Turns Out Samson Had Parents

Please read Judges 13 in your well-worn Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Focus on the Family founder James Dobson James Dobson told about a mother who was sick in bed with the flu. Her little daughter wanted so much to be a good nurse, she brought mom an extra pillow and a magazine to read. And then she even showed up with a cup of tea. Her surprised mother took a sip and said, ”Wow! I didn’t even know you knew how to make tea!”

The girl said excitedly, ”Oh, yes. I learned by watching you. I put some water in the pot, put the tea leaves in, and I boiled the water, and then I strained it into a cup. But I couldn’t find the strainer, so I used the flyswatter instead.”

Her mother set the tea cup down and said, ”You what?!”

”Oh, don’t worry, mom,” the little helper exclaimed.  “I didn’t use the new flyswatter; I used the old one.”
Being a mom is not easy! One woman who said, ”Before I was married, I had three theories about raising children. Now, I have three children and no theories.”
Moms know motherhood can be everything from exhilarating to exhausting.  So today it is very appropriate to pause and say ”Thank You” to our mothers and thank God for them.

Tdoay we’re going to hold up Samson’s mother as a good example of motherhood.  Even though we don’t know her name, she distinguished herself as a quick-witted, faithful, and reasonable woman.  Samson became a biblical hero because of his mother’s obedience to the revealed will of God.

  1. Context: what’s happening in that part of Judges?

On a national level, we look to verse one and find that Israel was virtually hostage to the Philistines.  Israel’s cycles of evil resulting in suffering, crying out to the Lord, and deliverance are so typical verse one is almost formulaic. The cycle went from Idolatry to Oppression to Repentance to Deliverance, then back to Idolatry.

The EVIL they did was part of worshipping idols; forsaking the true God for false ones.  The discipline they suffered as a result was being DELIVERED into the hands of one of a pagan nation.  The length of Philistine domination – 40 years – is the longest such period in Judges.

The people cried out in their distress and God bailed them out once again.  At this stage of their history, the people God used to bail them out were called “judges:” that’s where the title of the book comes from.

On a personal scale, we turn to verse two to find out about Samson’s parents and Samson’s divine origin.  The surprising part is that they were childless at the time.

Strange as it may seem, biblical accounts of childless women are typical Mother’s Day sermon material: think of Sarah, Hannah, and Elizabeth.  (We save Mary for Christmas.) The Bible says that children are a gift from God.  That’s true.  However, people of that time assumed that the opposite must also be true; that being childless was a sign of God’s disfavor, a mark of shame, maybe even an indication of hidden sin.  (In fact, a later Jewish reference, the Talmud, proverbially state that people who were blind, leperous, in slavery, or childless were “dead.”

The family lived in ZORAH, a town into which they relocated to escape the oppressions of the Philistines.  It was located 15 miles west of Jerusalem.

They were DANITES; descendents of Jacob’s son Dan.  Calling them a CLAN instead of a “tribe” may imply there weren’t too many DANITES left.  To be frank, the Danites were the “outlaw”  tribe of Israel.  They had a history of betraying the other tribes and were often at the pointy end of the oppressions of pagan nations.

  1. Samson was to become a Judge and Israel’s Deliverer (sorta).

The angelic messenger promised Mr. and Mrs. Manoah a child in verses three, six, and eight to fourteen.  In v. 3 he said, “YOU ARE GOING TO BE PREGNANT AND GIVE BIRTH TO A SON.”

In v. 6, in the way she summarizes her encounter with the angel, we see that Mrs. M was mostly clued in: She referred to the angel as a MAN OF GOD, a phrase usually used for prophets, judges, and kings.  Wrong, in this case.  Se said “HE LOOKED LIKE AN ANGEL OF GOD, VERY AWESOME.”   AWESOME is a word that meant “fear-producing;” it was often used to describe God.  But Mrs. M may have been so intimidated by her visitor that she was afraid to ask his name.  This is something Mr. M would do in v. 17, when the angel returned.

For his part, Mr. Manoah only slowly caught on.

One teensy detail Mrs. M did not tell Manoah as she recounted the instructions of her visitor was the matter of their son leading God’s people in overthrowing the Philistines.  So it’s clear that Manoah was sufficiently intimidated by the idea of fatherhood alone, and prayed to God for some guidance in how to BRING UP THE BOY WHO IS TO BE BORN.  In verses nine and ten, Manoah’s prayer was answered with a “Yes;” the angel came back.

In verses 11-14, Manoah asked the obvious questions first.  The more intrusive questions came later.

“ARE YOU THE MAN WHO TALKED TO MY WIFE?” and “WHAT IS TO BE THE RULE THAT GOVERNS THE BOY’S LIFE AND WORK?”  (The kid isn’t even born yet and dad is already putting him to work!)

