Hi, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me.”
Continuing our survey of Old Testament stories about prayer, today we consider the birth announcement for Samson the strong-man, one of the judges of Israel.
The Israelites who lived in the promised land persistently ignored God and disobeyed his laws. So God let their enemies–the Philistines–oppress them for 40 years (Judges 13:1). This is similar to Israel at the time of Jesus, which was occupied by the Roman army. In our day, Israel is still a favorite target of local military powers.
During the Philistine occupation, an angel visited an Israelite woman who couldn’t have children. The angel said, “You are going to have a son. Don’t drink wine, and when the boy is born, don’t ever cut his hair. He will be dedicated as a servant of God to deliver Israel from the Philistines.”
After the angel left, the woman told her husband Manoah, “An awesome looking angel told me I will have a son and that I’m not supposed to drink wine. And he said we can’t ever cut the boy’s hair because he will be dedicated as a servant of God to deliver Israel from the Philistines.”
How do you think Manoah received the good news? He prayed. That’s probably a good thing. But listen to his prayer. He said, “God, pardon me, but can you send that angel back to explain how to bring up the boy we’re going to have?” God answered his prayer. The angel returned and found Manoah’s wife alone in a field. She ran to get Manoah who followed her to meet the angel. Manoah said, “Are you the one who spoke to my wife? Tell us how we’re supposed to raise the boy.”
And the angel said, perhaps somewhat pointedly, “Just do everything I told your wife when I visited her.” Then the angel repeated his earlier instructions.
An interesting story. Let’s start with two observations.
1. First, Israelite society in Bible times was strongly patriarchal, and the author of this story reflects that. For example, even though the woman is the central character, the author never tells us her name. She is just, “The wife of Manoah.” When she tells her husband about the angel’s visit, he asks God to send the angel back, saying in effect, “Clearly these instructions are too important for me to get second-hand from a woman. You’d better repeat the instructions so I can hear them.”
2. Second, God simply ignores the politics of patriarchy. He has no problem bypassing the man and sending the angel to the woman. Even after Manoah prays to be included, the angel doesn’t go to Manoah–he goes straight to the woman again. She has to find Manoah who follows her to the field to meet the angel. Who is leader and who is follower in this awkward scenario? And what does the angel say to Manoah? “Just do everything I already told your wife.” Do we catch a hint of rebuke here? Is the angel saying, “The instructions haven’t changed since the last time I gave them.”
Now, let’s look at a couple lessons for our prayers.
1. First, God is serious about communicating good news to his people. He sent an angel to bring good news to Manoah’s wife. When Manoah had trouble accepting the news from her, God sent the angel back to deliver the news to him.
2. Second, God works both inside and outside our cultural expectations. He bypassed patriarchal norms by going to Manoah’s wife. He honored patriarchal norms by sending the angel again for Manoah’s benefit. God still speaks inside and outside our cultural expectations. Whether our Christianity is conservative evangelical, charismatic, liturgical, Bible-believing independent, or social gospel liberal, God makes himself present to all who seek him in spirit and in truth. He speaks to us in a language we understand, through scripture as we understand it, and through our community and through our whole experience of life.
Let’s pray. Our Father in heaven, we live our lives in a place and time and human culture that we can’t escape. But we confess that our thoughts are too small for you, our theology is too narrow, our faith is too weak, our culture is too confining. Send your angel to us, tell us the good news of your salvation, lead us out of our narrowness into the wider culture of your kingdom. Amen.
I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.