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Unlikely Grace

January 27, 2019 Speaker: Kit Johnson Series: Judges

Topic: Expository Passage: Judges 13

 

Introduction

It’s been 6 weeks since we were in Judges, so remember that the title of this series is, “Oh for a Righteous King.” It’s based on the theme verse of Judges, 21:25, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” We’ve seen that played out in the 5 judges we’ve studied so far. God used each of them to deliver Israel, but they all fell short of the righteous king God had promised, and Israel as a whole is a wreck.

As such, each story is designed to create a longing for the day when Messiah, or Jesus, will reign in perfect righteousness and justice. We share that longing, because we also live in a wicked society. We grieve when we see the spiritual decline in our nation, so we also long for the day when Christ, the righteous king, will reign over a righteous kingdom.

Remember as well that each of the stories we have studied follows a cyclical pattern. Israel rebels. God sends retribution in the form of foreign oppression. Israel regrets their sin, and God graciously rescues them. But ultimately these stories are not cyclical; they are more like a downward spiral, because each major judge (Othniel, Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson) gets progressively worse, especially the last 3.

The last judge we studied was Jephthah. He was a broken man, who made a horrendous vow and followed through by sacrificing his only daughter. And now we come to Samson. Both he and the nation are at the bottom of this spiral. Israel is spiritually and politically darker than ever, and Samson is no better. Sure, he does some incredible things, and he takes some significant steps of faith. However, he is also an egotistical womanizer who is anything but a righteous king. It’s a dark time.

Therefore, Judges 13 really stands out, because it is a beautiful account of God’s grace on a humble and sincere family. It feels like a beacon of hope and light in the midst of a lot of darkness (read). The story begins in vv. 1–7 with a surprising visit.

 

I.  The First Visit (vv. 1–7)

3 powerful demonstrations of God’s unlikely grace dominate this section. First…

God visited Israel without them asking for help (v. 1). The story begins like all the other stories in Judges. “Again the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord.” Israel rebelled. As a result, “The Lord delivered them into the hand of the Philistines for 40 years.” God sent retribution.

It’s worth noting that 40 years is the longest period of oppression in Judges. And the Philistines were a different animal than Israel’s other oppressors (map). They actually migrated to Canaan around the same time Israel did, but they came from the sea and settled along the Mediterranean coast. And once they were established they were determined to move inland and claim as much land as possible. They were a tough enemy, who didn’t go away quickly. They remained Israel’s biggest rival until David finally subdued them several generations later.

And so Israel rebelled, and God sent retribution. But notice that this story skips the 3rd stage, Israel’s regret. The text never says that Israel “cried out to the Lord.”

Quite the opposite, Israel was very content serving idols and living under the Philistine thumb. We’ll see in chapter 15 that when Samson ticks the Philistines off and they send an army to get him, Israel has no interest in fighting back, even though they clearly have a Spirit-anointed leader. Instead, they are mad at Samson for offending the Philistines and hand him over.

And so think about where Israel is. They are rebelling against God by serving idols. They’re suffering under Philistine oppression, and they don’t even want God’s help. If you were God, would you help them? Thankfully God is full of grace, and we are going to see that God was determined to hold on to his children no matter how they pushed him away.

I’m so thankful that God deals with us the same way and that our relationship with him is not ultimately in our hands, because if it were up to us, we would let go of God very quickly. Yeah, we might not be serving idols like Israel, but our faith is weak, and we are “prone to wander.” Maybe you are struggling to hold onto God, so to speak or to really believe that his will is good as you endure some difficult circumstance.

But praise the Lord that it’s not ultimately up to us. 1 Peter 1:5 says we are “kept by the power of God.” And Jesus said in John 10:28, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” It is God’s hand the keeps us. Praise the Lord that he continues to pursue us and draw us to himself even through our weakness and hard heartedness. A second demonstration of God’s grace is that…

God looked kindly on a barren woman (v. 2). Verse 2 introduces us to the 2 main characters of Judges 13—Manoah and his wife. It is significant that we never learn Manoah’s name, even though she is the primary recipient of God’s favor in this chapter. It seems the author leaves her anonymous to emphasize her insignificance humanly speaking. She is not who we would expect to receive an angelic visit or to bear such a significant child.