The angel only directly answered the first question.  In answer to the second, he repeats only the instructions given to Mrs. M and also does not mention the whole “lead deliverer” thing either.  This may indicate the angel thought Manoah was showing a lack of faith and/or “the paralysis of analysis.”

Conditions that were attached to the promise; God required the male child be a NAZIRITE from birth to death and for his mother to be a Nazirite throughout her pregnancy (4-5, 7, 13-14).  (See Numbers 6 for the full set of Nazirite regulations.)

The name nazir (Hb) means “dedicated” or “consecrated.”  In general, being a NAZIRITE required keeping an extra set of laws to achieve a higher level of holiness.  In such a role Samson was said to be “DEDICATED TO GOD FROM THE WOMB.”  According to Numbers 6, a Nazirite vow was made by an adult man or woman and was to be kept for a limited period.  To make this vow on behalf of an unborn child and to make it for life are both unique to Samson.

The specifics included: “DRINK NO WINE OR OTHER FERMENTED DRINK” (in Numbers 6, all fruit of the grapevine is prohibited), “DO NOT EAT ANYTHING UNCLEAN,” and no trips to the barber; “WHOSE HEAD IS NEVER TO BE TOUCHED BY A RAZOR” (interestingly, the Nazirite’s head was shaved clean at the end of his or her time of commitment).”  The main concern about Samson was that he didn’t get a haircut (verse five).  I assume we all know how that worked out…?

Mrs. Manoah was commanded to observe these regulations because God knew what the mother consumed would become part of the child’s body as well.  He wanted Samson to be fully pure from birth.

God’s purpose in these extraordinary arrangements was pronounced by the angel: “HE WILL TAKE THE LEAD IN DELIVERING ISRAEL FROM THE HANDS OF THE PHILISTINES.”  God intended Samson to provide leadership for His people in overcoming their oppressors.  It also means he would not accomplish this deliverance alone; Samson was supposed to unite the people under his leadership and they would overthrow the Philistines by working together.

  1. Mr. Manoah misunderstood, then overreacted.

Biblically, angels never tolerate worship that belongs to God.  Mr. Manoah learned that lesson.   Whether or not there was an ulterior motive behind his offer of hospitality (15-16), what’s clear is that MANOAH DID NOT REALIZE THAT IT WAS THE ANGEL FROM THE LORD to whom he was speaking.

The question about the angel’s name (17-18) is not necessarily as innocent as it may appear.  In this culture, to know someone’s name was viewed as being able to somehow exercise power over them or know something special about them.  This made people in general reluctant to give out there name, just as we are supposed to be reluctant to give out personal information on the Internet (especially to Russian hackers).  As is always the case in the Bible, there is a refusal to answer that question directly; the angel replied, “IT IS BEYOND YOUR UNDERSTANDING.”  Or, “It is too wonderful for you,” a hint at his heavenly status.

If is only after the angel’s dramatic exit that Manoah understood, but then he overreacted a bit.  It took an over-the-top demonstration (19-21), but Mr. & Mrs. M were finally convinced.  After all, it’s not every day you see a blast of fire that reaches heaven AND your dinner guest ride it out of sight!  (Something similar happened when an angel appeared to another judge, Gideon, in 6:20-23.)

In verses 22-23 we read Manoah’s overreaction.  Everybody knows that if you see God, you are burnt toast because no one sees God and lives.  So Mr. M panics; “WE ARE DOOMED!”  (Think C3PO in all the Star Wars movies.)  But Mrs. M is a sensible sort and reasons that if God had only wanted to blow them up, He would not have accepted their sacrifice, nor would He have given them the promise of a child and instructions on her pre-natal behavior.

  1. God’s promise was kept.

Mrs. Manoah birthed a boy and named him Samson (24).  The name SAMSON is related to the Hebrew word for “sun,” but is exact meaning is not clear to us today.

What is clear is that the LORD was with him: HE GREW AND THE LORD BLESSED HIM (24).  Sounds a bit like Luke’s summary of the Jesus’ growing-up years: JESUS GREW IN WISDOM AND STATURE, AND IN FAVOR WITH GOD AND MAN (LKE 2:52).

The second detail in this line is also exceptional: THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD BEGAN TO STIR HIM (25).  That word STIR is from the Hebrew word salah (Hb) which meant “to rush upon; trouble.”  This is the only use of this word in the Bible, which is part of what I mean by “exceptional.”  IMHO, this word has a more aggressive sound to it than I would normally associate with the Holy Spirit.

