Bob Dylan wrote a song called “Everything is broken.” Here are some of the lyrics.
Broken bottles broken plates
Broken switches broken gates
Broken dishes broken parts
Streets are filled with broken hearts
Broken words never meant to be spoken
Everything is broken.
He’s right. Whether it is things or people or systems, everything is broken. Many of us are in this place today because we know how broken we are. Some of you may feel you are so broken that there is no hope or that you cannot possibly be used by God. But the Bible is filled with stories of fractured lives and messy situations. Over the next four weeks we are going to study one example of that. The series is called Broken: How God uses defective people. The focus is the infamous strongman Samson. From his life, we can learn truths about how God works, even through broken situations and broken people.
Samson’s story begins in Judges 13. Notice the circumstances of his birth, vv. 1-2. Everything is broken. The entire nation is in crisis, and on top of that there is a family in turmoil. God’s people Israel have failed spiritually, running after the gods of their neighbors, breaking the laws of the Lord. This spiritual failure led to social upheaval. God allowed the enemy to conquer and oppress them. 40 years of suffering at the hand of the Philistine army. Although God sent this discipline on his people, there is no record of them repenting or calling out to him for help. On top of this national spiritual failure and social upheaval, we meet a couple who struggled with infertility. Manoah and his wife are surrounded by brokenness. For 40 years they knew nothing but subjugation and defeat. The present looked as dismal as the past. And there was no glimmer of hope for the future. They couldn’t raise a family. There was no one to carry on the name, help their struggle to exist, or take care of them in old age. Everything is broken.
Some of what’s broken is because of the failure of others. Mess in the world, in the nation, in the church. Troubled by sin’s presence all around us. The sin done to us. (Troubled teen boy, whose Dad has never been in his life, whose mom has a string of husbands, boyfriends) (the hard working family who are now destitute. Dad and mom both worked minimum wage jobs with no benefits. Mom gets sick and not only do they lose her income, but the medical bills are more than they can pay.) (Elderly couple who worked their entire lives, and now lost everything due to the greed and corruption of a financial planner) (a church, founded on the good news of Jesus, but no longer holds to the truth of Scripture or the tenants of faith. The once strong ministry slides into error, irrelevance, and decline by the spiritual rebellion of its leaders. Pushed aside are a handful of people of love Jesus and cannot sit under the teaching and leadership of those who have left the faith.) (young woman who can’t form healthy relationships, struggles with self-worth, depression, suicidal thoughts because she was sexually abused by a family member and no one did anything about it. No one protected her, or listened to her.)
Some of what’s broken may be due to your own sinful choices. Even when surrounded by the sinfulness of others, we can choose not to sin. Because sinful things were done to us does not mean we are free to do them to others.
Everything is broken. But into that wreckage, God’s plan enters.
vv. 3-5a Of course a baby would be the answer to this couple’s personal struggle. The angel emphasizes the barrenness of this family. The word “sterile” means “to pull up by the roots.” In other words, this isn’t just a fertility problem. The ability to have children did not even exist in this couple. In Manoah’s day, this was a grave condition. It was seen as a sign of God’s disfavor. From a social and economic point of view, childlessness was tragic in the ancient world. The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery: “Barrenness is one of the Bible’s strongest images of desolation and rejection.” The angel confirms the dire nature of this couple’s condition. “You don’t have children, and you are incapable of having children. But that is all going to change.” This is one of many times when God used barrenness as a springboard to amazing deliverance and displays of his power. But even though this answers the personal struggle of Manoah and his wife, from the beginning, God is clear that this birth is about far more than one family.
v. 5b This birth is the answer for the brokenness of a nation. It is difficult for us to see beyond our own problems. Our individual needs obscure the bigger picture. But realize that if God is sovereign, the things you are going through have a purpose greater than you. Your decisions, contributions, and experiences have a wider sphere of impact than your immediate family. That God’s answer to the brokenness of a nation would come in the form of a baby is characteristic of how God works so often. We look for immediate answers, quick solutions, dramatic interventions, and yet God tends to choose a more subtle response. Babies are so fragile and take time to grow up. This was no instant answer for Israel. Avoiding alcohol and unclean food would be smart for any pregnancy. But there is more to it than good prenatal care. This child was set apart from God’s use. This would be displayed by the Nazirite vow. This vow is described in Numbers 6. Following it meant you would ingest nothing connected with grapes. You would never have a haircut. You would never touch a dead body, not even a family member. However, the only part of the vow this boy was to keep concerned not cutting his hair. This would be a lifetime sign that this child had a special purpose.
