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Unfulfilled Purpose (Judges 13)

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    This week, we return to the book of Judges. Because we’re doing an overview of Judges, we are skipping a few of the judges that were raised up by God to deliver the nation of Israel. We’re skipping the stories of Gideon, which spans Judges 6, 7, and 8. We’re skipping the stories of Tola, Jair, and the sad story of Jephthah. We have three others: Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon, before we get to the last judge in the book of Judges, Samson. During this time, from Gideon to Samson, the pattern that the Israelites kept falling into got progressively worse.
    They went longer periods between the beginning of their oppression because of their sin, and when they began to cry out because of that oppression, which we can understand indicates that as time went on, the people became more and more comfortable living as pagans, instead of the set-apart people they were supposed to be.
    The judges that we have during this time reflect the decline in moral character of the people as well. Beginning with Gideon, each judge becomes less of a leader back to God. Some, like Gideon, have moments where they genuinely seem to listen to God and follow the leading of God’s Spirit. Others, like Jephthah, completely miss the movement of the Spirit and mistakingly act on what they assume to be in line with the character of God, but in reality, they didn’t even know the character of God because they didn’t know God anymore.
    Then we get Samson.
    The passage we’re going to look at today doesn’t introduce us to Samson yet, but it does introduce us to his parents, and sets the scene for Samson’s story.
    I’d like for you to join me in Judges 13 today. We’re told from the beginning that the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord, and so God allowed them to be handed over to the Philistines. The Philistines become a big problem, so big in fact that they persist even after Samson dies and his time as a judge, a leader, is over. In fact, it’s not until David many years later that the Philistines are finally dealt with in a finite way.
    They did evil in the sight of the Lord, and they were oppressed, but this time, they didn’t cry out because of their oppression. They were content to live under the rule of the Philistines, and Judges 15 says as much. The people no longer saw a problem with not living under the Lord’s rule.
    However, as we’re going to see, God was still faithful to raise up someone with the intention of delivering His people from the mess they got themselves into.
    Let’s look at verses 2-5, “There was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren and had borne no children. Then the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and give birth to a son. Now therefore, be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing. For behold, you shall conceive and give birth to a son, and no razor shall come upon his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”
    See, though the people never cried out to God to deliver them, He was already working in the situation to deliver them, but I want you to notice that God didn’t say that deliverance would be complete through this boy, rather that God would begin to deliver the Israelites. The act of deliverance would be started, but not finished yet.
    This is probably a direct consequence of the people’s moral decline and lack of faith and trust in the Lord. It’s not that God can't deliver the Israelites from the Philistines completely, it’s that the people don’t want to be delivered at all!
    I’m not sure how many of you have been blessed by a strong minded child. You know the type…if they don’t want to do something, there is no amount of persuasion or coercion, or consequence or reward, or downright begging and pleading that will convince that child to do something they don’t want to do. We have been blessed with one of those children, and I’ve definitely learned a few things about how to work through those moments to help her understand how it’s in her best interested to do what I’ve asked her to do.
    But still, there are times where she just won’t budge an inch.
    I see Israel, in this moment in time, as much the same. The people just don’t want to be delivered, so they’re not going to be! They don’t want to follow a morally upright leader. They don’t want to live under God’s law, they want to do things as they see fit. And as almighty and sovereign as God is, He doesn’t make people do things they don’t want to do. He has given us free will, and will never impose His will upon that.
    The people were at one of the lowest points of their faithlessness, but God was still faithful to them.
    The man and woman He begins working through are visited by an angel with an announcement that sounds a little familiar to me. If we look back at the road we’ve come down so far in our overview of the Old Testament, we see a very similar announcement made by an angel of the Lord to Sarah, to Rebekah, and to Rachel, which heralded the births of Isaac, then Jacob, and then Joseph.
    If we look forward, we find a similar announcement made to Hannah whose son was Samuel. We even see something similar in the announcements made to Elizabeth whose son was John, and to Mary whose son was Jesus.
    This kind of announcement in the Bible heralds the birth of someone who would do great, godly things. This kind of announcement heralds someone who God will work His plan through. This kind of announcement heralds someone who will be a child of promise and hope.
    There were obviously high hopes for this child. He was announced by God, with the promise of being a great deliverer.
    Samson came from faithful parents as well, most remarkably in his mother, who is unnamed in the entire story. Let me show you what I mean.
    Verses 4-5, “Now therefore, be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing. For behold, you shall conceive and give birth to a son, and no razor shall come upon his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”
