Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
THE BIRTH OF SAMSON.
1. Fresh apostasy of Israel. Judges 13:2-5. Appearance of an angel to the wife of Manoah, and prophecy that she is to bear a son, who is to be a Nazarite and a deliverer. Judges 13:6-7. She tells her husband. Judges 13:8-10. At the prayer of Manoah the angel again appears. Judges 13:11-14. His conversation with Manoah. Judges 13:15-18. Manoah offers a kid. Judges 13:19-20. Disappearance of the angel. Judges 13:21-23. Fears of Manoah set at rest by his wife. Judges 13:24-25. Birth and first actions of Samson.
Endeavours have been made to arrange the acts of Samson in the following four chapters in the form of a drama in five acts, each containing three incidents (Ewald); but the arrangement is arbitrary, for it counts Judges 13:25 as one of the incidents, and supposes that two are accidentally omitted after the carrying away of the gates of Gaza. Nor can it be made out, without arbitrary combination, that twelve of his acts are recorded (Bertheau). The attempts to draw out a parallel (as Roskoff has done) between the acts of Samson and the labours of Hercules is entirely valueless and unsuccessful, although, as will be seen from the notes on Judges 14:6-12; Judges 15:4-14; Judges 16:6, parts of his story may have crept into Greek legends through the agency of Phœnician traders, and though certain features in his character—e.g., its genial simplicity and amorous weakness—resemble those of the legendary Greek hero. The narrative is in great measure biographical. It illustrates Samson’s dedication to God as the source of his strength (Judges 14, 15.), and his own personal sins and follies as the source of his ruin (Judges 16). The first section contains six incidents:—(1) The slaying a lion (Judges 14:5). (2) The slaughter of the Philistines (Judges 14:19). (3) The burning of the Philistines’ corn-fields (Judges 15:4-5). (4) Slaughter of the Philistines (Judges 15:8). (5) The breaking of the cords (Judges 15:14). (6) Slaughter of a thousand Philistines (Judges 15:14-17). The chief incidents in the second section are:—(1) The gates of Gaza (Judges 16:3). (2) The breaking of the Philistines’ bonds (Judges 16:6-14). (3) The pulling down the temple of Dagon (Judges 16:22). Samson shows greater personal prowess than any of the judges, but a less noble personal character.
And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD delivered them into the hand of the Philistines forty years.(1) Did evil again.—Judges 3:7; Judges 4:1; Judges 6:1-11; Judges 10:6.
Of the Philistines.—Hitherto the nation has only been cursorily mentioned (Judges 3:31; Judges 10:7-11); from this time to the reign of David they play an important part. They were not Canaanites, but foreign conquerors. The district which they held, and from which the name of “Palestine” has been derived, was originally in the hands of the Avim (Deuteronomy 2:23). The name means “emigrants.” They seem to have been also called Caphtorim (Jeremiah 47:4), from living in Caphtor, i.e., Crete (Tac. Hist. v. 3); but it is uncertain whether they were Semitic (Ewald, Mövers), or Hamitic (see Genesis 10:14), or Aryan (Hitzig). Their connection with Crete is inferred from the name Cherethites (LXX., Kretes). They were in Palestine by Abraham’s time (Genesis 21:32).
Forty years.—These terminated with the battle of Ebenezer (1Samuel 7:13). The ark had been taken and sent back about twenty years before this battle, and the acts of Samson probably fall within those twenty years, so that Eli died about the time that Samson came of age.
And there was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren, and bare not.(2) There was a certain man. . . .—The narrative of the birth of Samuel (1Samuel 1:1) is similarly introduced.
Zoran.—The name means “place of hornets.” In Joshua 15:33 it is mentioned with Eshtaol among the towns north-east of the Shephelah, and it belonged to Dan (Joshua 19:41). Robinson identifies it with Surah, fourteen miles from Jerusalem, seven miles south of Yalo, west of Kirjath-jearim. It is mentioned again in 1Chronicles 11:10; Nehemiah 11:29. Its conical hill and abundant fountain made it a strong and convenient place.
Of the family of the Danites.—There seems to be no clear distinction between “family” (mispachath) and “tribe” (shebet), since they are used interchangeably in Judges 18:1-2; Judges 18:11; Judges 18:30. The same word is used of the house of Levi (Zechariah 12:13). It has, however, this appropriateness, as applied to Dan, that the tribe seems to have consisted of the single family of Shuham (Numbers 26:42).
Manoah.—The name (“rest”) perhaps expressed the yearning of the Israelites in these troubled days.
His wife was barren.—We find the same circumstance mentioned of Sarah (Genesis 16:1), Rebekah (Genesis 25:21), Hannah (1Samuel 1:2) Elizabeth (Luke 1:7). Many of the phrases here used occur in Luke 1:7; Luke 1:11; Luke 1:15; Luke 1:31; Luke 2:23. The Talmud (Babha Bathra, 91) says that the name of Samson’s mother was Hazelelponi, or Zelelponi (for which they refer to 1Chronicles 4:3), and that she was of the tribe of Judah. Zelelponi means “the shadow falls on me.”