Before we continue the story, I want to remind you that God always meets us at the point of our inability. God enters our hopeless condition, just as he did here. A nation was spiraling away from God, and dominated by the enemy. A couple was incapable of child bearing. The story begins with what they could not do, and then moves to what God would do in them. That is the heart of the gospel. Rom.5:6 “You see at just the right time when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” It is precisely at the place where we realize that we are unable to earn or deserve God’s grace and favor that he saves us. It is when we understand that our own resources are insufficient that he supplies. It is when we see there are no human solutions that he answers. It is when we finally comprehend we are weak that he shows himself to be strong. “I know I’m broken, here’s what I’m going to do about it…” No. It is all God. Respond to him.
Deliverance from your enemies is only going to come by devoting yourself to God.
v. 6 The key figure in this story has no name. Manoah’s wife is simply referred to as ‘the woman’. She does believe. Man of God=prophet. She gives the essence of the encounter. Manoah doesn’t doubt her, or God. v.8-9 Prayed= plead, implore. [TWOT} “Marked by simplicity, sincerity and confidence in Yahweh.” Manoah gives a straightforward prayer and God delights to answer it, but really doesn’t give more detail. vv.10-16 Note the faith of this man who doesn’t say “If” but “when.” Just do what I have said. How often we want all the answers when God just asks us to obey without more information. Accept what God has revealed and other things will become clear in time. Who is this being? At times it seems to be simply an angel. At others it seems to be God himself. Christ appearing before his birth in Bethlehem. Whichever, this is the angel in whom the invisible God reveals himself. Communicating in a way this simple couple can comprehend. Manoah wants to show hospitality, a means to thank this visitor for this promise. It would take time. But the angel is not interested in this, only in a sacrifice to the Lord.
I am so impressed with this couple. They seem to have faith in the one true God in the midst of the godlessness around them. They lived right near the border of the enemy, but stayed faithful. They seem to have a good marriage. But most impressive is the honest faith they express. They simply believe and call on God with their questions. They took God at his word, even when they thought it was simply a prophet speaking. God rewards that unvarnished faith. Heb.11:6 “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” That puts us in a similar position to Manoah. We have God’s promise declared to us through the apostles and prophets, in Christ. When we take God at his word, act on it, God is pleased. Even when we do not understand, faith says I will believe and obey because God has spoken.
vv.17-18 Manoah wants to know who to thank when this happens. Honor=heavy, riches, glory. The angel doesn’t say it is a secret. His name is so wonderful that Manoah couldn’t take it in. The same word as in Is.9:6 when it says of the messiah that his name shall be called wonderful. v.19-23 The God whose name is wonderful chose to do a wonderful thing [same word]. The flame of the burnt offering rises upward and amazingly the angel ascends with it. This brought the couple to the ground on their faces. “Every real meeting with God must surely bring us all to that same point.” David Jackman
Manoah panics into thinking God will now kill him. The woman thinks clearly. “Don’t worry, you can’t die and fulfill God’s promises at the same time.” He has accepted our worship and made this promise and it is going to happen. The scene is one of worship. An encounter with almighty God. God accepts their sincere offering to him, he provokes this response of reverence as they fall down. That is the heart response required for true worship. Not that we cannot express great joy and praise, but that there should also be an awesome reverence that we come before the Lord of the universe. Annie Dillard writes, “Why do people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.” May we not be pedestrian in our worship, rather as Heb.12 tells us, Let us be thankful and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is consuming fire.”
The story speeds ahead 9 months, v. 24-25. Samson=sunny. Stir=thrust, impel. The Spirit is pushing him forward to use the powers God had given. Samson is moved by the Spirit more than any other Judge. He seems to have all the advantages, yet shows great weaknesses. He is an exact replica of the nation. An awesome beginning, filled with God’s power, but with a weakness for foreign women. He had all the advantages yet was unfaithful time and again. This chapter reminds us that as flawed as he was, he was set apart for God and used by him. To those of us in Christ, we are a chosen people, a holy, set apart people. Yet like Samson we do not live up to that, and others may sometimes wonder-who do they think they are. In Christ God has said, you are my son, you are my daughter. I have set you apart to be mine and no one will take you out of my hand.
God may use your personal brokenness to set others free.
Your sacrifice may lead to someone else’s blessing.
Your loss may be someone else’s gain.
Your setback may be someone else’s insight.
Your barrier may be someone else’s step stool.
Your defeat may lead to someone else’s victory.
Your painful experience may provide someone else some wise counsel.
2 Corinthians 1:3-9
Where is the Spirit of the Lord beginning to stir? Into the brokenness of your life, God is preparing to birth an answer.
Be willing to hear God,
Be ready to obey God, v. 12
Be eager to worship God