It is also exceptional in its irony.  Of all the Judges, Samson is the one most often empowered by the Holy Spirit (see 14:6+19; 15:14) in the most unusual way and yet was the worst-behaved.  More on that as we develop this series of messages on Samson.

Ted Sutherland wrote an Internet account of a Mrs. Monroe who lives in Darlington, Maryland. “She’s the mother of 8 children. And except for a few interesting experiences, she’s just like any other mother across America.

“She came home one afternoon from the grocery store and everything looked pretty much the same, though it was a little bit quieter than usual. She looked into the middle of the living room and 5 of her darlings were sitting around in a circle, exceedingly quiet, doing something with an object in the middle of a circle. So she put down the sacks of groceries and walked over closely and looked and saw her kids playing with 5 of the cutest skunklets you can imagine.
“She was instantly terrified and she said, ‘Run children, run!’ Each child grabbed a skunk and ran, in 5 different directions. She was beside herself and screamed louder, more frantically, with great gusto. It so scared the children that each one squeezed his skunk! Guess what? Skunks don’t like to be squeezed!”

<Retrieved from https://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-ted-sutherland-humor-mothersday-discipline-3704 on 5/13/17.>

As much as we love mom, we realize she’s only human and doesn’t always give good advice.  However, godly moms like Mrs. M. have God’s help to transcend their humanity and obey God’s commands.

Samson had godly parents who loved him a great deal.  But were they always good parents?  You’ll have to come back next week to find that out.

Helicopter Parents

(Please read Exodus 2:1-10 in your favorite version of the Bible.  I refer to the NIV in the following article.)

Parenting requires trusting God with our children.

“This rather funny expression is actually relatively new.  [The term] ‘Helicopter parents’ was formally born in 1990 by Jim Fay (professional consultant in the areas of parenting and school discipline) and Foster W. Cline (psychiatrist) in their work “Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility.”  The term is primarily associated with overengaged, overconcerned and overprotective parents of older children, typically college students or even young adults.

“These overprotective parents take on a role of problem solver and door opener at the critical age when their children are about to healthily sever the umbilical cord and make their first real independent step into the world as their own person.

1) They Fight Their Children’s Battles! They will argue what they perceive to be unfair treatment in social and academic situations.

2) They Do Their Children’s Academic Projects! They will take on their children’s school projects, complete their homework, and even write college entrance essays.

3) They Mistake their Children’s Performances for Their Own Identity. They are embarrassed by their children’s failures because they feel they reflect poorly on themselves.

4) They Equate Love w/ Success & Accomplishment. Approval is given for expected behavior and disobedience is questioned because it makes the parents look bad and puts the children at risk.

5) An Extreme Focus on Maintaining Tight Control. They are preoccupied and sometimes even obsessed with their children’s activities and schedules.

6) They are Overprotective. These parents fear for their children’s safety to such an extent create a buffer between their children and the real world.

“Children that have been too sheltered from basic interaction with life and its consequences may feel overly frustrated in the face of any obstacles, crying for help at the slightest challenge, and struggle emotionally with disappointments having trouble dealing constructively with them.

“[Helicoptered children] are unfamiliar with the basic meaning of responsibility. They haven’t become acquainted with the natural relation between cause and effect.”

<Retrieved from http://www.positive-parenting-ally.com/helicopter-parents.html on 5/4/16.>

It’s ironic that helicopter parenting produces exactly the kind of person the parent hopes to avoid.

I mention this phenomenon because it is a behavior wholly in contradiction with the kind of parenting God wants us to give.  On Mother’s Day, one of the Bible’s most potent examples of motherhood is the woman who threw her baby in the river!  Let’s take a look at Exodus 1&2.

  1. Pharaoh’s evil ambitions threatened God’s people.

Like all bullies, Pharaoh’s actions were based on fear; fear of the Hebrews (1:8-11).  This new king DID NOT KNOW all that Joseph had done to save Egypt from famine, so he felt no debt of gratitude toward the Hebrews.  He was frightened by the fact that the Hebrews outnumbered the Egyptians.  And, whether they ever gave him reason to be afraid or not, Pharaoh feared that this great mass of people within their borders might one day betray them to an invading enemy.

His first action was to enslave them (1:12-14).  To me, there is no logic in this step.  If your aim is to keep the Hebrews from working against you, enslaving them gives them a strong motive for betrayal that they didn’t have before.  But fear doesn’t lend itself to logic.  Perhaps Pharaoh thought if he kept the Hebrews oppressed and beat down, they would not dare to stand against Egypt.

Verse twelve tells us this plan backfired: the more the Hebrews were oppressed, the more they increased.  The more their number grew, the more the Egyptians USED THEM RUTHLESSLY.  This is a viscous circle that made life worse for both Egyptians and Hebrews.  Pharaoh’s plan failed.

