that he – in verse 9 – took “daughters” or wives for his sons from abroad.
Well, what’s wrong with that? Remember the types of folks that were “abroad” – Canaanites, Perizites, Hivites, Jebusites, etc. And what made it a problem for Ibzan to get foreign wives for his sons and to give his daughters to foreign men wasn’t that these foreign people didn’t speak Hebrew or because they ate different foods than the Israelites. No, the problem was that these foreigners worshipped foreign gods. And the God of Israel isn’t alright with that.
And this man is a judge. He should know better. He’s supposed to be delivering Israel from foreigners and their false gods. But here he’s just going along with the idolatry. And the text gives us every indication that every single one of Ibzan’s children is either married or given in marriage to a pagan. That’s troubling.
Now, let me just point out one more thing about Ibzan. We’ve been talking about his children. How many did he have? At least 60. Now how does one woman – the wife of Ibzan – have 60 children? Answer? She doesn’t. What this means then is that Ibzan is polygamous.
So, we have a polygamous judge who has formed alliances with all sort of pagans by marrying sons and daughters off to them. Aren’t you sort of glad that Ibzan is a minor judge? I don’t think I want to hear any more about him.
Alright then. On to the next minor judge. And there is really hardly anything said about him. His name is Elon. He’s from Zebulun. And he dies and is burried in Zebulun. And that’s it. So, really, there’s nothing interesting in this judge’s life. Which is probably a good thing.
So, on to the next and last of our minor judges. Abdon. We’ve seen a minor judge do the kind of thing that he’s doing – having all these descendants riding on donkeys. Jair did it. And just like with Jair, I’m assuming that this is hinting at a desire to rule as king in Israel on the part of this man. So we’ve seen this kind of activity before. But the interesting unique thing that we see with Abdon relates to where he died. He died in Pirathon in the land of Ephraim. That’s where he was born. So, nothing strange on that point. But the interesting thing noted here is the last few words of verse 15. Pirathon apparently belonged to whom? The Israelites? No, actually. It belonged to Amalekites.
So, this judge is buried in a land belonging to Amalekites. Remember the Amalekites? They’re the ones who fought Israel in the wilderness after they came out of Egypt. And that ruthless act earned the Amalekites God’s eternal enmity. In Exodus 17:16 the Lord swears that he himself will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.
So, really, the only reason I’d expect to see an Israelite judge in a land owned by Amalekites would be to battle them. And I guess we could hope that that’s why Abdon was there. But to be buried in a particular place in the Old Testament usually means that that place was home to that individual. He was comfortable there. That was his base of operation. But how could Abdon have been comfortable in a place overrun – indeed OWNED – by God’s enemies.
So, based on these considerations – and the general downward progression that we see in the book of Judges – I think this is what we’re witnessing. Abdon was called by God to deliver God’s people from their enemies. He’s a Judge. And yet this man is more concerned with power – his own as well as his children’s. And rather than attacking the enemy, he’s actually quite comfortable with them. He’s happy to live with them. He’s happy to die with them. And he’s happy to be buried in their territory.
Now, I said he’s happy to die with the enemy. And that’s interesting in light of how the story of our next and last major judge ends. How does Samson’s life end? What were his last words? “Let me die with the Philistines!” Samson’s life was tragic. And so was his death. And in the end he dies like Abdon – amongst God’s enemies. Yet, even Samson is buried elsewhere – not with the Philistines – but in the grave of his father.
And so – moving on from Abdon – I’ve kind of gotten ahead of myself. I’m talking about Samson dying and yet we haven’t even seen anything of his life yet. We’ll get to his life. But before we do, we need to go back even farther. Back to before Samson was even born. What were the circumstances surrounding his birth? We’re told in verse 1 of chapter 13.
13:1 ¶ And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD delivered them into the hand of the Philistines forty years.
Well, this is a familiar tune. We’ve seen this pattern numerous times now. But I want us to notice something here. In verse 1 we see sin and oppression. Then verse 2 starts talking about the deliverer that God will send. What’s missing? Israel sins. God sends oppression. God sends a deliverer. What’s the missing piece? The people don’t cry out to God. And this is after 40 years of Philistine oppression. And the people say nothing. What’s going on? I think what’s happening is that by this point Israel is getting comfortable with their oppression. Isn’t that a strange thought? That God’s people can become used to and even comfortable with the enemy’s influence and oppression? But that’s exactly what we see here. Israel is becoming accustomed to her slavery.
And God takes it upon himself to send a deliverer – a Savior for his people. But we’re not going to hear about the deliver himself to begin with. We’re told about his parents. Verse 2.