It’s also surprising that God would choose a family from the tribe of Dan (map), because Dan was a weak and ungodly tribe. In fact, later in Judges Dan will be forced to move north because they are pushed out of their own territory. There’s no honor in being a Danite. It’s also helpful to note that the tribe of Dan lived at the edge of the Philistine

And finally, Mrs. Manoah is surprising recipient of God’s grace because she is barren. That’s difficult in any age, but especially in the ancient world where a woman’s honor was highly dependent on bearing children.

In sum, Manoah and Mrs. Manoah aren’t the couple that we might expect to receive a heavenly visitor. They are a simple, though sincere, couple from a dark corner of Israel. But thankfully God doesn’t think like us. He loves to use humble people like us to glorify himself. God saw them as the perfect choice through whom to manifest his grace. This brings us to a 3rd demonstration of grace, which is…

God provided a deliverer (vv. 3–5). When we first meet Mrs. Manoah, she is alone. Maybe she is working in her house or in the field, when suddenly a man is standing before her. But she is perceptive enough to recognize right away that he is no ordinary man. He is from God. We learn later in the chapter that he is God in human form. This is probably Jesus.

He goes on to give her an incredible birth announcement. In fact, this revelation feels very similar to other significant birth stories in Scripture. She is barren like Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, and Elizabeth, all of whom were blessed with significant sons. And Mrs. Manoah receives an angelic announcement like Sarah, Elizabeth, and Mary. This is big stuff. God tells this humble lady who has probably lost all hope of having children that she “shall conceive and bear a son” who will be a mighty deliverer. What a grace of God! Imagine how excited she must have been.

There were conditions. During her pregnancy Mrs. Manoah couldn’t drink any wine or alcohol, and she couldn’t eat any unclean foods. This was because her son would be a Nazirite. Nazirite means “to dedicate, consecrate.” The Law made provision for any Israelite to take a Nazirite vow, usually for a set period of time, in order to dedicate himself to the Lord, much like the priests were dedicated to God. During that time he had to abstain from all grape products and all alcohol. He couldn’t touch any dead bodies, and he couldn’t cut his hair. All of this was intended to symbolize his special devotion to the Lord.

Therefore, when God declared that the child would be a permanent Nazirite, he was putting a very unique claim on his life. The God of the universe told this humble woman, I am giving you a very special child whom I have chosen for my glory. What a gift!

In particular, God would use this child, “to begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.” He would be the next great, Spirit-anointed leader of Israel. But of course, there’s also a note of disappointment in that statement isn’t there, because unlike all the judges before him, he wouldn’t fully deliver Israel. But from Manoah’s perspective what an incredible statement!

The Woman’s Amazement (vv. 6–7). And after the man departs, Mrs. Manoah runs off to find her husband. Imagine her excitement as she races to tell him the good news. I remember very well how overwhelmed Heidi was when we found out that James was coming.

She tells him that she had met a “Man of God” whose “countenance was like the countenance of the Angel of God.” She didn’t fully grasp who he was, but she was perceptive enough to see that he was no ordinary man. And not only that, he had told her that she was having a baby. I can see Mrs. Manoah, who thought she would never have a child jumping up and down with overwhelming joy screaming, “I’m having a baby!” God had been so good! It’s another window into the kindness of our God. He doesn’t grasp for the rich and famous, like we do. Rather, he loves the humble and contrite. And he finds great joy in ignoring our preoccupation with human glory, and instead honoring the weak. We serve a good God.