When “Plan A” didn’t work, Pharaoh’s next action was equally brutal; he wanted to use murder to reduce their male population (1:15-21).  This at least has some – albeit evil – logic behind it. Males would be considered more likely revolt and physically more able to force a rebellion.  Without one-half of the reproductive partnership, the numbers of the Hebrews would begin to decline with the next generation.  The brutality of killing innocent babies would warn and depress the Hebrew people, making them less likely to revolt.

What is illogical is Pharaoh’s attempt to get the Hebrew midwives to do his dirty work for him.  There’s no reason given in the text as to why he thought he could bully the midwives into killing their own patients.

It is clear that the midwives FEARED GOD more than Pharaoh and chose to disobey his direct order.  They let the Hebrew boys live.  When Pharaoh questioned them, they offered a plausible-sounding lie.

Notice God’s blessing of their decision in vs. 20+21; He increased the Hebrew population further and rewarded the midwives with children of their own.

When “Plan B” didn’t work, Pharaoh’s “Plan C” was to toss the baby boys into the Nile (1:22).  That’s where we join up with our passage and Moses’ mom, Yocheved.

  1. Moses’ mom chose a better way. (2:1-6)

Yocheved faced a difficult choice; obey Pharaoh and toss her boy into the Nile or disobey Pharaoh and risk his wrath.  This is a perfect example of what I’m always telling my Bible study groups: “When faced with an either/or decision, ask, ‘Why not both/and?’”

Yocheved came to a “both/and” kind of solution to the problem; she BOTH threw Moses in the Nile AND kept him alive!  There is no other good explanation of the odd act of Moses’ mom making a baby boat and setting it adrift.  I believe that Yocheved acted in faith and with intelligence.  She sought a third way, found it, and acted upon it.  The results speak for themselves.

Jewish culture especially prized clever people who find a good third choice when presented with two equally bad choices. We saw this last year in Genesis 39 in the way Tamar dealt with Judah.

We have to wonder why Pharaoh thought “Plan C” would work.  Why throw them in the Nile?  Consider Egyptian faith and culture.  The Nile was the religious and economic center of their lives; it was a god.  So throwing the baby boys into the Nile was a kind of “publicity stunt,” a demonstration of the superior power of the Egyptian gods.  The male Hebrew children would be seen as offerings to the Egyptian gods, a sign of the subjugation and humiliation of the slaves before their overlords.

Notice that Yocheved’s act was used by God to advance His plan.  The bitty baby barge floated right down to where Pharaoh’s daughter was bathing.  Even though she recognized the child as a Hebrew boy, she FELT SORRY FOR HIM and immediately took the child as her own.

No matter how you attempt to explain or excuse it, Pharaoh’s actions were evil.  If the Hebrew midwives had not been faithful and courageous, Pharaoh would’ve had his genocide.

  1. God blessed her choice. (2:7-10)

God worked in such a way that not only did Yocheved kept her baby alive, but she received him back into her home AND Pharaoh paid her to raise him! Moses’ sister Miriam was on hand, having followed Moses down the Nile.  She saw opportunity and hurriedly interjected herself into the situation.  “SHALL I GO AND GET ONE OF THE HEBREW WOMEN TO NURSE THE BABY FOR YOU?” she asked.  At the command of Pharaoh’s daughter, she went back down the Nile to her mother with the good news; Moses was not only spared, but his mother was hired to be his wet nurse!

This is yet another example of God turning evil into good.  One might say that Yocheved and Miriam planned all this, but the account makes more sense to me as Yocheved finding a way to obey both God and Pharaoh.  She committed her child to the river as an act of faith, not knowing where he would end up.  In this way, she is forever a symbol of the way parents must trust God for their children, committing them to His care and keeping.

A couple years ago a lady named Karen Friend wrote an article entitled “You Might Be a Helicopter Parent If…”

  • When you ask your husband where he wants to meet up for happy hour, he knows you’re asking which playground.
  • At 18 months, your kid can’t say her own name yet, but she can clearly enunciate, “helicopter.”
  • The daycare start sending YOU checks.
  • When asked, your 20-month-old indicates that squirrels, monkeys, and mommies all are likely to be found hiding in trees.
  • None of your work clothes are free of crayon, chalk, or finger paint.
  • You are filling out college applications for class of 2030.
  • Your hugs have been recalled by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
  • You’re filling out his graduate school applications. For 2032.
  • There are two channels on your television, and even those are blocked 23.5 hours per day.

