Recap of Joshua, Introduction to Judges, Study of Judges 13 (Manoah’s wife and birth of Samson)
Key points to remember about Joshua
The people are set apart and defined by
Covenant – focus on covenant is central to Joshua
Circumcision and Passover mark entry into land – two traditions that became defining practices of Judaism
Cherem = proscribing the natives
Prominence of Ark of Covenant along with priests, altars and sacrifices – foreshadows centrality of synagogue Ark.
23:11-13 – The Israelites must observe the covenant or YHVH will not drive out the inhabitants of the land
24:14-28 – Israelites affirm the covenant. Joshua ends with people in compliance with God’s commandments.
Intro to Judges
Judges is a collection of newer and older material, much folklore and tales as well as remnants of historical material. The stories are arranged by the redactor to present a theological pattern. Judges shows human failures and chaos of life – the inability to follow the covenant. Cherem (proscription) is not an issue in Judges.
Manoah’s Wife: Judges chapter 13
A question was raised regarding 13:25 “The spirit of YHVH began to move him.” This is poorly translated in the modern JPS as “The sprit of YHVH first moved him.” The word “began” is tachel. The root is ch.l.l. That is חלל The root has a couple of quite different meanings. According to BDB, It can mean to profane, but in hiphil it also means “to begin to.” “To begin to” is the meaning here. You will find this root in the following places in Judges: 10.18, 13.5, 16.19, 16.22, 20.31, 20.39, 20.40. You may remember that in 13.5 the text said that Samson would “begin to save Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.” The modern JPS translates this as “shall be the first to deliver Israel from the Philistines.” Not a good translation, as Samson does not deliver Israel but only begins to deliver. Delivery from the Philistines will be a long time in coming.
The story of Manoah’s wife and the birth of Samson is similar to many of the other birth-of-hero stories. Compare to Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Hannah, who were all barren and gave birth to heroes. There are some significant differences.
· Manoah and his wife never asked for a child, whereas in all other cases wife (Rachel and Hannah) or husband (Abraham and Isaac) prayed to God for a child.
· Manoah has no lineage – no last name. He is not son of X, son of Y, son of Z. He is identified as belonging to a family, but not a tribe. All the other men are fully identified.
· Manoah’s wife has no name. For a woman not to have a name is not unusual, but all of the above-mentioned mothers of heroes do have names and we have quite a bit of history on Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel.
· There is an undertone of birth without Manoah taking part. Only the angel and Manoah’s wife seem to participate. Contrast Sarah (but my husband is so old), Rebecca (Isaac prays for her), Rachel (to Jacob, “give me a child or I will die”; plus she and Leah are constantly maneuvering with Jacob to father the 13 children); Elkanah goes in to his wife after Hannah has prayed to God.
Manoah keeps getting sidelined. The angel of God visits his wife, and when Manoah asks God to send a messenger to him, the angel is again sent to Manoah’s wife. Manoah repeatedly fails to see that the visitor is an angel, until the food goes up in flames (13.20). Manoah and his wife both recognize that the visitor is an angel of God, but Manoah is terrified and afraid he will die. His wife, with great common sense, reminds him that the visitor came to announce the birth of Samson, not to kill them.
Though the story of Samson’s birth has commonality with the biblical births of heroes, it is somewhat comical and might predict that as a hero, Samson will not be up to snuff. On November 15 we will indeed see if Samson is hero material.
BDB = Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon