Saturday, June 30, 2012


Judges 13:1-8, 24-25

The woman bore a son, and named him Samson. The boy grew, and the LORD blessed him.  The spirit of the LORD began to stir him. —Judges 13:24-25


13:1. "The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years.

2 There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. His wife was barren, having borne no children. 3 And the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, "Although you are barren, having borne no children, you shall conceive and bear a son. 4 Now be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, or to eat anything unclean, 5 for you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor is to come on his head, for the boy shall be a nazirite to God from birth. It is he who shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines." 6 Then the woman came and told her husband, "A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like that of an angel of God, most awe-inspiring; I did not ask him where he came from, and he did not tell me his name; 7 but he said to me, 'You shall conceive and bear a son. So then drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for the boy shall be a nazirite to God from birth to the day of his death.'"

8 Then Manoah entreated the LORD, and said, "O LORD, I pray, let the man of God whom you sent come to us again and teach us what we are to do concerning the boy who will be born."...

24 The woman bore a son, and named him Samson. The boy grew, and the LORD blessed him. 25 The spirit of the LORD began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.

Of all the judges, Samson would be voted most likely to succeed. Something about the other judges made them unlikely heroes. Ehud was left-handed. Deborah was a woman. Gideon was the runt of his family litter. Through all of those judges, God chose human weakness to show God's strength. With Samson, however, things are different from the start. God makes clear even before Samson is conceived that he will be set apart for service. The other judges, plucked from their ordinary lives, are thrust into major positions of leadership and responsibility, without any apparent instruction. Samson, however, is to be groomed from birth.

Even with the best preparation, and all the physical advantages one could want, Samson has a fatal weakness. He relied on his own might, took for granted that his power would be there when he needed it, and lost sight of his dependence on God.

In the Scriptures written and shaped within a patriarchal society, the mere mention of a woman should immediately draw our attention. Even though the wife of Manoah remains unnamed, she will become the mother of Samson. She receives a visit from the angel of the Lord. The news the angel delivers is joyous; though she is barren, she will conceive and bear a son. The advice for prenatal care hardly sounds novel to us—no alcohol, and watch what you eat! But from the beginning, everything is to be different. The barren woman will bear a child, and that child will be set apart as a Nazirite to God from birth.

In Num. 6:1-21, the Lord tells Moses all the rules that Nazirites must follow—abstaining from any product of the vine, avoiding objects that are unclean, and not cutting their hair for the duration of their vow. This last requirement made known to all that the Nazirite had made vows to be separate and consecrated to God. One became a Nazirite by taking a voluntary vow to the Lord, and by following these regulations. There was a set period for this vow, and a ceremony and sacrifice to be made at its completion, including a ritual shaving of the head. Nazirites voluntarily responded to God's call. Samson, however, was called from before conception to be a Nazirite, and rather than having a set period of consecration, he was to be a Nazirite for his whole life.

God's interaction with and instructions for Samson's parents parallel two other stories of barren women who conceived. In 1 Samuel, Hannah goes to the temple to offer prayers for a child, promising to give him to the Lord as a Nazirite for all his days. Her prayers are answered. Hannah conceives and gives birth to Samuel. She and her husband Elkanah bring him to the temple to live as a Nazirite for his whole life. In the Gospel of Luke, we read about the visit of the angel Gabriel to Zechariah in the temple, telling him that his elderly wife Elizabeth would conceive a son who would be great in the eyes of the Lord. From birth, these children were set apart for special service, and special service required special preparation and dedication by parent and child.

God called and claimed Samson. The Lord had told his mother that Samson would deliver his people from the Philistines, but did she have any idea that the deliverance would also result in his death? She did what she was called to do, though. She followed the prenatal directions and raised Samson as God instructed. Maybe something went wrong along the way. Samson became demanding and arrogant, and he had quite the temper! He fought the Philistines, and never lost a battle, but his battles were fueled by anger and revenge.  Though he is born, marked by God, and called to be a Nazirite, he does not live up to his potential.

The Lord raised previous judges to leadership after the people cried out to the Lord. Before Samson was born, no one cried out -to the Lord. It is as if they didn't remember how. Other judges used their office to rally the people to stand up to the enemy. Samson didn't command the same loyalty. The people betrayed Samson, tied him up, and handed him over (Judg. 15:9-13). Rather than showing the people the way to serve God, Samson serves his own ends. He fights the Philistines out of revenge. Samson brings no peace to the land.

No one wins when battles are fought over pride and hard-hearted revenge. God's final will and purpose will ultimately be accomplished, but we will miss many opportunities if we are not willing to set aside differences. God loves us even when we don't do things right. In this story, God sent a judge to deliver the people from the Philistines, even though they didn't ask. To be a community that acts like it knows God, the church must continue to reach out to people even when they have wronged it. Through forgiveness, the church shows the world what godly rest is.


How did your parents nurture your sense of belonging to God?

Samson was quite a departure from the judges that preceded him. What do his call and his service teach us about Cod's action in the world?

Unlike the other judges raised up by God, Samson experiences defeat and shame. It ultimately leads to his final victory, even as he is humbled, but when he is captured, the Philistines give thanks to their gds for the victory. Can we see any purpose for this defeat and humiliation? Are there times when God might use defeat in our lives?


God our Parent and Guardian, we acknowledge that all life comes from you, and all life returns to you. Help us to nurture the children of your church, even while we recognize that they already belong to you. Give us wisdom as a community of faith to develop and encourage leaders, to help provide the training and preparation that will equip them for your service and ministry. We ask this in the name of your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Compiled from The Present Word and Congregational Ministries Publishing is not liable for for the content of this Bible Study and Blog.

From The Present Word © 2011 Congregational Ministries Publishing. Used by permission.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Scripture: Judges 10:10-18

 [The Israelites] put away the foreign gods from among them and worshiped the LORD; and he could no longer bear to see Israel suffer. —Judges 10:16


10:10  So the Israelites cried to the LORD, saying, "We have sinned against you, because we have abandoned our God and have worshiped the Baals." 11 And the LORD said to the Israelites, "Did I not deliver you from the Egyptians and from the Amorites, from the Ammonites and from the Philistines? 12 The Sidonians also, and the Amalekites, and the Maonites, oppressed you; and you cried to me, and I delivered you out of their hand. 13 Yet you have abandoned me and worshiped other gods; therefore I will deliver you no more. 14 Go and cry to the gods whom you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress." 15 And the Israelites said to the LORD, "We have sinned; do to us whatever seems good to you; but deliver us this day!" 16 So they put away the foreign gods from among them and worshiped the LORD; and he could no longer bear to see Israel suffer.

17 Then the Ammonites were called to arms, and they encamped in Gilead; and the Israelites came together, and they encamped at Mizpah. 18 The commanders of the people of Gilead said to one another, "Who will begin the fight against the Ammonites? He shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead."

The Lord speaks directly to the people of Israel in a dramatic confrontation. The people confess that they have turned away and abandoned God—they have failed to love, honor, and serve God. They have also worshiped other gods. This is the only cycle in the book of Judges in which Israel's repentance is made explicit.

God's potential for delivering the community is beyond question; repeatedly, God has delivered the Israelites from bondage. God's response in Judg. 10:11-12 reminds the Israelites of some of those instances of deliverance. Our passage raises some other questions, however. Does God's forgiveness have a limit? That seems to be the case in Judg. 10:13 when God says, "I will deliver you no more." However, forgiveness is granted (and many times after that), a fact that raises another question—can God's mind be changed by repentance?

This question is raised also in the book of Jonah. The king mandates repentance: "Who knows? God may relent and change his mind" (Jonah 3:9). "When God saw what they did ... God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it" (v. 10). The word that indicates God's change of heart here is nacham, the same word used in Judges 2:18 to describe God's forgiveness and compassion in bringing deliverance through the judges of Israel.

Throughout the book of Judges, the people get worse and worse. Here they repent. Are they simply trying to buddy up to God, in order to get what they want? God is not convinced. God knows all the terrible things the Israelites have done. God has often pulled them out of the gutter. Ultimately, God's compassion wins out over condemnation.

Up to this point in the cycles of oppression and deliverance, God's deliverance is driven by God's compassion, not by the repentance of the people. The repentance has followed deliverance. Here, however, repentance precedes and even seems to be the impetus toward God's deliverance. True confession leads to true repentance, and this genuine return to God rouses God's compassion for the people. The people change their ways, putting away foreign gods and turning to the Lord.

It is easy to feel defeated by the cycle of repentance and forgiveness in our own lives and in the lives those around us. When we experience a mountaintop change in our lives, we expect it to last. But discipleship is a daily journey. When we get off track, it's almost enough to make us want to get off the trail and hitch a ride back to our old familiar places. The church is in the compassion business. We all go through cycles of obedience and disobedience, falling into our old patterns repeatedly. Ultimately, realizing how much grace we all need, we can become a more compassionate people, in our newfound humility.

There is every indication in this text that God did not think that Israel's repentance would last this time either. God, moved with compassion, cannot allow the Israelites to suffer, even if they are just going to start the cycle all over again. Our communities need to remember that people will always need the church because there will always be more brokenness.


What is your understanding of repentance and forgiveness? How are grace and pardon communicated in your community of faith?

Do you think God's forgiveness has a limit? If so, what might that be? Could God have been unchanged by the cries and repentance of the Israelites?

 Does our repentance change God's heart?


Faithful and loving God, we confess that we are not different from the Israelites who continually turn away from you. Left to our own devices, we slip back into comfortable patterns, we follow the call of the world, and we pursue desires that lead only to emptiness! Thank you for your love and forgiveness. Help us to receive the grace that you give us so freely and so lovingly, and empower us to extend your grace and love to all the Israelites of the world. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Compiled from The Present Word and Congregational Ministries Publishing is not liable for for the content of this Bible Study and Blog.

From The Present Word © 2011 Congregational Ministries Publishing. Used by permission.