<Retrieved from http://www.parentsociety.com/parenting/todays-family/you-might-be-a-helicopter-parent-if/ on 5/6/16.>

The topic of family has long been a political football, a point of focus in the so-called American “culture wars.”  Have you wondered why family is such an important topic?

Undoubtedly, there are lots of sentimental and social reasons we have such high hopes for the family.  But it occurred to me this week that we are eager to celebrate motherhood and claim family in many different forms because all of us have a deep-seated need to belong.  We need and want to group together.  Whether we gather as a posse, gang, support group, political party, or family, we want to come together with other people like us.

I think it’s because we want to be accepted.  We have been created with the need for others to love us and for us to love one another.

Combine that with what we have learned from the example of Yocheved today and we see that the highest purpose, the most pure ambition we can have for families is to help one another mature spiritually.  We make growth happen by letting go of our illusions of control, surrendering to God and His leadership.

God has promised to do more than we ask or think possible.  We will have personal experience of His abundant supply to the degree that we place our trust in Him.  We can’t “helicopter” anyone into a deeper walk with God.  Instead, we need to stand alongside and watch God go to work!

Mother of the Year

I believe this is a real, historical account.  However, in the interests of dividing the narrative in a way that increases understanding, we will take a look at it as if it were a play unfolding on a stage right before our eyes.

Message: The size of Hannah’s sacrifice helped determine the size of Samuel’s contribution to the history of God’s people.

  1. Setting the stage (vs. 1-3).

Dramatis Personae:

Elkhanah – the husband – apparently a wealthy man, as he could afford two wives.  He is the only commoner mentioned in the books of Samuel and the Kings as having more than one wife.  Men of that time put a lot of emphasis on having sons to perpetuate the family name and receive their estate.

Peninnah – the other wife – the antagonist.  She had birthed several children but was jealous of the extra attention Elkhanah gave his barren bride.

Hannah – the first wife – the protagonist.  Having had no children felt to her like a curse so she sought to create favor with God.  But her name meant “grace,” so we know God is not far from her.

Eli – the priest – hopefully a better priest than father…

The Place: The family lived in the central part of Israel, in the tribal territory of Ephraim, just south of where the tabernacle (the tent-sanctuary in which Israel worshiped) was set up in Shiloh.

The Scene: the family’s annual pilgrimage to the tabernacle to offer their sacrifice for sin.

  1. Act One – Hannah’s Vow (vs. 4-18).

The annual pilgrimage was a big event because of its spiritual content and ritual, but it was also one of the few meals of the year when a big quantity of meat was served.  This is why vs. 4-8 go into such detail about dinner.

As the scene is acted out, it is a typical experience in the family.

– Peninnah and her children would all receive their portions of the roast.

– Elkhanah would attempt to console his barren wife with a double portion of meat.  This is a great man gift!!  MORE MEAT!  This is like giving the little woman a chain saw for Mother’s Day.

– Peninnah saw this as an act of favoritism and jealousy provoked her to irritate Hannah to distraction.  It’s possible that Elkhanah took Peninnah as a second wife because Hannah was infertile.  Peninnah meant “ruby,” but this gal was no gem.

– It may seem like Hannah had no sense of humor or tolerance for teasing on this subject, as Peninnah always provoked her to the point of tears and loss of appetite.

We need to remember that childlessness in that culture was commonly – if superstitiously – understood to be a sign of God’s disfavor.  It carried a big social stigma as well as the disappointment that couples in all cultures can feel when they have difficulties having children.  In this case, however, vs. 5-6 make it clear that Hannah’s childless condition was the will of the LORD.  This painful circumstance had greater consequence than the difficult emotions and relational strains it caused in the family.

Elkhanah again shows a man’s subtle touch when he asks, “DON’T I MEAN MORE TO YOU THAN TEN SONS?”  My guess is that Elkhanah is expressing a pretty inflated opinion of himself at this moment.

One commentator said this passage is the Bible’s best argument against polygamy!

Doing this scene over and over each year had a cumulative effect on Hannah.  So after the latest feast was over, she got up and excused herself and went to the tabernacle.  Of course, as a woman, she was not allowed to enter the sacred grounds, and knelt in prayer at the doorpost instead.

Hannah’s emotional state was no different on this day than it had been any of the previous years: she was full of BITTERNESS & WEPT MUCH.  BUT – the thing that was different was she prayed to the Lord and made a vow to Him (11).  She promised to give the child to the LORD.  She may have been trying to make peace with God, believing that she had done something to deserve this cursed status as barren.  Her vow was not a selfish one, but an unselfish one, since it involved giving her child back to the LORD.