It’s a reminder to us that we also ought to pursue humility, not human glory and that we should love the weak like God does. Don’t live your life chasing human prestige and feeding your ego. No, walk humbly with the Lord and be satisfied in him. And don’t seek out the people that are going to feed your ego or selfish interests. Pursue humble, sincere people like Mrs. Manoah who will benefit your soul, not feed your selfish interests. And so Manoah listens and this triggers the second stage of the story, which we’ll just call…

II.  The Second Visit (vv. 8–23)

In this section the focus shifts from Mrs. Manoah to Manoah. We meet a man who on the one hand has a sincere desire to know and honor the Lord but who isn’t quite as perceptive as his wife. He’s struggling to catch up. But God is gracious as he gently and patiently leads Manoah to the truth. I’d like to divide this section into 2 ways that Manoah struggled. First…

Manoah struggled to know the ways of God (vv. 8–14). When Manoah hears Mrs. Manoah’s report, v. 8 says that he prays, “O my Lord…” I’m sure that Manoah was overwhelmed by what he had heard. God had given them an incredible task, and he wants to know more about how they should raise this special child, so he asks that the man come to them again.

And God graciously answers Manoah’s prayer, though interestingly, he again appears to Mrs. Manoah, because she is the focal point of his grace. However, she quickly runs to find Manoah.

It’s interesting that in 6, Mrs. Manoah says, “I did not ask Him where He was from, and He did not tell me His name.” I think she already knows, and she trusts that God will tell her what she needs to know. But when Manoah gets his chance, he has questions. In v. 11, he’s fishing for the man’s identity. And in v. 12 he asks, “What is your plan for my son? How do you want him to live? How are you going to use him?”

Manoah is trying to wrap his brain around all this, but ironically the Angel replies in vv. 13–14 by just repeating what he already said. He doesn’t blast Manoah for wanting to know more or give him some sarcastic reply; rather, he graciously and patiently tells him what he told Mrs. Manoah. But Manoah wants more, which brings us to a second struggle…

Manoah struggled to appreciate the glory of the Lord (vv. 15–23). It’s good to remember at this point that Manoah had grown up in a godless culture, and he probably knew very little of the Law or of God’s works for Israel, so he doesn’t quite grasp whom he is talking to or what the proper etiquette is when the Angel of the Lord visits.

So he does the best he knows and asks the Angel to stay for a meal. Of course, spirits don’t eat food, but the Angel graciously replies in 16. The parenthesis at the end is the narrator’s way of saying, “Yeah, Manoah is a little slow.” As well, the Angel’s reply is a gracious way of saying to a theologically illiterate man, “God is the one you need to honor, not some man. Offer him a sacrifice.”

Manoah complies and goes off to prepare a lamb and a grain offering. And when he comes back, we again see a man who doesn’t quite grasp what is going on but wants to know more (v. 17). Again, he thinks he’s talking to a man, so he asks for his name.

And the angel replies in v. 18 with a powerful answer for a spiritually dark time, “Why do you ask My name, seeing it is wonderful.” Interestingly the only other place the adjective translated wonderful is used in the OT is in Psalm 139:6, which says of God’s omniscience, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it.” The idea is that the glory behind God’s name is beyond human comprehension.

And so consider Manoah’s religious background. He’s lived most of his life around pagan gods, who aren’t much different than people. And God is graciously pointing him to the light of the glory of the true God. He is infinitely higher, and his glory, represented in his name, is beyond human comprehension.

We serve an awesome God who is high above us. Think about everything we know of God in the Bible. God has made himself known as an awesome and incredible God, and yet Job 26:14 states, “Indeed these are the edges of His ways, and how small a whisper we hear of Him. But the thunder of His power who can understand?” It’s incredible that everything we know only scratches the surface of God’s infinite glory.

And we must not miss the grace of God in gently pulling back the curtains a bit for Manoah and Mrs. Manoah so that in this very dark time they can get a peak at the majesty of our God.

And we must not miss the grace behind every little peak that God gives us through the completed Scriptures, his saving and sanctifying power in us and in fellow believers around us, and in his presence through the storms of life. God’s greatest grace is making himself known.

