It’s the day before Mother’s Day. That’s not what this post is about, but I find it fitting that this week one of my favorite parenting passages came up in my Bible reading.
Judges is not the most encouraging book, but it reminds me that life for God’s people has been dark, broken, messy, and painful, yet he has never lost them or lost track of his purposes for them.
This is incredibly comforting as I travel a path that feels dark, broken, messy, and painful.
So there is a barren woman, which in biblical times was frowned upon, yet seems to be a pretty common theme among those whom God was going to raise up as influential mothers of important birth lines.
She would have been the one sorrowing on Mother’s Day as those around her received accolades and atta-girls for their fertility, which they had no more control over than she did. Really. It’s not a contest, race, or proving ground, this journey to motherhood or not. Or maybe that’s just my story and a digression.
An angel comes to her directly from heaven and tells her what she already knows. She is barren and has never borne a child or children. He follows this with the news that she will conceive a son.
He then gives a specific list of prescriptives explaining how she should move through her pregnancy and then care for her son when he is born.
- Drink no wine or strong drink.
- Eat nothing unclean.
- Do not cut the boy’s hair. Ever.
- Follow the rules of the Nazarite for him. He shall be one from birth to death.
- For further clarification, see Numbers 6.
He concludes with the statement that her son will begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.
She tells her husband this big news. He is hesitant and full of questions. He wants direct heavenly communication, as well, and asks God for this. God kindly agrees and sends the angel again.
It really was the angel of the Lord.
They offer up food, which the angel does not accept, and sacrifices, which he does. Then he ascends in a flame from the altar.
I appreciate that Manoah thinks they are now going to die, but his wife understands there’s no getting out of this call that easily. If the Lord had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering at our hands, or shown us all these things, or now announced to us such things as these. Judges 13:23
A son is born. They call him Samson. He grows and is blessed by God. They follow the plan. They get results.
- He grows up and is attracted to the wrong kinds of women.
- He scrapes honey out of a dead animal and offers it to his parents without telling them the source.
- He kills people and steals from them.
- He is angry and destructive.
- He visits a prostitute.
- He loves Delilah and experiences his downfall at her hands.
- He asks to die with the Philistines in his final act and kills more at his death than during his entire life.
This passage is one of my favorites, because it shows just how little control we have over outcomes in parenting. His father and mother did not know that it was from the Lord is a theme in Samson’s life. The Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him is another. But he did not know that the Lord had left him is there, along with O Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God.
What was life like for Samson’s parents, especially his mother, when her dream child came true? Was it all she had hoped for? Worth giving up strong drink and wine for? Watching closely as she raised him that he didn’t touch grapes or raisins and finding things to do with his unruly hair? Having to deal with touching the dead animals and insects herself or calling to her husband, since her able-bodied son was not permitted to touch anything dead?
She was told he would begin to save Israel. How must that have felt? Hopeful? Exciting? Special? Yet watching Samson’s life unfold appears painful, confusing, and despairing from a mother’s perspective.
Did she struggle with her identity and with how things appeared to others? Were there moms of large families with many children who hadn’t been visited by the angel running a tight, obedient tent while Samson was running around? Did she experience looks and whispers?
I don’t know the answers. I am not a Bible scholar, only a woman who struggles every day with mothering a large number of children. I am a woman wounded by things labeled biblical. In this passage I find comfort that God’s hand is present even in the seemingly senseless and that my job is not to control but to walk by faith.