The mention of uncut hair referred to the consecration of an individual to the LORD – they were especially dedicated to His service.  It was part of the Nazirite vow, for example.  Samson’s parents had done exactly the same thing in exactly the same situation.  This is how Samson ended up with long hair.  (Actually, these two accounts are very similar.  Samson ended up tragically, Samuel triumphantly.)  Maybe that’s where Hannah got the idea.

Numbers 6 allowed for such a vow to be made by an individual for himself.  Numbers 13 allowed for this kind of a vow to be made FOR an individual before birth; just as Hannah had done.

Eli is taking a breather from a busy day of animal sacrifices – imagine having to go to seminary AND butcher’s school to train for the priesthood – keeping an eye on Hannah.  He has reason to be suspicious: it was customary to pray aloud, not silently.  So when Eli saw Hannah’s lips moving but heard no words, he assumed the worst – that she had abused the feast day in a typical way – too much strong wine – and was drunk.  Of course, it was grief and not wine that caused her anguish and Hannah told Eli so.  To his credit, Eli saw Hannah’s earnestness and realized the error he had made.  His condemnation turned to blessing (17).  Note especially the words, “MAY THE GOD OF ISRAEL GRANT YOU WHAT YOU HAVE ASKED OF HIM.”

This next bit is to Hannah’s credit: Eli’s blessing had an immediate effect (18); Hannah was comforted.  She rejoined her family and joined them in the feast AND HER FACE WAS NO LONGER DOWNCAST.  This is an indicator of Hannah’s faith; the priest’s words she took as God’s and took it as an answer to her prayers.  Also, she was finally able to eat something.

  1. Act Two – Hannah’s Vindication (vs. 19-28).

The LORD vindicated Hannah’s faith by giving her kids!

See 1:19-21 = He gave her Samuel. He REMEMBERED her.  This does not mean God had ever forgotten Hannah, only that her own words are being used.  Samuel means “heard by God” and is her explanation of the child’s birth.  Hannah’s choice of words in vs. 27-28 give away her understanding of the situation.  Since Samuel was born as a result of her vow, she understood Samuel was “on loan” to her.  Therefore, as the original language makes clear, her bringing Samuel to the tabernacle and leaving him there is simply returning to God what truly belongs to Him.

It took two books of the Bible to relate the influence Samuel had on the history of Israel.

– He was a transitional figure from the rule of the judges to the rule of kings.  He was the last of the Judges.  When Samuel began his leadership, the twelve tribes were only loosely affiliated and scarcely able to keep enemy nations at bay.  By the end of his days, Israel was organized under King David, their borders secured by a powerful army and the greater power of the true God.

– Raised by a priest at the tabernacle, Samuel could not serve as a priest because he was not born into the priestly tribe of Levi.  Still, he lead Israel in worship and reformed the priesthood that had become corrupt under Eli’s mismanagement and his sons’ outright blasphemy.

– He also acted as a prophet and is regarded as the first of the OT prophets.

– Samuel was a great man whom God used mightily at a pivotal time in the history of His people.  Part of the explanation for that is this account of the unusual and divine aspects of his birth.

See 2:1-10 = God gave Hannah a song of prophecy.  The passage we read previous to the message is one of three songs God gave to special women – Miriam (Moses’ sister), Hannah, and Mary (mother of Jesus).  All of them are prophetic in the sense that they praise God for miraculous works He has done in the history of His people and the works He will do in the future to bring human destiny in line with His will.

See 2:21 = God gave Hannah three more sons and two daughters.  The text identifies this as an act of grace on God’s part, a sign of His blessing, the vindication of Hannah’s faith, the LORD’s “seal of approval.”  It is the “happily ever after” ending to Hannah’s story.  Biblically, having children is usually seen as a blessing:

– PSS 113:9 = HE SETTLES THE BARREN WOMAN IN HER HOME AS A HAPPY MOTHER OF CHILDREN.  PRAISE THE LORD.

– PSS 127:3 = SONS ARE A HERITAGE FROM THE LORD, CHILDREN A REWARD FROM HIM.

Additionally, Hannah vindicated her own faith by keeping her vow.

See 1:21-22 = It was customary for a mother to abstain from ceremonial worship until the child was weaned.  But notice that even here, from the beginning, Hannah’s intent was to follow through on her vow.  In that culture, it was customary to nurse a child for 2-3 years after birth, but it was acceptable to continue to nurse until he was 12 years old!  Hannah could have really cheated on this vow, but v. 24 tells us that the boy Samuel was YOUNG when she left him with Eli. Its not hard to imagine that there were moments when Hannah held her son and regretted her vow.  That she wanted to change her mind and keep him.  Part of the reason this account has been recorded in Scripture is to testify to the great faith Hannah had.

