What does Judges chapter 13 mean?This chapter begins like many others in the book of Judges (Judges 2:16–19) but continues in an unusual way. Another generation of Israelites fall into depravity and sin: serving the gods of the Canaanites and the nations around them. The Lord responds once more by turning His people over to a foreign power, this time the Philistines (Judges 13:1).
God does not wait, this time, for His people to cry out for help in their suffering. Instead, the Lord appoints a deliverer before the man is even born. Also unusual is that this new judge will only "begin to save Israel."
Manoah and his wife live in Zorah, in the territory of the tribe of Dan. This is in south-central Israel near the heart of Philistine power. One day, "the angel of the LORD," Yahweh Himself in some temporary human form, appears to Manoah's wife. He announces that although she has been barren, she will give birth to a son. Barrenness and miraculous intervention are common aspects of God's work in Israel throughout the Old Testament (Genesis 11:30; 25:21; 29:31). He tells her not to drink alcohol or eat anything the law describes as unclean. Her son is meant to live under a Nazarite vow (Numbers 6:1–21) from the womb. The boy is destined to begin to save Israel from the Philistines (Judges 13:2–5).
The woman seeks out her husband and tells him this news. Manoah quickly prays, asking God to send back the strange "man of God," who they believe only has the appearance of an angel. His request expresses faith that the prophecy is true. He doesn't seem to question "if" this will happen but asks for more information about how to raise their son. The Lord grants this request and reappears. "The angel of the LORD" repeats how important it is that Manoah's wife follows the restrictions for someone under a Nazarite vow (Judges 13:6–14).
Manoah still doesn't grasp the nature of this Person to whom he speaks. He believes the stranger to be a man of God, but he does not understand this is "the angel of the LORD." He asks the stranger to stay so he can bring a meal. The stranger refuses to eat yet encourages Manoah to offer the Lord a burnt sacrifice. Manoah asks the stranger's name but is told it is too wonderful for them to understand. This somewhat echoes God's self-identification to Moses (Exodus 3:14), as well as other Scriptures describing the Lord as beyond human comprehension (Isaiah 55:8–9). Manoah offers the young goat and a grain offering to the Lord on a large rock (Judges 13:15–18).
As Manoah and his wife are observing their guest, "the angel of the LORD" disappears into the flames of the offering and vanishes up towards heaven. The couple instantly recognize this supernatural disappearance as proof they have been talking to "the angel of the LORD," meaning Yahweh Himself. They fall on their faces in humble worship. Manoah briefly fears they will die because they have seen God (Exodus 33:20). The wife assures her husband that if God meant to kill them, He would not have accepted their offering. Nor would He have shown them these things or told them about the child (Judges 13:19–23).
They do not die, and the woman gives birth to a son. She names him Samson, and the boy is blessed by God. When he is a young man, the Lord's Spirit begins to stir in Samson. This begins while he is in a specific place between his hometown and a town called Eshtaol (Judges 13:24–25).
This holy, sanctified beginning to Samson's life is as "clean" as his story will be. The rest of his life is a series of scandals, questionable choices, and bloodshed. Despite not being an especially "heroic" character, Samson is still used by God for His greater purposes.