Summary: Samson had everything going for him: supportive, godly parents, a good home environment, and blessing from God. So why did he decide to walk a path of selfishness and what does that say to us?
Samson is a puzzling character. He had great successes for the nation of Israel but personally was a total failure. He was as weak morally and spiritually as he was strong physically. Why the Lord ever used him is beyond me and why his story is just so interesting and compelling floors me.
I think that Samson’s character can be summed up on one word: ego. Samson loved to be the center of attention, and what Samson wanted was what Samson got. In the four chapters of his cycle we see his character manifested in pride, sensuality, rebellion, disregard for the Lord, weakness of personal integrity, anger, vengefulness, lack of self control (over his actions and his tongue), and narcissism.
We learn mostly from contrast with Samson, though there are some lessons for us as well in the sheer hubris of how he stepped out for God and the fact that God overruled what Samson wanted so God got what He wanted. Also don’t lose sight that Samson could represent all that is attractive about the flesh too: He was physically strong, a rebel, witty (at least he thought so), and probably good looking (think Fabio with the long hair).
We begin with the promise over this child to his mom and dad.
Chapter 13, verse 1
This ought to be a familiar refrain to us by now: disobedience leading to oppression. The Philistines (means "wanderer") came from Greece around the same time as the Israelites (1,200 BC). Their occupation of the coastal area of Southern Palestine (a word which comes from "Philistine") sped up nearer the time of Samson and they disputed land with Israel around the territory of Dan and Judah.
They lived in 5 city-states, ruled by local "kings." They were a powerful people and oppressed Israel until David conquered them (1 Samuel 13). They were experienced in metallurgy and so their technology gave them an edge militarily.
Verses 2 - 7
Again we see the Angel of the Lord. Earlier He appeared to Israel (Judges 2:1), and to Gideon (Judges 6). Notice that he appears to Manoah’s wife, but she is not named. Not having children was a great disgrace in Israel so this is a really great promise for her, but it comes with strings for her and the child.
Nazirites (Numbers 6:1-12) had three special restrictions: 1. They were to abstain totally from "fermented drink" including grapes and raisins; 2. They could not have their hair cut; and 3. They could not come near a corpse. This is important because Samson violates all three of these prohibitions at some time in his life.
You wonder by the way she tells her husband that perhaps she was so excited about the promise that she forgot to get the man’s credentials (didn’t ask his name or where he came from). But she says his appearance was "awesome" which comes from a Hebrew word that means "to cause fright."
Verses 8 - 14
It may be that Manoah was pretty upset and overwhelmed at the responsibility of raising such an unusual child and so wants some more direction. Manoah’s wife didn’t share the most difficult part-fighting the Philistines, thinking perhaps that this would stress him out even more.
Notice that God hears the man’s prayers but comes back to the woman. The angel just repeats what he already said (with the addition of not eating grapes). We know now that things a pregnant woman does will affect her baby. Perhaps the message was "I already told you everything you need to know." Do we do that to God as well? God has given us everything we need to know in His Word.
Verses 15 - 20
Notice the similarities between this and the Angel of the Lord’s appearance to Gideon in chapter 6. But this time, instead of just disappearing, the angel actually ascends in the flame of the burnt offering. I think this is cool if you believe that the Angel of the Lord is the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ. He becomes the sacrifice and ascends to God after the resurrection.
The Angel doesn’t really answer Manoah’s question about his name except to say that it is "beyond understanding" or "wonderful". The root Hebrew word means "to be great, to be separate, difficult." It’s the same word used in verse 19 "the one who works wonders" or "he did a wondrous thing" (KJV). I think the implication is that you are dealing with such a higher being than you that it would be useless to try to explain it to you.
Notice the differences from the Gideon story: it is Manoah’s wife that calms Manoah, not the Lord. She says "Why would God kill us if He’s got an assignment for us?" There’s a lesson for us there too. No, we shouldn’t test the Lord, but you are really bullet proof until the Lord says its time to go. You should move confidently in the missions the Lord sends you on. They might not be easy, but you can accomplish them until God says its time to go home.