Born to Save
Preached by Pastor Jason Abbott
Every so often I will take one of my daughters—either Esther or Miriam—out on what we call a Daddy-Daughter-Date. There are multiple reasons I do this. However, one main reason is to give them a sense of what they should expect when, one day (heaven forbid!), they go on an actual date with some young man—who has memorized the entire Bible in English as well as the whole Old Testament in Hebrew and New Testament in Greek. (A dad’s got to have his standards!)
You see, though these dates will never perfectly picture what it will be like, when they go on a date with their husband; nevertheless, it builds an expectation for each of them—as to who a husband ought to be and how he ought to treat them. It’s a helpful shadow of what (if they choose to get married) is to come.
In a similar fashion, God the Father gave his chosen people many glimpses, throughout the Old Testament, of the Messiah—of the Savior—who was to come. None of them was a perfect image, but each gave Israel a sense of expectation, each was a shadow of the One to come. So it is here as we begin Sampson’s story. God foreshadows the ultimate Savior, the ultimate Groom.
1 And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, so 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. And his wife was barren and had no children. 3 And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. 4 Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, 5 for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save 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 the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome. I did not ask him where he was from, and he did not tell me his name, 7 but he said to me, ‘Behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. So then drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death.’”
8 Then Manoah prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, please let the man of God whom you sent come again to us and teach us what we are to do with the child who will be born.” 9 And God listened to the voice of Manoah, and the angel of God came again to the woman as she sat in the field. But Manoah her husband was not with her. 10 So the woman ran quickly and told her husband, “Behold, the man who came to me the other day has appeared to me.” 11 And Manoah arose and went after his wife and came to the man and said to him, “Are you the man who spoke to this woman?” And he said, “I am.” 12 And Manoah said, “Now when your words come true, what is to be the child’s manner of life, and what is his mission?” 13 And the angel of the Lord said to Manoah, “Of all that I said to the woman let her be careful. 14 She may not eat of anything that comes from the vine, neither let her drink wine or strong drink, or eat any unclean thing. All that I commanded her let her observe.”
15 Manoah said to the angel of the Lord, “Please let us detain you and prepare a young goat for you.” 16 And the angel of the Lord said to Manoah, “If you detain me, I will not eat of your food. But if you prepare a burnt offering, then offer it to the Lord.” (For Manoah did not know that he was the angel of the Lord.) 17 And Manoah said to the angel of the Lord, “What is your name, so that, when your words come true, we may honor you?” 18 And the angel of the Lord said to him, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?” 19 So Manoah took the young goat with the grain offering, and offered it on the rock to the Lord, to the one who works wonders, and Manoah and his wife were watching. 20 And when the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the Lord went up in the flame of the altar. Now Manoah and his wife were watching, and they fell on their faces to the ground.
21 The angel of the Lord appeared no more to Manoah and to his wife. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the Lord. 22 And Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.” 23 But his wife said to him, “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.” 24 And the woman bore a son and called his name Samson. And the young man grew, and the Lord blessed him. 25 And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.
Now, as we begin to crack the messy egg that is the story of Sampson’s life, we’ll do well to see (1) it’s all initiated in grace, (2) it’s all accomplished by God, and (3) it’s all pointing to gospel. So—all grace, all God, and all gospel.
1. All Grace (v. 1)
Another grimly familiar first line greets us here—but, with a key difference. In order for us to feel the force of it, let me set it against the dark backdrop of some of the other grimly familiar opening lines that came before it.
Othniel’s story begins: And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. They forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth. Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia. And the people of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years. But when the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel (Judges 3:7-9).
Ehud’s story begins: And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He gathered to himself the Ammonites and the Amalekites, and went and defeated Israel. And they took possession of the city of palms. And the people of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years.
Then the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, and the Lord raised up for them a deliverer (Judges 3:12-15).
The story of Deborah and Barak begins: And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord after Ehud died. And the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-hagoyim. Then the people of Israel cried out to the Lord for help… (Judges 4:1-3).
Friends, I could go on, but contrast that brief sampling with the opening line of Sampson’s story. One of these things is not like the others. What’s missing? What element in the familiar formula is absent? Listen and look closely:
And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, so the Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years.
There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. And his wife was barren and had no children (vv. 1-2).
Do you see it? (Or, maybe I should say, do you not see it?) In every formula, there’s been, at the very least, some articulation of repentance—some cry for help! Not here! Not now! There’s only silence in Israel. Are they satisfied with slavery? Are they content with empty idolatry? Are we?!
Brothers and sisters, I am convinced that there’s nothing more dangerous than contentment with the status-quo of life in this fallen-world. Nothing is worse for us than being satisfied with little gods. God calls us to so much more than that! God calls us to long for his holy perfections in all of life!
- He calls us to intimate and sacrificial friendships with others that last. Work for them; cry out for them; repent for how you’ve avoided them!
- He calls us to united and faithful and joyous marriages for a lifetime. Pray for this, together; work against mere mutual existence, together; glorify God with your romance, together!
- He commands us—who follow Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit’s power—to be constantly dissatisfied with the impotent gods of this present world: money, fame, beauty, approval, leisure. Or maybe we worship the easy—the path of least resistance. God says cast them all down!
