Samson: A Tragedy in Four Acts: A Visit With The Angels
Judges 13:2-12, 21-24
The strongest man in the world is the man who can master himself. By that definition, Samson was not a strong man. Oh, he had tremendous physical strength. He was big. He was tough. He was rough. He could conquer women, wild beasts, and warriors. Some called him the strongest of men, but inside of him there was a fatal weakness. He had no moral muscle. And in the end, Samson, the man of strength, was defeated by his own weakness. His story is a tragic one, but I want us to become familiar with his tragedy in the hope that such tragedy will never occur in our lives.
But let’s start at the beginning. Samson’s story begins with Samson’s parents. His father’s name was Manoah. We do not know his mother’s name. Call her simply “Mrs. Manoah.” We do not know much about Mr. and Mrs. Manoah except that they were good people who enjoyed a good marriage. What we do know about them comes clear in what I have chosen to call “A Visit With The Angels.”
Here is what happened…
One day, Mrs. Manoah went off for a time of prayer and meditation. She was approached by an angel of God. The angel told her that she and Manoah would have a son. That was good news as they had no children. The angel then told her that her son was to be brought up in accordance with Nazarite vows. The Nazarites were a very strict religious group who adhered to certain customs as marks of faithfulness to God. They never consumed strong drink. They never ate unclean food. They never touched the dead. And they never cut their hair. Not only that, but the angel declared that Mrs. Manoah was to accept the Nazarite vows herself until the time of Samson’s birth. It was clear that God wished to prepare not only the boy Samson, but also the boy’s parents for special service.
I think it’s a wonderful thing to think about the preparing ministry of God through His angels of concern. James Stewart of Scotland writes: “The word ‘angel’ means messenger from God, help from beyond, a visitation from the spiritual world, that other world which is actually more real than the world our five senses apprehend, that world which is never far away but always pressing in upon us.” Stewart goes on to say that angels can be divine or human. They can be mysterious messengers from beyond or they can be God speaking to us through other people about us. I think it’s a beautiful thing to think about that—how God injects purpose into our lives, and then, moves suddenly, gently, but oh so positively to work that purpose out. The older I get the more convinced I am that nothing ever happens by accident. God is moving in our experience constantly. His angels are bringing messages to your life and mine.
You may be thinking at this point: “God may move in your life, Preacher, but not in mine. I’m not aware of any angels working in my life to bring God’s will to pass.” Well, if that is true of you, then may I ask: “Have you been quiet enough to hear the voice of God? Have you stopped running long enough for God’s angels to catch up with you? You see, most of us never climb out of the rat race long enough to let God have His way with us.”
There’s a telling scene in George Bernard Shaw’s play “St. Joan” where Joan of Arc is telling the king that her voices are calling her to lead the armies of France to victory. The king replies: “Your voices? Why don’t your voices speak to me? I am the king, not you.” Joan says: “If you would remain silent and listen to the quietness after the bells, then you too would hear the voices.”
So if you are inclined to say to me that you and God are far apart, I will not argue. It may be true. And if it is, then I would say to you with love, but with concern: It is not God who has moved.
But let’s continue our story…
As soon as Mrs. Manoah received this word from the angel she ran to tell her husband. I think that’s a very tender note in this story. Right away she wanted to share it all with him.
You see, whenever you have two people who love God and who love each other, there is always going to be sharing—not only sharing of the joys and victories, but of the dark and shadowed times as well. When God’s mathematical miracle occurs that is when God takes one and adds it to one and ends up with one. When God takes a husband and wife and makes them one, then sharing must be a part of their lives. It’s rather like an “eternal triangle.” I know gossip columnists use that phrase to refer to an extra-marital relationship. But I would suggest that there is only one eternal triangle: God and a woman and a man in marriage.
There’s a principle of physics that applies here. It says that when two different objects draw closer to a third object, they are inevitably drawn closer to each other! So in a marriage, when a husband and wife draw closer to God, they are drawn closer to each other. And the fruit of that closeness is deep, intimate sharing.
There’s a remarkable little book by the psychiatrist Sidney Jarrard called The Transparent Self. In the book he reminds us that the average female lives six years longer than the average male. Why is that? The largest cause of premature death in males is some kind of heart failure. And what causes that? It is stress and tension and anxiety. And what relieves those problems? It is the act of sharing. That’s what Jarrard says. You see, when you keep things bottled up, when you keep things from other people, particularly your loved ones, you have to become alert—you have to be careful what you say and how you look. And when in a state of personal alert, then you’re creating stress and tension within. And it’s stress and tension that adversely affect the heart. So it’s clear, Jarrard says, that people in our society need to cultivate the art of sharing in their experience—and that’s especially true for men! You see, I’m not talking just about saving families today—I’m talking about saving lives. I don’t believe the truth of that can be denied. The importance of a man and a woman sharing their faith in God and their confidence in each other cannot be minimized. The statistics make the case. The divorce rate in our society is now one divorce for every 2.5 marriages. But the divorce rate among Christians who are actively engaged in trying to live the way Christ calls us to live is one divorce for every 30 marriages. It’s true. When a husband and wife draw closer to God, they draw closer to each other. It happens every time.