2 ¶ And there was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren, and bare not.
Now, remember. The tribe of Dan has two territories. The one it was originally given was along the Mediteranean Sea just north of Judah. And that’s the territory that we’re talking about here. This part of the world was recently in the news quite a bit. This is the modern day area right around what’s called the Gaza Strip which is inhabited now – not by Philistines – but by Palestinians.
Alright, now there’s a man named Manoah. He’s a Danite. He has a wife. But for some reason we never get her name. In fact, Samson is associated with four women throughout his life and we know none of their names – except the last one – Delilah. Now, not only does this woman – Manoah’s wife – have no name – at least from our vantage point. She also has no children. She’s barren.
That’s unfortunate. I wonder if that will change. Read verse 3…
3 And the angel of the LORD appeared unto the woman, and said unto her, Behold now, thou art barren, and bearest not: but thou shalt conceive, and bear a son. 4 Now therefore beware, I pray thee, and drink not wine nor strong drink, and eat not any unclean thing: 5 For, lo, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and no razor shall come on his head: for the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb: and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.
Wow. The Lord is going to open the barren womb of this woman so she can have a child! That’s exciting. By this point in the Old Testament, the Lord has done this with Sarah, Abraham’s wife. He did it with Rebekah, Isaac’s wife. And he did it with Leah – Jacob’s wife. And this is now actually the first mention of barrenness since Leah’s episode way back in Genesis 29.
Oh, there are two more references to barrenness. One in Exodus and one in Deuteronomy. They promise that no one in Israel – whether human or cattle – will be barren. But here we have a barren Israelite. Why? Well, those two references that promise a lack of barrenness –they’re given as one of the many blessings that God would shower upon Israel… If. They. Obeyed. Him. That’s the key! Obedience to the Lord.
And isn’t it fitting – that finally in the story of our last judge we have barrenness appear once more. And actually I’m surprised we haven’t seen it sooner. Israel has been disregarding God’s word for centuries at this point. And just now God is visiting their iniquities by sending barrenness. How incredibly patient he is.
And even now, at this point of the story, God is graciously going to reverse the barrenness of this woman. We don’t have any indication that God appeared to her in response to prayer – like he did with Elizabeth and Zacharias. He’s just going to do it – just like how he’s sending Israel a judge. Despite their silence and lack of prayer.
But God gives a condition. He’s going to allow her the joyful opportunity to bear a son. But neither she nor he is to eat anything related to grapes. They mustn’t drink alcohol. They can’t eat anything unclean. And the boy is not to cut his hair. Ever. Why? He’s going to be a Nazirite – from the womb ‘til the day of his death.
And you remember what Nazirites are. There was a stipulation in the Old Testament law that a man could make a vow to the Lord in which he wouldn’t eat or drink any grape products or alcohol. He would avoid ceremonial uncleanness. And all the while he was doing this he would leave his hair uncut. But this was usually a temporary situation. As far as I can tell no one would do this their whole life. And even if they did – they probably would have done so when they came to an age where they could chose to do it.
But things are different with this coming deliverer. He was to be consecrated and devoted to God before he was born until the day he died. So, no doubt this was exciting news! What kind of child would this be? A lifelong Nazirite! And this message is coming from an angel, no less! The angel of the Lord.
So, the woman hears this message. Then, verse 6.
6 Then the woman came and told her husband, saying, A man of God came unto me, and his countenance was like the countenance of an angel of God, very terrible: but I asked him not whence he was, neither told he me his name: 7 But he said unto me, Behold, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and now drink no wine nor strong drink, neither eat any unclean thing: for the child shall be a Nazarite to God from the womb to the day of his death.
Now, Manoah’s wife seems to leave out the prediction that Samson will begin to deliver Israel from the Philistines. But actually she does mention something that we don’t have the angel recorded as having said. And I think these two things are related. Manoah’s wife tells her husband that Samson will be a Nazirite from the womb to the day of his death. It’s as if his mother perceives that beginning to deliver Israel from the Philistines will terminate in Samson’s death. She substitutes the mention of one for the mention of the other.
Now, Manoah’s wife didn’t ask for the “man”s whereabouts or place of origin. And the man didn’t tell her his name. So, now we have two nameless characters in this story. But if she would have asked his name or origin, she would have been in for quite a shock! Because he’s none other than the Angel of the Lord. Again, many believe that the Angel of the Lord is the Lord himself.
Now, Manoah hears from his wife about the wonderful appearance of this man with his wonderful promise of a child. Then in verse 8…
8 ¶ Then Manoah intreated the LORD, and said, O my Lord, let the man of God which thou didst send come again unto us, and teach us what we shall do unto the child that shall be born.