Friends, God calls us to so much more than status-quo, fallen-world living! He calls us to extraordinary and otherworldly living! Divine, image-bearer living! Not mundane and average, everyday living!
Israel has grown complacent here. We, who are in Jesus Christ, must not!
Well, Israel’s sad, sinful silence is deafening. Yet, behold the grace of God! Into their silence God speaks and acts. They did not ask; they do not deserve. Nevertheless, God graciously provides salvation.
It’s all grace. Our author couldn’t make it any more clear to us—his readers. God’s salvation is an unmerited, free gift. It’s all grace. And, it’s also:
2. All God (vv. 2-14)
So, without a cry for help, God sends his angel to Manoah’s wife with news, even very good news. What are the circumstances surrounding this couple.
- They aren’t notably righteous. At least, the narrator makes no comment of it if they are.
- They’re from the tribe of Dan—a tribe which one Bible scholar describes as characteristically “…unsteady, unscrupulous, violent, [and] possessed of a certain grim humor….”1 Furthermore, Dan is prophetically described as “a serpent in the way, an adder in the path’” by his dying father Jacob in Genesis 49:17. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
- However (and most importantly!), we find out a very big something about this couple’s reproductive history. Manoah’s nameless wife was “barren and had no children” (v. 2).
We must ask, what do these circumstances tell us about what God is doing? Why this couple? Why this way?
The answer is that God is making a point—which he’s made again and again in the book of Judges—in the most blatantly undeniable way possible. What is it? It’s this: Yahweh (and Yahweh only!) is your salvation! It’s all God.
Benjamin and I’ve repeatedly explained, as we’ve preached through Judges, that the judges or rescuers, whom God uses, are an unlikely bunch of misfit heroes. We’ve also repeatedly argued that the means these misfit heroes use to save Israel regularly defy human wisdom. Think about fearful Gideon and his army of 300 against the vast Midianite hoards. Why does God choose this fearful hero to save? Why does God whittle his army down to 300 men? Well, God makes it clear:
- Judges 7:2—“The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’”
- Judges 7:7—“With the 300 men who lapped I will save you….”
- Judges 7:9—“Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hand.”
Do you see how God takes pains to demonstrate this key lesson to Israel? Well, here he’s at it again—the most unlikely couple from the most unlikely tribe in the most impossible circumstance. God asks: Who can raise an unborn savior? And in the silence, God answers: Only I can! Salvation is only from me!
In short, it’s all God. And when it’s all grace and it’s all God then it’s:
3. All Gospel (vv. 15-25)
Look with me at the encounter which this couple has with the Lord’s angel. They bring grain and a goat as an offering to the Lord and fire goes up to heaven. And, as it goes up, the angel of the Lord goes up in the fire of the altar. At this, Manoah and his wife fearfully fall to the ground. Then we read:
The angel of the Lord appeared no more to Manoah and to his wife. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the Lord. And Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.” But his wife said to him, “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.” And the woman bore a son and called his name Samson. And the young man grew, and the Lord blessed him. And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him… (vv. 21-25a).
It would be easy to assume that Manoah’s devastatingly, fearful revelation about the angel’s identity is wrong and his wife’s reaction is right. In other words, that Manoah thinking that they are doomed for having “seen God” is misguided, and that they were, rather, really never in any real danger at all.
But, if we assume this, we are wrong. I adore how Dale Davis explains it:
We must wipe those patronizing smiles off our faces…. We must allow Manoah to be our teacher. We must not pooh-pooh his reaction as understandably naïve…. Manoah may have been wrong in his inference, but he was right in his instinct, for where did we ever get the idea that the presence of God is not dangerous? Have we really bought Santa Claus theology? Has God somehow become safe because we live in AD?2
Manoah is right. Sinners who stand before a holy God stand condemned. They will die. And, his wife is right too. A perfect and holy God doesn’t make good news announcements of salvation and accept sacrifices and burnt offerings from those whom he intends to destroy. But, what neither of them knows is why. Why? There’s a mystery. What’s God up to here?
The angel of the Lord knows, I dare say. And, as he put it:
…seeing it is wonderful (v. 18).
- Or, my name is beyond what you can handle.
- Or, my name is above your understanding.
- Or, you’ll have to see to believe.
How does one reconcile the perfect holiness of God and God’s perfect love? How does one solve the mystery of God’s exacting justice and generous mercy? How do we resolve the apparent conflict between God’s wrath and God’s grace? Truly, it was far beyond what someone in Manoah and his wife’s historical place could comprehend. Instead, they’d need the magnifying-glass of Jesus on the cross in order to solve this mystery.
- There at Calvary God demonstrated his holiness and his love.
- There at Calvary God demonstrated his justice and his mercy.
- There at Calvary God poured out his wrath on and grace in Jesus Christ.
It’s at the cross of Christ and empty tomb of Christ and glorious ascension of Christ that “seeing it is wonderful” (v. 18). All gospel! All good news!
It’s at Bethlehem that the angelic host celebrated along with some shepherds and some livestock because “seeing it [was] wonderful.” The eternal Son of God—born to save! Sampson’s shadow realized. All grace! All God! All gospel! Amen.