See 1:26-28 = Hannah’s testimony, in her own words, to the extreme devotion and obedience she showed by committing her firstborn son to the LORD’s service.

In my study Bible’s list of “Notable Women,” Hannah is listed as “The Ideal Mother.”  It’s quite a paradox to accept that the woman who gave up her son, who left him to be raised by a priest, is the “Ideal Mother.”

Hannah’s story is an example of Jesus’ teaching; “ANYONE WHO LOVES HIS FATHER OR MOTHER MORE THAN ME IS NOT WORTHY OF ME; ANYONE WHO LOVES HIS SON OR DAUGHTER MORE THAN ME IS NOT WORTHY OF ME” (MTW 10:37).  This is a difficult teaching.  Out of selfishness and sentimentality, we’ve come to accept the notion that service to family is the highest form of service.

That is clearly contradictory to Jesus’ teaching.  Our first love must always be our love for God.  We do our family no good service if we forget that and mix up our priorities.  Truth be told, love for God and love for our brothers and sisters in the church both take priority over love for family.  Think about it; our relationship with God and relationships among His people are the only ones that will survive into eternity.  Marriage and family are interim institutions that abide only until death.

I realize this is an especially “hard sell” on Mother’s Day, but the point is that Hannah is primarily an example of godly priorities.  She is the “Ideal Mother” not because she doted on her children but because she counted her vow to God more important than her motherly instincts and her love for her child.  The size of Hannah’s sacrifice helped determine the size of Samuel’s contribution to the history of God’s people.  That is the message we need as much on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and Grandparent’s Day as we do every other day of the year.

This does not in any way reduce the status of family as a blessing from God, as the relationships in which we must strive to invest as much love as we possibly can.  The Bible sets a very high standard for family relationships.  It has a high place, not first place.

What this means is that God must always be first priority.  If anything – or anyone – else takes first place, that is idolatry.  The very best thing we can do for our families is to keep God first.  We do that by obeying His commands to love our families, following the great example Hannah has set for us.

The Courage to Love

(Please read Ruth 1:1-18.)

 The Vocabulary of a Mother

  • Dumbwaiter: One who asks if the children would care to order a dessert.
  • Feedback: The inevitable result when the baby doesn’t appreciate the strained carrots.
  • Full Name: What you call your child when you’re angry with him.
  • Grandparents: The people who think your children are wonderful even though they’re sure you’re not raising them right.
  • Independent: How we want our children to be for as long as they do everything we say.
  • Puddle: A small body of water that draws other small bodies wearing dry shoes into.
  • Show Off: A child who is more talented than yours.
  • Whodunit: None of the children who live in your house.
  • Bottle-feeding: An opportunity for Daddy to get up at 2 am.

Dermot’s Story

          Dermot McCann forgot his lines in a Sunday school play. Luckily his is mother was in the front row especially to prompt him.

          She gestured and formed the words silently with her lips, but it did not help. Dermot’s memory was completely blank. Finally, she leaned forward and whispered the cue, ‘I am the light of the world.’

Dermot beamed and with great feeling and a loud clear voice announced, ‘My mother is the light of the world.’

          The time is generally set during the period of the Judges, the history of which is set forth in the book preceding Ruth.  “Bethehem in Judah” is distinguished from “Bethlehem in Zebulun,” which lay further north.  The name means “house of bread,” referring to the fertility of the land.  This was the place where Isaac buried his wife Rebekah and where King David and Jesus Christ were born.

          As farming methods were more primitive, they were even more dependent on proper weather in its season.  Unseasonable weather and wars naturally caused famine to be a too-frequent disturbance in the ancient world.  They left Bethlehem in search of a better life and intended to live temporarily in Moab.

          Unfortunately tragedy struck the family, and over time, all the men of the family were lost.  Left without a male head under which to organize her family, Naomi (whose name meant “pleasant” or “lovely”), naturally decided to return to her home town.  She was in grief and in trouble; she set her face toward home.

 

The paradox of pain: we want to be left alone and we want to be comforted.

          This is human nature and the source of a lot of our relational and psychological problems. We want to be alone because of pride, shame, tend to our own wounds, or because we hope to avoid further pain. On the other hand, and often at the same time, we want to be comforted and loved.  We need sympathy and a human touch. Because they’re contradictory, these two states cause stress until they’re resolved.  Truth be told, we need both in balanced amounts – mixed to suit our individual tastes – to deal with grief.

          You may not appreciate this example, but I understand dogs exhibit a similar behavior when they bark and whine.  The whine means “come here,” and the bark means “stay away.”