And bare not.—The pleonastic addition is common in the forms of ancient literature. “Sarai was barren; she had no child” (Genesis 11:30). “I am a widow woman, and my husband is dead.” It often takes the form of both a positive and negative statement, as “Thou shalt live, and not die.” “It is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves,” &c.
And the angel of the LORD appeared unto the woman, and said unto her, Behold now, thou art barren, and bearest not: but thou shalt conceive, and bear a son.(3) The angel of the Lord.—On this expression see Judges 2:1. Rabbi Levi Ben Gershom says that this “messenger of the Lord” was Phinehas; but nothing can be clearer than that, as in Judges 6:11, Genesis 18:10, Luke 1:11-28, a supernatural being is meant.
Now therefore beware, I pray thee, and drink not wine nor strong drink, and eat not any unclean thing:(4) Drink not wine.—The mother is to share for a time in part of the Nazarite vow.
Strong drink.—Sheekar (LXX., Sikera) means intoxicating liquor not made from grapes (Luke 1:15).
Eat not any unclean thing.—Leviticus 11. The law applied to all Israelites, but is to be specially observed by the wife of Manoah, to impress on her and on the nation the separated character of her son.
For, lo, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and no rasor shall come on his head: for the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb: and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.(5) No razor shall come on his head.—The law of the Nazarite is laid down in Numbers 6, and when that chapter is read as the Parashah (or first lesson) in the synagogue-worship, this account of the birth of Samson, the first recorded Nazarite, is read as the Haphtarah (or second lesson).
Shall begin to deliver.—The weaknesses of Samson’s own character rendered him unfit to achieve that complete deliverance which was carried out by Samuel. In the cases of Jephthah and Samson the Israelites learnt the power which rests in individual vows to display the occult and mysterious heroism of the human spirit, and to save people from sinking into the lowest depths (Ewald, 2:397). The vow became a new force of the age. In Jephthah’s case it had been an isolated vow, but in Samson’s it was the devotion of a life, and developed an indomitable energy and power.
Then the woman came and told her husband, saying, A man of God came unto me, and his countenance was like the countenance of an angel of God, very terrible: but I asked him not whence he was, neither told he me his name:(6) A man of God.—Angels always appeared in human form, and Manoah’s wife, though awe-struck by the majesty of the angel’s appearance, did not know him to be other than a prophet. Josephus, writing to please the coarse tastes of Gentile readers, describes the messenger as a tall and beautiful youth, who excited the jealousy of Manoah (Antt. v. 8, § 2).
Very terrible.—Comp. Matthew 28:3-4.
I asked him not whence he was.—The LXX. omit the negative.
But he said unto me, Behold, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and now drink no wine nor strong drink, neither eat any unclean thing: for the child shall be a Nazarite to God from the womb to the day of his death.(7) The child shall be a Nazarite.—Comp. Luke 1:15. Since Samuel was also a Nazarite, we see that the distress of the people had led mothers to meditate on the old law of life-dedication to God. In Samson’s case this vow was imposed on him from his birth, perhaps to teach the Israelites a moral lesson. Other Nazarites were John the Baptist and James, the Lord’s brother. It is not impossible that Joseph was a Nazarite, for in Genesis 49:26 this word is used, though in the English Version it is rendered “separated” from his brethren. The order was highly valued in later days (Lamentations 4:7; Amos 2:11).
Then Manoah intreated the LORD, and said, O my Lord, let the man of God which thou didst send come again unto us, and teach us what we shall do unto the child that shall be born.(8) And teach us.—Manoah, yearning for the deliverance of his race, desired further guidance as to the training of the child, which he receives in Judges 13:13-14.
And Manoah said, Now let thy words come to pass. How shall we order the child, and how shall we do unto him?(12) How shall we order the child . . .?—The literal rendering is given in the margin, What shall be the ordering (mishpat; LXX., krima) of the child, and his work?
She may not eat of any thing that cometh of the vine, neither let her drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing: all that I commanded her let her observe.(14) The object of this message only seems to have been to give certainty to Manoah.
Any thing that cometh of the vine.—In Numbers 6:3-5 it is emphatically added, “He shall separate himself from wine . . . and shall drink no vinegar of wine . . . neither shall he drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat moist grapes or dried. All the days of his separation shall he eat nothing that is made of the vine, from the kernels even to the husk.”
And Manoah said unto the angel of the LORD, I pray thee, let us detain thee, until we shall have made ready a kid for thee.(15) A kid for thee.—Literally, before thy face. The narrative is closely analogous to that of the appearance of the angel to Gideon, and there is the same uncertainty in the terms used, so that we cannot certainly decide whether Manoah’s object was to offer a sacrifice or to offer hospitality. The verb gnasoth, like the Greek rezein (LXX., poisin) and the Latin facere, means either “to do” or “to sacrifice.” A kid was a special delicacy (Genesis 27:9; 1Samuel 16:20). (See Augustine, Quaest., in Jud. vii. 53.)
