22 November, 2015

I feel sorry for Samson's parents

My three boys on holidays in July.
Yesterday morning I read about Samson's early life in the Bible (Judges 13-16). Have you ever read it from the perspective of his parents? I was a little shocked. We've been having challenging times with our boys. Bad attitudes, subtle and blatant disobedience, push back all over the place. The sort of behaviour that leaves you drained at the end of the day. On top of that at least one email about each boy from the school this week, with concerns about various things. And one boy who's needed considerable scaffolding at night to get his assignments done.

I'm tired and wondering if I can manage to get through the next eight years of parenting teenage at school.
But then I read Samson's story. His poor parents!

Before he was born his parents were childless, his mother was barren. An angel appeared 
to her and told her she was going to have a baby boy. And he gave her some specific instructions: she was to be careful not to drink wine or fermented drink and no eating "unclean" things (as defined by the Jewish law). Don't cut your son's hair. He's going to be a permanent Nazarite. (Someone especially set aside as a holy man, something like the monk of today.)
She went and told her husband, describing the man she saw as "very awesome" (NIV). Her husband, Manoah, prayed, asking God to send the man of God again to teach them how to parent this boy.
The angel came again, but to the woman who was out in the field alone, she fetched her husband and they had an interesting interaction.
Manoah asked what should govern the boy's life and work. The angel repeated the instructions he gave Samson's mother (she's nameless). Then Manoah invited the man to stay for a meal of goat. The Bible notes that he doesn't realise that it is an angel. 

At this point the angel starts to sound irritated. He doesn't want any food, but urges them to prepare a burnt offering to the Lord. They do, but first they ask him his name. The angel tells them it is beyond understanding (some translations call it "wonderful").
The angel ascended in the flame of the burnt offering. Manual and his wife "fell with their faces to the ground" and realised it was an angel they'd seen when he didn't appear again.

Manual exclaimed that they were sure to die now that they'd "seen God", but his wife realistically noted he'd accepted their offering, so surely they wouldn't die.

I can only imagine that they needed such a clear demonstration of God's purpose in this young man's life because he certainly wouldn't have been an easy child to raise. We hear a lot about Delilah and the incident at the end of his life knocking a whole building down. But his young adult years are also recorded in strong, colourful terms.

The context of his birth is that Israel had been up to bad stuff again and God gave them into the hand of the Philistines for 40 years. Samson was his chosen man to get them out of there.
We first hear that the spirit of the Lord has stirred in Samson at the end of Judges 13, then the next chapter starts with Samson choosing a Philistine wife. He bluntly told his parents, "I saw a woman, go get her for me now!" Ouch. They try to reason with him, suggesting it would be better to marry within their own people, but he just cuts them off and says this is who she wants. Verse four tells the reader that this wife was God's plan's to go into bat for Israel.
This courtship didn't start well. It didn't end well either. At their wedding he managed to alienate the "thirty companions" his wife's people had chosen to be with Samson (see 14:12-18). The end result? He killed 30 men of the town and stole their clothes to settle what he'd started. And his wife was given to his best man.

Later he went to visit his wife and was turned away by her father. He went on to avenge the Philistine fields and they avenged that loss by killing Samson's wife and father.

From this unlikely start Samson led Israel under the rule of the Philistines for 20 years.

But just think of his parents watching this. Their eldest and presumably only son's marriage in tatters from the very start and he's out there killing his in-laws and others from their community. What a disaster. What a strong-willed young man.
But somehow, in the midst of all this, God's will was done. Though this man seemed to be out of control, his birth was clearly organised by God for a purpose. Though there's a lot we don't understand, can you imagine how his parents felt? They didn't know how the story ended, or the privilege of the editorial notes that we have in the Bible.
They must have despaired at times. Wondered if they'd done all that they were supposed to do. Wondered why God had given them such a child.
Just as we wonder at times. Just as we despair of the future for our kids. Don't you wish sometimes that you could know the end of the story? The editorial notes that might be written if we knew what was going on below the surface?
In the end as parents we can't do anything about this but look to God for wisdom every day. Entrust our kids and our parenting to Him. Then wait and hope and trust.

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