          Naomi is an example of this paradox. Naomi’s pain can be seen in her grief over the loss of her husband and sons, as any wife & mother would be. She shared this grief with her daughters-in-law; though they were foreign-born, Naomi had come to love them. The loss of all the men left their household destitute; these three women had no rights of ownership or inheritance.  Socially and economically, they had nothing. All this left Naomi understandably upset.  In v. 20, she said that no one should call her “Naomi” any longer, but to call her “Mara,” which means “bitter.”

          Naomi’s reactions to her pain demonstrate this two-fold dysfunctional situation that needs to be resolved. Her actions say “Leave me alone.” In our passage, she attempts to send her daughters-in-law away.  (True, this is economically sensible, but it’s also an attempt to handle grief through solitude.) Later, when she returns to Bethlehem, Naomi keeps her kinfolk at arm’s length.

          On the other hand, her actions say “Comfort me.” Returning to Bethlehem is as much an emotional decision as it is an economic necessity.  There was food there (verse 8), but there were also Naomi’s family and friends. While she allows Orpah to leave, Naomi allows Ruth to stay with her.  It’s not hard to imagine that she was glad to have her daughter-in-law’s company.

          Ruth’s actions reveal that she is utterly, stubbornly devoted to Naomi. In demanding to go with Naomi, Ruth gave up her family, friends, homeland, religion, & any serious prospects of remarriage. It was a big sacrifice.

          When it says that Ruth CLUNG TO Naomi, it uses a word that described the ideal state of closeness between man and wife in marriage.  It is not just a physical state, but also an emotional one.

          The climax of the book is 1:17-18. It is one of most profound expressions of love in any language. Ruth swears a covenantal oath to Naomi, making a very serious commitment.

 

We must have courage to work past the pain to offer healing and help to others.

          Naomi was right.  In that moment, she had nothing to offer her daughters-in-law. In terms of her circumstances, she would probably have to rely on the charity of others for the rest of her life.  There may have been a home for widows, but likely she returned to live with family. Emotionally, Naomi was consumed by her own pain and had little support to offer Ruth.

          But she did help Ruth later by bringing her and Boaz together. Eventually, Naomi chose to be better instead of bitter and found a way for the two of them to survive; for Ruth to marry Boaz and create a new home in which they could live. She advised Ruth and contrived ways to bring the two together until Boaz finally took the hint and asked Ruth to marry him.

          To choose to be bitter over what we suffer is to choose to remain helpless and alone. Bitter people refuse to let go of their hurt, they refuse to cope in positive ways.  Whether they seek solace in a bottle or fall into illness, their self-administered poison takes its deadly toll. The result is that our isolation deepens because our unwillingness to cope in a positive way pushes others away from us.

          To choose to be better because of what we suffer starts us on the journey to healing. The very first step toward victory is being willing to receive comfort.  Self-defeating notions that keep God and others at a distance keep us from making progress.

          We must keep our need for comfort and our need for solitude at our own personal balance, recognizing both are necessary for healthy living. We must, by faith, open our eyes to what God is doing in our world and join Him in it.  As Naomi found, giving sacrificially to benefit others is one of the best forms of therapy we can get.

 

          This account of Naomi and Ruth records one of the most beautiful relationships in Scripture.  We can learn a great deal from the examples both women set – positively and negatively – of how we’re to find healing in having the courage to love.  The loyalty and faithfulness and mutual devotion these women show one another ought to inspire us to be grateful for our family members and eager to love them.

          Edward, a big-game hunter, goes on safari in Kenya with his wife, Frances and his mother-in-law, Agnes. One evening, while still deep in the jungle, Frances awakes to find her mother, Agnes, has disappeared. Rushing to Edward, she insists on them both trying to find her mother.

          Sighing heavily, Edward picks up his rifle and starts to search for Agnes. Soon, in a clearing not far from the camp, they come upon a frightening sight.

Agnes, the mother-in-law is backed up against a thick, impenetrable bush, and a large male lion is standing facing her. Frances cries out in panic, Edward, what are we going to do?’

          ‘Nothing,’ explains Edward calmly. ‘Absolutely nothing, my dearest. The lion got himself into this mess, let him get himself out of it.’

          Why make all this fuss over what seems to be a minor incident in Old Testament history?  Well, apart from what we have learned from the example set by Naomi and Ruth, there is an importance to this story based on what follows.  Ruth, the Moabitess, is used by God.  She is part of the ancestry of King David.  And, after many other generations, part of the ancestry of Joseph, the man who raised Jesus as his son (see Matthew 1:5).

          This makes the story of Naomi and Ruth pretty important as well as very instructive.

 

(Joke retrieved from http://www.guy-sports.com/humor/saints/mothers_day_jokes.htm on May 9, 2014.)