Topical Scripture: Judges 13:1-7
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). Lately, the heavens have been especially eloquent.
In recent days, the moon and Venus have been the brightest objects in the nighttime sky. Though they are millions of miles apart, they seemed to nearly touch each other.
By the end of July, Mars will come closer to Earth than at any time between 2003 and 2035. On Sunday, the night sky will feature (from left to right) Venus, the star Spica, the planet Jupiter, the moon, the planet Saturn, and the planet Mars.
When we look at the sky, we are reminded of the omnipotence of our Creator and the finitude of our lives. And yet, our God loves us so much he considered our eternal lives worth the death of his Son. Even while ruling the entire universe, he still has a “good and acceptable and perfect” will for each of us (Romans 12:2).
Is his goal for your life the same as your goal for your life?
Years ago, I found this wise saying: “If you don’t have a goal, you’ll never reach it.” What’s your empowering life goal? Do you have a defining, catalytic purpose for your present and future? A “north on the compass” which guides your steps?
God has a dream for your life and work, your ministry and responsibilities. He wants you to know his dream and invites you to partner with him in fulfilling it. Let’s learn how.
Expect sin to lead to judgment (Judges 13:1)
The Judges cycle continues: “Again the Israelites did evil the eyes of the Lord, so the Lord delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years” (Judges 13:1 (NIV)).
Who were the Philistines? Why did God use them to bring judgment against his people?
The Philistines were a sea people who migrated to the Mediterranean cost, settling from Joppa to south of the Gaza area. As this Maritime Plain was extremely fruitful, its inhabitants developed into a very significant nation and military power.
They originated on the island of Caphtor (Amos 9:7; Jeremiah 47:4), a location usually identified with Crete. Some scholars identify them as Indo-Europeans. According to Egyptian depictions, they were tall and Hellenic in appearance. They invaded Egypt during the time of Rameses III (1195-64 BC), but were repelled. They eventually came to southwest Canaan, where they settled.
Their chief god was Dagon (Judges 16:23). He was thought to be the father of Baal, the god of weather and rain. Dagon was represented as half-man, half-fish (dag means “fish” in Hebrew). Since the people lived on the coast and prospered by fishing, he was seen as the deity they had to honor in order to prosper.
Because of their expertise with iron works (cf. 1 Samuel 13:19–22), their armies would prove to be Israel’s most consistent and formidable adversary during the period of the Judges and into the reign of David (1 Samuel 17–18). They were still a problem for Uzziah and Hezekiah, three centuries later (2 Chronicles 26:3–7).
For forty years before Samson’s birth, the people suffered under their oppression (v. 1). This was the longest period of foreign occupation in the book of Judges. And it reminds us of the human propensity to return to sin again and again.
Scripture warns us, “Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly” (Proverbs 26:11). Yet we see this pattern again and again in Judges: the people sin and face punishment, then repent.
And we see it in our lives as well. Here’s the reason: according to Jesus, “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). That’s why we must turn to God immediately, seeking his forgiving grace (1 John 1:9) and asking him to break the chains of sin that enslave us.
If we don’t, we may change our behavior, but we will not and cannot change our nature.
Only Jesus can give us a new heart. Only he can make us a new person. That’s why time with him is our best antidote to temptation. Charles Spurgeon: “We know of no cure for the love of evil in a Christian like abundant intercourse with the Lord Jesus. Dwell much with Him, and it is impossible for you to be at peace with sin.”
Are you dwelling “much with him”?
Expect God to work in surprising ways (Judges 13:2–5)
God wants to deliver his people from themselves and from their enemies. But he works in ways we seldom would anticipate or expect. If we limit his answers to our prayers to what we want him to do, we frustrate his providence and miss his omnipotence.
God’s story of redemption begins with a man named Manoah and his unnamed wife. He was “of the tribe of the Danites,” which had originally been assigned the coastal plain where the Philistines now lived (Joshua 19:40–48). When this territory “was lost to them” (v. 47), they moved to a region further north.
However, some apparently remained behind in their original land. Samson was descended from such a brave family.
Here was the tragedy that made his birth so surprising: His mother “was sterile and remained childless” (Judges 13:2). This was an unspeakable tragedy for a woman of their day. They did not understand the various reasons why a couple may not be able to conceive or know of medical options for such a problem.
So it was for Sarah (Genesis 11:30; 16:1); Rebekah (Genesis 25:21); Hannah (1 Samuel 1:2); and Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist (Luke 1:31). Many naively and unkindly attributed this painful condition to the judgment of God.
But not God: “The angel of the Lord appeared to her and said, ‘You are sterile and childless, but you are going to conceive and have a son'” (Judges 13:3). God knows our individual need and specific problem far better than we do. Our prayer does not provide information he did not know, for “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8).