    She’s told that her son will be a Nazirite to God from birth. The Nazirite vow we see in Numbers 6:1-21, and if you read this passage in Numbers, you will see that it was a vow that a person could take to be set-apart and dedicated to the Lord. You could take the vow as a man or woman, for a set time, or for life. Taking the vow meant that during that time, you would not drink wine or vinegar, or any sort of grape juice, or eat any grapes; you would not shave your head; and you would not go near a dead person, even a family member. The time when a person was in the vow was meant to be a time of special dedication and devotion to the Lord.
    Samson is supposed to be a Nazirite for life, he’s supposed to be set-apart and dedicated to the devotion of the Lord his entire life. This started from the womb, and so, in order for that to happen, Samson’s mother had to take the Nazirite vow while she was pregnant.
    The point is affirmed to her husband, Manoah, in verses 13-14, “So the angel of the Lord said to Manoah, “Let the woman pay attention to all that I said. She should not eat anything that comes from the vine nor drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing; let her observe all that I commanded.”
    Samson’s devotion to God is supposed to begin with his own mother’s devotion, a devotion to God that ran so deep in her that she seems to be one of the only ones in the entire nation of Israel who remembers the character of God they’re supposed to serve.
    Look at verses 20-23, “For it came about when the flame went up from the altar toward heaven, that the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame of the altar. When Manoah and his wife saw this, they fell on their faces to the ground. Now the angel of the Lord did not appear to Manoah or his wife again. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the Lord. So Manoah said to his wife, “We will surely die, for we have seen God.” But his wife said to him, “If the Lord had desired to kill us, He would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering from our hands, nor would He have shown us all these things, nor would He have let us hear things like this at this time.”
    She seems, in this small glimpse we have of her, to understand God’s character, that He is a just God, yes, but He is also a merciful God who is seeking to partner with humans who want to partner with Him to see His redemptive plan come to pass. She understands that God is not looking to smite, but to save.
    From what we see, she had tremendous faith, enough to take a vow of dedication so her son would be dedicated to God, enough to know the character of the God she served.
    So, not only did Samson have the promise of being the one God was going to work through, but he also came from a family of the faithful when all those around them were faithless. Samson was set up for success, he was set up for a great purpose.
    He had something else going for him, too. Look at the end of chapter 13, verses 24-25, “Then the woman gave birth to a son and named him Samson; and the child grew up and the Lord blessed him. And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.”
    The Lord blessed Samson, and the Spirit of the Lord began to move in him! What more do you need? Samson was set up for success! He had such a great purpose set before him, to be the one who would start the process of deliverance for a people who were so very lost. He had every thing working in his favor: chosen by God to do God’s work, faithful parents who were dedicated to the Lord, and He had the blessing of God and the Spirit of God working in Him!
    We’ll see though, that even though Samson had this amazing divine purpose, he didn’t fulfill it. Even with all these factors that should have contributed to his success, he failed.
    Why?
    Well, simply put, Samson made a choice to be more concerned with the things of his world than the things of God.
    Ultimately, it didn’t matter that God had called him to a divine purpose. It didn’t matter that he had parents that had deep faith. It didn’t matter that he had been blessed by God and the Spirit of God was on him. He chose not to be set-apart for God, despite his Nazirite vow.
    Samson is every person. Forget about his super strength for a moment, and just look at his start. He was called to a divine purpose. Each and every one of us is called to a divine purpose, one that we can only hope to fulfill by being dedicated and set-apart to God. He was blessed by God and had the Spirit of the Lord on him. Each and every one of us has the same opportunity to have the Spirit of the Lord living in us, guiding us and speaking to us and changing us. He came from a family of faith. Many of us come from deep traditions of at least knowing about God.
    But behind all those factors for success, each of us has a crucial choice to make. We can throw away our divine purpose like Samson did, abuse the gifts and talents God has given us, and disparage the faith our parents tried so hard to instill in us.
    Or, and this is certainly the better option: we can fulfill our purpose in God, we can use what He has given us to serve Him and to see our purpose be fulfilled, and we can build the house of faith that will stand for generations to come. That better option though, it only happens through a relationship with Christ. This fulfilling of divine purpose and promise only happens through Jesus.
    What choice will you make?
    Unfulfilled purpose?
    Or divine fulfillment?

1. This cycle of Israel’s sin pattern is missing the people’s cry to repentance. Why do you think God continued to be gracious to Israel? Have you seen examples of this in your own life? Be specific.

2. In verse 8, Manoah prayed to God and asked something specific. What do you think Manoah’s prayer shows about how he viewed God?

3. With what the Nazirite vow was meant to be and symbolize for a person who took the vow, what would you expect from a person who was a Nazirite?

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