Why does Manoah need to hear from this man of God again? Is it not enough that God woud appear once to his wife and reveal what he did? His wife gave him all the details. Does he not trust her? Maybe he doesn’t trust God’s promise to her.
It seems like that’s the case. His stated request is to know basically the very things that God already revealed to his wife. So, I think we’re starting to see the character of Manoah. He’s not really trusting God’s revelation to his wife. And that’s not good. And yet God amazingly condescends to Manoah’s request. Verse 9…
9 And God hearkened to the voice of Manoah; and the angel of God came again unto the woman as she sat in the field: but Manoah her husband was not with her.
So, God responds to Manoah’s request. But you can tell he doesn’t really like it. He does come back – but he comes back and appears to only… the woman. Not to Manoah. And surely God is able to appear to the right person – right? But here God deliberately chose to return only to Manoah’s wife, not to Manoah himself. So, verse 10…
10 And the woman made haste, and ran, and shewed her husband, and said unto him, Behold, the man hath appeared unto me, that came unto me the other day. 11 And Manoah arose, and went after his wife, and came to the man, and said unto him, Art thou the man that spakest unto the woman? [And now, just think about this question. Manoah’s wife tells him that the man of God is back. And Manoah still comes and says basically, “Is my wife really telling me the truth? Are you the one who appeared to her before?” And what else can the Lord say besides what he responds. End of verse 11…] And he said, I am. 12 And Manoah said, Now let thy words come to pass. [Or it could be translated, “When your words come to pass…”] How shall we order the child, and how shall we do unto him?
Now, again, wasn’t this addressed already? The boy will be a Nazirite. While his mother is carrying him in her womb she must not eat or drink grape products or alcohol. She’s to stay away from unclean things. And the boy himself is to avoid cutting his hair until he dies delivering Israel from the Philistines. And, of course, being a Nazirite, he should also avoid unclean things himself – like honey from inside of dead lions, ahem – and he should avoid grapes and alcohol.
So, yes, the Lord did already address this with Manoah’s wife. And so the Lord’s response to his kind of doubting question is predictable. Verse 13…
13 And the angel of the LORD said unto Manoah, Of all that I said unto the woman let her beware. [In other words, “I told your wife, Manoah. But let me repeat myself…”] 14 She may not eat of any thing that cometh of the vine, neither let her drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing: all that I commanded her let her observe.
And I assume that that last phrase would include the fact that their son will die delivering Israel from the Philistines and that he must not cut his hair.
Now, some things in biblical narratives are subtle. For instance, if this is the first time you’ve ever been challenged to consider that Manoah was actually a bit faithless you might still be struggling to see that in the text. But there are clues that this is the case.
And we receive some more clues as to Manoah’s character in the verses to follow. Watch the angel of the Lord – the Lord himself – really evade Manoah’s advances starting in verse 15. And ask yourself, “why?” Verse 15…
15 ¶ And Manoah said unto the angel of the LORD, I pray thee, let us detain thee, until we shall have made ready a kid [Or a young goat] for thee.
Seems like an honorable gesture. I mean, after all, Abraham made the same offer to his heavenly visitors who promised that his barren wife Sarah would bear a son. And the Lord accepted it. And even in this book we saw Gideon offer to feed his divine messenger who was calling him to be a judge. And the Lord stayed. So, let’s see how the Lord responds to this seemingly good-hearted offer. Verse 16…
16 And the angel of the LORD said unto Manoah, Though thou detain me, I will not eat of thy bread: and if thou wilt offer a burnt offering, thou must offer it unto the LORD. For Manoah knew not that he was an angel of the LORD.
So, what the Lord says here serves two purposes. It first starts to display to us that the Lord is really – as I said – evading Manoah’s advances. Manoah wants to offer a goat to this divine messenger. And that seems like it would meet with approval. But it doesn’t. The fact that the Lord seems to be rejecting Manoah’s attempt to honor him raises a question. Why? Why is the Lord resisting Manoah?
And so secondly, we see from the Lord’s response a clue as to why he’s not receiving Manoah’s offer positively. Manoah – end of verse 16 – still doesn’t know that this is the angel of the Lord he’s speaking to. Why is that a problem?
Manoah knows this is no ordinary messenger. His wife told him as much. She said he’s like an angel of God – very terrible. This messenger just appears when he will out of nowhere. And so I think by this point Manoah gets the hint that this messenger is divine in some way. And yet, “divinity” in Manoah’s day doesn’t include merely the Lord. When a man like Manoah thought of deities he’s likely thinking about a host of pagan false gods. In Manoah’s mind then, this messenger may be an emisary from any one of those gods.
