Samson’s mother’s story (Judges 13)
Why is Samson’s mother the mystery woman of Advent? Because, like Elizabeth and Mary, she was the mother of a son whose birth was announced by God. Both she and Elizabeth were mothers of “nazarites:” men set apart by God before birth as holy men. Heroes both, John the Baptist and Samson set the stage for better things to come: John prepared the way for Jesus, and Samson, as a judge in Israel, prepared the way for the kings who would follow.
Read the story of God’s angel telling Samson’s mother about the impending birth. Note that the angel was crystal-clear about talking to Samson’s mother and not his father (even though said faither, Manoah, tried hard to be the primary message recipient). From the start, his mother was calm, practical and optimistic. She knew her son would be essential to God’s mission.
In Northern Minnesota’s backwoods, hikers often find small rocks stacked one atop each other. If one knows how to read that ancient language, all will be clear as to which path to take. If not, one or more nights under the stars may be the result.
Think of this story as brimming with clues about this woman and her calling to be Samson’s mother:
First clue: “…a barren woman.”
No pregnancy kit is needed here. Words pertaining to “a barren woman” usually mean that a son, important to God’s unfolding story, will be born to a worthy woman. (Daughters are clearly important to God’s story, but none were born under the barren mother scenario.)
A divine messenger, representing God, is talking to the woman (initially) instead of the man. Perhaps God trusted her more to hear the message; perhaps God knew that Samson’s mother would be tested often by her somewhat odd son, and wanted to give her confidence in the midst of challenging and tearful years.
Samson’s mother and father were “working in the field.” Peasants, commoners, ordinary people: the salt-of-the-earth kind of people God consistently chooses for important deeds.
Although the woman’s husband and Samson’s father-to-be was nearby, the “man of God” did not speak to him until she brought home the divine message; and then only spoke to him on the third try—and when his wife was present. Even then, God’s words were shortened, and refer back to what had already been told to Manoah’s wife: “Of all that I told her…” The key line, which only the woman had been told, was that their son “would begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.”
Samson’s mother was to keep herself healthy during pregnancy, abstaining from alcohol and unclean food, and not cut Samson’s hair. This passage also begins to build Samson’s identity as wholly dedicated to God, yet eccentric.
The angel disappeared in flames at the end of the conversation with Samson’s parents—confirming that he is a divine messenger. A further hot point to this story: the name Samson means “sun,” and the angel ascended in the “flame of the altar.” Lots going on here.
Dynamics of marriage and power rise to the top here. It is Samson’s mother who first sees the messenger of God. She tells her husband the news. He believes her and prays that God will come again…and elaborate. The messenger does return, but the husband is not there. Finally, on the third holy visit, Manoah’s questions are answered, albeit briefly.
The message is clear: God wanted to talk primarily with Samson’s mother. The angel could have picked a time when husband and wife would have been together, spoken just with Manoah, or been more communicative when the father was present. It is no wonder, then, that Samson’s mother speaks more than any other woman in Judges, for she has much to say.
What might we learn from Samson’s mother?
God shows up in mysterious ways.
A call to motherhood is holy.
Anything can happen with God.
God’s line of communication was clear: from God to messenger to mother.
Sometimes children do not act as parents hope they would, but love, human and divine, most often wins out.