And so Manoah sets the offering on a rock, and lights it on fire in honor to the Lord, and notice what the Lord does (vv. 19b–20). As the fire is burning, the Angel graciously gives a “wondrous” display of God’s glory. It’s hard to know exactly what happened, but it seems that he rises from the ground, merges into the flames, and suddenly ascends to heaven disappearing from their sight. Whatever happened, it was an awesome display that, again, God gave to a very humble couple living in a very dark

And when they see it, they immediately fall flat on their faces, like everyone else in Scripture who sees God’s glory. God is truly good, but his glory is terrifying to broken sinners, which makes it all the more incredible that we will walk comfortably with him someday in glory.

And then v. 21 follows with the understatement of the century, “Then Manoah knew that He was the Angel of the Lord.” Yeah, I think so.

And he’s terrified. He says in a panic (v. 22), “We shall surely die, because we have seen God.” But then Mrs. Manoah who has always been the more perceptive one, calmly and logically evaluates the situation (v. 23). She rehearses 3 graces they had received. God had accepted their offering, he had shown them incredible wonders, and he had told them incredible things. She sees the wonderful and unlikely graces of this story. God had been so kind to this simple couple, and so she draws the logical conclusion, “God must not want to kill us; he must want to bless us.”

We serve a gracious God, and it’s good for us to remember that none us could stand in the presence of his holy glory. Psalm 130:3, says, “If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, whocould stand?” No one could stand before a holy God in his own righteousness. We all fall infinitely short.

As such, we may look at Manoah and Mrs. Manoah and think that we have a leg up in some respects. And it is true that people are on various rungs of the ladder of personal righteousness. But no matter what the differences may be among us, the differences in righteous between the most righteous and the most wicked is miniscule in comparison to the massive chasm between the righteousness of man and the righteousness of God. He is infinitely more pure than any of us.

As such, we may look at Manoah and Mrs. Manoah and think that we are better, but we are still sinners. As a result, all grace is unlikely grace. And if you know Christ, you ought to give God humble thanks today that he would look with kindness on you. His grace is amazing.

But maybe you have never really come to grips with the perfect righteousness of God and of how offensive your sin is before him. The first step to being right with God is to acknowledge that your sin is a terrible offense to his holiness. You deserve his judgment, and there is nothing you can do to remove it.

And then you must see that Jesus is the righteous king that Judges ultimately looks to. He lived a perfect life, and then he died on the cross to bear the punishment that we rightly deserve. And because Jesus already took God’s justice on himself, he offers forgiveness and salvation to all who come to him in repentance and faith. If you need his salvation, I pray that you will come to him today and be saved. If you have questions, please ask so that you can leave today knowing the true grace of God like you never have before. Returning to our text, the story wraps up quickly in vv. 24–25 with…

III.  The Promised Visit (vv. 24–25)

God is faithful to his promise with 2 additional graces. First…

God provided a son (v. 24). Just as God said he would do, he blessed this barren couple with a son, whom they named Samson. Samson means “little sun.” I think it’s fair to wonder if his name is based on the conclusion to Deborah’s song in Judges 5:31, which says, “Thus let all Your enemies perish, O Lord! But letthose who love Him be like the sun when it comes out in full strength.” God is gracious to those who love him, and God had been very gracious to this barren couple in giving them a son. And in giving this unlikely grace to this couple, God also showed unlikely grace to a rebellious and stubborn nation.

God provided a deliverer (v. 25). As Samson’s hair grew longer and longer, God’s Spirit rested on him with a unique power. And God will use Samson to begin removing the awful thorn of Philistine oppression even as Israel continued in rebellion and never sought God on their own.

 

Conclusion

Praise the Lord that our God is full of grace. May we never forget that none of it is earned. It is all unlikely grace.

More in Judges

March 10, 2019

A Culture Gone Mad: Part 2

March 3, 2019

A Culture Gone Mad: Part 1

February 24, 2019

There Was No Righteous King