Think that’s a stretch? How else do we get around the fact that Manoah is by now recognizing that there’s something extraordinary, something divine, something that would call for offering a sacrifice to this man. And yet he doesn’t know that this man is associated with the Lord – Yes, that he’s the Lord himself. If Manoah recognizes some deity in this person and yet doesn’t know that it’s the Lord, who is Manoah planning to honor? Not the Lord!
And so, the Lord is mindful that Manoah isn’t being orthodox in his practices or beliefs. And so, he resists Manoah’s offers. He corrects Manoah – If you offer an offering do it to the Lord – remember him? The God of Israel? The one Israel has been rejecting and disobeying for centuries now?
So, being rebuffed a bit, Manoah continues. Verse 17…
17 And Manoah said unto the angel of the LORD, What is thy name, that when thy sayings come to pass we may do thee honour? 18 And the angel of the LORD said unto him, Why askest thou thus after my name, seeing it is secret?
Again, we see Manoah making an offer to do something for this messenger. And we’d be inclined to think that the offer is genuine and heart-felt. But the Lord’s reaction demonstrates otherwise. Now, Manoah asks for the angel’s name – like Jacob did when he wrestled the Lord.
So, why is it a problem to ask the name of the Lord? Well, there’s an idea that in ancient civilization knowing the name of a deity – and even feeding a deity like we just saw Manoah attempt earlier – would give the man who fed or knew the name of that deity – would give him power in some sense over that deity. It would at least give the man the ability to make requests of that deity and kind of manipulate him to do his will. Like – “I fed you or I know your name. So you better do good for me.” It’s a weird Canaanite belief and practice that some assume Manoah was engaging in here. Or at least he was trying to engage in it. But the Lord was having none of it.
So, with no name from his divine visitor and having been rebuffed in his offer to feed him or sacrifice to him, Manoah does what the visitor said – offer an offering to the Lord. We see that in verse 19…
19 So Manoah took a kid with a meat offering, and offered it upon a rock unto the LORD: and the angel did wondrously; and Manoah and his wife looked on. 20 For it came to pass, when the flame went up toward heaven from off the altar, that the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar. And Manoah and his wife looked on it, and fell on their faces to the ground. 21 ¶ But the angel of the LORD did no more appear to Manoah and to his wife. Then Manoah knew that he was an angel of the LORD.
So, finally Manoah gets the identity of this messenger! He was the angel of the Lord. And getting that identity right causes Manoah great distress and fear. Verse 22.
22 And Manoah said unto his wife, We shall surely die, because we have seen God.
You see this concern throughout the Old Testament – that if someone sees God he’ll die. And so the fear that Manoah’s expressing may be legitimate. Although it seems like whenever someone expresses this kind of fear in the Old Testament the person never actually dies. But anyway, Manoah is afraid. And his nameless wife comes to the rescue with some common sense reasoning to quell his fears. Verse 23.
23 But his wife said unto him, If the LORD were pleased to kill us, he would not have received a burnt offering and a meat offering at our hands, neither would he have shewed us all these things, nor would as at this time have told us such things as these.
Really, the woman’s words make sense. If God wanted to kill Manoah and his wife, why would he appear to them – not once, but twice? Why would he communicate to them that he was going to allow the woman to bear a son? The son would not be born and God’s promise would be nullified if the woman died. So, good for Manoah’s wife. She may not be incredibly theologically astute, but she does have some common sense.
And it turned out she was right. They didn’t die. And God’s promise came to pass. Verse 24.
24 And the woman bare a son, and called his name Samson: and the child grew, and the LORD blessed him. 25 And the Spirit of the LORD began to move him at times in the camp of Dan between Zorah and Eshtaol.
Now, we’re going to see some real weird stuff from this boy for the next three chapters. But for now, this is what we see. The Lord blessing him. The Lord blessed Samson. He was good to Samson. Samson had a good start. The Spirit of the Lord began to stir him up as he grew. The Lord apparently was very much involved with Samson.
Samson starts well. His birth is proclaimed by an angel. Yes, his father was faithless and manipulative. But his mother seemed to believe. And perhaps his father did eventually. The Lord was with Samson.
OK, now I’m going to ask you as I have before – imagine for a moment that you don’t know what’s coming next. You don’t know Samson’s life to follow. Aren’t you excited about this boy? I mean, his near miraculous birth? The fact that the Lord is blessing him? Israel’s surely in for a great deliverer. Or is she? We’ll see how this last deliverer fairs next time.