Friday, May 6, 2016

Teach Us How

This is a story of soon-to-be parents who asked God for help.

A certain man of Zorah named Manoah, from the clan of the Danites had a wife who was sterile and remained childless. The angel of the Lord appeared to her and said, “You are sterile and childless, but you are going to conceive and have a son. Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean because you will conceive and give birth to a son. No razor may be used on his head because the boy is to be a Nazirite, set apart to God from birth, and he will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”

Then the woman went to her husband and told him, “A man of God came to me. He looked like an angel of God, very awesome...

I think this woman was very perceptive and knew from the rise in her husband's eyebrows that he needed more than “awesome.” He wanted important details like this unusual man's name and where he was from. So she didn't wait for him to interrupt her to ask those questions that she had forgotten to ask. She kept right on going with her description of the encounter.

...I didn't ask him where he came from, and he didn't tell me his name. But he said to me, 'You will conceive and give birth to a son. Now then, drink no wine or other fermented drink and do not eat anything unclean because the boy will be a Nazirite of God from birth until the day of his death.'"

Then Manoah prayed to the Lord: “Oh Lord, I beg you, let the man of God you sent to us come again to teach us how to bring up the boy who is to be born.”

Don't you love this man's heart? We don't know anything about being parents, Lord. Much less the parents of a Nazirite. A boy dedicated to You for his whole life, who would bring deliverance to the Israelites from the Philistines. (!) Send this man of God back to us to teach us what we need to know...

God heard Manoah and the angel of God came again to the woman while she was out in the field; but her husband Manoah was not with her. The woman hurried to tell her husband, “He's here! The man who appeared to me the other day!”

She wasn't about to relay a miraculous encounter to her husband again. He needed to hear everything with his own ears. I imagine that she was repeating over and over again with each breath as she ran, “Please still be there when we get back!”

Manoah got up and followed his wife. (Was he running fast enough?) When he came to the man, he said, “Are you the one who talked to my wife?” “I am,” he said.

So Manoah asked him, “When your words are fulfilled, what is to be the rule for the boy's life and work?

The angel of the Lord answered, “Your wife must do all that I have told her. She must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, nor drink any wine or other fermented drink nor eat anything unclean. She must do everything I have commanded her.”

Maybe there was more commanded that didn't get recorded? This message sounds pretty much the same as the first one. But maybe that's all God wanted to teach them at that point...

Manoah said to the angel of the Lord, “We would like you to stay until we prepare a young goat for you.”

The angel of the Lord replied, “Even though you detain me, I will not eat any of your food. But if you prepare a burnt offering, offer it to the Lord.” (Manoah didn't realize that it was the angel of the Lord.)

Charly and I went through a three day Personal Contribution Assessment workshop last week, looking at our personality types, values, spiritual gifts, strengths... so with all of these assessments fresh in my mind, this part of the story makes me think that Manoah didn't have the gift of discernment.

Then Manoah inquired of the angel of the Lord, “What is your name, so that we may honor you when your word comes true?”

He replied, “Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding.” Then Manoah took a young goat together with the grain offering, and sacrificed it on a rock to the Lord. And the Lord did an amazing thing while Manoah and his wife watched. As the flame blazed up from the altar toward heaven, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame. Seeing this, Manoah and his wife fell with their faces to the ground. When the angel of the Lord did not show himself again to Manoah and his wife, Manoah realized that it was the angel of the Lord.

“We are doomed to die!” he said to his wife. “We have seen God!”

Don't you love this guy? I probably would have had the same reaction. But his wife kept her cool, as she had realized from the very first encounter that this man looked like the angel of God. And she calmed her husband down, as she had probably done many times in their married life together.

But his wife answered, “If the Lord had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and grain offering from our hands, nor shown us all these things or now told us this.”

And I imagine poor panicked Manoah taking a deep breath, wiping the sweat from his brow, and thanking his wise wife for her good judgment.

The woman gave birth to a boy and named him Samson. He grew and the Lord blessed him, and the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him while he was in Mahaneh Dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.
(Judges 13:2-25)

I wonder if Manoah and his wife struggled with parenting questions as their fearless, strong-willed son with the gorgeous locks grew up. Their son who did crazy impulsive things like tearing apart a lion with his bare hands. Tying the tails of 300 foxes together and lighting them on fire. And killing a thousand men in his anger with a donkey jawbone. 

I imagine he was quite a handful to parent. Yet that was the special task God had given them. A once childless couple. Visited by an angel of God. Who dedicated their son to the Lord for his whole life. And saw him lead Israel for 20 years, beginning the deliverance of the Israelites from the Philistines (though probably not in the way they would have imagined or hoped it would have turned out.)

We sympathize with them when they tried to talk Samson out of pursuing a Philistine wife. He didn't listen (did he ever?) and they didn't know that what he was doing was actually part of God's plan (Judges 14:4). They did the best they could. But I'm not sure in the end that they would have evaluated themselves as successful parents. I'm sure Samson gave them many sleepless nights and early gray hair.

But what stands out to me in their story is their teachable hearts in their encounter with the angel of God. They humbly asked God to teach them how to parent. And they faced the fears that stood in the way of the task God had assigned to them.

What are you asking God to teach you?
What fears are standing in the way?

(Linking up with Velvet Ashes this week on the theme of Fearless)

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