Grace Sloan Overton tells how during the Depression she and her husband lost everything. They finally ended up in a barren farmhouse with no conveniences, on a postage-stamp sized piece of inherited property. She tells how on their first night, she was so disheartened that she just slumped down in a chair and wearily sighed: “Well, we’re here.” Without a moment’s hesitation, her husband reached out and took her by the hand and said: “My dear, what counts is we’re here!” That sense of sharing in love saw them through.
So Samson had many blessings in his life, but no blessing was greater than this: he was born into a home where his mother and father loved God and loved each other. Those are the two sure ingredients which make for happiness in any home—in every home—love for the Lord and love for each other.
But there’s more to our story…
The Bible tells us that as soon as Manoah got the word about the visit of the angel, he became very excited—so excited that he asked God to send the angel back so that he could talk with him. I love that. I love the willingness of this man to open himself to the message of God. He didn’t hold anything back. He immediately put himself and his life at the disposal of the Almighty. He surrendered to the Lord.
Now as soon as I say “surrender”, there are some people who get uptight. You know, “Fight the good fight, that’s the way I’ll live my faith. It’s not a matter of surrender. It’s a matter of taking up the banner and marching onward.” If that’s the vocabulary that suits you, fine. I wouldn’t quibble with it for a moment. It’s Biblical. But I would suggest to you at the same time that the real essence of faith is just offering yourself to Jesus Christ, laying your sword on the ground, striking your colors, surrendering, accepting whatever God has in mind for you. And accepting His will may lead you into things you don’t really want to do.
Take a long, hard look at Jesus kneeling in the Garden of Gethsemane as that blood-red tide of agony rolled over Him and listen to Him pray: “Father, if it be Thy will, let this cup pass from me. But nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done”—look at that and you will begin to realize that surrender to God in your life may make life harder, not easier. But in the end that kind of surrender will bring victory. It was true for Jesus. It can be true for us.
In the early days of this century two Englishmen decided that they wanted to build an automobile that wouldn’t break down. It seemed impossible, but they tried. First, they developed what they called “the bumping machine.” It was a machine upon which they would place a car, and it would be like driving that car on a railroad track at 60 miles per hour, hitting every tie. As the machine would break down the parts of the car, they would then devise and design parts which could stand the strain. After years and years of effort, they built the finest automobile in the world. By now you will have guessed that their names were Charles Rolls and Henry Royce. Their automobile, the Rolls Royce, came out of bumps and bruises, breakings and shakings.
We are just like that as Christians. If we open ourselves to the providence of God, if we open ourselves to the visits from God’s preparing angels, if we open ourselves to whatever God would do with us in life, it may be rough—sometimes terribly rough—but in the end we shall become everything He wants us to be. That’s what Manoah did—he surrendered himself to the message of God. We should do the same.
Now comes the high point of the story…
Manoah said to the angel: “When all that you have said about the birth of our child comes true, what is to be the boy’s manner of life, and what is he to do?”
I have to tell you that when I listen to what Manoah said here, I want to cry out: “Gee whiz! Holy Smoke! Wow!” How glorious! How fantastic! That’s the questions every parent ought to be asking: “Lord, what do you want my child to be and what can I do to help?” The problem is that so many parents never ask that question. They are more concerned about formalas than they are about faith, more concerned about diet than they are about devotion, more concerned about Pampers than they are about prayer. They readily consult their pediatricians, but not so readily their preachers. They never forget to study the pages of Dr. Spock, but they never remember to study the pages of the Bible. And sometimes the results are tragic to behold.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge was once talking to a man who advocated no religious influence in the rearing of children. He felt that they should be permitted to choose their religious opinions for themselves in later years. Coleridge said to the man: “Come and see my garden.” When he saw the garden, the man exclaimed: “That’s no garden! Those are nothing but weeds here.” Coleridge replied: “Well, you see I did not wish to infringe upon the liberty of the garden in any way. I left it free to choose its own production.” A timely parable, don’t you think?
The other day, as I was making my rounds at the hospital, I stopped for a moment at the nursery. I saw all the little babies on the other side of the glass: clean and pink and wrinkled. As I looked at them, I thought of how carefully the hospital protects them, and I thought, too, of how very soon they would be taken out from behind that protection. And they wouldn’t be clean anymore. And they wouldn’t be pink. And many of the wrinkles would turn to scars. I thought of the glory, the potential, the hope on the other side of that glass; and I thought of the tragedy, the pain, and the broken lives that it is my task to see so often on this side of the glass.
So I thought I would say to you today with all of the solemnity I can muster: “Dad, Mom, your children may be here and growing. Your children may be having children of their own. Your children may be yet to come. But it’s not too late and it’s not too early to dedicate them to the service of the Lord. Pray Manoah’s prayer: ‘Lord, what is to be my child’s manner of life and what is my child to do for you?”‘
The first act comes to an end. The Bible says: “The woman bore a son and called his name Samson, and the boy grew and the Lord blessed him.” I’ll tell you what I think. I think the greatest blessing the Lord gave Samson was to give him a home where his mother and his father loved each other, yes; but above all else, they loved God…