God’s dream for this faithful couple was simple: “Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean, because you will conceive and give birth to a son. No razor may be used on his head, because the boy is to be a Nazarite, set apart to God from birth, and he will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines” (vv. 4–6).
What was a Nazarite?
“Nazarite” translates the Hebrew word for “separated” or “dedicated.” Numbers 6 provides the requirements for those who would live in this unusual status: they were to abstain from anything that comes from the grapevine, never shave their hair, and refuse to touch any dead body. By these actions they would be set apart from normal life, both in activity and appearance, to be used completely by the Lord for his purposes.
Such vows were typically temporary in duration, with requirements to be fulfilled when their commitment was completed (Numbers 6:13-20). But Samson was to be “a Nazarite of God from birth until the day of his death” (Judges 13:7). Samuel (1 Samuel 1:11) and John the Baptist (Luke 1:15) were similarly dedicated to God for their entire lifetimes.
Why were Samson’s parents specifically ordered to eat nothing unclean? The Mosaic law was specific regarding kosher dietary laws. All of Israel was to heed these restrictions. Clearly many did not, for this couple was specifically called to such obedience. They could transgress no command of God’s word concerning their diet and, by extension, their lifestyles. They were to set an example for their son, as we are for our children today.
Note that God’s command to Samson’s mother is clear indication that life begins at conception. If Samson would not become a Nazarite until he was born, why would it matter what his mother ate during her pregnancy? We understand the health benefits of such a diet today, but they had no such conception. This mother was asked to keep a Nazarite diet for the sake of her unborn son, because he “shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb” (v. 5).
Here’s the point for us: God can use people the world has abandoned to fulfill a purpose the world would not imagine. He used a barren woman to conceive a future deliverer of the nation. Her faithful obedience to his word and will led to the birth of one of the most remarkable men in all of Scripture.
Embrace God’s dream as yours
As a result of her obedience, “the woman gave birth to a boy and named him Samson. He grew and the Lord blessed him, and the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him while he was in Maheneh Dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol” (vv. 24–25). “Samson” means “sun” or “brightness,” a hopeful prediction for their son’s future.
God has a similar dream for you today. Some evolutionists say that life began as a chance coincidence, with no particular plan or purpose at all. Existentialists say that this life is all there is, and life is chaos. Postmodernists say that truth is relative, and there is no overriding purpose to life.
Jackson Pollock’s most famous “drip painting,” titled “No. 5,” sold for $140 million. Mark Rothko’s most famous painting, titled “Orange, Red, Yellow,” sold for $86.9 million. Neither convey objective truth. Both ask you to decide what the paintings mean to you.
By contrast, God claims, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Even though they were enslaved in Babylon, with no hope and no future.
God dreamed that Noah would save the human race. He dreamed that the childless Abraham would be the father of the Messiah. He dreamed that the shepherd Moses would give his laws to the world. He dreamed that the young shepherd boy David would be king of his people.
He dreamed that the fishermen Peter, James, and John would lead his global church. He dreamed that the persecuting Saul of Tarsus would take his word across the Empire. He dreamed that the imprisoned John would write his Revelation. And so it was.
God has a dream for you. For every day there is a dream. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, how healthy and prosperous you are or aren’t. If God had a dream of greatness for an unborn boy, he has dreams for you.
How can you know it?
First, choose his dream. Decide that you will do what he wants you to do. Decide that his purpose is your best purpose.
C. S. Lewis: “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite you is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Second, ask to know his purpose. He will make his dream known to you if you want to know it. But he will give only what you will receive.
Jesus promised us: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7–8). However, we have not because we ask not (James 4:2).
Third, listen for his purpose. Your Father will speak to you intuitively, his Spirit with your spirit, if you will listen to his word and world. If you will take time to be still and know he is God (Psalm 46:10). If you will give his Spirit space to speak to your heart.
He will speak to you pragmatically through your circumstances, open and closed doors, opportunities for service which he clearly blesses. He will speak to you rationally, as you read his word and apply its truth to your life. Learn your spiritual gifts and find effective ways to use them. Love God with all your mind (Matthew 22:37), reasoning together with your Creator (Isaiah 1:18).
God wants you to know his dream, more than you may want to know it. When last did you ask God to reveal his dream and will for your life and day, and listen to his response?
Strength of my heart, I need not fail,
Not mine to fear but to obey;
With such a Leader, who could quail?
Thou art as Thou wert yesterday!
Strength of my heart, I rest in Thee,
Fulfill Thy purposes through me.
Will you make her prayer yours today?