And the angel of the LORD said unto Manoah, Though thou detain me, I will not eat of thy bread: and if thou wilt offer a burnt offering, thou must offer it unto the LORD. For Manoah knew not that he was an angel of the LORD.(16) Thou must offer it unto the Lord.—Rather, a burnt offering unto the Lord thou mayest offer it. (Comp. Judges 6:20.) Angels invariably discourage and reprove that “worship of angels” (Colossians 2:18), which was the tendency of early Gnostic sects (Daniel 10; Revelation 19:10; Revelation 22:8). The angel might have partaken of earthly food, as we see from Genesis 18:8; Genesis 19:3. Hence Milton says:—
“Food alike these pure
Intelligential substances require,
As doth your rational.”—Par. Lost, 5:418.
And Manoah said unto the angel of the LORD, What is thy name, that when thy sayings come to pass we may do thee honour?(17) What is thy name?—Comp. Genesis 32:29; Exodus 3:13; Proverbs 30:4.
We may do thee honour.—Especially by a gift, which is the commonest Eastern notion of the word (Numbers 22:17; Jos. Antt. v. 8, § 3).
And the angel of the LORD said unto him, Why askest thou thus after my name, seeing it is secret?(18) Seeing it is secret.—The word is peli, which in Isaiah 9:5 is rendered “wonderful.” The word is an adjective, not the actual name of the angel. The only angel who names himself in Scripture is Gabriel.
So Manoah took a kid with a meat offering, and offered it upon a rock unto the LORD: and the angel did wondrously; and Manoah and his wife looked on.(19) Did wonderously.—With a reference to the word pelî in the previous verse. (Comp. Judges 6:20-26.)
For it came to pass, when the flame went up toward heaven from off the altar, that the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar. And Manoah and his wife looked on it, and fell on their faces to the ground.(20) From off the altar.—The rock (tsor) of Judges 13:19 is now hallowed into an altar (mizbeach).
And Manoah said unto his wife, We shall surely die, because we have seen God.(22) We shall surely die.—See on Judges 6:22.
We have seen God.—As seeing Him who is invisible; by seeing a manifestation of Him in human form, “Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). (Comp. Genesis 32:30; Deuteronomy 5:24.)
And the woman bare a son, and called his name Samson: and the child grew, and the LORD blessed him.(24) Samson.—Josephus renders the word “strong” (ἰσχυρός), deriving it from a root (shameem), and perhaps not unwilling to suggest an analogy between Samson and the Greek Hercules. St. Jerome, rendering it “strength of the sun,” derives it from shemesh, “sun,” and on, “strength.” It is more probable that it means “sunny.” In Ezra 4:8 we have the name Shimshai, perhaps from the same root. The connection of “the sun” with strength was very natural (Judges 5:31; Psalm 19:5-6). The Rabbis say that he was “named after the name of God, who is called sun and shield of Israel” (Psalm 84:12). The mother gave the name in this instance. (Comp. Genesis 29:32-35; Genesis 35:18; Luke 1:60.) Ewald refers it to an Egyptian root, and makes it mean “servant of God,” in reference to his being a Nazarite.
The child grew, and the Lord blessed him.—God has many different kinds of blessings, and those here alluded to appear to be the gifts of health, strength, courage, &c. These blessings by no means place Samson on a level with Samuel (1Samuel 2:21-26; 1Samuel 3:19) or John the Baptist (Luke 2:80).
And the Spirit of the LORD began to move him at times in the camp of Dan between Zorah and Eshtaol.(25) The Spirit of the Lord.—Judges 3:10. The Targum of Jonathan paraphrases it rightly, “The spirit of courage from Jehovah.” Amos (Amos 2:11) ranks Nazarites with prophets. “Different as may be their mode of action, they agree in a belief, which strings up every power to its highest tension, that they are Jehovah’s very own, consecrated to Him by a wholly special calling” (Ewald).
Began to move him.—Literally, to agitate or thrust him (paham, Genesis 41:8; Daniel 2:1). The word implies vehement and overwhelming impulses to noble deeds (“fing an ihn zu treiben,” Luther), which, however, only came over him “at times” (Judges 14:6; Judges 15:14; Judges 16:20). The LXX. rendering, “to go with him,” comes from a wrong reading.
In the camp of Dan.—Rather, in Mahaneh-dan. Doubtless the name originated in the migration of this hard-pressed tribe, which is mentioned in Judges 18:11-12, but which took place long before this time. The sites of Mahaneh-dan and Eshtaol have not been identified. In his hatred to the enemies of his country, Samson is the Hannibal of the Hebrews.