Have you ever read the story of Samson in the Bible? Even the parts that don’t make it into a Sunday School lesson? It’s rather appalling. I recently read through it, and there were some details in there I hadn’t noticed before. Or perhaps they were just so terrible I had conveniently forgotten them. As my husband often says, “You just can’t make this stuff up!”
Samson’s story strikes me as one of sad immaturity. Death and destruction are always in his wake. One particularly disturbing episode is when his ex-fiancé and her father are burned to death by the Philistines after Samson had taken out his rage toward this girl’s father on a nearby Philistine town. It’s kind of a long story, but if you ask me, I’m not sure Samson had much reason to be so angry with this man for marrying his daughter off to somebody else. After all, Samson had abandoned his bride-to-be in a huff, all because of a silly riddle that cost thirty other Philistines their lives, just so he could come good on a rash promise of new outfits for his groomsmen. Confused? You’ll just have to read it for yourself in Judges 14 and 15. But when you boil it all down, Samson’s immaturity kept putting him at the short end of the stick, so to speak. Then he would take that proverbial stick (in one instance it’s actually a donkey’s jaw bone) and beat the life out of some innocent bystanders.
There is one part of Samson’s story that I love though — the very beginning. His mother was unable to conceive, and she and her husband Manoah had no children. But the angel of the Lord appeared to her to announce the good news that she was going to have a son. He also gave her some very detailed instructions to follow. I get the sense that she was a conscientious woman and probably followed these instructions carefully.
Her husband Manoah wasn’t with her the day the angel spoke to her, so when the angel came a second time, she fetched him right away. Manoah was full of questions about his future son, seemingly fixated on the great deeds his child would do and how he would make a name for himself. But the angel doesn’t even acknowledge Manoah’s curiosity. Instead, he stays focussed on Mrs. Manoah and her responsibility to be obedient. (Perhaps this is our first clue that the dots of Samson’s destiny will not connect in ways that will make a whole lot of sense.)
With typical Middle Eastern hospitality, the couple offers the heavenly messenger a meal. He says he won’t eat their food, but they can offer it as a sacrifice to the Lord. Then right before they prepare the offering and watch the angel ascend back to heaven from atop its flame, curious Manoah has yet another question. This time he wants to know what the angel’s name is. I love this part! And I think the whole story of Samson is encapsulated in the answer given to this question. The angel replies, “Why do you ask my name since it is beyond understanding?” Beyond understanding. This is the same Hebrew word translated as “wonderful” in that familiar Christmas passage in Isaiah 9:6 — “wonderful” counsellor.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6
It’s a word that means miraculous indeed. Interestingly, it’s the same word used in Psalm 139 where human beings are described as being fearfully and “wonderfully” made. Our finite minds can’t even comprehend ourselves, let alone God! He and His works are “wonderful”. But it’s not a feel good sort of wonderful. It’s an awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping, head-scratching kind of wonderful.
I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Marvelous are Your works, and I know this very well. – Psalm 139:14
Some things we can comprehend, other things we can only apprehend. Comprehending means we can reach the arms of our understanding all the way around it. But apprehending means we can only reach for it on the tiptoes of our understanding. Heavenly things fall into that second category. God and His ways will always be beyond our complete understanding. We will never be able to reach the mysterious depth and height of all that He is and does. There will always be something new to woo and wow us as we come to know Him more and more. Our definitions and word pictures and neat analogies can be comfortable and comforting, but let’s never fall into the trap of worshipping our own incomplete picture of who God is instead of worshipping Him.
By the way, do you know what Manoah’s name means? Comfortable, settled. I have a feeling the day he spoke with that angel he felt anything but. And I doubt he found much comfort as Samson grew into the unruly son he was. I can’t help but be curious about what Manoah and Mrs. Manoah thought of everything. Did they live to see Samson’s life in its entirety? Did their faith in God’s plan and purpose waver with the outcome of their son’s life? Did they blame themselves? These are hard questions. Questions they may have asked until their dying day, without getting any answers. Questions any parent might ask.
But, you know, it’s not just the disobedience of our children that can make us uncomfortable, is it? There are biblical examples of parents whose children were obviously living wholeheartedly within the will of God who also had cause for worry and disappointment. John the Baptist was undoubtedly carrying out his God-appointed mission even though he was living like a wild man in the desert and was eventually beheaded. If Elizabeth and Zechariah ever lived to see that day, do you think they would have felt that it was right or fair? And what about Jesus? At one point his family is convinced he’s mentally incompetent and come looking for him to bring Him home. And I’m sure Mary was anything but comfortable at the foot of the cross, that “wonderful” cross.
Maybe you’re like me, your children still living obediently under your roof, and this issue of prodigals and parental discouragement hasn’t hit you — yet. But is it ever too soon to be reminded, as the barely pregnant Mrs. Manoah was, of the “wonderful” One who can be trusted in all things? After all, despite his failures, God still used Samson as a judge in Israel for twenty years. The words of the angel were fulfilled — he did “begin to save Israel from the power of the Philistines.”
We will never fully comprehend God sovereignly at work in anybody’s life, including the lives of our children — either in their obedience or their disobedience. May we cling to our Wonderful Counsellor and Mighty God in all our doubts and misgivings and insecurities as parents. Because our feelings are not the standard by which to judge God’s faithfulness. He is beyond our understanding. And He is also unthwarted in His good purposes, however hard that is for us to apprehend this side of Heaven. Let’s find our comfort and rest in Him today.
Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. – Psalm 62:1 (NIV)